Showing posts with label Christianity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christianity. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Sermon on the Mount

Designating a series of moralistic lessons said to have been preached by Jesus in the vicinity of Capernaum alongside the Sea of Galilee, the evangelist Matthew invented what came to be known as the Sermon on the Mount : no doubt the most novel and awesome presentation of moral philosophy and intense love in the history of human thought.

I had the chance to find myself at this unique spot on Friday 16 December 1988, after a coach trip to the Arab town of Nazareth, during my first trip to Israel. This was a chance for me to realize fully that everything I had ever imagined about Christianity was summed up exclusively in that extraordinary Sermon on the Mount, which seemed to have been conceived spontaneously in the middle of the countryside. Above all, these lessons went against the grain of everything that rich people, tyrants and evil men might have ever imagined.

These days, whenever inspired folk start trying to tell me how we might welcome Islamic believers into our societies, I wonder instantly: Have Muslims ever grasped what the Sermon on the Mount is all about? I have no reason to suppose that they've ever even heard of it, let alone been inspired by its fabulous messages.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Anglican diocese of Grafton

In the mid-1950s, when I was a teenager in Grafton and an active member of the Anglican community attached to Christ Church Cathedral, I would never have imagined that, one day, from my home in the mountains of south-east France, I would be reading the following solemn statement published by an archdeacon of the Grafton diocese:

Click to enlarge

Click here to see a shocking page of their website, against a background of jacaranda blossoms, on which the diocese includes a link to a 31-page document, created in 2004, bearing the sad title: Protocol for Dealing with Complaints of Sexual Abuse.

I made allusions to Grafton’s unpleasant history in this domain in my blog post of 16 June 2013 entitled In the shadow of Grafton's cathedral [display].

Today, I have no desire to wade through the sordid tales and events that have been unfolding in Sydney’s ongoing Royal Commission into child abuse. But, for readers who might like to follow up these stories, I include here a list of links to relevant Australian media accounts.

Anglican Church official Pat Comben quizzed in Royal Commission over response to child sex abuse at North Coast Children's Home [link]

Cleric quits over abuse handling [link]

Abuse claim priest has quit [link]

Anglican directory of clergy a 'stud book' [link]

Brutal assaults at a NSW orphanage [link]

Church to audit child sex abuse settlement [link]

Church dissent over abuse approach [link]

Abuse diocese puts community first [link]

Smiling bishop Keith Slater failed victims of sex abuse in their hour of need [link]

I'm not sure I'm still a Christian, Anglican priest Pat Comben says [link]

Bishop ignored child sex charges [link]

One of the articles contains the following sentence:
The protestant community in Grafton seems close. One could well imagine the conversations at the "dinner parties with a bit of red wine" that Pat Comben, former diocesan registrar, touched on in his evidence to the commission.
That allusion annoys me in the sense that it gives the impression that Grafton Anglicans were in the habit, in a mildly inebriated state, of passing around fragments of sordid information at private dinner parties. That vision of events is far removed from my memories of Arthur Edward Warr, Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, dropping around for weekly chess evenings with my paternal grandfather, with tea and biscuits served up by my grandmother. But I have to admit that, as a boy in Grafton over half a century ago, I had no contacts whatsoever with what might have been thought of as the upper-crust Anglican community of the city.

These days, as a confirmed atheist who looks upon all present-day religions with the utmost disgust, I'm quite delighted to observe that an organization such as the Anglican Church appears to be coming apart at the seams... but I'm immensely sickened by the case of those countless kids who were handled as sexual objects by vile males who were supposed to be the children's guardians.

