SURPRISED ?

Indeed, “the report of my death was an exaggeration”.  (If you are going to use the Twain quotation, get it right, for cryin’ out loud !  See “The New York Journal” of June 2, 1897.)  As for the atoms, their pre-existence and quasi-permanence leave me …cold; it’s the way they are assembled that matters.  I always rather liked the way mine are.

This is not the first time you all thought I was sounding off my Last Post (q.v. infra, August 3, 2013, 4th page).  I just thought I should suggest that we look Death in the face and then get on with our Life.  One day I will in fact type my last entry for this Blog.  I may even die midsentence.  I just hope I have time to push the “Publish” key.  It would be a pity if

WE’RE ALL ON DEATH – ROW

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Condemned to death; waiting for execution … of the sentence.  I’ve been here quite a while already, 78 years in fact.  Some have a lot less time to wait, just a few years, months or even hours; kids die all the time.  It’s pretty hard to say anything original or even worth saying about the brevity of life and its inevitable end.  But now that I know that I will be dead, for sure, within at most fifteen years (give or take a decade; it wouldn’t matter much even if I had a whole century ahead of me), I have to wonder what was, what is, the point.

You know, of course, that I know there is none.  Some soap-bubbles last longer than others, none for very long.  And every one of them bursts.  I’m a fleeting shadow, not even a blip on the radar of the 14 billion years of the world’s history and the 200,000 years humans have peopled this puny, pretty planet.  No one to thank, no one to blame.  I just AM – for the time being.  (“I am who am” – surely the weirdest name anyone ever gave “God” – who, being No-Body, had No-Thing to do with it.)

I must admit it’s been a ball.  Really !  I have to be in the top ten percentile  who have made it this far, and have been so damned lucky that it just isn’t fair.  I mean I have never broken a bone – mine or anyone else’s.  I’ve never been in prison, though my first job was as a jail-guard for juvenile delinquents.  I have never had a serious disease or even illness, apart from a banal heart-attack which a triple bypass took care of ten years ago.  I have never been truly hungry, never fought in a war, never even suffered from invasion, bombing, persecution, torture, terrorism or violence.  Never had a serious accident (I did fall off my bike once).  I was able to enjoy the benefits of a somewhat unusual education as well as the pleasures and satisfaction afforded by my profession(s), travel, music, literature, cinema and the company of people I love.  My parents were not well-off, but I am.  Not filthy rich but comfortable.  After an interval of self-imposed celibacy, I had and have a normal sex-life.  Divorced but the father of three marvelous children and Grandpa to five gorgeous grandchildren.  I’m feeling, if not looking, my age, but not yet senile, handicapped, immobile or dependent.  I should stop before I make some readers very rightly jealous.

It makes no sense to ask why I was born or why I have lived so long or why I have been so fortunate.  Recognizing the pointlessness of those questions was one of my greatest liberations.  For fully half my life I have enjoyed the greatest freedom of all : no longer believing in God and the promise (or threat) of an “after-life”.  My story will soon be over, and whether I’m remembered and missed or not, I couldn’t give a rodent’s rear-end.  I would like to think, though, that some people, especially the family and friends to whom I owe so much, were happy to have known me.  The others, the ones who couldn’t stand me, will at least soon be able to rejoice that I won’t be around to bug them anymore.  I won’t even post any more ravings like this on my Blog.  Blogs, like their authors, come to

     T H E     E N D

DENIAL

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“Alcoholic  ?  Who, me  ?  Not on your life !  Mind you, I do have a few drinks with my mates at the pub and at parties with friends.  Some of them, I’m sorry to say, can’t hold their liquor.  Me, I like a good Scotch or three, but I never overdo it.  And I can give it up anytime I like.”

His wife, his children, those same mates and friends all know he’s kidding himself.  Freud called it denial.

We use the word in many ways.  I deny hitting the ball through the window or pulling my sister’s hair, or … telling lies.  I deny you the right to enter my property.  I deny that cars and industrial pollution contribute to climate change (in fact, I don’t).  But here we are talking about refusing to believe that I have a drinking problem, or that my son was caught with his red hand in the till, or that my wife did really die in that plane crash.  The cure of such denial is called enlightenment.

