CRYSTAL BALLS : BALDERDASH ?

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Today’s “Le Monde” (June 25/26), France’s most respected daily newspaper, carries a serious article entitled : “In Switzerland, People Go to See their Seer the Way They Go to See their Dentist”.  As the principal theme of this Blog is overcoming blindfaithblindfolly and learning to see, I thought it worth sharing with you.

A See-r is literally someone who claims to be able to “see” the future.  The lady who wrote the article says she sees a Seer once every two years (150 euros per seance) to seek, she admits, a measure of reassurance about what is going to happen over the following six months.  She gives several examples and explicitly states that “if I believe, it is simply because what they tell me often happens”.  One prophecy concerned the fact that one of her friends would have a heart-attack.  Naturally, one of them did . . . Another foretold a minor accident in her car on a rainy day.  Sure enough, she had a fender-bender – not unusual, I suspect, on icy Swiss mountain roads.  She claims not to be “completely gullible” but admits  to needing “a small dose of the irrational” (!). All good fun, I suppose.  But this 52-year old industrial saleswoman does not seem to recognize the extent of her credulity.

Religions do a brisk business with prophecy, as we saw in “Prophets for Profit”.  The certitude they claim is not based on tarot cards, tea-leaves or crystal balls, but on the infallible word of God, which it would be blasphemy to deny. The trouble, of course, is that biblical prophecy is no more guaranteed than the elucubrations of the fortune-teller. Believers have been duped into believing, without an iota of evidence, that the future, as bleak as it may be for many, will offer them at least an after-life of eternal happiness.

Now it’s my turn to turn into a Seer and offer my own crystaline predictions :  1.  People will continue to pay the clergy to tell them what they want to hear, the way the Swiss fortune-tellers tell their gullible, paying clients that they have every reason not to worry and be happy.  2.  Suckers will continue to be born every day.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

WILL MY NAME EVER BECOME AN ADJECTIVE ?

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Dante’s did (“Dantesque”).  We all make Freudian slips.  The nephew of James Smithson, the wealthy British scientist, who inherited his uncle’s fortune, left it to the United States, whence the Smithsonian museums.  The Apostle John gave us the adjective “Johannine” for what is now called his Comma (look it up).  And, of course, Christ is behind everything Christian.  “Jesuitical”, a pejorative epithet for casuistry and double-dealing by Jesuits, members of the Society of Jesus (S.J.), some would prefer to leave out of the short list. Atheists would willingly add Darwinian evolution, if not Dawkinsian cumulative selection.

So what about my moniker ?  I mean if the author of “The Comedy” (the original name of Dante’s poem; the adjective “divine” was added by Boccaccio two and a half centuries later), which virtually created modern Italian, can be immortalized by an adjective, why, oh why, can’t I, the author of the best bloody blog on the planet ?

The answer to the title’s question is “I kinda doubt it”.  Such an unexpected and unusual burst of humility is simple recognition that I expect to remain the Unknown Author, the “Auctor Incognitus” from the Terra Incognita, an Aussie author no one has ever heard of (this, with my deepest respect for you, dear readers, both of you).  Mind you, I would not mind becoming a man of mark, like another Australian, the Man from Ironbark.  But knowing that that is highly unlikely, I have the satisfaction that what I have written remains permanently available (and, hopefully, permanently relevant), and may get some who stumble on this Blog to question their blindfaithblindfolly. Posthumous, even prehumous, fame really does not interest me.  Liberating Believers on the Brink does.

P.S.  Another good reason for the sterility of my name in begetting an adjective : what would it be ?  “O’Mearaish” ?  “O’Mearian” ?  “O’Mearaesque” ? The last, my preference, would put me up there with Dante.  After all, the Blog is a sort of Anti-Divine Comedy.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

PROPHETS FOR PROFIT

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As a fan of Tommy Lee Jones, both as an actor and more recently as a gifted director, I could not resist a free viewing on Internet of his 1988 movie, “Stranger on My Land”.  He plays the rôle of a Vietnam veteran become a rancher, whose small ancestral property is taken over by the government, exercising its right of “eminent domain”, for military purposes.

Freebies like this come at a price.  You either pay to avoid the ads, each averaging a minute in length, or you put up with at least an abbreviated version of them.  As ads are forbidden during movies on French public television, you get used to the luxury of no interruptions.  Anyhow, I was surprised to discover that one of the ads on my computer screen was not for some commonplace product or service, but an interminable thirty-minute (!) commercial for the “Restored Church of God”, featuring preacher David C. Pack, trotting out scores of quotations from the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament writers to warn us about the current mess in the world as proof of the imminence of the Appearance of the Anti-Christ and the even worse mess that will result as divine punishment.  It was so incredibly boring, ridiculous and unconvincing that I persevered to the very end, totally fascinated by such mercantile means to sell religion.  It would be laughable if it were not so pathetic.  The saddest thing is that apparently such manipulation of credulity pays off.  I did not respond by requesting the “free” literature from Pack’s church in Ohio.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

IN HARM’S WAY

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The world has always been a dangerous place, and everyone, to some degree, has experienced the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and perhaps even deliberately inflicted damage to our person, our families, our possessions.  Every generation has had its Grumpy Old Men saying that things are getting worse, that the world is going to pot, and that they long for the “good old days”.  But in recent decades we have become conscious of new, or at least an intensification of, threats to our health, physical integrity and very survival.

