” INCOHERENT , INCORRECT , CONSPIRATORIAL , DELUSIONAL , SELF – AGGRANDIZING AND UNDER – INFORMED “

The “New York Times”, after its interview last Thursday with Donald Trump, used these words to describe the President’s comments.  They apply equally well to the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.  Take your pick : Jesus rising from the dead, eating Him at Mass, celebrating His (and His Mum’s) Lift-Off into Heaven, or praying for a Happy New Year (instead of doing what we can to make it so).  Think about it.  Trump has at least the probable excuse of suffering from a psychological disorder, blatantly evident in his outrageous, embarrassing narcissism.  The Church’s spokesmen are not insane.  In fact many of them are well-informed and highly intelligent; most of them are totally sincere and even humble.  But they are mistaken, wrong, in contradiction with proven facts and common sense.  Nonetheless they succeed in convincing the credulous they are right.  Is  it a coincidence that the Trump supporters I know are all believers ?

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

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THE LIMITS OF TOLERANCE

Ever since I began writing this Blog, I have been conscious of the effect of my sometimes strident attacks on religious credulity.  “How to lose friends and alienate people” some claim is my principal (if not only) talent.  Good, honest , kind people (including some fellow-atheists) have openly criticized my “sledgehammer” approach to what I have arrogantly called blindfaithblindfolly.   Little old ladies in tennis shoes, simple folk who have spent their lives believing everything their priest or pastor or rabbi or imam taught them, and practising a traditional piety most people would consider harmless if not admirable, deserve respect, I am scolded, rather than the ironic, cruel broadsides with which I bombard their credulity.  It seems that my militant atheism has made me an insensitive Grumpy Old Man who has forgotten the meaning of kindness, respect and tolerance.

In my own defense, let me refer you to the post immediately previous to this one, “How Credulous Can You Get ?”  I not only criticize belief in but ridicule the Marian “apparitions” and thereby offend millions of believers who accept as historical facts the supposed appearances of the Virgin Mary to children at Lourdes, Fatima and La Salette.  By what right do I accuse devotees of these “events”, declared to be authentic by the highest authorities of the Catholic Church, of being naïve victims of the quaint illusions of ignorant peasant children ?

It should be enough to reread my account of Mary’s supposed “revelations” at La Salette to discover the answer.  It is patently absurd to claim that the Mother of God, piously wearing a crucifix (!) on her breast (why not a Miraculous Medal ?), would have actually delivered a discourse in French which the children could not understand – and no one else witnessed –  but which is reported as having in fact been spoken by her.  It is even more incredible that she would speak of her Son – filled with a vengeance worthy of His Father, the ferocious Yahweh –  as causing a famine to punish people … for not going to Mass or for taking His name in vain.  Am I expected to refrain from pointing out the nonsensical nature of the children’s story, so as not to offend pious believers ?  I do not, in this Blog, directly address the little old ladies in tennis shoes.  The readers I target are Believers on the Brink who deserve to discover just how absurd the La Salette myth really is.  They have already begun to doubt the truth of certain articles of their faith.  They deserve to be challenged to ask themselves how they can continue to  believe ANY of the doctrines preached by a Church which would approve the superstitions of La Salette.

“Quod scripsi, scripsi”.  “What I have written I have written”.  Take it or leave it.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

 

 

HOW CREDULOUS CAN YOU GET ?

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Long before “Top Gun” Tom Cruise, my boyhood hero was “Biggles”, Squadron Leader James Bigglesworth.  He was a British World War 1 pilot, and later, in World War 2, one of those immortally praised by Winston Churchill for winning the Battle of Britain.  Biggles was a fictional hero in over one hundred books which we devoured like the Harry Potter saga of more recent generations.  We had another, flesh and blood Spitfire pilot-hero, Group Captain Douglas Bader, who though he had lost both his legs in a crash in 1931 (in his logbook he called it “a bad show” !), went on to be credited with twenty-two aerial victories, beginning with the Battle of France over Dunkirk.  I myself had an Australian cousin, Lester Tims, who was a Spitfire pilot for the R.A.F.  You’ve never heard of any of these guys, but now you know that Spitfire pilots were the Top Gun heroes of a Kid from Kogarah who, like Clive James, learned to drive a billy-cart but never an airplane (see my book, “From Illusions to Illumination”, p. 17).