Readers will have guessed what I’m driving at.  Believers wonder how atheists like me can deny the “evidence” of God’s existence.  I wonder how they can allow their faith to blind them from seeing the folly in believing that dead people are still alive, in some sort of “after-life”.  We do not want to admit that we have become addicts of alcohol or drugs, or, painful as it is to admit, that certain terrible events in fact took place, or that death really is the definitive end of personal existence.

To be liberated from illusions, wishful thinking and denial is to discover the truth that alone can make us free.  From Illusions to Illumination …

  RIDENDA   RELIGIO

“YOU TALKIN’ TO ME ?”

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That’s more or less what Samuel (1 Samuel 3) could have said to God one night when he heard an unidentified voice, three separate times, which woke him from his sleep.  You may never have heard God speak to you, but lots of people in the Bible did.  Matter of fact, the people who wrote the sacred texts were claimed to have received their message from the mouth (?) of God Himself.  The Old and New Testament authors were often depicted as taking divine dictation.  Mahomet, of course, continued the tradition.

Hearing the “vox Dei”, “the Voice of God”, is not limited to Jewish, Christian and Muslim Scriptures.  Oodles of saints have made the same claim.  Joan of Arc is perhaps the most famous example.  Her claim cost her her life.

It ought to be surprising to believers who spend so much time talking to the God they imagine to be listening to their prayers, that they never hear him say a word in return.  It never seems to occur to them that this perpetual silence, which one could qualify as at least impolite and insensitive, is surely a reasonable indication that they are in fact talking to themselves.

But the pretension – and pretense – that the Bible is the Word of God is for believers a never-to-be-questioned fact.  The principal foundation for this belief is that the Bible’s divine authorship was decreed by Jewish and Christian authorities themselves !  This is without doubt the most staggering example of credulity and conmanship one could imagine.  The established churches laugh, in petto – so as not to appear unecumenical – at the fantastic story of Joseph Smith and the “sacred text” on those conveniently since lost golden plates he found, translated and published as the Book of Mormon.  But the supposed divine origin of their own Bible is just as ridiculous.  God, for obvious reasons, notably the fact that He doesn’t exist, never spoke to anyone.

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

DAECH : AMBITIONS WITHOUT BORDERS

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What’s in a name ?  Why do people, firms and organizations change their names ?  I changed mine, my company changed its, for somewhat different reasons.  More to the point, ISIS changed its name to IS.  It is no longer the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”.  Now it is just IS, period, or, in its own language, DAECH.

So what  ?

In case it is not obvious, let us say that the terrorist organization and death-cult has  become catholic.  This is not a false scoop about its conversion to Christianity, but its almost equally significant factual conversion to universality.  Islam, like the Catholic Church in previous centuries, has ambitions – and a supposedly divine mission – to dominate the whole world.

Not so long ago the Church actually did, like the Roman Empire it supplanted.  It was already almost overrun in the 15th century by the armies of Islam.  Since then the world has seen the world-wide threat of Communist dictatorship, followed by the ambitions of German National Socialism and its ally, the Empire of Japan.  Today some see their replacement – for the nonce – by American “imperialism”, and in the foreseeable future, that of China.

In 1938 the British Prime Minister did not take seriously the threat of National Socialism.  We survived the imposition of a 1000-year old Third Reich by the skin of our teeth, and with a little help from our friends.  C.S. Lewis famously said that the Devil’s most brilliant deception is to get people to believe he doesn’t exist.  The planetary threat of Islam to make the world an Islamic State, a universal Caliphate, is no empty rattling of sabres.  The sooner the world sits up and takes notice of what’s happening, not only in the Middle East, but already in such unlikely places as Martin Place in Sydney, the closer we will be to taking the threat seriously.  Sceptics should not forget that our declared enemy could one day add nuclear, Pakistani, teeth to his unlimited ambitions . . .

DELENDA   RELIGIO

“DAECHISM” : WHAT MAKES TERRORISTS TICK ?

