” NOBODY CARED WHAT THEY WROTE “

The author who wrote that is, without doubt, the most talented and popular radio personality America has seen for the past several decades. Garrison Keillor is the famous author of the stories he told about the fictitious town of Lake Wobegon, exploiting his wit, his originality, his velvet voice, his easy, languid delivery and his unique, laid-back sense of humor. He writes as well as he speaks.

In one of his novels, about the early days of radio, “WLT. A Radio Romance”, he introduces us to Buck, the almost blind baseball commentator who, in the years before television, transformed even the most boring of games into riveting, largely fabricated drama. Buck despised the sports newspaper journalists. “To him”, wrote Keillor, “newspapers were fish-wrap, and the Scribes and the Pharisees who sat poking at their typewriters in the press-box were nothing but sore losers. Nobody cared what they wrote. The game was over by the time the paper came out; their reporting was yesterday’s mashed potatoes”. (pp. 257-258)

Most writers are never published. Only a tiny fraction of manuscripts are accepted by editors, and many a determined hack with illusions about the Pulitzer or even the Nobel, has wall-papered his digs with pink slips. Why do they persist in writing ? Why, you might well ask, do I ?

Fame and fortune are not my motivators. Too unqualified for the former and, I’m happy to say, with no need of the latter, I’ve learned to live with quasi-anonymity and am lucky enough not to de-pen-d on income from products of my pen. “Scripta manent” has long been for me an illusory ersatz for the acclaim of the multitudes – who remain unaware of even the existence of this blog. In a word, I have learned to settle for less. I am, however, appreciative of the appreciation expressed by a handful of readers, themselves professional, well-known writers far more competent than I.

I write because I believe that my life-story qualifies me to contribute to the cause of contradicting the claims of the credulous. (You, faithful reader, have learned to tolerate my absolutely awful and annoying alliteration.) My pipe-dream is “Delenda Religio”; my more realistic mantra is “Ridenda Religio”. I consider myself lucky to be able – for the nonce – to ridicule religion and promote atheism. Even if few care what I write.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

NO NEED FOR YOU TO DIE PREMATURELY

Few of us know how long we have left to live. My life-expectancy is a lot shorter than most of yours. I’m 84 and risin’, as Johnny Cash would say. Another five, maybe ten years – max ! But many of you have decades, perhaps a half-century, ahead of you. Don’t listen to the cold-hearted idiots who say the government is infringing on our human liberty in promoting obligatory vaccination against Covid-19. They say – contradicting scientific evidence – that only a “tiny minority” of the eight billion we are, left unvaccinated, will die from even the highly contagious Delta variant. Rather than spend outrageous amounts of money, indebting our grandchildren for the rest of their lives, they insist that we should resign ourselves to the “relatively rare” deaths – including maybe yours ! – to be expected, and accepted, from Covid.

It apparently has never occurred to these callous killers that the pandemic, left unchecked, could result in the extinction of our race ! We already have the remedy for the disease. It would be suicidally criminal not to use it. We can save not only countless human lives but human life on Earth. The choice is literally …. existential, a matter of existence. I don’t mind dying, after such a long life. I do mind that you won’t get that chance if these assassins prevail.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

SUPERMAN AND E.T. , ZEUS AND JUPITER , YAHWEH , JESUS AND ALLAH

In human history and ancient literature, gods and superheroes are a dime a dozen. There seems to be something in our psyché that induces us to imagine superior beings, most of whom have powers we fear. Long before the gods of ancient Greece and Rome, and independently of one another, primitive peoples – some of whom still live in the jungles of South America and Papua New Guinea – have, it would seem from time immemorial, created their own divinities, along with castes of sorcerers, witch-doctors and priests as intermediaries with them. Anthropology is as fascinating as astronomy. There appear to be no limits in both sciences.

