FORETELLING THE FUTURE

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I am not going to waste your time or insult your intelligence by discussing the pros and cons of believing in fortune-tellers.  But the earthquake in Mexico and the hurricanes in the U.S. remind us that we face some catastrophes with more or less adequate warning, and others with none at all.  Biblical prophets (are said to have) threatened all sorts of disasters (the word itself is of astrological origin) – and naturally (?) they occurred.  Stuff and nonsense !  We are talking about rational estimates of what is likely or certain to happen, so that we can take the necessary precautions, when that is possible.

One day we may be able to predict earthquakes, the way we do with hurricanes, in time to escape from harm’s way, though it seems beyond human power to ever prevent them. (Never say never ?).

Volcanoes are kinda kinder.  At the time of writing, it seems that Bali’s Mount Agung, the jewel of the Ring of Fire, which killed 1000 people in 1963, is about to erupt.  Volcanoes give signs of seismic activity shortly before eruption, though often too late to evacuate the area.  Indonesia has 120 active volcanoes.

There are other catastrophes for which we have more than adequate warning, if only because we created the threat, as with the human contribution to climate change.

There is one future fatal event we can be certain will happen.  Sometimes we even have a fairly accurate estimation of when it will happen.  The event is, of course, our death.  Even healthy people know they will die, whether by accident, disease or old age.  We do what we can to postpone it as long as possible, and are not necessarily terribly confident that science will offer us immortality anytime soon . . .

The best preparation for death that I know – presuming that we have made things easier for our loved ones by “putting our affairs in order” – is to enjoy life to the full as long as we can.  A certain fatalism may help.  Illusions about an after-life won’t.  I will do what I can to avoid the pain which too often accompanies the process of dying.  But I have looked death in the face and have learned to accept it, grateful that I have already found more fulfillment and enjoyment in life than I no doubt deserve.  When the end comes I know I’m just – not a gigolo – but one helluva lucky old geezer.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

 

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“A WORD TO THE WISE “

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I have sometimes concluded remarks here, somewhat self-derisively, with “Sapienti sat”.  Garrison Keillor is content to conclude the text which I am about to quote, with the less pedantic “A word to the wise should be sufficient”.  Gary (“of the gently lunatic yarn” – “Independent on Sunday”, London) has been called “the most gifted and prodigious humorist the U.S. has heard from since the old steamboat pilot ran aground” (TIME).  His “WLT : A Radio Romance” has been described as “vivid, hilarious” and “downright subversive” (“L.A. Times Book Review”) but also “raunchier” (GK “has learned to talk dirty” : “Independent on Sunday”) than his renowned and more respectable “Lake Wobegon Days”.  It is “wicked satire” (“The Cleveland Plain Dealer”).  Keillor “is the great poet of American mediocrity of hollow lives bloated with determined piety” (“Sunday Telegraph”, London).

In “WLT” he has Ray, the radio-station’s founder, on his death-bed, voice what is, I suspect, the author’s own personal philosophy of life and death (I hope he will appreciate this unauthorized quotation and publicity) :

“Man is conceived in ignorance and born in doubt and his life goes downhill from there”, he wrote to Dad.  “He makes his way from pure foolishness to outright stupidity, stopping now and then to do something mean and ugly, and yet, to some lucky persons, the Lord has doled out a modicum of common sense, enough to enable us to know our butt from a hot rock, to not spend all our money or insult our friends, and to sit down and shut up when it’s time to.  Now is the time to sit down and shut up, Walter.

“The urge to perform is not a sign of talent.  Greed is not an indication of business acumen.  Keep this in mind; it may be helpful in the future.  The beauty of retirement is the way it raises your reputation.  Keep plugging ahead and you will soon become a ridiculous old relic, and a back number, but quit soon enough and live long enough and you will be regarded as a genius and a pioneer.  This is the truth, otherwise I wouldn’t tell you.  The key to a person’s reputation is He knew when to quit.  A word to the wise should be sufficient.  Good luck, your friend, Ray.”  (I do wonder whether Gary, back in 1991, meant this last paragraph for me or for … Donald Trump.)

Another morsel to whet your appetite : “Learning, you know, is what makes a man fit company for himself”.  “Sapienti sat”, indeed.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

LAUGH AT BELIEVERS ?

There is currently a story posted on Facebook about a little old lady (probably in tennis shoes) who every day stood on her porch and shouted “Praise the Lord !”  An atheist moved in next door and put up with this for almost a week, but finally screamed back at her : “There is no God !”.  The lady persisted, until one day she appeared on her porch and cried : “Help me, Lord !  I have no more money.  It’s cold and I have no more food.”  The next day she went on to her porch and found three bags of groceries, enough to last her a week.  “Praise the Lord”, she hollered.  But the atheist neighbor shouted back :  “Ha ha !  There is no Lord.  I put the food on your porch”.  “Praise the Lord”, replied the old lady.  “He sent me all this food and got the Devil to pay for it !”

