UNPARDONABLE EXCEPTIONS

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(We’re on a roll : four posts in four days !  It must be the coffee or some other substance . . .)

Imagine a politician with an impeccable record (this may require considerable effort, but try anyway).  Or a Pope acclaimed for his goodness, his charity, his tolerance, his intelligence and his courage.  Or a blogger whose 588 posts to date are brilliant, insightful, thought-provoking pearls of wisdom.  Now imagine just one faux-pas by each of them.  The pol is proven to have secretly committed treason.  Or the Pope is proven to have murdered an altar-boy whom he had raped.  Or the blogger posts an eloquent defense of human slavery.  Even for crimes of far less magnitude, such single exceptions to an immaculate track-record would be enough to discredit the politician, the Pope and the blogger.

The post I am about to add immediately to this one – two posts on the same day chalks up another record – ends with the recall of what the Catholic Church ludicrously and scandalously taught us as children about divine punishment for being late for Mass or missing it.  Even if everything else the Church teaches were beyond reproach, surely its pathetic, psychotic, unpardonable doctrine on Purgatory and Hell should be enough to discredit it entirely.

In fact, this doctrine is not an exception.  And therein lies its power.  EVERYTHING the Church teaches (apart from self-evident truths like murder is wrong and that we should love our parents) is false and unfounded.  The very volume of its lies and legends makes any particular one of them appear as nothing extraordinary.  We have swallowed so many fantasies that one more no longer shocks us.  But it gets even worse.  Some tend to praise the Church for recognizing that it was mistaken, wrong, dead wrong – ONCE – in teaching a certain traditional doctrine called  geocentrism : the pre-Galileo illusion that the sun revolved around the Earth.  Rather than praise the Church for recognizing the error it was forced to admit, should not this one outrageous false teaching force us to question its global credibility ?  Its reasons for believing and teaching the divine origin of its “holy” books, the reality of Jesus’ “miracles”, His Real (!) Presence in the Eucharist, the existence of an after-life and of Heaven, Purgatory and Hell, are just as much devoid of foundation as its former rejection of heliocentrism.

This logic escapes billions of believers.  Inconvenient truths are not to be allowed to challenge credulity.  Which is why I continue to ridicule religion and to illustrate its illusions.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

LOOKING BACK AT THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE

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While I’m still in my nostalgic mood, I thought I’d break another Blog record, and post a third piece in three consecutive days on the way we were.  Five questions you won’t read anywhere else.  When you read them you may say “No wonder !”

—   “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.  It is one week since my last confession.  I had impure thoughts nine times.”  How old do Catholics have to be to have said those words in Confession ?

—   What on earth did I say in my First Confession ?  I was seven.  Perhaps I confessed smoking my First Cigarette.  The story is told in Chapter One of my book “From Illusions to Illumination”, sacrilegiously associating my First Cigarette with my First Communion.

—  Was the challenge of coming up with “sins” to confess an aid to the development of my imagination ?  As a Franciscan student, confessing to “breaking the silence” or having unkind thoughts about a psychotic professor, must have bored the confessor, unless he happened to be the professor in question.

—   Did I seriously believe, as a confessor myself, that that adulterer on the other side of the screen would go to Hell if I did not absolve him ?

—   As our A380 nose-dives into the China Sea, will believers who know my (hi)story beg me to pronounce the magic words of a General Absolution, knowing that such words are just as effective coming from an ex(communicated) priest as from one in good standing ?  (“Just as effective”, indeed . . .).

Voilà a few random questions on the rebaptized Sacrament of Reconciliation, one of the surviving absurdities of Catholic faith and practice.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

 

“A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS”

I love raindrops on roses and am not indifferent to whiskers on kittens, and though I have no use for bright copper kettles I do appreciate warm woolen mittens.  Lest readers think that I really do want to stop the world and get off, I should set the record straight :  “When I’m feeling sad, I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don’t feel so bad”.

My personal list is long.  But at the top would be family gatherings with my children and grandchildren in France, and the biennial bashes with nephews and nieces and other rellos Down Under.  Close behind would be memorabilia which surround me in the “Capharnaüm” I call my house.  We don’t use the word in English, or even the other expressive word in French, “souk”, but you get my drift.  Besides the photos of my parents, siblings, relatives and friends on both sides of the planet, there are numerous knick-knacks that have meaning only for me.  Everyday I relive precious moments from my past, and realize just how lucky I have been and how fortunate I am to be still around to reminisce.

But the past is only part of it.  Every day I experience things that bring me joy and satisfaction.  Composing this Blog is one of them.  I would like to think that reading it is one of yours . . .  (Now that’s what I call an illusion and wishful thinking, the Blog’s targets !)

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

UNSEEN IN THE PRESS TWENTY YEARS AGO

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—   “A witness filmed the beheading of the three hostages on his smartphone.”

—   “Among the guests were the writer David S. and his husband Samuel B.”

—   “The bomb was dropped from a drone.  Its ‘pilot’ has not yet been identified.”

—   “The President was overheard discussing the North Korean nuclear missile tests during dinner with the visiting Prime Minister in the restaurant of one of the resorts he owns.”

—   “Two civil aviation planes in New York, a truck in Nice and a car in London were used as weapons by terrorists.”

—   “The Royal Commission estimates that 7% of Australian Catholic priests practised pedophilia over the last fifty years.”

Stop the world; I want to get off.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

 

 

 

MISFIT PRIESTS

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“Viri probati”.  The Pope is wondering whether to ordain as priests married deacons whom he calls “proven men” – with literally impeccable credentials, enough to reassure their superiors that they will surely merit the trust put in them as priests.  “By their fruits you will know them.”

Clearly, during the past century, many seminarians, unfit for the priesthood and unworthy of the trust given them in their ordination, slipped through the net.  I hear some readers saying to me, “People in glasshouses ?”.  OK.  So like thousands of other priests, I abandoned the priesthood, in my case seven years after my ordination.  Was I unfit for the priesthood, unworthy of the trust put in me ?  Two separate, independent questions.  My belated realization that I could make no sense of, or find any need for or justification of clerical celibacy, in no way points to my being unworthy as a priest.  I believe my impeccable sacerdotal track-record establishes that beyond a doubt.  I do admit, however, that I should myself have recognized, long before ordination, that I was not cut out for the celibate life.  I prefer to blame myself rather than my seminary professors who were clearly incompetent to make such a judgement.

The scandal of priests’ pedophilia, pederasty and hypocritical sexual behavior has at least heightened the Church’s realization of its past naïveté.  Recruiting adolescents and even pre-adolescents for the seminary was clearly an enormous mistake.  The incapacity of seminary professors to make an informed judgement of the suitability of candidates for the priesthood made reform in this domain absolutely essential.  More power to the Pope in raising the bar for giving the green light to mature, proven candidates for Holy Orders.  (The mixed metaphor hopefully underlines this overdue self-evident wisdom.)

Of course, I cannot be satisfied with, nor am I especially interested in, elevating the level of trust in Catholic clergy.  Today’s seminarians should be exposed to people like me or at least to blogs like mine.  We and ex-priest-atheists like me, as well as what some of us write, could challenge seminarians to question their understanding of the constraints of celibacy and sexual probity.  We and our testimonies of itineraries from Catholicism to atheism could help separate the chaff from the wheat.  Former colleagues will recognize here a cryptic reference to my nickname as a young Franciscan : “The Chaff” !  This unflattering moniker, born of my predilection for breakfast cereals, was perhaps a divinely inspired but overlooked clue that I should never have been ordained.  But, curiously, I am glad I was, glad I went the whole hog in my Catholic faith.  It gave me an understanding of, even a sympathy for, priests less lucky than I, still stuck in a meaningless profession and still prisoners of the illusions and credulity of their blindfaithblindfolly.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

 

A FORK IN THE ROAD

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A good friend and former business colleague of mine was once a captain of industry and Chief Executive of a French company with one thousand employees and an annual revenue of one billion euros.  When he turned fifty he found himself at a fork in his professional career.  He had always been fascinated by the Law and had a lingering frustration that as a young man he had chosen to study Aeronautical Engineering and had become a businessman rather than a barrister.  He decided it was not too late to fulfill his dream.  He entered Law School with students half his age and is today a successful attorney whose experience in the world of business has given him a unique skill-set in his new profession.

He tells his story in a remarkable video which ends with his quotation from Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” :  “Yes, there are two paths you can go by.  But in the long run there’s still time to change the road you’re on”.  He will, I hope, excuse me for plagiarizing his reference and applying it to myself – and to others who are still priests, wondering whether it is too late for them to dare to find freedom and fulfillment as laymen, as well as to Believers on the Brink, hesitating to espouse the atheism they recognize in themselves.

François and I decided there was still time for us to change the road we were on.  I left the priesthood at 31 and “came out” as an atheist at 41.  François was 50 when he courageously took the risk of starting from scratch in a totally new career.

For my former Franciscan confreres, like me now in their eighties, it is clearly too late to abandon their religious order and the priesthood.  But it is never too late for them and for non-clerics, however old they are, to abandon the faith which they know is founded on fiction.  There is “still time” – but it is running out.  Carpe diem, my friends.  François and I did, and so can you.  Yes, you CAN !

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

 

“REDUCTIO AD ABSURDUM”

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Humor can be subtle and sophisticated, as exemplified by Oscar Wilde, or vulgar and lowbrow as on “Saturday Night Live”.  The absurd, as seen in Chaplin and Keaton, Monty Python and Terry Gilliam movies, tickles our funny-bone and makes us laugh.  In his signature slapstick comedies, we love to see Charlie dodging the blows of the burly bully and kicking him in the pants, we guffaw at John Cleese in “The Ministry of Silly Walks” and with his Monty Men riding invisible horses in their search for the Holy Grail, and we manage to smile at Christoph Walz’s royal plural and absurd credulity in Gilliam’s “Zero Theorem”.  We appreciate Woody Allen’s wisecracks and characters in his movies like “Whatever Works” and its near-Nobel obsessed hand-washer.  Sometimes, as in Hitler’s harangues, the absurd is not funny at all, until the orator is incarnated by Chaplin in “The Great Dictator”.  We love the Theatre of the Absurd, because it succeeds in making us both laugh and think.  It is remarkable, however, that so many people fail to recognize the absurdity of their religious beliefs and practices.

In his discussion of money as a “universal medium of exchange”, Yuval Hariri, whose book “Sapiens” has already several times been quoted in this Blog, writes : “It is even possible to convert sex into salvation, as 15th century prostitutes did when they slept with men for money, which they then used to buy indulgences from the Catholic Church”.  The claim is outrageous but credible, although unlikely to be appreciated, let alone considered amusing, by fervent Catholics.  As believers they cannot recognize or admit the absurdity of so many of their beliefs and so much of their religious practice.  If only they would step back a moment, take five and examine objectively dogmas and devotions like the following :

  • Jesus,  having walked on water, restored sight to the blind and raised the dead, Himself rises from His tomb three days after being crucified.  St Paul himself recognized the “folly of the Cross” and the absurdity of believing in the Resurrection
  • Catholics proclaim out loud that they believe that the wafer they are about to swallow at Holy Communion is in reality “the body of Christ”
  • God plunges his sinful children into Hell, but has appointed priests to pardon lucky Catholics in the Sacrament of Penance
  • Overlooking God’s apparent indifference to, or at least failure to intervene in response to, prayers of the faithful, believers continue to accept Jesus’ hollow “Ask and you shall receive”
  • Ignoring the reason behind their wishful thinking, believers continue to believe in an after-life for themselves and their loved ones

Some theologians have seriously suggested that absurdity is itself a reason for believing : “Credo quia absurdum”, “I believe BECAUSE it is absurd” !  It would be funny, were it not so . . . absurd.

P.S.   You might like to re-read several earlier posts on this theme :  “Sticks and Stones” (August 3, 2013), “You Still Believe That Stuff ?” (December 20, 2013), “To Argue or To Sneer ?” (July 24, 2014), “Don’t  Just Sit There !” (August 28, 2014), and “The Final Solution To Terrorism : A Muslim Holocaust” (November 15, 2015).

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

IN TRUMP WE TRUST ?

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Our personal histories, like History itself, are full of examples of misplaced trust.  Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, trusted “Herr Hitler”.  Native Americans thought they could trust the treaties signed by the white invaders.  Americans thought they could trust Richard Nixon but Watergate proved that he was a crook after all.  It remains to be seen whether the people who voted for Trump will continue to trust him.

You and I trusted that salesman who turned out to be a “confidence man”.  Parents think they can trust their children but are sometimes sadly disappointed.  Parishioners presume they can trust their priests, but too often discover that the “men of God” to whom they had entrusted their children had criminally, sexually, betrayed that trust.

Often we are obliged to trust without solid reasons for doing so, but without trust society cannot function.  Paper money is itself worthless.  Its value comes from the trust that people put into it as recognized, legal tender; Hariri in “Sapiens” said that “money is the most universal and the most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised”.  We are fortunate indeed if everyone in our family and our closest friends are genuinely trust-worthy.  Do they all trust us ?

Dwight Eisenhower added to the quotations on the dollar-bill a statement he hoped all Americans believed : “In God we trust”.  It was self-evident to him and to the majority of his compatriots, who never question whether such trust is justified.  If we have learned from experience to be prudent in trusting our fellowman, and parsimonious in according our trust to people who have not already proven they deserve that trust, it makes sense to me to ask why we should trust God.  For the atheist, the question is, of course, meaningless.  But for the atheist it remains a mystery as to how believers, for whom His existence  is beyond question, can so readily and automatically put their trust in Him.

On the face of it, if God is in fact the God of love and justice in whom they profess to believe, if they not only believe that God exists but proclaim that they believe IN Him (“Credo IN unum deum”), one would expect that they have learned from experience that He can be trusted.  For many, the “experience” is, at best, vicarious, not personal.  OTHER people claim to have had their prayers answered, their illness cured, their financial burdens lightened, their ambitions for themselves and their children realized.  Many are less fortunate and have to resign themselves to not having their prayers answered and their legitimate needs and desires met.  And yet they continue to trust a God so absent and apparently indifferent that atheists consider the only explanation is that He does not exist, except in the fantasies and wishful thinking of the believer.  The supreme mystery for the atheist is to understand how believers can trust what their holy books tell them about the afterlife promised them when they die.  In spite of dungeon, fire, sword and often excruciating, lengthy terminal illness – and a total lack of evidence – believers allow themselves to be conned into the least trustworthy of religious illusions : pie in the sky when you die.  This is blind, irrational trust, blind faith and blind folly.

RIDENDA       RELIGIO

A FULL LIFE ?

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“Oh my name is Frank O’Meara

And from Sydney I did come.

I taught the French to learn to speak

My Australian native tongue.”

My eulogist is unlikely to list this as one of my most remarkable achievements.  It’s true that I was thoroughly committed to making France anglophone and even to teaching the French to pronounce the word “thoroughly”.  But this was a side-line.  With four score behind me and (far) less than one ahead of me, what, I ask myself, have I accomplished, what difference did I make, what contribution did I make to the stock of human knowledge and to the well-being of my fellow-travelers ?

Some people blow their own Trump-et.  The Donald never heard of Bobby Burns (and if he did he probably thinks he was a boxer) and his “Would that we could see ourselves as others see us”.  It doesn’t matter a ratz what I think I have achieved.  But I do wonder whether anything I have done – or written – will be appreciated or even remembered by at least a few of my contemporaries (that would be miracle enough, without talking about future generations !).  I guess we all need to make sense of our  lives, to believe that we left the world better than it was when we entered it.  Few can make that boast.  But instead of trying – absurdly – to pat myself on the back, let me share a few of the regrets I have, now that I have entered the Autumn of my years.

  1.  I would love to have had the intelligence of Hitchens, the talent of Pavarotti and the humility of Federer.
  2.  I would love to have published half a dozen books that brought enlightenment and liberation to believers.
  3. I would love to have been a better son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, friend, colleague and blogger.

That’s about it.  What I do NOT regret is having been a Franciscan and a Catholic priest (nor, obviously, having renounced both of these meaningless states of life), though I do regret having taken so long to become an atheist.  Apart from that, I realize that though my life, compared with so many others, has been largely insignificant, I have loved living it and enjoying it for so long and with such luck.  I could and should have been a better person.  I got more than I gave.  But, as lives go, mine was a bitta aw rye (I do NOT regret having been born Australian).

RIDENDA      RELIGIO

 

 

 

SWEET SIXTEENS

Sixteen years ago, when I turned sixty-four, I realized my life was divided into four sixteens.  Now at eighty I’ve added one more, which makes five.  I can’t imagine number six, which would make me just four short of a century.  THAT probably means not firing on all cylinders, both physical and mental, deafness, incontinence, recurring if not constant pain, and the increasing dependence of a Grumpy Old Man.

Then again, in the Beatles’ song which I rewrote, “Now I’m 64”, I actually said that I looked forward to “sixty-four more”!  In fact, I didn’t expect to hit even four-score.  As the man said as he shot past the 23rd floor on his way down from the top of the  Empire State, having already passed eighty stories : “So far, so good !”

Death is the ultimate, and ultimately personal, experience of Everyman, the end of life and of its least attractive feature, old age.  Most people don’t joke about it.  You can try to ignore it, do your best to postpone it, but it’s going to happen so why not look it in the face, accept it and get on with the rest of your life ?  If you insist on believing in a life after death, and find comfort and meaning in that, that’s your choice.  I prefer “That’s All, Folks “.

RIDENDA      RELIGIO