READING THE RUNES : ” WE’LL ALL BE ROONED !”

Rational people know we cannot be certain about the future until it becomes the present (that’s the lastest candidate for a new list of “Quotable Quotes”).  We can however sometimes see it coming.  If your plane is plummeting with all its engines on fire, chances are that your estimated time of arrival on the ground has just been dramatically abbreviated (there’s another QQ). Your flying days are over and your imminent death is probable, although you may be among the lucky (?) survivors, at best a future paraplegic (stop reading this right now if you have just boarded a plane; no, don’t get off : statistics prove . . .).

In calmer, less exceptional, circumstances we sometimes wonder about the future; we either worry about it or are filled with Great Expectations, for ourselves and our loved ones.  For fun, we occasionally glance at the horoscope.  Once at the State Fair, we may even have consulted a fortune-teller, knowing that we were beyond being conned into taking seriously the warnings she gave us (to make her predictions of the inevitable purely good news more credible)  and went away marveling that the credulous could actually believe her empty promises of a rosy future.

Tarot cards and rune-readings were never our thing.  We’re not sure anyhow whether we really want to know the future, even if we could.  If told they are going to die within the next six months, people take the news differently : reactions are as individual as fingerprints.  As always, it depends on the liver.

The past and the present can give us clues as to what is in store for us.  The state of the economy, decisions made by governments, geopolitical precedents, our own life-style, the profession and the sports we practise, the food and drink – and other substances … – we consume, all are factors in forging our future, which we face with fatalism or fear, hope or horror.  Some people pretend they can predict what is going to happen, not as fairground fortune-tellers but as paid pundits, many of whom fail to foresee that stockmarket crash which is about to end their career.  (Academic studies in the U.S. have established that the accuracy of futurologists’ predictions is pretty well identical with pure chance.)

The obvious answer to the Big Question – does the future offer us life after death ? – has the advantage of motivating us to make the most of the present.  “Carpe diem et quam minimum credere postero” (“Seize the day and count as little as possible on the morrow”).  No point either, in getting your knickers in a knot because of the past.  As for the present, if it’s pleasant, enjoy it.  If it’s not, keep your eyes out for every opportunity to improve it.  Beyond that, “que serà serà”.

*********

Reader  :   “That’s it ?  I mean, almost a page to end up with … THAT ?

Me  :   “As the girl in the Schweppes ad says : ‘What did you expect ?”  OK – how about : ‘Ad meliora contende” (“Strive for better things”); “Per ardua ad astra” (“It takes hard work to reach the stars”); or, “Hope springs eternal” ?  There.  Feeling better ?  Fine, no worries, but that feeling won’t last.  We’ll all be rooned.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

P.S.   This blatantly cynical send-up underlines, I hope, why so many people will continue to need religion.  They need reassurance that they can call on Someone to help them face the slings and arrows of everyday life, and above all that at least they can count on a better life – when they die !  The rest of us know that the only life we have will be what we make of it.  “Carpe diem” says it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SHIT HAPPENS , BUT SO DOES ITS OPPOSITE

No one ever defined the opposite of excrement, but I suspect you know what I mean.  France lost the European Soccer Cup but just won its second World Cup.

I’ve been lucky most of my life, though like you I’ve had my share of knocks.  Recently I had a day that was a particularly good one.  I didn’t win the lottery, inherit a fortune or receive the Nobel for the world’s most brilliant blog (if a score of Bob Dylan’s songs deserved it, surely my 800 posts do).  When you discover my stroke of good luck, you may not be quite as ecstatic as I.  But I find it hard to believe, almost as much as the incredible good fortune that preceded it, three years earlier.

Back then, I caught the bus to go to the railroad station at Biarritz, loaded with luggage for my trip back to Paris.  You’re not supposed to talk to the bus-driver, but my cap, embroidered with the word Australia and its flag, caught his eye – so we started talking rugby, as popular in the Basque Country as in my State of Origin, New South Wales.  I spent the whole brief journey chatting next to him, and by the time we arrived at the station we had become mates – though we never did discover each other’s name.  I got off the bus and dragged my bag to the ticket office.  It was there that I realized I had left my shoulder-bag, containing my wallet, money, ID, credit cards, agenda and other stuff, in the bloody bus – right there on the ledge next to the driver’s seat.  The implications of the catastrophe struck me immediately.  Bewitched, bothered, bewildered and completely buggered : that’s what I was, and ready to ditch my efforts at zen forever !  I was about to ask the lady at the ticket counter to phone the bus company – the first step in what promised clearly to be for me a Way of the Cross.  I had no Plan B.  I was in deep shit.  Which happens.

