AN UPDATE ON SPACE – TRAVEL

Tags

, , ,

Since I posted “Back to the Future” on July 30, wannabe astronauts this week have gone into 12-months’ total isolation to prepare themselves for the seven-month (one-way) trip to Mars – sometime in the Future.  And “Sciences et Avenir”, September 2015, has spelled out the figures for traveling to Kepler 452B, the exoplanet which most resembles the Earth.  It’s 1,400 light-years away; that’s 13,250,000,000,000,000 kms !  How long would it take to get there ?  At Voyager 1’s speed of 62,136 kms/hr, you could make it in … 24,322,000 years.  At Apollo 11’s 38,000 kms/hr, it would take another 15 million years, 39,200,000 years, to be precise.

I cannot resist adding, once again, the obvious.  People who say, with the Psalmist, that “the Heavens reflect the glory of God”, forget that the stunning spectacle on a cloudless night somewhere far from the city lights, is in fact a myriad of countless unreachable stars and galaxies in a Universe too vast to have any meaning or purpose.  The unimaginable immensity of the Universe is itself an argument against the existence of an Intelligent Creator.  What, on earth (!), is it all FOR ?

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

” RELIGION : AN ORGANIZED LICENCE TO BE ACCEPTABLY STUPID. “

Tags

, , , ,

This famous statement by RICHARD DAWKINS on Twitter was disapproved severely by his friend LAWRENCE KRAUSS.  “How to lose friends and alienate people” comes immediately to my mind, because I am myself somewhat expert in this domain.  I have said before how difficult it is to distinguish disrespect for beliefs from disrespect for believers.  Dawkins has crossed the line, as I surely have in debate and demonstrably in this Blog.  In pleading guilty, as I’m sure Dawkins would, I would plead, if not for forgiveness at least for an effort at understanding how difficult it is not to offend believers by our vehemence in ridiculing religious belief.

My background (need it be emphasized ?) is totally different from Dawkins’ (the comparison or even contrast is itself a little arrogant …).  One thing we do have in common is a religious education.  But I became a priest and a professional religious educator.  I recognize now how stupid, or at least how credulous, I was for half my life.  This may help my critics (they do not include Krauss …) to understand, but not necessarily excuse, my temptation to apply these epithets to believers who deserve my respect in spite of their silly beliefs which don’t.

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

TERRORISTS ON TRAINS : GOOD LUCK !

Tags

, ,

Last Friday, our Sunday for Muslims, a devout disciple of the Prophet got on the Amsterdam-Paris TGV at Bruxelles, armed with enough artillery in his arsenal to kill scores of passengers.  He chose the last carriage – only one connecting door to watch – and went to the toilet to check out his kalashnikov, its nine loaded cartridges and his trusty cutter.  His luck failed him from the beginning.  Someone noticed the gun and even heard metallic clicks from behind the toilet door.  But above all he was unlucky to be in the same carriage as several incredibly brave men who risked their lives and suffered gunshot and razor-blade wounds while overpowering the terrorist before he could kill anyone.

As with other attempted and even successful massacres, we will forget the details, including yesterday’s French presidential honors to the Americans, British and French heroes, now bearers of our highest distinction, Napoleon’s Légion d’Honneur.  But people, the Press and politicians are thanking our lucky stars that after Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish Kosher deli in January, we got off so “lightly”.  Luck (some would say God), this time, was on our side.

Curious phenomenon, luck.  How many of the train passengers are wondering “What if ?”  What if their ticket had put them in that carriage rather than one of the others where they remained totally unaware of the drama being played out at the back of the train ?  What if those courageous Americans and the other brave men had not been present, or preferred to protect themselves rather than their fellow-passengers ?  What if the terrorist had been able to shoot them before being knocked to the floor and disarmed ?  Others, of course, will not talk of their luck, but of God’s protection.  Some will associate their survival with all sorts of imagined causes, including their Miraculous and St Christopher medals or the novena they made last week to Saint Whatshername.

