THOM CALLS OUT SYDNEY’S ARCHBISHOP ON SAME – SEX MARRIAGE

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Our prolific, insightful and always eloquent commentator since the beginning of this Blog, THOM is today – once again – our guest post-writer.

“You might have read that Sydney’s Archbishop Fisher used a recent Sunday sermon from the pulpit of St Mary’s Cathedral to advocate a “NO !” vote in the plebiscite on same-sex marriage.  He started by saying that the government should stay out of citizens’ bedrooms, and had no legitimate interest in who people are friendly with.  He very quickly proposed the one exception – yes, you guessed it – and warned of serious problems ahead if same-sex marriage is allowed.  Had I been in the Cathedral at the time, I wonder whether I would have had the courage to call him out on his claims.  I would have acknowledged that he had the right and perhaps even the responsibility to articulate the Church’s official position on marriage being a sacred union between a man and a woman – but I would also have insisted  that he had no right to use the pulpit and his official status to advance his personal opinions on his claimed dire consequences of allowing same-sex marriage, opinions which are not part of the Church’s teaching and which are in any event disputed by reputable sociologists, economists and other well-informed commentators.

“The Church’s official position on marriage owes much to its irrational fear of sex.  It obviously had little option but to accept that sex is necessary for propagation. But it has never come to terms with the realisation that sex is also about pleasure.  It must now know that the overwhelming majority of sexual activity is not directed towards propagation.  In fact, even within marriage, the vast preponderance of sex is undertaken in a way that ensures that fertilization will not occur.  History, psychology and biochemistry also now tell us pretty conclusively that same-sex activity is a normal, albeit minority, variant on human sexual attraction and activity.  The Church’s acceptance of same-sex marriage would inevitably mean that it had finally accepted that non-procreative sex is acceptable.  And I suspect that it will be some time before that enlightened view is adopted by the Church.  If I had been in the Archbishop’s congregation, I would have politely pointed this out to him.”

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WHERE FROM ? WHERE TO ?

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“When you’re on a good thing, stick to it !”  The sentence used to be the advertising jingle for the Mortein Fly-Catcher : once stuck on the sticky paper, the critter is there to stay.  Dan Brown has stuck to his winning formula since the “Da Vinci Code” : Robert Langdon, the Princeton “symbologist” facing another enigma, the girl (with whom he never falls in love) accompanying him on his palpitating mission to find the cryptic meaning of symbols and codes (it never gets more intimate than that), the tidbits we pick up about history, architecture, science, religion, language and especially symbols (readers will discover – at last ! – the origin of that weird “&”), the frantic pace as our two sleuths keep a step ahead of the nasty types out to murder them rather than allow them to break the code and solve the mystery — it’s all there in “Origin”, which like all the others is a bloody good read.  Its theme : an I.T. genius has found the answers to our fundamental metaphysical questions : “Where do we come from ?” and “Where are we going ?”  But he is assassinated before he can spill the beans, leaving only coded clues to his answers which are a direct threat to the world’s religions.

Brown reveals a more than passing acquaintance with the arguments for and against belief in God.  Readers of this Blog will not only enjoy the novel but find food for serious thought about the age-old science vs religion debate, as well as about the current speculations re the threat many see in the inexorable advances made by and promised for Artificial Intelligence.  “Origin” is brain-food, before we all turn into cyborgs and computers like the prototype “Winston” (monte@iglesia.org – easy to decode) rule the world.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

” MAKE YOUR LIFE A MASTERPIECE “

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“The only way to conquer death is to make your life a masterpiece.”  A pearl of great price, not from Confucius, Jesus, Marcus Aurelius, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, Woody Allen or even . . . me.  Surprisingly, it’s from Dan Brown, the da Vinci code guy, in his latest book, “Origin”.  We’ll devote another post to this most recent of his best-sellers, but for the nonce this one phrase deserves its own.

Christians claim that Jesus conquered death by rising from the dead (if He did it for Lazarus, why not for Himself ?).  Even if you’re naïve enough to believe that, Brown’s maxim still makes a lot of sense (and even more if you aren’t).  The meaning of life ?  To make the most of it while it lasts – or the best you can.

Bach, Mozart and Dave Brubeck produced masterpieces; so did Shakespeare, Molière and Christopher Hitchens (and, I must add, David Lean for his movie “Lawrence of Arabia”).  But their lives were not necessarily masterpieces.  Gandhi, the Abbé Pierre and, of course (for Christians) Jesus, lived lives that we could call veritable masterpieces.

Neither my life nor what I have written will ever be considered masterpieces, nor even a footnote to human history and thought.  But my book and blog, whatever about my life, are the best I could do.  At least I tried.  So I reckon the effort alone deserves a “C” (at least . . .).

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

SOMNILOQUY

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I’ve seen people sleeping during sermons, including some of my own.  Luckily they didn’t talk in their sleep, as I, in a sense, was doing.  When people practise somniloquy, recent French research has shown, the most commonly used words are “Non !” and “Putain !” – our Gallic word for “bitch” (like Americans, we say “fils de putain”; the word comes from Old French where “put”, “pute”, meant “prostitute”.  As an expletive, it is usually translated by “Fuck !”).  It could be claimed that I, like every preacher, was talking in my sleep.  After all, one turns off rationality once you step into the pulpit (my late brother, also a preacher, used to call it the “bull-pit” – with or without reference to taurine dejections).

Preaching is, one must admit, a most peculiar form of public speaking.  Like political harangues, it is strictly a monologue – but stump-speeches may be followed by questions from the audience.  After sermons there is no question of questions from the congregation.  What has been said is the Word of God or explanations thereof.  “Ipse dixit” : “He hath spoken”.  Period.  Amen.  Praise the Lord and hold your tongue.  Mind you, even if the liturgy did allow question-time, you can bet the dollar bill (or, more likely, the small change) you were about to put in the collection-plate, that the preacher would have the last word.  He’s got Gott on his side.

So dream, little dreamer, dream on.  Both preachers and their congregations might just as well be asleep, sharing fantasies about that land, somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, they all dreamt of, once in a lullaby.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

SAINT FRANK

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Last night the damnedest thing happened to me.  It was 3:15 am, and as usual I woke up to answer Nature’s call.  Octogenarians are accustomed to such interruptions while in the arms of Orpheus.  But this time I thought I must have left the light on : the room was flooded with a light stronger than usual.  When I got up and shuffled to the bathroom, the light followed me.  When I looked in the mirror, I found out why : over and in back of my head was a brilliant disk of light, which I realized was a . . . halo !

Everyone knows why I have tickets on myself and consider myself not only an exceptional genius but an exceptionally gentle, generous, good guy – in fact the BEST person on Earth, the only  atheist Saint I know.  But I never expected it to show.  I had turned into a Russian icon : Saint Frank.  My first thought was that now my legendary modesty would be shot to hell – people would KNOW that I was a living Saint.  I had often wondered how the others managed the notoriety and the paparazzi that come with recognized sainthood.  I knew that I was now stuck with this bloody halo and had no idea how to turn it off.  The only way out, I came to realize, was to commit a sin.  The choice, I knew, was vast.  But being a genius, I quickly found the solution.  Pride is the first of the capital sins, so I would write a post in my Blog to BRAG about my sainthood.  That’s what I’m doing here.  As soon as this post is published, my halo will disappear.  But I must confess it was tempting not to switch it off.  Such courage and humility only go to show that I really am a Saint.  Now I just have to die and wait for my posthumous canonization.  Trouble is, being dead, I won’t even know that people will have started praying to me and that I have my own feast-day.  But the best part is that my Blog will go viral.  Readers will get 40 days’ Indulgence for every post they read, including this one, or better, a Plenary Indulgence for reading every post in the Blog.

Believers have to die to enjoy eternal bliss.  I have to die to get my name in print.  But once “WordPress” becomes “WorldPress”, “Frank O’Meara” will have become, like the Man from Snowy River, a household word.

              RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

” . . . AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH – SO HELP ME GOD ! “

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I guess, for a believer, it makes a certain amount of sense, when swearing on a Bible to tell the truth, that God should be requested to “help”.  It is not always easy to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  The second part is particularly tricky.  It’s so easy to leave out significant, incriminating details, thereby committing what confessors like me called a “sin of omission”, and what in a court of law would be as much perjury as a straight-out lie.

Of course, it is highly unlikely that God will help you tell the truth.  It’s up to you, brother.

The Church has always claimed to tell the truth, and if we are kind we will not accuse her, or her ministers, of lying, because more often than not, she and they believe the rubbish they preach.

Now that I have discovered the illusions of faith and the illumination of atheism – thereby trading in the myths for reality – I feel I have a double obligation to tell the truth : first because it is the right thing to do, and secondly because I feel I must condemn religions’ even well-meant, sincere and innocent violations of the truth.  Religions’ teachings are not necessarily fraudulent, just false.  The Founder of one of them, though mistaken Himself, was spot-on when He said that only the truth will make us free.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

A WONDER-FULL WORLD – OR A DYSTOPIA – I WILL NEVER SEE

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What kind of “Brave New World” do you expect to . . . enjoy, over the next fifty years (I won’t be around to share it with you) ?  Will it include Blade Runners, replicants, androids, mutants – and perhaps the colonization of Earth by extraterrestrials ?  Will it see the realization of Elon Musk’s projects for landing us on Mars and for one-hour city-to-city travel anywhere on the planet in his BFR (“Big Fucking Rocket”) ?  Will futurologists be proven right about our domination by Artificial Intelligence ?

Lawrence Alexandre is a brilliant futurologist and transhumanist, who happens to be a urologist and surgeon with multiple degrees in other domains from three of France’s most prestigious Universities.  His most recent book, “La Guerre des Intelligences”, spells out the result of his research into what we can expect, in this 21st century, from Artificial Intelligence (A I).   His predictions include computers capable of self-consciousness, feelings and an understanding of their own reasoning.  The revolution we call  NBIC (Nanotechnologies, Biotechnologies, “Informatics” and Cognitive Sciences) will permit, he is not alone in saying, the modification of the human brain, making it a veritable cyborg organ.  Some foresee the moment when the intelligence of machines will be superior to that of human beings – as early as 2029 !  (The well-known results of certain man-machine games of chess may be the foretaste – or forewarning – of our submission to A I).

The author suggests that it is not too early to protect ourselves from such a fate, and calls for international cooperation in ensuring that the human body does not become a machine.  He is afraid that if the A I revolution is allowed to be used to preprogram the physical and intellectual capacities of individuals, we could end up living in a predictable world that, ultimately, would be not only frightening but devastatingly . . . boring !  We must, he writes, preserve chance and the hap-hazard.

It would appear that the world of tomorrow could indeed be full of wonders, to enhance our human condition, our way of life if not our joie de vivre – or a dystopia full of murderous machines become our masters.  “God” will, as usual – for obvious reasons – have nothing to do with it.  The choice is ours.  Or, more exactly, yours.  “Stop the world; I want to get off” ?  Not at all.  I would have liked to be around when the fun (?) begins.  But I am not Woody Allen (my age), who, asked about death, said he was expecting God to make an exception in his case.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

 

 

 

” EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON “

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You have heard it as often as I have, over the last two days, from journalists and survivors and your neighbors, since the butchery in Las Vegas’ abattoir.  One CNN anchor tried to console a survivor, trying, in tears, to cope with the meaningless slaughter and with his … personal “guilt” that he had survived unscathed.  The journo thought that the empty, false cliché would somehow bring consolation to the poor guy, though he immediately added  that he had no idea what that reason was.  God was, for once, not mentioned, but many of the millions of viewers of the interview would immediately have agreed that there MUST be some reason at work here, because they grew up with the idea that God is behind everything, either as a direct cause of events or, in this case, the One who allows such tragedies to happen so that – presumably, hopefully – some good will come from it.  When you have been personally in harm’s way as a potential victim of a pointless mass-murder, you grasp for straws, you latch on to the conviction that there just HAS to be some MEANING in this massive ABSURDITY and the mystery of your own improbable survival.  “God” is tailor-made to fill the gap.

Survival, for us as individuals and as a race, is the only pre-programed purpose we have.  None of us can survive without food, water, air and shelter.  Some of us, at least, must reproduce ourselves if our kind is to not become extinct.  We can choose to sacrifice our life to save others from death, or to save ourselves from pain and despair, but the instinct for survival is innate.  It is tempting to imagine that Someone gave us that instinct, that Someone makes or allows things to happen for purposes that may escape us but are part of Her/His hidden plan.

What else can we say to people trying to make sense of Las Vegas ?  It is, for starters, unworthy of their and our own intelligence to fall back on the God-myth.  Better to be honest and to offer the comfort of our presence and support – for as long as it takes.  Outsiders like you and I will look back on the Mandalay Mayhem as part of a long list including Columbine and Sandy Hook.  But the wounded, amputated, blinded, invalid, traumatized survivors – as well as those present who suffered no physical harm – will never get over that horrific personal experience.  They will need our help for as long as they live, as we all – hopefully – unite to take the measures necessary to prevent such atrocities ever happening again.  We can only hope that all of us will stop wasting our time trying to find reasons for Vegas (and the next meaningless act of madness).  We should be busy campaigning for the U.S. and other countries to establish gun-laws at least as effective as those Australia enforced after the terror in Tasmania.  It is not enough, Mr O’Reilly, “Bill” to his former Fox News viewers, to call the carnage “the price of freedom” (!)

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

AN AGNOSTIC SURVIVOR OF LAS VEGAS NOW BELIEVES IN GOD

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His name is Taylor Benge.  He and his sister were among the 23,000 spectators at last night’s Country Music concert in Vegas, become targets for the automatic fire raining down on them from the 32nd story of the nearby Mandalay Hotel.  Interviewed on CNN a couple of hours after the U.S.’s most massive shooting massacre, he told of his and his sister’s extraordinary survival while others next to them were being shot dead.  He was still visibly in a state of shock but blurted out to the world watching the interview : “I was an agnostic but now I believe in God”.

One does not expect people who have just been through such a traumatic experience to be totally lucid and rational.  One could hope that the young survivor will soon come to his senses and realize how irrational, though understandable, his act of faith is.  Will he begin to wonder how his survival could point to God’s protection of him and his sister, while so many hundreds of others were being indiscriminately mown down, implicitly indicating, in his … logic, that “God” decided NOT to protect THEM ?  I fear he won’t.  He is so relieved to have had such an exceptional survival that he may now have convinced himself that he was not just lucky but someone God chose to protect.  Meantime, will the rest of us keep the victims and their families “in our thoughts and prayers” ?  Reread the recent posts “How Many More Catastrophes . . .” (September 10, 2017) and “I Will Keep You in My Prayers” (September 17, 2017).

                                            RIDENDA      RELIGIO

THINGS I HAVE LEARNED TO ACCEPT

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The advantage of drawing up such a list, as one enters the terminal period of one’s life, is essentially personal.  It is a sort of anti-bucket-list of the unfulfilled hopes, the limitations, the disappointments, the failures, the mistakes, the lost opportunities and the regrets of eight decades of life, which I feel I must acknowledge before I cash in my chips.  If such a list is of interest or value to anyone else, so much the better.  The Autumn of life is the best time to look back on past seasons, before we start to feel cold permanently, and perhaps suffer the incapacities and dependence that come with our final Winter.

  1. LIMITED  GIFTS   :   It is obvious that I was not born a genius, but it is not false modesty to admit that I was not even sufficiently intellectually gifted to become a brilliant scientist, doctor, barrister, philosopher, author or artist.  Nor was I born with physical capacities of strength, agility and coordination to become a more than average athlete.  Nor was I gifted enough to become a powerful politician or a captain of industry.  I was not without certain natural attributes that would allow me to achieve relative, limited success in certain of my endeavors, but I was never outstanding.
  2. SOCIAL  STATUS   :   I was not born exactly on the other side of the tracks, but the family into which I was born, without being dirt-poor, was far below the privileged classes which could provide the education, comfort, security, and assure the future, of those with birth-rights I never had.  But my education was adequate enough to allow me to envisage and enjoy a career and standard of living superior to those of my parents.
  3. BRAINWASHING   :   As a synonym for religious education, the term is a trifle overdone.  There was nothing vicious in my being forced to grow up in an environment of traditional Catholicism and to have been educated in Catholic schools, seminaries and Universities.  It took me forty years to recognize the truth of atheism, which means that for fully half of my life to date I have enjoyed freedom from religious illusions.
  4. BEING  BROKE   :   The first time was when I walked out of the friary and found myself, like George Orwell, “Down and Out in Paris …”.  Luckily my future wife had a job of sorts, and with her legal, basic wage, coupled with the paltry proceeds from my “travail noir” (undeclared tutoring in English), we were never hungry or homeless.  The second time was when we returned to Paris after ten years living comfortably in the States – with no income at all, no savings and not even a permit to reside and work in France.  But I was lucky enough to find a job, working, admittedly, for a pittance, after only a few months.  Seven years later I began my 16-year career with a multinational with the status of Director, until my retirement.  (P.S.  It would be inappropriate to associate these periods of temporary poverty with losing 90% of the value of my stocks in the unforeseen crash of 2001.  One can learn to live with less.)
  5. DIVORCE   :   After twenty-three years of marriage, I was furious to have been forced to accept a divorce and the disintegration of my family.  It took me years to learn to accept the imposed, (more or less) total, celibacy that had been my free choice at age 16 (!) and my life-style for fully fifteen years as a religious and priest.  My family remains fractured but I am very close to my three children and five grandchildren, and on speaking terms with their mother and grandmother.

These are the five principal challenges I have had to face.  I did not add “Ill-Health” because apart from a few ordinary ailments and a near-fatal heart-attack, I have been remarkably lucky health-wise.  In fact, I have been remarkably lucky – period !  I could have had better breaks, but I have no right to complain about the cards I was dealt.  I could have used them better – notably as a husband and as a father – but for want of a more original conclusion to this post, I can truthfully say “all’s well that ends well”.  I may have to revise that judgement as I grow even older, more fragile and more vulnerable.  But whatever fate is in store for me, I hope I will find the courage and lucidity to accept my life’s end as readily as I learned to accept its challenges.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO