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These were the last words of Chris (Yul Brynner) at the end of the movie “Return of the Magnificent Seven”.  He was looking back at the Mexican village which he and his six cowboys had just saved, against all odds, from the hundreds of banditos out to destroy the village, its people and the heroic Seven who fought to save them.  His companion replied to Chris’ expression of surprise that they had actually succeeded – “I’ll be damned !” – by saying : “I doubt it.  I doubt it very much.”  Taking the everyday expression literally, he was saying that after such a generous act of bravery as leader of the Seven (as Chris(t) the Savior ?), he would not be punished by God for his many sins by being damned to the fires of Hell.  A original punch-line to end a classic Western, but also food for thought for people who wonder about God as the Judge who condemns His wayward children by torturing them in Hell for all eternity.

Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell : the four Last Things, the “eschata” of Christian eschatology.  In fact only the first is a fact.  The others are pure fiction.

Believers, shocked by such a statement, will insist that the Gospels (the “Good News” ?) are explicit on eternal reward and punishment.  They take them as “Gospel truth”.  Jesus was indeed explicit about both,  so can there be any doubt as to what we can expect when we die ?  If questioned as to why they believe what they read in the Gospels, they would say that they accept all that Jesus (is said to have) said because He proved He was the Son of God by the many miracles He worked, above all by resurrecting Himself from the dead.  Q.E.D.

Such naïve credulity is not surprising in children, but unworthy of adults.  They will NOT be judged, they will NOT damned to Hell, they will NOT be rewarded in Heaven; when they breathe their last, they will just cease to exist.

You still believe in that nonsense about the “afterlife” ?  Well I’ll be damned !




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Established churches are not the only institutions facing the problem and the challenges the loss of confidence presents.  Governments, the political establishment, public services, police forces, private businesses, schools and banks are being put into question.  Some people exaggerate the comfort, security and integrity of life as it used to be in the “good old days”, but today the permanent threat of terrorist attacks, the reality of climate change, along with unemployment, the precariousness of their economic situation and lack of perspective for a better future for themselves and their children, have led them to lose confidence in many of the institutions in which they believed and on which they depended.  As President Obama wrote enigmatically in a TIME article recently (October 24) : “When people feel like the game is rigged, distrust grows.”  (He was not referring (only) to Trump’s accusation about the presidential elections three weeks from today …)

The situation of religious institutions is different.  Fewer people in developed countries today go to church or seek the sacraments or services of the clergy and of the institution they represent.  Many have abandoned not only their religious practice but also many of their beliefs.  They are no longer the fervent believers they once were, and find no need to frequent or support their church.  Some go further : they are disgusted with their clergy, not only for their financial mismanagement, up to and including the scandals attached to the Mafia connection of the Vatican Bank, but especially for their scandalous sexual behavior, up to and including widespread crimes and cover-up of pedophilia.  The professional personnel of churches, especially the Catholic church, are accused not only of inefficiency and malpractice as in other institutions but of being more concerned with their personal comfort and interests rather than those of their flock, and even of behavior in blatant contradiction with the message they preach and the values they represent.  It must be said, of course, that many members of the clergy and of Religious Orders are beyond reproach – apart from the fact that they continue to propagate the illusions of their blind faith.

It may take  a revolution to reform secular and religious institutions.  They have been tried many times since 1789; some have been disasters while others have met with some success, often however at a terrible cost. But peaceful reforms are also possible.  Is there any hope that the Catholic Church can reform itself ?   The answer of course is “Yes !”  Already in Africa and South America the Church is marshalling its troops (“Onward Christian Soldiers” is a Protestant hymn but also a Catholic reality), increasing its numbers and displaying a vitality that has put an Argentinian on the throne of Peter.  Pope Francis is determined to clean out the stables.