Suddenly a man I recognized as the bus-driver came rushing into the ticket office, with the shoulder-bag I had just lost in his hands.  “You forgot this” was all he had time to say before sprinting to the bus he had driven back to the station just for me !  No time to thank him or to expand on the … shit from which he had saved me.

The next day, after I got home,  I purchased a (reasonably priced) watch for him, and put it in my shoulder-bag  – with the intention of giving it to him the next time I returned to Biarritz.   I phoned the bus company which naturally refused to give me his name or address.  I wanted to thank (and surprise) him personally by putting the gift directly into his hands, thereby avoiding any risk of it going astray . . .  I told myself that we would certainly run into each other on a bus trip, in the near future; I live in my beach-house for almost half the year, and use the buses’ extensive regional network several times every week.  In fact it took three years, but then it happened !  A few days ago, there he was, in the driver’s seat of the bus I had just boarded.  He recognized me before I recognized him.  He couldn’t believe it when I opened my bag to give him the somewhat crushed wrapped present with the Lipp watch safe inside.

Banal enough, you might think.  But what were the odds of it happening ?  During those three years I had started to think that he had perhaps retired – or died !  No, he hadn’t !  There he was, with a big smile on his face, now wearing and admiring his windfall watch.  A happy ending to a simple good-luck story.

Some people learn to accept misfortune and “carry on”, as stoic Brits are wont to say.  Others fall apart (the way I did), and some never get over it.  “It’s not the end of the world” (or worse, “You can always have another baby”) is paltry consolation when shit happens.  But when good fortune smiles on us, especially when it is the result of the kindness of others, we are not only lucky to have been spared the inconveniences, or the possible disaster, involved; we have been given a reinforcement of our resistance to the slings and arrows of, yes, outrageous fortune, and of our appreciation of the decency of at least some of our fellow pilgrims on planet Earth.

This happened, as I’ve said, a few days ago.  The fact that the date was Friday, July 13 (Good Luck Day in France, Bad Luck Day everywhere else) has as much to do with my good fortune as . . . God.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHARITY BEGINS – AND STAYS ? – AT HOME

Somewhere in this Blog, years ago, I shared my guilty conscience about having not just one home, virtually empty, where I live alone, but two such homes – each of which is necessarily totally empty for half the year.  I wondered out loud about offering free lodging to a homeless family – a somewhat more significant gesture than the occasional paltry two-figure check to charities dedicated to providing lodging for the down and out.  This, on the contrary, would be a truly significant way of helping the homeless and homing the helpless, for as long as it took them to make a go of it on their own.

All of my friends, without exception, told me to forget it, to stop thinking I was St Vincent de Paul or Mother Teresa, to wake up to the fact that by taking in such a family, chances are not only that it would become permanent but that they would remain dirt-poor and I would myself be impoverished.

Countries facing the clandestine immigration of refugees put more or less stringent limits on legal immigration for the same reasons given me by my friends.  Michel Rocard, as a Socialist Prime Minister of France, famously said “We cannot take in all the misery of the world” : further support for my wise refusal to give into my noble sentiment of human fraternity . . .

The metaphor of the raft already heavily loaded with survivors of the shipwreck naturally comes to mind.  There are people still in the water, struggling to keep afloat.  Room for one more ?  Maybe – but not for the ten of them begging to be dragged aboard.  Do we beat them off with an oar ?  S O S :  Save Our Skins ;  we can’t endanger the lives of the people lucky enough (like me !) to be already out of the water, though still not out of harm’s way.  So, Sorry : No Vacancies !

“Omne exemplum claudicat” : “Every example limps”.  Is our country, are our homes, are our economies “rafts” in danger of sinking if we allow others to come aboard ?  Are we sure this would strain our resources to breaking point ?  How far are we prepared to go ?  What are acceptable (?) limits to the influx of immigrants ?  Are we capable of making – and are we willing to accept – objective assessments of our capacities to share our  “Lebensraum”, our … living room, if not our living rooms ?  Am I my brother’s keeper ?

There are limits on how far we can go in sharing the advantages we have, both as countries and as individuals.  Most of us, including myself, can clearly do more, much more, than we do.  But we are programed to give priority to our own survival.  We admire, but feel we cannot emulate, people prepared to sacrifice their life to save others.  “Greater love than this” will remain the ideal, if not the impossible dream.  Meanwhile humanity’s heroes continue to challenge us to question our self-centeredness.  We should at least pause to ask whether we can live with ourselves if we live only for ourselves.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

MAKING EMIGRATION UNNECESSARY , EVEN UNATTRACTIVE

I have been an emigrant three times in my life.  The first was emigration, alone, from Australia to France, in 1964.  The second was emigration, with my pregnant wife, from France to the U.S. in 1968.  The third was emigration from the U.S., with my wife and three children, back to France.  The first of these emigrations was necessary : I had no choice; I was sent by my religious superiors to do a doctorate in Theology in Paris.  This emigration to France was also attractive because no other Catholic university, at the time, offered the same cutting-edge excellence in the teaching of Pastoral Theology.  The second emigration was also necessary, because it was only in the States that an ex-priest could find employment as a lay theologian directing Religious Education programs and teaching in a Catholic university.  The third was also necessary because my wife insisted on “going home”.  But it came at a price : forcing our children, aged 9, 7 and 5, to abandon their friends, their pets, their environment and their native language, obliging them to face the challenge of definitive integration into a strange land and culture – to say nothing of the challenges I personally faced, finding a job and supporting my indigent immigrant family.

People emigrate because they have to – to escape famine, dictatorship, war and misery – or because they see another country as offering attractive opportunities to lead a better, safer, more satisfying life.  Today the news is full of stories about illegal immigration, notably from Africa, by people prepared to risk their lives and the lives of their children on fragile inflateable boats crossing the Mediterranean.  Their tragic stories are mirrored in those of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America, who at the last northern border face the quasi-certainty of incarceration and separation from their children.  Laudable efforts are being made to improve the plights of all these emigrants, forced to flee the inhuman conditions of life in their native country.  But these bandaid measures cannot provide an effective, lasting solution to the challenge of unwanted immigration  – seen by many as a threat. Attacking the causes, the raison d’être, of EMIGRATION is the only long-term solution possible.

What if Africa and Central America  became so attractive as places to live, work and prosper, that Europe and the U.S. would no longer tempt their citizens to emigrate ?  China is investing massively in the African continent, predicted to have a population of 2.5 billion in 2050, transforming and modernizing it as it consolidates its own prosperity and its own project of becoming the top future world superpower.  It is in their own interest that Europe and the U.S. should also invest heavily in the development of the countries so many people are longing to leave, taking enormous risks to seek a better life elsewhere by emigration.  Only when they find reasons for staying put will the current crisis disappear.  A utopian vision, no doubt.  But unless we make emigration unnecessary and unattractive, desperate people will continue to seek to immigrate to more developed and prosperous countries like ours – and we will continue to try to turn them away at our borders.  Our myopia, if not transformed into a long-range vision and strategy, will create a dystopia for both the have-nots and the haves, not only for the countries of origin but for the target-countries as well.

The American Dream, for millions of Americans, has never been more than a pipe-dream, a reality reserved for the relatively lucky few.  Europe never was a Utopia, except in the eyes of impoverished Africans and Middle Eastern refugees from terrorism.  Unless a United Nations Global Initiative, an international ambitious long-term plan is implemented- to make potential emigrants’ own countries a home they would not want to leave – within three generations, both the U.S. and Europe risk becoming places from which we ourselves would want to emigrate.  But there will be no place to go.

It is highly unlikely that anything significant will be done, in the foreseeable future, to change the status quo.  Prosperous countries will harden their fortress mentality (like Australia’s) and brave would-be immigrants from indigent ones will continue to attempt to penetrate our borders.  We can only hope that we will recognize our myopia before it is too late.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

IT’S NICE TO BE ABLE TO DECIDE (for others) WHAT’S RIGHT AND WRONG

If you’re a dictator, it comes with the territory.  If you are a democratically elected representative of the people, it is an essential part of your job.  If you’re a Pope or a cardinatial member of an Ecumenical Council, it’s a self-endowed privilege that you can exercise without constraint.  At a time, in the not too-distant past, when the Church ruled society, objectors and violators were burned at the stake, hanged, drawn and quartered, or torn apart by draught-horses, for the greater glory of God.

I still find it hard to believe that I not only once accepted that the Church could condemn me to Hell for missing Mass or for having “impure” thoughts, and do the same to doctors performing abortions or even pharmacists selling condoms or “the pill”, but that I fulfilled other duties imposed on me as a priest and member of a religious order, under pain of eternal or at least Purgatorial punishment.  Breaking the vow of chastity, by priests and religious, was close to the top of the Church’s additions to the Ten Commandments.  But even “breaking the silence” – talking to a Franciscan confrere at night and at certain periods of the day – was considered a “venial sin” that had to be confessed !  I should emphasize that I am not talking just about the Dark Ages but the 20th century.

How could they ?  I mean how could churchmen have the hide to invent and impose such laws – and how could the rest of us, the docile sheep in the flock of the Good Shepherd, simply do as we were told ?

This Blog is dedicated to bursting the bubble of ecclesiastical arrogance and the manipulation of the credulity of the Church’s ovine believers.  Fortunately we live at a time when more and more people have begun to recognize the terrorism practised by Holy Mother Church in brainwashing her gullible … children (already as pre-adolescents).  But billions of people still fear God’s punishment for what the leaders of their religion have decreed are “sins” in His sight.  They have not yet realized how outrageous and ridiculous this is.  Whence this Blog.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

QUOTABLE QUOTES : WHO WROTE WHAT ?

AMY was the only one to score 10/10.  THOM seemed to have the right answers but was either too modest to brag or too cautious to stick his neck out.  The fact is Shakespeare, Dawkins, Twain et alii wrote none of them.  I, your modest Blogger-in-Chief, wrote them all !  You can find them all in either my posts or my personal comments, all posted since the beginning of this year, 2018.

  1.   Post January 19.
  2.   Post January 13.
  3.   Post January 13.
  4.   Post January 13.
  5.   Post February 1.
  6.   Post March 27.
  7.   Post April 23.
  8.   Post May 16.
  9.   Comment June 20 on Post June 19.
  10.   Comment June 22 on Post June 19

THINGS WE DON’T HAVE TO LEARN , AND THINGS WE SHOULDN’T HAVE TO

Among the former  :  how to be born, how to suck, how to swallow, how to breathe, how to grow, how to urinate, how to defecate, how to die.

Among the latter  :  prayers, hymns, religious doctrines.

Children need to learn a lot of skills beyond what they are naturally capable of doing, and to acquire a lot of knowledge they will need to survive and to live meaningful lives.  They do not need to learn the nonsense with which parents and religious “educators” fill and pollute their open minds.  Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are white lies that evaporate after the first years of childhood.  Religious beliefs, however, are instilled as deadly serious truth, and are intended to last for life – as they very often do.

Charles Darwin, who early in his career studied Theology with the intention of becoming a minister of the Church, wrote in his autobiography  :  “It would be as difficult for children, with their as yet not fully developed brains, to reject belief in God, as for a monkey to abandon its hate and instinctive fear of snakes.”  One could call this brainwashing diabolical, if the Devil were not part of the religious hogwash that continues to poison children’s minds.

DELENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

 

 

 

QUOTABLE QUOTES : CAN YOU IDENTIFY THEIR AUTHORS ?

Plato ?  Pope Francis ?  Mark Twain ?  Richard Dawkins ?  or . . .  ?  Are your guesses as good as mine ?  I scored 10/10.

  1.   “Your life and mine will have the meaning we give it, by the difference we have made.”
  2.    “People and products are generally trustworthy, but the exceptions suggest that we should always have a grain of salt handy.”
  3.    “Common sense will always be the ultimate criterion.”
  4.    “Rational people will always avoid the extremities of skepticism and credulity.”
  5.    “Don’t tell me that bed-bugs have a divine purpose.”
  6.    “I’ve always been proud of my modesty.”
  7.    “Someone is going to make a fortune from kid-size bullet-proof vests.”
  8.    “When I’m in hospital, I’d prefer a silent Chaplin to a chatty chaplain.”
  9.    “Cherry-picking Scripture is nothing short of hypocrisy.”
  10.    “We are all immigrants or the descendants of immigrants.  Compassion for today’s immigrants should be part of our DNA, our Daily Normal Attitude.”

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE : A REAL THREAT ?

Who’s afraid of Big Bad A I  ?  The vast majority of mankind has never heard of it.  We who have, people who read more than Trump’s tweets and the tabloid press, and whose leisure time is not devoted exclusively to electronic games, Fox News and Netflix offerings that do not include scientific, cultural and historical documentaries, we at least have heard of it – and maybe enough to worry about it.

The Chinese are not worried at all.  According to French expert Laurent Alexandre, they have none of our scruples or ethical norms to temper their enthusiasm for A I.  They have already, early this year, succeeded the first cloning of a monkey and have practised numerous genetic modifications on human embryos.  Many Chinese look forward to replacing their lawyers and doctors by Artificial Intelligence !

Transhumanism, amortality and the dominance of super-intelligent computers of which HAL (in the movie “2001 : A Space Odyssey”) is a mere primitive prototype, are not yet realities.  But, we are told, they soon will be, in just a few short decades.  Will tomorrow’s enhanced HALs be capable of doing what specialists assure us they will ?  Or is all this science-fiction, like the movie ?

People my age (81) have little to worry about : we will all be dead before this Brave New World becomes a reality.  But others half my age and younger would do well to keep up with the literature, so as to be aware of, and equipped to face, the challenges, if not the threats, on their horizon.

I myself wonder whether some super-computer more powerful than HAL (the letters of his (?) name precede those of IBM), with intelligence and capacities far superior to his already impressive, frightening talents, will in fact become a god.  There will be no doubt about his quasi-omnipotence and omniscience.  Though the movie leaves us terrified by the power of his ancestor, many might find Him quite . . . adorable.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

 

THE SOURING OF THE MILK OF HUMAN KINDNESS

You don’t really expect this post to offer the panacea to the problem of immigration.  But you are taking the trouble to read it, just in case I may have something to say that has not already been said dozens of times about it.  Thank you for the compliment and for the confidence.  I’ll try not to disappoint you.

The Mediterranean has for some time been the center of attention, as statistics mount and desperate refugees drown.  This week the focus has switched from Italy’s refusal to accept any asylum-seekers except those on Italian boats, to the U.S.-Mexico border, where children are being separated from their illegal immigrant mothers.  Melania Trump and Laura Bush have been weighing in, pleading for compassion – thereby questioning what Donald Trump insists is part of the Law (illegal immigration is; separating children from parents is not).  Jeff Sessions, a.k.a. Mr McGoo, has dared to quote St Paul to defend Trump’s heartlessness.  Rednecks would give God a red face, if He had one.

I am the grandson of legal European immigrants to Australia.  I was myself a legal immigrant to the U.S., where I spent ten years as a “resident alien”, and then an immigrant to France where I was lucky enough to obtain both a residency visa and a work permit, before becoming a French citizen.  I can only imagine the hardship and horror suffered by people traveling thousands of miles to cross the Mexican-American border illegally, and then being incarcerated and separated from their children.

History has been one of emigration and immigration from before the emergence of Homo Sapiens.  Sometimes it has involved claiming a “terra nullius” (literally a “no man’s land”), as did Australia’s first immigrants 60,000 years ago.  More commonly it meant invasion of occupied foreign territory by war, or by confiscation and colonization (as in Australia 230 years ago), accompanied by the decimation, enslavement or genocide of its  occupants.  The Maginot Line could not prevent the Germans from marching around it, and even a Mexican wall is unlikely to stop those south of the border from tunneling under it.

In a perfect world, national borders would be respected and immigration controlled by rational laws and compassionate policies for the admission of immigrants and asylum seekers.  In the real world, economic inequalities coupled with the instinct for survival will always result in legal and illegal immigration, whatever the risks and whatever the measures taken to control it.

Is there any hope of finding an acceptable, humane solution to this challenge, where residents’ rights are respected and refugees’ needs are met with compassion and generosity ?  We all hope there is, but we cannot ignore the magnitude of the challenge or underestimate the cost involved.  For there is a price to pay, financially and ideologically.  We must make sure that the people we elect are capable, ready and willing to engage in rational discussion and in the formulation and application of reasonable, just laws which protect the rights of both residents and would-be immigrants.  The U.S. is paying the price for having elected the wrong people.  Can Americans fix their problem, can we Europeans fix ours ?  Yes, we can !

RIDENDA      RELIGIO