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Most readers of this Blog will not have read an article in the French weekly magazine, “L’Obs”, of February 26, 2015. It reports an interview with a psychoanalyst, Fehti Benshama, who organized a symposium on Islamic terrorism at the University of Paris-Diderot on March 5 and 6. The title of the symposium was “Radicalization and Its Treatment”. It seems to me that readers of this Blog would appreciate an expert’s insights into this crucial topic, as part of our effort to understand the motivation of young people volunteering to join the death-cult of Daech.

Beyond facile explanations based on the material conditions of impoverished and sometimes orphan children, Benslama underlines the quintessential rôle of the guru, the charismatic figure responsible for inculcating Jihadist ideology and its subtle mixture of ideals and hatred. These ideals are essentially altruistic, and represent a maturing from childish narcissism to sentiments of either love or hatred of others. Racism, anti-semitism and terrorism are built on hatred either because of what the other has, or who s/he is – a supposed power which prevents the subject from enjoying a fulfilled and satisfying life.

The root-cause of this hatred, according to Benslama, is historical. Military expeditions against the Muslim world, colonialism and the violent interventions of our own time have given birth to the heterodox form of Islam of the “reformed” Muslim. National states have been built on the Western model. A secularist state was created in Turkey, along with the abolition of the Caliphate, which symbolized the destitution of Islamic sovereignty. Whence its recent re-establishment by ISIS or, in its Arabic form, DAECH. True Muslims feeling betrayed, maintained in poverty and exploited by the powers that be, demand reparation and vengeance. “Pure” Muslims, Salafists, regard the “moderate” Muslims as “sub-Muslims” who are destroying the ideal of Islam. Whence the call to, and attraction towards, revolt by the righteous against the status quo. Only violence will restore their dignity.

“Daechism”, says the specialist, goes beyond terrorism. It has taken an “auto-hetero sacrificial form”. Hatred of oneself and of others calls for the sacrifice of one’s own life and that of others. Indoctrination and belonging to a radical group develop these destructive tendencies. However the great novelty of Daechism is not cruelty but its public display, in a demonstration of omnipotence which can be witnessed by the whole world : the filming of atrocious murder by assassins, bound by no limits, allows spectators to experience the butchery. For Fehti Benslama, Daechism is the logical term of Islamist ideology.

DELENDA RELIGIO

INSIDE THE MIND OF A HUMAN BOMB

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It is, of course, impossible for a layman to understand the workings of a suicidal mind. Even psychiatrists, whose profession apparently leads many of its practitioners to take the irreversible step themselves, can never be sure about a given suicide’s motivation. The subject deserves reflection, however, since we have all become targets or potential collateral damage of terrorist self-immolation.

Some people are prepared to make significant personal sacrifices, for a variety of reasons. One cannot but admire Doctors Without Borders and other humanitarian paragons of generosity in sacrificing their personal comfort and gain for the sake of others. (Less admirable but often equally admired is the masochistic sacrifice some people make in renouncing certain of their essential human rights, by taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.) Then there are the heroes in both war and peace who are prepared to suffer and even die so that others may live. “Greater love than this …”. Christianity is built on the seminal belief in Christ’s self-sacrifice, voluntarily paying off an imagined ransom to an imagined God of Reckoning.

But suicide-bombers have marked the last twelve decades, since the “human bombs” of the Russian-Japanese war of 1904-1905, to the kamikaze pilots in the Pacific in the forties, to the human IEDs of Radical Islam today all over the planet. The 3800 young “tokkatai” (“special attack units”) of the Imperial Airforce, as well as the “human torpedoes” of the Imperial Navy, have been forgotten by people younger than I. Their motivation was more or less pure patriotism, though many realized the pointlessness of their desperate sacrifice in a war they knew Japan could never win.