The Church as an institution will survive.  But so will the efforts of this Blog to get at least one category of the Church’s believers to recognize the folly of their faith.  Already they have jettisoned some of the more outrageous of its beliefs.  They are the Believers on the Brink, the raison d’être and targeted readership of this Blog.  They will increasingly lose confidence in the Church not only as an institution but as a teacher of the truth.  They have begun to realize that their faith was built on the sands of overconfidence, credulity and wishful thinking.  Hopefully they will soon find the courage to choose atheism.


M E A C U L P A : “Jesus did N O T impose instant death on dissenters”

“Egg on my face” would be an understatement.  Readers will remember a very recent post entitled “JESUS IMPOSED INSTANT  DEATH ON DISSENTERS”.  I must confess that I made a monstrous mistake.  Jim, “Lumen de lumine”, was absolutely right in castigating me for manipulating Sacred Scripture.  Jim is usually wrong.  This time he was not – except that it was, on my part, an honest, stupid misreading of Luke 19 : 27 : “Now about those enemies of mine who do not want me to be king, bring them in and slay them in my presence”.  I am ashamed, mortified, to have to admit how wrong I was in insisting that  the speaker is obviously (!) NOT the king of the parable, but Jesus, who, I now realize, in no way ever contradicted what He in fact (is said to have) said, totally in keeping with His rôle as Good Shepherd : “The Son of Man has come to search out and save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).

No, I cannot explain how after all these years I found myself surprised that I hadn’t ever noticed the verse in question, and inexcusably rushed to publish a post highlighting a statement completely out of keeping with the rest of the Gospels’ image of Jesus.  It will be hard for Jim to accept that I was not deliberately distorting the text.  But I could have simply deleted the offensive, totally erroneous post, comments included, and pretended I never wrote or published it.  I could have abstained from making this public apology.  I realize the damage it may do to my credibility and reputation as a theologian.  But it is the least I can do to try to set the record straight, if not to repair the damage.  Will Jim resist the temptation to respond by refusing not only to accept my apology and public confession but continue to accuse me of deliberately distorting the text ?  I can hardly expect him to congratulate me on my honesty.  But I prefer to take the risk rather than practise the “cover-up” so common in both politics and current Church affairs . . .

Readers will be interested, and perhaps impressed, to learn, how I discovered this disastrous mistake.  It was Thom, yes, our irreplaceable, prolific, brilliant commentator who has just drawn my attention to the gigantic gaffe, the first (and, I swear, the last of its kind) ever to appear in this Blog.  He is a true friend and – at the risk of offending him – my . . . Guardian Angel !

This Blog is dedicated to Jesus’ own statement : “The truth will make you free”.  Even, as Al Gore would say, when it is “uncomfortable”.  I have no choice but to beat my breast with a sincere “Mea culpa, mea culpa,mea maxima culpa !”  This post is part of my self-imposed “penance” . . .


TIME  magazine (October 3, 2016) devoted a full page to “Trump’s longtime spiritual advisor”, Pastor Paula White, “who believes that intercessory prayer can have an immediate impact on shaping events”.  She credits herself for making Donald Trump’s words . . . “God’s words” (!).  TIME did not see fit, though it has often done so in the past, to publish my Letter to the Editor, but it may interest readers of this Blog :

“Give God, or the pray – er, the credit ?  Pastor Paula White sees a cause-effect relationship between her praying and getting what she prays for.  I have a neighbor who constantly asks about my health.  When I give her the good news, she tells me it is because she prays for me every day.  She does not know that I am an ex-Franciscan Catholic priest become a militant atheist.  I do not have the heart to disillusion her.  But a minister of religion who gives herself the credit for getting God to do what she wants is either a fraud or a monster of  credulity and arrogance.”




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Kids, for eighteen years, have to hear how supposedly surprised we are at their normal growth.  At the other end of the spectrum, people would never dare tell someone like me – about to chalk up 80 – that I’ve aged terribly.  They prefer to lie but we old fogies know damn well that we are starting to look god-awful.