“Uplift Post” asks for comments, so I posted one :  “The very definition of a mind closed by credulity.  It’s why I entitled my atheist Blog ‘blindfaithblindfolly’ “.  Actually, I think the story is pretty funny (my comment has already received … one “like” !)  But it was too tempting to pass up an opportunity to flog the Blog by sharing its address with Facebook’s millions.  I’m waiting impatiently for a tsunami of new readers.  Now that would not only be funny but a bloody miracle !

Meantime we laugh at religion (“Ridenda Religio”), not at believers.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

ALFRED , ARCHIE and DONALD

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The Donald is a Mr Doolittle in a Washington bunker.

Not my best tweet, I admit, but these three screen characters have a lot in common.  “My Fair Lady’s” Alfred Doolittle, the flower-girl’s father, the dustman with a certain gift of the gab, came into a fortune but could never disguise his lack of education.  “All in the Family’s” Archie Bunker, TV’s most outrageously funny bigot, knew he was right (extremely right, to be precise) about everything.  The host of “The Apprentice” become President of the United States, Donald Trump, shares Alfred’s linguistic shortcomings and ignorance, as well as Archie’s righteous self-satisfaction.  Doolittle delighted us; Bunker made us burst with laughter.  But Trump scares the hell out of us.  His ignorance, bigotry and narcissism are not only embarrassing but dangerous to the whole world.  He can do more damage than Harvey, Irma and Maria combined.  Dr Strangelove has access to the nuclear code.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

TERRORISM AT ITS WORST

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I have just seen the literally most frightful, frightening film one could imagine, about dealing with terrorist threats of WMD in the form of hidden nuclear bombs.  “Unthinkable” (or “No Limit” in the … French (!) version) is not a recent release; it was first shown in 2010.  You may have seen it.  I hadn’t, but now that I have, I consider it a must-see : a superb script, a totally credible scenario with great actors (including Samuel L. Jackson), it is the ultimate wake-up call for all us, potential targets for terrorists.  If, like me, you still wonder about Dick Cheney’s approval of torture by water-boarding, to get terrorists to reveal information necessary to avert even non-nuclear explosions, this film makes water-boarding look like teasing rather than torture.

Naturally, I am not about to spoil it all for you by revealing the story.  But while you will be appalled by the realism, the cruelty and the credibility of this film, it will reinforce a fact which many prefer to ignore or deny : behind Radical Islamist terrorism is the blindfaithblindfolly of religious fanaticism.  It is not a film you will enjoy; there is no “happy ending”.  Once you have seen it, you will understand why this post does not end with our usual mantra, “Ridenda Religio”, but an emphatic, albeit wishful, …

D-E-L-E-N-D-A      RELIGIO

“I WILL KEEP YOU IN MY PRAYERS”

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I am expected to respond by an emphatic “Thank you.  So kind of you !”  What I WANT to say is : “What will happen if you don’t ?  How does this work ?  Do you draw up a list of names, including mine, and submit it to God ?  So long as you keep my name on the list you recite every time you engage in that monologue you call prayer, God is going to help me ?  Does this mean He will, only as long as you mention my name ?  This must make you feel pretty important and powerful – I mean being able to decide who gets God’s help and who doesn’t.  No ?  Well, that’s very humble of you.  But I can’t help thinking that what you are really looking for is my gratitude, to give you that warm feeling that people appreciate your enormous effort and kindness.  You force us to say so, because we are too damned kind, or weak, to shatter your illusions.

“Just one final thought : what sort of a God do you believe in ?  One whose help for the poor and the suffering depends on being asked ?  Is your God your slave, putty in your hands, who doesn’t give a damn about all those others who need His help but didn’t get mentioned on believers’ lists ?”

All this provides a few more reasons for believers to keep me in their prayers.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

MARRIED PARTNERS WITH MATCHING GENITALIA ?

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It is a non-question in many countries, beginning with – God help us ! – Ireland.  It may be a no-brainer elsewhere but Australia felt it had to make sure that that was what the “vox populi” really wanted.  We’re waiting right now for the (foreseeable) results of the (expensive) Post-In vote.

It should not be a surprise, however, that the proposition met with such violent opposition.  “The primary end of marriage is procreation” was and is the official teaching of the Catholic Church, and the conviction of even many non-religious people.  Ever since we discovered that ten percent of babies are born homosexual, it became obvious that we had no business condemning them for enjoying the sexual drive Nature has given them, anymore than we could condemn heteros for enjoying theirs.  The rub is formalizing homosexual unions by marriage.  Some opponents would approve officially recognized homosexual unions, so long as they were given a different name (“harrage”, perhaps ?  or “homadge” ?).  Some would even say that if consensual sexual intimacy and sodomy are practised by married heteros, why not by married homosexuals ?  The strange thing, though, is that all this became a public issue when marriage as an institution was going out of fashion.  All three of my children have sexual partners – and children – but only one of them is married (civilly only, as it happens …).

Personally I don’t care much whether sexual partners have matching genitalia or not.  I do wonder though about the nurture and education of the children whom homosexual couples adopt.  The practice is too recent to draw scientific conclusions from the “deprivation” of having both a mother and a father.  As time goes by, maybe the “problem” will be proven to have been no problem at all – or maybe a Problem with a capital “P”.  Meantime a lot of us have to adjust to a re-definition of the norms we grew up with.  And that, of course – in the area of religion – is what this Blog is all about.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO 

 

OLE TIME RELIGION AND REDNECK WISDOM

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Garrison Keillor had a lot of fun writing “WLT : A Radio Romance”, as hilarious a collection of stories as the less outrageous Lake Wobegon series.  But “WLT” is remarkable for Gary’s self-indulgence, showing off his considerable talent for composing not only lecherous limericks, but also verse and even hymns, featured on Radio WLT, like the following :

  1. “Whenever you feel blue, Think of something nice to do.  Don’t let it get you down; Wear a smile and not a frown,  And you’ll be feeling tip-top too.”  (p.124)

2.  “Father, Son and Holy Ghost, North Dakota is the most.  Minnesota can’t     come near it, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”  (p.303)

3.   “On that Resurrection morning, when the saved of earth shall rise From beds of  earth, and gather at that breakfast in the skies, O how pleasant and delightful  when He puts His hand in mine, Then I will Rise and Shine”.   (p.340)

4.  “Onward to Canaan we joyfully fly, Swifter than eagles that wing cross the sky.    With sweet jubilation we go round the bend, And there see Jesus, our Savior and Friend.”   (p.350)

5.  “When I see a tree, it inspires me.  For a tree from a tiny seed grew.  If something so small can grow that tall, Then there’s hope for you and me.”   (p.124)

I can’t help thinking that this is the sort of message and religious sentiment to which Donald Trump and his fans must be exposed at the church services they attend.  Folks who appreciate such pearls of wisdom and sing stuff like that, just can’t fathom why the rest of us find it doggone plumb crazy.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

THE IRRELEVANCE OF RELIGION

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We used to be “wild about Harry”; today everyone’s wild about Harari.  After “Sapiens” (see my posts “Self-Evident Truths”,  January 2, 2017, and “Required Reading : Yuval Harari’s ‘Sapiens’ “, February 21, 2017), “Homo Deus” has made him the talk of the town.  People who have read neither book do not hesitate to pontificate on the questions – and the threats – the brilliant young professor raises.  Magazines save us the trouble of reading books.  For example, sharing opinions on the following three sentences in the French weekly “L’Obs” of September 7, 2017, could consume the greater part of yuppie cocktail parties anywhere :  “How, then, use the new technologies properly ?  That is the most important question today : the future of humanity and of life itself depends on it.  And nostalgic ravings of nationalism and of religion have absolutely nothing to say on the subject.”

Mind you, to do justice to what Harari is quoted as saying, you need at least to read (diagonally will do) the rest of the article, to flesh out the fluff to be exchanged between refills of Bloody Marys and Tom Collins.  However, rather than try to sound intelligent by talking about artificial intelligence and conscience (and the priority of the latter), about ultra-sophisticated algorithms and their capacity to compose music, diagnose illnesses, wield war and win games of chess, as well as about the death of democracy, I prefer to stick with just that remark about the irrelevance of religion.  It is reassuring to read a popular genius agreeing with the central message of the 650 posts (to date) in this Blog.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

P.S.  No need to mark today’s anniversary by a special post on 9/11.  That catastrophe will never be forgotten.  Mother Nature (no doubt with our help …) made Harvey and Irma happen; religion made 9/11 happen.  Religion is irrelevant in that it has nothing to say about anything.  But it continues to poison everything.

 

HOW MANY MORE CATASTROPHES . . .

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. . . do we need for people to abandon belief in God ?  When are American politicians and journalists going to stop mouthing the emptiest phrase on earth :  “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families” ? (the British P.M., thank God (!), omits the “prayers”).

Forget it !  It will take more than a succession of 300 km/hr hurricanes, 15-feet sea surges and an 8.1 earthquake to get folks to admit that “God” could not care less.  You recognize the phrase from the recent post, “The Problem of Evil” (August 31, 2017).  I’ve said it all before, and we all know why the atheist message is falling on deaf ears.  “You are asking too much”, believers tell me.  “If prayer is pointless, what hope do we have ?”

When we look at and listen to the terrified future victims and later the distraught survivors on our screens, in real time, with no water, no food, no shelter and no future, is it not cruel to deprive them of the illusion that “God” will help them ?  Can they find the will to live, without hoping “God” will help them at least to find the courage to soldier on ?  The answer is : “YES !”  Survival, at any cost, will continue to motivate the race and avert, or at least delay, its extinction.  Some will achieve individual survival by whatever means they have at their disposal, including criminal selfishness (men, disguised as women, managed to board the Titanic’s life-boats . . .).  Others will discover the nobility of altruism, mutual cooperation and the refusal to despair.  Disasters, we know, bring out the best and the worst in us, and separate the realists from the dreamers.  We can only hope that solidarity, generosity and courage prevail – as we learn to accept that it makes sense to give help to one another rather than expect it from a figment of human imagination.

DELENDA      RELIGIO