QUESTIONS FOR A KAMIKAZE

My dear Ahmed,

You are not only a devout Muslim; you want to be a martyr for Allah.  When I was your age I was a fervent Christian who became not a martyr but a member of a religious Order, dedicating my whole life to God.  I even became a Catholic priest, and for seven years ministered to those we called the People of God.  Forty years ago I abandoned my faith, because I began to ask myself a number of questions, and realized that I had been totally mistaken.  Before you pursue what you feel is your vocation, to fulfill the will of Allah by sacrificing your life as you destroy that of as large a number as possible of infidels, I would like you to consider the following questions :

  1.     You put absolute trust in the Koran and the ‘ahadith’, the deeds of the Prophet, and his ‘sunna’, his example.  You are faithful not only to the five precepts but have prepared yourself for a suicide mission which is to be the supreme expression of your faith in Allah and your loyalty to His Prophet.  You believe that what you intend to do is the will of God, not because some mollah or imam told you about the 72 ‘virgins’ (raisins ?), part of your eternal reward for the ultimate sacrifice, but because you believe in the precepts of the Koran.  But have you ever wondered WHY you believe the Koran is the very word of God ?  Like you, when I was young, I believed what I was told, by my family, my teachers and my priests.  (Had you been born into my family, and I in yours, I would be Muslim and you would be Christian !).  The Bible is the word of God.  The Koran is the word of God.  How can both be true ?  What if neither was true ?
  2.    Now that you and I have grown up, we should wonder what personal reasons we have for believing in our sacred books.  Most believers believe because people around them believe.  They never question what personal proof they have that your Koran or my Bible is the word of God.  What proof, in fact, do we have ?  What if our sacred books were the work of pious, well-meaning religious teachers who THOUGHT they were transmitting the word of God, but in reality were as much inspired by God as I am in writing this !
  3.    You know that most Muslims do not take literally the Koran’s precepts to kill infidels.  They prefer to ignore (as we ignore such precepts in our Old Testament) Sourate 5, verse 51, which insists that a believer cannot be a friend of a Jew or a Christian, and especially Sourate 2, verse 193 : “Fight them until there is no longer sedition and until the sole religion is that of Allah alone”, and, even more so, verse 191 of the same Sourate : “Kill them wherever you meet them.  Such is the retribution of the evil-doers.”  They are more comfortable with the texts which contradict the justification of the mass-murder you intend to commit, Ahmed, texts like those of Sourate 2, verse 62, which preach tolerance of other religions.  Why do you reject such appeals for peace and mutual acceptance ?  Are you sure you want to sacrifice your life by choosing a call to assassination rather than peaceful cohabitation ?
  4.    I am not suggesting, Ahmed, that you abandon belief in Allah.  I became an atheist because I realized that “God” is an invention of men, a figment of imagination to fulfill our wishful thinking about an afterlife.  If you arrive at the same conclusion, you would be an atheist like me.  But you can remain a practising Muslim and remain a member of your community and find a certain fulfillment in your religion.  Why waste all that life offers you by commiting suicide as well as murder, terminating your own life but also that of innocent victims and inflicting unbearable suffering on their families ?  Do you really think that Allah could be so vicious as to want you to do that ?     May peace be with you.

SELF – DELUSION

It is a tad too easy to accuse people of self-delusion.  It is also often inaccurate.  My illusions about religion as a child, and for as much as half of my eighty years, were not self-induced.  I was not, initially, “kidding myself”, but being kidded, manipulated, brainwashed by others.  Today, scandalized former friends who have remained faithful to the indoctrination we shared, readily but mistakenly accuse me, as an atheist, of self-delusion.  Different from the religious faith inculcated in me by family, educators and clergy, no one talked me into atheism, no one brainwashed me into denying the existence of God, no one taught me to recognize how ridiculous religious belief and practice are.  It was a personal discovery, independent of the influence of hypothetical individuals dedicated to destroying my Catholic faith.  What I discovered, in place and stead of my illusions, was the illumination that religion is the result of wishful thinking that claims to give life and even death a meaning and purpose.  I have, however, only myself, my own reading and reflection, to “blame”.  This is in no way a boast or an expression of self-satisfaction.  It is rather recognition of how lucky I was to “see the light” rather than to continue to be blind.  The least I can do is to dedicate my life to helping others discover the truth that alone can make them free.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

FIT FOR PURPOSE ?

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

John Goodman is one of my favorite actors.  He has played rôles hard to forget (“Argo”, “The Monuments Men”, “Blues Brothers 2000”).  Twenty-six years ago he starred in a David S. Ward comedy, “King Ralph” (1991), which inspired the following reflection.

Ralph Jones is a failed Las Vegas musician who is discovered to be the only living candidate for the throne of England, after the liquidation of all the royals in a freak electrical accident at Buckingham Palace.  When researcher Duncan (Richard Griffiths) tells Private Secretary Sir Cedric (Peter O’Toole) that Mr Jones “has his strengths and his weaknesses.  He is American”, Sir Cedric says : “Quickly, Duncan.  What are his strengths ?”  The caricature of the ultimate Redneck becomes King Ralph – with predictable and unpredictable, uproarious consequences.  One cannot, in 2017,  help thinking of the present President of the United States, Donald Trump, the greatest misfit in the history of that former British colony.

The movie made me think of the election of another unlikely, improbable candidate, not for the office of King or President, but for that of Supreme Pontiff, Pope Francis 1.

Clearly, the election of the Argentinian cardinal was a much happier, if not providential, choice.  So far, since assuming the title of Vicar of Christ on Earth in 2013, Pope Francis has proved to be a credible, popular, refreshingly original successor to St Peter.  He has both disappointed some church-members and worried some of the prelates in the Roman Curia, respectively for his conservatism and for his liberalism.  He has made no secret of the fact that he does not expect to be Pope much longer.  What sort of a Church will he leave to his successor ?  What sort of Pope will replace him ?  What future is in store for the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church ?

My guess is that there is little danger – or hope ! – that the job will be given to anyone resembling “The Young Pope”, star of the recent fictional TV series. Nor can we expect a revolutionary, ultra-liberal Pope prepared to put Catholic beliefs and practice into question.  It will be business as usual in the area of morality, including abortion, and disappointing conservatism in the area of obligatory clerical celibacy.  The Church in Western countries will include more and more dissidents, more and more Believers on the Brink, but will thrive in Africa and South America.  “Delenda Religio” will remain a pipe-dream.  “Ridenda Religio” will continue to be the mantra of this Blog, for as long as its author remains capable and lucid enough to pen his provocative posts.

People are stuck with Kings and Popes unless they abdicate or die, and with Presidents unless they resign, die or are impeached and convicted.  One day, one of my posts will be my last.  Some of the world’s leaders are not fit for their task.  I just hope this Blog remains fit for ridiculing Religion.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

“ROSES ARE RED , VIOLETS ARE BLUE “

Tags

, , , ,

Since the year 2000, American Republican states are red, Democrat states are blue.  Up till then, it was the other way round.  So one can hardly attach too much significance to the symbolism of these primary colors, but what’s to stop me ?  Blue is universally recognized as a symbol of intelligence (“blue-skying” is practised by people who think).  Red, the color of blood, can be seen as a symbol of violence, but also of red-faced embarrassment.  “An intelligent Republican” is not an oxymoron, anymore than is “a dumb Democrat”.  But intelligent Republicans in those red states and elsewhere must be blushing ever since Donald Trump was elected President.  One can debate the wisdom of what he decides to do.  There can be no debate about the ignorance of general knowledge and even of English which he reveals every time he opens his mouth or gets up in the wee hours to tweet.

His recent claim to have invented the 19th century phrase “to prime the pump” is not only preposterous.  As he really believes he is the wordsmith who created it, he paints the lily (NOT “gilds” !) by boasting about it.  The comics and commentators provide multiple daily examples, but this one is enough to make my point – which goes beyond the domain of politics.

Atheists are sometimes inclined to consider their intelligence superior to that of non-atheists.  But dumb atheists exist, as do intelligent believers.  Nonetheless I would be ashamed to be a Republican, and I am still embarrassed to admit that I was once a believer.