POST SCRIPTUM: Many former residents of Grafton are aware, I believe, that their “city” has been going slowly down the drain, in countless ways, over several decades. Today, as a symbol of that civic and economic decay, the local mayor and his councillors don’t even talk of Grafton any more. They ramble on stupidly as if they were living in a vague place known as “the Valley”. Be that as it may, I have the impression that the reputation of Grafton is likely to suffer indelibly as a consequence of the ongoing Royal Commission. We can no doubt think of those links in the above blog post as nails in Grafton’s coffin.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Holy kitsch

When I was looking around for an image of a bottle of so-called "holy water" for my blog post on placebos, I stumbled upon an awesome French-language Christian website, which sparkles non-stop with the light of God, the burning heart of the Savior, the fiery flame of the Holy Ghost, and the gently-exploding snowflakes of the purity of the Virgin Mary. Click here to judge for yourself. Then get down on your knees and praise the Lord for His gift of web designers of this spiritual caliber.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Biggest threats to Christianity

As you might imagine, I'm not particularly worried personally by emerging signs of the decline of the Christian religion. On the other hand, this inevitable shift in significance is a subject that interests me from a social and historical viewpoint. What have been its main causes up until now, and what are the biggest threats to Christianity from now on? Those are interesting questions, which I would be incapable of tackling seriously, in depth, in this humble blog.

Over the last few years, many observers have suggested that the church might decay from within, as a consequence of the countless affairs of pedophilia throughout the world. I don't think that's likely, because the clergy have had centuries to get their defensive act together in that domain, and they can be pretty cunning. Look at the case of that silly old priest in New York, Benedict Groeschel.

He dared to evoke the possibility of teenagers transforming themselves into evil "seducers" then "coming after" poor defenseless priests, and leading them into iniquity. What a despicable arsehole!

Other people imagine that the widespread acceptance of the atheistic theses of scientists such as Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins will inevitably turn vast numbers of people away from religion. There again, I don't really see things in that light. A godless movement such as that of Dawkins will inevitably remain elitist—like my recently-proposed awestruckism [access]—for the simple reason that it takes a lot of intellectual preparation to understand and appreciate the various branches of scientific thinking upon which it is based. It's most unlikely that devout Christians might read, say, A Universe from Nothing (Krauss) or The Selfish Gene (Dawkins), only to be swept immediately off their feet by a sudden urge to become atheists.

Things don't work like that. Even a formerly religious reader who has been deeply influenced, say, by God is not Great (Hitchens) or The God Delusion (Dawkins) was most likely a favorable candidate for conversion to atheism. Besides, we must never forget that, all the way down from the pope to schoolteachers in faith-based establishments, their are hordes of Christians who claim that they have no trouble in accepting science while pursuing their belief in God.

No, let me tell you the nature of the greatest threat to Christianity. The danger, in a word, is bones : that's to say, the possibility (however remote it might or might not appear to be today) that the fragments of bones unearthed by archeologists will end up "speaking" through an analysis of their DNA. Up until now, the alleged Greatest Tomb on Earth—in the Crusader church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem—has remained resolutely empty. This is hardly surprising, because there was surely never anything interesting to be seen in that ornate structure. But certain researchers have been starting to look in the right places in the hope of finding and examining the bodily remains of Biblical individuals, including members of the family of Jesus. And these investigations could well upset the apple cart in the near future.

When I speak of researchers, I'm thinking primarily of James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici, mentioned in my recent post entitled Jesus [display].

Ideally, one might imagine that the idea that Jesus was a splendid but perfectly normal male should shock nobody. But, because of the teachings of the apostle Paul, that simple idea is literally anathema within the established church. And if ever the examination of bones led us to conclude that Jesus had been married, that he had been the father of children, and that the so-called Virgin Mary had been the mother of five boys (of whom Jesus was the eldest) and two girls, then this would surely be disastrous news for most Christians, who prefer to envisage the Holy Family as unearthly supernatural creatures.

Sadly, we see already the initial signs of the hatred expressed publicly by certain eminent academics towards Simcha, who has the misfortune of being a humble Jewish-educated filmmaker, rather than a university professor. Click here to see, for example, Simcha's six-part response to nasty criticism of his interpretation of the presence of a pair of nails found inside a Jerusalem tomb.

You might say that the forensic analysis of stuff such a bones and nails strikes certain academics—not only Christians, but certain Jews, too—where it hurts most: that's to say, at the level where Jesus is no longer looked upon as a magical being.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Belief in an afterlife is a substitute for wisdom

I've just been watching an interesting video of a debate on a Jewish TV network on the subject of an alleged afterlife. The celebrated atheists Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris converse with two US rabbis, David Wolpe and Bradley Artson Shavit.

[Click the portraits to access the video.]

Not surprisingly, within the group of four, the star was Hitchens. He really is a brilliant thinker and speaker. As for the rabbis, they come across as friendly guys, and far removed from familiar caricatures of crazed and biased religious fanatics. But their superficial friendliness doesn't make them one iota more credible at the level of their beliefs.

I've always felt that the historical and cultural foundations of Judaism (which have always interested me enormously, and still do) are so rich and dense that it must be difficult—well nigh impossible—to ditch them overboard, even in the name of common sense and/or science. For a goy (such as me), on the other hand, brought up in a typical Christian environment, it's much easier to rid oneself of all religious beliefs, mainly because many of the fairy-tale tenets of Christian theology (virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, Heaven and Hell, etc) are frankly ridiculous, and much of Christian ecclesiastic history (handling heretics, conflicts with non-Christians, crusades against infidels, immorality of the clergy, pomp and vanity of the Catholic church, conflicts between different branches of Christianity, sects, etc) is quite nasty, and best forgotten. A Jew who turns to atheism might say to himself: "Am I committing an irreparable error is abandoning my great family?" A Christian, devoid of nostalgia, is likely to exclaim: "Thank God I've been able to move away, at last, from that ugly mindless herd!"

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Devil doing his job

This CNN conversation with the Vatican's exorcist is truly a masterpiece of surrealism, like a live interview of Saint John on the island of Patmos while he's busy writing the Apocalypse.

When the 85-year-old priest speaks of the devil, he's not using metaphorical language. No, for Father Gabriele Amorth, the devil is a real creature of a flesh-and-blood kind, a little like Osama bin Laden. That's to say, you don't necessarily run into him when you're walking down the main street, but you're totally convinced that he exists somewhere, at this moment, on the face of the planet Earth.

If I were unkind and fiercely anticlerical (which I probably am, in fact), I would say that this dear old fellow is a basket case. He suffers from some kind of mental affliction. And what can be said about the obsequious asshole who's interviewing the archaic loony?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Unwitting crusaders

If you're thinking about using a gun to commit a murder, and you need some inspirational words to accompany the deed, you only have to dig around in the Bible and you'll surely find everything you need. The cultivated killer played superbly by Samuel L Jackson in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction had the habit of calling upon the godly exclamations of the prophet Ezekiel (submerged in a sauce of f-words) to preface his executions.

US soldiers in Afghanistan were surprised to learn that mysterious letters and numbers inscribed on the gunsights of their personal combat weapons were in fact references to passages of the Bible.

In the above photo, for example, the reference JN 8:12 guides the soldier to the gospel of John, chapter 8, verse 12, in which Jesus says: "I am the light of the world. He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." An observer must imagine, of course, that the light of life is reserved for the guy squeezing the trigger, not for the unfortunate fellow at the other end of the bullet's trajectory. Besides, you get a certain idea of the sense of the biblical quote if you replace the word "light" by "sight" (short for gunsight), and "walk" by "fire". And maybe the final expression, "light of life", should be replaced by "sight of death".

These gunsights, manufactured by a family company named Trijicon [click the logo to visit their website] based in Michigan, were supplied to US, British, Australian and New Zealand troops fighting in Afghanistan. Funnily enough, not even their superiors seemed to be aware (so they say) that these soldiers were unwitting latter-day crusaders, whose arms were protected symbolically by the fighting words of a Christian god.

Journalists are already referring to weapons bearing such references as "Jesus guns". One US official even compared this affair with the trivial but notorious phenomenon I mentioned in my article of 28 December 2009 entitled In God we don't trust [display].

Why can't Americans leave God alone (along with the ungodly) and get on with their business?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cute religion

When referring to religious beliefs, people generally use adjectives such as "ancient", "sacred", "profound", etc. To my mind, the fabulous American belief system known as Mormonism is simply cute. There's no better adjective to describe it. Compared to old religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Mormonism is cute in the same way that babies are cute, in the same way that this old Kodak poster is cute:

And here's a terribly cute video presentation of Mormonism that I found on the web:

I ignore the origins of this video. Was it really produced by the so-called Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? If so, they're dauntless folk. There's a French proverb: "Ridicule kills." What it means is that, once somebody has acquired a reputation as an object of ridicule, he's basically dead. It's almost impossible to recover his status as a person to be taken seriously. So, from that point of view, it could be said that the Mormons don't seem to fear death.

I've had two kinds of personal contacts with Mormons. Whenever I visited Jerusalem, back in the '80s and '90s, I invariably ran into small groups of cute Mormon girls from Utah, who were exceptionally friendly. Later, in Grenoble, LDS church members helped me enormously in my genealogical research by lending me precious microfilms of English census data. These days, I continue to use constantly their splendid Family Search website:

If ever a miracle were to occur and the voice of God were to boom out from the heavens above Gamone, informing me that it was time for me to choose a religion and pay up my church membership fees, I think I would become a Mormon. To borrow the language of Some Grey Bloke in my earlier article entitled Nasty stuff, should be censured [display], I like their options. I mean, those laid-back Utah spirit-chicks in Jerusalem were really angelic, in a cute way. Besides, at a deeper spiritual level, if you were to ask me to sum up my impressions of the fabulous theology of Mormonism in a single word, I would not hesitate in saying that it's truly... cute.

Clearly, if I'm going to spend Eternity in nice company, while pursuing my favorite hobby of computer-assisted family-history research, then the Mormons sound like the right people to get mixed up with.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Damnable Irish Catholic behavior

A bulky report, published yesterday, reveals the findings of a nine-year probe into child abuse in Ireland's Catholic institutions. The results are damning in the sense that church authorities actually sought to protect their ecclesiastic pedophiles in a shroud of secrecy.

In my recent article entitled Repetitive Aussie apologies [display], I expressed my hesitation (rightly or wrongly) in believing that the situation of orphans in Australian institutions merited all the formal apology fuss. In the Irish context, I'm not at all so reluctant. It's clear that Irish Catholics have put on a genuine horror show, right up until the start of the 21st century.

Meanwhile, the German pope has been scheming with the Anglican chief to come to a deal about which Christians should belong to which camp. I often wonder: How much longer is all this Christian poppycock going to last, against a background of inhuman treatment of innocent youth? My guess, unfortunately, is that it's still going to last a hell of a long time, because Christianity and all its trappings remain terribly respectable in our Western societies. Few people have the courage to express themselves authentically, to stand up and declare publicly that the prince of Rome is as naked as a raped child.

POST-SCRIPTUM: For decades, I've been thinking about setting foot in Ireland: the land of many of my ancestors. But, every time I more or less make up my mind to go there, an incident occurs, causing me to change my mind. An eloquent example: Back in the summer of 1987, I was thinking about visiting Enniskillen in County Fermanagh in the hope of finding traces of my Kennedy ancestors. Then a bomb exploded... Recently, I've got around to thinking once again, for the Nth time, about dropping in on nearby Ireland. Unfortunately, yesterday's report is another bomb that has exploded. If I were logical, I should simply put a cross on Ireland. When the smoke subsides, though, I'll no doubt start thinking, once again, about going there. All those nagging Irish genes...