This wee blog is not intended as a provocation.
It is intended as the partial analysis by a non-believer of what religious belief can lead to.
It isn’t a justification of Christianity, or of any other religion – I do not believe in God (though I honour the concept, and I respect those who do believe in Him, calling Him ‘God,’ and not god, using capital letters to show my respect for Him and His followers).
I was baptised in a Catholic church, raised as a Catholic child, and educated in Catholic schools until I was eighteen years old. I’ve read the Bible and the New Testament. I found them interesting and instructive, but I don’t take their teachings literally, or hold them in fanatical regard. I can think of a hundred books that I consider to be more important and more instructive, yet I know that all of these books are inspired by Christian morals and stereotypes which derive from the Bible.
In short, all the things that I hold dear are products of Christian ideas.
Through all these books I have learnt the meaning of right and wrong, love and hate, bravery and terror, honour and dishonour, vice and virtue, and so on. My personal culture is certainly distilled and defined by the Christian religion, but I do not feel bound by religion to hold anything as good or bad, honourable and dishonourable.
For me there is no Word which is absolute.
Indeed, if there is one true virtue in Christian society, it is the freedom to think and decide freely what I hold to be worthy and unworthy of myself. Anything which I consider worthy, I embrace. Whatever I find to be unwholesome, I reject. I am bound by no laws which are not both rational and humane.
“Thou shalt not kill,” says the fifth commandment in the Catholic version of the Bible.
I abhor violence, but I would not hesitate to kill an aggressor to defend myself, my wife or any other person who is unjustly threatened. I hope I am never required to make such a decision, but I am ready, culturally prepared, and I will not hesitate to act if necessary. In this respect, I think of myself as a fundamentalist, a radical. I have only one life, and I will preserve it – or destroy it – as I think fit.
So, what’s wrong with Islam?
That is, what do I not like about it:
1) it is based on a book which people cannot question.
2) that book imposes behaviour and beliefs on young children which they cannot reject.
3) that book denies women the right to speak as the equals of men, or show their faces or flesh to any man who is not their legal husband.
4) Islam educates boys, but denies the same educational right to girls.
Dear Islamists, if that’s what you want to believe, go right ahead...
But don’t expect me to agree with you, because I am a free-thinking, liberal-minded agnostic, and I will not allow you a) to impose your favourite book on me, b) impose misguided ideas on the minds of my children, c) impose your male superiority on my wife and daughter, and d) educate my son to think as you do.
And just remember: if you try to kill me, I am not bound by the fifth commandment!
There are a million ways to end a tale, but every writer looks for the double whammy.
What is a double whammy, you may well ask. Well, it’s the possibility that different things can suddenly happen, an unexpected turnaround, switchback, or reversal. A surprise ending, in other words, when all your expectations are turned upside down, and you think, Wow!
This week I’ve been re-reading “The Odessa File” by Frederick Forsyth (Arrow Books edition, 1995, though someone may be lucky enough to own a 1972 first edition). “Compulsively readable... I was hypnotised,” said Mister Financial Times. It is certainly readable, and still compulsive, but maybe hypnotism is in shorter supply these days. That is, I read it, and thoroughly enjoyed it, but I read a bit in bed each night for a week, and never felt the need to skip switching off the light when the time came.
However, last night I read the excipit, or final chapter, and there – I hasten to admit it – Fred Forsyth really did pull an amazing and effective fast one. Let’s say, he double whammied me twice. In the first place, he used a wonderful little formula to soften me up: “It would be agreeable if things in this world always finished with all the ends neatly tied up. This is very seldom the case.”
He then did the conventional bit. He tied up all the loose ends!
Peter Miller, the journalist at the centre of the story, “went home, married and stuck to reporting the sort of things that people want to read over breakfast...”
Forsyth then moves on, predictably, to outline the history of the other characters. One went here, another went there, and all things worked out right with the world. Eduard Roschmann, a Nazi fugitive hiding out in Europe, planning to nuke Israel fled to Argentina, for instance. The Werewolf, head of the Odessa escape route for Nazis, was also forced to flee from Germany. The nasty Helwan missiles, which would have wiped out Israel, were never completed. Klaus Winzer, the forger...
Hang on, hang on! Was he real?
All sorts of names start to pop out of the woodwork: Chancellor Ludwig Erhard, Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, David Ben-Gurion, Simon Wiesenthal, the Nazi hunter – who actually appears in the story! – and a certain Sergeant Ulrich Frank, who gets a lot of unexpected attention on page 193 when he drives a tank across a busy road...
The final paragraph of The Odessa File tells us all about that bloody tank – where it went, what it did, the role it played in the Six Day War when Israel seized the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. Double whammy. Who is real? What is true? Forsyth comes at you like a heavyweight, swinging left and right. All you can do is bow down and believe it.
And now, for my own tiny double whammy...
This is the last Excipit I’ll be doing in this series.
I’m reading too many old books and not enough new ones. Next week I’m going to start blogging about blurbs...
The Grand Tour was the cultural climax in the education of every well-heeled young gentleman of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The guiding principle was to see and learn as much as possible while visiting foreign countries. Often enough, the experience was life-changing, as Alexander Pope observed, regarding some of the returning fops: “The Englishman Italianate/Is the Devil Incarnate.”
I’ve always been fascinated by John Ruskin’s annual tours through France, Switzerland and Italy as he recalls them in his autobiography, ‘Praeterita,’ The return journey to Italy by coach would take up to six months with scouts riding ahead every day to book accommodation for the night and arrange for guides to show off all the local splendours to the visitors.
There was no such things as Trip Advisor or Booking.com in those days.
It must have been wonderful!
We’ve all done our own ‘reduced’ version of the Grand Tour, of course.
We’ve seen the Louvre and wandered around Montmartre, we’ve eaten ice-cream in Piazza San Marco, taken a ‘selfie’ on Ponte Vecchio, or spent a week on a beach in Greece. Still, it isn’t the same thing. Not by a long chalk! I was reading a snippet in an Italian newspaper yesterday which really brought home to me just how damaging tourism can be.
As all Catholics know, the Jubilee of Pity and Compassion will begin in Rome on 8th December, 2015, and it will last for almost a year. It is expected to attract millions of additional tourists to a city which already has problems coping with them. One aspect of a Jubilee which we tend to forget, however, is that those attending the event are pilgrims, and pilgrims need to eat and drink, and rest of course. Okay, the Catholic church has thousands of hotels which will benefit from the flux, but it is the eating and drinking which does the real damage.
Via dei Coronari is the home of Rome’s antiques trade. Religious and precious objects have been made there for centuries, notably saintly medals, religious vestments, crucifixes and rosary beads, as the Ponte Sant’Angelo bridge at the end of the street leads straight to the heart of the Vatican City. The street has hosted dozens of antiques shops since the end of World War II.
Indeed, when in Rome, it is one of the places to visit.
Rents in Via dei Coronari have always been very high, and with the coming Jubilee, they will double or triple, as the street is one of the ‘gates’ which leads from the other basilicas of Rome straight to the main basilica of Saint Peter’s. What it means in real terms is that the narrow street will be filled to overflowing with hungry pilgrims.
Like Major ------ De Coverly in “Catch 22,” they want food, not crappy culture. “Gimme eat!” the Major snarls when someone tries to make him swear an Oath of Loyalty. As rents rise and shops go broke, the ‘coronari’ can no longer afford to stay in Via dei Coronari. Speculators are moving in fast, grabbing property and space to set up fast-food outlets selling sliced pizza, cheap sandwiches and Coca Cola, instead of antiques and religious articles.
It prompts me to ask two questions.
Why go all the way to Rome to eat pizza or a McDonald’s hamburger?
Why not stay at home, eat takeaway, and watch the Jubilee on the telly?
I haven’t written about Italy for a while.
So many unpleasant things happened in rapid succession after the engineered fall from grace of Silvio Berlusconi* in 2011 – the non-elected ‘emergency’ governments of Mario Monti, Enrico Letta, and, more recently, the rambunctious Matteo Renzi – that I gave up trying to chronicle the illegal drift away from democratic elections towards a presidentially sanctified form of rule by non-elected prefects and designates.
Things have not improved in the meanwhile.
Matteo Renzi has still not been elected. The elected Mayor of Roma has been dethroned by his own party (of which Renzi is the president) and replaced by a puppet governor (chosen by Matteo Renzi, and answerable to him), while today the trial has started of 48 employees of the Rome city council for a scam which neatly explains itself as Mafia Capitale.
And now we learn that the Catholic Church has got in on the act!
The truth is, of course, that the Vatican has been in on the act for many years.
Where did Pope John Paul II find the money to finance the Polish revolt against Communist Russia? Why did Roberto Calvi, ‘God’s Banker’ die at the end of a rope beneath Blackfriars Bridge in 1982? What happens to the millions of euros donated annually to missionary funds (of which the Vatican spent only 17,000 euros last year)?
The scandal has been brewing for years. Numberless religious institutes in Rome are run as hotels, yet they pay no tax, and the money... well, it just kind of disappears in holy smoke. Indeed, it is this lack of accountability which has finally boiled over. Where does all the money go?
Indeed, recent revelations suggest that if Italy is corrupt, the Vatican hierarchy beats the Italian government legislature hands down. Pope Francis could hardly avoid knowing about it, and may even have been trying to put an end to the corruption within his own ranks, but even he could not have dreamt up this shameful scam.
How much does it cost to become a saint?
According to books published today, “Avarizia” (Greed) by Emiliano Fittipaldi, and “Via Crucis” (The Road to Calvary) by Gianluigi Nuzzi, it costs €20,000 to begin the legal process of verifying a claim to beatification or sanctification, and the cost may pass €700,000 if the attempt to have your virtuous grandma sanctified actually comes to anything.
In a few words, saints are bought, not made.
Even more scandalous is the fact that no-one in Vatican-land, including Pope Francis I, can say where the money ends up, as there is no accounting system (or tax-paying requirement) in such cases. During the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, for example, 1,338 new ‘blesseds’ and 482 new ‘saints’ were acclaimed – and paid for! Now, that is a lot of cash.
At the present moment, 114 out of 409 ‘saintly cases’ worth €40 million in the bank have been suspended, as internal investigation by Vatican authorities tries to understand where this treasure trove of cash disappears.
I have the feeling it may cost even more to become a saint when the investigation ends, and the Vatican starts paying taxes!
* I am not a supporter of Silvio Berlusconi. Still, he was, and remains, the last elected premier of Italy. Democracy has been put on ice since November, 2011.
Illustration: St Jean-Gabriel Perboyre was crucified in China in 1840 (photo: my collection)
This article appeared today on a website called goodEreader:
October 16, 2015 By Michael Kozlowski
Google can now move forward with their book scanning project and digitize millions of e-books without having to pay authors. The ruling came from a U.S. appeals court who said that the project is considered “fair use” of published material under copyright law.
Google has scanned more than 20 million books since 2004 without the permission of the authors. The company allows users to search for specific terms and provides excerpts and links to where people can buy or borrow a book.
“Google’s division of the page into tiny snippets is designed to show the searcher just enough context surrounding the searched term to help her evaluate whether the book falls within the scope of her interest (without revealing so much as to threaten the author’s copyright interests),” Circuit Judge Pierre Leval wrote for the court.
In a statement, Google spokesman Aaron Stein said the project is like a “card catalog for the digital age.” Furthermore, “Today’s decision underlines what people who use the service tell us: Google Books gives them a useful and easy way to find books they want to read and buy, while at the same time benefiting copyright holders,” he said.
Out of curiosity, I checked Google Books for Michael Gregorio, and I found that our four Hanno Stiffeniis novels are part of the project (read ‘theft’). Our objections to being included in the project (read ‘theft’) boil down to this:
a) we were never informed of the project (read ‘theft’);
b) no-one asked us if we wanted to be part of the project (read ‘theft’);
c) scanning and publishing 25% of a book is not ‘fair use’ but unfair abuse:
d) serious damage has been done to our novels by the editorial choices made by the unknown censors of Google Books, who are not our editors, but the self-appointed monitors of their so-called project (read ‘theft’).
The final point is, of course, the one that concerns us the most.
Google Books says that their project (read ‘theft’) ‘gives the reader a useful and easy way to find books they want to read and buy…’ Oh, yeah? By the same token it makes it even easier for these hypothetical discriminating readers to find books that they DON’T want to buy after having read a massive free sample which in our case is over 50 pages long.
And why would they NOT want to buy?
The answer’s easy. Because Google have hacked the books and destroyed their unity, omitting pages without a) consulting the writer; b) asking our publisher(s); c) seeking approval of the cuts they have made. They have also given 25% of it away free. Would you pay full price (there's no discount) to buy the missing 75%?
No-one has the right to chop bits out of our books, except for us.
No-one has the right to choose which bits to chop out, except for us.
No-one has the right to give away free what we have worked for years to create.
I wonder how the US Appeals Court would feel if Google edited their legal sentences!