I don’t like to imagine my grandchildren at my age.  Luckily I will never see that happen.  I do sometimes wonder how closely my granddaughters will resemble my own daughters or daughter-in-law, but I prefer them as they are.  (My grandson will have the good fortune of looking like me.)  None of them will be more than thirty when I see them for the last time.  I will continue to see them as young and beautiful.  They will no doubt see me as hideous, with my lizard skin and sunken, hollow cheeks.  I hope they never get a face-lift.  I sure as hell won’t.  What’s wrong with looking your age ?

Some people try to disguise their age.  We all try to postpone our death.  But some even imagine that after their death, a really deep freeze will give them a second crack at life.  They put their hope in the science of Cryonics.  Others again imagine that their “real” self, something immortal they call their “soul”, will survive death and that they will live forever.  They trust that God will reward them with eternal bliss.  Others again believe in the immortality of the soul, but live in fear of eternal punishment.  The lucky, sane ones accept not only aging but dying, preferably painlessly and quickly.  We have already suggested the obvious solution, should dying prove to be slow and painful (see my recent post “A Slow and Painful Death”, September 14, 2016).  “Sapienti sat”.




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When I bought the DVD, I presumed that I had seen the movie as a kid.  The reason I hadn’t is that it came out in 1953, the year I had gone into the Franciscan Novitiate.  I saw it today, 63 years later, for the first time.  Not knowing that it had won three Oscars, I was not expecting anything but another peplum with syrupy scenes like Peter’s sermon in “Quo Vadis ?”, accompanied by tear-jerking piety pressed down and flowing over.  I should have known that with a line-up of stars like Richard Burton, Jean Simmons, Victor Mature (who had played Samson, “The Hairy Hero” of an earlier post, January 2, 2015) and Michael Rennie, it could not be all that bad.  To my surprise it turned out to be one of the best religious movies I have ever seen.  It not only deserved its Oscars for Best Costumes, Best Artistic Direction and Best Decor, but its scenario avoided the excesses too common in the genre.  There were just two scenes spoiled by Angels vocalizing at the moment of conversion of the central character, Roman Tribune Marcellus, who had crucified Jesus, and the same Angels breaking into an anachronistic “Alleluia” chorus when he and his lady love were led off to their martyrdom in the final scene of the movie.

The robe of the title provided the pretext for what turned out to be a gripping, credible yarn about the birth of Christianity.  The fictional garment which Jesus is supposed to have worn as He trudged up the Via Dolorosa to Calvary, unlike “real” relics such as splinters of the “True” Cross, the Shroud of Turin and the Crown of Thorns, had no supposed miraculous powers, but provides, if one may be allowed such a play on words, a red thread for the drama.  Miracles are mentioned in the movie, but are in fact downplayed.  The faith of Jesus’ disciples is based rather on His person, the message He preached and the vision He gave them of a world, a kingdom, of love and justice.  The movie no doubt reinforces that faith and could perhaps even inspire it.  The trouble, if not the pity, is that it’s just a story, like the Gospels themselves – minus their contradictions and the dark side of the just and gentle Jesus, as detailed in the previous post, “Jesus Imposed Instant Death On Dissenters”.

The film will not disturb the atheism of those who have already rejected their religious upbringing.  But it is a salutary reminder to us of the reasons Christianity has managed to survive for so long.  Don’t tell anyone, but it should be part of the arsenal of the Christian catechist.  However it won’t convince the Believer on the Brink, who has begun to discover serious obstacles to swallowing the myths on which Christianity is based.  It would take more than even a powerful peplum to bring him or her back to full-blown traditional belief.

D E L E N D A      R E L I G I O



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The Universe continues to blow my mind, as previous posts have often indicated.   The more I discover – what I’ve learned is a tiny amount of knowledge coupled with an immense awe – the more I feel that “God” has nothing to do with it.  The distances involved, the implications of those distances for space travel and communication, and especially the phenomenon of an expanding Universe leave, in my mind, no room at all for believing in the God humans have invented.

