Showing posts with label religion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label religion. Show all posts

Friday, February 10, 2017

Certains idiots croient au Suaire de Turin

Dans un monde où la science aborde des challenges inimaginables (génétique et physique surtout), de nombreux idiots persistent à imaginer que le Suaire de Turin aurait été enroulé autour du corps d’un homme magique, Jésus. Ces gens gagneraint la loterie, ils croiraient que c’est grâce à leurs prières à Marie.

L’homme moderne peut être parfois incroyablement archaïque, comme si le Bon Dieu est tombé un beau jour dans la pluie. ll n’y a rien à faire. L’étoffe en question a été manipulée beaucoup, mais elle est tellement protégée par l’Eglise qu’une analyse scientifique en profondeur est impensable. On reste donc, et l’on restera sûrement longtemps, dans le royaume de la bêtise humaine, de l’incrédulité… où les aveugles mènent les aveugles, les fous expliquent la raison aux fous. La force de la connerie est de faire garder le sanctuaire par une armée de cons. Plus il y a de cons, et plus leurs systèmes de protection exploitent la force de la connerie humaine, plus ils résistent effectivement à l’intelligence, la raison, la science, la vérité. Quand un con ne souhaite rien entendre, il parvient aisément à bloquer ses oreilles. Il ne veut pas discuter avec des athées ; il remplit sa gorge d’eau bénite. Il ne veut rien voir ; il entoure son crâne du Suaire. Il ne veut même pas réfléchir ; il prie plutôt que de penser. Ces idiots-là ont eu des siècles pour tester leurs conneries. Et ça marche ! On les trouve d’ailleurs sur l’Internet, ICI.

Quand le cerveau d’Homo sapiens s’est créé, le vieux singe n’avait pas encore les moyens de s’approcher de la réalité. Son organe cérébral allait faire pourtant des merveilles sur le plan intellectuel. Conçu d'abord pour se reproduire, il a fini par parler, aimer et finalement penser. Mais ce pauvre petit cerveau avait du mal à se libérer de toutes les opérations primitives associées à son ère initiale, quand il est apparu parmi ce que Vonnegut appelait “the as-yet-unborn […] innocent wisps of un-differentiated nothingness”. Certains bébés naissent, vivent et meurent sans jamais ouvrir leurs yeux.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Jesus update

Throughout my life, attitudes towards the Jesus phenomenon have been evolving constantly.

As a child, I was led to believe that Jesus was an utterly magical guy in the sky who could perform miracles, answer our prayers, and channel us off (later on, after our death) to Heaven or Hell. As a normally-indoctrinated child, I absorbed all that shit and believed it (more or less). You don’t fuck around with such a powerful personage. Today, retrospectively, I would be inclined to say that I probably never really believed an iota of all this nonsense… but I was neither smart nor courageous enough to admit so, at the time. So, like everybody else in town, I carried on playing stupidly and superficially the Jesus game.

My first shock, at the age of 15, was an English translation of a book by the Breton author Ernest Renan [1823-1892], Life of Jesus, first published in French in 1863. Renan dared to consider Jesus as a human male, albeit an extraordinary personage, and his book was immensely popular throughout the western world.

I remember being greatly impressed by the revelations and tone of the Renan book. The English translation of 1897 by William Hutchison can be downloaded freely from the web. I decided to reread it, for the first time in well over half a century, to find out to what extent the document might still interest and impress me today. Alas, as often happens in such situations, the respective ways of Renan and me have parted to such an extent that I found the book boring and irritating, particularly when the author was trying to convince his readers that Christianity was a fresh and pleasant alternative to Judaism, “which first affirmed the theory of absolutism in religion, and laid down the principle that every reformer turning men away from the true faith, even if he bring miracles to support his doctrine, must be stoned without trial”. Not surprisingly, at the other end of the monotheistic spectrum, Renan detested “the evil spirit of Islamism”, and evoked “something sordid and repulsive which Islamism bears everywhere with it”.

                                                                         — cartoon by Leunig

Many pious Christians were shocked by Renan’s cavalier attitude towards the cherished phenomena of supernatural healing operations and miracles of all kinds. I was amused by Renan’s allusion to the pharmaceutical power of a “gentle and beautiful woman”.

Many years ago, I recall vividly that I was cured miraculously of a painful infection of the ear by the unexpected visit of one of my wife’s girlfriends. On the subject of Christian miracles, I like to think that Ernest Renan would have appreciated this sermon by the Reverend Rowan Atkinson.

More seriously, in the late 1990s, my attitude towards the Jesus phenomenon was determined largely by my contacts with Israel, Jewish history and the Hebrew language. My novel All the Earth is Mine remains a personal memento of those brief but fascinating encounters.

