FOUR – SCORE . . . AND TEN ?

The four-score, I think, are achievable.  The ten ?  I’m not so sure.  I have just entered my 80th year and it looks as though my cardiac condition, the cramps in my legs, my blood-circulation, occasional bronchitis and my recently diagnosed Pseudo Rhizomelic Polyarthritis, which the specialist was afraid was in fact Polymyalgia Rheumatica which leads to osteroporosis and, he shocked me by saying, possibly blindness, will not do me in for a while yet.  Mind you, a truck full of vinegar could run me over tomorrow.  So, “omnibus paribus” (the truck could be a Paris bus) I may last a little longer than my old schoolmate Michael who just died at 80, “after a long illness” (I guess that’s code for cancer).  This extraordinary man who left school at fourteen became not only a multimillionaire but Mayor of “The Shire” (Sydneysiders know there’s only one worth talking about), a nationally decorated business leader and philanthropist, and is the only one of my Marist Brothers Kogarah mates whom I mention by name (apart from the dropout scalawags Mervyn and Billy) in my book, “From Illusions to Illumination”, page 15, as you can read in Chapter One reprinted in this Blog (September 28, 2015).

Next week I have to “say a few words” at the memorial service in the local cemetery for my sister-in-law, a victim of peritonitis at age 69.  A year ago I lost my last brother, Jim, aged 83, and in France, Australia and the U.S. friends’ obituaries are appearing with alarming frequency.  Looks like my time is about up.

So for my 79th birthday I wrote a limerick-poem for my five grandchildren, aged 5 to 15.  This is a revised, more realistic version of the “poem” I wrote 15 years ago, a rewriting of a song by Paul McCartney I entitled “Now I’m 64”.  It’s in my book (pp.115-116) but since you don’t have the book, here it is :

“When I look back to where I’ve come from,

I’m surprised to see

My life is divided into four sixteens;

I’ve no idea what all this means.

I don’t plan to die

Until I’m twice as old.

At least I will try.

When I look forward, sixty-four more,

I feel like a kid,

So much fun to be had, so much life to live,

To travel, write, grow and to give

Any help that I can to loved ones.

I can’t ask for more.

Life is just starting, as I look ahead,

Now I’m sixty-four.”

The latest doggerel is, like my life-expectation, somewhat shorter :

“Now I’m seventy-nine.

I’m old but feeling fine.

I hope your life is long,

Full of joy, full of song,

Happy as has been mine.”

Here Up Over, the Autumn of my years has turned into Winter, and I may not see too many more of them.  But I meant what I wrote about having had a happy life.  My life at present still is, and if I’m careful crossing the street and driving on the autoroute, if I keep away from the nicotine I inhaled for twenty-five years before I gave up smoking  thirty years ago, and the drugs I have never taken, stay on the wagon I’ve been on for the last six, watch the salt and sugar intake and cut back on my péché-mignon, apple tarts, I may be around for a while yet, though I see no point in surviving as a vegetable or as a physically or mentally handicapped invalid making life miserable for myself and a burden for loved ones.

Whenever “The End” appears on my screen, I will always be grateful to all my family members and friends who have made my life so fulfilling, and to the others who have made it so . . . interesting.  I have lived as an atheist for the last forty years and, thank God, will die one.

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

 

 

 

 

 

 

” I BELIEVE IN . . . AMMUNITION “

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Others believe in bayonets.  The words quoted in the title are those of a U.S. Marine who survived Guadalcanal, as portrayed in the Hanks-Spielberg production of the six-DVD series, “The Pacific”.  Some soldiers at war often talk about, and even talk TO, God.  We have already commented in an earlier post on the cliché which suggests that there are no atheists in foxholes, and found it wanting, a valiant attempt to prove that when there is nowhere else to go, most people fall on their knees.  In fact, the horrors of war, for the civilians whom the generals and politicians call “collateral damage”, but especially for the troops on the front line, often provoke or reinforce unbelief rather than belief.  The atheist G.I. whose Bible-bashing buddy believed in God, free will and even predestination, said he believed in bombs, the ones he dropped into the barrel of his 3-inch mortar, the weapon for which I was a designated instructor in the Australian Cadet Corps, though I never got to use one in a real war.  At the time – I was fifteen years of age – I believed in both God and ammunition.  Today I do not believe in God, and believe in ammunition as a prodigious source of income for countries like France which sells fighter planes, tanks, state-of-the-art weaponry and all the ammo you need to go with it.  We even have secret bunkers with stacks of nuclear missiles and a valise, always within the President’s reach, with the necessary code to trigger and launch them should he so decide.

“Conventional” weapons and ammunition are bad enough (though arguably a necessary evil for defence and deterrence), but God help us if ever we start nuking our enemies.  Of course God, for obvious reasons, won’t help us or our enemies, though on both sides many expect Him to.  Believing war will solve our problems is illusion enough.  Expecting God to do so, is nothing less than blindfaithblindfolly.

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

LEARNING BY HEART

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Many Muslims memorize Mahomet’s message.  Avoiding annoying, awesome (?) alliteration, that means they learn to recite the Koran by heart.  Christians and Jews settle for less and are content to quote small chunks or single verses of their Bible(s).  But Protestants run rings around Roman Catholics, impressively identifying their quotidian quotations by book, chapter and verse.  This is regarded by the gullible as erudition and expertise.  I consider it foolishness and a waste of time.  Parroting Scripture is for the birds.

In my book and blog I always identify my sources, including the “sacred”, but I see no point in cluttering my mind with great slabs of Scripture, and even less in telling people out loud where they can find them in their King James or New American translations.  I do retain one reference, though.  You’ll find it at the beginning of my book and throughout this blog.  It’s John 9:25 : “I was blind, but now I see.”  Just seven words which sum up my itinerary from Illusions to Illumination.

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

COVER -UP

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We associate the expression with Nixon and Watergate and the continued efforts of politicians, pedophile priests, their bibulous Bishops and other criminals to conceal and in some cases to legitimize in the eyes of the public their unsavory behavior.  This week Rome’s Capitoline Museum gave us an unexpected, different example, by covering up its nude statues so as to avoid offending the visiting prudish President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani.

If this model of Muslim morality finds lifeless stone statues of uncovered women offensive, shocking and in violation of his ethical stance on women, should we not find that covering up to their eyeballs with burkas real live Iranian and other Muslim women, equally offensive, shocking and in violation of OUR ethical stance on the equality of women ?  It is an undiplomatic question, but our submission to Islam’s anachronistic values marks a victory for theocratic fascism.  This, I suppose, is the price one must pay them for buying products Made in Italy as well as French Rafale war-planes, over a hundred Airbus and thousands of Peugeot and Renault cars, to mention just a few of the multibillion dollar contracts on the table.

Muslim puritanical dress-codes for women oblige them to hide their hair if not their whole body except their eyes.  That a visiting Muslim dignitary with deep pockets could be offended by nude statues in Rome must make us wonder how he would react if his French hosts offered him an evening at the Moulin Rouge. But there is a final, more serious point to be made here.  I cannot use the words “cover-up” without thinking of the women in Iran and other Muslim countries being covered, buried, up to their shoulders, before being stoned to death for adultery.  (The rocks used must be bigger than stones but not big enough to kill the victim too early . . .).

Naturally the Iranian President would brand this accusation as absurd and as “political propaganda”.  One must, in fact, be cautious in quoting “facts” here about the 2008 and 2013 Iranian Civil Codes, and about “statistics” like 150 executions by stoning in Iran since 1980.  But lapidation, which Islam inherited from Judaism, has been practised in the Muslim world for centuries, including our own.  Burkas are a joke compared with this.  “Ridenda Religio” ?  Not this time.

D E L E N D A     R E L I G I O

THREE MONOTHEISMS : ONE AND THE SAME GOD ?

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Ecumenism is a tricky business.  Some religions, from their highest authorities to the lowest levels of ordinary people in the pews, do not hesitate to attack believers who do not share their own beliefs, verbally, viciously and sometimes violently.  Others make the effort to ignore, to mask or to minimize their differences and pretend that in spite of some major differences in their definition of divinity, in the dogmas they preach, in the rules they impose and in the rituals they practise, all these religions make up one happy family of believers.

Recently, Wheaton College, Illinois, famous as the Alma Mater of Billy Graham, an ecumenical school founded by Christian abolitionists at the eve of the Civil War, hit the news because its only black woman professor with tenure said on Facebook that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God” (TIME, February 1, 2016).  She has been both defended and denounced in-house and by alumni, some of whom have threatened to withdraw future donations.  There is debate about what is “theologically essential” and “theologically peripheral”.  In spite of her tenure, Larycia Hawkins is in danger of losing her job and being expelled from the campus.  Ecumenism has its limits.

The question here is, of course, for us atheists, somewhat byzantine, or, more accurately, meaningless.  We know that Judaism, Christianity and Islam all invented the Gods they call Yahweh, the Blessed Trinity or Allah.  The “sacred” books of each of these religions and the Gods they worship have little in common with each other, and one could be excused for thinking that apart from their shared monotheism (although Christianity’s Trinity makes its claim to monotheism the subject of doubt if not denial for Jews and Muslims), the differences in their portraits of the Deity are screamingly apparent.  But it is ecumenically correct to suggest that they all “worship the same God”.

It is pathetic to witness such a storm in a theological teacup : one more reason for this Blog’s mantra(s).   (Do I have an “Alleluia !” ?  No ?  Sorry, Sarah.)

RIDENDA  –  DELENDA  –  RELIGIO

PROGRAMMED TO BE GULLIBLE ?

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Sometimes even positive, favorable book-reviews succeed in dissuading readers from reading the book in question, or at least in making such reading pointless.  A case in point is “The Confidence Game” by journalist Maria Konnikova, reviewed by TIME, February 1, 2016.  Her thesis is that humans are psychologically programmed to be gullible.  This perfectly gratuitous, groundless affirmation, unjustifiably based on multiple examples of real-life fraud, is, of course, contradicted by the fact that qualified experts in human evolution know that we are programmed genetically, biologically and I suppose psychologically, solely for the survival of our species.  The rest is hogwash.  It is true, as the author asserts, that “what a confidence artist sells is hope . . . that you’ll be happier, healthier, richer”.  The reviewer profoundly paraphrases the author’s incredibly insightful text by saying that “it’s best to question these hopes, no matter how real they seem”, and concludes with a self-evident quotation from the book that the best defence “is knowledge, pure and simple” !

Had the reviewer or the writer read this Blog, they would have discovered numerous examples of gullibility and blindfaithblindfolly that make the writing and reading of this book unnecessary.

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

” A LONG TIME AGO , IN A GALAXY , FAR , FAR AWAY …”

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Just today, in my small house in a French town close to Paris, I got to wondering again (“wonder” is the right word) about galaxies.  Even in broad daylight I somehow cannot get over the literally incredible vastness of our Universe and the puniness of our beautiful blue Planet.  This was brought on, of course, by the news of the recent discovery of Planet Nine, a giant no one knew about until a few months ago, way beyond Pluto which used to be the ninth planet.  Rather than bother detailing its awesome dimensions and distance from us, I thought I would make it easy for you to reread what I have already written about the fascinating conundrum we call the Cosmos.

If you type just the word “Galaxy” in the Search box at the top of this page, you will find on your screen no less than seven posts where I think out loud about what’s out there, about the unimaginably gigantic, ballooning Universe and about how silly it is to suggest that it is the work of a Divine Creator.  You can read all the posts or you can take your pick :

1   :   November 5, 2015   :   “The Universe :  Where ‘Gigantic’ is an Understatement”

2   :   August 8, 2015   :   “Unwarranted Beliefs and Warranted Unbelief”

3   :   October 26, 2014   :   ” Learning to See  :  The ‘God Consortium’ ”

4   :   August 3, 2014   :   “Let There Be Light !”

5   :   December 28, 2013   :   “It’s a Long Way …”

6   :   December 3, 2013   :   “Where Were the Spectators ?”

7   :   October 17, 2013   :    “Fairyology”

Enjoy the latest “Star Wars” movie.  It is fiction, but the galaxies are not.  Star-gazing is a great cure for myopia.  It helps keep our quotidian concerns in perspective.

What a wonder-full world !

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

MUSLIM MONSTERS

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The title will be seen as a red rag to a raging bull.  Readers will be screaming “Islamophobia” and calling if not for my head at least for a public burning of my book and my blog, along perhaps with their author.

But bear with me for a moment.  There’s more here than meets the eyeball.  Not all Muslims, to state the self-evident once again, are monsters or terrorists.  They are law-abiding citizens going about their daily business and reciting their prayers, five times daily, facing Mecca.  They wouldn’t hurt a fly, let alone a Jew, a Christian, a fellow-Muslim or even an agnostic or atheist.  They are often themselves victims of Daesh, Al Qaeda or rabid lone wolves who they, as “moderate” Muslims, say, “have nothing to do with Islam” :  the accepted, politically correct distinction between themselves and Islamic terrorists/jihadists.

I suggest we stop using those two last appellations and call them what they are :  Muslim Monsters.  All terrorists, all jihadists today are Islamic, or “Islamist”, to use another distinction which supposedly separates them from the righteous disciples of the Prophet.  Calling them “Muslim Monsters” affirms that they are both Muslim and Monsters.  It is a deliberate way of reminding the world, including non-violent, moderate Muslims, that certain fanatics who share their faith but take the Koran literally, kill and maim and massacre in the name of Allah, their God, the same as that of their “moderate” confreres.

To call the terrorists Muslim Monsters is an admittedly embarrassing wake-up call for their coreligionists.  Their condemnation should be broadcast from the tops of the world’s mosques to invite a reflection on Islam’s urgent obligation to rethink, to reinterpret, to reformulate, to REFORM, their faith.  The rest of us will go on trying to protect ourselves, to destroying militarily and financially the international Muslim mafia, and to trying to get the fanatics and their potential recruits to realize the blindfaithblindfolly of their monstrous maniacal mission.  But the prime responsibility is for their fellow-believers to save themselves and us from a death-dealing, death-cult religion straight out of the Dark Ages.

DELENDA  –  RIDENDA  –  RELIGIO

TECHNOLOGY NOTWITHSTANDING , A ROSY FUTURE FOR BELIEF ?

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This week’s TIME magazine, delivered yesterday but dated January 25, carries an interview with KLAUS  SCHWAB,  Founder of the World Economic Forum in Davos.  Schwab answers the question “What will be the big topic at Davos this year ?” by saying :

“We are at the tipping point of a whole variety of interconnected technological breakthroughs : robots, drones, intelligent cities, artificial intelligence, brain research.”  His message is one of hope, and recalls for me the famous statement of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) : “The future belongs to those who provide coming generations with reasons for living and hoping.”  Schwab is a welcome, unexpected, prestigious, credible source of hope among the multiple shades of grey if not despair which characterizes this second decade of the 21st century.

Is it wishful thinking ?  Schwab does seem to appreciate the downside of replicating the brain in a robot, and while we accept his use of the traditional metaphorical identification of the blood-pump inside our chest with passion and compassion, we have to wonder about his belief in the soul, “which”, he says, “enables us to believe”.

What is true is that people will always want to believe . . . no matter what — in the sense of “despite all obstacles, challenges and counter-indications”, and also “just about anything at all”.  They have their faith to keep them warm, confident that their life has God-given purpose and meaning and that though they die they will live forever.  We, of little or no such faith, will continue to enjoy life for as long as it lasts, accept death as the definitive end of existence, and even try to get others to do the same.  So though cautious, Schwab may be proven right : “Perhaps we will have at the end of this revolution – possibly, possibly – a basis for a new human renaissance.”  For whatever reasons, let’s hope so.

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

” FURY”

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It is just another war movie, with Brad Pitt as a sergeant commanding four Sherman tanks – more vulnerable than the superb Panzers – in the final push to cross and conquer Germany in 1945.  It is, however, a surprisingly human story of the devastation of Hitler’s Reich, Land and Volk defended in demolished towns and cities by a decimated army and by children, girls and boys in cut-down uniforms (like my own as a 12-year old Army cadet just a few years later), and of the horror of World War 2 as lived by five men in a tank.

The Pitt tank ends up as the sole survivor of the original four, facing a battalion of 300 S.S. troops, accompanied by their officers in half-tracks.  Their tank disabled, our valiant, outnumbered heroes decide to hold fast and to make a final stand against the Last of the German Mohicans.  The confrontation ends up as hand-to-hand combat, with Pitt manning the machine-gun atop his tank until he is felled by an S.S. sharp-shooter and blown to bits inside the tank by a stick hand grenade called a Potato Masher.

In World War 2, believers on both sides were, at the beginning, totally convinced that God was on their side.  Hitler’s officers, except for the inner circle of Hess, Goebbels and Göring, at the end realized how wrong they had been in following the folly of the Führer.  The conflict, if not “war” in which we are involved today, is different.  Islamic terrorists want to punish and destroy citizens of any nation that disrespects their Prophet and resists their imposition of Charia law and a worldwide Caliphate .  Their victims are not only military combatants in war zones and militant opponents in the media but innocent, peaceful people become not so much collateral damage as the chosen targets of their blind terrorism.  This kind of war is even more vicious than the World Wars of the 20th century.  Daesh and Al Qaeda honor their “heroes”, kamikaze martyrs, and actively recruit fervent young idealists seduced by their polished propaganda and the promise of perpetual glory on earth and the most sensual of pleasures in Heaven.

War movies like “Fury” belong to History.  Today our TV screens are full of sound … and fury, of blood and mangled bodies, of explosions in hotels and cinemas and music halls and editorial offices and sporting stadiums and skyscrapers.  But while the terrorists acclaim their heroes, we mourn the victims of their blindfaithblindfolly.  Our own heroes will be the brave men and women who resist the terror, those who come up with effective ways of protecting us against it, and above all those who, by exposing the religious madness which motivates it, get the terrorists to recognize that God is not, and never was, on their side.

DELENDA  –  RIDENDA  –  RELIGIO

 

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