Let’s begin with contemporary projects to colonize Mars.   Elon Musk is investing 300 million dollars to send, in the very near future, 2018 (!), a space-probe to the red planet, which is in our backyard – only eight months’ space travel away.  It may seem out of this world – and it  is – but such a voyage is do-able, whether or not Musk manages to keep to his schedule.  Just seven years after the space-probe, he intends to send a manned spaceship to initiate human colonization of the planet, involving multiple eight-month, one-way (!) trips, with the objective of sending every two years as many as one hundred people to Mars, estimating that within one hundred years, the inhabitants of the first Martian city will number one million !

Musk and his rival, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, whose project involves creating space-stations in orbit around the Earth to delocalize heavy industry and to provide the energy we need, are dismissed by many as dreamers.  But they both mean business, and are putting their money where their mouth is.  Is the utopia they believe in an Impossible Dream, or a reality many young people today may see realized in their lifetime ?

Getting any further than Mars does seem to be, however, truly an impossible dream  (never say “never” ?).  We are too far from other planets within our solar system to imagine being capable of a journey to say, Titan, one of the moons of Saturn, the only moon  in the solar system to possess an atmosphere like that of primitive Earth.  The average distance of Mars from Earth is a mere 225 million kilometers.  Titan is 1.5 BILLION kilometers away, more than six times as far.

When it comes to speculating on traveling outside the solar system to the nearest exoplanet, we clearly need to come down to Earth.  Alpha Centauri A and B, along with Proxima Centauri (Alpha Centauri C) constitute a star system which, at 4.22 light-years, is the closest to our Sun.  That means it is 270,000 times further away from us than the Sun; it takes only eight minutes for light to arrive on Earth, not four years !  But while we’re at it, let’s look even further into the Cosmos and consider the youngest known galaxy, I Zwicky 18, discovered only in 2004.

Zwicky is a dwarf galaxy.  Compared with the HUNDREDS of billions (!) of Suns in our galaxy, it has (only !) several TENS of billions of Suns.  The other galaxies were formed just one billion years after the Big Bang, that is to say 13 billion years ago.  Zwicky is a youngster by comparison; it is only ONE billion years old, and is still in formation.  More to the point, it is 60 million LIGHT-YEARS away from us.  Not only is that a bit too far for a star trek, but even sending a radio message to it would take 60 million years for it to get there, and, if there were anyone there ready and willing and capable of replying, another 60 million years to get an answer.  “Hi !  We got your message.  Sorry it took us so long to get back to you.”

But the main reason I consider it unthinkable that there is a “God” behind all this is that we know that the Universe is  E-X-P-A-N-D-I-N-G  – mindlessly, madly and more and more quickly.  There is just no “room” – metaphorically speaking – for God in what looks decidedly like an infinite, purpose-less Universe.

Victor Hugo famously suggested that even Science will never discover the truth in its entirety :  “Science is asymtotical with the truth.  It approaches it incessantly without ever touching it.”  If this is true of Science, what hope does Theology have ?





True, He had a meteoric career : worldwide fame within decades that has lasted millennia.  But the word is derived from “eora”, Greek for “hovering in the air”.  Jesus was beyond (“meta”) merely hovering (“eora”).  He ascended right up there, alone and unassisted like the Man from Snowy River’s part-Timor pony.  Thought you’d like to know.  Just another of those tidbits you’ll find on this Blog and nowhere else.  Banjo in the prelude to his best-known ballad was speaking of his poems but he could have been talking of this Blog and its pearls :

” . . .  scant is their worth.

Though their merits indeed are but slight,

I shall not repine

If they give you one moment’s delight,

Old comrades of mine.”




. . .  or out of their soutanes.  I was one of them – for twenty years.  Before I say anything more, I have to remind myself that readers who would know what I’m talking about have to be over fifty to remember these boys dressed up effeminately like miniature clergy, at Mass kneeling on the altar-steps, “serving” the celebrant, he and they with their backs to the congregation, muttering Latin phrases which they, and maybe he, did not understand, moving the big Missal on the altar from one side to the other (God knows why !) for the priest’s reading of the Epistle and Gospel respectively, offering him the cruets of water and wine at the Offertory, ringing the hand-bell or sounding the gong at the elevation of the Host, holding the communion-plate under the chin of communicants kneeling at the altar-rail which separated the sanctuary from the nave of the church, and leading the priest back to the sacristy . . .

