MAKE US BELIEVE AGAIN ? NO , YOU CAN’T !

Tags

, , ,

Some claim that you can : “ab esse ad posse” (“from what exists, you can deduce what is possible”).  A couple of famous atheists have recanted (not necessarily for the same reasons a handful of  scientists have changed their opinion about the human contribution to climate change . . .).  But it is extremely rare.  It will never happen to me.  Never say “never” ?  In Australia I bought a recognizably Aussie felt hat made of rabbits’ fur.  You have my promise : I’ll eat it if ever I deny the atheism I espoused and abandon the liberty I discovered forty years ago.

A few of my readers have tried.  “Lumen de lumine”, “Seeking Truth” and just recently David Stephens.  They did me the honor of trying to defend their illusions and attack my quasi-certitudes (this last word is a “clin d’œil”, a private joke, between Jim-Lumen and myself).  No doubt they have been forced to admit that I am a hopeless case, too pig-headed an Irishman to admit defeat, too dumb to recognize the power of the “proofs” they present.

Others have been more gracious.  One lovely lady in Australia, who attended my First Mass back in 1961, suggested during my recent visit to her and her husband’s home, that I make a novena to the Virgin Mary to rediscover my faith.  I would not argue with her.  We have been friends – albeit distant ones – for half a century, and will remain so.  She will never be a Believer on the Brink, and I am a Lost Cause.  She does not want my head as a trophy on her living-room wall (Jim-Lumen does), and like many of my relatives is resigned to recognize the unbridgeable ideological gap between us.  I have always questioned the sincerity of divorced people who claim to be friends.  I do not question the sincerity of true friends who have accepted me in spite of my atheism, and even – some of them – my Blog . . .

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

Advertisements

” UNWARRANTED BELIEFS ” REVISITED

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Today I received a long, well-written comment on a post I published on August 8, 2015 : “Unwarranted Beliefs and Warranted Unbelief”, submitted by David Stephens.  As few readers would stumble on it, I recommend that you read both the post and David’s comment before you read my response :

Thank you, David, for such a well-reasoned attack on my discussion of  Alvin Plantinga’s piece on “warranted belief”.  Neither you nor I, of course, can possibly write a definitive defence of our points of view in half a page, but you did a pretty good job defending yours.  Although I think that what I have already written is an adequate enough answer to your objections, let’s look at them in order :

  1. “Is an appeal to a First Cause a fabrication ?”
  2. “What do you mean by ‘myth’ ?”
  3. Why believe my assertion that “God’s revelation is a myth” ?
  4. “I experience a realm of spiritual reality and I am justified in holding it until I have some reason to think otherwise.”

Objection 1

Throughout this Blog you will find a plethora of posts and comments dealing with First Causes (and Last Judgements) in my almost endless dialogue of the deaf with Jim Gallagher, alias “Lumen de lumine” (!).  While the principle seems to make eminent good sense, the counter-argument of infinite regress is not a cop-out.  Many philosophers and scientists have seriously posited an eternal Universe (or at least one with no beginning; after all, you say the same thing about God . . .).  But even if one accepts a First Cause – fairly obviously omnipotent if not omniscient – it is a huge jump from It to the personal God theologians claim to know so much about.  Jim, of course, famous in this Blog for his Six Steps, rapidly deduces from this established “certitude” of a First Cause that Catholicism is the One, True Church.  I find it hard to believe that we will ever know what started it all, but I dismiss both deism and theism.  Even if the uncreated “God” – Himself a contradiction of the axiom that everything has a cause – were the Prime Mover, His supposed infinite power, goodness and love are a permanent subject of doubt in face of the pain and death of innocent children, whose tragic experience can be excused only by the fact that “God” does not exist.

Objection 2

“Myth” is a broad concept covering just about every story involving the supernatural, from the Australian aborigines’ “Dreamtime” to the pantheon of Greek and Roman deities to the enhanced “history” tribes and nations invent to identify and mobilize their members.  I have never claimed that the “fine-tuning” of the Universe is a myth.  The myth is the suggestion that it has no other possible explanation besides your “God”.

Objection 3

Is God’s “revelation” a myth ?  First of all, we would have to decide of what and of whom you are speaking.  Yahweh and Abraham and Moses and the Prophets, or Allah and THE “Prophet”, Mahomed, the last of the line, or Jesus, Paul and the Evangelists – or Joseph Smith and the golden plates of his Book of Mormon ?  Of course, you will have made your choice, which makes the others . . . myths, as you must admit.

Objection 4

It is practically impossible to dent the certitude born of personal religious experience.  I have already written in this Blog that I do not even attempt to dialogue with anyone who has had a N.D.E. – a Near-Death Experience – complete with lights in tunnels and even words s/he claims to have heard.  But I have opted also, after so many vain attempts, to refrain from trying to shake the convictions of people as convinced of God’s existence as I am convinced that He/She/It is the supreme myth.  In this Blog I have “settled for less”.  My target readership is the “Believer on the Brink”.  It would seem, dear David, that you are devoid of doubt.  Your mind, like mine, is made up.  Mind you, like Bertrand Russell, if I were to discover enough credible evidence, I am open to returning to what I have called the “Illusions” in which I was indoctrinated and which for too long I believed, taught and preached.  I fear that anything I can say or have said in the 227 Reflections in my book, “From Illusions to Illumination” or in the 642 posts in this Blog, “blindfaithblindfolly”, would be water on a duck’s back for believers like yourself.  You are happy with your choice to believe.  I am happy that forty years ago I discovered the truth that has made me free.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

” FIAT LUX ! “

Tags

, , , , ,

They are a dying race.  As are we all.  Lighthouse keepers are not the only ones destined to disappear.  Individually, and as a race, so are we.  But there was one, atop Barrenjoey north of Palm Beach in Sydney, Australia, where he was the earliest lighthouse keeper, whose demise was dramatic.  One stormy night in June 1885, George Mulhall went outside to get some firewood to warm his keeper’s cottage, got zapped by a bolt of lightning and ended up – or rather down – six feet under a gravestone bearing the following epitaph :

“All ye that come my grave to see,

Prepare in time to follow me.

Repent at once without delay,

For I in haste was called away.”

Traditional pious claptrap, perhaps, but also a reminder that death is our inevitable and universal destiny which can strike in sudden, unexpected fashion.

As a child, it was Parish Mission sermons (see my book “From Illusions to Illumination”, page 16) that put the fear of God into me by pointing out that some of the congregation would not be around the next time the Redemptorist Mission team came back for this periodic Catholic Revival.  This “memento mori” was enough to scare us into the confessional.

Today, Australia’s Royal Commission revealing the use of that quaint confessional box by pedophile priests to molest juvenile penitents later or right there and then, has led to a marked abstention on the part of Catholics to seek sacramental absolution.

Hopefully, confessional boxes like manned lighthouses will soon belong to history.  Ships still need the protection provided by lighthouses.  None of us, especially children, needs the “spiritual guidance” provided by criminals in confessional boxes.

DELENDA      RELIGIO

 

THE DEATH – BLOW TO SACRAMENTAL CONFESSION ?

Tags

, ,

“The report recommends there be no exception, excuse, protection or privilege from the offence granted to clergy for failing to report information disclosed in connection with a religious confession.”

This is one of 85 recommendations made by the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Sydney Morning Herald, August 15, 2017 –  page one !).  It would make failing to report information about child sexual abuse disclosed in confession a criminal offence.  Not surprisingly, Archbishop Hart, president of the Australian Bishops’ Conference, said religious confessions should remain protected.

Does this cover murder ?  Readers may remember my story about the young priest revealing that his first penitent had confessed murdering someone, while in the pub nearby a man at the bar was telling his mates that he had been the new curate’s first penitent . . .

More seriously, priests never felt obliged to “break the seal of confession” by reporting to the authorities ANYTHING they had heard while administering the Sacrament of Penance.  “Bless me, Father, for I am a serial killer and feel impelled to murder a ninth victim”.  Would  a confessor report that to the police ?  Never in a million years !  So why expect that forcing revelation to police of the identity of a pedophile penitent (presuming the priest knew or could acquire his/her identity) could be accepted by the Church ?  Would Rome or Catholics anywhere accept legal condemnation of a confessor discovered to have covered up such crimes ?  And if a law were made to oblige confessors to reveal the crime of pederasty – as the laws in certain countries oblige the medical profession to do – why not murder, theft, embezzlement, tax-evasion, wife-beating, burglary ? – just about every crime in the book.  Only confessors absolving penitents for impure thoughts or telling white lies would be off the hook.

There is, however, a positive side to all  this.  As it is hard to imagine that a criminal guilty of any crime would willingly confess it to a priest if he knew that the Law obliged the latter to report it to the police – unless he were already in prison or perhaps on death-row – many people might think twice before going to confession.  How solid is that seal of confession ?

The demise of the illusion that priests can forgive us in the name of a non-existent God is a consummation devoutly to be wished.  The Catholic Church, unique among the world’s religions, has for too long made this arrogant and absurd claim.  I am embarrassed to have to admit that for seven years I never questioned that claim as I ended each confession I heard with the Latin of “I absolve thee in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost”.  And people thought that God, through me, had wiped their slate clean !  I was naïve enough to believe it myself.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

“HIDDEN UNDER A BUSHEL”

An anonymous, and of course unidentifiable, reader has just posted a comment (the 10th) on “The Unreachable Stars”, published on October 5, 2016.  As it is likely to pass entirely unnoticed, I am taking the liberty and first-time initiative of drawing your attention to it.  Readers do not read only the latest posts but obviously roam through the other 640 posts previously published.  Whether comments on them are favorable or unfavorable, it would be a pity if they are never read.  So from now on, I will draw your attention – using this same title – to such comments on previous posts.  This one is particularly interesting and well-written.  Thank you, Fazal !

” O’MEARA INVEIGLED ME “

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

The quotation is from the preface of a recent book by Australia’s most famous contemporary author, Booker Prize winner (“Schindler’s List”), Tom Keneally.  The book, described by “The Australian” as “one of the most enjoyable, high-spirited and technically accomplished works of a long career” – its author lauded by “The Guardian” (“With his trademark verve and impishness, few can match him as a storyteller”) – “Napoleon’s Last Island” is a fictionalized insight into the six-year terminal imprisonment of the Emperor (“General Bonaparte” . . .) on the island of St Helena, where for the first three years Barry Edward O’Meara was his personal physician.

Betsy Balcombe was a daughter in a family that lived in “The Briars”, where Napoleon stayed while “Longwood” was being remodelled to house him and his suite.  Now a young married woman who as an adolescent had befriended “the Ogre”, she is the fictional author of this inside story of the final years of the imperial prisoner on his “last island”.

Dr Barry O’Meara is a major figure in her account.  Keneally read Barry’s best-selling two-volume work, “A Voice from St Helena”, and admits he was “inveigled” by the Irish doctor to write as though he were himself the young woman, formerly the brash thirteen-year old friend and frequent visitor of Napoleon at Longwood, where they actually played blindman’s buff together !

I don’t think that I, a distant relative of Dr O’Meara, have ever inveigled anyone into doing anything.  But I have been, more than once, accused of trying to do so – and worse.  I am, after all, a militant atheist committed to converting Believers on the Brink to enjoy liberation from their illusions of religious belief.  But there has never been anything in my book or my blog that could honestly be described as “inveigling”.  I have no converts who have ever complained that I conned them out of their faith.  In fact, it remains to be proven that I have any converts at all . . .

But I am determined to keep on keeping on proclaiming “Ridenda Religio” and trying to get people who have already had serious doubts about their own credulity, to go the whole hog and recognize that religious beliefs, rules and rituals are total nonsense.  I have been called a “sledge-hammer”, an outrageous cynic and a dangerous, disrespectful destroyer of the faith that offers meaning, comfort and hope to believers.  To all this I plead guilty, but NOT to inveigling anybody.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO      

ANTICIPATION

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

The day after tomorrow will be a big day for me.  Every two years I return to visit family and friends in Australia.  This is the third time I will be accompanied by a granddaughter and her family, to celebrate her tenth birthday.  My first trip home, after an absence of seventeen years, was in 1981.  Will this be, at age 80, thirty-six years later, my last ?  The question augments the anticipation and excitement for what may be my final flight.

No, I am not afraid of flying.  Have had a scare or three in my time, but my job as a trainer of managers in a multinational corporation took me to the U.S., countries all over Europe and some in Asia, so often, that even the long haul Down Under, twenty hours in the air, does not make me wonder whether my plane will crash but what latest movies it is offering.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder”.  “Anticipation is the greater part of pleasure”.  The clichés apply.  I do wonder whether this trip will live up to my Great Expectations.  Biennial family reunions imply encounter with the phenomenon of growing up – and growing older.  Some of the younguns will now share the champagne, as we fête the arrival of newborn Anabella, the latest addition to the clan of which I have become patriarch-in-waiting (my brother-in-law is a nicely-preserved nonagenarian).  All three of my brothers and one of my sisters, present at previous parousias, will not be attending this one.  Equally absent from other gatherings will be schoolmates and confreres no longer available to share nourishment and nostalgia at our Sans Souci luncheons and Franciscan Chapters of Mat(e)s (exegesis on request).  Catching up on news from survivors and the Faithful Remnant will involve surprises,  pleasant and unpleasant.  It will be no surprise for family and friends to discover that I have not improved since last time.

We look forward to events like these.  Some others we dread.  Anything, we say, could happen and probably will.  I will be discovering places I’ve never seen before, like Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, and revisiting places I have known and loved since I was a Kid from Kogarah in the forties and fifties, like N.S.W.’s Blue Mountains and above all the ‘Arbour, the Quai, the Bridge, the ferries and Manly, seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care.

For all sorts of reasons, this could be my last trip home (though I have a strong feeling it won’t).  It is certain at least that I won’t need all the fingers on one of my hands to count the maximum.  I am resigned to the fact of both the end of my career as a traveler – and as a pilgrim and stranger on this earth.  When I first left Australia in 1964 to study Theology in Paris, I had no idea what the future would hold.  I did know – surprise, surprise ! – that one day I would die.  The difference now is that I now know that when I do, that will be it !  I no longer anticipate meeting Peter at the Pearly Gates.  I will settle for meeting Anabella at Carss Park on Kogarah Bay.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

IT’S ABOUT TIME !

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

This week’s (July 24) TIME magazine carries major articles on North Korea, the G-20, Hong Kong and China, Mosul in Irak, the new Irish P.M., the Trials of Trump, Obamacare, Physical Fitness, as well as the usual  book and movie reviews and celebrity interviews.  But this week I was struck by a number of minor items – which we speak of in this Blog.  I don’t mean to brag but Blog-material in TIME would indicate that “Blind Faith : Blind Folly” is no stranger to current affairs, some of which are discussed in the Blog … before TIME !  Here are a baker’s half-dozen items which readers of this Blog will immediately recognize :

  1. Cardinal Pell goes on trial for pederasty on July 26 in Melbourne.  (page 6)
  2. Chinese scientists have proven that teletransportation works.  (page 11)
  3. The winner of two  $1 million dollar prizes and another of $50,000 in a state lottery during one month in 2014 called his luck “a blessing from the Lord”.  (page 11)
  4. Parents and physicians are facing the quandary of euthanasia for an incurable eleven-month old baby who cannot breathe on his own, hear or move his arms or legs and who suffers from seizures that require medication to control.  (page 19)
  5. “The surprisingly peaceful origins of Bastille Day” reveals what you read in the post of July 16.  (page 21)
  6. The six-page article on Trump concludes with reference to the President’s “bull-in-a-china-shop style”, recalling my July 10 (!) suggestion that the cliché may soon morph into a “Trump-in-the-Oval-Office”.  (page 31)
  7. Casey Affleck’s movie, “A Ghost Story”, makes the reviewer wonder : “Who knows if there is life after death ?” – a constant theme in our Blog.        RIDENDA      RELIGIO

IS RELIGIOUS FAITH MADNESS ?

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

 

Some of us are a little too quick on the draw when we say some people are mad.  We usually mean “eccentric”, “irresponsible”, “outrageous” – but not “mentally ill”.  It is common enough, however, for atheists to consider religious faith true madness.  After all, it fits the definitions.  The title of Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” was deliberately chosen by the author, for whom a delusion is a persistent false belief in the face of strong contradictory evidence (or, I would suggest with Bertrand Russell, lack of sufficient evidence).  Dawkins seems to agree with Robert Pirsig’s statement in “Lila” (1991) : “When one suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity.  When many people suffer from a delusion, it is called religion”.  He would no doubt also agree with William Harwood who said :  “The difference between faith and insanity is that faith is the ability to hold firmly to a conclusion that is incompatible with the evidence, whereas insanity is the ability to hold firmly to a conclusion that is incompatible with the evidence”.

We atheists, but also non-atheists, members of mainline Christian churches, agree that the world is full of religious nutters.  Pentecostal snake-handlers, tent-revival enthusiasts conned by charismatic, “miracle”-working preachers like Jim Jones and his credulous congregation of nine hundred willing consumers of poisoned Kool-Aid, the “martyrs” of Daech and Al-Qaida – their name is Legion.  But we all know people who believe in the “Real Presence” of Jesus in a wafer of bread, in the divine inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible and the Koran, in the reality of life after death – people who otherwise are as rational as we are.  We seem to make an exception for them.  The vast majority of mankind has some sort of religious belief.  Maybe Robert Pirsig was right . . .

Whether or not we consider believers mad, there is clearly no point in broadcasting the fact.  It is a perfect dialogue-stopper.  Trading insults never won arguments and succeeds only in perpetuating a dialogue of the deaf.  It is far more effective when talking to a Jehovah Witness who refuses a blood-transfusion for his child because God forbids it, to ask “How do you know that ?”  The question has, in fact, universal application : the inspiration of Scriptures, the Resurrection of Jesus, the infallibility of Scripture and even of the Pope – the question applied to all such beliefs puts the monkey on the believer’s back.  We don’t have to disprove such beliefs, including belief in the existence of God; the burden of proof is on the non-atheist.

Accusing believers of insanity is water on a duck’s back.  I was one (a believer, not a duck) for fully half my life.  I would never have admitted that I was nuts.  I may right now be on my way to precocious senescent dementia, Alzheimer’s, but I’m not there yet.  I’ve always had a “mens sana”, though not necessarily in a “corpore sano”.  I guess the reason believers dismiss the accusation of insanity is that there are billions of perfectly normal people like them.  They can’t all be nut-cases.  Objectively, their beliefs are unfounded and irrational.  We have to help them realize that.  It won’t happen by telling them they’re crazy.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

L’AUSTRALIE : MA PATRIE ; LA FRANCE : MA LIBERTE

I am writing this on July 14, France’s national holiday, chosen in 1880 not only in commemoration of the Fall of the Bastille in 1789 but also as the Feast of the Federation, the 1790 first birthday of the Republic.  The annual military parade and display of force have long overshadowed this second, celebratory, forgotten dimension of what is now simply called la Fête Nationale.

This year all stops were pulled out to mark the centenary of the intervention of the U.S. in 1917, which contributed significantly – with heavy cost in American lives – to the victory of 1918.  Donald Trump was guest of honor, and proudly saluted the ancient trucks and antique tanks, as well as a symbolic contingent of U.S. troops, including five in World War One uniforms.

Two weeks from today I will begin my biennial visit to Australia, accompanied by members of my French family.  My children were all born in the U.S., where we lived for ten years.  At 80 years of age I look back at my initial 27 years in Australia and my 43 years in France, separated by a full decade Stateside, and sum up my life in the words of this post’s title, with the addition of “Entretemps, l’Unique Amérique”, “In Between, America the Unique”.

Australia is, literally, my fatherland, the country where I, and my parents, were born.  France, of which I have become a citizen, is my country of adoption.  Above all, it is the country where I discovered the liberty of a libre-penseur, a free-thinker, expressed in my atheism.  In between the two, America, so different from both Australia and France, a fascinating kaleidoscope of extremes I was lucky enough to experience first-hand.

Today I feel proud to be French, do not regret leaving the States, and remain viscerally attached to Down Under.  It is, I suppose, ironic that I was sent as a priest to France to do post-graduate studies in Theology, which served my ten-year career as a lay-theologian, professor of Theology and Religious Education Director in the U.S., before returning to France – an atheist – to begin, at age 41, a business-career of 23 years, and, after retirement 16 years ago, the active promotion of atheism through my book and this blog.

“Non, rien de rien; je ne regrette rien”.  That is no more true for me than it was for Edith Piaf in her signature song.  But, in spite of some hardships and very few regrets, I have been very fortunate.  It makes no sense to wonder what I would do if I had my life to live over again.  But I can honestly say that I consider myself lucky to have had the experiences I have had – not only living in three different countries for significant lengths of time, but in the education I received, the religious faith I inherited and later rejected, the experience as a Franciscan for fifteen years – seven of them as a priest – and the opportunity I have had to share my questioning of faith and its illusions with Believers on the Brink.  I do not deserve the luxury of having been happily married for more than twenty years, being the father of three marvelous children and grandfather of their Fabulous Five, of having had a satisfying professional career and continuing to have an intellectually invigorating retirement living in France and maintaining a French Connection with Australia.

I would thank God, if He existed, instead of which I thank all those who made this life of mine possible.  “God” sure as Hell didn’t.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO