Benedict a Dawkins adherent? Dare I dream?
Pope Benedict XVI waves to the faithful. Photo: Getty Images
Only half-awake when I heard the radio news headline that the Pope had ''resigned'', I burrowed my atheistic head back into my pillow. Then I had a half-dream/half-fantasy about what this might mean.
In my feverishly optimistic mind I followed that headline, with its ''resigned'' buzzword, with the following news story.
''At his press conference the Pope said that in recent years and following his well-known scholarly inclinations he had been doing more and more reading of the books of prominent atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. He had become a daily reader, online, of the intellectually stimulating contents of the website of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.
''He, the Pope, had come to the gradual realisation that atheists like Dawkins were right and that he, Joseph Ratzinger, was wrong. He could see now that he had largely wasted his life believing the superstitious nonsense (''The virgin birth!, The miracles! How could I have believed that mumbo-jumbo?'' his Holiness was heard to mutter beneath his breath) he had picked up as a child and had somehow clung to without making any rigorous intellectual examination of them in spite of his undeserved reputation as an intellectual.
''Now that he was no longer a Christian he had in conscience no choice but to resign from the papacy. He hoped that his successor (for he felt it might take 10 or 20 years for Catholicism to wither away completely in the face of reason and science) would be a dynamic young woman and that she would usher in the right of clergy to marry, either someone of the opposite sex or of their own.
''Vatican officials present at his announcement were left ashen-faced by the Pope's words. Some stormed out angrily as the resigning pontiff, in a wide-ranging address, vowed to spend the rest of his life personally endorsing and overseeing the mass distribution of free condoms to the people of the Third World to fight against HIV/AIDS (which, after reading Dawkins' books, he no longer believed was a punishment sent by God). He'd also fight the poverty and sickness inflicted by the church's daft idea that unchecked childbirth was the mysterious will of a God who, actually, didn't exist.''
Then I woke up and went on to read in the newspapers of the dashing, progressive young fossils, some of them just whippersnappers in their 70s, expected to jostle for the vacant job.
Beauty and ugliness
On my desk and at my elbow as I write this there squats, in a belligerent pose, a giant corroboree frog soft toy (Made in China). It is one of the fruits of my latest visit, last weekend, to Dalgety and its dramatic Monaro environs where the federal capital almost was built.
The NSW National Parks and Wildlife shop at nearby Jindabyne turns out to be one of the world's great supermarkets for Australian fauna kitsch.
Beauty and ugliness are in the eye of the beholder and my purchase of this monstrosity for its monstrousness coincides with a flurry of letters to the editor from miserabilists who cannot see any loveliness in the crafted, sculpted forests of the National Arboretum.
How is one to explain the extreme differences in taste exhibited by members of our species? The giant ''synthetic fibre'' frog is a best-seller at Jindabyne to people who think it is really lovely and I may be, as a collector of fauna kitsch, the first customer to buy one for what strikes me as its extreme hideousness.
But I find Australian fauna kitsch irresistible and the frog monster shares my desk with a little Made in China koala I bought in a Mallacoota Op Shop for a dollar and which, when you press its fat tummy, plays 45 seconds of the musicianship of some didgeridoo virtuoso.
Real corroboree frogs (I have held them on my palm) are about the size of a human thumbnail and are impossibly exquisite and dainty. It is their daintiness that, as with snow crystals, defines them and makes them what they are. But my Jindabyne corroboree frog is a monster the size and unfortunate shape of a cane toad. It is 100 times the size of the real frogs, and, where the real frogs are shy and retiring, my monster seems poised ready to spring at passers-by and bite their throats out.
Floriade is to flora what my ghastly frog is to fauna but the National Arboretum seems to me, although I am an extreme enthusiast for Australia's flora and for wild bush places, a wonderful kind of superior, world-class art gallery in which all the exhibits are alive and leafy.
The miserabilists' argument that the National Arboretum somehow disadvantages and/or insults our natural bushland is baffling and irritating. Yes, the 100 Forests are artificial, but so are the contents of the world's great galleries; while opera, the greatest achievement of our species, is all artifice.