Je suis Waterford Whispers News!

In response to a recently televised clip by Irish satirist website Waterford Whispers, Catholic Archbishop Eamon Martin published a tweet saying:

“I am shocked that producer/editor of ‘NYE Countdown Show’ @RTE @RTEOne didn’t realise how deeply offensive was a mocking ‘news report’ accusing God of rape & reporting his imprisonment. This outrageous clip should be removed immediately & denounced by all people of goodwill.”

He goes on to say that:

“To broadcast such a deeply offensive and blasphemous clip about God & Our Blessed Mother Mary during the Christmas season on ‘NYE Countdown Show’ on @RTE, @RTEOne & on Eve of the Solemn Feast of Mary, Mother of God is insulting to all Catholics and Christians.”

The clip was a mock year-in-review news bulletin, portrayed as a broadcast from satirical website Waterford Whispers News, where former RTÉ newsreader Aengus MacGrianna reads a report over video footage of a man dressed in white robes being led by gardaí from a court.

“A shocking revelation this year,” MacGrianna’s says, “God became the latest figure to be implicated in the ongoing sexual harassment scandal.

The five-billion-year-old stood accused of forcing himself on a young Middle Eastern migrant and allegedly impregnating her against her will before being sentenced to two years in prison, with the last 24 months suspended. Following the news, movie producer Harvey Weinstein requested a retrial in Ireland.”

The Archbishop’s reaction and subsequent opinions are his own. He is entitled to them and I have no objection to his public expression of same – although Twitter seems to me to be an ever-so-slightly-less-than-appropriate forum for such a ‘weighty’ initiation of religious debate by such an esteemed authority as an Archbishop. Does the Pope have a Twitter account?

I have both a minor and a major issue with the Archbishop’s statement.

Minor is his amateur attempt to augment his argument by stating that his shock was all the more severe given that the clip was broadcast during the ‘Christmas season… & on Eve of the Solemn Feast of Mary, Mother of God.’ There is an obvious inference here and it is this. The timing of the broadcast appears to insult the Archbishop all the more to the extent that we can safely assume his shock would have been less severe if the clip had been published at some other time of the year.

The national broadcaster, to its credit, appears to defend the clip while simultaneously apologising for any offence caused.

“RTE recognises that matters which can cause offence naturally differ from person to person, within comedy and satire in particular.”

The major problem I have with the Archbishop’s statement is that once again we have a case of the Catholic Church (albeit it an Archbishop – middle management) maintaining the position that everything it stands for is inviolate and must not be questioned (whether in seriousness or satirically) despite the countless examples of dogmas that have been discarded over the centuries of its existence.

The institution of the Church will always and stubbornly remain steadfast in its beliefs until overwhelming evidence to the contrary is presented authoritatively – and even then may resist. What the Archbishop fails to recognise publicly on this occasion, although I suspect privately he is well aware of, is the obvious satire contained within the clip.

The sheer hypocrisy (and subsequent atrocities – although not in this instance) demonstrated by Islamic fundamentalists when Charlie Hebdo published a satirical cartoon of Muhammad has once again been displayed by a religious leader, only this time that leader is not an Islamic fundamentalist but rather a conservative Catholic Archbishop appointed by Rome.

Whether Rome agrees with Eamon Martin remains to be seen but is largely inconsequential in my estimation.

Je suis Waterford!

Praying for miracles is just downright foolish!

I just came across this article I wrote four years ago, having commented on a Facebook post which, unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your position, is no longer available but was originally at – https://www.facebook.com/juanObey1234/posts/1857663211221504

The post (somewhat eerily) suggested readers ‘like’ a photograph of a weeping ‘Virgin Mary’ and type ‘Amen’ in the comments section below – to receive a miracle within the hour! I have redacted any identifying information to save the blushes of the muppets!

Instead of ‘Amen’, I typed:

You will receive a kick up the hole if you keep sharing this shite!

I received the following reply in a private message:

How dare you challenge the power of God!

To which, at some length, I replied:

If we take the reactions of people on Facebook to this post as a population sample of humanity, a number of questions occur.

At the time of writing there were 21,000 emoticons. There are 6 emoticon options (i.e. Like, Love, Wow, Haha, Sad & Angry) but only 3 are used — Like, Love and Sad.

Likes number approximately 20,000 with ‘Love’ & ‘Sad’ making up the (residual) balance. Liking and loving a post are the most popular options used by all Facebook users. It can be assumed (with a reasonable amount of confidence) that the ‘Sad’ reaction is due to the fact that the image depicts a woman crying (let us also assume the image is a replica of the Virgin Mary — from Christian teaching).

Despite the poster requesting that viewers both ‘Like’ and type ‘Amen’ to recieve [sic] a miracle, there are only 15,300 comments — which means (on the presumption that most of the comments are actually ‘Amen’ — I have not taken the time to scroll through them all) approximately 5,500 people fulfilled only half of the poster’s request — despite fulfilment of the request only requiring a couple of seconds to complete.

The principle questions uppermost in my mind are

1. If receipt of a miracle is considered to be as significant a life event as it should be among those that believe miracles are, in fact, possible, why have only (approximately) 75% of viewers completed both requirements i.e. like and type ‘Amen’?

2. Why have so many people responded at all?

It is to the second question I would like to turn my attention — the first appears to require more time than I have — given all the potential variables. I garner from the viral nature of the post that there is a deep-seated need in humanity. Remember, I started with the assumption that the responders to the post represent a sample population — and although the nature of the population raises more questions (e.g. what age range, beliefs are represented) — we must at least start somewhere in the absence of extensive data analysis!

The deep-seated need I refer to is the occurrence of a miracle — that miracle to be delivered by some higher power within the next hour. Let’s turn to the belief that there actually is a higher power that can deliver the promise — albeit a promise made by a member of Facebook. I think I am fairly safe making the assumption here that the poster is human — unless of course God himself is (at least) 13 years of age, has an email address, signed up to Facebook and created an account under the name of the poster — which would be deceptive of one not known for acts of deception — clearly, I am of the opinion that God fulfils none of these Facebook requirements — apart from maybe being old enough to have a Facebook account!

21,000 people (at the time of writing) have completed (or partially completed) the poster’s request to ‘Like’ and type ‘Amen’. Do they truly believe that this promised miracle will become a reality? Well — some probably do. Are they complying in the hope that the miracle will come true? Some probably are. Have some ‘liked’ on the off-chance a miracle is heading their way? Yes! Have a certain proportion responded because they simply like the concept of miracles. That could also be a valid explanation.

Ultimately though, 21,000 viewers have (for one reason or another) taken a few seconds to respond. I contend that a significant majority of the responders actually do believe (to some degree or another) that a miracle can occur and, further, believe in the higher power (i.e. God) who will deliver the promised miracle.

I am going to ignore the fact that they appear to believe in God and focus more on the fact that they have taken a few seconds to respond — for whatever reason.

When responding, were the viewers thinking of a miracle which would benefit themselves or were they thinking of a miracle which could be applied to someone they know in need of such an event? Let’s ignore those that were responding on behalf of someone else (in some perceived need of a miracle) and now focus on those that responded in the hope of receiving the miracle for themselves alone. Let’s give the benefit of the doubt to everyone who responded except one. So, to continue, I am going to assume that only 1 out of 21,000 people who responded was hoping to receive a miracle which would benefit him (or her) alone. Although I suspect my generosity is far over-reaching with respect to reality, I am minimising my presumptions of the 21,000 to bring you to the next paragraph — which states the case for my reasoning in no uncertain terms.

To hope (and or pray) for a miracle for oneself is the most selfish act of belief in God possible! Belief in God presupposes an all-knowing and all-loving (omnipotent) entity. Surely then, knowing absolutely everything about you, God is sufficiently wise (and loving) without needing your prayers or aspirations to guide or implement the divine design for your life he has already created? I feel sure I should be capitalising the ‘H’ in ‘he’ but I’ll carry on — regardless.

Deferring to some external (unseen) entity in the hope or belief that

a. the entity exists

b. the entity can hear and listens and

c. the entity has the ‘power’ to implement

is part and parcel of all belief systems. Making a request for a miracle to benefit oneself, however, is nothing more than self-serving.

Additionally, to believe on the one hand God has a divine plan for each and every man, woman and child and, to then, with the other hand, pray for a miracle — contradicts (in an instant) the very nature of belief (and understanding) of God’s omnipotence — to the point of self-deception!

In closing, it must be said that if the act of praying (e.g. giving thanks, praising) satiates the mind or heart of a ‘troubled’ person, then I have no argument with that person’s need to pray. In fact, I would wholeheartedly recommend it. However, giving thanks or praising God are NOT the same as praying for a miracle. Even the simple act of praying for something ‘realistic’ (i.e. not some pie-in-the-sky miracle) for oneself is foolhardy! If you believe that God has already designed your life from start to finish — remember he’s busy enough implementing that — without having to make significant changes to the design because you prayed for a miracle. If you must pray for miracles — pray for them to benefit someone else. Your altruism might just convince God to put in ‘a little overtime’ — altering the design for your chosen recipient’s life!

Lord, I could do with a couple of thousand extra euro this month to pay off my credit card debts after the Christmas craziness!

Remember the plan for your life you believe God has designed? How could you possibly know if the miracle you are praying for is part of it? In all likelihood, it isn’t — so are you just chancing your arm that it might be? That’s not prayer! That’s just downright, plain ignorance — and folly!

Invariably, miracles DO NOT happen. Apparently, anecdotal evidence over an extended period of time (how long has the human race existed on earth?) would suggest, for the vast majority of believers, that’s NOT the way God works!

But maybe, just maybe, if you like the post and type ‘Amen’ (go on — sure it’ll only take a few seconds) this Facebook member can make it happen for you — within the next hour. You are far more likely to receive a kick up the hole from me (regardless of your geographic location on the planet or ability to run away) than a miracle from God. Do you play the lottery? Best of luck!

REPLY ENDS

I share here four years later by way of reiterating my position at the time, that position not having changed and being nicely summed up by the title of this post. Praying for miracles is just downright foolish!

Change. If not now, when?

I confess to having a morbid fascination with the lives of serial killers which has manifested itself of late as regular (and often long into the early hours) YouTube sessions, learning about all the famous (and some not-so-famous) psychopaths down through the ages. Apparently, if the YouTube view-counts are anything to go by, I’m not the only one!

I don’t have any particular favourite serial killers. After all, how would one go about selecting the criteria by which to choose a favourite serial killer anyway?! However, despite having some empathy with their confinement predicament and possibly as a consequence of my overexposure on YouTube to the environment where these killers live their lives, I have built up a heightened fear of ever having to spend any significant amount of time in prison. Sure, that particular fear has always existed but it seems that my increased exposure to the realities of life behind bars on Youtube has recently brought that fear to the forefront of my consciousness.

The most valuable asset we have in life, although possibly running a close second to our health, is our freedom. Getting up in the morning and walking out the front door is an activity most of us take for granted. Not so the prisoner. So, in thinking about exactly what my freedom means to me, I’m temporarily surrounding myself with bars and walls – to get a greater sense of why we fear prison so much – or should.

The worst possible loss of freedom must certainly be the isolation unit in a prison – where one is confined alone to a cell for twenty-three hours a day and only allowed out to exercise for that other hour. If the stories are to be believed, extended isolation very often drives a prisoner over the edge into the realms of insanity. I am reminded of ‘Papillon’ with his head stuck out through the hatch in the door for the guard to shave him, turning to the prisoner in the next cell and asking how he looked, not having seen his own reflection for many years. ‘Great,’ his neighbour replies, despite the obvious ravages of time evident on Papillon’s face. The total absence of other human beings with which to communicate certainly seems like hell on earth. We are, by nature, gregarious.

In contrast, being in general population (or ‘Gen Pop’ as I have discovered it is known colloquially) doesn’t actually appear to be all that bad! At least you can talk to other people and, even if they don’t want to respond, you at least have a sense of their physical presence in the space you occupy – unlike solitary confinement.

Everything, even being in prison with a total loss of physical freedom, is relative. Positives can always be found – even in the most dire of circumstances. However, in analysing our own lives, we often compare ourselves to people who appear to be doing better in life. While this may appear to be an errant approach, it is absolutely natural and healthy to do so. Without seeing how others have improved their lives we would have no reference points for strategies to improve our own. Role models are essential.

But where we often appear to go wrong is in defining what we consider to be improvement. What are we actually looking for in the search to optimise the life we live? What is the goal and is it worth the effort to achieve? Ultimately, we are all searching for that elusive ‘happiness’. I have some bad news. Happiness is unattainable! At least, it is unattainable for any extended period of time. Happiness, in my experience, is a fleeting sensation, often quickly replaced by the harsh realities of life.

I like nothing better than to lie on a sun-soaked beach in the afternoon, watching the clouds go by while listening to my favourite tunes in my earphones. This is my ‘happy’ place. But if I stay there for any longer than a couple of hours I get bored – not to mind risk a serious sunburn. Eventually I have to pack up and leave the beach. There’s always something else to be done.

So, if I know that the beach is the thing that makes me happy – albeit temporarily – then all the other things I do to facilitate that time at the beach are necessary activities for my happiness.

So, let’s get practical. To go to the beach I need to drive. It’s too far from home to walk or cycle and there is no public transport. The car needs to be taxed, insured and fuelled which means I need to earn money. To earn money I need to work. So, to spend time at the beach in my happy place, I need to work.

I am fortunate enough to have a job that I love and never think (or complain to others) that my job is boring or tedious or ‘dragging me down’. But many people are not so fortunate and find themselves ‘slaving away’ in jobs they simply hate! It is easy to suggest the logic above when attempting to empathise with their predicament, reminding them that they are working to facilitate those moments of happiness but, it is incumbent upon each and every one of us to individually ascertain why it is we are working in jobs we simply cannot abide and what those moments of happiness are. There are only two possible outcomes:

1. Change nothing – the moments of happiness you already have are what you want

2. Find (or redefine) what makes you happy and make changes to facilitate that happiness

None of this can be done if you have not defined what makes you happy. Do that first and every other decision should fall into place, however difficult those decisions may appear to be at first. Those fleeting moments of happiness are the goal so, grab the bull by the proverbial horns and make those changes – and make them now. If not now, when?

The irrationality of fear

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself! [Franklin D. Roosevelt]

The fear of death, which I acknowledge as being a wholly normal and natural human condition, is nonetheless irrational for most of us in 2020. In the modern world, the vast majority of us are relatively safe from detrimental harm whereas our survival instinct was once primal and based on a reasonable fear of death in the wild west of prehistory. Fear kept us alive!

Like a clock on the wall, ticking out the seconds of your life, the brain which you use to reach the conclusion that you are afraid of death (and the infinite nature of the void after your death) is the same brain that stops ‘ticking’ the instant you take your last breath.

Conversely, it is altogether rational to fear the actual process of dying because your brain is still conscious of your existence while you are dying. But, it is equally irrational to fear something of which you will not be consciously aware after it has already happened.

You didn’t think, ‘Oh look, I’m about to be born!’ Similarly, you will never catch yourself saying, ‘Oh look, I’m dead!’

Consciousness is a function of the brain and facilitates awareness of our existence but only while there is oxygen available to feed it i.e. it can only operate while we are alive and breathing air. The conscious mind wasn’t aware before we were born. It is reasonable to postulate that it won’t be after we are dead either.

‘Sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care’. [Macbeth, William Shakespeare]

Sleep is analogous to death. We often have difficulty falling asleep and can become very stressed and anxious around bedtime, fearing that sleep will not come. However, once we actually fall asleep we are no longer aware that we had any difficulty getting there. The conscious functionality of our mind switches off, the subconscious cogs kick in and the stresses and anxieties of the day are all but forgotten while we sleep. Whether they re-emerge the following day has a lot to do with how efficiently the brain repairs itself overnight. Certainly, a good night’s sleep has been shown to optimise the repair work but other factors may play a part in the healing equation.

So, by all means, admit you are afraid of the process of dying but – do not be afraid of actually being dead. When you get there you won’t actually be aware of it. The fear is irrational and almost certainly holding you back from reaching your full potential in life – just as the three monotheistic religions have done to humanity for centuries and continue to wilfully do to this day!

Religious institutions knowingly rely on the fear of death to keep their faithful coming back for further forgiveness, consolation and hope but, for their deceit – and a host of other crimes against humanity – all religions of the world must be wholeheartedly and perpetually condemned. I’ll get back to that – soon…