“Roses are red, violets are blue, What matters most is what is true” – not false claims and alternative facts.  And it is the truth that will make you free.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

WE ARE THE LUCKY GENERATION

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 

Some would disagree.  People my age (80) have lived through two World Wars and others too numerous to list.  We missed the Depression of 1929, but were hit by the more recent crashes on Wall Street that practically ruined some of us.  We have seen the birth of Radical Islamist terrorism and live in permanent fear or fatalism.  We survived the Cuban crisis, and after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 hoped that relative peace, meaning the absence of World War, would become permanent – until recent threats of nuclear war which North Korea, Russia and the United States are seriously envisaging.

But in spite of all this, when we view the Big Picture, the history of the Universe and especially the history of Homo Sapiens, we realize just how lucky we are.  13.8 billion years are beyond our imagination, and we register the date of the Big Bang with an indifference born of our incomprehension of such an immense period of time.  70,000 years – the age of Homo sapiens sapiens – is more within our mental grasp, though the paltry 2000 years of our Christian era are already difficult enough for us to take in.  500 years : this we can comprehend.  The parish church here in L’Isle-Adam where I live is over 500 years old.  Australia was colonized by Europeans 200 years ago, at the time of the French Revolution.  Columbus discovered America in 1492.  Galileo saw Saturn for the first time in 1610, Christian Huygens in 1659 discovered the exquisite rings surrounding the gaseous planet, the second largest in the Solar System.  In 1675, Giovanni Domenico Cassini discovered the dark region between Saturn’s two principal rings.  And just twenty years ago we launched a space-probe to explore the planet and its famous rings.  After a 1.2 billion kilometer, seven year journey, the probe – fittingly  baptized “Cassini” – has, for the last thirteen years, been exploring the enormous, enigmatic planet.  It is destined to complete its mission and explode on September 15 this year, 2017 !

I have recalled the detail because Cassini, rather than Georgia, is very much on our minds right now.  But as we admire the fantastic photos it has given us (never seen by my parents), we can measure how far we have come – and how far we have gone ! – in just half a millennium.  500 years ago man entered the Scientific Age.  In that very short period of time new discoveries were made that have transformed definitively the life of Homo Sapiens.  You are reading this perhaps with the help of electric light, in a comfortable, fully equipped house, if not a skyscraper appartment, heated or cooled to provide comfort unknown to even our recent ancestors.  Relax !  When you finish reading this, you can put a couple of rocks from the fridge into your favorite drink and catch up on the news on TV – including perhaps an update on Cassini’s latest discoveries.

Travel on land and sea, in the air and even in space, medicine, armaments, agriculture, engineering and information technology are just some of the domains in which we take for granted the progress humankind has made. The differences in our life-style since the time of Galileo and Cassini are spectacular, but so are the differences in the way we live now, compared or rather contrasted with the life of our parents.  My Dad never had even a land-line, drove a car in his life or traveled more than one thousand kilometers from home.  We are the Lucky Generation.

I could say the obvious about the apocalyptic dangers we face today, about the ongoing scandalous inequality between the haves and the have-nots, about the poverty and misery of millions who have never profited from “progress”.  I prefer to limit myself to a word on the gap between the giant leap we have made in our knowledge and mastery of the world in which we live, and the stagnation of our progress out of the Dark Ages of religious belief and superstition.

The contrast is remarkable between life-styles (and life-expectancy !) five centuries ago and today.  One could have expected that we would have also progressed beyond the myths of the 17th century and the religious belief and practice still current today.  The 18th century’s “Enlightenment” did much to expose the incredibility of the religions which dominated life up till then.  But in our own 21st century, billions of people still share the same credulity and live in the same Dark Ages, as they drive in heated/cooled cars to heated/cooled churches to worship the same “God” as our ancestors, who drove in horse and dray to the cool if not freezing churches and cathedrals of yore.