Today’s terrorist suicide-bombers, and assassins like those who knew they could not survive their Charlie Hebdo mass-murders, have very different motivations. But the threat they represent is even more frightening than that of the Japanese kamikazes. These young men were the cream of the nation, students of engineering, literature, philosophy, law, the intelligentsia of an Empire brainwashed to worship its Emperor. They were the “broken jewels”, lauded by imperial military propaganda, in the the words of a classic 6th century text : “Better to depart as a broken jewel rather than live intact as a common piece of pottery”. Radical Islam’s willing suicides are ordinary, unremarkable individuals, including even children, whose name is Legion. There are countless candidates ready to replace them, eager to destroy the enemies of Allah and enjoy the rewards He has promised them. There is no limit to the volunteers available. They are just pieces of pottery, ready to be shattered, their worth estimated only in terms of the number of their potential victims. The epithet is only metaphorical, but this exploitation of what we used to call cannon-fodder is even more diabolical than the bombing of Pearl Harbor. How can anyone justify today’s present horror in the name of religion ?

DELENDA RELIGIO

PRAYING AND PREYING

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There is nothing more harmless than a priest at prayer. Catholics admire photos of Pope Francis, kneeling at a tomb or with his eyes fervently closed during a ceremony in St Peter’s. It is touching sometimes to enter a church and find the priest praying alone, devoutly contemplating the crucifix, not trying to impress anyone, just lost in imagining that he is communicating with God. The vast majority of priests and clerics of the three great religions pray regularly in private, and with great sincerity. They believe in their illusions.

It is no doubt a cheap play on words to insist on the similarity between the words “pray” and “prey”. But the famous Praying Mantis is in fact one of nature’s most formidable predators, disguising its intentions with the help of camouflage and especially a posture that has given the insect its name, as it lies in wait to immobilize and consume alive its unsuspecting prey. Escher’s famous woodcut, “The Dream”, has a Praying Mantis on the tomb of a Bishop, leaving no doubt about the artist’s intention of suggesting a certain anti-clerical symbolism.

If this Reflection makes the reader think of the scourge of pedophilia within the ranks of the clergy, it should above all remind us of those other predators, wolves in clerical robes, lying in wait, selecting and brainwashing recruits for Daech. These respected Imams are far more dangerous and pernicious than the preacher-predator played by Robert Mitchum in Charles Laughton’s “The Night of the Hunter” (1955). His syrupy sanctimoniousness was the fairly obviously pathological manifestation of a sick mind. But the Islamic Radical recruiters are not necessarily psychotic, and are no doubt sincere in their belief that they are fulfilling a divine mission. Muslim families often wonder too late why their sons and daughters end up in Syria. One can only hope that they, and enlightened, moderate Imams increase their vigilance in detecting and denouncing the Preying Mantises in their mosques.

DELENDA RELIGIO

CALIPHS : EIGHT DOWN , FOUR TO GO !

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The End, ISIS is convinced, is near. According to the “Hadith of the Twelve Successors”, Muhammad said he would have, before the Day of Judgement, only twelve successors. It would appear that history has already seen two-thirds of the promised twelve legitimate caliphs; Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the eighth. Two other elements will make up the End-Times : the armies of “Rome” will mass to meet the armies of Islam at Dabiq in Northern Syria, and the final showdown, after a period of further Islamic conquest, will occur in Jerusalem. The Syrian city of Dabiq near Aleppo, of which we spoke in an earlier post, will be the scene of Rome’s, our, Waterloo.

ISIS has already occupied Dabiq. “Rome” no doubt includes Turkey, but is, of course, the U.S. and the rest of the West. It’s just a question of time, and four more caliphs. American boots will one day be on the ground (air-strikes just won’t do the job), and the Islamists will break out the bottled sparkling water : the final victory is at hand ! An ecumenical touch : the leader of the final victory in Jerusalem – Armaggedon – will be … Jesus !

Radical Islamics, motivated by their apocalyptic myths, ultimately can’t and won’t win. But countless lives will be lost because of their blindfaith-blind folly. Religion must be destroyed as quickly as possible :

DELENDA QUAMPRIMUM RELIGIO

IS ISLAM OUR ENEMY ?

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The vast majority of non-Muslims who condemn Islamic extremists and Jihadist terrorists are, like me, amateurs and dilettantes in Koranic culture. Most have never read the Koran (I am one of the rare exceptions), even in translation. They are familiar with a smattering of quotations selected to bolster their opinion, which commonly is that Islam is a respectable religion deformed by anti-intellectual fanatics whose profound ignorance of the Koran, along with less worthy root-causes, has led them to believe that their crimes against humanity are the will of Allah.

It is important to realize that this popular, nuanced view is shared by recognized Koranic scholars. I have just read a lengthy study published by the highly respected Foundation for Political Innovation, which defines itself as a “liberal, progressive and European think-tank”. The article, in French, “Religious Pluralism in Islam, or The Consciousness of Otherness” (January 2015, 19 pages), was written by Eric Geoffroy, an Islamologist at the University of Strasbourg and a specialist in Soufism. The author’s thesis is that Islam and the Koran are not what many non-Muslims think they are. His very first sentence pinpoints the phenomenon which provoked his article : ISIS, the so-called Islamic State of Irak and Syria. “The Koran”, he writes, “proposes a very modern vision of a living together based on respect for differences”. He even claims that “the Koran is the only Scripture which establishes the universality of Revelation and inter-religious diversity … To be a Muslim implies the recognition of all revealed religions before Islam.” He quotes the Prophet as saying : “Whoever does harm to a Christian or a Jew will be my enemy on the Day of Judgement”. He offers two quotations from the Koran of particular interest to … atheists, because the texts condemn the use of force in matters of religion : “The truth comes from your Lord; he who chooses to do so will believe it, and he who does not will deny it” (18:29). “Would you want to force people to become believers ?” (10:99). The author even dares to oppose the opinion of later Muslim jurists who approved the death-penalty for anyone abandoning Islam, and affirms that there are no grounds for this, either in the Koran or in the practice of the Prophet. This statement has a special, personal resonance for me which deserves a brief explanation :

During my doctoral studies and four-year sojourn in the Paris Franciscan friary, I had the privilege of living with a world-famous Islamic scholar who had not only converted to Catholicism but had become a Franciscan priest ! Muhammad Abd el-Jalil had become Père Jean-Muhammad O.F.M., who for many years was a Professor of Islamic Studies at the Sorbonne. His apostasy had been famously denounced by highly placed Muslim authorities and by his own family. Later I was to share a pain and a punishment (fortunately non-capital) similar to his. Some religious people are not as broad-minded and as tolerant as apparently the Prophet was …

Religious pluralism, says Geoffroy, in the context of Arabia in the 7th century, was essential to the Prophet’s project of establishing a city-state, a pluralist theocracy in an alliance of monotheists against the polytheists of Mecca. In Medina, Jews had their own area for worship, with equal rights and guaranteed protection. If the Prophet allowed more than 600 Jews to be executed in 5/627, it was because of the high treason of a rebel Jewish tribe, not anti-semitism. In 631 he allowed a Christian delegation in Medina to celebrate Mass inside a mosque facing Jerusalem ! In passing, the author points out that the prohibition in modern-day Saudi Arabia to build non-Muslim places of worship is supported by neither the Koran nor the practice of the Prophet. The “dhimma”, a kind of permanently renewable contract, guaranteed hospitality and protection to members of “other revealed religions”, on the condition that they themselves respected the domination of Islam and paid the “jizya” tax …

According to the Prophet, the “minor Jihad”, the purely defensive military action to protect Muslims from attack, is sometimes necessary to ensure the “major Jihad”, defined as “the sacred struggle of man against his passions”. On September 27, 2014, 120 Muslim scholars from five continents published a declaration (visible on the site Oumma.com), defining this understanding of Jihad, adding that “it is forbidden in Islam to harm or mistreat Christians or the People of the Book” and that “it is forbidden in Islam to force anyone to convert”. (The famous belligerent “verse of the saber” (9:5) is a call to kill only the polytheists who had violated their treaty by attacking a group of Muslims.)

Readers may be surprised to read the article’s conclusion : “Jihadism is the aborted child of Saoudian Wahhabism, which the West – and in the first place the Americans – has supported in such a sordid fashion. This abscess was born, certainly, in Muslim countries, of a post-colonial civilisational malaise, but thanks to globalization and the media, it displays itself now as a nihilist ideology under the cover of religion”.

ISIS is the enemy of Islam. But the world is at present in danger because of intra-religion theological opinions. We survived ours. Can we survive theirs ?

DELENDA RELIGIO

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