Who remembers this spectacle at Sunday, if not daily, Mass ?  I do.  But I’m almost eighty – and an ex-priest to boot (which many people, outraged and scandalized by my apostasy, have not hesitated to do . . .).  Pretty soon only a couple of Bing Crosby movies of the forties will be left to reveal “the way we were” as altar-boys, gone – like Bing – with the wind.

So much the better, I guess.  Few of us regret that ancient history.  I don’t remember the last time I served Mass as an altar-boy but I will never forget when I said Mass for the last time.  I was thirty, an altar-boy who had graduated from the soutane and surplice to the alb and chasuble but had never grown up.  I don’t blame anybody for getting me as a child to be part of a meaningless liturgical spectacle, nor later for getting me to make the priesthood my profession and celibacy my way of life.  I am sad, though, when I think of my companion Franciscan priests who never found the courage – they certainly had the temptation – to get out of the act, get off the stage, leave the theatrical trappings behind them, get married, get a real job and join the real world.

I have never regretted that I got out in time and gave myself a life.  I shudder to think what my life would have been had I not met Marie-Claire.  Our children are her, and life’s, most precious gift to me.  “Father” Leon became Frank, a real father and the luckiest man alive.




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Hitler did.  So did Napoleon, Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Confucius, Lucretius and Jesus.  You and I won’t.  Well, maybe you will but I sure as hell won’t.  When our children and grandchildren are dead, few will remember who we were or even be able to identify us in photos.  Accomplishments we thought significant, videos in which we may have appeared and even what we may have written will be quickly forgotten.

My grandfather’s name is on a street-sign in Kogarah, near Sydney, Australia;  my father-in-law’s is on another in L’Isle-Adam, near Paris, France.  People living in O’Meara Street today have no idea who Michael O’Meara was, and are not even curious to find out (I know : I asked them).  Some frequenting the Allée Jean Cailleux do remember the popular doctor and his forty-two years of practice in his home in the center of town (now a Police station !), but in a few years he will be totally forgotten and the name of the allée will no doubt be changed.  Neither he nor Michael O’Meara right now are particularly chagrined by their oblivion, nor even pleased that they have already found a certain immortality, thanks to the fact that I mention them both in my book . . .  They are both dead, so they could not care less.  Nor will anyone else, give or take fifty years.

Why would anyone want to escape oblivion ?  Probably their vanity made them seek fame and recognition all their lives, to the point that they believed they deserved to be remembered and appreciated even after their death.  Whether they or anyone else escapes oblivion, at the end of the day when the cows come home, does not matter much, unless their life and heritage continue to serve as an example to be followed, or as a contribution of lasting literary, scientific or artistic value.  We remember the famous for the good they did and try to forget the rest.   We cannot forget the infamous for their crimes against humanity.

Napoleon Bonaparte spent the last six years of his life making sure that future generations saw him as one of the greatest men who ever lived, if not THE greatest.  He was certainly the all-time world champion in self-marketing (though some accuse a certain Artful Blogger of the same).  Convinced he had succeeded in making his achievements and even his hatted silhouette universally recognized (like Hitchcock’s unmistakeable rotundity), he no doubt found comfort in the thought on his death-bed at Saint Helena.

“Vanitas vanitatum” !   Better to do one’s best during life to employ one’s capacities to make one’s sphere of influence, if not the world, a better place, than to waste one’s time trying to avoid oblivion when time runs out.  Those who follow us will decide whether we are worth remembering or not.  Frankly, modest man that I am, I could not care less – although I do hope that future generations will continue to appreciate and find enlightenment in this extraordinary Blog . . .