More recently, I was intrigued by findings associated with the Talpiot tomb on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and the convictions of the Canadian film-maker Simcha Jacobovici, seen here alongside the tombstone of the Roman soldier Pantera, alleged to be the biological father of Jesus.

Then, in 2012, there was the fascinating affair of a papyrus fragment that seems to refer to the alleged wife of Jesus.

All in all, I had ended up believing that an incredible fellow named Jesus had indeed made a name for himself, even though we know next to nothing about his authentic achievements. He may indeed have been crucified in Jerusalem, and the disappearance of his corpse would have been a major factor in his posthumous rise to religious stardom.

Recently, my attitude towards the Jesus phenomenon has made another giant leap forward. In a nutshell, I’m starting to wonder whether this celebrated personage ever existed at all. In other words, he may well have been a character of fiction, composed over a long period of time by a vast but vague community of tale-tellers, authors and editors. Without going into details, I might say that I’ve been greatly impressed by explanations provided by a young US scholar named Richard Carrier, who is a leading proponent of the Christ myth theory.

When all is said and done, there is no great difference, in fact, between the case of a real historical individual named Jesus about whom we know almost nothing, and an equivalent personage of a totally fictional nature. In both cases, it is quite ridiculous to imagine the individual in question as having supernatural powers enabling him to be thought of as the son of a mysterious god.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

God's green bubble gum

This fascinating photo shows a throng of pious women (?) in God-only-knows what land.

The rounded forms and pleasantly harmonious hues of this image reminded me immediately of delightful scenes from a famous French religious movie: The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob.

I Photoshopped those images a little, to give them a more spiritual shade of green. In the movie, the faces were veiled by fluorescent green bubble gum. Miraculously, Rabbi Jacob (played by the great Louis de Funès) managed to get his face cleaned up before being called upon to execute his celebrated dance in the Rue des Rosiers (where I used to err regularly during my many years in the Marais quarter of Paris).

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Celebrated Gerin elixir

In my blog post of 6 October 2012, entitled Pierrot wanted a wife [display], I spoke of the local Gerin family, one of whom, Hippolyte Gerin [1884-1957], was the owner of my property at Gamone during the first half of the 20th century. I never knew exactly how Hippolyte earned his living on these beautiful but harsh Alpine slopes. Amazingly, the British scientist Richard Dawkins has provided a quite plausible answer. It would appear that members of that ancient family produced a celebrated elixir: a transparent narcotic substance that became known as Gerin Oil, which was beautifully bottled and marketed under the name Geriniol.

Click here to see Dawkins’s scholarly presentation of this strange affair.

PS Readers will have understood, I hope, that the terms "Gerin Oil" and "Geriniol" are simply anagrams of the word "religion". I guess that Dawkins invented this fine irony. I should explain, for those who are interested, that my Photoshopped bottle originally held a mythical liquid known (among believers) as "holy water". On the other hand, the Gerin people here at Gamone were perfectly real.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Beware of flooding

Imagine a millionaire, with a constant urge to make more millions. At a religious level, let's suppose that our millionaire happens to be a young-Earth creationist. They're the crazy folk—like our Aussie nitwit politician Steve Fielding, evoked here—who believe that God spent a busy week making the world, before being overcome by a psychopathic desire to destroy the results of his week of toil by means of a huge flood, designed to exterminate mankind. Finally, let's suppose that our rich creationist is Dutch. That's to say, he resides in a land that could rapidly be flooded dramatically if ever sea levels were to rise as a consequence of global warming... or because of an act of God in another homicidal mood. If the fellow whom I've asked you to imagine were to actually exist today, in flesh and blood, what would he be doing? The answer is obvious. He would be building an ark.

That's exactly what Johan Huibers has been doing over the last couple of decades. Construction of the huge vessel has been completed, and it was officially launched a few days ago. And Johan is henceforth awaiting, with confidence, the Apocalypse: first, the Mayan business, then maybe, with a bit of luck, a tidal wave or two. In any case, even creationists never know the surprises that God's got up his sleeve...

The replica uses measurements obtained from the Bible, but the builder has taken the liberty of incorporating various features that God and Noah overlooked. For example, the Dutch ark can welcome up to 1500 visitors at a time, and these Biblical tourists have access to a big restaurant and a movie theater. As far as non-human animals are concerned, they're mostly sculptures.

The Gallica website recently displayed here a small series of beautiful medieval images of the Biblical ark. As soon as we analyze these images, however, it becomes clear that artists in those days (the Middle Ages) must have had a terribly fuzzy conception of reality. Consider, for example, this presentation of the construction of the vessel:

It looks as if they're putting the finishing touches to a carnival float representing a big walnut. There's no way in the world that this thing they're building might sail upon the flood waters with a gigantic cargo of specimens of all of God's creatures. But my negative remarks are unkind, and they merely reveal my lack of faith. The following image proves that Noah's adventure got off to a delightful start:

I wonder what role the lady in red will be playing during the voyage. Would this be Lady Noah? Her clothes are not quite right for work as a deckhand, feeding the animals and shoveling out their dung. The following image is meant to show us how everybody has been housed aboard the vessel:

Here's another depiction of the ship's quarters:

The respective sizes of the various creatures have been handled by the artist in a very loose fashion, as if he wasn't greatly worried about reality. I wonder if he actually noticed that his ducks were bigger than horses, or whether this trivial detail escaped his attention.

Believers (like the crazy Dutchman) would probably tell me that images such as these must be taken merely as symbols, rather than realistic diagrams. Fair enough; nobody in his right mind would ever consider this artwork as realistic. But symbols are a convenient notion for trying to hide the obvious fact: namely, that there can be no plausible reality whatsoever behind the story of Noah.

Finally, the voyage went over well. And the following image suggests that, when they were about to return to dry land, many of the supplies stored down in the lower hull hadn't even been touched.

I would imagine that it had been such a fabulous and exciting trip that none of the passengers had even thought about eating. I hope that visitors aboard the Dutch ark won't behave like that, because Johan Huibers will be needing a constant flow of hungry clients in his big restaurant. Otherwise, no white dove will descend from the heavens to tell him that there's a fortune in cash on the horizon.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


There may be readers who fail to understand how I can be irritated by the present-day practice of religion (disgusted at times, as in my previous blog post) but simultaneously fascinated by the history of religions. I ask such readers, rhetorically: To be fascinated by the burial rites for pharaohs in Ancient Egypt, is it necessary to believe in reincarnation? Does one have to worship the goddess Athena in order to appreciate Homer's Odyssey and Iliad ? Of course not. Historians remain personally detached, thankfully, from the subjects they examine, just as a brilliant actor can take on the role of a detestable individual with whom he shares nothing. I trust that I don't need to insist any further upon this question. To call a spade a spade: When I evoke Judaism (a fascinating subject), that doesn't mean that I've ever imagined for an instant the crazy idea of getting my penis butchered and embracing personally this archaic religion. Whenever I talk about Jesus, that doesn't mean that I might believe for an instant that this fellow was the son of God, that he performed miracles, and that he survived magically the horrible execution method of crucifixion.

The Gallica website, operated by the BNF library (Bibliothèque nationale de France), offers us this amusing image of the Hebrew monarch David, attired in a basic robe, wearing a crown and gaily strumming his harp.

The image comes from a 9th-century Bible that Count Vivien, abbot of the Basilica of St Martin in Tours, presented to the king Charles the Bald [823-877]... who may have acquired his nickname ironically because of his exceptional hairiness.

I have the impression that David, the killer of Goliath, is prancing along at the head of a regal Gay Pride procession. I notice that the Wikipedia article on David describes him as a "culture hero", which is a way of saying that we don't know if such an individual ever truly existed, let alone being a biological ancestor of Jesus. In Biblical history, David was a charismatic figure: a shepherd armed with a sling, a musician and poet (author of many Psalms), who went on to found the Hebrew kingdom. At the origins of that history, David was such a spectacular and essential personage that, if ever he hadn't existed, we would need to invent him. And that appears to sum up exactly what has happened.

In my article of 23 September 2010 entitled Better than the Bible [display], I drew attention to a fascinating book: David and Solomon by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman.

Recently, in my article of 9 September 2012 entitled Jesus [display], I mentioned the fine work of a present-day Biblical archaeologist and author, James Tabor, who has been in the middle of stories concerning a pair of controversial tombs located in Talpiot, a suburb of Jerusalem.

This North Carolina academic has become a familiar participant in several excellent documentaries (which I've watched on French TV) on the history of monotheism. Like the books of Finkelstein and Silberman, Tabor's The Jesus Dynasty is required reading, to my humble mind, of anyone interested in the historical Jesus.

People tend to forget that many of the initial supporters of Jesus of Nazareth saw him primarily as a pretender to the throne of David. And this claim depends of course, for its validity, upon genealogy. How could Jesus possibly be considered, as the evangelist Matthew put it, a "son of David" ? Now, if there's one thing that most New Testament readers skim through hurriedly and superficially, it's all that boring "begat" stuff about the genealogy of Jesus... and yet it's fundamental, all important, because it indicates the underlying reasons for which the fellow was finally crucified. He wasn't executed because of all his vaguely magical work as a healer, or the splendid moral assertions of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was nailed to a cross and left to die because of his seditious claim to the throne.

Evangelist Matthew (with an angel looking over his shoulder)

Matthew's genealogical approach—which occupies the opening chapter of the New Testament—starts with Abraham and moves down to David. Then the Davidic lineage moves down from Solomon to Joseph, the husband of Mary. Within this would-be paternal lineage, there are four or five cases of female links, which is quite unorthodox in the presentation of an alleged royal descent. Matthew says that Jesus "was fathered" from Mary, which clearly suggests that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. So, all in all, Matthew's genealogy is not a particularly convincing demonstration that Jesus might be the rightful heir to the throne.

Evangelist Luke (with a symbolic bull looking over his shoulder)

The evangelist Luke begins with Jesus, and presents his paternal ascent all the way back to Adam. See Luke [3:23–38]. But he starts in a fuzzy manner by describing Jesus as "the son, as people thought [my italics], of Joseph son of Heli". Apart from the fact that both evangelists consider Joseph as merely the adoptive father of Jesus, there's an obvious problem concerning the identification of the grandfather of Jesus. Matthew said that Joseph's father was named Jacob, whereas Luke now says he was named Heli. Why this discrepancy?

Parenthesis : I'm amused by the portraits that accompany my remarks. Nobody even knows whether individuals such as the New Testament authors Matthew and Luke really existed. Consequently, common sense dictates that these charming portraits are totally fake, indeed absurd. But we've grown accustomed to such monstrous absurdities in the domain of so-called spiritual art. Indeed, centuries of artistic expression have been founded upon factual falsity, but we've all learned to live with such silly stuff. It's highly probable that future creators will put an end to all this crazy religious bullshit, and affirm that art should rhyme necessarily with scientific reality.

Concerning the genealogy of Jesus, James Tabor provides a subtle explanation of what has happened. Insofar as Luke knew perfectly well that Joseph played no role in the biological heritage of Jesus, he decided to deal solely, from the outset, with the lineage through Mary, the mother of Jesus. So, he has performed a subtle substitution operation. Heli was no doubt the father, not of Joseph, but of Mary, and therefore the maternal grandfather of Jesus. Heli was short for Eliakim, and this was a variant of Joachim, which is the traditional name of Mary's father. This lineage of Jesus, through his mother, went back to David, but through David's son Nathan rather than Solomon.

So, whichever way you look at it, Jesus did indeed seem to be an heir—to a certain degree—to the kingdom of the Jews. His claims to that title were apparently sufficiently genuine, widely publicized and potentially disturbing to lead to his arrest and execution. It was the death of a royal pretender...

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Nonsense cartoon

Apparently Mitt Romney believes the kind of frightening nonsense expressed in the following cartoon:

It's scary to think that such a believer could become the US president, with control over a vast nuclear arsenal. Sure, we were more or less broken in to such a situation through George W Bush, but I'm convinced that Mitt the Nitwit would be far worse. It's really weird that the citizens of a great nation such as the USA would be prepared to call upon a Mormon moron to lead them.

Meanwhile, Richard Dawkins has just tweeted an interesting observation:
Mormonism is no nuttier than ancient religions, but they have the excuse of being ancient, not 19th-century fabrications.
I often wonder whether there's any hope for the USA. For that matter, I often wonder whether there's any hope for the so-called civilized world. I believe there is, but in a distant future. For the moment, we're moving through a dark age, which is likely to last for a long time.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Freedom to offend my neighbor's gods

Click here to access an excellent article by Sam Harris entitled On the Freedom to Offend an Imaginary God.

There's an old saying: Give him an inch and he'll take a mile. It's a warning: Never make concessions to aggressive bullies, because they'll see that as a sign of weakness, then they'll come back asking for more. This is particularly true in the case of Islamic maniacs. If we were to bow down obsequiously to their demands that we "respect" their so-called prophet, they would come back asking us to take our hats and shoes off, or kneel down, whenever his name is pronounced. And finally, they would demand that we worship him just as they do.

There's no place for the gutless. Bullying from loony Islamic fanatics must be halted totally and immediately, by all possible means.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


Having just announced the creation of a new religion—in my previous blog post [display]—I'm aware that it's somewhat risky to submit this new blog post about Jesus, who could well upstage me. What I have to say is so important, however, that I don't think I'm behaving foolishly. Indeed, if it were to come to pass that the two great religions of our Third Millennium were Christianity and Awestruckism (as I firmly believe), I'm completely fairplay. I want to give Jesus a chance.

I've just finished reading (rereading in the case of the first title) a pair of extraordinary books:

If ever there were required reading in the Vatican (and elsewhere), this is it! But the arguments of the distinguished authors—James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici—are often so complex (while remaining perfectly lucid) that I'm more and more convinced that Christianity, in spite of all its obvious merits, is likely to be soon engulfed, for the better or for the worse, by the limpidity of my Awestruckism. The change will evoke the way in which the terribly complicated "nested spheres" theories of Ptolemy were surpassed by the splendid simplicity of Kepler. For the moment, it's a little too early to say whether Awestruckism is likely to demolish Christianity (and Judaism and Islam, just to name a few old religions) in the same revolutionary style. But today, if Jesus were a corporation on the Chicago stock exchange, I wouldn't buy shares...

It's a tale of two tombs, which I shall refer to (jumping ahead, for simplicity) as the Jesus Tomb and the Arimathea Tomb. Basically, book #1 talks of the first tomb, whereas the existence of the second tomb, almost alongside the other one, is only revealed in book #2. But the themes of the two books and the two tombs are so intricately interwoven that you need to delve into both.

First, I should make it quite clear that we're not talking about the literary effusions of crackpots. I'll let you look up the credentials of the North Carolina professor James Tabor and the filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici. They're smart guys, not necessarily in the Judeo-Christian religious mainstream, but terribly convincing. Their competence extends from deciphering ancient Biblical texts down to the analysis of DNA. And they write in a beautifully convincing style, which leaves little doubt about the likely truth.

So, the great news is that we now know, most probably, where Jesus, his family and his companions were buried. It is becoming clearer that Jesus was indeed the sexual partner of Mary Magdalene.

Retrospectively, it's amazing that the bones of Jesus were probably accessible (able to be examined genetically) not so long ago, before being whisked away into eternal obscurity by the Ultra-Orthodox morons of the Holy City. The stupidity of the latter guys has given unwittingly an enormous boost to my new religion of Awestruckism...

New religion

I've been trying to define the principles of a new religion: its creed, you might say. It's not often that I do this kind of thing, so I'm a bit of a newcomer to such a challenge. But creating a new religion is a pleasant and fulfilling task. For the moment, I'm the only clearly-identified adept of this new religion, but that could change overnight once my system of beliefs becomes more widely known.

In spite of all that talk about a rose being a rose by any other name, I consider that names (and symbols, too) are quite important when you're creating a new religion. For the moment, I'm forced to admit that the name I've been using for my new religion is a little clumsy: not exactly the sort of word that rolls off your tongue, harmoniously, like most good names of religions. But it's the best thing I can find. I'm calling it Awestruckism, from the well-known adjective "awestruck". And I'm using a nice big purple-hued letter A as our symbol.

It's not a particularly complicated religion, in that it has no dogma whatsoever, no sacred rituals and—last but not least—no clergy. In fact, I don't think my new religion can even be associated with something that might be referred to as a theology. Individuals who adhere to Awestruckism won't be expected to pray, or take part in any kinds of official ceremonies. Indeed, the sole religious duty of those who decide to accept this new faith can be summed up in a single sentence:
Adepts of Awestruckism are expected to remain constantly awestruck by the nature of the Cosmos.
That's all. Being awestruck is our sole profound goal in existence. But we must understand the multiple meanings of this adjective... which have been conveniently grouped together in my online Macintosh dictionary:
awestruck: awed, filled with wonder, filled with awe, wonderstruck, amazed, filled with amazement, astonished, filled with astonishment, lost for words, open-mouthed.
The dictionary concludes with four more, of a slightly different kind:
reverential; terrified, afraid, fearful.
Without going into details, I believe (here, it's my faith that is talking) that the practice of awestruckism can be associated with any and all of the above-mentioned senses. Indeed, I consider that one of the great early intellectual pioneers in Awestruckism was the French philosopher Blaise Pascal when he said:
The eternal silence of these
infinite spaces terrifies me.

Unfortunately, he was waylaid by conventional religion and science, and never had an opportunity of developing his Awestruckist beliefs.

Within the context of the new religion that I am promoting, there will be no arbitrary rules concerning the nature of the phenomena capable of striking such-and-such a believer with awe. For example, if I were approached by a young male baptismal candidate who told me that he was utterly awestruck, first and foremost, by the insanely sexy allure of a certain young female (or male, for that matter) whom he had recently encountered, I would not hesitate in looking upon him as a potentially serious member of our congregation.

Admittedly, no self-respecting religion can survive without a certain number of forbidden themes. For example, if somebody informed me that he was totally awestruck by the recent phenomenal gains of Ajax shares, say, on the Chicago stock exchange, I would hesitate a little before looking upon him as a potentially-rich adept of our faith. Potentially rich, maybe, but not necessarily the kind of spiritual profile we're seeking.

To call a spade a spade, many (but not all) of our sources of awe are likely to come from the various domains of contemporary science: genetics, cosmology, etc. But an Awestruckist might just as surely discover his revelations of awe in art, literature or, simply, in everyday life. Our religion is largely open-ended.

Already, I can hear folk of other faiths claiming that I only chose this name because I'm "Awe-stralian". But I assure such heretics that my having been born Down Under has little, if anything, to do with my religious beliefs. Even if I had been born in France, for example, I'm sure that I might have evolved into a pious Awestruckist.

Other infidels are going to draw attention to the proximity, from a pronunciation viewpoint, of the term ostracism, designating exclusion and banishment from an established group. This criticism worries me less, because it's undeniable that Awestruckism will be tinged inevitably by a mild and inoffensive form of elitism. What I'm trying to say is that I wouldn't like to see hordes of people flocking to our new religion simply for superficial pretexts such as baptisms, marriages and burials. Besides, I've decreed (pardon my absolutism) that it's out of the question for Awestruckists—at least for the moment—to build religious edifices or organize regular ceremonies of any kind whatsoever.

Talking about religious edifices (churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, etc), I feel it's not too early—even before I get around to exploring the tenets of Awestruckism (in later posts)—to refute categorically certain suggestions of a complicated and indirect kind that are sure to arise. Let me explain. The French philosopher Auguste Comte [1798-1857] created a vaguely science-oriented belief system known as Positivism.

Friends know that I lived for many years in the Rue Rambuteau, Paris, on the outskirts of a celebrated neighborhood: the Marais. Not far from where my children went to school, there's a mysterious temple, in the Rue Payenne, inspired by the beliefs of Comte.

You can read about this place (in French) here. Surprisingly, the creation and upkeep of this so-called Temple of Humanity (which I've visited on countless occasions, simply because it's so weird) has been financed by anonymous Brazilians. And, if you're still under the silly impression that the Brazilian flag displays a soccer ball, let me show you in closeup what it says:

The national motto of Brazil—Ordem e Progresso (order and progress)—has been taken indirectly from the work of Auguste Comte. In other words, the creation of the modern nation of Brazil was in fact inspired by the Positivist faith of its founders.

Although I was once greatly intrigued by Auguste Comte, I hardly need to point out that there are no direct links between his Positivism and my Awestruckism. On the other hand, I must admit that I'm highly interested in the possibility that, somewhere on the surface of our awesome planet, an emerging nation might decide to use a quote from one of my Awestruckist texts. Let me propose immediately the following five-word motto, which would look good on a flag:
All things bright and digital.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

My favorite pages of scripture

Christine gave me this rare copy of a French-language edition, dated 1848, of the apocryphal scriptures.

It includes, above all, the marvelous Infancy Gospel of Thomas, whose naive simplicity stunned and amused me as soon as I read it.

This amazing document is now available on the web in French and in English. The background of these fabulous pages of Christian scripture is outlined here.

The story I like most presents the child Jesus as a sculptor of miraculous sparrows:
When the boy Jesus was five years old, he was playing at the ford of a rushing stream. And he gathered the disturbed water into pools and made them pure and excellent, commanding them by the character of his word alone and not by means of a deed.

Then, taking soft clay from the mud, he formed twelve sparrows. It was the Sabbath when he did these things, and many children were with him.

And a certain Jew, seeing the boy Jesus with the other children doing these things, went to his father Joseph and falsely accused the boy Jesus, saying that, on the Sabbath he made clay, which is not lawful, and fashioned twelve sparrows.

And Joseph came and rebuked him, saying, “Why are you doing these things on the Sabbath?” But Jesus, clapping his hands, commanded the birds with a shout in front of everyone and said, “Go, take flight, and remember me, living ones.” And the sparrows, taking flight, went away squawking.

More recently, Christianity got back in intimate contact with birds through Saint Francis of Assisi, who was said to have preached regularly to congregations of winged creatures.

Getting back to the Infancy Gospel, I suppose that most people would agree with me that the sparrows affair in the childhood of Jesus was frankly miraculous, and must therefore be judged according to the famous criterion of David Hume that I presented in my article of 20 August 2012 entitled A little knowledge [display]. We have to decide which was the more likely happening:

— Possibility #1: The lovely child Jesus made sparrows out of clay and then transformed them into living creatures that flew off into the heavens.

— Possibility #2: The fellow who penned the delightful Infancy Gospel of Thomas was an inveterate fabulator, liar, etc.

All this wouldn't be so bad if sophisticated Christians, today, had simply written off the affair of young Jesus and the sparrows as an antiquated non-event, due to the zeal of an anonymous latter-day evangelist who had gone out of his way to make things look really stupendous for Jesus. Unfortunately, there's an Islamic fly in the ointment. In a nutshell, these folk are stuck with their Koran. In this first extract, Jesus is talking:
I have come to you, with a sign from your Lord, in that I make for you of clay the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by God's permission. And I heal the blind, and the lepers, and I bring the dead to life by God's permission. [Koran 3:49]
A second extract presents the words of God, addressed to Jesus on the Day of Judgment:
You make out of the clay the figure of a bird, by my permission. And you breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by my permission. [Koran 5:110]
The bottom line in the Koran occurs a little later:
I restrained the children of Israel from violence to you, when you showed them the clear signs. And the unbelievers among them said: "This is nothing but evident magic."
Concerning Jesus and his sparrows, and all the delightfully silly rest of the Infancy Gospel, that Koranic statement about unbelievers suits me fine: This is nothing but evident magic.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Inventing a blasphemer

Over a fortnight ago, a 14-year-old mentally-deficient girl named Rimsha (probably suffering from Down syndrome), said to be a Christian, was arrested and thrown into prison near Islamabad on blasphemy charges because it was claimed that she had set fire to papers that included pages from the Noorani Qaida, a religious book used to teach the Koran to children. In Pakistan, a crime such as that could lead to life imprisonment.

Richard Dawkins tweeted his indignation:

Meanwhile, nearly a million Internet users (including myself) have signed a petition on this case.

The girl's most outspoken accuser was an imam named Khalid Chishti.

I know it's not nice to judge people by their external appearance, but those eyes and that vague smile destabilize me somewhat. Frankly, if I happened to be thinking about purchasing a used rickshaw, for example, I wouldn't feel confident about accepting a vehicle proposed by Khalid Chishti.

I would be afraid that the vehicle might break down mysteriously in the middle of a neighborhood where they like to throw stones at people who look like white Christians.

Well, the latest news is that the imam Khalid Chishti has just been arrested because it is claimed that he set up this whole affair by inserting pages of the Koran in among the trivial papers that the girl was said to be burning. If the imam were truly guilty of doing this, that would make me a pretty shrewd used-rickshaw buyer. And it would make the imam a disgusting bastard. For the moment, however, since the case against the imam has not yet been judged, we should respect the principle of the presumption of his innocence... even though he and his supporters would have probably not argued that way concerning the accused child.

POST SCRIPTUM: I've deleted a comment that insulted the nation of Pakistan as a whole while advocating barbaric punishment for individuals who perpetrate evil deeds such as that for which the imam is accused. The imam's name is apparently spelled as Chishti rather than my initial spelling (Chisti). This morning (Monday, 3 September), Rimsha was still in prison, and will probably remain there until Friday, at the earliest. Shameful!

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.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Ghosts again

This distinguished Italian priest is named Gabriele Amorth, and for many years, he was the Vatican's chief exorcist.

He has become notorious for declaring that the Harry Potter books, in encouraging children to believe in black magic and wizardy, can lead to evil. He has also stated that yoga is a Satanic activity. Apparently it has never occurred to this silly old bugger that he too might be a practicioner of black magic and wizardy. He probably thinks of his exorcist activities as a branch of modern science.

The website of Richard Dawkins proposes a BBC documentary on paranormal phenomena (ghosts, telepathy, clairvoyance and apparitions). It's quite an old show, since it was aired for the first time on British TV in 1987. But ghosts don't age, and the Virgin Mary remains just as strikingly beautiful today, in her frequent apparitions, as when she first appeared on the world scene two millennia ago.

The academic psychologist Nicholas Humphrey deals with four major happenings of a paranormal nature:

— On a wet Thursday evening, on 21 August 1879, a dozen or so lucky parishioners in the Irish village of Knock were amazed to receive the unexpected visit of a distinguished delegation of heavenly creatures: the Holy Mother of Christ (arrayed in white robes, like any self-respecting virgin, with a golden crown on her pretty head), Joseph (the carpenter father of Jesus) and John (the scruffy hermit who survived in the wilderness on a diet of locusts and honey, while baptizing visitors at an industrial cadence). In fact, for this exceptional visit to an Irish village, John the Baptist had tidied himself up, and attired himself in the white robes of a bishop. To honor their guests, the parishioners stood in the pouring rain for two hours, and got thoroughly soaked. As for the heavenly visitors, who had neither raincoats nor umbrellas, they didn't get wet at all.

— In 1977 and 1978, in a council house in the dull northern London suburb of Enfield, a single mother and her four children experienced terrifying poltergeist activity. Furniture moved spontaneously, and a girl levitated above her bed.

— In 1980, Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk was the scene of sightings of unexplained lights and the alleged landing of a craft or multiple craft of unknown origin. It was no doubt the most spectacular and celebrated UFO event in Britain.

— Finally, in 1985, the moving statue of the Virgin Mary at Ballinspittle in Co Cork (Ireland) drew throngs of pilgrims.

You'll need an hour and nineteen minutes to watch this video [access], which is quite amusing and instructive at times.

POST SCRIPTUM: And what do young people think about the declarations of the mad exorcist in Rome? Here's Harry himself on religion:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Eye of God

If God were a cyclopean creature, then his huge eye might look like this:

This artificially-colored NASA image of the Helix nebula combines photos taken from both the Hubble telescope and an observatory in Arizona. No sooner was it published by the NASA in 2003 than imaginative viewers labeled it the "Eye of God". What's more, certain believers claimed that the intense contemplation of this image could indeed give rise to miracles. So, with a bit of chance, the present blog post might cause the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk and—who knows?—the dead to rise! [Please send me feedback.]

Andy Thomson is a practicing psychiatrist in Virginia. With the help of a medical writer, Clare Aukofer, he has just brought out a "concise guide to the science of faith" entitled Why We Believe in God(s), which is less than a centimeter thick (144 pages, readable in an hour). And they've put a copy of the "Eye of God" on the cover. Besides, there's an enthusiastic foreward by an Englishman named Richard Dawkins. Clearly, these two fellows are on the same wavelength. Furthermore, they both write brilliantly.

It's amazing that so many novel ideas can be packed into such a small book, and expressed so convincingly. Thomson's basic thesis is that, since the dawn of humanity, gods have been made-made entities. Like music and, more recently, fast food. And it's often far from easy for ordinary humans to turn their back on their gods… just as it's hard, for many individuals, to resist the temptation of gorging oneself on hamburgers and sweets.

In this delightful little book, I was happy to discover Andy Thomson's constant evocations of the great Charles Darwin. Towards the end of his book, Thomson introduces the fascinating subject of mirror neurons, which have become a preoccupation of my old Australian friend Michael Arbib, a distinguished professor at the University of Southern California. I was most interested in Thomson's descriptions of fabulous neurochemical products—serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline, noradrenaline, oxytocin and the endorphins—which seem to play a far more significant role in religious experiences than any of the alleged holy texts. Indeed, one has the impression that, accompanied by the appropriate neurochemical cocktail, even a phone directory could appear to be a sacred text of profound spirituality.

Let's suppose that you're the sort of run-of-the-mill believer who has grown up considering that God created the Cosmos and Mankind. And all you need to know now is: Who created God? If you happen to be in that kind of situation, then this is the book you need!

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

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Religious breakthrough in Austria

Here's a photo of what appears to be an ordinary Austrian driver's license, issued to a young guy named Niko Alm:

When inspected closely, Niko's identity photo reveals a puzzling detail. On his head, he seems to be wearing some kind of curious helmet. In fact, it's a round-bottomed metal strainer of the kind used to extract spaghetti from the water in which it was cooked.

At this stage, you might be asking (I hope): How come that Austrian guy named Niko Alm has decided to give the authorities, for his driver's license, an identity portrait in which he's wearing an upside-down pasta strainer as if it were a hat? Now, that's an excellent question, and I'm glad you asked it. So, let me answer it.

Anybody who's ever tried to get a driver's license in Austria knows that the authorities are generally furious whenever they receive an identity photo in which the candidate is wearing any kind of hat. For example, if Princess Beatrice were to imagine that she could use this lovely portrait for her Austrian driver's license, then she would be in for a nasty surprise.

In Austrian law, there's only one possible loophole that allows you to use a photo in which you're wearing a hat. You have to make it clear that the thing you're wearing on your head is a religious headdress… like a Jewish hat, say, or a Sikh turban. And that is the ingenious method that enabled Niko Alm to use a portrait in which his head is adorned by a pasta strainer.

You might recall that, in a recent blog post, I evoked the existence of a spiritual entity known as the Flying Spaghetti Monster [display], who was responsible for the creation of the Cosmos and all the creatures in it, such as you and me.

The vast congregation of decent God-fearing folk who believe in this explanation of Creation are known as Pastafarians… and you can use Google to find out all about their fascinating theology, dogma, etc. Well, the Austrian driver Niko Alm wrote a letter to the authorities stating that his adherence to the Pastafarian religion made it obligatory for him to wear a pasta strainer on his head at all times. The authorities promptly got him examined by psychiatrists, to see if he was totally crazy. This was not the case. So, the authorities had no other choice but to allow Niko to be photographed while wearing his Pastafarian religious headdress.