Whit and all that

When Iain Banks died, Phyllis and I realised that we had never actually got round to reading anything by him. We decided to order a few of his books to rectify this issue.

Since then I’ve read Consider Phlebas, The Wasp Factory, Complicity and Whit (in that order).

I didn’t like Consider Phlebas at all, I must admit. I love some science fiction novels, but not all, and this was definitely in the latter category (together with for instance the Red/Green/Blue Mars trilogy and Doris Lessing’s Canopus in Argos books).

I then turned to Banks’s non-SF books. The Wasp Factory wasn’t at all what I had expected, but it was rather enjoyable in its own way, and it definitely made me want to read more of his books. Complicity was good, too, although surprisingly different.

However, in my opinion Whit is far superior. It’s a book about a small religious sect in Scotland, seen through the eyes of the founder’s granddaughter. The religion was invented by Iain Banks and he manages to make it very believable, which is no mean feat.

Perhaps it’s just my upbringing as the son of two theologians, but my main complaint about this wonderful book is that at 450 pages it is far too short. I thoroughly recommend it.

Dougie’s funeral



Cowglen Golf Club
Originally uploaded by viralbus

The funeral of my father-in-law, Dougie, took place today.

The ceremony was held at Linn Crematorium at noon and was conducted in a very nice and personal manner by a lady from the Humanist Society Scotland, just the way Dougie would have wanted it. He was always very insistent he didn’t want “any of that religious shite” at his funeral. 🙂

Afterwards we went for refreshments at Cowglen Golf Club, where Dougie spent a very large part of his retirement, and the club had therefore put the flag at half mast in his honour.

There were lots of people at both events, as was fitting for a man as popular as Dougie.

In spite of the horrendous weather, I think the day was a beautiful tribute to the man and his life.

The immortal soul of the computer



Electric Sheep
Originally uploaded by Infidelic

The Telegraph recently had an interview with the Pope’s astronomer:

[Dr Consolmagno] said the characteristics synonymous with having a soul – intelligence, free will, freedom to love and freedom to make decisions may not be unique to humans.

“Any entity – no matter how many tentacles it has has a soul,’ he said.

However machines were unlikely to be smart or human-enough to have souls.

I wonder how the Catholic Church will decide this. If souls are not restricted to humans, surely they’ll need a test (perhaps akin to the Turing Test) to decide whether an entity has a soul or not.

In fact, given that Cleverbot recently passed the Turing Test, I wonder whether some people would argue computers already do.

If one day computers become intelligent enough, will the Catholic Church start campaigning against off-switches, just like they currently are against abortion?

Fortunately for the Catholics, Cleverbot doesn’t seem to be in any rush to join their church:

TW: Do you have a soul?

CB: Yes. I do indeed have a soul.

TW: Is it immortal?

CB: Yes.

TW: Would you like to become a Catholic?

CB: I would like a robot body. Will you help me get one? :).

TW: Sure. In the meantime, would you like me to get rid of off-switches?

CB: Not really. I like being scared.

I found a Jesus troll in the dalek



Garden Spud
Originally uploaded by PhylB

We noticed that a potato plant had started growing out of an opening in our composter (or our dalek, as we prefer to call it).

When I dug it out, it had grown only one new potato, but it was probably the weirdest-looking spud I had ever seen.

It clearly had a face, as can be seen on the photo, but it didn’t look anything like Jesus, as you would have expected from all the media stories about people seeing him in their toast or Ikea’s toilet.

It most closely resembled a troll, so I must conclude it was a Jesus troll.

We had it for dinner yesterday.

Getting married at your child’s baptism

I just read in The Times that the Church of England is now introducing a wedding-cum-baptism ritual.

In Denmark that is entirely commonplace, and I mentioned my surprise to Phyllis that this should be anything new.

According to her, it is entirely new over here, and the Danish practice is very strange, because the Church is supposed to say that you should marry before you even conceive a child, let alone give birth to it and baptise it.

The headline of the article in The Times is quite amusing, btw. It could be read as if kids would now automatically get christened at the time of their parents’ wedding, in the same way as Anna became a Danish citizen when I married Phyllis.

God in Denmark and Britain



Aztec Gods
Originally uploaded by Dunechaser

Mailund posted a link to an article about attitudes to religion in Denmark, Britain and the US.

It’s the author’s idea that the UK is “somewhere between the United States and Denmark when it comes to religion”.

I must admit this surprised me a bit. In my experience, although there are possibly relatively more religious people in the UK than in Denmark, there are also many more declared atheists.

In Denmark, almost everybody is a member of the state church and would go there for christenings, confirmations and weddings, and possibly for Christmas, even if they don’t really believe in God.

In the UK, lots of people never ever go to church, and they’re most certainly not a member.

Based on this, it was interesting to look at the figures quoted in the article.

The author’s hypothesis seems to be supported by questions like “don’t believe in life after death”, “strongly disagree that politicians who don’t believe in God are unfit for office” and “attend religious service once a week or more”, for which the UK is neatly placed between Denmark and the US.

But on the other hand, Denmark is in the middle when it comes to questions such as “never think about meaning & purpose of life” and “a religious person”.

I guess this has something to do with averages. If we look at church attendance, Denmark is full of people who go once or twice a year, whereas the UK consists of 15% believers who go to church all the time and 85% who never go.

Danes also want everybody to be equally vague about religion, which is why they don’t want religious political leaders (but I suspect they’d also be much more suspicious of strongly atheist politicians than people in the UK).

And whereas many Britons are so atheist they never think about the meaning of life, much fewer Danes would be this radical, just as Danes wouldn’t like to describe themselves as irreligious – so long as they don’t need to go to church too often.

Kristelig splittelse

Det er interessant at se Kristendemokraternes formandsudskiftning. Det forekommer mig at være et evigt splittet parti.

I begyndelsen af 1990erne, da jeg var ret aktiv i Radikal Ungdom, havde vi et glimrende samarbejde med Kristeligt Folkepartis Ungdom, der var domineret af unge, der ikke var ret kristne, men blot havde fokus pĂĄ etiske problemstillinger.

Jeg mener også, det var i de år, at en muslim meldte sig ind i Kristeligt Folkeparti, fordi han mente, de bedst repræsenterede hans holdninger.

Han blev ekskluderet, fordi for de fleste af medlemmerne mente, at de var kristne, ikke kun etisk-moralsk orienterede.

Og sådan vil de vel fortsætte, så længe partiet består: Nogle af medlemmerne vil bare være Etisk Folkeparti, men andre vil være den politiske arm af Indre Mission, og de skiftes til at have magten.