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

Friday, May 13, 2011

Hindu goddess between the buttocks

We all worship Lakshmi, because (as Wikipedia tells us) she's "the Hindu goddess of wealth, prosperity (both material and spiritual), light, wisdom, fortune, fertility, generosity and courage; and the embodiment of beauty, grace and charm". She's linked to so many nice things that I reckon you'd have to be crazy not to worship her.

In any case, even if you're an ungodly heathen who doesn't happen to be a devout worshiper of Lakshmi, that's not necessarily a sufficient reason for walking around on the beach with a picture of the goddess on your brown bum, in the blasphemous style of this Aussie female:

Consequently, in a world where fundamentalist fuckwits have got around to burning anything and everything—the Koran, the Bible, the Stars and Stripes, the Twin Towers, etc—we Australians will just have to accept the idea of seeing our cherished old flag going up in flames from time to time.

Personally, I quite like the idea of a colorful image of the Hindu goddess of light twitching around in the vicinity of the wearer's arse. It symbolizes the theological concept of solar radiation passing through the anal orifice and illuminating the world. What more could you ask for? Well, I can imagine much more: an entire swimsuit collection, for males as well as females, based upon religious icons and themes. For a Christian lady, the frontal areas of a swimsuit offer ideal image space for the Holy Trinity: white-bearded God on the left tit, Jesus and his crown of thorns on the right one, and a pictorial representation of the Holy Ghost (requires a bit of artistic imagination) in the pubic region. Judaism would be relatively easy to handle in swimwear, as long as you only referred to the Creator using the four-letter Tetragrammaton, without ever daring to pronounce his name. (Swimsuits generally don't attempt to pronounce anything at all.) In the Torah, there's a hell of a lot of good visual stuff that could be exhibited on biblical swimwear. For the moment, I'm stumped when it comes to Islamic swimwear themes, for there's little of an attractive iconic nature in their religious culture. When I try to imagine something of a visual nature, the only marine image that springs into my mind is that of Osama bin Laden taking a dive into the ocean... from the deck of a US warship. But, even if we were to be shown his bathing attire, I'm not sure that anybody would want to wear similar gear.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Positive thinking

Whenever I think back to the pompous emptiness of the Anglican church environment in my native town of Grafton, a sad anecdote jumps into my mind. I've already alluded in this blog to a ridiculous book I was offered when I was about 13 years old: The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale.

The man who gave me this book was a prominent Anglican clergyman, the Reverend Arthur Edward Warr, dean of the Anglican cathedral of Christ Church.

I can hear parishioners saying: "Well, that was nice of him, wasn't it!" My contention, retrospectively, is that it wasn't nice of him at all. In suggesting that I should read a best seller penned by an American snake-oil evangelist, published in 1952, Dean Warr (who knew me well, since I was a server in his church) was deliberately shirking his spiritual responsibilities as our pastor. He was acting lazily, saying to me (as it were): "I don't know what to say about Christianity to a local boy who appears to be more interested in science than in other pursuits. So, why don't you take a look at this."

The gist of the Peale book might be summed up tersely as follows: Ideally, Christian believers should be happy individuals, with an optimistic outlook on their personal existence. [Recall that, timewise, we were just a decade after Auschwitz and Hiroshima.] Now, the best way to become a contented and optimistic individual is to force yourself, through personal discipline, into "thinking positively" about every aspect of your life and your expectations. To put it bluntly, you should delude yourself by deliberately avoiding to recollect or cogitate upon anything of a harsh (negative) nature.

You don't have to be a profound thinker to realize that advice of that kind does not really belong to the traditional domains of science, philosophy or religion. It's what you might categorize as popular psychology, on a par with self-hypnosis. These days, many young people might even interpret this advice as a justification for the consumption of various kinds of "instant happiness drugs", from music, alcohol and hedonistic sex through to hard chemicals. Others, of a more introspective nature, might see it as an incitation to adopt Buddhism. Peale himself probably intended his "theology" as a good reason for dropping in on, and maybe donating cash to, the Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan.

Since settling down in France, I'm annoyed most of all about this Yankee preacher and pop psychologist named Peale [May his soul rest in peace!] because I now know that he stole all his clunky theories from a notorious Frenchman: the pharmacist and quack therapist Émile Coué, generally considered today as the founder of a school of so-called autosuggestion. Everybody in France is accustomed to hearing of the celebrated "Coué method" of solving problems: Abracadabra! Simply force yourself to imagine that the problem no longer exists!

Must we therefore imagine that a worldly and cultivated American named Norman Vincent Peale, in the course of his peregrinations in the Old World, would have met up with the ideas of Coué, in French, and set about translating and expounding them into English? Don't be silly. A Yankee bumpkin like Peale wouldn't have known enough about Europe to protect his ass. It was Coué who got invited to the USA, where he was received personally by the president Calvin Coolidge. He presented his theories to enthusiastic crowds in New York and elsewhere… and it's quite possible that Peale heard summarily about his future spiritual guide, not in a lecture theater, but on radio or through newspaper cuttings.

In any case, today, I've lost interest (if ever I had any) in mesmerizing myself into believing in the remedies of the original inventor Coué, and certainly not in the Christian snake-oil variations of his Yankee imitator Peale. As for the clergyman Warr of my youth: Dear Dean, you might have been a little bit more inspired, as a spiritual mentor, back in Grafton in the '50s.

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.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Hail Mary, full of grave accusations

Now that all the saintly celebrations have ended, and the papal partying has subsided in Sydney and the suburbs, I think it's time to draw attention to an amazing aspect of the case of our sunburnt made-in-Down-Under Southern Cross saint Mary MacKillop [1842-1909].

I don't know whether or not Benedict XVI did this intentionally, but our illustrious Aussie Saint Mary might be thought of as the patron saint of Catholic sex-crime victims. To obtain the details of her celebrated actions in this domain, click the above image.

Once you're in contact with the highly-documented but low-profile website named Broken Rites Australia, search around for the story, say, of a nice Aussie priest named Rex Brown. In fact, Father Rex is one of many, far too many. Click around in the What's new domain of Broken Rites. It's enlightening but frightening…

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.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Head needs to be screwed on

My native land, Australia, wasn't settled by European colonists before the end of the 18th century. So, Down Under, you won't find any ancient Gothic cathedrals, or stuff like that. But we've got a lot of Big Things.

[Click the big fish to see a Wikipedia article on Australia's Big Things.]

One of my favorites was the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, which existed already when I was a youth in nearby Grafton.

There's no doubt some kind of deep psychological reason why Aussies have thought it worthwhile, if not necessary, to create this set of ugly objects. Maybe, one day, somebody will produce a doctoral thesis in this domain. Meanwhile, it's amazing—a minor Aussie miracle—that no enterprising outback township has got around to making a name for itself by erecting the Big Prick. Talking of miracles, I trust that devout Catholics are already working on a project for a Big Mary. [If one or other of the above-mentioned projects were to become a reality, I would surely deserve some kind of royalties.]

In the small Polish town of Świebodzin, the citizens have donated a lot of cash to build the Big Jesus. They've done this for two main reasons. On the one hand, they love Jesus. On the other hand, they reckon that this 35-meter high monstrosity—the Biggest Jesus in the World—could create touristic revenues for the township. When I observe this marvelous photo of the Lord's head being lifted into position, ready to be screwed on, I'm ashamed of myself for having sinful thoughts. I can't help imagining a nightmare scenario in which opponents of the giant statue (if indeed such insensitive individuals did in fact exist) would use their imagination to organize an apocalyptic explosion to remove this eyesore from the rural landscape. Naturally, I can't really imagine why terrorists of any faith (or, worse still, atheists) would go to the trouble of attacking this splendid work of art and civil engineering. But one never knows. Sadly, the world is full of crazy individuals…

Talking of crazy individuals who need to get their head screwed on right, here's a fabulous case study from the inspired world of US politics. I'll let you find out for yourselves who he is, where he comes from, what he does for a living, and what he's on about.

This guy impresses and inspires me. I know it's irrational, but I imagine him taking advantage of his political connections and his spiritual convictions to set up a vast US-based multinational named BTC: the Big Things Corporation. It would offer a broad range of expert construction projects ranging from giant statues of saints and gurus through to fake Gothic cathedrals for banana republics, without forgetting mammoth objects of all kinds for the prosperous Australian market. I'm assuming that, if only it were screwed on right, this fellow would have a head for Big Business.

POST-SCRIPTUM: This is a good context in which to include this charming image of a Big Bum: a statue in the nearby city of Romans.

A friend explained to me recently that this personage is called Fanny, and she belongs to the traditions of the French game of bowls in this region. If I understand correctly (which I probably don't), the captain of the winning team has to go forward ceremoniously and kiss tenderly this inviting arse.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Fantasies and nightmares

Back in 1994, sixteen years ago, I settled down in Choranche. Mystified by the spiritual prospects and potential of my future hermitic life, I had nevertheless imagined, in the back of mind, that I might be terrified by the idea of living all alone, particularly in the dark and ominous silence of the middle of the Alpine nights. As things turned out, happily, that was not at all the way the Chinese cookie crumbled (to borrow a silly metaphor used by the radio Goon Show of the '50s). On the contrary, I came to acquire, rapidly, such a psychological domination of my territory at Gamone that I soon realized that it would be a relatively easy task to resist the onslaught of real invaders such as mercantile Gypsies and Jehovah's Witnesses… not to mention brain-damaged individuals such as Stéphane (the most pernicious specimen ever, for my ex-neighbor Bob more than for me), who once suggested that it would be good if an old-timer such as me were to give him freely my fields at Gamone, so that he could raise hogs or God-knows-what.

These days, I take pleasure in wading through the swamps of both my fuzzy dream-time fantasies and my murky nightmares. The liquid realities of the former hover constantly over the image of Alison, in blue ribbons and white lace, in the precincts of the cathedral in Grafton, where our humble adolescent bodies might have come into magical fusion in a celebration of the Almighty. I say "might have" because I never in fact (for the records) got around to screwing my first great school friend… even though I certainly imagined hazily this kind of relationship. I can even recall, most clearly, an evening when I dared to allow my eager hands to stray upon her adolescent breasts. Alison promptly put them back in place (my hands, not her breasts), and celebrated this moment of interrupted ecstasy by telling me the most amazing trivial "joke" that my naive ears could have ever heard, let alone imagined. A guy happened to get into bed with his wife in an upside-down position, and he said to her: "Darling, you must shave your mustache." Today, half-a-century after having heard this joke, I would be a liar if I were not to admit that I didn't know what the hell was funny in Alison's joke, which I didn't understand at all at that time. In other words, at that stage, I hadn't yet discovered (unlike Alison, apparently) that humans grew hairs around their penises and vaginas. On the other hand, I'm still amazed retrospectively that Alison, at that early age, might have already gained "carnal knowledge" (what a delightful expression) of the famous 69 position in the Kama Sutra.

In the domain of nightmares, I had imagined that I would be beleaguered at Gamone by terrifying visions of cliffs. After all, I'm surrounded by such entities, and they continue to impress me immensely by their constant presence, twenty-four hours a day. There again, I'm surprised. My nightmares at Gamone are rarely associated with the local topography. On the contrary, I dream horrifically about the silly phenomenon of corporate computing activities, maybe in places such as Paris or Grenoble. Those are my regular nightmares… rather than the nice idea of being pushed off a Choranche cliff.

Conclusion. This situation suits me fine. I shall continue to think of corporate life as Hell, and of Gamone as Heaven. Meanwhile, Alison will remain forever as my Vestal Virgin. And Mary MacKillop is being beatified. What more could Saint William ever hope for?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Oral's spout

Oral Roberts [1918-2009] was a US TV-evangelist, and this is a recent cover of a magazine on miracles published by his followers.

Jeez, Oral's spout might indeed be miraculous, and some folk might find it fun to get underneath for a taste of glory, but they sure have a weird way of healing in Oklahoma!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hard to watch

See how long you can watch the following holy shit (made, of course, in the USA) before being overcome by nausea:

I got as far as the first shots of real-life kids, then I had to give up…

Friday, May 21, 2010

Miracle of Cana

Rowan Atkinson is good in the role of an Anglican parson.

This sketch is quite brilliant in that it highlights the role of Jesus (if indeed he existed) as a showman performing demonstrations of magic.

BREAKING NEWS: An article in today's The Australian, entitled Catholics reach back to church tradition, indicates that a new English-language version of the Roman Missal corrects the revolutionary colloquial style introduced after Vatican II. The article contains a delightful misprint: "… the new translation was in accord with the Church's 1963 text Constitution on the Scared Liturgy." I imagine liturgy that's frightened to hell because it's so audacious. Seriously, this is yet another case of Ratzinger's desire to move backwards. In any case, I prefer the liturgical style of the Reverend Rowan Atkinson.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Separation of church and state in the USA

It was the archaic evangelist Billy Graham, a sort of circus mesmerizer of crowds, who succeeded in convincing the US Congress, in 1952, to establish a National Day of Prayer. I once listened to him out in Sydney, when I was a boy, and I remember feeling embarrassed, as if I had sneaked into a throng of idiots ready to be hypnotized by a snake-oil salesman.

America's official day of prayer is clearly an unconstitutional absurdity, which should have never come into existence. It's as if there were a special day on which the common folk of the nation were expected to attempt to perform miracles upon their fellow citizens, or to chase out devils from their souls, or some other absurdity of that religious mumbo-jumbo kind.

The Secular Coalition for America, whose executive director is Sean Faircloth, represents atheists, agnostics, humanists and freethinkers in US politics.

Their advisory board includes outspoken intellectuals of international renown such as Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Steven Pinker and Salman Rushdie.

Click the photo to see their video concerning the urgent challenge of revoking the ridiculous National Day of Prayer.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Bill Maher on Islamic extremists

I've always appreciated Bill Maher, an American stand-up comedian.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

King-sized Jesus in Oklahoma

I found this funny story in the excellent Pharyngula blog by PZ Myers [access].

The history of Catholicism is filled with magic happenings. In the case of St Francis of Assisi (the fellow who preached to birds), we encounter the phenomenon of a talking cross, shown here:

In the church of San Damiano, the image of Jesus on the cross said to Francis: "Repair my church. As you see, it is falling into a state of total ruin." Francis immediately set about repairing the actual building, but he soon realized that the words of the cross of San Damiano were to be interpreted as a metaphorical order, meaning that it was rather the ecclesiastical institution and its members that were in need of repair. So Francis finally started work on that much bigger task.

Over the centuries, the San Damiano Cross has inspired countless reproductions. The latest copy, some three meters in height, has been hung above the altar of a church in Oklahoma. And the least that can be said is that it's well hung.

This copy was executed by a local artist named Janet Jaime. She has highlighted the abdominal muscles of Jesus to such an extent that a naive observer might imagine that the King of Glory is exhibiting a king-sized erection. Needless to say, this copy has given rise to controversy among Catholic parishioners in the Oklahoma town of Warr Acres, where the church is located. The artist, though, gives the impression that she doesn't understand what the fuss is all about.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the illicit sexual behavior of certain Catholic prelates and priests. The last thing the Church needed was yet another much-publicized sex-oriented incident, particularly when it takes the form of a giant phallus emerging from the crucified body of the Lord. One can't help wondering whether this Oklahoma painting is in fact yet another element of an international conspiracy, orchestrated by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, aimed at screwing Joseph Ratzinger. And, talking about screwing, that awesome Oklahoma apparatus elicits an exclamation of admiration. In a word, as Mary Magdalene might have gasped: Jesus!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April bean day

This afternoon, I was looking around on the web for a recipe for soupe au pistou, which is a typical Provençal dish made with fresh basil and white beans. In a fine website about beans of all kinds, the following variety caught my attention:

In French, they're known by several names: Holy Spirit beans, or Nun's navel beans. Although my eyes have witnessed neither the Holy Spirit nor a nun's navel, I reckon that those are good names for those dried beans. The day I finally meet up with the Holy Spirit or a nun's navel, I wouldn't be at all surprised if they did in fact look a bit like one of those beans. Incidentally, the cream-colored spot surrounded by the curious brownish markings is referred to by botanists as the bean's hilum. This term (used also in anatomy) designates a kind of scar that has formed at the spot where the bean was once attached to the pod.

The website proposes interesting theories concerning the origin of the markings. Since these explanations evoke the influence of religious phenomena, I've decided to include them in my blog for April 1 on the eve of Good Friday.

This bronze object in the form of the Sun, called a monstrance [from the Latin verb monstrare, to show], is a receptacle designed to hold and display the blessed wafers used in the mass. Pious old folk in the wooded eastern province of France known as Franche-Comté (nestled against Switzerland) tell the story of a peasant who once stole such an object from a nearby chapel. Realizing that he would be taking a risk by trying to sell the monstrance, he decided to bury it in his vegetable garden. Lo and behold, he was amazed to find that his next crop of white beans bore strange brownish markings depicting the stolen monstrance. You could think of this as old-fashioned criminal DNA, placed there by the Holy Ghost to mark the perpetration of an offense against God.

In Brittany, the origin of these beans is linked to the French Revolution. In a village near Brest, a church warden hid their sacred objects from the unholy marauders by burying them temporarily in the priest's vegetable garden and sowing beans to camouflage the site.

As everybody knows, you can't just plant beans on top of holy objects and imagine that nothing will come of it. The white beans harvested in the priest's garden bore the Holy Spirit's mark of the monstrance.

These otherwise fine tales don't explain how the meaning of the markings got twisted to the point at which people imagined them as depicting a nun's navel. Besides, were they really thinking of the navel, rather than of something a little further down? And what's so special about the navel of a nun, as opposed to that of any other female? I guess you could say it's just the good old Roman Catholic church dragging things down, once again, to the level of naked bodies and sinful sexual visions. They've always liked that kind of stuff.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Revised top ten

This is excellent Hitchens:

Monday, March 1, 2010

Great Viking god

As I've often pointed out, Y-chromosome tests have revealed that my haplogroup is R1b1b2a1b5, which means that I'm a dyed-in-the-wool European. Unless there was an adoption somewhere up the track, my Skyvington surname surely takes me back to a Norman companion of the Conqueror, whereas my grandmother's Pickering surname takes me back with a high degree of certainty to the Conqueror himself, in person. Although I've always enjoyed reading about the fabulous myths of Egypt and Greece and the profound legends of Judaism and Christianity (and still enjoy this recreation), I've never really "felt"—at a gut level, you might say—that my elders belonged to the tribes who produced such stuff. Never was this feeling stronger than when I used to visit Israel regularly, in the late '80s and early '90s. With respect to all the various peoples and cultures on the edge of the Mediterranean, there's no doubt whatsoever in my mind that I'm a total outsider. I've devoted a lot of energy to studying both Modern Greek and Hebrew, and I would love to imagine that one of my ancestors might have been a Sephardic Jew who studied algebra in the great library of Alexandria, before moving across to teach the Kabbala in Thessaloniki. But I know that such thoughts are fairy tales. Noel Coward used to sing that "mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun". Seeing the way my skin turns crimson on such occasions, it's obvious that none of my ancestors used to hang around the Mediterranean or the deserts of Arabia and Northern Africa. As people in France might say: Billy and the Bedouins are two distinct entities.

Now, I've only navigated for a year or so in a wooden sailing boat (the Zygeuner, out in Fremantle), and I've never got around to plundering villages and raping maidens. Still, I often feel as if I have a Viking soul (if ever these fellows had such things). And a corollary of this feeling is my spontaneous admiration of the exploits of a good old Norse god such as Thor.

So, you'll understand why I was so thrilled to come across an excellent article on this subject written by a bright Scottish lass named Muriel Gray [display]. Insofar as my pagan heart still stirs to the soothing roars of thunder, maybe it's a mistake for me to describe myself as an atheist. I'll have to check whether there's maybe some kind of church in America that worships these archaic gods. I'm sure there must be. On the other hand, when I was working on the typescript of a novel about Master Bruno (founder of the Carthusian monastic order), I once tried to acquire a basic understanding of the legends of the Germanic Nibelungen (in which young Bruno, in medieval Cologne, was no doubt bathed), which strike me as the most confused shit I've ever encountered. So, maybe it would be wiser if I were to remain a pious old-fashioned atheist, devoid of fancy ribbons and bows.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A thousand and one hamburgers

In France, a fast-food chain has just announced that their burgers are composed of beef slaughtered according to Muslim rites, and that the bacon has been replaced by smoked turkey.

Funnily enough, within the context of this enterprise whose name is an English word, nobody seems to have drawn attention to the fact that the first three letters in the term hamburger designate, for Semites of both creeds, a detestable foodstuff. At a time when all our attention might be directed towards steering kids away from nasty food and obesity, it's deplorable that religion has once again reared its distasteful head. Decidedly, even in France, society is having trouble emerging from the Middle Ages.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Nativity rites

Jean Sarkozy, the president's son, married his adolescent sweetheart, Jessica Sebaoun-Darty. The following photo shows the father and the son, accompanied by their respective wives.

A son, Solal, was born to Jessica and Jean on 13 January 2010. A few days ago, I saw in the press that the baby was subjected to the Jewish tradition of circumcision, which I find archaic and physically revolting. The Christian rite of baptism is less bloody, but just as stupid today, at the start of the third millennium. In both cases, an innocent child is being enthroned as a member of an elite body of religious believers, and this membership is being established solemnly at a time when the tiny creature at the heart of the ceremony is not yet capable of any degree of intellectual discernment. What utter nonsense, perpetrated by mindless adults!

In a recent article entitled Little gods [display], I mentioned my reading a book by the great atheist author Christopher Hitchens. On the question of circumcision, I was moved by the parts of that book in which Hitchens condemns "child abuse" in the form of "sexual mutilation". He even gives us the gory details of the way in which circumcision has been performed, as recently as 2005 in New York, by certain Hasidic fundamentalist foreskin-removers. Nasty stuff!

I predict a day in the not-too-distant future when a joyful nativity rite of a new non-religious kind will become, as it were, standard practice. The DNA of the newly-born individual will be examined and stored permanently (as permanently as possible) in a great database of the kind that would bring joy to the heart of a Mormon genealogist. And this rite would symbolize (literally, you might say, since the DNA sample is in fact a huge set of symbols) the baby's passage into the great planetary congregation of humanity.

For the moment, those who come closest to this nativity rite are the researchers in genealogy who get their DNA tested (like me). But it remains a relatively superficial affair, since only the Y-chromosome of males and the mitochondrial DNA of females are in fact examined. And it's a private firm that holds on to the DNA samples. So, I can't really count upon the hope—if ever that were my intention (which it isn't)—of my being cloned at some future time.

No sooner had I finished writing this article than I came upon a CNN story [click the baby photo to display it] indicating that US babies appear to have their DNA tested systematically, with medical reasons in mind... much to the distress of certain parents.

Insofar as humans seem to like ceremonies based upon rites of passage of various kinds (birth, marriage, death, etc), I can well imagine creative Americans (the sort of people who have transformed Halloween into a planetary event) who would find ways of transforming the baby's DNA test into a kind of celebration, with music, food and drinks, solemn speeches and even short readings from the books of Dawkins, performed by students of genetics. This new nativity rite could be called DNAtion (rhymes with creation, confirmation and ordination).

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Beautiful burqas

Maybe burqas might be nicer if they came in an assortment of different colors, like those delicious French cookies called macaroons, made of egg whites and ground almonds.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Religious no longer a protected class

I've just finished reading a fine book, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, written some fifteen years ago by the US philosopher Daniel Dennett. Last year, I had encountered an extract of this work in The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing, edited by Richard Dawkins.

A short article by Dennett, entitled Religious no longer a protected class, has just appeared in The Washington Post [display]. He sums up his theme as follows: "Activities that would be condemned by all if they were not cloaked in the protective mantle of religion are beginning to be subjected to proper scrutiny." Dennett points out the existence of a "double standard that exempts religious activities from almost all standards of accountability", and he insists that it be dismantled immediately. He compares the violence done in the name of religion to "crimes of avarice", and he looks forward to the day when clergy who are "telling pious lies to trusting children" and "making their living off unsupported claims of miracle cures and the efficacy of prayer" might be convicted of fraud.

Dawkins has commented: "What an utterly splendid piece by Dan."