All murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.
Mons. de Voltaire
All murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.
Mons. de Voltaire
A bowl of soup, a glass of wine
And thou beside me,
Ranting in the wilderness.
All the teachings of the Inspired Scriptures
Are dwarfed by the immensity
Of the star-crossed cosmos.
Pascal’s wager need not apply.
Our vile bodies are consumed by fire
Urns of ashes towards sundown.
We therefore commit his body to the deep
In the certain hope that the sea will
Render him up on the Day of Judgment.
No sudden Epiphany brought me to this point,
Only the calm acceptance
That it beggars belief.
It beggars belief that we are all born
With the in-built virus of corruption,
Weighed down by some primordial guilt.
It beggars belief that our world,
Our wondrous awful world
Should blight our brief lives.
As flies to wanton boys
So are we to the gods;
They kill us for their sport.
A man growing old becomes a child again.
Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
Among the copious foot-notes of one the volumes was a full account of the trial of Galileo in front of the holy inquisition in 1633, which were to be found in the records of the British Library. I quote from the actual accusation:
We, Carpar Borgia, Saint Croix de Jerusalem,
Friar Felix Centino d’Ascoli, of St. Anastatia,
Guido Bentivoglio, of St. Mary del Populo,
Friar Desiderius seaglia di Cremona, of St. Charles,
Friar Anthony Barberini, called Mesroy,
Lewis Zachia, of St. Austin,
Fabritius Verospius, called Prespiter, of St. Lawrence, of in pane perna,
Franciscus Barberini of St. Lawrence in Damaso, and
Martius Ginetus, St. Mary Nuova, deacons, by the mercy of God, Cardinals of the holy Roman church, and specially deputed, by the holy apostolic see, to be inquisitors against heretical wickedness throughout the whole Christian republic.
Whereas, you Galileus, son of the late Vincentius Galileus, of Florence, aged seventy, were informed against in the year 1615, in this holy office, for maintaining as true, a certain false doctrine held by many, viz. that the sun is in the centre of the world, and immoveable, and the earth moves round it with a daily motion. Likewise, that you have had certain scholars to whom you have taught the same doctrine. Likewise, that you have kept up a correspondence with certain German mathematicians concerning the same. Likewise, that you have published certain letters concerning the solar spots, in which you have explained the same doctrine as true, and that you have answered the objections which in several places were made against you, from the authority of the holy scriptures, by construing or glossing over the said scriptures, according to your own opinions. And finally, whereas the copy of a writing under the form of a letter, reported to been written by you to him who was formerly your scholar, has been shown to us, in which you have followed the hypothesis of Copernicus, which contains certain propositions contrary to the true sense and authority of the holy scriptures.
There follows a point by point refutation, by the inquisitors, of Galileo’s heresy and his attempt to teach it to others, but that he should be absolved:
Provided that you do first, with sincere heart, and with true faith, abjure, curse, and detest before us the aforesaid errors and heresies, and every other error and heresy contrary to the catholic and apostolic Roman church, in the form which will be prescribed to you by us.
But that your grievous and pernicious errors and transgressions may not pass altogether unpunished, that you yourself may be rendered more cautious for the future, and that your example may induce others to abstain from similar crimes, we decree that the book of dialogues by Galileus Galilei, shall be prohibited by a public edict, and we formally condemn you to be imprisoned in this holy office for a time determinable by our pleasure; and we enjoin you, as a salutary penance, that, for the three years next ensuing, you repeat, once a week, the seven penitential psalms, with the reservation, nevertheless, to ourselves with the power to modify, alter, or remove, either wholly, or in part, the aforesaid penalties and penances.
And so this man, who has been called the Father of modern observational astronomy and the Father of modern physics and even, according to Stephen Hawking, Galileo, perhaps more than any single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science, this man, I repeat, had to eat dirt and to grovel in front of a tribunal of fanatical and reactionary bigots.
The abjuration of Galileus
I, Galileus, son of the late Vincentius Galileus, a Florentine, aged 70, being personally upon my trial, and on my knees before you, the most eminent and reverend the Lords Cardinals, inquisitors-general of the Universal Christian Commonwealth, against heretical wickedness, and having before my eyes the most holy gospels, I touch with my proper hand, do swear that I always have believed, and do now believe, and by the aid of God I will in future believe everything which the holy and apostolic Roman church doth hold, preach and teach. But whereas, notwithstanding, after I had been legally enjoined and commanded by this holy office, to abandon wholly that false opinion, which maintains that the sun is the centre of the universe and immoveable, and I should not hold, defend, or in any way, either by word or writing, teach the aforesaid false doctrine; and whereas also, after it had been notified to me, that the aforesaid doctrine was contrary to the holy scriptures, I wrote and published a book, in which I treated of the doctrine that had been condemned, and produced reasons of great force in favour of it, without giving any answers to them, for which I have been judged by the holy office to have incurred a strong suspicion of heresy, viz. that the sun is the centre of the world, and that the earth is not the centre, but moves…
I, the above-mentioned Galileus Galilei, have abjured, sworn, promised, and bound myself as above, and in testimony of these things I have subscribed, with my own proper hand, this instrument of my abjuration, and repeated word by word at Rome, in the convent of Minerva, this 22nd day of July, anno 1633. I, Galileus Galilei, have abjured, as above, with my own proper hand.
According to popular legend, after recanting his theory that the Earth moved round the Sun, Galileo allegedly muttered the rebellious phrase … and yet it moves.
All these words, all those ideas – geocentric doctrine versus heliocentric heresy, are reduced to almost irrelevance by the images brought to us by the HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE in orbit around the earth, peering into each sector of the universe and affording us a glimpse of the wonders of the cosmos in all its glory.
Amazing images of nebulae, thousands of light-years away, fantastic explosions of light and colour, a fabulous chaos of cosmic energy; symmetrical and asymmetrical shapes of galaxies and constellations, bubbling oceans of hydrogen, oxygen and other elements – the cradles of stars.
Towards the end of July 2010 we learnt on the news that astronomers in Britain had discovered the largest star in the universe to date, situated in the system next to ours, the Large Magellanic Cloud.
Consider this: our sun is twice the size of the average star – this new star is a staggering 320 times the size of the sun and burns a million times more brightly. This monster star, dubbed VY Canis Majoris (Red Hypergiant) has a diameter of about 2.800.000.000 km and yet it is only a tiny dot among the several hundred billion stars that form our galaxy.
And there are a hundred billion galaxies out there!
Could all of this have been a single deliberate act of creation? (I’m with Stephen Hawking on this one – I somehow doubt it).
Oh, and by the way here is a message for that medieval Inquisition – no, we are not the centre of the universe.
Out there on the perimeter there are no stars … out there we is stoned … immaculate.
Jim Morrison of The Doors
Living in an old people’s home, as I do and being still relatively young (still in my 60´s), I have strong intimations of mortality.
Regularly, at a rate of about six or seven a year, one of my old colleagues will clock off, sometimes at the hospital and sometimes here at the Home, usually in the small hours of the morning. During their last few days I guess, weakened by pain and discomfort and lulled by various opiates, they hardly speak. That’s one of the first things they abandon – language leaves them, (they’re too busy dying). Do they know that they’re dying? (Everyone else does).
In general they do go gentle into that dark night and the next day the old people will sigh fatalistically: oh well, that’s life they’ll muse philosophically – a uniquely inaccurate observation by the way. I mean it’s not life is it? It is the converse of life. It is death.
What will happen to me? As far as I’m concerned I’m the only being in the universe who can think and speak in the first person – everyone else is second or third person.
Does one spend eternity lolling about in the Elysium Fields, basking in the warmth of God’s goodness and listening to his musings … consider the lilies of the field, they do not sew neither do they spin.
Or, rather more attractively in my opinion, does one inhabit a Korana paradise where one is served up delicious meals, (tenderly cooked lamb nestling in a soft bed of lightly-spiced yellow rice), waited on by a succession of beautiful young maidens with lustrous eyes.
I read somewhere about a remote island in the South Seas, cut off from the rest of the world, whose people speak a sub-variant of the Polynesian group of languages with a tiny vocabulary of around two hundred useful words, seven of which signify sweet potato – the sweet potato presumably forming their staple diet. Another of their eccentricities is that they all worship Prince Phillip, the consort of our queen Elisabeth. So one assumes that paradise for them will consist of being subjected to a stream of mild racist-driven gaffes muttered by His Royal Highness.
But, more seriously, I hover in a limbo of unknowing, poised between logic and faith, like a gambler uneasily hedging his bets or like Voltaire on his deathbed who, on being asked by the priest to renounce the Devil and all his works, murmured, this no time to be making new enemies.
To sum it all up, oh God (if there is a god) pray for my Soul (if I have a soul).
Or will it simply be, I wonder, as posited in The Wisdom of Solomon (book 2, verses 2-9). My spirit finds these words incredibly moving and beautiful but my mind remains doubtful in the face such total nihilism.
For we are born of nothing, and after this we shall be as if we had not been; for the breath in our nostrils is smoke: and speech a spark to move our heart.
Which being put out, our body shall be ashes, and our spirit shall be poured abroad as soft air, and our life shall pass away as the trace of a cloud, and shall be dispersed as a mist, which is driven away by the beams of the sun and overpowered with the heat thereof.
And our name in time shall be forgotten, and no man shall have remembrance of our works.
Come therefore, and let us enjoy the good things that are present, and let us speedily use the creatures as in youth.
Let us fill us fill ourselves with costly wine and ointments: and let not the flower of the time pass by us.
Let us crown ourselves with roses, before they be withered: let no meadow escape our riot.
Let none of us go without his share in luxury: let us everywhere leave tokens of joy: for this our portion, and this our lot.
If one man offers you democracy and another offers a bag of grain, at what stage of starvation will you prefer the grain to the vote?
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell (1872 – 1970)