The more serious question, of course, is the unanswerable one : how to ensure protection from murderous religious fanatics in trains (although in this case the gunman is claiming he had no such intentions, but wanted to use the arms he had found in a park (!), just to rob his fellow-passengers).  Spanish Railways, after the Madrid massacre, have set up surveillance for international trains similar to that practised in airports.  It is possible that this will become common practice, but inconceivable that such measures would be feasible for suburban trains.  Believers will continue – in spite of their frequent disappointment – to proclaim “In God we Trust”.  Fatalists will content themselves with “que serà, serà”.  The rest of us will hopefully be inspired not just to admire but to emulate the exemplary altruism of the TGV heroes and Their Great Valor.

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

AGEING

Tags

, ,

Watch little kids in a playground, on the beach, practically anywhere.  They don’t walk; they run.  I guess I was once like them, but today I couldn’t run if I tried, although, for the moment, I can still walk.  I have friends my age (78) who avoid elevators, but not because of claustrophobia;  they prefer to take the stairs, sometimes two at a time.  I know one guy in his late sixties who does not walk up stairs; he runs !  The idiot thinks he’s still a kid.

I act my age, but I’m not proud of the shape I’m in.  Too sedentary (this damned Blog !), too much weight, too bloody lazy.  I know it will get worse.  Too many warning signs, impossible to ignore.  When people used to tell me that alcohol was killing me slowly, I replied that I was in no hurry.  Having gotten on the wagon five years ago, at least I won’t drink myself to death.  (Smoking I gave up thirty years ago – but the damage was done.)  The big danger for me is not that I will kill myself by my life-style but that I will bore other people to death.  Some day not far off they will politely say that they are sorry I croaked.  But croak I will.  I just hope I can do it with dignity and without too much pain.  One thing is certain : I will do it without fear.

There will be no death-bed Confession, no Last Sacraments.  The last sacraments I received and administered were nearly forty years ago.  I’m not afraid of the void waiting for me.  Life has been very full for me, pressed down and flowing over.  I’m the luckiest man alive.  When I’m dead, you’ll just have to accept the fact that I will never write a post on this Blog again.  I know some who will thank God.

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

ANYONE FOR ASTROLOGY ?

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

If you wikipede “Christian Views of Astrology”, you will discover that, for once, the Church has had a pretty good track-record in recognizing, since Saint Augustine in the fourth century, that astrology is hogwash.  The Doctor of Doctors was sharp enough to use the diametrically opposed behavior patterns of many twins to ridicule astrology.  Theologians ever since have argued that its doctrines are contradicted by the reality of free will.  One should not be too hard on scientists like Kepler and Galileo, astronomers who were also court-paid astrologists.  Have you never, for a lark, consulted your horoscope ?

There is no point in paraphrasing here  what everyone can find on the Web about Religion, Science and Astrology.  But few of you – if any – would have access to the French monthly “Sciences et Avenir” and its August, 2015, article : “Astrologie, Astronomie : La Science face aux Croyances (Beliefs)”.  I thought therefore that you might appreciate the following item of information.  Did you know that :

“People born in March and April are more affected by cardio-vascular illnesses.” ?  This statement, the magazine points out, “was not made by some medium with her crystal-ball, but by one of the great scientific institutions of the world, Columbia University in New York.  In June this year, the researchers in its Department of Medecine published the result of a study conducted on 1,800,000 persons born between 1900 and 2000, announcing that the month of birth – in other words the astrological sign – allows the determination of illnesses during one’s life . . . The team declared that it has established correlations which, from its point of view, could not be the result of chance” (p.27).

After that attention-grabber, the article goes on to lament that the good doctors were impervious to the avalanche of mathematicians’ criticism of the statistical methods they employed and their obvious unscientific bias.  (I would not like to be one of their patients …).

Astrology is alive and well and on the increase.  Contemporary “scientific astrology” is no longer into making predictions but focuses on the “potentialities” of an individual, the strong points of his psyché and the conscious and unconscious manifestations of his personality – depending, as in classical astrology, on the position of the planets at the time of his birth !  Modern astrology is still based on the geocentric vision inherited from Aristotle and Ptolemy, respectively 4th and 2nd century B.C.  In this view the Sun, the Moon and the five planets known at the time are all placed in concentric orbits around the Earth.  All are indifferently labeled as “planets”.  The outside skin of this cosmological onion is that of the “Sphere of the Stars”, which are all therefore considered to be the same distance from Earth !

