CHRISTIANITY ‘ S SILLIEST BELIEF , RULE AND RITUAL

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Today is Ascension Thursday.  I could have contented myself with citing this silly belief as my favorite, but there are lots even worse.  Three readers have already submitted their choice, which you can read in the Comments.  Here, as promised, is mine :

Christians are so accustomed to hearing about Redemption, about Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the Cross (which Catholics believe is re-enacted in the Mass), and singing hymns and quoting texts like “My Redeemer liveth”, that they no longer realize how outrageous this doctrine is.  Do they realize that what they are claiming to believe is that God, the Blessed Trinity, decided to get its Second Person, become a man, Jesus, to suffer and die atrociously to pay back (“redeem” – like Green Stamps) a “debt” incurred by sinful mankind, owed to Someone or Something or to Itself ?  All this is so convoluted, contradictory and absurd, that it makes me think of the cynical advice “spin-doctors” – experts in communication –  joke about among themselves : “If you can’t convince ’em, confuse ’em !”

The silliest belief of Catholic Christianity, as well as it silliest rule and silliest ritual, are all present in the Mass.  Catholics are obliged under pain of mortal sin to attend Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation (including the Feast of Mary’s Assumption, a Catholic invention, itself a serious candidate for the silliest belief in Catholic dogma), the punishment for missing which is an eternity in Hell. The ritual in which they “participate” (90% of what goes on at Mass is done by the priest and the altar boys or girls) is supposedly a re-enactment of Jesus’ redemptive death by crucifixion and the separation of His blood from His flesh, symbolized by the wine and the bread – which after consecration and “transubstantiation” (an exclusively Catholic belief) are actually claimed to be the very blood and the living body of the Carpenter of Nazareth !  On top of this, Catholics believe that paying the priest to perform Masses will get a deceased loved one out of Purgatory (another Catholic invention) into Heaven.  “Quanta costa la Messa ?”

We could ask why the Church obliges people to go through the same nonsense week after week, hearing Scripture readings they have heard hundreds of times before and sermons that bore them stiff, and taking part in a rigmarole, sometimes still and formerly always in Latin, featuring a chalice of cheap wine and a big wafer of “bread” eaten by the priest and  ones the size of a euro swallowed in one gulp by members of the congregation, after they say out loud that the tiny white wafer is, in fact, not what it seems but the “Body of Christ” !

Prayer, miracles and the power of the Church to forgive sin (yet another uniquely Catholic claim) are silly enough as beliefs.  The rules of Canon Law are just as absurd, as are those concerning the Church’s rituals and administration of the sacraments.  But the Eucharist, the Catholic Mass, wins the prize in all three categories.  I attended Mass – and for a long period of my life, daily Mass – for half of my eighty years, and for seven of them celebrated Mass every day as a priest.  How silly can you get ?

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

 

 

 

I BLOG , AND I KNOW THINGS -ABOUT RELIGION

It’s what I do.

Readers who do not recognize the title as a doctored quotation plagiarized from “Game of Thrones” may be excused – “pitied” would be more appropriate, if I really were as arrogant as I pretend to be.  Somebody said that the best parts of the obsessionally popular TV series are the exchanges of quips between Tyrion Lannister and Lord Varys.  My title is based on one of these pearls, articulated (as ever, immaculately) by my favorite dwarf, whose alcoholism I prefer to ignore.

My claim to knowledge of religion is, I dare to say, an academically and generally recognized fact.  I may not be able to quote all the books of the Old and New Testaments, chapter and verse; though a former priest and Professor of Theology, I was, after all, only a Catholic and not a Protestant.  But I know my stuff, and my Paris professors who gave me my degree “with high distinction”, seem to have agreed.

One does not, of course, need to have spent seven full years in undergraduate and graduate studies of Theology to know how ridiculous religion is.  I’d love to hear what you think is the silliest belief, rule or ritual in the religion that  is – or used to be – yours.  If I get three replies, I’ll tell you mine.

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

 

 

HATRED

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“I hate broccoli”.  “I hate school”.  “I hate opera”.  That sort of hate is different from that in “I hate Jews”, “I hate Catholics”, “I hate Muslims”.  Then there is “I hate niggers”, “I hate Republicans” and “I hate you”.

“Love one another as I have loved you”.

“Love” and “Hate”, two four-letter words, written on each of Robert Mitchum’s fingers, when he played the rôle of the maniacal murderous minister of religion in “The Night of the Hunter” : diametrically opposed attitudes that have produced the best and the worst in the way we treat each other.

It was ever thus.  The Judean-Christian tradition begins with a fratricide born of Cain’s hatred of his brother Abel.  We have been hating and killing each other ever since.  Recent history has recorded – if not broken records – in the intensity and dimensions of hatred.  We thought it would be impossible to witness greater hatred, cruelty and barbarity than the antisemitism that produced the Holocaust.  And then we see live on television innocent people being beheaded by Muslim fanatics, hospitals being bombed in Syria, and children become weapons of mass destruction, ready to strike anywhere in the world.

Is there any hope against hatred ?  For their grand-children’s sake, some people say they can only pray that there is. Some of them, but also many more mature, rational, courageous people who know that prayer is pointless and pathetic, are not only pleading for peace and mutual tolerance.  They are giving and living an example that we hope will become contagious.  The place to start is in examining our own attitudes to the prejudices that fuel hatred in the form of racial and religious discrimination.  Atheists – to begin at home – may hate religion.  But we have no right to hate non-atheists, even if they hate us.  “Do unto others …” should be the common platform of both believers and non-believers.  Which does not mean renouncing our mantra :

RIDENDA ,  DELENDA ,  RELIGIO  

SCHOLASTIC THEOLOGY IN A STOCHASTIC WORLD

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If you suspect that I am rather proud of the titles of my posts, you would not be wrong.  They are as pretentious as I am.  The one above, for those who understand the meaning of both its epithets (already a phrase revealing insufferably pedantic arrogance and a blatant, unjustified superiority complex) is typical.  It could serve as the title of a 400-page book or doctoral thesis, rather than of a post of just four paragraphs.

I have neither the intention, the interest or the competence to attempt to summarize the principal tenets of the Golden Age of Theology, that of Scholastics like St Thomas Aquinas and St Bonaventure.  Not only would such a project be pointless, since Scholastic Theology is just godawful godology (or, if you prefer, “Much Ado about Nothing”), but I chose the word essentially for its assonance with “stochastic” – an erudite term for “random” or “unpredictable”, used especially in Mathematics and Probability Theories – as contrasted with the Aristotelian notion, inherited by the Scholastics, of a perfectly ordered world created by a First Cause, the supremely intelligent, omniscient and omnipotent Divine Architect we call “God”.  Some readers of this Blog, notably Jim-Lumen,  will see this last statement as a red cape in a bullring.  I want simply to reflect for a moment on randomness and chance in my life.

I have several times in my book and in this blog referred to, and quoted, Richard Dawkins, his “The Blind Watchmaker” and his explanation of “blind chance and necessity” in Darwinian Evolution and Natural Selection.  Here I want to ponder the implications of living in a Universe, the origin of which is a fantastic fluke and the purpose of which is not only unknowable but non-existent.  Taking all of that as a given – which, of course, non-atheists won’t – what concerns do those facts create for my everyday life, for the way I interact with my fellow-travelers on this tiny planet spinning around one of the hundreds of billions of similar stars, and for the way I feel about the stochastic nature of my decreasing life-span ?

To answer first the third of these questions in Australianese : No Worries, mate !  I have, these last forty years at least, learned to live with my chance appearance on life’s stage, and knowing that it “signifies nothing”, also learned to accept, at the eve of my 80th birthday, what has become the imminence of my inevitable demise.  As for the effect on the way I live and my interaction with others, it took me a while but I see my life as a series of strokes of luck, not “given” to all; many people have experienced poverty, violence, accidents, injustice, war, torture, disease, dictatorship and the premature death of loved ones, all of which I somehow escaped.  I once lost a few quid in a casino, and a helluva lot more on the French Stock Exchange, have personal experience of how alcohol could have poisoned and terminated my life, have had a near-death experience in the form of a heart-attack, and a sampling of the common dampers on my “joie de vivre” :  par for the course.  But my biggest stroke of luck was discovering, before it was too late, the absurdity of religion, as well as the joy of what was for many years a happy marriage (which unfortunately ended twenty-three years later in a divorce I didn’t want), and above all a half-century enjoying the most precious stochastic gift of all : my children and grandchildren.  Others would thank God for all this.  I thank Lady Luck and especially my two daughters and my son and the five grandchildren they have given me.  Eis gratias !

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

 

 

” SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN “, OR “LET THE CHILDREN SUFFER ” ?

When Christians think of Jesus,, they have the choice of multiple images that go back to their childhood.  The most common, of course, is Jesus dying on the Cross, or “Ecce Homo” – Jesus, before Pilate, dripping with blood after His scourging – or at table with His Apostles at the Last Supper the night before.  Others include the Babe in Bethlehem, the Divine Child teaching in the Temple, or being baptized by His cousin John.  There is the Angry Jesus driving the money-changers from the Temple, but also the Sweet, the Gentle Jesus, in flowing robes and with a face that is almost smiling, surrounded by infants, saying “Suffer the little children to come unto Me”.

Today children are often in the news.  We see them, terrified in overcrowded inflatable (and capsizable, sinkable) boats, or drowning in the sea, or lying dead when they are washed up onto the beach.  But children are suffering in many other ways and places.  I think of three in particular, all of them in the context of religion.  The first is as victims of clerical pedophilia.  The second is as victims of religious indoctrination.  The third is as … Islamic terrorists !  TIME this week (April 25, 2016) reports that :

“One in five suicide attacks launched by Islamist extremist group Boko Haram was carried out by children in 2015, according to a new report by UNICEF.  About 75% of the children used as bombers were female, some as young as 8.”

No comment (though yours will be welcome).

DELENDA  RELIGIO

 

 

 

WANTED : ATHEISTS FOR TARGET – PRACTICE

It’s time I let you in on a little secret.  I have detailed stats on how many people every day visit this blog-site, the posts they read and the countries they come from.  But I don’t have any idea what they think of the posts they read, unless, like too few, they post a comment.  I know personally some readers who are atheists, some who are non-atheists and hope that many others are Believers on the Brink.  I even know one militant non-atheist who uses this Blog in his Christian Doctrine classes in public schools.  It is humiliating to me to realize that he clearly considers that not only none of my posts will disturb the faith of his young flock; he uses them to hone their skills in demolishing atheism, in short, for target-practice.  It is disturbing to me that this abuse of juvenile credulity is identical with that practised in Muslim madrassas.

But at the end of the day, or even at noon-time and when I get up in the morning, I’m happy to know that there are all sorts of readers out there.  Even when I become a target for the slings and arrows and bullets and heat-seeking missiles of believers, I take consolation in the fact that there may be a delayed effect in being exposed to “blindfaithblindfolly”.  One day the message might sink  in, and strike home, that religion is, after all, pretty silly.  It took me forty years.  These brainwashed kids will, hopefully, take a lot less.

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

SILLY SCHISMS

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Some of you may have thought that the dispute I ridiculed, between Islam’s Sunnis and Shiites (“The Final Solution to Terrorism”, Nov.15, 2015, and “Isis is Germany, Assad is Japan”, Nov.28, 2015), was pretty silly.  Not only silly but pathetic, because it is what is behind the multiple tragedies of the war in Syria, the mass exodus of emigrants seeking salvation, at the risk of their lives, by fleeing to Europe, and the conflict between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.  But Christianity has its own schism, almost as old and just as stupid as that between the 15% of Muslims who believe that the Supreme Head of Islam should be a descendant of the Prophet (Shiites) and their coreligionists (85%) who believe he should be elected (Sunnis).  The Christian schism does not bother us much.  In fact we never think of, or care a fig about, it; many have never even heard of it.  It is however what has divided Christianity for a thousand years into the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.

In yesterday’s “The Guardian”, reporting the Pope’s visit to a refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, where he invited three Muslim Syrian families to live in the Vatican, we read :

“The Pontiff spent five hours on Lesbos with Bartholemew 1, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, and Ieronymus 2, the Archbishop of Athens and Greece, meeting refugees and holding a service to bless those who have died trying to reach Europe. . . .  The visit is  … seen as a further warming of ties between the western and eastern branches of Christianity, almost a millennium after their bitter split in 1054.  In a break with protocol, the Pope chose to be driven to the detention camp … with Bartholemew.”

The only serious paper I wrote sixty years ago as an undergraduate in Theology in the Franciscan seminary of St Paschal’s in Melbourne, was about the …  “Filioque”.  This is not often spoken of in sermons or in fact anywhere anymore.  It means “and from the Son”.  I have no intention of boring  you with the details I dissected in my dissertation.  It is quite enough to know that a millennium ago theologians argued till they were cardinal purple in the face about the Blessed Trinity and whether or not the Holy Spirit “proceeded” (?) from just the Father or from both the Father “AND the Son” (“Filioque”) : a question, clearly, of critical importance to humanity …

Today no one gives a ratz about all this (except maybe godologians like Ratzinger, retired Pope Benedict XVI).  Some Church officials, on both sides of the schism, would like to patch things up and bury the hatchet.  But it is hard to compromise on the doctrine that divides them.  That Divine Ghost either “proceeds” from only one, or from both the other two Persons of the conundrum we call the Trinity.  I suspect that run-of-the-pew Roman Catholics and members of the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches will just go on ignoring the issue and content themselves with ecumenical photo-ops of Patriarchs embracing in a meaningless Kiss of Peace and leave the issue where it belongs, in the dusty tomes of a forgotten Theology and in brilliant undergrad dissertations on the subject.

I felt it was about time I added this fanciful facet of the ridiculousness of religion to all the other silly beliefs, rules and rituals with which it and this Blog are filled.  Now it’s done, so you can go back to the more rational, important or trivial things you were doing before I distracted you with this Byzantine – our word for “weird” – post.

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

” . . . AND YOUR GOD WILL BE MY GOD TOO”

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The title is part of a beautiful text, turned into a lovely modern ballad, from the Old Testament Book of Ruth (1:16) : “Wherever you go, I shall go.  Wherever you live, so shall I live.  Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God too”.  Such readiness to abandon one’s religion in favor of another is understandably rare, although the flesh-pots of Egypt and its decadent deities were a powerful temptation to the Chosen People, who committed the sacrilege of worshipping a Golden Calf.

Most religions are inherently intolerant of others : “Thou shalt not have strange gods before Me”.  Some, however, did not hesitate to add divinities from foreign pantheons to their own.  But today a relatively recent wave of ecumenism has made it politically if not theologically correct to let other religions be, even though their beliefs are considered to be manifestly false.  However even in this 21st century some believers within all three of the world’s major religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, do not hesitate to declare their rivals guilty of unpardonable blasphemy.  Islamist fanatics, of course, go much further than this.  Any religion that does not recognize the Koran as the authentic word of Allah and Mahomed as the last and greatest of His inspired prophets, must be destroyed – its sacred books, its rituals, its code of what is right and wrong, but also the heathen who practise it.

History is full of Wars of Religion.  Some of the bloodiest have been within Christianity.  In France, Catholics won the war, which explains why only 5% of French people are Protestant. But we are all at present witnessing a  world-war between religions.  Extremists within Islam believe they have a sacred duty to wipe out Judaism and Christianity and massacre their adherents in a war of terror which will end at Dabiq in Syria in the final apocalyptic confrontation resulting in Islam’s victory and a worldwide Caliphate.

In such a context, Buddhism would not seem to deserve the rank of an enemy threatening Islam.  But in 2001 in Afghanistan, at Bamiyan, two gigantic statues of Buddha, 55 m. and 38 m. tall, sculpted in the cliff-face, were demolished by Taliban explosives, thereby destroying unique treasures of humanity’s history and precious relics of the intermingling of Alexander the Great’s Greek religious heritage and that of the Buddhism that two centuries before Christ would bring India’s religion to China.  More recently still, in August 2015, the ruins of a magnificent Roman city in Syria, Palmyra, were likewise destroyed by Islamic fanatics.

I see little hope of preventing such wanton destruction by Islamic radicals of mankind’s heritage, nor, worse, of innocent believers of all three of the world’s religions, including their own coreligionists, the “moderate Muslims” in our midst whom they despise, victims like Jews and Christians of the maniacs who believe such atrocities are the will of God.

Our planet and all its inhabitants face the triple threat of annihilation by our suicidal denial of responsibility for climate change, by our blindness to the dangers of “M A D”, “Mutual Assured Destruction” through nuclear war, but also by our inability to get radical Islamists to recognize and to renounce their fanatical folly.  I can think of no challenge more urgent than this cocktail of threats to our very survival.  We must continue our efforts to eradicate poverty, crime, ignorance, inequality and disease from the face of the earth.  But without a concerted worldwide combat against the Big Three, Climate Change, Nuclear War and Religious Terrorism, we are doomed to extinction.  I can’t do much about the first two.  But I will spend the time I have left doing my best to ridicule and destroy religion.

RIDENDA ,  DELENDA ,  RELIGIO  

” TIME , GENTLEMEN, PLEASE ! “

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To tell you how ancient I am,  I can remember something most of my Aussie readers – still the majority – would never have heard nor even heard of : “6 o’clock closing”.  I never frequented pubs, of course : I was just a kid born pre-World War Two, and I left home at sweet sixteen.  Franciscan novices and seminarians were rarely seen downing a schooner at the local.  (We made up for it after Ordination, but only in the “rec room”, which was always amply stocked with Tooheys, Tooths and VB (not Villers-Bretonneux in the Somme but Victoria Bitter in the bottle) as well as a wide choice of the hard stuff.)

Pretty soon my time will be up.  Booze-time but also life-time.  Just about everyone I know croaks in his eighties or well before.  At 79.25 years of age, I’m on the short list and could go any time.  It’s all been said before, not only in literature but in this Blog, destined like its humble author for posthumous glory.  I won’t be around to basque in the tributes that will fill newspapers here in South-West France and the French capital, as my adopted countrymen mourn the loss of one of the world’s greatest writers, nor to register the outpourings of grief that will fill the international press and the internet.  People all over the planet will crack up as they quote their favorite post from a Blog that will finally have reached “The End”.

Even if, in a far more likely scenario, no one notices my demise, and few apart from family and close friends (all two of them) give a ratz, I won’t have a clue either way.  “Gone”, “passed away”, “breathed his last”, “kicked the bucket”, “croaked” and even “died” will mark “Finis” to what will have been (it ain’t over yet) a life that has been filled with luck, happiness and fulfillment.  The last lap may contain some unpleasant surprises, or I might just keel over and snuff it before you can say, or call, 911 or, in France, 15.

No need to make a fuss about it.  I just hope that the Winter of my years is brief and that their Autumn, which I am so much enjoying, longer than that of many of my mates.  Don’t even think of crying, or worse, praying.  Frank spent more than half his life ridiculing religion.  Don’t go and spoil it it all by saying something stupid like “May he rest in peace”.  Rest assured that I won’t be feeling a thing, even less than the boozers whose time was up at 6:00 pm.  That was Down Under.  And that’s where I’ll be, if anyone is looking for me, six feet down under.  Or better, in Utopia, “Nowhere”, having been cremated to dust, blowin’ in the wind.

I’m ready when you are, Mr Reaper.  No need to be so grim about it.  Time’s up, that’s all !

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

 

YAHWEH : ” HE WHO IS ” . . . IS, ALWAYS WAS . . .

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. . .  and always will be, forever and ever.  Amen.  Once you’ve said that, there would seem to be no point in adding to what “Quid est Veritas “, “Rendezvous”, “Thom”, and, in cauda venenum, “Lumen de Lumine”, a.k.a. “JIM”, as well as myself have recently written, by appending to our discourse a Last Word about a First Cause.  We have been reminded, in this erudite exchange, of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR).  I believe that I have sufficient reason, pressed down and flowing over, to add here my two cents’ worth of common sense.  Even if I don’t have sufficient reason to do so, it’s my Blog and I’ll say what I like.  So there !

It’s obvious that everything has a cause.  We have already adequately refuted believers’ insistence on the necessity of a First Cause (supposedly God) by pointing out that one can always ask who or what caused God, and so on ad infinitum.  But let’s admit for a moment that you DO have to stop somewhere, with some-thing or some-one that just … is.  Why could this not be, say, a bunch of atoms ?  Who created the atoms ?  Nobody.  They just always were, as “God” is supposed to have been; the very name He revealed to Moses was, after all, “Yahweh”, “He who IS”.  But to get from those atoms to us and the Universe we live in, surely Someone had to be smart enough to make it all happen.  Atoms normally don’t  have what it takes; they lack the right stuff.  But what if these ones did ?  What if they always existed, with an extraordinary potential, over time, to become the world of which we are a miniscule part ?  I cannot see why it is any more difficult to accept the existence of such powerful atoms that just are, than for believers to claim that an omnipotent God, Yahweh, just is, always was, etc.

O.K.  I know.  Intelligent Design.  But accept for a moment the bit about eternal, uncaused atoms being the First Cause, just as God is supposed to be, in the view of believers, the First Cause – in either case, the one dead-end exception to the PSR.  If believers are serene and unphased about accepting God as the ultimate Uncaused Cause, why not a nice little cluster of nifty atoms ?  Believers, of course, see – or better, presume – the need for an Intelligent Being to make the whole process work.  But many of us have examined I.D. in detail and found it wanting.  Judge John Jones, reinforcing the judicial ban on teaching creationism as science in U.S. public schools , described Intelligent Design as “breathtaking inanity” that fails the test as science : see my book, “From Illusions to Illumination”, (p.122).  Even the beginning and evolution of life happened without an Intelligent Designer at the controls, as Richard Dawkins has convincingly shown.

I hope the above will help clarify why Rendezvous, Thom and I – and atheists in general – reject the specious argumentation supposedly proving the existence of a First Cause as a person rather than a thing.  I can’t help thinking that believers want the First Cause to be a Person because they have already decided that there is Someone Up There with whom they are destined to live happily ever after their death.  When they do die, they’ll never know how wrong they were – any more than we will know how right we were.  All of which makes this discussion pretty pointless, wouldn’t you agree ?

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

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