The two threats that terrify us most are the inexorable deterioration of our environment, and the irrational violence of unpredictable terrorist attacks. Non-atheists pray that God will intervene to remove these threats to our very existence; in God they trust.  The ecological threat has a religious dimension for those who believe in God as Creator and the responsibility He is said to have given us to preserve His creation for our own welfare.  The terrorist threat is multi-dimensional, with its sources in international history, national identities and geopolitico-economic interaction.  But its roots are in religion, rendering it perhaps a threat even more formidable, if not one beyond our power, to eradicate.

9/11 spawned more major, sophisticated terrorist attacks than we can remember.  But in the last few years we have become conscious of the quasi-permanent danger of the weaponizing of cars and trucks mowing down unsuspecting pedestrians on sidewalks and bridges, and of our vulnerability – and that of uniformed police – to the lone-wolf, armed only with a kitchen-knife or a hammer, screaming “Allahu akbar !”.

Our grandchildren and theirs will be, all their lives, the subjects – and some of them perhaps victims – of this new, home-made terrorism.  Future generations’ freedom of movement will be progressively restricted by security measures that can never provide the protection they will, and we already, need.  Only when enlightened leaders of Islam succeed in converting their radical, fanatical co-religionists who find their murderous motivation in an archaic reading of the Koran, will the world recover the sense of security the terrorists have stolen from us.

DELENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

PROVIDENCE

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He was one of the emaciated prisoners of a concentration camp in Germany, a Frenchman, who survived long enough to be liberated by the Americans in 1945.  On camera he answered the war correspondent’s question about why he thought he managed to stay alive while most of his companions died.  “Providence”, he said.  “I’m a Catholic so I believe in God”.  These were his actual words (in English, as it happens !). Historical documentaries like this one must be preserved and shown to future generations, lest we forget.  But what this survivor said deserves a critical comment.

The survivor directly attributed his good fortune to God.  It did not occur to him that he was saying implicitly that God could have saved others but chose not to.  Many of his liberators and viewers of the documentary admired his courage, his resilience, but also his hoping against hope, his Catholic, Christian faith.  He saw his survival as a providential exception, a sort of miracle, a gift of God.  But the God he believed in and to whom he attributed his survival, who elected to save him and ignore the prayers of hundreds of thousands of others, is nothing less than a divine Monster.  Believers should realize that this prisoner survived for reasons, notably luck, that have nothing to do with the whims of an imaginary, fickle divinity, the figment of warped minds.  “Providence” is one of religion’s cruelest creations.

DELENDA      RELIGIO

P.S.   You might like to hit the “Search” button to find three earlier posts on Providence. Yes, as they say on CNN, I have “doubled down” on this subject. God does not “provide”.

P.S. 2  :  UPDATE June 18  :   Last Wednesday London’s blazing inferno, “Dreadful Grenfell”, and yesterday’s Portuguese forest fire, underline the permanent pertinence of this reflection on Providence.  The scores of victims in both fires should not make us forget the trauma suffered by the survivors, many of whom are thanking God for their “providential” escape.  A ferociously hot European summer is about to begin.  How many more tragedies are waiting to happen ?  One of them is certain : believers will remain blind to the absurdity of thanking “Providence” for survival from natural disasters and entrepreneurs’ economic, murderous short-cuts in using highly inflammable cheap insulation panels (“cladding”) in buildings which in minutes become Hell on earth.  “God” has nothing to do with causing or being saved from either.

“VATICANUM”

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I have just finished reading the six hundred pages of J.R. dos Santos’ sixth novel in the Tomas Noronha saga (the first was “The God Formula”, title of my post of September 2, 2015) with its three million copies translated into eighteen languages.  I read every word of the thick volume – though I was tempted to skip some perfectly predictable pages – and completed the reading in just a couple of days.  I was curious to see how well the novel lived up to the intriguing back-cover blurb about the cryptanalyst’s challenge to unravel yet another enigma, involving this time the present Pope, destined to be the last (!) according to the 12th century prophecies of St Malachy, Pope Pius X’s vision in 1909 and the famous three “secrets” of Mary to the children of Fatima in 1917.

