I got on the bus and went to Dumfries. The car is very poorly and will have to be replaced soon, hence the bus trip, to get some shopping.
Having done the stuff I needed to, I found myself with an hour to while away until the return journey. It was a long way from breakfast and I was getting hungry, so I bought a sandwich from the Spar – something cheap in one of those plastic triangular wrappings. The sun was out, so I plonked my rear end on a bench overlooking the river and prepared to eat.
However, the sandwich packet refused to co-operate – there was no tag to pull on, my nails couldn’t get through the plastic and my teeth are now too few and too blunt to get through anything much tougher than the cheese sandwich nestled enticingly within. I was considering rooting through my bag for something sharp and pointy (I normally carry a pencil or three) when a couple of smart-looking men came along, clutching leaflets and thick little books and dressed like Men in Black minus the shades.
So, missionaries for sure. Christians? Possibly, though they’re usually older and scruffier. Mormons? Maybe – Mormons always dress conservative and a little old-fashioned. Scientologists? Perhaps – the younger one looked the spit of Tom Cruise.
Spotting me, they launched into their spiel: “Would you be excited to learn that there is a prophet on Earth who is speaking the Word of God??”
“Not really. But I wouldn’t be at all surprised – there’s a lot of them about nowadays. I go on the internet a lot, you know. There’s plenty of them out there, on the web.”
“Ummm…” You could hear their brains working – quick, what’s the script for this? Then: “Ah! Would like our card? It has a website address on it!”
“No thanks. Look if you guys want to be useful, one of you could open this sandwich packet for me. I’m really hungry.”
They looked at each other. Another short pause for brains to shuffle frantically through scripts. The older MiB nodded silently at Tom Cruise, who took the sandwich packet and spent a good thirty seconds manfully ripping it open.
I bestowed a genuine smile of gratitude on him as I took the packet back (I really was hungry). “Thank you!” I beamed, “You’ve just done a good deed. Now go away do do more good deeds!”
And I settled down to eating and waved them off.
I generally try to be nice to missionaries. Being nasty to them only makes them feel that they’re persecuted; for them, feeling persecuted means that they’re in the right. In the past, I’ve argued with them, but that’s usually a waste of energy; the ones who are picked for evangelism are chosen for their unwavering belief in their religion. But it’s often fun to mess with their heads a little and go wildly off-script.
Alic Sebold’s The Lovely Bones was built around in interesting and (as far as I know) original concept of the afterlife: rather than there being a single one-size-fits-all Heaven where everybody goes, everyone gets their own individual Heaven – a place where they are truly happy. Although each heaven is specific to each individual, they are not alone; all the Heavens are 3D Venn diagrams and those with similar ideas of happiness find their Heavens intersecting to greater or lesser degrees.
In this cosmology, there is of course no Hell. Evil people (like the serial killer who raped, murdered and dismembered Sebold’s heroine) find themselves, like everyone else, in their personal idea of Heaven; which is presumably (although Sebold doesn’t explore this) populated with willing victims whose idea of heaven is to be tortured and killed. Though-provoking ideas, with a good story attached too.
Kevin Brockmeier’s The Brief History of the Dead is built around another concept of the afterlife: that everybody goes to an afterlife and stays there only while there is somebody alive who remembers them; then they well and truly vanish. Brockmeier’s afterlife isn’t described as heaven; he makes it sound like any largish, quiet US town, with gardens and squares and sunshine and lots of pleasantness. People have jobs and go shopping and walking and make love and talk. There are orphanages for the children (who never grow up – nobody ages here). People don’t change from their pre-death selves – blind people are still blind, crazy people are still crazy, selfish people are still selfish. So presumably the evil people are here as well and still evil, but we see no sign of them and nothing really bad seems to happen.
However, I can forgive Brockmeier that particular inconsistency in his cosmology – the guy can write well enough for it not to matter. The story is set in the near future, when global catastrophe is occurring and international tensions and wars are increasing. The Afterlife is starting to get crowded. Then, suddenly, it starts emptying – somebody has released a devastating virus that is rapidly killing off every human. Eventually, the only people left in the Afterlife are those held in the memory of the last human alive – how long can it last?
Towards the end, the story got pretty meandering. Characters kept getting introduced only to do very little to advance the plot. But it was still worth reading right to the end.
An initial irritation for me was the constant and blatant use of the Coco-cola brand name in the narrative – the heroine works for the company, every soft drink is a Coke, every crushed soft drink can is a Coke can, and so on. But it rapidly becomes clear that Brockmeier is only doing this to give the company, and global corporations generally, a damm good kicking. He really, really doesn’t like them and they are the villains of the book. If this novel ever gets filmed, this is going to be one product-placement opportunity that won’t be taken up.
Oh dear. Sometimes, you wonder why people don’t see the obvious…
Apparently this is a genuine lightswitch sold to devoted Catholics, and not photoshopped. From Pharyngula:
This is the logo of the Out Campaign; if you’re an atheist, you display this on your blog or website.
I don’t define myself as an atheist – I’ve put it up because I really like the design. It’s bold, striking and simple; it also deliberately references the classic novel The Scarlet Letter, where the heroine is forced to wear a big scarlet letter ‘A’ as a punishment for adultery. Altogether, it’s a way cool logo!
It’s the brainchild of Richard Dawkins, who wants atheists to be out and proud. I’ve no problem with that. In fact, I’ve no problem with Professor Dawkins, unlike a lot of my fellow astrologers. Anybody who feels that his criticisms (some of them justified, I regret to say) will collapse everything they believe in should find a stronger set of beliefs.
I say I’m not an atheist, but I wonder if that’s quite true any more. I’ve been thinking about my personal spiritual beliefs over the past few months; no dark night of the soul drama, just a quiet reassessment of what I believe in. I’ve been reading up on Buddhism; I’ve not even attempted to unravel the deeper theological complexities of it, but the Eightfold Path seems to be a pretty good guide to how to live your life. Earth-centred Paganism is what I shall still always strive to follow. But as to whether there is a Creator (or even several Creators)… I don’t really think so; I’m coming to the view that we create our own Gods. So I suppose I should now call myself a Pagan Buddhist Agnostic.
And yes, I know that “Buddhist Agnostic” is (probably) tautologous. But what the heck……
Well, another one over. At last the nights are going to get shorter – at this time of year, we get 15 hours of darkness; those nights when I’m lying awake and hopelessly chasing sleep, it feels like the sun will never rise…
Thursday night, we had our usual Yule feast chez Carol’s. We squeezed a dozen people around Carol’s new table (built by Andy from local, fallen oak). And it was a great feast indeed, as you can see.
There was meat in plenty – beef, local venison, a whole goose, plus a real piece of chef-magic from Carol – a goose stuffed with a duck stuffed with a widgeon stuffed with a mole! That particular stuffed-bird creation was – with the exception of the mole, which was from the garden a few yards away – was all wild, locally-shot fowl; a couple of the meat-eaters were picking lead shot out of their helpings! (Leaving Carol wailing “But I was up until after midnight picking all the bloody shot out!”) I – the token veggie – had my usual chestnut roast, cooked to perfection by B as usual.
Afterwards, we sat quietly in the living room, while Bill played his hurdy-gurdy and Carol tried out some of her instruments. Then, it was a sit by the bonfire outside as we watched it dying.
All in all, a very good night, though the unaccustomed alcohol and rich food left me feeling tired and aching the next day (I’m still having to take extra painkillers today, and resting from two attacks of tachycardia.)