Over the last ten years, the article tells us, the number of French people who believe in horoscopes has gone UP 2% to 22% of the population !  With credulity like this, is it any wonder that so many people not only in France but around the world still believe the myths and superstitions the Church teaches them ?  At least Rome does not preach Astrology.  But Angelology is just as silly.

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

ANYONE FOR STATS ?

Some blogs are read regularly by thousands of people.  This one is read occasionally by thousands of people.  Many, I suspect, stumble on it, read a post or three, and then move on to one of the other numerous competitors out there, and never consult blindfaithblindfolly again.  A small number, I know, are constant readers.  For all of you “silent readers”, as you have been called by a reader who formerly was himself anything but silent, here are today’s overall statistics of this Blog :

Posts  :  351 ;    Views  :  10,656 ;    Visitors  :  3,317 ;   Followers  :  46  (these are readers who have asked to be informed whenever a new item is posted.  I have no way of knowing whether they bother to read them all.)

Daily updates tell me of consultations by new readers, like the one today from Argentina.  Welcome to you and to all who do THOM and myself the honor of taking a moment to share a reflection and perhaps a chuckle with two Rebels with a Cause.

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

” ARGUMENTUM AD HOMINEM “

Tags

,

An Aussie reader and Rugby fan has privately offered me an interesting translation of “argumentum ad hominem” : “Play the ball and not the man”.  The metaphor is not only spot on but it underlines a fundamental difference between Rugby and American football : in the latter the point seems to be to annihilate the jock facing you, so as to allow two players on your side to get on with the game, i.e. to permit the quarterback to throw the ball to a receiver who then, hopefully,  dashes into the End Zone (they call this “football” ?).

Down Under, and in many other countries, Rugby is in fact just as rough and, in spite of the noble principle, often aimed at hitting and hurting an opponent rather than trying to regain possession of the ball.  In religious debate, hitting and hurting are done with words chosen to embarrass one’s opponent as a person, rather than confront opposing points of view.  In the short term such a stratagem scores points, but in the long run using “argumenta ad hominem” amounts to shooting oneself in the foot.

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

” BELIEVERS ARE LUNATICS ! “

Tags

” –  not just crazy, but dishonest, hypocritical and dangerous”.  Generalizations are bad enough : “All Frenchmen are oversexed.”  “Germans have no sense of humor.”  “You can’t trust blacks, Arabs, or – why not ? – Australians (especially Australians who are bloggers)”.  But the statement in the title is even worse.  It dismisses people who believe, without examining the arguments which support their belief.  It is an “argumentum ad hominem”.  The definition is the following : ” ‘Argumentum ad hominem’ means responding to arguments by attacking a person’s character, rather than the content of his arguments …  It is a fallacy in which a claim or argument is dismissed on the basis of some irrelevant fact or supposition about the author or the person being criticized … Abusive ‘ad hominem’ usually involves attacking the traits of opponents as a means to invalidate their arguments.”  (Dr Michael C. Labossière, “42 Fallacies : ‘Ad Hominem’ ” – Wikipedia.)

Trying to score points by reference to an opponent’s social or professional status, his/her personal defects or those of his/her family, their lack of academic qualifications or embarrassing features of their personal history, are not only blows below the belt but irrelevant and unworthy in rational discussion.  But in oratorical combat it is as frequent as it is hard to resist.  Aggressivity begets aggressivity.  In religious and political debates, crowds love heated arguments and find entertaining and worthy of applause the particularly incisive ‘argumentum ad hominem’.  People prefer picadors, the charismatic crowd-pleasers whose arms are insults rather than insights, contempt rather than content.

This Blog is not immune to this temptation.  When one is ridiculing Religion, it is difficult sometimes to avoid confusion between disrespecting beliefs and disrespecting believers.  But believers should also recognize that they too can descend to using an ‘argumentum ad hominem’.  Atheists are not necessarily “lunatics” any more than believers are.

RIDENDA   RELIGIO 

BOTTLES IN THE SEA

Tags

, ,

Living as I do On Zeee Beeech here in Bidart in South-West France near Biarritz, I am not only a Beach-Blogger but a Beach-Comber.  Scandalous amounts of flotsam and jetsam are swept up every morning of the Summer tourist season by municipal tractors, which pick up our leftovers, what we inspected and rejected, weighed and found wanting.

Out there, between here and New York, I guess there are any amount of “derelicts”, the maritime term for cargoes at the bottom of the sea which no one has any hope of reclaiming.  Around this country and yours there are also not a few derelicts, in human form, who have also hit rock-bottom but do deserve the effort to be reclaimed.  Even on the sea-bed there are “lagan”, goods and wreckage that can be reclaimed …

All this makes me think of … BOTTLES, those empties, “dead Marines” (!), which people toss into rivers and oceans.  I’m thinking not just of empty bottles but of those other, sealed, bottles, rare of course, with messages in them, that can end up anywhere.  For obvious reasons, this makes me think of this Blog.  I am amazed, every day, to find readers identified as living in Finland, or Canada, the Philippines, Russia, the U.S., Croatia, Panama, the U.K., China, New Zealand, Poland, Ireland and, of course, France and Australia.  They never post a comment.  I have no idea what they think about what I write, or about the frequent comments and too rare posts of THOM, without which the Blog would be so much poorer.  Maybe it’s just as well that you readers out there do not tell me what you think.  In the past, one assiduous reader and outspoken commentator, JIM, pulled no punches in punishing my posts, and flogging his archaic arguments from ancient Apologetics on everything from the “First Cause” to the Last Judgement, sharing his Six Steps “proving” not only the existence of God but the infallibility of the Church (Catholic, of course), and why we should believe in nonsense like Mary’s apparitions (except at Medjugorje), Jesus’ “transubstantiated” presence as a wafer of bread in His “Prison of Love” in the tabernacle, Miraculous Medals, First Fridays (but not Last Tuesdays), and Eucharistic miracles involving bleeding hosts and blood-stained cloths at Mass.  Maybe, different from James, the indefatigable Defensor Fidei, you don’t reply because you don’t want to offend me (never been a problem for my former schoolmate and friend Jim) – or even admit that you agree with me.  Fear not, ye of little faith !  I can take the hard knocks – and I love all those smart people who realize I’m right (though I do sometimes make spelling mistakes : English has become for me, these last forty years in France, a secondary language).

This post itself is a Bottle in the Sea.  I wonder where it will end up – and whether its readers might do the rest of us the honor of telling us what they think, not only about this post but about any of the 349 others.  Click on that “Leave a Comment” button.  You’ll have readers all over the planet, though they will remain as anonymous as yourself.

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

THANK GOD AND THE CHURCH FOR THE INQUISITIONS !

Tags

, , ,

—  “The activity of the Medieval Inquisition (established in 1184) contributed greatly to the restoration of order and repression of violence that had plagued Europe for over 200 years.”

—  “The (Spanish) Inquisition, in fact, was perhaps the most just court system before the modern period.”

As it is inevitable that I will be accused of quoting these statements about the suppression of the Cathars and later the victims of the Spanish Inquisition “out of context”, I will give you the full references so that anyone as outraged as I am can consult them in context.  They are both written statements by an Australian Catholic apologist,  ROBERT  HADDAD, founder of Lumen Verum, an outfit that apparently attracts right-wing Catholic fanatics on Friday nights in South-West Sydney, Australia.  The texts are available on the Net under “Lumen Verum”; scroll down to Haddad’s 30-part course in Catholic Apologetics – Index title : “The Inquisitions”.

There is a cherry on this incredible cake : an attempt to practically JUSTIFY the condemnation of Galileo (between the Medieval and Spanish Inquistions : the “Roman Inquisition”) !!  The French would say “On croît rêver !” : “We must be dreaming !”

Don’t take my word for it.  Check it out for yourself.  This monstrosity deserves worldwide publication.  There is no point in my commenting further on this supreme example of blindfaithblindfolly.

D E L E N D A     R E L I G I O    (this is no laughing matter)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 53 other followers