We are indeed lucky to have been born after Galileo, Newton, Faraday, Pasteur, Edison and Einstein, and to have profited from their contribution to science and to the standard of living with its “modern conveniences” we enjoy.  I feel even luckier to have been born after Voltaire, Darwin and Russell, without whom I may never have become an atheist nor author of this Blog.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

THE RELEVANCE OF RELICS

They come in all shapes and sizes and substances : body parts (even body fluids), clothing, burial linen, and just about anything the holy person ever touched.  From Jesus we have, by definition, no body parts because He took them all with Him on Ascension Thursday.  But we do have oodles of splinters of the cross on which He was crucified (there is an endless supply available . . .), the Crown of Thorns (for which King Saint Louis built the gorgeous Sainte Chapelle), the Holy Grail (the chalice He used at the Last Supper, which is out there somewhere), and above all the Shroud of Turin, about which this Blog has said more than enough (click on “Search”, if you have nothing better to do).  That’s about it for Jesus, but from His Mum we (used to) have liters of her maternal milk.  His cousin, John the Baptist, left us his head which can be venerated in the cathedral of Amiens, not far from my home.  St Therese, the “Little Flower”, has her body on display in a glass coffin in Lisieux.  St James the Apostle’s body, reputedly transported miraculously from Jerusalem, has for centuries attracted millions of pilgrims to Compostella.  Other saints have all sorts of paraphernalia they supposedly touched which have become objects of veneration, notably in more or less elaborate reliquaries.  Every Catholic church altar has an altar-stone with fragments of the bones of early martyrs, all with certificates of authentification, about as genuine as a two-dollar bill or fake news on Fox.

Among the curiosities which are relics of other religions, the recent photograph in TIME (May 15, 2017), reveals the ecstatic, demented devotion of Kashmiri Muslims, hysterically venerating “a whisker believed to be from the beard of the Prophet Muhammad” at a shrine in India.

There are even relics not only of physical persons, but of moral persons as well.  The multinational for which I worked for sixteen years, Capgemini, is this year celebrating the Golden Anniversary of its foundation by Serge Kampf in 1967.  Serge, who died recently, created an information technology giant, employing at present 180,000 people in 40 countries.  A collection of memorabilia has been assembled to mark the event.  The company produces no products in the form of hardware or even packaged software, but only immaterial information technology services to large businesses and governments.  The “relics” collected include everything from watches, pens, pins, tee-shirts, ties, caps, scarves, a rugby-ball, beer-mugs, a Prague crystal wine-decanter and glass gilded goblets inscribed with the company name and logo — to annual reports, technical publications and memorable photographs of management, personnel, notable events and of the Capgemini giant record-breaking catamaran.  The collection includes even some of the pedagogical material I personally created for my seminars at the Capgemini University.

There is, of course, no comparison between religious and non-religious relics.  But as far as the former are concerned, one has to wonder about the emotional and sometimes fanatical devotion they engender, and the miraculous powers attributed to them.  When I’m dead and gone, I expect my fans (both of them) will go beserk, trying to get hold of a whisker from my beard, or a toe-nail or some precious dandruff.  I’d prefer however that they not chop up my corpse, an arm here, a leg there, to satisfy the inevitable, insatiable, international demand.  In fact, I would hope that this Blog will itself become more than a relic, more than a souvenir of what I have tried to accomplish in getting Believers on the Brink to question their persistent credulity.  I would hope that its many posts continue to sow doubts in the minds of those who have not yet dared to admit how ridiculous religion really is.  Relics have to be the prime example which more than justifies the Blog’s mocking mantra :

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

P.S.  Type “Relics” in the “Search” slot top-right to review eleven earlier posts on this subject.

 

” THANK GOD ! “

Tags

, ,

Everyone says it, all the time.  I remember seeing and hearing Gorbatchev say it once, before the fall of Communism and the Wall in 1989.  You don’t have to be a believer to welcome good news using a meaningless liturgical phrase, “Deo gratias”, translated into every language on earth.  Even for many believers it has become a knee-jerk reaction, rather than an expression of faith.  Many people in France and other European countries this morning are using the empty phrase, after the election of Emmanuel Macron as President.  It’s a way of saying “Ouf !”.

But the expression deserves a moment of reflection.  It implies that when what was at stake was crucial, or a successful outcome unlikely, we attribute it to God.  Whether or not anyone prayed for this success, God gets the credit.  Which means that everything that happens, good and bad, is believed to happen because God gives it the nod or refuses to do so.  The torpedo misses its target : the submarine crew curses, but the people on the enemy ship thank God.  You get that job, the operation on your child is a success – or you don’t and it isn’t : we say “Thank God !” or keep mum, depending on whether the news is good or bad, thereby attributing whatever happens to the will of God.  “Deo volente”, “God willing”, “Inch Allah” the pious say.  He is in charge and there’s not much we can do about it.

Of course, we can pray – asking Him to make sure that what happens is in our favor.  “Almighty God”, “God the Omnipotent” can do anything He likes, including change the course of events and work miracles.  Such credulity and dependence is worthy of children, not adults.  Next time you’re inclined to say “Thank God”, don’t.  He doesn’t give a damn one way of the other.  We should.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

“CUSTOMS , BELIEFS , IMAGININGS”

Tags

,

His face is on the flipside of the Australian $50 note, accompanied by a quotation :  “As a full-blooded member of my race, I think I may claim to be the first, but not the last, to produce an enduring record of our customs, beliefs and imaginings”.  David UNAIPON was an Aborigine preacher, inventor, writer and activist, the first indigenous Australian to publish a written work in English.  His inventions include a shearing machine and a centrifugal motor, among his nineteen provisional patents – for which he received neither money nor credit.  Recognized now as Australia’s Leonardo da Vinci (!), he designed a helicopter based on the principle of the boomerang.

The quotation above refers to his book, published in 1930 under the name of William Ramsay Smith, and forty years after his death in 1967, under his own name, in 2006 : “Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines”.  He believed that the traditional Aborigine and Christian spiritualities were basically the same.  I am intrigued by this recognized, meticulous, obsessive wordsmith’s use of the word “imaginings”.  He retold traditional stories, “legendary tales”, of the Aboriginal Dreamtime.  Did he equate beliefs, imaginings and legends ?  I wonder what he would have thought about blindfaithblindfolly . . .

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

 

SURPRISED ? RELIEVED ? DISAPPOINTED ?

Time to wrap up my effort at making up miracles.  Were you curious as to whether I was still alive or struck dead, as I pretended my computer had threatened  ?  Whatever your reaction to my “resurrection”, I’m back in business.  But not with a vengeance, just a determination to continue blogging as long as I can – physically and mentally – at whatever frequency I choose, and as long as I have something pertinent to say about religious credulity.  You better believe it !

                                       RIDENDA      RELIGIO

P.S.  I was flabbergasted to see that some readers actually believed my concocted story about my computer self-typing a death-threat by remote (or divine !) control.  I don’t know if it’s even technically possible (it is NOT – theologically), but apparently it is as least credible.  (Maybe I should write a techie thriller, or, better, a “Dan Brown”.)  I thought I had made the account sufficiently over-the-top as to be taken for the joke that it was, or was intended to be.  I guess that after Donald Trump, Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer we are ready to believe just about anything.  Sorry.

BTW (ugh !), after “Angels and Demons” and “The Da Vinci Code”, Dan Brown wrote a third saga of the adventures of my favorite “symbologist”, “Inferno” (click “Inferno”on “Search” to read my earlier post on the book).  The movie version, I recently discovered, has someone talking about “counterfeit reality”.  Did this inspire Conway to create “alternative facts” ?  The question constitutes a veritable scoop – no one has ever asked the question.  Then again, readers of this Blog have learned to be surprised at nothing they read here, a blogosphere mine of nuggets you’ll find nowhere else.  Had you ever heard of a self-typing keyboard before reading my recent posts ?  The Donald has no monopoly on blowing his own Trump-et.

 

ALIVE AND WELL !

I waited a while but, as you can see, I’m still alive.  I naughtily kept you waiting, leaving you wondering whether to mourn not only my demise but the death and definitive discrediting of the Blog – or to break out the vintage Holy Water, on the rocks, to rejoice in the vindication of Divine Truth and Vengeance.  Believers will just have to tell themselves, once again, that theirs is not to reason why, that God acts in mysterious ways, and that one day – some day – they will be proven RIGHT !

I am not suggesting that my survival proves that God does not exist.  But we all know that at four score and three months, I will croak sometime in the foreseeable, perhaps imminent, future.  You can bet your last euro that whenever it happens, certain religious readers faithful to the Blog only to garner material and ammunition for their catechism classes, will ring out Hallelujas to celebrate the “proof” that my computer really was divinely inspired and my print-out the authentic word of God.  They will believe that nonsense as readily as they believe the nonsense in the Torah, the Gospels and the Koran.  Meantime, I’m still not dead.

SO   FAR  ,   SO   GOOD  !