THE PROTESTATION : FIVE HUNDRED YEARS AGO … TODAY !

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DAN  KONFAL  is an American friend and former colleague in Capgemini.  He majored in Political Science and could boast (but doesn’t) of a highly successful business career, including a Vice-Presidency in Capgemini as its National Director of Training.  He is also a Protestant, a Lutheran in fact.  I am delighted that Dan has accepted my invitation to publish this post to mark a significant anniversary in the history of Christianity.

PRELIMINARY  NOTE  

The source for the following is the book “The Richest Man Who Ever Lived”, by Greg Steinmetz, a biography of Jacob Fugger, an early 16th century German financier who became the richest man in the Holy Roman Empire (famously neither holy, Roman or an empire) by loaning money to emperors, kings, Popes and bishops.

Today, Fugger is barely known outside of Germany, but among his accomplishments were financing the founding of the Hapsburg dynasty, persuading the Pope to lift the Church’s ban on charging interest (thereby making possible modern debt financing) and inventing the consolidated balance sheet (which should make him the patron saint of CPAs).

Most people who read history know that the sale of indulgences in Germany prompted Luther to post his “95 Theses”, triggering the Reformation.  That event ultimately blew up the Catholic Church’s religious monopoly, but the little-known back-story tells how Fugger lit the fuse.

…………………

In 1514, Uriel von Gemmingen, Archbishop of Mainz, died and candidates to succeed him began lining up.  It seems that not only was Mainz the only city besides Rome to be designated a Holy See, but the Archbishop of Mainz was one of the seven Electors of the Holy Roman Empire.  More significantly, he was “chairman” of the Electors and second only to the Emperor in political influence.

For all these reasons, the price of the seat was high.  Candidates needed lots of money and Fugger had lots of money to lend.

The negociated price for the open seat was settled at 200,000 florins, approximately $22 million in today’s money, and the eventual beneficiary was one Albrecht of Hohenzollern.  The money found its way into Pope Leo X’s personal account and the twenty-four year old Albrecht found his way to the Cathedral of Mainz.

Here is where the story gets really interesting.

Fugger understandably wanted a failsafe repayment plan, and a three-way scheme was put in place between Fugger, Albrecht and Leo.  Leo was in the process of building the new St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and needed money for the project.  Albrecht needed money to repay Fugger.

The sale of indulgences was hit on as the solution to Leo’s and Albrecht’s mutual problem : one half of the proceeds from the sales would go to Leo for his project, and the other half would go to Fugger to repay the loan to Albrecht.  As the indulgence peddlers spread out through Europe (primarily Germany), each was accompanied by one of Fugger’s accountants who did the actual collection and divvying-up of the receipts.

As we know, on theological grounds, Luther was enraged by the practice and nailed his arguments against indulgences to the cathedral door the night before All Saints’ Day, 1517.  However, being unaware of Albrecht’s role in the scheme, he naïvely sent a written petition to the Archbishop asking him to condemn the indulgence “racket”.

Albrecht never replied to Luther, but he did send a copy of Luther’s petition to Leo.

MANY  THANKS  DAN  !

 

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GLORY ? FAME ? PRAISE ? NO. JUST RECOGNITION.

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How many people know you ?  How many people know OF you ?  Many of us could not care less whether the answers are in the seven figures or just two, or less.  None of us could truthfully answer “None !”, or pretend that it wouldn’t bother us if nobody at all knew, or knew of, us.  Unless you’re Howard Hughes or St Peter the Hermit or St Simeon Stylites, who lived at the top of a pillar, or St Anthony of Padua, who lived in a tree, most of us prefer to be recognized by, if not share at least occasional company with, at least a few other human beings.  (Hermits, of course, may revel in the fame that comes from eccentricity.)

At the other end of the spectrum you have narcissists like Trump – and even some bloggers whose posts are almost as frequent as the Donald’s tweets . . .  Normal people need some recognition – who they are, what they have accomplished, what they think, what they like, what they fear and what concerns them the most.  No man is an island.  We are social animals.  People need people.  The clichés are right.  Some folks go out of their way to achieve more than recognition.  They are fuelled by fame; like actors on the stage, they need the applause.  They would trade a diamond ring for a standing ovation.  Some end up pathetic has-beens, whose name on the billboards has long been forgotten.  They dream of the come-back that rarely happens : Chaplin in “Limelight”.

“So what ?”  I hear you ask.  Well, I guess that at 80 I’m entitled to wonder what has made me tick all these years.  Sure, I liked the applause – especially when it was genuine and deserved.  Getting my name on even a self-published book gave – and gives – me a certain satisfaction.  But I have seen too many sad cases of arrogant, self-centered dudes who spent their life playing to the crowds, not to be myself conscious of the ridicule if not the pity they deserve.  I’ve long settled for less, and consider myself lucky to have lived a life I do not regret, and to have been privileged to be loved by my children and grandchildren and tolerated by a handful of friends.

Sixteen years ago, when I retired, I looked back at the past and forward to the future and wrote a poem, in which I asked who, at 64, could ask for more ?  Whether I “made a difference”, whether what I was, what I did, what I wrote, what I taught was recognized and appreciated or not, doesn’t matter now as much as it used to.  My epitaph will still read :

“Here lies Frank O’Meara . . . W H O  ?”

Smart-ass, right to the very end (and beyond !), wanting to be noticed, even in a cemetery.  As Trump would say, “Sad !”.

It’s a bit long for an epitaph, but if my family can afford it, I have a variation that would be a corker in a cemetery :

“I tried to tell the world there is no God up there :

‘Don’t waste your time in church, don’t waste your time in prayer.

You think that you were made to suffer years of strife

So that you will one day enjoy eternal life ?’

They’re wrong, you have to see, those priests who think they know

The answer to it all, and so they try to sow

The seeds of faith and hope.  But all of it’s a scam.

I don’t need God at all.  I think therefore I am.

(or at least I was)”.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

P.S.   It is, of course, a pure coincidence that this particular post appears on the feast of Saint …Narcissus !

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WINNING ARGUMENTS BY SOWING SEEDS OF DOUBT

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Among the seminars I used to offer Managers, one of the most challenging was my “Making Convictions Contagious” (I preferred this to the classic “The Power of Persuasion”).  Sensitizing people to the necessity of avoiding trying to ram one’s point of view down others’ throats is no easy task.  In theological debates, dogmatism on both sides is still common practice.

In any polemic, the first self-evident truth to keep in mind is that the other guy may not be as stupid as he looks (!).  He is not necessarily a moron or a hypocrite (though, we tell ourselves, he must be pretty dumb not to agree with us . . .).  He may even be sincerely convinced of his opinion and feel that it is supported by adequate, strong arguments.  We all know that in polite conversation we are advised to avoid topics like religion and politics.  Which is why in cocktail parties, you don’t start off by either attacking or defending Trump.  Choose the safe, the consensual, things you can agree on.   It doesn’t have to be the weather, but to get off on the right foot with strangers, don’t start by putting your foot in your mouth and getting his back up from the get-go.

Applied to an exchange about the existence of God, it makes sense for the atheist to express  –  so long as it is his sincere conviction  –  his appreciation of many of the arguments which are the foundation of his opponent’s belief in God.  (Obviously this requires a certain finesse, to avoid creating the impression that this is a gambit you picked up in a seminar or on somebody’s blog . . .).  After all, at first sight, it does appear rational enough to say that “creation” (already a begging of the question !) – from the beauties of nature around us to the vastness of the Universe, the extraordinary ingeniousness of the laws that govern it, and above all its evolution to the phenomenon of life and human intelligence – points to a “Creator”.  It serves no purpose to begin by blasting him and his belief out of the water.  He will appreciate your recognition that atheism, far from being self-evident, contradicts a widely-held conviction that there must be an omnipotent, omniscient First Cause behind it all.  Without this “captatio benevolentiae”, this initial getting him on side or at least ready to listen to you, the best of your arguments will be lost on deaf ears.

It is the transition from this consensus that is the most difficult.  Rather than use a wrecking-ball, it is more effective to take a Socratic approach and proceed by a series of questions : “In spite of how impressed we may be by the existence of the Universe, its extraordinary complexity and apparent order, does it not seem strange to you that “God” would create storms on Jupiter (see my post “Storm Alert”, July 13, 2017), get neutron stars to emit deadly gamma radiation (see the previous post “Insanity in Space etc”, October 25, 2017), or have galaxies hurtling meaninglessly away from each other, increasing their velocity on their way to . . . nowhere ?”  (Once again, I have written no less than ten posts on this subject : enter “Expanding Universe” in the “Search” box.)

Sowing doubts pays off more than dogmatic affirmation, ridicule or cruel sarcasm.  Premature accusations of irrational credulity are to be eschewed; in English : don’t call him an idiot (unless this is your opponent’s own (unlikely) humble admission, it is pointless to expect him to accept your judgement because of your vehemence and the volume of your voice).

This Blog may not be exemplary in this regard.  My only excuse is that I do not have the pretension of being able to convince the brick-wall, die-hard, 100% believer that he is mistaken.  Only people who already have had serious doubts about their faith (Believers on the Brink), are likely to appreciate my efforts at “reductio ad absurdum” and ridiculing religious belief and practice.  But I do recognize I need to learn to practise better what I preach.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

” INSANITY ” IN SPACE AND ” THE RELEVANCE OF GOD ” IN ALABAMA

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This week’s TIME magazine (October 30, 2017) carries two totally unrelated articles that deserve to be seen in juxtaposition.  One concerns an event that happened 130 million years ago, the other events that are happening right now in the State of Alabama.

Astronomers have just discovered that two neutron stars in a galaxy far, far away, collided in a cataclysm that produced gamma-ray radiation that could destroy life on any planet in its path.  The only human life we know has been around for only 200,000 to 300,000 years, but whatever life was on Earth at the time survived because our little planet was not in the line of fire.

I didn’t know, but apparently neutron stars are ordinary stars compressed to just twelve miles across, which gives them a density such that a single spoonful of one of them would weigh a billion tons.  TIME calls neutron stars “insane”.  Fair enough.  But I take the epithet as a literal description of the Mad, Mad, Mad World which “God”, the “Intelligent Designer”, is supposed to have created.  Believers speak of the “order” in the Universe as proof of God’s existence.  As I’ve pointed out in at least ten previous posts (see the list by searching “Expanding Universe”), the Expanding Universe (subject of Stephen Hawking’s 1966 doctoral thesis), on the contrary, proves just the opposite.

Now let’s come down to Earth and see what’s happening in Alabama.  TIME devoted just one column to the piece on neutron stars, but gave us six full pages on Roy Moore and his candidature for the Senate seat vacated by that pesky Hobbit, Jeff Sessions, Trump’s choice for Attorney General of the United States.  Moore is, even in the Redneck Bible Belt, something of a star as a Christian fundamentalist politician.  Besides his Steve Bannon-backed populist positions (TIME reports that “he recites anti-abortion poetry, rejects the theory of evolution, doesn’t think Muslims should be allowed to serve in Congress”, promoted school-segregation, opposes same-sex marriage and suggests that 9/11 was “God’s punishment for American sins”), Moore has a thing about the Ten Commandments.  The TIME article tells us that they are posted above the bed he shares with his wife, and used to decorate the walls of his court-room when he was a circuit judge.  As Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, he put a granite monument bearing them in the rotunda of the courthouse.  In his office at the Foundation for Moral Law which he founded, there are no less than five plaques of the Decalogue adorning its walls.  Lest he forget them ?

The juxtaposition, I hope, underlines the double absurdity of believing in a Divine Architect of the Universe, and of seeing in American Redneck religion what Judge Moore calls “the relevance of God”.  Roy knows “Thou shalt not steal”, but his “relevance of God” looks like plagiarism of my post of September 11 : “The Irrelevance of Religion”.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

WHAT IF WE . . . VOTED FOR ISLAM ?

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The Germans voted for Nazism.  Adolph Hitler was democratically elected Chancellor of the Third Reich.  What if the French – or any other “Christian” nation – elected a President to turn the country into an Islamic state ?  London has a mayor who is Muslim.  But England is not an Islamic state.  The France imagined by Michel Houellebecq, just a few years from now, in his 2015 novel “Soumission” (“Submission”), is.  Become a best-seller, it makes such a political sea-change credible – and terrifying.

The author is a master of the language and of his art as a novelist.  His fictional book is so credible and convincing that it sounds like his own autobiography and historical fact.  Marine Le Pen is defeated in the presidential election’s final run-off by Mohammed Ben Abbes, the candidate of his Muslim Federation.  Real names of current political figures and even T.V. journalists reinforce the apparent reality of the realization of what is for most of us our worst nightmare.  The book’s back-cover blurb accurately states that “this implosion, without upheaval, without real revolution, develops like a bad dream.”

The book is, yes, a wake-up call.  In the novel, inexorably and inevitably, the secular state, once so proud of its hard-won separation from religion, becomes a theocracy.  Do we really want to allow Islam, which means … “submission”, to rule our lives ?  “Tolle, lege”.  “Sapienti sat”.  You get my drift.

DELENDA      RELIGIO

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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