This Blog has no vocation to offer book-reviews as such.  But as this book’s author (probably) and his hero (certainly) are both unbelievers who happen to be erudite in matters religious, I thought that my own readers (both of you …), already familiar with the book or tempted to tackle it, may be interested in my reaction to it.

Dos Santos is on a roll.  The Portuguese Dan Brown has hit pay-dirt in exploiting his popularity as a TV journalist, and his profound knowledge of Church history as a university professor.  He writes well enough, spins a good yarn, although literary critics rightly ridicule his proclivity to fill endless chapters with his lecture notes.

Central to the story is the kidnapping of Pope Francis, under threat of decapitation by disciples of Daech tonight, at midnight – in just a few hours !  Our loquacious author, nonetheless, has his hero spell out, in more detail than most of his readers would want or need, all that is to be known about the scandal of the Vatican bank and our famous Archbishop Marchinkus (the same prelate who accelerated the granting of my own dispensation from the priesthood by Pope Paul VI) – as though the threatened, imminent papal assassination could be put on the back-burner while our hero educated his girl-friend. (If you want the full, true story of Marchinkus’ shenanigans, start at page 275.  You’ll know as much as I do by page 495.  Nothing much happens in those 200-some pages, except the ticking of a clock.)

The other interesting info-lecture concerns the prophecies of Malachy, Pius X and the kids at Fatima.  The first fills pages 81-101.  The Fatima secrets are detailed in pages 102-113.  And you’ll get the drum on Pius X in pages 115-117.  (All page-references are to the French edition.)  In his “Note Finale” (pp. 627-633), the author insists on the authenticity of the facts he reveals about the “IOR”, the Vatican bank (headed by Archbishop Marchinkus – mistakenly called a Cardinal in one slip of the Portuguese pen) and the details he provides about the three sets of prophecies.  The author nonchalantly reassures us in his final paragraph that he personally is completely skeptical about the prophecies.  But in the preceding paragraph he writes : “We must underline, on the subject of prophecies, that experiments in Quantum Physics have proven, experimentally, that it is possible to have access to information coming from the future” (!!!).  Until I read that, I thought dos Santos was a highly intelligent, well-read writer of limited literary talent, whose books are however informative as well as deservedly popular.  I now wonder, not about his credibility but his credulity.  Enjoy the read anyhow.  Don’t worry; be happy.  The Pope survives, in spite of the nasty, original fiction of collusion between Radical Islam and … Cosa Nostra !

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

FEWER CATHOLICS , MORE SEMINARIANS

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TIME magazine this week (June 19, 2017), in a seven-page article, calls them “The God Squad” – with the sub-title “Young, energized and ready to remake the Church, the next generation of priests wants to surprise you.”  Just as we were getting used to, resigned to or jubilant at the decline of Catholicism, we discover a new dynamism among some young Catholic men in the U.S. who feel called to the priesthood.  There were 54 million Catholics in the U.S. in 2007; in 2014 there were only 51 million.  In the same period, “Nones” (religiously unaffiliated adults) increased from 37 million to 56 million.   In graduate-level Catholic seminaries there were, in 2005, only 1300 men under age 30.  But by 2016 that number had increased to 1900 !

Pope Francis must be doing something right.  Highly motivated young priests are staffing American parishes and making their presence, preaching and pastoral care felt.  According to the TIME article, there were in 1967 58,600 priests in the U.S.; today there are only 37,200.  But though today no less than 3,500 parishes do not have their own pastor, it would seem that in the decades to come, more and more priests will be available to staff them.  They will, however, be seen as counter-cultural.  TIME spells out some of the differences :  the new breed of priests actually believe that sex outside heterosexual marriage is sinful (!) and that Jesus really rose from the dead (!!).  “They embrace institutions and rituals their millenial peers eschew.”  For them, “the old Mass of their grandparents is now hip and exotic.”  They even wear a clerical collar, which went out of fashion not long after Vatican 2 (1962-1965).  Though conservative on moral issues like marriage and abortion, they are not arch-conservatives but politically independent, for example, in opposing Trump on immigration.  They are already Catholicism’s hope for the future.

Atheists may be disappointed with these early signs of a possible Catholic renaissance, but should not be surprised.  The need for reassurance about the meaning of life and especially the wishful thinking about an “afterlife” will never entirely disappear.  In the meantime it is to be hoped that the message of this Blog and other appeals to rational reflection will challenge young men attracted to the priesthood to re-examine their blind faith and blind folly, before they make the mistake I made when I was their age.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

“I HOPE , MR COMEY . . . “

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“I hope, Frank, that if this ever happens again, I won’t have to fire you.”  I never had a boss who said that to me, but if I had, I would have had no doubt what s/he meant : a final warning, expressing perhaps a genuine hope but certainly a not very veiled threat : “Do it again and you’re out !”.  Power is a powerful motivator.

To tell Wawrinka that one hopes he does not win the title tomorrow would be discouraging if not vicious but, unless the speaker is a powerful mafioso, notorious for “fixing” sporting events, not illegal.  It is possible, as has always been the case up till now, that Nadal (infuriatingly freakish with the fetishism of his antics before every service), will win fairly.  To tell Stan that I hope Rafa beats him is not in itself a command to “throw” the match. “I hope he beats you, Stan; otherwise I’ll reveal how you’ve been bribing umpires for years” IS a (fictional) threat, not the expression of a mere desire without implied nefarious consequences.  Power takes many forms.

“I hope you can see your way clear to destroy that evidence of the murder I committed ( or, more likely, that ticket you want to give me for speeding)” leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind about the speaker’s intention.  “I hope, Mr Comey, that you will go easy on Mike Flynn” is just as clear.  The implied threat (or reward) does not have to be explicit when the speaker has the power of a President.

Words, indeed, matter.  So does the context.  But, above all, so does the meaning of words.  Dictionary definitions are indispensable, but so is the meaning intended in the context, reinforced or not by tone of voice and body language.  “I hope” is not the same as “I request” or “I command”.  Lawyers have little difficulty in exploiting the semantics.

“This is not a hat”.  The famous tongue-in-cheek painting has raised smiles from Magritte’s admirers ever since he made his artistic point.  “This is My Body” would seem, at face value, an absurdity or, at best, a symbol, when Jesus used the words about the bread He was holding in His hands.  The phrase could not be taken literally when said by some-body (!) about something clearly, visibly, NOT his body.  “This is HIS body” could be said by a relative identifying a corpse in a morgue.  It would be absurd for any-body to identify even another body, let alone a piece of bread, as his own body.  I hope my point is clear.  “I hope, Father, that you will never again pronounce the words ‘This is My body’ at Mass”, if said by an anti-Catholic fanatic during the Irish “Troubles”, would be equally clear.  A less than heroic, martyr-priest would have said his last Mass.

“Sapienti sat”.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

“A BULL IN A CHINA SHOP”

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Some clichés are immediately comprehensible and therefore effective.  Some are more esoteric and too sophisticated or archaic to enjoy universal recognition (ask a Redneck about pigs in pokes).  The one in the title is in the former category, but I would predict that it will soon be replaced by one even more comprehensible and effective : “A Trump in the Oval Office”.  “Nigel Farage in the European Parliament” would mean much the same thing, but the British ultra-conservative has already been almost forgotten.  The Donald – for the nonce, until his impeachment – is here to stay.  Even when he’s gone, his heritage could well include the new cliché.

Martin Luther in 16th century Germany, the Blues Brothers in a 20th century supermarket, Emmanuel Macron in 21st century France : none of these is likely to become the subject of a cliché for devastating disturbance if not demolition of the status quo.  The meteoric French President is perhaps too recent a candidate for clichéité, but all four of the persons mentioned had remarkable effects on their environment.

What if this Blog somehow caught international attention (without necessarily going viral)  ?  Would it have a similar effect ?  ” ‘Ridenda Religio’ ruffling Rome “, “Frank infuriating Francis”, “A Blog blasting Belief” ?  Marketeers would call this Blog’s current readership “confidential” – a polite way of saying “tiny”, “insignificant”.  But if the Blogosphere’s best kept secret did make the headlines, would all Hell break loose, would its deserved renown give birth to alliterative clichés ?  I very much doubt it.  But I’d love to be proved wrong …

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

“A THING OF BEAUTY IS A JOY FOREVER”

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We may never say “never” but we are forever saying “forever”.  John Keats two hundred years ago, in his “Endymion”, went on to say that a thing of beauty “will never pass into nothingness”.  But everything does – including even diamonds, in spite of the ads.  They, and much else that we treasure and admire will outlast us, but like us will find one day that their existence too is finite.  Legends (like you and I) live on.  Maybe our books and blogs will too – for a while, but certainly not forever.  Hopefully our children will live long and happy lives, but P.D. James’ beautiful phrase, “Parenthood is, after all, our only chance of vicarious immortality”, remains poetic license.

“Limits liberate” is a slogan I invented for my seminars on Time Management.  It is the only answer to the vice of procrastination, and a salutary discipline to be practised in meetings, speeches, interviews, phone conversations and blog-posts.  But it applies just as well to periods of misfortune, suffering, illness and life itself : sooner or later they all end.  (Even Trump’s presidency will, one way or another … , end.)

You and I, and even our sub-species, Homo sapiens sapiens, will one day cease to exist.  It makes sense to accept this reality rather than indulge in the impossible dream.  Immortality is limited to the gods we invented.  But as long as we, and the things of beauty around us, last, let’s make the most of the time we have and the joy they give us.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO