Showing posts with label atheism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label atheism. Show all posts

Monday, January 27, 2014

Must change my thinking

In a split second of intense revelation, I was stunned by an amazing video produced by Infinite Circularity Ministries. It convinced me that I must change my thinking.

It’s a fabulous package deal. Every New Believer gets a wonderful free gift: a lovely colorful image of Saraswati (hope I've got the name right).

The message reached me in the nick of time (thanks to a tweet from Richard Dawkins). Up until then, funnily enough, I had been thinking seriously about contacting my Canadian cousins to ask them how I might become a Freemason.

Click to enlarge

I’m still not quite sure about whether we’re allowed to mix together all of this stuff... but I would imagine that it's feasible, mystically speaking.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Amazing science

There's a new atheist kid on the YouTube block: Jaclyn Glenn.

Here's her profile:
Jaclyn Glenn was born March 25, 1988, and lives in Florida, US. She is currently going to medical school and uploads regularly. It is believed that she was married in 2010, but her current relationship status is unknown. Her success on youtube is with the channel "JaclynGlenn", where she discusses topics such as religion, atheism, animal rights, politics, masturbation, and many other issues in a serious yet comical fashion. She has recently admitted to being an atheist and skeptic, but does not have an abrasive personality like many other atheist vloggers on the site.
In that final sentence, the term "vloggers" designates video bloggers: that's to say, individuals who submit regular blog posts in video form. Jaclyn Glenn's video creations can be found here. Countless Americans will be shocked by her following moving version of a sacred anthem:

Needless to say, Richard Dawkins was an instant fan of Jaclyn.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Two careers of Richard Dawkins

I would imagine that most people have heard, by now, of the English intellectual Richard Dawkins.

But it's unlikely that they've all made an effort to read Dawkins's books. Besides, those on the technical aspects of evolutionary biology can be quite difficult. The following short video makes it clear that Dawkins has had two careers, as it were: first, as a celebrated scientist, and later as an advocate for a world without gods.

Dawkins attempts to attenuate this "two careers" interpretation of his work by suggesting that the germs of his atheism could be found in his earlier books on biology. While this was certainly the case, such an explanation is likely to go above the heads of those observers who see the outspoken professor primarily as a strident atheist. Consider, for example, an amazing specimen of big-mouthed ignorance: George Pell, an Australian cardinal. Judging from the applause during his recent debate with Dawkins, the Catholic chief has a certain number of numbskull supporters.

[That's not the extract of the Dawkins/Pell encounter that I had hoped to include, but I don't have the courage to search through all the cardinal's rubbish in the hope of finding his statement about Neanderthals.]

I would like to make a naive confession. There are two aspects of the professor's behavior that I've never clearly understood. First, why does Dawkins waste his time taking part in an alleged "debate" with a religious guy who's so stupid that he would dare to place atheists in the category of monsters such as Stalin and Hitler? A guy who's so ignorant at the level of contemporary knowledge that he imagines that people like Dawkins think that Homo sapiens descends from Neanderthals? My second question is closely associated with the first one. What rare quality prevents Dawkins from ever exploding in anger when confronted with the ineptitude of a guy as dumb as Pell? How come that the professor can remain so calm and polite, and retain even a few fleeting smiles?

I suspect that Dawkins senses the existence of some kind of underlying long-term vocation or mission that gets him through all these constant challenges of dealing with ignorant numbskulls. I guess it's something akin to the talents, that in other walks of life, enable certain gifted individuals to operate ceaselessly as physicians, psychologists, judges, etc. In fact, it's an admirable expression of humanism and an outlook that might be described as intellectual democracy: the belief that every individual you meet up with has the right to be listened to, no matter how silly he or she might be. Dawkins seems to exhibit quite naturally a splendid kind of Christian charity... which is weird, to say the least.

Speaking solely for myself, I've never possessed this rare talent... but that's neither here nor there.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

US women encouraged to quit the Church

On the occasion of International Women's Day, the US Freedom from Religion Foundation placed a full-page ad in the New York Times encouraging women to escape "from incense-fogged ritual, from ideas uttered long ago by ignorant men, from blind obedience to an illusory religious authority".

Click here to access a jpeg image of the ad (which you must enlarge to read). It ends with an entreaty: "Please, exit en mass."

NOTE: The play on words in the expression "en mass" is amusing and no doubt catchy, but etymologically unfounded. The French words masse (physical mass) and messe (religious ritual) have quite unconnected origins.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Unbaptism ceremony

Bill Maher is in great form here:

Monday, August 15, 2011

Religions are thriving… and so is atheism

For me, ever since my first stay at Tinos in August 1964 [see my French-language web page], I've always recalled today's Christian feast day through its name in Demotic Greek. They simply refer to this hallowed day as the 15th August (phonetically, to thekapende ahvgusto), as if no fitting words could be found to refer to the marvels that once took place at this date. Indeed, this feast day celebrates a totally crazy alleged happening. The mother of Jesus suddenly drifted up into the clouds, like a hot-air balloon, and disappeared forever. The terms used in English to designate this event are somewhat comical. The Roman church uses the word Assumption, as if believers are expected to assume that things happened as described. The Orthodox church uses the word Dormition, which sounds like an official term for "lights out" in a school dormitory.

Apparently, at Lourdes this morning, 30,000 pilgrims attended a mass celebrated conjointly by 200 priests. Last Saturday, at that same place, the theatrical director Robert Hossein staged a holy play, A Woman Named Mary, for an audience of 25,000.

In another corner of south-west France, the Dalai Lama has arrived in Toulouse for a three-day visit, and thousands of people have booked seats at his seminars on "the stages of meditation" and "the art of happiness".

In the USA, religion has been getting a lot of publicity these days through a disturbing clone of George W Bush: the Republican governor of Texas Rick Perry.

He's the loony who once isued an official proclamation summoning the citizens of his drought-ridden state to pray for rain. More recently, this same nincompoop—who could theoretically become the next US president—organized a prayer day intended to shepherd the American nation out of its financial crisis.

Islam, when it seeks to right wrongs, resorts to harsher methods than prayer. In the charming Provençal town of Miramas (which I visited, a year ago, with Christine), a devout Muslim wasn't happy with a 17-year-old member of his family who was not respecting the fast of Ramadan. So, the young fellow was thrashed and then tied up… until his screaming caused neighbors to call the police and fire brigade.

Now, the funny thing is that, behind these various religious manifestations, it's hard to imagine the presence and guiding force of a single god. On the surface, it would seem that every religious body on the planet must surely believe in the existence of its own unique god. And clearly, this situation is ridiculous.

The truth is considerably simpler: there are no gods whatsoever, not a single fucking god anywhere in the Cosmos! In other words, all the above-mentioned folk (to whom we must add Jews, Mormons, Pastafarians, etc) believe in magic stuff and fairytale things that simply do not exist. Today, every lucidly intelligent individual knows perfectly well that all religions are total bullshit!

Now, if you've got a spare moment, and you want to see what a hundred renowned intellectuals (from all walks of life) think about religions, I invite you to watch these two amazing and inspiring videos from the Richard Dawkins Foundation:

50 famous academics and scientists talk about god

another 50 renowned academics speaking about god

And here's a third collection of reactions:

similar video, from Canada, with lots of ordinary folk

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Insulting religion

When he criticizes religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), this 61-year-old English comedian, Pat Condell, expresses himself in a beautifully clear and persuasive manner:

He's definitely a healthy and explicit no-bullshit artist (you can Google his credentials, which include six years working as a logger in Canada), described by Richard Dawkins in the following terms: "Pat Condell is unique. Nobody can match his extraordinary blend of suavity and savagery. With his articulate intelligence he runs rings around the religious wingnuts that are the targets of his merciless humour. Thank goodness he is on our side."

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Atheism in Australia

Here's some sound advice concerning the forthcoming census in Australia:
Through their numbers and their well-organized stance, Australian atheists are making a fine name for themselves on the international scene. Needless to say, that situation makes me happy.

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!"

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Many years ago, back in Paris, one of my former employers told his assembled staff: "The challenge of becoming rich involves two aspects. On the one hand, you have to earn as much money as possible. On the other hand, you must spend as little as possible."

I've often thought that our health situation is similar. On the one hand, you must have access to top-quality medical services… including, above all, an excellent GP (general practitioner). On the other hand, you have to avoid running into health problems. Elementary, my dear Watson. (Apparently Sherlock Holmes never pronounced this apocryphal phrase in any of the sixty detective novels written by Arthur Conan Doyle.) I consider myself fortunate in the sense that, in my personal case, both these conditions appear to prevail.

I drop in at the GP's rooms in Pont-en-Royans once every three months for a renewal of the prescription for three or four pills that I've been taking over the last six years. The ritual is always the same. The GP tries to imagine what kind of medical tests he might be able to impose upon me, through his specialist colleagues in the nearby cities of Valence and Romans. Since my prostate has been removed, and since I perform regular checks for colon cancer, I've become a relatively dull candidate for tests… but I'm sure my GP will think of something one of these days.

A long time ago, he informed me that my cervical vertebra resembled worn-out parts in an aging automobile, and that this could well bring about fits of vestibular giddiness. Back at the time the GP said that, I didn't really believe his diagnosis. On the one hand, I never have a stiff or painful neck (in spite of sitting upright in front of a computer screen for hours on end, seated on a hard wooden chair). On the other hand, if I felt giddy at times, particularly when I looked skywards, I imagined this as the first symptoms of some terrible form of cerebral decay. Maybe I had inherited it from my ancestor Charles Walker, innkeeper on the Braidwood goldfields, who used to drink too much of a beverage invented by a Scotsman named Johnnie Walker who, I believe, was his brother. If Charles had died in 1860 of delirium tremens, and if his great-great-grandson felt giddy from time to time when he was wandering around on the slopes with his dogs at Choranche, it's clear that this had nothing to do with neck bones; it was the inherited fault of bad neurons.

Reluctantly, however, I was obliged to admit to my GP that, one morning a month or so ago, I woke up with both a sore neck and a bit of giddiness. Later on in the morning, just to see whether or not it might work, I performed energetic exercises with my arms, neck and shoulders. By midday, both the pain in the neck and the giddiness had totally disappeared. So, that certainly proved something… and my GP agreed! I did have the impression, however, that he looked at me with a puzzled expression when I was telling him this story, as if I might indeed have decaying whisky-soaked neurons in my inner brain.

The GP's test for blood pressure always follows a similar ritual. Lying on my back, I tend to forget that he's busy trying to determine my blood pressure, and I carry on talking, in anything but a relaxed state. He frowns because his reading is lower than expected. At that stage, he always asks me the same question: "Do you check your blood pressure regularly at home?" And I always tell him that I wouldn't have the faintest idea about how to perform such an operation. By that time, I'm standing up, and my body is no longer tense. And, in this position, the GP's new reading of my blood pressure reverts to its normal value, which seems to please him greatly.

After that incident, the GP sets his computer in action, so that it prints out a new copy of my regular prescription. He functions in multi-processing mode by simultaneously recording my payment, signing my prescription and talking on the phone with his wife. Besides, this red-blooded lady's man seems to be amused when I say that this kind of aptitude is generally strictly feminine.

At that point in my visit to the GP, the serious part of our encounter can get under way. I'm talking of our regular conversations about books, science, the Internet, etc. The other day, the GP set the ball rolling.

GP: "I bought the two Dawkins books you mentioned, and found them highly interesting."

Knowing nothing of the quality of French translations of books by Richard Dawkins, I had nevertheless recommended that he might read The God Delusion and The Greatest Show on Earth. Parts of the first book, on atheism, had apparently impressed my GP greatly. In particular, he liked the explanations about the plasticity of the minds of tender children, who can be made to believe anything they're told. Meanwhile, the overall American situation was news to him.

GP: "I was amazed to learn that declaring oneself an atheist in the USA prevents you from being considered as a decent citizen, capable of becoming an elected politician."

William: "At least it's not like that in France."

GP: "It's the opposite here. Politicians like to make themselves out to be free-thinking Republicans, liberated with respect to religious bias. But, as soon as one of their leaders dies, they all flock along to the cathedral of Notre-Dame to pray for the soul of their dead companion."

Talking of believers and non-believers, an interesting Harris poll has just been conducted here in France, where we imagine that the faithful continue to flock to Sunday Mass, albeit in dwindling numbers.

Roughly a third of the population say they're believers, and a third, atheists. The remaining third is characterized by the fact that they simply don't know whether or not God exists. Among them, most people feel that this question is interesting, whereas others say it's not. Those results are unsurprising. What amused me greatly, on the other hand, is the fact that a third of the religious folk who said they were Catholics went on to reveal that they nevertheless don't really believe in the existence of God. Now, I like that approach! That's the kind of Catholic I myself might be, if I set my mind to it. Besides God, the Devil and the Holy Ghost, though, I would also refuse to believe in popes, saints, miracles, priests and all the rest of the ugly rubbish, including relics.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Queensland calamity

As an Australian, moved by the legendary toughness of our northern cousins, I find it intellectually embarrassing that a dimwitted 59-year-old Queenslander named Ken Ham should be making a name for himself in God's Own Country (he would be better off shoveling mud in his homeland) by his promotion of Creationist bullshit of the worst idiotic kind.

Intelligent citizens of the world might be asking: Is that kind of juvenile fucked-up brain an endemic thing in Australia? I answer emphatically: No! No! No! Ken Ham is a sick mutant. Few Australians follow this fellow. We're all happy he found his way to the USA. Take care of him, feed him if you like, be kind to him, and keep the bastard, please! We don't want him back. We won't even ask for a refund… Shit, there's no use in spending millions to promote great Aussie themes about our dynamic land and open-minded cultures when a crackpot like Ham can instill overnight the idea that we might all be crazy Down Under.

But are we? Or aren't we? I'm not sure. Good questions…

I'm wondering whether we could launch some kind of international process (maybe with technical help from Julian Assange) aimed at "disowning" Ken Ham. You know, like parents who don't want to bequeath their heritage to a wayward offspring. Meanwhile, here's a good article about why our Ham is all pigshit.

Seriously, this Ham guy needs to be neutralized. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm talking of logic, not gunfire. For Christ's sake, don't shoot the silly bastard; he would surely be canonized overnight by Silly Benny. Saint Fucking Ham! Worse than Frankenstein's monster. What a horrible unending nightmare… Maybe there's some kind of cockroach powder than might work on Ham. Fellow embarrassed Aussies, let's put our heads together and decide what might be done.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Is religion a force for good in the world?

The Toronto organizers of this debate between Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens had no trouble selling their 2,700 tickets, which seems to prove that questions of faith versus godliness are a popular topic today. Indeed, the Guardian article reveals that tickets were grabbed up weeks ago, and were recently being sold for several times their cost price on eBay.

[Click the photo to access the Guardian article.]

A poll conducted upon people emerging from the hall where the debate had taken place suggested that the cancer-stricken author of the atheist best-seller God is Not Great was more convincing than the former UK prime minister, who argued in a wishy-washy style.

While I quite like the general idea of public debates of this kind, I prefer personally to snuggle down in front of my fireplace and simply read the relevant books by Dawkins, Hitchens and others. The truth of the matter is that the absurdity of religious beliefs is an outcome of objective thinking based upon science, logic and reason in general. So, to my mind, there can no longer be any debate… because science, logic and reason have ceased to be debatable questions. So, the only imaginable pleasure I can derive from a debate of this kind consists of watching the religious guy get tangled up in his words, and make a fool of himself. But, in that case, I prefer to watch an outright comic sketch. I soon get bored and annoyed by the spectacle of self-righteous and pompous brain-damaged believers sermonizing fuzzily about their immaculate faith. Worse, if the organizers of such a debate can usually succeed in roping in a lukewarm charismatic Christian to represent the believers, it remains practically unthinkable that a genuine debate of this kind could involve a Jewish or a Muslim representative.

Today, we can still witness all kinds of old-fashioned half-baked antics designed to give the impression that hordes of intelligent youth are enthusiastic advocates of Judaism, Christianity or Islam. But it's highly unlikely, if not unthinkable, that an articulate writer and speaker such as Dawkins or Hitchens could emerge in modern society as a popular spokesman for religious thinking. That would be like imagining that jet aircraft could be confronted by a spectacular new kind of hot-air balloon. It just ain't thinkable. So, why bother wasting time debating with lesser individuals about whether or not miraculous things could come to pass today? If my attitude sounds elitist, well, yes, it is. I belong to the vast elite of humans whose thinking is based exclusively upon science, logic and reason... and I no longer suffer fools gladly.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Law, not the Lord, will decide

Computer atheists refer kindly to the pope as Benny Hex, since 16-based counting is designated as hexadecimal. More rapidly than expected, our red-robed hero is losing all his aura... if ever he had any. He's coming through loud and clear as a slimy little Catholic creep.

I used to be surprised (delighted, in fact) when my Catholic friend Natacha dared to refer to ultra-pious old ladies as "holy font frogs".

The pope is that kind of creature. But he might not hop around for long, for there are all kinds of laws condemning individuals who aid and abet sex criminals. The pope imagines that it's the Lord—through the Vatican—who arbitrates all things. He's grossly misled. The ordinary law of civilized nations determines what's right and what's wrong, particularly in the case of known individuals who have raped children. Benny Hex needs to update his antiquated catechism.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Religion leads us astray from human realities

It's nice to find CNN airing the profound thoughts of the writer Sam Harris, the author of the New York Times bestsellers The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation.

This clearly-spoken 42-year-old US intellectual is a brilliant and popular advocate of secular thinking.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Atheism seen from Down Under

In today's issue of The Sydney Morning Herald, there's an article entitled Atheism's true believers gather [display], written by the newspaper's religion reporter Jacqueline Maley, concerning the forthcoming Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne. Sure, the article is imperfect, but it's better than nothing... and surprising, above all, in the mentally stultifying context of Sydney's once-great newspaper, which now specializes in trash. Concerning the celebrated Oxford scientist Richard Dawkins, here is the most sublime idiotic pearl from Jacqueline's pen: "Dawkins has been criticised for his ignorance of Christian theology, and his inability (and that of science in general) to disprove the existence of God." Saying that Dawkins ignores theology is akin to deploring the fact that Pope Benedict XVI hasn't participated in much advanced research in molecular biology. As for the inability of Dawkins to disprove the existence of God, that's the fault of human reasoning and formal logic (about which Jacqueline Maley probably knows as little as the pope about molecular biology). Until the end of time, and beyond, nobody will ever be able to prove that the famous orbiting Celestial Teapot of Bertrand Russell [display] is not somewhere out there, maybe in the vicinity of Jupiter and Saturn.

[Click to display a bigger image.]

Then there's all the exciting literature and debate concerning the fabulous Flying Spaghetti Monster [display], whose existence has never yet been disproved, not even by the Vatican.

Fortunately, if you wish to listen to Jacqueline Maley talking about more everyday matters, which she masters admirably, you can read her amusing article entitled Pastor's ban sparks unholy Anglican stoush [display], on the heart-rending theme of a Sydney suburban parishioner who declared: "I was forbidden to hand out pencils or stack chairs in church because of my theology.'' [Some kind soul might please tell me what stoush means.] But don't spend too much time delving into the archives, religious or otherwise, of The Sydney Morning Herald. You would be taking a silly risk. It's the sort of nasty reading that could well induce permanent brain damage.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Little gods

I've been reading a fine book, god is not Great, written by Christopher Hitchens and published some three years ago, at roughly the same time as The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Respecting the author's choice, I've reproduced the title with a small g at the beginning. In fact, Hitchens might have used a plural title, gods are not Great, since his explanations of "how religion poisons everything" could be applied equally well to Judaism's Yahveh, Christianity's God or Islam's Allah. No matter which god you happen to have got involved with, the poison is equally ubiquitous and noxious, and the only healthy antidote is atheism. In fact, the latter medicine is not at all nasty, particularly when it's dissolved in a large volume of science, poetry, art and love of all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small (including one's fellow humans).

Hitchens is engaged upon exactly the same battlefield as Dawkins, and he's an equally formidable warrior, but I had the impression that the journalist and the professor are probably not fighting side-by-side in the same battalion. Both men are products of England's great Oxbridge system, and they both write brilliantly. The vast scientific erudition of Dawkins causes him to be seen inevitably as a kind of refined donnish gentleman, never too far away from his cherished ivory tower. Hitchens, on the other hand, comes across as a more worldly chap, who has rubbed up against all sorts of personalities and ordinary people, while never suffering fools gladly (as St Paul put it).

He paints a particularly black portrait of individuals who were notorious for having a dark religious side. This list includes the Biblical personage known as Abraham (of whom Hitchens talks, surprisingly, as if he really existed), John Calvin (described as one of the "really extreme religious totalitarians", and "a sadist and torturer and killer"), Joseph Smith (founder of Mormonism), Pope Pius XII (who sent an "evil and fatuous message" to Hitler in 1939), Mother Teresa (whose claims to sainthood would appear to be based upon a false "miracle"), the Dalai Lama (who "tells us that you can visit a prostitute as long as someone else pays her"), the US preacher Billy Graham ("whose record of opportunism and anti-Semitism is in itself a minor national disgrace") and the new pope Joseph Ratzinger ("who recently attracted Catholic youths to a festival by offering a certain 'remission of sin' to those who attended"), etc. The handful of famous figures who emerge unscathed by the wrath of Hitchens (whose Twitter name is hitchbitch) have the allure of atheistic angels or saints, if such creatures could be deemed possible. I was thrilled to discover that the following six members of this elite have always counted among my personal intellectual heroes: Socrates, William of Ockham, Baruch Spinoza, Thomas Paine, Martin Luther King and Bertrand Russell.

Above all, the literary voice of Christopher Hitchens is, not only invigorating, but indeed cathartic. He's truly a "no bullshit" writer, who generally has firsthand knowledge of the topics he tackles. I find it reassuring to hear that this leftist polemicist (a naturalized American since 2007) has gone to the trouble of actually visiting places such as Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Irish law on blasphemy

On this first day of the new decade, Ireland's medieval law on blasphemy becomes operational.

My article of 26 November 2009 entitled Damnable Irish Catholic behavior [display] evoked a report on disgusting sexual crimes involving children committed by Catholic personnel in Ireland. Today, it's frankly preposterous that this same nation should be intent upon promulgating a law against blasphemy. This ugly law must be repealed as soon as possible!

People might react by claiming that Ireland is an independent nation and that the Irish have the right to outlaw blasphemy if they so desire. In other words, if Ireland wants to remain backward, it's none of my business. Well, I would reply that, since the creation of the entity known as Europe, everything that's decided in Europe in the way of new laws is the business of every European. But there's a stronger reason for worry. This kind of archaic law about blasphemy is wind in the sails of extremist Muslims who've been lobbying at a UN level for the drafting of new international laws designed to protect religion... which means, of course, their religion and religious customs.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bertrand Russell on God

Throughout my younger years, the books of the English philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell [1872-1970] were no doubt my main non-fictional reading. Even today, my copy of Russell's big History of Western Philosophy (which I bought in Paris in 1962) is located permanently on a bookshelf just alongside my bed.

Whenever I stroll through London's Trafalgar Square, I recall this photo of the 87-year-old white-maned philosopher standing among the lions at the foot of Nelson's Column at a 1959 rally of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

This evening, it was a pleasure for me to discover this interview on the Dawkins website:

Naturally, I always imagined Russell first and foremost as a philosopher and a mathematician (whom I approached initially through his work in the domain of symbolic logic), and only then as an outspoken freethinker and a nuclear-disarmament campaigner. He impressed me greatly, of course, by describing himself explicitly as an atheist... at a time when this term was hardly fashionable. I tended to interpret this, however, as Russell's way of telling us that he simply didn't have the time or the inclination to be concerned about questions of divinity. That's to say, I imagined him rather as an agnostic, since I never really felt that Russell had provided us with convincing proofs that God did not exist... if indeed such proofs were thinkable.

Today, looking back upon my admiration of Russell, I see him retrospectively as a precursor of Richard Dawkins. Or, rather, I imagine Dawkins as an intellectual descendant of Russell. There is something similar in their elegant style, their power of inquiry and expression, and their profound humanism.

Monday, December 28, 2009

In God we don't trust

Theoretically, in the USA, the national legislative body has no power to deal with religion. That's to say, church and state are separated, as stipulated in a clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." Nevertheless, the nation's official motto is "In God we trust".

Since 1978, an association of freethinkers named the Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Wisconsin, has been striving to erode the grip of God's trustees. Among other things, they've got around to designing what look like stained-glass windows of a new kind. Here's their Dawkins model:

[Click the banner to display a humongous version]

The word "trust", with financial connotations, can be found in French dictionaries. The presence of this verb on US banknotes lends weight to the view that the power of the dollar is, in some mysterious way, divine. This money is backed by God, as it were. I used to feel the same way about the basic monetary unit of modern Israel, the shekel.

Here in Europe, we've got a lot of work to do before the euro shines divinely like a piece of silver warmed by the hand of God. The underlying problem, of course, is that the mythological pagan creature Europa was not exactly the kind of female who would be welcomed into the home of a normal God-fearing family. As for the idea of "In Zeus we trust", this just wouldn't sound convincing to a serious banker.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Atheism in my modern world

Fortunately, most of us are intellectually capable of changing our opinions over time... except, maybe, for politicians who look upon changed opinions as a sign of weakness. The other day, I laughed when I observed Christine's marvelous dog Gamone waiting until our dirty plates were stacked nicely in the dishwasher before she moved in to lick them... much like polite humans wait until everybody is seated and served before tackling their food. Christine pointed out that she was horrified the first time she saw me inviting my dog Sophia to lick clean our plates, as if the dog's saliva were poisonous, infectious. I used to think in that silly way, but nowadays I know that the only way of being infected is to get bitten by an animal with rabies. As for the rest, the dog's saliva contains no harmful bacteria that won't disappear in the dishwasher. Inversely, I'm constantly afraid that my dog might bite into a rodent that has just eaten poison. That's why I prefer to catch mice alive, in the following excellent trap, which I've been using for years:

Whenever I find a mouse snared in the wire-netting cage, I accord him a fighting chance of survival—in a kind of Dalai Lama spirit—by taking the trap and its contents down the road and opening the cage in the presence of Sophia. I look upon what ensues as a kind of physical-alertness exercise for my dog, a little like those books of elementary problems, based upon letters and numbers, that are a popular pastime for elderly folk who prefer this mental stimulus rather than, say, writing blogs. Sophia seems to use her olfactive capacities, rather than her eyesight, to locate the fleeing rodent in the grass. And she soon pounces upon the mouse, generally crushing it beneath her heavy paws... whereupon I take the dead mouse by the tail and hoist it to eternity in the creek bed.

Now what does this have to do with atheism in the modern world? Well, in the same way that Christine has ceased to be disgusted by canine saliva, I've ceased to be anguished by atheism. With the wisdom of my many years spent in France, including in particular the time I've been living alone here at Gamone as a kind of areligious hermit, I've become totally enthralled by atheism... or, rather, by its positive dimension: my profound love of life and scientific knowledge, culminating in a total fascination for all living entities such as dogs, roses and even bacteria (although I haven't got around to domesticating any of the latter, and keeping them as pets). Admittedly, observers might claim that I don't seem to have got up to an acceptable cruising speed as far as admiring and loving my fellow human beings is concerned. But give me time. For the moment, there are attenuating circumstances: I've been watching too many films about the world wars, Hitler, Stalin and company. One day, if I continue my Dalai Lama-like ascension, I'm sure I'll end up accepting humans to the same extent as all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small... such as mice, weeds and viruses. [Don't take me too seriously. Towards the end of that last sentence, I was just joking. But I must be careful. How shall I ever find myself a wife if I start to fall into the trap of using misanthropic language? OK, I heard somebody say that it's already too late. Be that as it may, I should nevertheless take care of my language.]

The truth of the matter is that I had the privilege of growing up in a unique cultural environment—that of Grafton, New South Wales, Australia—which was an excellent breeding ground for future atheists. You see, the municipality was composed, about fifty-fifty, of Catholics and Protestants. Better still, my mother was Catholic whereas my father was Anglican. So, you might say that I had it in my genes to cease believing in God. [No, that last sentence is not really sound genetic talk.] In any case, I was strongly inclined to believe, from an early age, that it was absurd to imagine the peaceful coexistence of a Catholic god and a Protestant god, and this surely meant that both parties were misguided.

As a kid, I must have ridden my bike past this impressive edifice many hundreds of times. It was Saint Patrick's in South Grafton, the official church of my own mother, Kathleen Walker. But neither she nor any other member of my maternal family ever invited me to set foot in that newly-constructed building. I grew up looking upon that church as forbidden territory. As the nun's told my aunt Nancy, my mother was a mortal sinner, since she had married a Protestant. So, I was the offspring of a woman who had sinned, and her iniquity had no doubt rubbed off onto me from the earliest instants of my procreation.

Insofar as I was comfortably accepted into the refined gentlemanly circles of the Anglicans in Grafton, my personal experiences were insipid compared with the delightful tales told by the Irish comedian Dave Allen:

Today, there's a splendid website that deals with both the wonders of atheistic evolution and the stupidity of conventional religions.

Since the publication of The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins has become an anti-religious militant. I have the impression that his stance was motivated, less by the traditional conflicts in the British Isles between Catholicism and Protestantism, than by the upsurge of ultra-conservative Judaism and radical Islam. Then, the shock of 9/11 was another terrible indictment of fanatic religion culminating in hatred and horror. The following video is quite long, and some of the images are hard to watch. But they are a striking demonstration of the consequences of madness caused by the God delusion.