Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Swedes have a word for it: Murdoch chose wrong salad

Today I'm back home after visiting cousins and aunts in Sweden. As usual I came away with a list of new words and expressions to memorise. Some are a bit specialised and may come in useful only rarely. Last Friday night for example I learnt the expression “att pissa i fel sallad”; which captures the mistake that led to Murdoch’s downfall with such precision that I doubt I shall ever again find a context as apt.

I hope you’ll forgive the crudity and agree with me that the day Murdoch’s hirelings hacked Milly Dowler’s phone they “pissed in the wrong salad”.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

What I liked and didn't like about the atheist bus

January 2009 - an atheist London bus
Some belated reflections on the 2009 atheist bus campaign. I didn’t like that slogan. But they say to understand all is to forgive all and I've looked up the British Humanist Association website which explains the thinking behind it. These buses were a reaction to Christian adverts suggesting you would burn in hell; “probably” was included to avert a legal challenge; and “go and enjoy your life” was intended to convey that there's no life except this one. 

They also describe the amazing number of small donations they received to fund the campaign, as well as a big one from Richard Dawkins.

My thoughts are these. First and foremost, the campaign was a brilliant idea. My second comment was about the inclusion of the word probably. This deserves as essay all to itself (which I'm already working on, so it may come soon). But my big objection is to the advice: so go and enjoy your life

If I’d had a vote, the wording would have been “so go and make a better world”.

Here's why I didn’t like this enjoy your life stuff.  It says that non-belief in god makes you shallow.  I'm a regular reader of a weekly newspaper called the Irish Catholic.  Their columnists direct frequent pokes at secularism, and a regular trope is the identification of secularism with consumerism. An identification which "so go and enjoy your life" seems to invite. 

I ought to add that secularism is more important than atheism and these columnists are mistaken to confuse the two. More about this another day.

The German atheist bus carried some interesting slogans
I've included a picture of the German atheist bus.  The words in brackets say "with a probability bordering on certainty".

It carried some interesting extra slogans. The lower slogan Werte sind Menschlich – auf uns kommt es an means “Morality is human – all depends on us”; but I suspect the German succeeds in capturing this thought much more snappily than English can; or at least much more snappily than I have been able to.

There are a couple more slogans not visible here. Aufklärung heißt, verantwortung zu übernehmen : "Enlightenment means to take responsibility".

Another says Ein erfülltes Leben braucht keinen Glauben:  "A fulfilled life needs no belief".

German by the way is my all time favourite language and I would learn it if I had time.