Sunday, May 29, 2011

Little Memories of Family and Friends

I am forever intrigued by the happenings and times memory enshrines, and also what, again without our permission, she discards.

Somehow, when I was about five, I was having tea with my father and mother by myself. This was rare as we were a large family. The table was by a window in the house my father built. The window looked out over a heather-covered moor that extended to a beautiful mountain with the ugly name "Scrig." I remember enjoying that I was the object of attention of both of them. They spoke fondly to me and talked of getting me a brown sweater. This is all I remember -- nothing but the tender warmth of that moment and the lovely scene.

I thank memory again for a moment when my mother caressed me. I must have asked why. I remember she said it was because I was her little boy. Memory chalked that up too as something tender to be forever recalled.

A small family has an advantage in that one-on-one occasions with a parent are more frequent. On the other hand, in a large family brothers and sisters are constantly practicing communication. But sometimes there are wounds from which an only child in particular is sheltered. Where siblings are boys and girls, they learn to relate warmly to persons of the opposite sex with an affection other than that of mating, something helpful in marriage. These advantages and disadvantages are relative, and can vary with parent, school, and neighborhood influences.

Shortly after coming from Ireland, I turned 12 and fell in love. Actually it was just before my twelfth birthday. I used to stand across the street from Helen Brocklin's for long periods hoping she would come out. I never got to talk to her alone. She and her sister came to our porch one day -- raising eyebrows in the family. It seems she had some interest too. Once, on a Sunday afternoon, I walked up Chew Street with her and another girl. We just happened to be going in the same direction. I was going to serve Benediction at Holy Cross Church. She said on the way, and these are the only words of her I remember, "If I had a veil for my head, we could go to church?" It was a nice spring day. And again our inner friend decided to make the occasion permanent within me.

Memory chastises, too, with good if painful outcome. I was about 13 and some friends were picking on a friend of mine named Dennis whom I knew before they did. I adopted their attitude. My friend said to me, "You too?" Our paths crossed off and on later in life and he was always friendly to me. But I never, to this day, forgave myself for my disloyalty. It's a bitter memory, but it protects me from betrayal of anyone again. Memory took the role of teacher and chastiser.

We were not a demonstrative family. No hugs and kisses and few loving words, but love was deep just the same. Perhaps there was a feeling that the love was unique and outward expressions would be inadequate and phony. Irish heritage may have suggested that hugs were for mating love.

I never saw my mother and father kiss or hug. At my father's wake, however, just before we escorted my mother away from the casket, just before it was to be closed, she knelt down, reached out and touched his hands.

They had come through a lot together from 1912 to 1978. They raised a large family, lost one, had worries and crosses, but much more joy and laughter.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Patron Saint of the Loyal Opposition

While stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, at the Retraining Command, every fourth Sunday I headed home to Philadelphia and returned Monday night. I shudder to think of so much driving for a short visit, but I was young then. I celebrated a 7 a.m. Mass at the Retraining Command (a radio host called it the Restraining Command, a function it did fulfill). Then I had a Mass at the Benmorell Naval housing area at 9 a.m. In those days we could not have food or liquids before Mass, so I had breakfast on the ferry that crossed Chesapeake Bay in an hour and a half. There is a wonder of the world bridge and tunnel structure there now. From the ferry it was about a five-hour drive to Philadelphia. After dinner at home and visiting siblings and their families, I drove back to Norfolk Monday evening. As I said, I was young.

My brother Danny was studying for the priesthood in Rome then. In the summer of 1955 my parents took a trip to Ireland and met Danny in County Donegal. I hitchhiked over on Navy planes to join them. Danny was scheduled to be ordained in December of 1956.

On one of my visits home, early in 1956, I asked my Mother if they were going to Rome for Danny's ordination.

"Oh no. Where would we get the money?"

I answered with a chuckle, "You didn't have money before and you went to Ireland."

In a quick switch my Mother rejoined in Irish construction, "Talk to dad, you."

We hadn't noticed that Dad was within earshot. Over my head, as if I were not present, he stated firmly to Mam, "You had your trip. What do you want me to do? Sell the house? Then where would we be?"

Do you remember how, in a major war, communiques were phrased by losing armies? "Our troops fought bravely and inflicted tremendous casualties on the enemy." And then adding that this took place at a town miles and miles back from where they were the day before. This has a bearing on our story.

Just one month after Dad's undeniably sensible outburst, I visited home again. The trip to Rome was so definite now that one would find it hard to believe it had ever been debatable. One thing was not definite. It would be nice to stop in Ireland on the way back and have the Irisih relatives see the newly ordained priest. Dad announced firmly, "There will be no stopping in Ireland on th3e way back." Shades of an army in retreat.

But yes. There was stopping in Ireland on the way back. Not only that, but Dad enjoyed the trip to Rome and the stopping in Ireland wholeheartedly. He was the picture of peace and happiness.

Now isn't that a model of how the loyal opposition, the party out of power, should behave? Go all out for your point of view but revel in the reverse when it comes to pass.

(This story is excerpted from "Foibles of Father Joe" (c) 2008 by Connell J. Maguire)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Cow and the Velvet Suit

(c) 2003, Connell J. Maguire

My brothers had little difficulty persuading me to do daring and incongruous deeds. As young and old everywhere, we delighted in stories of American cowboys and Indians of the Wild West. One day Barney and I, pedestrian cowboys, were herding one cow along the road. Sod was piled up at roadside to serve as a dirt wall. A "shuhh" is a drainage ditch in Donegal. So the digging operation served two purposes and, on this day, a third. Grass grew profusely on the dirt wall and the cow paused to graze. Barney said, "This is your chance to be a cowboy. You can climb up beside the cow and ride on her back." I can still see the backbone of the cow, her silky, tan hair, as I climbed up and stretched my right leg across her midsection. No horse ever dashed from a gate faster than that uncooperative cow darted from underneath me, leaving a prospective cowboy rolling flat in the mud. I don't understand cows.

That was a closed case. No harm was done for which I would be held accountable. It was a different matter in the case of the velvet suit.

My mother was a dressmaker, and when I was between four and five, she made me a velvet suit with short pants. Out playing one day while I was wearing my new apparel, my brothers convinced me that it could double as a bathing suit. It was one of those days when the Irish say the "sun is splitting the rocks," all the while they are wearing sweaters and probably long underwear. I entered the river where it flowed over a shallow, stony bed. A surprising number of details of that misadventure are vivid in memory. I noted with interest that water rose higher on either side of me and that the stones were all rounded like eggs. Centuries of flowing water had given them this oval shape. I was delighted by how they felt.

Suddenly, shouting from the house intruded on my new found pleasure. My brothers hauled me ashore and dragged me to my judicial hearing. How could being wet in the river feel so good, and now walking in wet clothes feel so miserable? No one had an interest in answering that question. And why was my mother making such a big deal out of such a simple and happy matter? Probably the suit, fruit of much loving effort, was ruined. What happened to it after that is not recorded in family history.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


  Father McMillan taught us in chaplain school in 1952. He was a buddy of Father Connie Griffin, and recounted for us this story about his friend.
  Chaplain Griffin was with the Marines in the Korean War. His clerk was a young enlisted Marine, probably of Corporal rank, named Caruso. Father Griffin learned that his battalion was going up to the front. He also knew that Caruso's wife was expecting back home. He had Caruso transferred from his staff so that Caruso would stay behind. Before the Battalion moved up, he ran into Caruso, who broke down and cried because, as he saw it, Father Griffin had fired him. So the chaplain relented and they moved up together.
   Chinese "volunteers" had entered the fray and Marine casualties were heavy. They were pounded by artillery day and night. During a bombardment, Caruso touched the container of Holy Communion Griffin carried and said, "He is with us."
   They were not there long when one day Caruso saw an enemy set up a machine gun close by. "Father look out!" he shouted. He shielded Father Griffin with his body. Immediately, he was stitched with machine gun holes across his body, dead on the spot. Father Griffin's jaw was shot off.
   After Father Griffin returned to the U.S. he heard that the Caruso baby was born. I do not know whether he was physically or emotionally blocked from going to baptize the child, but Caruso's wife brought the child to him because that was chat her husband would have wanted.
   I do not know whether the Caruso baby was a boy or a girl. He or she should be over 50 now, somewhere in New England if the grown child stayed near his parents' neighborhood. This I do know. People coddled and cuddled in luxurious living, selfishly indulging in sexual infidelity, claim the title of nobility. Their claim pales before the lineage of that Caruso child, offspring of a truly noble father.

Friday, January 8, 2010

One Vocation, Once Upon a Time

The Lord intervenes, at times in dramatic fashion, in human lives in recruiting a person to work full time in His service. St. Paul was knocked down and struck blind for the three days when the Lord blocked his plans and stopped his way of life in order to have him turn to be his apostle to the Gentiles. Few vocations are that exciting, but I see a touch of the miraculous in all of them.

I have a strong and precious memory of a conversation with a fellow Navy chaplain, a Southern Baptist. He already had the responsibility for a wife and two children when he felt called to ministry. I carry in my mind the picture of him throwing his belongings into his pick-up, as he told me, and heading off, trusting in God. By the way, he and his family managed and many were blessed by his faith and ministry.

Other vocations came very differently from that of the chaplain and St. Paul. For them the call came very early in life and was positively responded to all the way to ordination or profession. For me the call was somewhere in between those I have mentioned, closer to calls that reversed one's life. It begins some 70 years ago.

In my junior year at Northeast Catholic in Philadelphia, Father Wisniewski spoke about a vocation to the priesthood in our classroom. He asked us to think about it. I had no interest and had no intention of giving it any thought. But shortly after, while riding home in the old car our neighborhood group used for transport, on Broad Street, below Einstein Hospital, I experienced a tender feeling directing me to the priesthood. I wanted nothing to do with such a calling. I had other plans. In those days, people entered religious life right out of high school. Late vocations were almost unheard of. So I was convinced that when I was out of high school and working I would be safe from such a call to priesthood. The idea vanished from my mind. I remember afterwards accompanying my brother back to St. Charles Seminary after his vacations, and never entertaining any thought that one day I might go there. The Lord bided His time with an honor I did not appreciate.

After high school, I went to LaSalle College, now University, and enrolled in Journalism. Work, study and vagueness of goals coupled with my young age were too much for me. I quit before finishing freshman year. When we came from Ireland, my older brother and I were put in the same class by a kind Mother Superior who did not want to separate us. So I was just 16 entering college.

I then worked for two years. In those years, I was consumed by the desire to be an actor and to write for the theatre. The Lord does not mind using our natural bents, on the order of bait, to lead us where He wants us to go. Accordingly, it came to be that I decided that in order to be successful in the theatre, I needed more self-confidence, poise and savoir faire. And this meant returning to LaSalle.

In my sophomore year, a Vincentian priest was addressing us in the auditorium. He had a crucifix in the sash of his cassock. I do not remember a word he said, but suddenly, looking at the crucifix, the tender feeling inviting me to the priesthood returned, this time in spades. It is amazing that something so tender can be so powerful. I recall comparing my life to a clock that was being turned around to go in the opposite direction. Some aftershocks of the same gentle feeling occurred, but I summoned every reason I could to prove that this calling was not for me. However, as someone wrote, "Before His gaze, falsehood melts away." Finally I said "yes," with little gratitude for the attention.

My mother reacted to the news as if she considered this the end of Christianity as we know it. I discovered just recently that she told her brother back then that I was going into the Seminary "but he won't stay and he will be an embarrassment to Pat," who was already there. My father's first words were, "He won't stay a week." The neighbors thought it must be my older brother Bernard who was going. He was quieter, less of a "song-and-dance" type.

Few generations have dealt with the turmoil in religion and the secular world that we did. In the Sixties and Seventies, changes in society and in the Church, which happened at the same time as the war in Vietnam, shook established norms and even religious vocations. Many left religious life to serve in other ways. I also had the burden of recovering from service as a chaplain with the Marines in the carnage of Vietnam. Though I stumbled on in my vocation, it took some 29 years to fully, fully recover from the war and the turbulent times. The Lord kept me aboard in His service through it all, even though He had reason to dismiss me.

Life as a priest does not bring bubbly happiness. We share the pain and turmoil of the human condition. It is not to be that happiness is one's sole goal in life. C.S. Lewis said he could get happiness "from a bottle of port." Nevertheless there is deep, deep satisfaction in a life's work of service in unison with the Lord's will and a bountiful share of happiness. We are uplifted by how much inspiration and comfort, and even happiness, we can bring to others, often with little effort on our part.

Both when I was young and now, people comment on what a happy person I am, often citing it as my most evident characteristic. So while happiness is not the be-all in following a priestly vocation, I have enjoyed lots of it, more than is allotted in life to most people. My "song-and-dance" spirit thrives.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Some Wonders of Evolution

(c)2010 Connell J. Maguire

The wonders of evolution amount to a story still too little told. My uncle used to marvel that, as he put it, "Everything comes out of the ground." He neglected to give due credit to air, water and sun. His concentration was on houses and cars. But much greater wonders abound than any he ever contemplated, and more are yet to be discovered. And to think that the potential to evolve was latent in matter billions of years before the process began on our planet.

Advances in discovery and an appreciation of evolution, its amazing process and influence, have been hindered to a degree by an adversarial relationship between religion and science. Those who interpret the Bible literally have rejected evolution. This has perhaps been an influence in luring some scientists outside their area of competence to interpret their findings with an anti-religious bias. Patently, open minds all around are imperative for progress.

Evolution has amazingly produced many feelings, now innate to us, that serve personal and social, even ethical purposes. The answers to how evolution does this will be found in nature, not in divine interference. It is ultimately to the advantage of scientists, philosophers and theologians alike that evolution be allowed to be purely scientific. Even though religious teaching and culture may influence the development of behavioral genes, evolution still is in control of making it all happen. Besides, a deity who had to tamper with a process he designed in order to make it work would be a rather ludicrous figure.

A short essay cannot of course tell the story of many wonders of evolution. Starting with the "shoe strings" of air, water, sun and earth, it has produced our eyes, ears, our genome and the brain we use to study their parent.

Natural selection has been adequate to explain development in elementary science, but there are indications that there may be more to nature than natural selection can explain. The totality of nature does not seem to be as passive and stimuli dependent as natural selection suggests. Besides, natural selection has not as yet even explained irreducible complexities, cases where parts of an organ develop separately and later join to fulfill its purpose. Also instinctive self-sacrificing behavior in some species for the purpose of benefiting others is counter to the thrust of natural selection toward survival. For example, termites and ants have "soldiers" who sacrifice themselves to prevent an intruder from harassing the rest of the colony. Birds and mammals draw attention to themselves to save others. Socio-biologists attribute this to protection of the gene bank of the species, but how did evolution bring this about?

The evolution of the structure of the family rivals that of the genome and brain as an object of wonder and awe. Evolution implants different kinds of affection between parents, siblings, and parents and children, affections we did not need to learn. There are also feelings in part of us for preserving the unity of the family. Couples fall in love. (Freud considered this a sub-conscious desire for the reproduction of the species. Not a song writer he!) The yin and yang charm of opposite sex company plays a role. Disobeying evolution's plans can be measured. Like lying, the disturbance within us of infidelity can be measured as unnatural. Also moderate jealousy keeps the slate clean of beginnings that threaten unity.

The family became the ideal structure for the emotional, rational, and behavioral development of young humans. The needs of the young for development are so subtle that the human mind can identify only a few. However, the design of family has the capacity to cultivate the desired qualities of the child, automatically it seems, in a family of loving parents. The child, when the ambience is favorable, has qualities that sprout "out of the ground," as from fertile soil, qualities that the parents did not teach explicitly or plan. Goodness and charm blossom as nature in springtime in this proper climate. Just as the structure and functioning of the brain is to a great degree beyond our understanding, so too are the influences that tend toward desired early human growth and development.

We can influence the family but we did not form it any more than we formed the eye. The question regurs: How was this great work done?

In light of the family structure can it be said that evolution teaches ethics? Dr. Edward O. Wilson, a Harvard professor, was quoted by the New York Times as saying that we are under the influence of inherited "programs of behavior that are more strict than many psychologists would have us believe." However, we are free beings and not so rigidly pre-wired that we cannot disobey. We do so at our peril, however, and the peril of society.

Paradoxidally, evolution also bequeaths us with tendencies that can lead to unethical behavior. Its needs in a pre-historic era, and its disinterest or past promotion of feelings or acts now proscribed, task us to cope with its negligence and "misbehavior," however excusable or even necessary these may have been at the time.

Hominoids were tender at birth as are we. A newborn calf can survive by itself on day one if nourishment is available but not our progenitors or ourselves. To gain a foothold on earth for the species, aboriginal males were programmed to impregnate as many females as possible, and females to be decorative to attract the males. Vestigia of aboriginal behavior survive. The male today has a tendency to be promiscuous. The female to attract indiscriminately. Sex shows are directed at men, sex shops at women.

There are other discrepancies in our nature that evolution has tolerated or promoted. They differ little if at all from what we identify as the principal sources of evil -- a self-centered lack of compassion, excessive acquisitiveness, lust, gluttony, envy, anger, and lack of courage from excessive fearfulness.

Can our religious culture change the generic underpinnings of these tendencies? Our process of civilization did not come from a sudden learning of facts, but from an evolution of the genes that favor civilized behavior, a gradual process of course. There is no evidence that our genes are not still malleable. This allows ethical norms from religion to influence their evolution. The spiritual and physical meet, but note that evolution has the last word.

Emmanuel Kant said that two things filled him with wonder, the moral law within him and the shining stars above him. He had no idea of a wonder already here and soon to be discovered.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Atheism Is Born Again

(c)2009 Connell J. Maguire

    Recently attacks were directed at religion and faith in God. Two books in particular have become best sellers, "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins, and "God Is Not Great," ambitiously subtitled "How Religion Poisons Everything," by Christopher Hitchens.
    What is it that propelled these books to a best seller status? Why do people buy them? Patently, a desire is abroad for relief from a God perceived as a hit man, a God of fire and brimstone, who makes and enforces regulations. Such an idea of God is painful to live with, and is far from a concept of a God who is infinitely merciful and loving. Pope Benedict at Yankee Stadium touched on this modern perception of God, saying "Our most urgent task is to communicate the joy of faith and the experience of God's love." His first encyclical was "God is love." The same desire to get rid of this frightening God permeates the two best sellers and other atheistic books, with one exception. From the God who is a terrifying ogre to Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris to the dismissal of God by Daniel Dennett, this depressing concept of God dominates. Since all atheists admit that science and logic cannot prove the non-existence of God, they search history for abuses and evils done by religious people and institutions, and blame the evils on faith in God. This process totally ignores the great contributions of religion, day in and day out, over some three millennia.
   Also, they do not take into account the progressive history of Judeo-Christian morality as people advanced from a primitive outlook and behavior, and implicit morality gradually became explicit. Paradoxically, atheists accept the present day Judeo-Christian morality as a given, and use it to condemn past abuses. They do nothing, however, to advance us to the higher phase of "love your enemies."
   Their assumption that this is the only life also skews their thinking of how the creator should have created.
   Richard Dawkins, whose book is described on the jacket as "hard-hitting" and "impassioned," believes that, despite the inability of logic and science to disprove God's existence, faith is vulnerable to "chipping away" by science. He bristles at Stephen Jay Gould for saying "science simply cannot (by its legitimate methods) adjudicate the issue of God's possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it, we simply can't comment on it as scientists." The title of Dawkins' main chapter, "Why There Is Almost Certainly No God," reveals that his "chipping away" efforts fall short.
   It is understandable that some ask, "Why does God not reveal Himself more clearly?" There are good reasons. First of all, the dignity with which God endowed us, including our freedom, must be respected in our approach to Him. There has to be more involved in faith than a logical syllogism, a mathematical formula or a scientific finding which compels our mind. However, God gives us enough evidence to believe. Daily life reveals that people of both low and high intelligence find that evidence and have faith. This is remarkable considering the possible hurdles.
   The human mind itself can be an obstacle to faith. Even great ones can be confused. Since Dawkins considers that great scientists who believe are confused, including Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project, he should concede that atheists too are prone to error. Neuroscientists tell us that the limbic area of the brain, the center of emotions, can sway the functioning of the neo-cortex, the area for language and reasoning, more recently evolved. Atheists are not immune to this influence.
   Qualities of heart and character, such as courage and generosity, are also necessary for belief. However, it would be rash judgment to assume that bad character is the cause of any person's lack of faith. St. Augustine opposed Christianity for a long time before professing, "Late have I loved you, O beauty, ever old, ever new, Late have I loved you."
   The culture in which one is embedded may debilitate proper consideration of evidence of God. There are many cultures in our world, some friendly to religious belief and some less so.
   In Western civilization, people who are non-practicing Jews or Christians borrow morality today from an inherited Judeo-Christian tradition. The atheist Andre Comte-Sponville openly admits doing so. Hitchens' moral criteria for condemning past sins are no different than those of his present-day Christian neighbors, poisoned though he may consider them.
   Dawkins states that "Darwinian evolution, specifically natural selection, shatters the illusion of design within the domain of biology." Most consider evolution a unifying principle that shatters nothing. Darwin himself, quoted in Hitchens' book, had a more open mind than his followers about natural selection. Whether it is too simplistic to explain "gaps" such as irreducible complexities, in which two parts of an organ evolve separately and later form to fulfill its purpose, is not yet known.
   Dawkins takes a vulgar shot at a great person of history, saying "St. Teresa of Avila's famously orgasmic vision is too notorious to need quoting again." This low blow reveals a man writing about religion who knows nothing about religious experience. Many have had an experience such as mine.
   I returned to LaSalle University because my emotional and intellectual being was obsessed with becoming an actor and dramatist, partly to create beauty, but mostly to be accepted and admired. One day I was listening to a sermon by a priest who had a crucifix in the sash of his cassock. I do not remember a word he said, but while he was speaking, a tender feeling directing me to the priesthood engulfed me. It's amazing how something so tender can be so strong. I opposed this reversal of my life's direction for months, but finally said yes. I remember a classmate was puzzled that I stopped gaping at pretty girls. The feeling that pervaded me was qualitatively different from anything orgiastic.
   A quest for a basis of morality is the Achilles heel of the materialistic atheists. There can be no true moral distinction between material things. Moral worth can be assigned, figuratively only, to a car or a physical process. Some trust an enlightened self-interest as the basis for a code of morality. Dawkins finds a source in the side effects of evolution, such as an altruism "misdirected" from its original motive. Other materialists base a moral code on "the greatest good for the greatest number." But where is the deterrent from evil if an act has no intrinsic value or lack of value of its own? Unless there is a spiritual element in human nature and human acts, any ascribed morality is fictitious and is subject to logical undermining. Bertrand Russell conceded that the most he could say of the Holocaust was that it made him feel bad.
   On opening the introduction to "The Portable Atheist," edited by Mr. Hitchens, I expected a scholarly work of deep thought. Instead, I was confronted with an emotional diatribe about the evils done by the followers of God, by religious people and their institutions and by nations with religious leaders. These were cited as arguments against God and the value of religion. The disobedience of humans to any command of God, such as "love your neighbor as yourself," is sad, but does not argue against God.
   Mr. Hitchens promises to reveal "How Religion Poisons Everything." We wonder, even smile, at such an outburst from a scholar, when we recall our religous instruction. We were taught in religion classes to respect our parents, help our neighbor in sickness or poverty, to be honest, truthful, to avoid injuring people and to be faithful in marriage. We had no idea we were being poisoned.
   Mr. Hitchens' personal motives for relief from God are evident. He reveals a terror of a God whom he describes as "a permanent, unalterable, celestial despotism that subjected us to continual surveillance and could convict us of thought-crime and who regarded us as its private property even after we died." He exclaims how happy we should be to be rid of such a "horrible hypothesis." What a contrast to the concept of an infinitely tender, merciful and loving God who is always with us to comfort and inspire us.
   Mr. Hitchens' frightening concept of God enables us to understand his atheism, and his frustration, and that of other atheists, with the impossibility of disproving God's existence.
   It is the "in thing" to scoff at intelligent design these days. Unfortunately, the proponents of intelligent design recently provided Mr. Hitchens and others with a straw man. Intelligent design was presented as suggesting that divine interference was necessary to explain the operation of "gaps" in evolution, such as irreducible complexities. It would be a poor designer of evolution indeed who would need to tinker with its operation to make it work. However, these complexities are valuable in adding to the wonder of evolution, and point to an intelligent designer, but not an interference in nature.
   No divine plan is necessary for our origins according to Mr. Hitchens. "Everything works without that assumption." Evolution explains our origins. But how about an explanation of the origin of evolution? What happened before it started? Our evolution has a relatively short history. The universe was billions of years old and the potential for evolution was latent in matter before earth came on the scene. Evolution can be seen as the execution of God's plan, designed billions of years before earth came to be. It's significant that to date, evolution, which produced our DNA, is smarter than our minds, smarter than the brain it produced.
   "Religion has run out of justifications," we are told by Mr. Hitchens. "Thanks to the telescope and the microscope, it no longer offers an explanation of anything important." The instruments in question are good but we cannot expect the telescope and microscope to teach us moral values. Without guidance, science could destroy us all.
   The "Atheist Manifesto," by Michel Onfray, a French philosopher, follows the same method as Dawkins and Hitchens by pointing out the sins of religion. He makes a claim that religion disregards "the real, hence the willful neglect of the only world there is." Religions, however, are in the forefront of protecting our planet home, promoting civil and human rights, teaching and healing the Third World, to mention just a few real-life contributions.
   George H. Smith, an American, takes up the cause of anti-religion in his book "Atheism, the Case Against God," with a vengeance. "As a human being," he writes, "I am appalled by the psychological damage caused by religious teaching." We went to Church on Sunday and to Catholic schools. Again, we were taught to respect our parents, to reach out to the needy, the sick, the homeless. We received an advanced education, and laughter had the right-of-way in our home. But we were, for Mr. Smith, an example of a damaged family.
   He states that religious morality "serves the purpose of god (sic) not man." He ignores the commands to honor father and mother, not to steal, not to commit adultery or kill or bear false witness against another.
   Sam Harris is on a similar path as Hitchens and others in muckraking history for religous sinners. In his book "End of Faith" he states, "My purpose in this chapter has been to intimate, in as concise a manner as possible, some of the terrible consequences that have arisen, logically and inevitably, out of Christian faith." In contrast, the atheist Andre Comte-Sponville, in his book "The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality," says, "I owe much of what I am, or what I try to be, to the Christian religion." He states further, "The Inquisition, for example, or Islamic terrorism clearly prove beyone the shadow of a doubt that religion can be dangerous, but they prove nothing as to the existence of God. By definition, all religions are human. The fact that they all have blood on their hands could justifiably turn me into a misanthrope, but it is not an argument in favor of atheism -- which, indeed, has itself committed a fair number of crimes, particularly in the twentieth century." He adds, "Also, this tells us more about humanity than it does about religion." His problem with religion is in finding evidence of God's existence.
   Daniel C. Dennett is less "impassioned" against religion than Dawkins, Hitchens, Onfray, Smith and Harris. However, his definition of religion as "social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought," diminishes religion to a branch of sociology. He admits that religion has widespread respect because of "the sense that those who are religious are well-intentioned, trying to lead morally good lives, earnest in their desire not to do evil, and to make amends for their transgressions."
   When I was a student of philosophy, I was convinced, and others agreed, that a psychoanalysis of the authors should preface their work, so that we could see what personality traits might be influencing their opinions. How valuable it would be now to be able to examine the life experiences, the hurts, and other psychological influences on the new atheists which are not revealed in their books. That could more clearly show us whence they come.
   Since logic and science cannot prove the non-existence of God as the atheists concede, of necessity the matter is in the area of psychology. Their distorted survey of history is a flimsy refuge, unworthy of any scholar, from the real cause of atheism which patently is lodged, for whatever reason, in emotion, in their "impassioned" state.