I have just read the true story of another Spitfire pilot, one of the rare Frenchmen to join the R.A.F.  That is extraordinary enough, but this man is famous in particular for his religious conversion – and for his promoting devotion to Our Lady of La Salette.  You’ve probably never heard of her either, but the story of Captaine Darreberg is told in a little book first written in 1956 and now in its tenth edition (2011).  He was always the life of the party, a “bout en train”, a jokester popular in whatever group he found himself, including his fellow prisoners in a German concentration camp from which he escaped – with the explicit purpose of checking out the story a priest in his Stalag had told him about the apparition of the Virgin Mary near a little town in the Alps not far from Grenoble, a hundred years before, in 1846.

The man must have been as credulous as he was courageous.  Who ever heard of a POW risking his life to escape a Nazi prison-camp, and traveling hundreds of miles as a train-hopper, a stowaway on a freight-train to France, for the express purpose of verifying the claims of two peasant kids about their vision of Mary and her message for mankind ?  It sounds like a bizarre remake of a movie about Bernadette at Lourdes, or an earlier version of the Marian apparitions at Fatima !  Though it is less well known outside France than the stories behind these more familiar pilgrimage centers, the legend of La Salette is every bit as preposterous as those on which their renown is built.  The conversion of an irreligious Spitfire pilot and his total commitment to the “cause” of Our Lady of La Salette continue, however, to keep the legend alive.  It may be of interest to learn the details of the story, which in some respects are even more incredible than the other Marian “apparitions”.  How could a Top Gun, a … down-to-earth Spitfire pilot, swallow such a story ?  How can rational people today believe that this stuff actually happened ?  It is one more piece of evidence that faith can infantilize, lobotomize, the credulous.  It is hard to excuse the Church for continuing to promote the myth of Mary, Our Lady of La Salette.  Here are the “facts” :

On a Saturday afternoon, September 19, 1846, in a field above the French alpine village of La Salette, two shepherd children, a boy of 11 and a girl of 15, are tending their flock.  Out of nowhere comes “a fiery globe of light which eclipses that of the Sun” (!).  The kids see “a beautiful woman”, sobbing.  She says to them : “Don’t be afraid; I am here to tell you some great news”.  The girl notices that the Lady is wearing a gold chain bearing a crucifix (!).  She speaks at some length, in French, telling them : “If my people will not submit (sic), I will be forced to stop withholding my Son’s arm; it is so strong and heavy that I can no longer restrain it.”  She tells them why :  they don’t go to Mass on Sundays and the peasants, as they drive their carts, inject the name of her Son into their curses.  Because of this He made the potato crop fail.  Then the Lady realizes that the children do not understand French, so she switches to the local dialect (how they were able to recount what she said in French is not recorded … ).  After describing the details of the great famine to come, the Lady asks them whether they say their prayers (apparently she doesn’t know).  When the children admit they don’t, she insists that they say their prayers (“one ‘Our Father’ and one ‘Hail Mary’ will do, if you don’t have time for more” (!) ).  She adds that only old ladies go to Mass; some go only to mock religion, and moreover in Lent people even eat meat !  She ends by telling them to share her message with “all her people”.

There’s no point in telling the rest of the story.  But surely this is enough for Believers on the Brink to realize, once again, how gullible Catholics have been and how guilty the Church is to continue to preach such nonsense.  Even if Capitaine Darreberg allowed himself to be conned into believing it.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

YULE LOVE CHRISTMAS !

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The kids will discover soon enough where babies come from and how to avoid them.  Before they are much older, they will also find out the truth about Santa Claus.  It will take them a bit longer to realize that Jesus was just a baby like everyone else.

Meantime, Christmas is upon us, and it’s hard to find anything worth saying about it that has not been said before.  But at least in the Western world the phenomenon is inescapable and most of us go along with the tradition, not caring a ratz about the meaning of the myth behind it.  Such a remark, I suppose, makes me a Scrooge.  But that would be humbug.  The sofa in front of me is loaded with piles of presents for my five grandchildren and their parents – who themselves have cupboards full of colorfully wrapped surprises.  Their kids expect them, as they themselves did when they were their age, and continue to each year as they head for the half-century.

Christmas as a family feast of good cheer and generous giving is the privilege of those lucky enough to have a united, loving family and the means to enjoy it and to exchange gifts.  Whether or not a Christmas crib figures among the Xmas decorations, the religious dimension of the celebration is largely forgotten, though some, even non-believers, may attend Midnight Mass.  The little kids like the crib and the animals around Jesus, but prefer the supermarket’s Ali Baba shelves and the animated polar bears surrounding Santa on his throne; they may or may not realize that Christmas is supposed to be a birthday party for the Son of God.

Getting uptight about Christmas is pretty pointless.  If it brings families together, provides more than the usual handout fare for the homeless, fills the air with cheery songs about red-nosed reindeers and partridges in pear trees, as well as syrupy carols about a baby born in a stable, lights up homes and even whole streets with festive illuminations, and gets us all to say “Merry Christmas” even to strangers – I for one am not going to knock it.  Whatever about the “truth” behind it, it should be for atheists a time of truce.  So “Happy Christmas” to all my readers, atheists, non-atheists and Believers on the Brink alike.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

THE FUTURE : THE WAR OF INTELLIGENCES

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Dr Lawrence Alexandre’s “La Guerre des Intelligences”, of which I have spoken several times recently, is a brilliant, must-read book.  I recommend that you, my readers, read it (en français, si possible, or as soon as it is translated), and not be content with what I think about it.  Make up your own mind.  But, as the angel is supposed to have said to St Augustine, “Tolle, lege” – “Take it and read it !”.  (At the end of his book, Dr Alexandre offers a long list of works for further reading on the subject ; most of them are in English.  “Sapienti sat”.)

At first blush, the book demands a considerable stretch of the imagination.  For many it will appear to be almost science-fiction, a world where “cyborgization”, transhumanism, thanks to Elon Musk’s brain-implants and Mark Zuckerberg’s “cranial headsets” permitting telepathy (predicted for 2019 !), as well as neurotechnology’s triumph over death, is presented as the reality we will know in the immediate or relatively close future.  The increasing power over, and eventual domination of, human intelligence by A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) are portrayed as literally foregone conclusions, an inevitable ultimate stage of human evolution.  The temptation, of course, is to shrug all of this off as yet another huxleyan “Brave New World” or orwellian “1984”.  But the author’s prestigious qualifications and credibility are beyond question.  He spells out convincingly a scientific revolution full of both promise and threat for mankind.  I, along with his already vast readership, take him seriously.

Even if the author were only partially right about the extent and imminence of the tsunami of A.I., there is much to fear and much to hope for in the future he describes.  He himself details many of the dangers facing us, in particular a “fascist”, hostile A.I. which would rob us of our liberty and our humanity.  But, at the same time, the future benefits he describes, notably the conquering of illness, old age and even death, postponed by a-mortality, are tempting indeed.  That last phrase gives the impression that the choice is up to us.  But Alexandre sees the A.I. r(evolution) as simply inevitable.  He counsels safe-guards, but in his view the New World is already becoming a reality.

For readers of this Blog which is dedicated to the ridiculing, and if possible the  elimination, of religion as blind faith and blind folly, it will be no surprise to learn that our author is clearly an atheist.  It is obvious however that while he does not bother to develop the point, the world A.I. will create has little if any place for “God”.  We ourselves will have become “Homo-Deus”.  That’s the Good News.  The bad news is that I’ll be out of a job.  The Blog will no longer have any raison d’être.  Meantime it still has one, so . . . “cogito ergo blogo”.

DELENDA      RELIGIO

PRIESTS AS PREDATORS , THE SEAL OF CONFESSION AND CLERICAL CELIBACY

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Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has resulted in twenty volumes of text and two major recommendations : abolish both the seal of Confession and the imposition of clerical celibacy.  If the Church were to comply, what would be the consequences ?  It is, of course, highly unlikely that it would, but if it did it would mean the disappearance of the Sacrament of Penance and a marked increase in the number of  “vocations” to the priesthood.  Either would represent a sea-change in the Catholic Church.  Consummations devoutly to be wished ?  My answers as an atheist : respectively, “Yes” and “No”.  The myth of forgiving sin deserves to disappear,  but more priests would mean more blind faith and blind folly.

Realistically, the challenge for the Church, if it refuses both recommendations, is to reassure the faithful that priest-wolves will no longer prey on their flocks of sheep and especially lambs.  My bet is that it will tighten vetting of seminarians, and practise zero tolerance of priests’ pederasty and its cover-up.  And that, unfortunately, will be enough for Catholics at large, though one could hope that such a decision will already drive many out of the Church.  It will be enough for not a few Believers on the Brink to realize that there is no hope of reforming an institution where blind old celibates continue to dictate morality to their blind providers.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

” FOREVER AND EVER “

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Never say “never”, but above all never say “forever and ever”.  “Until death do us part” is already unrealistic, given the 50% divorce rate.  Even the Sun will be switched off five billion years from now.  In the more immediate, actually predicted future – less than a century from now – death itself will have become an option.  It, of course, already is, but most of us would never commit suicide.  “La Mort de la Mort”, Dr L. Alexandre’s 2011 entirely credible prediction of a-mortality, has not yet become part of our thinking.  But our grandchildren will see it happen.

For the nonce, most mortals continue to think they are immortal, that they will survive death in an “after-life” – the ultimate in wishful thinking.  They believe that they and the world were created by a “God” who had no beginning and will have no end : He was, He is and He ever will be.  Such belief in Him is waning but will never (?) disappear : believing in life after death is necessary – for them – to make sense of both life and death.

One might wonder, however, how believers are going to react when technomedicine makes it possible for some of us to at least postpone our death, indefinitely.  Dr Alexandre’s latest work, (2017), “La Guerre des Intelligences”, already mentioned several times recently in this Blog, leaves little doubt about the inevitability of science making a-mortality possible.  How will this affect people’s belief in God and in their own personal eternal life – true immortality, not mere temporary a-mortality ?  My guess is : not at all.  There will a lot of discussion of the subject, once the medical science born of Artificial Intelligence makes a-mortality accessible.  But people will go on living and dying – including the a-mortals, as vulnerable as the rest of us to being bumped off or blown to bits by some bastard’s bomb – and continue believing in God, Heaven and Hell.  And, with luck, some of them will continue to stumble on this Blog – which will certainly survive after its author’s demise – and discover the truth that will make them free.  Forever and ever.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

COGITO , BLOGO , DODO

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Ask a Frenchman what he does each day, and he may reply – if he is not afraid of a tired cliché – “métro, boulot, dodo” : “getting to work (transport), doing the work (job), recovering from work (sleep)”.  As a pensioner, my version in the title is a tad more original.  I spend a lot of time thinking.  Not navel-gazing or pretending I’m a Rodin statue or sitting On Zeee Beeech watching the sun go down on Galway Bay.  Thinking for me includes reading books and reviews devoted to current affairs, science, geopolitics, religion, history, philosophy, whatever, as well as watching the news, debates, documentaries and movies.  That’s the “Cogito”.  The “Blogo” (“I blog”) is self-explanatory, as is “Dodo”, the seven hours plus the occasional siesta I need each day.

I am lucky enough to have other essential activities, notably keeping contact with and enjoying the company of family and friends.  I am not a musician, though I taught myself to play the eight-keyed flute, but I love listening to music : baroque rather than “bas-rock”, classical but also jazz, blue-grass, country and western; I abhor Rap.  I have no hobbies.  I give zero time to stamp-collecting, cross-words and video-games.  I do not engage in club activities and no longer work as a volunteer.  I do not mess about with boats, or, to my shame, practise sports or even sufficient, necessary physical exercise.

Not an admirable or exemplary agenda.  I spend most of my time alone, sitting in an armchair or at my computer.  To the despair of my doctors and concerned children, I am a “homo sedens”, overweight but otherwise in pretty good shape (a bit stiff in the joints – naturally – but mentally firing on all cylinders, never having touched drugs and having abandoned cigarettes over thirty years ago, as well as alcohol for the last seven years, eight months, two weeks, four days, six hours and thirty-seven minutes.  “Ad multos annos” ?  Time, the wise man said, will tell.  (President Trump often says – recently three times in five seconds : “We’ll see what happens”).   I’ll be eighty-one next month.  You’ll notice my inevitable decline when my blog-posts begin to make no sense at all (this one comes close).  Some say  . . . well, let them !  I don’t give a ratz (or so I pretend).  While I live and keep my marbles I will blog.

After such a post, I think you’ll agree that maybe it’s time for Dodo.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

” NOTHING MORE THAN GOOD THEATER “

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The most obvious public activity which is highly theatrical can be seen in the orchestration of American political campaigns.  It is perhaps less obvious but just as present in courtrooms, in the halls of justice.  This struck me when I came across the phrase in the title, halfway through reading the novel by John Grisham (“the master of the legal thriller”), “The Litigators”, a cynical, hilarious story of a mass-tort case against a giant pharmaceutical.  Curiously, it made me think of another type of off-stage theater, Catholic liturgy.  But I realized immediately the enormous difference between the legal and liturgical settings.  In Grisham’s novel, all the attorneys involved are portrayed as hypocritically play-acting the legal preliminaries to a projected trial by jury, knowing that the outcome, to everyone’s benefit – especially their own 40% of the compensation awarded the plaintiffs – would be out-of-court financial settlement.  The case would never come to trial, but the protagonists were pretending it would; it was “nothing more than good theater”.

At a Catholic Mass, the majority of the congregation and, though there must be occasional exceptions, the celebrant himself, firmly believe that what is going on is for real : God really is listening to their prayers, the faithful really are admitting that they are unworthy of His mercy; they even believe that the “Eucharistic species” – the bread and wine – really do become the Body and Blood of Christ.

All of which does not mean that the Liturgy cannot also be great theater.  When all the stops are pulled out, as in a Papal Mass televised worldwide, attended by thousands of the faithful in the presence of scores of red-robed Cardinals, with the gorgeous vestments of the papal celebrant and his assistants, the solemnity of the atmosphere aided and abetted by magnificent music and Gregorian chant, the spectacle may rival performances on the stages of the world’s most sumptuous theaters.  One of the notable advantages enjoyed by liturgical functions, moreover, is the setting.  No theater can rival St Peter’s Basilica or any other Gothic cathedral or even many less spectacular churches, the very soaring architecture of which serves to reinforce the “Sursum corda !” (“Raise up your hearts !”) at the heart of the Catholic Mass.

An atheist – especially one who spent half his eighty years attending, and seven years celebrating, Mass – when he sees such liturgical theater on TV, cannot but be amazed that people really do believe it is what they claim it to be.  But I am forced to admit that, to a point, such credulity is understandable.  Never having questioned the doctrine behind it, the congregation experiencing the beauty of the ceremony finds it reinforces their faith.  It will take more than this Blog to get them to see through what even atheists admit is often superb theater.  Maybe I should pay a priest to celebrate a Mass for the intention of getting believers to see that that is all the Mass is : theater.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

JERUSALEM : THE SACRED ” CITY OF PEACE ” ?

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Authors like Mircea Eliade, who defined religion not as “belief in deities” but “an experience of the sacred”, and Emile Durkheim enlightened us on the place of the “sacred” in human history, as did Joseph Campbell, famous for his mantra “Follow your bliss” (see my post, December 28, 2014, “Happy New Year ?  Follow Your Bliss !”).  Ancient and modern mythology, from the Egyptian “Book of the Dead” to George Lucas’ “Star Wars”, continues to fascinate us : the sacred is alive and well, and as we have recently been reminded, remains a formidable force in geopolitics.

The topic of Jerusalem is … topical at the moment because of Trump’s explosive declaration that the Sacred City is “obviously” the capital of Israel.  Jerusalem, as everyone knows, is sacred not only to Jews but to Muslims and Christians as well.  It  is THE  Holy City.  All three of the world’s monotheisms apply the notion of sacred to either the Torah, the New Testament or the Koran.  Like other religions, their sacred books are central in their ritual considered sacred, conducted by men considered sacred, with the aid of objects also considered sacred.  Catholics will think immediately of the chalice and paten used at Mass, of priests’ heavily embroidered vestments, of paraphernalia like thuribles, monstrances and holy water sprinklers, as well as bits of bone and cloth associated with a Saint that we call sacred relics.  As a priest, myself a sacred person (!), I considered all these objects as sacred.  As an atheist, I consider them and everything else called “sacred”, including the Holy City, the trappings of credulity and superstition.

People who revere Jerusalem as the site of the ancient Temple of Israel, or as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and Resurrection, or as the lift-off site for the Prophet’s horseride into Heaven, all see the City as sacred, albeit for totally different reasons.  Atheists do not see it as sacred at all.

The tragedy beginning to be played out in the Middle East and beyond  is the result of a blind faith and blind folly that are unlikely to disappear any time soon.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO