God is, whether or not I choose at this moment to say ‘yes’.
(para: Teilhard de Chardin)
God is, whether or not I choose at this moment to say ‘yes’.
(para: Teilhard de Chardin)
Walking along the Boulevard St Germain this afternoon, in the shadow of the Sorbonne’s Faculty of Medicine building, it occurred to me that probably nobody in the world had done what I had done that day. it’s been a long time since I attended church twice (or even once, truth be told) on a Sunday, and even longer since I went to two rather different ones on the same day.
Hillsong Paris is a Sydney transplant, in most respects, it would seem, similar to its parent church. It meets in a large rented theatre in chic Montparnasse, flanked by a sex shop and a couple of Japanese restaurants. The building is modern, seats almost a thousand and the church is able to make best use of a fully equipped light and sound system. Because of the hour change, we were late, but the greeter in the teddy bear costume didn’t seem to mind and someone escorted us to a couple of balcony ringside seats. Worship accompanied prayer and preaching, nothing was over the top or out of place, with the possible exception of myself who must have raised the average age in the room by a couple of months at least. I really enjoyed myself, it was joyous, upbeat and grace-filled but it was clear that there were quite a lot of spectators – it’s France, after all – and much like anywhere else, energy, drive and enthusiasm, although available in abundance, was being generated by comparatively few. The service was bilingual, the Australian pastor was being expertly and simultaneously translated shotgun-style – it’s rare to see it done so well – while the band slipped effortlessly in and out of the preaching. They weren’t restricted to the usual drummer in a cage with lead, rhythm and keyboards – a string quartet put in an appearance who clearly were soloist standard and it was quite nice that nobody seemed to have a musical axe to grind. Bought the newest CD which might come in useful.
I asked who the pastor was and in fact the people I spoke to had trouble recalling his name, so whatever else he was he certainly wasn’t in the business of developing a cult of personality. He was young, smart, street-savvy and ate, anonymously, at the same restaurant as we did afterwards.
The Left Bank has a reputation as the cradle of the Revolution and something of its stubbornly rebellious nature hangs in the air like a half-smoked Gauloise. It is crammed with bookish types with earnest expressions, as well as large numbers of Orientals, probably educational tourists who attempt to copy Parisian languor which combines sang-froid and boredom.
L’Eglise de St Nicolas du Chardonnet on the corner of the rue Saint-Victor was the second spiritual oasis of the day. The Archbishop of Paris has served an eviction order on the building, since it is used by an heretical, right-wing Catholic sect, who conduct Mass in Latin, perform Gregorian chants and refuse to acknowledge the authority of any Pope elected after Vatican II. They call themselves the Society of St. Pius X, founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1970. It is their only church in Paris and although many others exist in France and it’s not their official French headquarters, it is seen as their de facto national centre. We hit the scene just in time for Vespers. Beautifully choreographed, bowing, chanting, ten steps, sharp right, hold the book up, bow some more, genuflect, censer swinging – you get the idea. The priest, dressed in Lenten purple unsmilingly intoning the prepared Latin script with various cantors doing the backing track. There then followed some kind of homily delivered by a vulpine looking individual from a pulpit positioned in such a way as to discourage the faithful from actually looking at him, the gist of which appeared to be something of a diatribe on the evils of not following Church teaching during Lent, at which point I had had enough and slithered out under a hundred condemnatory eyes, mostly elderly and female. I probably didn’t bow in the right places either.
There are whispers that yet another version – the twelfth, or even the thirteenth – is in plan, almost certainly with Angelina Jolie and perhaps – inevitably – Brad Pitt.
Side by side…? No contest.
It’s becoming hard to keep up. Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya and now, apparently Syria. Placards and flags burned or waved, people discharging weaponry either into the air in supposed jubilation, or at their enemies in a viral infection of discontent against usually dictatorial, authoritarian or otherwise unacceptable power structures. Even a timid little squeak of protest, easily squashed, in Saudi. It might be over-optimistic to suggest that the pressure wave of civil disobedience might just decay away quietly and exponentially as undisturbed ripples with the threat of sanction and reward, much as this optimistic and hopeful-looking little graph suggests.
A graph is a mathematical representation of a physical reality – this one was originally created to demonstrate how sound waves die away – would that politics could be so simply described. The Arab world appears to have suddenly developed a micro-organic life of its own with frightening rapidity and a single political lacewing, landing on an already unstable leaf, might bring a very large tree crashing down into the forest, where the rest of us are condemned to pick up the pieces. ‘Coalition forces’ have unleashed firepower not seen since the Americans sent a routed rabble home to Baghdad. The British, with their often inconveniently sensitive notion of fair play are leading the way. Intervention has consequences.
Various pundits have commented recently about the influence of mass communication technology on the recent unrest in the Arab world. Twitter is now five years old and has grown into a dangly (or is it gangly) adolescent. Personally, I don’t get it, thus have little of value to add to an already overcrowded debate. Why does the entire online population have to be informed that one’s socks are not dry or one has just missed the number 27 bus?
Tech-savvy yoof however has allegedly used social media to generate foment, unrest and what used to be quaintly called treason by sheer volume of 140 character comment, most of which has as much political weight as the arrival or not of public transport and it’s worrying to reflect on the notion that if enough people tweet about something the subject matter acquires respectability, veracity and authority in consequence – the ad populum fallacy. I myself, on the other hand, find 140 characters not nearly enough and use a different logical fallacy, proof by verbosity, to prove a point. This is sometimes referred to as argumentum verbosium, a rhetorical technique that tries to persuade by overwhelming those considering an argument with such a volume of material that the argument sounds plausible, superficially appears to be well-researched, and it is so laborious to untangle and check any supporting facts – there may very well be none at all – that the argument might be allowed to slide by unchallenged. I find that burying the listener, or perhaps, the reader, in $50 words is equally, if not more effective.
I think I’m the only person I know who has used the word ‘moreover’ in a text message since I find the rape of my mother tongue in whatever context by illiterate spamheads, flatheads, pinheads and crackheads a little bit perturbing. Additionally, when texting, one does needs to be quite sure about the recipient’s identity. Caveat lector, with apologies for the missing full stops, also comma after ‘ex’.
‘Experience has taught me that prayer is often a way to be narcissistic with both a good conscience and public approval.’
It’s been a busy week for interfaith dialogue, of a sort. It’s just that it’s beginning to dawn on politically incorrect old me that it might be a rather illogical exercise. Faith, though not incompatible with reason, nonetheless differs from reason. Better, then, to let those of other religions follow their own beliefs in peace and tranquillity while one can attend to one’s own. This seems the more modest way, the better route to amity. But, then again, perhaps not since I’m finding myself quite amused by the tricks that history can play. Who would have thought that so soon after the Inquisition and so many other infamies perpetrated in the name of the Church and the silence of Rome during the Holocaust, that after all this history we would fetch up in a world in which Jews could pick up a newspaper to discover that between Julian Assange who alleges a Jewish plot to smear him, the president of Yemen who believes in the existence of an operations room in Tel Aviv dedicated to fomenting Arab unrest and the Iranian tyrant who alleges that the 2012 Olympic logo spells the word ‘Zion” that the leading voice in their defence is the Pope? His new book, excerpts of which make interesting reading, absolves the Jewish people exclusively for the Crucifixion, instead the whole of humanity is responsible.
A moment for both Christians and Jews to savour. My thanks to the New York Sun, also other places I can’t mention.