$CIENTOLOGY , HOMEOPATHY , RELIGION : DEBUNKING THE B.S.

In the chapter entitled “Fibs” in his “Insights and Reflections” (pp.327-330), Phillip Adams reminds us about ” the old joke that asks ‘How can you tell when a politician’s lying ?’, (which) is answered by ‘When his lips move’ “.   The author goes on to expose “the bare-faced fraudulence of the whole preamble to the war in Iraq”.  Some blind people still praise George W. Bush and Co. for invading Iraq, in spite of the proven non-existence of WMDs : “We took out Saddam Hussein, didn’t we ?”

Stalin and Hitler got away with lies that cost millions of lives.  We all know that it could happen again.  Politicians are still moving their lips.

Beyond politics, there are three belief-systems where credulity is exploited to the hilt : $cientology, Homeopathy and Religion.  If you or any of your family and friends would like to discover the lies on which these insane beliefs are built, I am happy to refer you to the following sources :

  1.  $cientology  :   Check out Tony Ortega’s blog “The Underground Bunker”.  It contains ex-$cientologists’ constantly updated testimonies on the blatant nonsense behind this tax-exempt business, which calls itself a “Church” (!), and which continues to con suckers into paying exorbitant fees for phony “therapy” to rid them of their hang-ups.  Travolta and Cruise are hardly sufficient reasons for allowing oneself to be swindled, if not financially ruined, by this pernicious fraud.
  2. Homeopathy  :   All you need to know about this pseudo-pharmaceutical racket can be found in a hard-hitting, 13-minute, 2005 video by none other than Richard Dawkins.  A large percentage of my French readers will scream bloody murder when they read this.  The British government spends millions of pounds subsidizing this pathetic exploitation of the “Placebo Effect”.  500 million people worldwide pay good money to drink homeopathic “medicine” which is (at least) 99.9999% water.
  3. Religion  :   It will be no surprise to habitual readers of this Blog to learn that I believe its 750 plus posts provide ample material to reinforce the doubts of Believers on the Brink about the ridiculous claims of the world’s religions.  It is easy, often entertaining, and always informative reading, which reveals just how ridiculous religious beliefs, rules and ritual really are.  Even if I say so myself . . .                                                                                                                                                                                                            RIDENDA      RELIGIO
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CLIVE JAMES AND PHILLIP ADAMS : GOLD MEDALISTS

It is not difficult to recognize excellence.  Some find it difficult to accept – in others; their pride and pretension can make them jealous, or at least envious, of the talents they lack.  Others recognize superior talent and are content to admire it.  They do their best, but the champions do it better.  In every field there are the gold-medalists and the also-rans.  I am not a gold-medalist.

As the author of a book and a blog few have ever heard of, let alone read, it is not hard for me to recognize and admire the genius of great writers.  But there are two Australian authors who have written books I would love to have written myself.  They both have multiple thousands of fans.  Their styles of writing appeal to me because they have succeeded in writing as I would like to have written.  In Australia and far beyond they need no introduction.  If any of you honoring me by reading this is unfamiliar with their work, I recommend you discover why I have unlimited admiration for both of them.

CLIVE  JAMES, who called himself a “kid from Kogarah”, the Sydney suburb where he and I grew up (at the same time, though we never met), left Australia after his University studies and became an international celebrity as an author and popular figure for decades on British television.  Among his many books, his autobiography, “Unreliable Memoirs” (1980), is my kinda book, not only because I am familiar with the locale in which we both wore short pants and rode billy-carts, but because he is a master of tongue-in-cheek story-telling.  Our subsequent careers could not be more different, but I would love to have had the skill, the sense of humor and the page-turning talent he displays in this book.

PHILLIP  ADAMS, another post-war product of the suburbs, but in rival Melbourne, and of the same vintage as Clive and myself, has been nothing less than a household word in Australia for the last fifty years.  His contribution to the Australian film-industry, his books, columns and conferences, and especially his late-night talk show on national radio, have given him an enormous following.  He left school at 15, as I did.  The difference is that I left with my High School diploma, the “Leaving Certificate”, in my pocket.  Phillip is a diploma-less dropout (he defines himself as a “doddery autodidact”).  He has, however, since acquired no less than six honorary doctorates (against my one and only – from the corporate “University” I co-founded !), and has had an asteroid named after him.  Phillip Adams is a star.

The recent selection of his favorite columns in “Insights and Reflections” (2017), is, I belatedly discovered, the nearest thing to a blog – like this one – I have ever read.  It is presumptuous on my part even to compare his work with mine.  Not only does he cover a wide variety of topics (including, however, not a few highly irreverent pieces on religious credulity and frequent affirmation of his own atheism), but his style of writing is a veritable model for my own attempts at both serious and light-hearted prose.  I cannot recommend it enough.  (If ever you read this, Phillip, Mr Adams, do not expect this goodonyer to getcha a soaring of sales.)

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

P.S.  Readers may be interested to read comments from Thom and myself on the recent post “Everybody’s Nose Knows.  Except God’s”, in which I offer several savory quotations from Phillip Adams’ book.

EVERYBODY’S NOSE KNOWS. EXCEPT GOD’S.

It is bad enough that “God” is supposed to have created us, and provided us with a digestive system that produces necessary energy for our bodies, but also repulsive waste matter and nauseous odors.  Now the scientists tell us that the planet Uranus (Ur – anus ?) literally stinks to high heaven, the stench – resembling rotten eggs – having become the … butt of scatological jokes, accompanied by suggestions that the perfect Godhead has somewhat less than perfect olfactory nerves.

Fortunately He not only has neither such nerves or a nose to house them, but He doesn’t exist.  Indeed, the case could be made that the pong of the planet in question reinforces the absurdity of suggesting that God would ever have created such a malodorous stink-bomb.  The good news is that Ur-anus is 2.6 billion kms from Earth, where we already have more open cesspools, rotting garbage dumps and flatulent fellow-citizens (to say nothing of cows) than we can stomach.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

GALLIPOLI REVISITED

In the Australian national psyché, “Gallipoli”, like “Anzacs” (“Australian and New Zealand Army Corps” soldiers), is a sacred word, as is “Trafalgar” and “Verdun” in some other countries.  Every year since it happened, on April 25, 1915, on Geriboli (Gallipoli) beach in the Dardanelles (Turkey), pols and journos and even preachers try to say something new about the disastrous debacle ordered by a certain Lord of the Admiralty, destined to become a hero of the Second World War but who in the First sent thousands of Australians to their death in a battle they clearly could never win.  I have just discovered something about Gallipoli that is new – at least to me.  It may even be new for you.

Decades ago I saw the original Peter Weir “Gallipoli” movie, in English.  I have just seen another, more recent, movie with the same title but in Turkish – with French dubbing.  It is the same event, but from the Turkish point of view.  It is the touching story of two Turks, brothers, not only soldiers but snipers, particularly effective in creeping close to the Australian trenches and putting a bullet through Aussie officers’ heads.  The Turkish soldiers are portrayed as nice guys, dedicated to their families and to their country, eager to defend their homeland against the foreign invader, courageously, and to the death if they must.  This is hardly a surprise.  What surprises the viewer, especially if s/he happens to be Australian, is the image of their enemies from Down Under.  The Australian flag figures permanently in the movie, but when the Turks talk about their opponents in their signature slouch hats, they are referred to as “English”.  Their officers are portrayed as arrogant and incompetent, and simple soldiers as cruel combattants adept at doctoring bullets to become “dum-dums”, to inflict wounds far worse than a “clean” bullet.  The film ends with the heroic sacrifice of the elder of the sniper-brothers, who succeeds in blowing himself up along with the massive munition-dump of the . . .  “English”.

“Gallipoli” is technically a very good film, directed by the talented Kemal Uzun, and starring excellent actors in both first and secondary rôles.  A tribute to the Turkish troops, it offers a different view of the famous landing and the bloody massacre that followed, until the Australians were forced to pull out.  It reinforces the conviction that war generates a momentum of its own, as well as the dehumanization of its combattants, committed to slaughtering each other.  “The lunacy of it all !”, wrote years later an Australian 18-year-old naval wireless operator, who was there on Anzac Day, and who was later to become the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Norman Thomas Gilroy.

“Et Dieu dans tout cela ?”  “And God in all that ?”.  The movie’s one religious touch is the scene of a battalion of Turkish soldiers preparing for the final battle, all on their knees with heads touching the ground, invoking the blessing of Allah, who necessarily was on their side, as God was on ours.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

HE SHOT SEVENTEEN KIDS , THEREFORE . . .

. . . we should all have guns !  The horror which reinforces in many of us the determination to ban personal firearms (as Australia has done) is the same which the NRA and its fanatical, pistol-packin’ supporters use to defend their right to possess automatic weapons.  After all, the gung-ho gun-slingers, both Redneck and White Collar, might say, knives, automobiles, iron bars, hammers and golf-clubs kill people, and no one is proposing they be made illegal.  These John Waynes, Bruce Willises and Charlton Hestons (the IRA icon) conveniently ignore the fact that the ONLY purpose for firearms is to kill or at least maim.  Some of us would prefer that the prohibition to possess them include even arms used for hunting.  But possession of weapons for hunting (necessary culling) requires approval.  Easy access to handguns and military weapons has put them in the homes and hands of 8 out of 10 Americans !  None of that is news to you.  It’s all been said before – and the dialogue of the deaf will continue after the next massacre which is waiting to happen.  Every week in the U.S. a school is attacked by a gunman.  The kids have taken to the streets to protest, while teachers are toting handguns.  Someone is going to make a fortune in kid-size bullet-proof vests.

Gun deaths are a symptom of a lethal violence latent in all of us.  Most of us set limits on the harm we are prepared to do to others to punish injustice, cruelty and physical or psychological harm.  For some, fear of the legal punitive implications of violent, personally executed vengeance, is deterrent enough.  For others, even “an eye for an eye”, let alone a life for a life,  is seen as unworthy of decent human beings.

One cannot overlook, however, the apparent contradiction between the religiosity rampant in the U.S. and its uncontested rank as world-champion in mass-murder by firearms.  Church-going, pious, hymn-singing, gentle folk might be expected to abhor violence.  But even their preachers recognize that “Thou shalt not kill” is a conditional commandment.  And no one – except maybe Christianity’s Founder who demanded we turn the other cheek – is going to condemn self-defense.  Americans tote guns so as to protect themselves.  The gun-lobby and its supporters say it can’t be helped if some bozos bust a cable in their cranium and turn a school room into a shooting gallery, before the gunman suicides or is shot.  Hundreds of kids murdered ?  Collateral damage, the price we pay for our constitutional right to bear arms.  Don’t expect red-blooded Americans not to defend themselves.  Circle the wagons !  Let ’em have it, right between the eyes  !  Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition !

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

P.S.  See also an earlier post, “Slaughter of the Innocents”, August 3, 2013.  Remember Sandy Hook Elementary School ?

” WE’LL SEE WHAT HAPPENS ” – With One Exception . . .

In constantly winding up discussion of just about anything with “We’ll see what happens” (“que serà, serà”),  Donald Trump is not saying anything at all.  The hollow phrase, presumably intended to reassure us that whatever happens there’s no need to worry and that he has everything under control, is his thoughtless way of signing off on the subject in hand.  Of course we’ll see what happens !  Self-evident truths, truisms, are not worth saying.

But there is one case where the phrase is not even true.  When we die, we will definitely NOT see what happens.  In fact, we won’t see anything at all.  Brain-dead, we will cease to exist.  Our body will be dead meat.  We will not go to Heaven or to Hell or even “rest in peace”.  We will decompose.  We will be embalmed then buried or cremated, as soon as possible.  We will return to the nothingness, the non-existence, that was ours before we were conceived.

Believers would object to all this.  After all, the reality of an afterlife is THE central tenet of their religion.  Without it their religion, and the very meaning they give to life, would collapse, evaporate, self-destruct.  When reminded by atheists that there is no evidence whatever of life after death, they immediately begin quoting one of those biblical texts used in the rites of burial.  But the Bible is a collection of texts written by ignorant, uninspired, self-appointed gurus who invented or inherited the myth of our “immortal soul”.  What they wrote is evidence of nothing at all, except their own, unfortunately contagious, wishful thinking.

Meantime, we are waiting for the upcoming historic meeting of Trump with Kim Jong Un.  We will be told that we’ll see what happens – as if we didn’t know that.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

 

” TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION “

We are all familiar with the saying, though we may not know that its author was Mark Twain, and are ignorant of the rest of the quotation : ” . . .  but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

Most of us, in the year 2 A.D. (2 Anno Donaldi) cannot read of hear the quotation without thinking of the presidential election of the most preposterous candidate in American if not planetary political history.  Every day we are glued to CNN to keep up with the most recent tweets, quirks, antics and gaffes of President Donald Trump.

In France, a recent movie centers on the election of President Jeff Tuche, a Redneck, ignorant Frenchman from the sticks (“Deep France”), who won millions of euros in the National Lottery and went on to become the greatest, and funniest, misfit President ever to mow the grass at the Elysée palace.

In the U.S. twenty-seven years ago, a star-studded film, an outrageous, brilliant parody, had a grossly overweight, vulgar, unknown rock singer in a Las Vegas strip-joint discover that he was the heir to the throne of “Great Britain and Northern Ireland and all her other lands and territories, Head of the Commonwealth and Defender of the Faith”; in short, he became the King of England, Ralph 1.  John Goodman is perfect in the rôle, as are Peter O’Toole, John Hurt and Richard Griffiths.  Like President Tuche, “King Ralph” (the name of the movie) is a fictional Head of State (check out the earlier post, “Fit for Purpose”, March 17, 2017).  In a similar vein, Mr Chance, an uneducated gardener played by Peter Sellers in the movie “Being There”, becomes an improbable public figure, famous for his supposedly profound insights into matters political and philosophical, when in fact he is an illiterate speaking of the only domain he knows – gardening – to people like the President of the United States who mistakes his horticultural banalities for wisdom.

All three characters are the stuff of fiction, comicial parodies of the prestige attached to being a president, a monarch or a pundit.  The closest religions have come to such send-ups is Jude Law’s portrayal of  “The Young Pope”, the subject of an earlier post (December 12, 2016).  Contrasted however with the other three movies, this parody of the Papacy is not only not a comedy but is more troubling because more credible.  The Church, conservative to the core, has always preferred “the way we were” rather than “aggiornamento”.  A Pope could, in reality, be elected and could really be driven, like the one in the movie, by a similar project for the reestablishment of a papacy that would renounce the “progress” made over the last century.

The word “progress” in the previous sentence is in quotation marks for an obvious reason.  We are so accustomed to the way the Roman Catholic Church functions that we tend to forget how far removed from reality the institution is, and how much its silly beliefs, rules and rituals, its supposed possession of the truth, are stranger than fiction.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

GETTING READY FOR THE NEW ERA OF A.I. (Artificial Intelligence)

Dr Lawrence Alexandre, of whom we have spoken in two previous posts (“The Future : The War of Intelligences”, December 19, 2017, and “A Wonderful World – or Dystopia – I Will Not See”, October 10, 2018) has a weekly page for his reflections on Artificial Intelligence, “Tomorrow will make your head spin”, in L’Express, a widely read and respected review.  Unless you read French you can’t keep up with what he is describing as a new world, so I thought to give you a thumbnail sample of some of the themes he has covered in his January 2018 articles.  Food for thought – and perhaps triggers for your own research on the subject, in English language books and magazines.

“God” will be more and more absent as we enter a world where He will be replaced by what Yuri Harari has called “Homo Deus”, as our destiny becomes more and more dependent on Artificial Intelligence, and where robots will be more present and pertinent than religions.

  1.  January 10, 2O18  :  The “good old days” weren’t.  The domestic availability of water, heat and light has made giant advances in the last two centuries.  The author offers details in the progress of the domestication of these three essentials we now take for granted.  The light from a candle, for instance, is  roughly 1% of that provided by a 100-watt lamp (13 lumens compared with 1200 !), and is much less expensive than what candles used to cost.  The cost, power and size of integrated circuits, essential to A.I. , have evolved to our advantage, according to the law of Gordon Moore, their power doubling, at constant cost, every one to two years.
  2. January 17  :  Bitcoins, the virtual crypto-currency created in 2008 and much in the news because of the recent explosion of their marketing value, are, according to Lawrence Alexandre, “indispensable for financing technological revolutions”.  Railways in the 19th century ruined many investors but created a rail network on every continent.  In the year 2000, the bursting of the Internet bubble likewise ruined many investors (including the creator of this Blog !) but “from it emerged a cyber world”.  Will bitcoin-block chains resemble the 1637 Dutch folly of trading with tulips as currency ?  The author thinks not, but admits that Warren Buffet says bitcoins “will end badly”.  He adds, however, that the JP Morgan bank regrets calling them a “swindle”.
  3. January 24  :  Europe, and France in particular, are shooting themselves in the foot in not promoting and financing the development of giant data-bases. We are thus “permitting Chinese and American businesses to prosper without European competition”.  We are becoming their “vassals”.
  4. January 31 :  Alexandre quotes some surprising statistics on the recent lowering of the I.Q. of children in France ( – 4 points) and its increase in Singapore ( + 10 points).  The cause ?  Intelligent, educated Frenchwomen are choosing to have fewer children, while the birth of more children of less gifted mothers is encouraged by State financing.  “Social Security should reimburse 100% of the cost of freezing the ovules of women scientists to allow them to have children (“bébés tardifs” !) after their Ph.D.” !  Doctor Alexandre reminds us that “the DNA of the mother is significantly more important than that of the father in determining the I.Q. of children” . . .

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

I FORGOT MY TEETH

We all forget sometimes where we put our keys.  We forget people’s names, even their faces.  We may forget an appointment, even a dental appointment.  But only I could forget my teeth.  In the mad rush to be ready for the taxi, I left them sitting in a glass above the bathroom sink.

It happened (it really did !) for the first and, I trust, the last time on a recent return from vacation.  Obsessed, when I prepare to leave my holiday home, with not forgetting to turn off the water, to make sure the shutters are bolted and the letter-box empty, I had double-checked everything.  But at the airport I realized I had forgotten, after brushing my teeth, to put my “appareil dentaire” (I have forgotten the word in English for a “dental apparatus”) back in my mouth.  So until I return for Summer On Zeee Beeech, I will have to reduce the width of my smile for the next three months, and will have my work cut out masticating apples, raw carrots and T-bone steaks.  I may have to settle for a daily diet of caviar, foie gras and Ben and Jerry’s.

Memory is the damndest thing.  We have something on the tip of our tongue and can’t for the life of us remember a name or a password or who sang “Starry Starry Night”.  Then, ten minutes later, bingo !  It comes back to us.  Our synapses were working overtime and we didn’t even notice.

If I have the misfortune, like my late brother and my surviving sister-in-law, to contract Alzheimers, I guess I will suffer through those initial stages of memory loss, trying to convince myself and others that I’m really OK – until it becomes evident even to me that I really am not.  In the early stages I will have moments of lucidity during which I will be conscious of the burden I will have become for my entourage, and be embarrassed, maybe angered, by the fact.  Then I will gradually lose touch with reality but will, it appears, remember certain events and people from my distant past, and surprise (and try the nerves of) my family by talking, repeatedly and in detail, about them.  I always was a windbag, as I still am  . . . for the nonce.  God knows what I’ll be like if I contract Alzheimers (“De ore Leonis libera nos Domine” ?).

I won’t be able to say this when the disease has set in, so I’ll say it now, while I still have my wits about me.  I have to wonder how people can believe that an Almighty, All-loving God would want old and not-so-old folks – I’m only 81 – to suffer senility and especially precocious senility.  And this is only one of the burdens of old age.  Many suffer solitude, anxiety and atrocious pain, and are as mentally alert as I still am.  Surely a loving God would not condemn His children to such agony.  I pity people who continue to invent reasons for suffering and excuse a non-existent God for allowing it.  “God works in mysterious ways” ?  Hogwash – forget it !  The Problem of Evil is a subject believers should get their teeth into – unless they have lost or forgotten them.

P.S.  The word just came back to me : “dentures”.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

WILL WE NEED TOILET – PAPER IN HEAVEN ?

Why will so many find this question to be outrageous if not obscene ?  Obviously because our puritanical prudery deters us from discussing digestion and the disposal of its inevitable waste-product.  (The famous contemporary exception is Giulia Enders’ brilliant best-selling book – two million in Germany alone : “Gut : The Inside Story of our Body’s Most Underrated Organ”.)  But there is another reason : everything – we were taught – is going to be so perfect in Heaven that God will have corrected certain mistakes in the evolution of animals, including us, for which He, as Intelligent Designer, must take the blame.  Which means, I suppose, that all that caviar, foie gras and prime steak, as well as all those French fries, donuts and cream cakes we count on being able to stuff ourselves with, will all be transformed and assimilated into the body (reunited with our “soul”), without all the nastiness associated with excretion.

Second question : Why have I never heard fellow-theologians ask themselves this question ?  They wasted ages discussing the number of angels that could fit on the head of a pin, and never bothered – or dared – to raise a far more important question, which they would probably describe as less theological than scatalogical.

I believe I don’t need to press the point any further.  Just another of the absurdities implicit in the belief in an after-life.

                                      RIDENDA      RELIGIO