“As Time Goes By”, for people hitting eighty like me, brings back Rick’s Casablanca café and Sam playing it once again. If you leave out the overacted sequence when Lazlo and the Patriots break into the Marseillaise to drown out the oom-pah-pah nationalistic beer-hall songs of the SS officers, it’s a great movie, memorable for so many reasons besides Ingrid and Bogey, reasons including “their” song.
Recently I had occasion to apply the song to a subject I have already touched on several times in this Blog : Ageing. Time is rolling on for all of us, and as time goes by, believe it or not, we are all getting older. Some of us are already old crocks who pee our pants and forget to take our medecine. We may not yet be totally dependent – the end of the line, in my book – but we do become increasingly hard of hearing, slow to catch on even if we can hear what’s being said, inclined to repeat, without realizing it, our old stories, and often completely overwhelmed by “modern gadgets”. Not only are many of us computer-illiterate, but some can’t quite get the hang of the smart-phone our kids gave us.
But above all, many people in their eighties become more and more vulnerable. Old folks are the preferred target for all sorts of scams that play on their ignorance, their naïveté, their credulity and their antiquated notion that people can be trusted – including the salesman at the door who knows an easy victim when he sees one.
We all know stories where retirees, especially widows living alone, far from their family and perhaps more or less isolated even from their immediate neighbors, become a solid source of income for salespersons and tradesmen selling products and services they don’t need. You have probably guessed that this post was provoked precisely by such an experience I encountered recently, involving unnecessary roof-work for Pauline, 81, to the tune of 1500 euros. It made me think of another vulnerability, not of third-age pensioners but of children and the religious brainwashing to which they are subjected.
In my book, I already had occasion to quote a man who almost became, like me, a minister of religion, but fortunately for all of us became a biologist instead and the discoverer of Natural Selection. Charles Darwin in his “Autobiography” left us a lapidary insight and a dire warning for parents and educators : “Let us not underestimate the probability that constant education in believing in God in the mind of children produces an effect so powerful, which can be hereditary in their as yet not fully developed brains. It would be as difficult for them to reject belief in God as for a monkey to abandon its hate and instinctive fear of snakes.” (“From Illusions to Illumination”, page 84).
I wrote of the effect this statement had on me : “When I now read Darwin, I shudder at having, with the best intentions in the world, contented myself with educating Catholic children and adults (as well as teachers and clergy) towards a more liberal understanding of our religion. I was thereby contributing to the myth of God the Creator, the Bible as His revelation, and Mother Church as His infallible spokesperson. The text of Darwin will remain a thorn in my side for as long as I live.” (ibid., pp.83-84).
Children are in harm’s way. I feel I must do all I can to prevent the propagation of the myths, the fantasies, the superstitions to which they are exposed. Readers will perhaps now better understand why I persevere in combatting blindfaithblindfolly.