In our own contemporary Western culture, creative authors introduced us to an extraterrestrial from the imaginary planet Crypton, and another, quite different in powers and morphology, whom his creator simply called “E.T.” No one was ever tempted to imagine they were anything but fiction. Imaginary Greek gods like Zeus and Roman divinities like Jupiter (Jove) were believed by many to really exist and to interfere in human affairs. No one today shares these ancient beliefs, but we have no hesitation in giving reality to Yahweh and Allah as the Supreme Being, as well as to Jesus as the incarnate Son of God. It is extraordinary that we dismiss the gods of Antiquity and yet have no trouble believing in the gods of the Old and New Testaments and the Koran.

Will the Jewish and Christian and Muslim religions fade out, as did their pagan predecessors ? The obvious answer : Don’t hold your breath ! There are, however, encouraging signs that although none of us will live to see it, current religions are destined to become extinct before we do. Will the Cyberage offer us super-intelligent machines (“Deus ex machina” or, to be grammatically correct, “Dei ex machina”), to replace today’s deities ? HAL, the “2001 Space Odyssey’s” alter ego of IBM, no doubt has the answer.

RIDENDA RELIGIO.

THE LAST TEN POSTS AS ONE – LINERS

Ask your friends where else they can read succinct discussions of challenging subjects like these.

  1. July 22 : The tragic deaths of Jeanine Deckers and my friend Monique underline how religious indoctrination can have disastrous consequences.
  2. July 19 : It is hard to believe that priests believe that a “consecrated” wafer of bread can really be the Body of Christ.
  3. July 15 : Luckily, one does not have to be “a priest forever”.
  4. July 12 : Hospital staff confront a constant challenge, if they are believers, in permanent face of suffering and death.
  5. July 7 : Only we can prevent Covid-19 and Climate Change from annihilating the human race; “God” will not.
  6. July 5 : The “Dies Irae” is meant to scare us into walking the line before Judgement Day.
  7. July 1 : Life is full of “closures” before our final closure which is death.
  8. June 28 : God cannot prevent buildings from collapsing nor work miracles to have some victims survive.
  9. June 28 : Posthumous fame is pointless.
  10. June 26 : Last-resort prayer is pathetic credulity.
  11. RIDENDA RELIGIO

A TALE OF TWO BELGIAN BELIEVERS

Both were Flemish women whose profound Catholic faith, coupled with their extraordinary talents, led them to celebrity, in one case worldwide. I have only to remind you of the song “Dominique, -nique, -nique” for you to recognize “Sister Smile” (“Soeur Sourire”) – a pseudonym to hide her identity as Sister Luc-Gabrielle – the composer and artist whose disk sold more than three million copies, putting her commercial success beyond that of both the Beatles and Elvis Presley. Her real name was Jeanine Deckers, and the French movie, starring Cécile de France, recounts the disastrous, cruel environment of her early family life, as well as her entry into a Dominican community of nuns and the story of the discovery and exploitation of her charisma, her leaving the convent, her international success and the descent into Hell which was her life until she ended it by committing suicide with her lesbian companion. That was in 1985, the year I became a Director in a French multinational.

All this happened in the sixties, when I myself, having become a Franciscan, was ordained a priest in 1961 and abandoned the priesthood seven years later, before becoming an atheist in 1978. I never met Sister Smile but I did meet and become a professional partner of Monique Bittermans (not her real name), the other Belgian believer of the title, whose story was equally tragic. Monique had theological degrees similar to mine, from the Institut Catholique in Paris, and had become an international celebrity as a lay specialist in Religious Education and the highly successful author of programs to prepare children for their First Communion. Monique and I conducted catechist training seminars together, during which she enchanted our audiences not only with her contagious conviction but with her musical talent, which rivaled that of her compatriot Sister Smile.

When I resigned as a priest and began seeking employment in the Church as a lay-theologian, Monique was the one whose recommmendation made possible my career as a Director of Religious Education for ten years in the U.S. I never saw her again. Some years later I learned that she had thrown herself under a metro-train in Brussels.

I can’t help but wonder about the lives – and the deaths – of these two remarkable women. After her death, it became public that Monique had long suffered from polar disorder. Jeanine Decker faced other challenges , but one cannot help thinking that her family environment, her lesbianism, her inability to resist the pressures of celebrity contributed to her equally tragic end. Personally, I suspect that a possible major factor, in both their radical life-changes and decisions to commit suicide, was the initial religious credulity that had so deeply marked their lives. Imagine, for a moment, the effect which her loss of faith must have had on Monique, the creator of America’s most popular First Communion program ! (I still remember her singing “Panis Angelicus” . . . ).

Sad stories both, cautionary tales for priests, members of religious Orders, catechists and Believers on the Brink. Fortunately my own “success story” indicates that there can be a “happy ending” to apostasy. Atheism has been for me not only a liberation from the brainwashing so many of us suffered and which some of us made … our profession ! It is the truth which has made me free.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

” FATHER , DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE IN THE REAL PRESENCE ? “

You don’t – and you haven’t for years. You can’t tell anybody, not even your closest colleagues. You joke with your fellow-priests about all sorts of things, even the “sacred”. You know that many of them share your doubts, but this is forbidden territory. If ever your Bishop got wind of your loss of faith in the Eucharist, you’d be in a real pickle. He too has to posture, to keep up appearances, to celebrate Mass, to elevate the host he has just consecrated, and – for the congregation – gaze piously, lovingly, at . . . a wafer of bread, for he has just pronounced, in the name of Christ, “This is My Body”. All of you, on the stage that is the platform of the altar, perform as you are expected to. You will distribute Communion by holding up a small host, saying “The Body of Christ”, waiting for the consent of the communicant : “Amen”.

You should have come clean years ago. You knew that what you were doing at Mass was pretending to be a super-magician by performing a … double miracle ! You not only succeed in transforming the wafer into the body of Christ, but in making it retain its original appearance; you turned the red scarf green but made it continue to look red ! Many of the brainwashed faithful have retained the same credulity they have practised since their First Communion, others pronounce their hypocritcal “Amen” under family pressure; the “liberals” are content to understand and take Communion as a symbol of their Catholic identity. You, Father, have to accept the status quo. It’s too late now. It would be virtually suicidal to admit openly that those wafers are NOT the Body of Christ.

You will continue to play the game as long as you must and for as long as you can. Your retreat will be a liberation with all the security, comfort and dolce far niente you deserve. You won’t have to go through the motions any more, except at the funerals of your confreres. You will find ways to fill your time. You won’t try to learn Chinese but you will continue to enjoy your crosswords. You might even break new ground by brushing up on voodoo, bingeing on videos or basking in Vivaldi. If I were you – remember, I could have been in your mocassins – I would put pen to paper and find catharsis in a confidential confession of your itinerary from illusions to illumination. Get it off your chest – with or without the intention of posthumous publication. You might even enjoy reading the rest of this blog of mine. Don’t be jealous. I was just one of the lucky ones who got out in time. Make the most of the time you have left. Carpe diem, Father. Pax et bonum.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

AN ATHEIST CELEBRATING THE 60th ANNIVERSARY OF HIS ORDINATION AS A CATHOLIC PRIEST

July 15, 1961. Not an empty seat in St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, where Norman Thomas Cardinal Gilroy was about to ordain me and some twenty-four other deacons to the priesthood. I was to become a priest, a “sacerdos in aeternum” (turned out to be a little less than that, just seven years ) along with four of my Franciscan confrères, classmates in Philosophy and Theology since the Novitiate eight years earlier, survivors of the original group of ten. Most of the others being ordained were the “secular”, diocesan priests who would soon become curates in Sydney’s flourishing parishes. Our families were all there, looking forward to the first sacerdotal blessings of their Chosen One.

I don’t know how many of this new batch of priests remained faithful to their “calling”. I was not the only one of the five Franciscans ordained that year, to abandon the priesthood. My mate “Pio”, close friend since “Robbo”, the Seraphic (!) junior seminary, became a missionary in Aitape, New Guinea, but later married a native nurse who gave him nine (!) children ! He died a few years ago of Alzheimers. “Fabe” also became a missionary in N.G., where he was murdered during his sleep. “Nobby”, who was ordained later in the year, also spent most of his life in the jungle, and died in retirement recently, faithful to the end. “Berch” is still functioning at 86, dearly loved by his parishioners, who will today be pulling out all stops for his Diamond Jubilee.

I, of course, went a step – or rather a giant leap – further than the thousands of priests who left the priesthood in the sixties and seventies. After ten years in the U.S. as a layman, teaching Theology and directing Religious Education programs for both adults and children at the diocesan and parish level, I became an atheist and later author of this blog. My story is spelled out in earlier posts (September-October, 2015).

This 60th Anniversary leaves me with one overiding reaction. How lucky I am not to have wasted more than seven of those sixty years believing that I was empowered by “God” to celebrate the Eucharist, forgive sins, and chosen to deepen the faith of those committed to my pastoral care and prepare them for eternal life ! The 1110 posts of this blog are the product of my itinerary “from Illusion to Illumination”, from Catholicism to Atheism. That is something worth celebrating.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

HOSPITALS : A GIFT WE TAKE FOR GRANTED

Most of us have had at least one stint in hospital. I’ve never bothered to count mine but, at this time of writing, this present one has been for me the source of surprising disappointments but also of a continued admiration for such institutions and their personnel. The details of my medical appointment being transformed into an immediate, improvised, unprepared and unexpected hospitalization may interest my family but not my readers. I will spare the latter – but not the former – the anecdotes accumulated in just a couple of days concerning my experience of scandalous snafus in communication between staff and the patient I have been and between partner-hospitals.

Francophile, I have enjoyed the good fortune of living in and enjoying the privilege of citizenship in France for forty years. My adopted country’s Social Security system and the quality of its medical service are the envy of the world. I prefer to believe that my present negative experience is … exceptional. In a positive, medical sense of the word, it was a 100% surgical success. I can’t – and prefer not to – complain.

But, on a broader canvas, these few days have given me the occasion to reflect – for interminable, solitary hours on end – about the “vocation” and the unique environment and experience of hospital staff. The range of their education, remuneration and social standing covers the gamut of Western cultures. The “machine” seems to function (normally) with efficacy and efficiency, but also in an atmosphere of camaraderie, in which, however, hierarchical levels are scrupulously respected. Racism appears to be totally absent. But this profession is unique in the exposure it provides day after day, hour after hour, to every form imaginable of human suffering, except obviously criminal torture. Its mission is mercy, compassion, 100% dedication to the cure of disease, the healing of the sick, the rehabilitation of victims of violence and accidents – as well as to aiding the moribund to die with dignity and with as little pain as possible (with or without measures of euthanasia). Patients and their families know they can count on the disinterested, constant attention to needs which the medical corps is uniquely equipped and qualified to understand and practise.

I wonder what effect the everyday, ever-present occurrence of death has on the psyché of hospital staff. For the general public, death is an inevitable, but, for each of us, numerically rare challenge that we and our loved ones are forced to face. Doctors, and the underpaid, indispensable nurses and ambulance personnel, as well as those responsible for administration, sanitation, maintenance, catering and logistics, all face death on a daily basis. I wonder whether any of them ever pray for their patients . . .

That “in cauda venenum” I leave for your reflection. I suspect that most of the hospital staff’s gung-ho believers leave their religious convictions in the hospital’s Entry Hall. Their right and left brains must be functioning in overdrive. Their professional environment is one of science, not of wishful thinking.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

IS THE END NEAR ?

Not just mine, not just yours, but of the human race. “Dies irae, dies illa, solvet saeclum in favilla” : “Day of wrath, that day will reduce the world to ashes”.

This is not the first time people have wondered about the threats to the survival of humankind. But this time it will not be God who punishes us, but we who commit collective bacteriological and/or ecological suicide. Are we getting dangerously close to that day ?

The people of Pompeii must have asked themselves the question before being buried alive in their city’s rubble. Victims of earthquakes, tsunamis and Hiroshima may not have had time even to ask themselves the question, before horrific, vast but limited damage was done. But today scientists are profoundly worried about two threats in particular to our very existence : the Covid Pandemic and Climate Change. Their less informed predecessors during the time of the Black Plague no doubt imagined that it could result in the disappearance of life on Earth. But in spite of limited understanding of the disease, we survived. Today vaccines have been developed in record time to protect us from Covid-19, the COronaVIrusDisease of 2019. New and even more transmissible variants have increased the danger and the fear that we may never eradicate it. As long as the virus is present anywhere on the planet, we are all subject to the risk of eventual annihilation, thanks to increasingly virulent variants. It remains to be seen whether we are capable of the mutual cooperation necessary to contain this possible cause of a universal speciocide.

Perhaps more frightening still are the statistics revealing the increase in the threat of the effects of worldwide climate-change. In spite of massive investments and a measure of international cooperation – sadly both inadequate – scientists are increasingly concerned that before long we will have reached the Point of No Return. Coal continues to pollute our planet and may end up making it impossible for us to breathe.

For the nonce we continue to hope that solutions will be found to force governments, whatever the cost, to eliminate these threats of the destruction of our species. But it behooves blogs like this to ask Napoleon’s question : “And God in all this ?” Many – the majority of our race – will continue to count on God to answer their prayers to assure our survival. We atheists know that such wishful thinking is absurd. We know that it is up to us to find and implement the solutions . . . if that is still possible ! It would help if everyone recognized that we, like Laplace, have no need of the “God” hypothesis.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

” DIES IRAE , DIES ILLA ” : THE JUDGEMENT OF AN ANGRY GOD

It is the quintessential dirge, a haunting lamentation about the horrors that await us when “that day, a day of divine anger”, will reduce the world to ashes : “How great will be the quaking when the Judge is about to come !” It is perhaps the most famous and recognizable of Christian hymns. For a thousand years it has been a dominant feature, the Sequence, of the Requiem Mass, the rhythm of its rhyming lyrics expressing far more than sadness at the passing of a loved one. It is, in fact, designed to instill fear into the living, reminding us of the Judgement that all of us must face : “Quantus terror est futurus, quando judex est venturus, cuncta stricte discussurus” (“What terror to come, when the Judge appears, to judge with rigor … everything !”). No talk here of the Gentle Jesus but only of the Angry Judge : “Judex ergo cum sedebit, quidquid latet apparebit, nihil inuitum remanebit” (“When the Judge is enthroned, everything that was hidden will appear, and nothing will remain unpunished.”)

Even “lax” and “lapsed” Catholics, for whom religious beliefs and practice are largely things of the past, would become uncomfortable during the choir’s Gregorian Chant – if they understood the Latin words (few do, fortunately !). What if, they might wonder, there is after all an after-life – and divine punishment for all those “sins” I committed and never confessed ? A day of reckoning, the preacher might say, as he exploits the occasion to scare “lost sheep” back into the fold and the bejeebies out of everyone else.

You have to hand it to the churchmen. They can, on occasion, be gentle and comforting, but funerals are for them powerful occasions to slip in a reminder of the Last Things : Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell. Meantime you begin to wonder what fate awaits that stiff in the coffin . . .

Even atheists can be impressed by the liturgical mise-en-scène. But we should remind ourselves that the cadaver in that box is not only dead but already decomposing. He never had an immortal soul. He is now as inexistent as the “God” who, different from us, NEVER existed, whom believers continue to fear, nonetheless, will judge and punish them with eternal torture.

Now here’s the good news : whatever kind of life the recently deceased lived, he will neither enjoy Heaven nor burn in Hell. There will be no “Dies Irae” for him – or for us ! Atheists know it, but a lot of our credulous friends burden themselves with unfounded fears. They suffer from their illusions while we enjoy the freedom and illumination of atheism, and can appreciate the motet’s enchanting beauty without being scared to death by its lugubrious text.

RIDENDA RELIGIO