Friday, 28 March 2014

I am exactly as smart (and knowledgeable) as an atheist

Some years ago some wag put up a poster in the office: “Meetings, a practical alternative to work”. It struck a chord with me at the time. I was going through my middle-management phase, battling to avoid infection with buzzword mania.
It was then I learned the real meaning of jargon, from “blue sky thinking outside the box” upwards into higher realms of meaninglessness. It’s a form of language, forever mutating, that exists solely to make the thinking-impaired seem relatively able-minded.
All that, thank goodness, is happily behind me now. I am no longer responsible for anyone’s output but my own, which is an under-rated freedom. But I have discovered another alternative to work. One which probably wastes even more time, though I haven’t dared calculate quite how much.
It’s called Facebook.
No doubt Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Snapchat and whatever this week’s social network of choice may be are just as dangerous but I have managed so far to avoid their siren call. For me, Facebook is enough. My social life has become almost entirely virtual. Which does cut down the booze bill.
The reason it’s so addictive is that my friends all share such interesting ideas. Amid all the snaps of cute cats of daft dogs (I can mostly resist the former, the latter are harder).
And then there are the quizzes. I’ve been a sucker for quizzes ever since the time when I started setting one every week for the regulars in my local. (I had a real-world social life back then, nearly 30 years ago.)
I got 20 out of 20 this week on one that purported to test how well I’d do on University Challenge. Which probably says more about the setters than it does about me or the show. Actual TV competitors don’t have the luxury of either a multiple-choice format or limitless time to ponder their answers.
More revealingly, I clicked the other day on a link headed: “Are you smarter than an atheist?”
The answer to this could only be “no”. I am an atheist.
I am also, according to this test, considerably more knowledgeable about religion than most people who profess to believe. I scored 94 per cent.
In this it seems I am pretty typical, atheists being the “religious group” who do best in the test. That is, of course, only those atheists who are interested enough to try it.
But in one way this test too was revealing mostly about the people who set it.
There were some questions about Christianity that most Christians, apparently, get wrong – which must say something in itself.
There were easier ones about Islam, Judaism and ancient Greek mythology. But there were more about US law and about one particular madcap American cult – Mormonism.
Nothing at all about paganism, Sikhism, the Baha’i faith, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Taoism, Shinto, Candomblé, Rastafarianism or Voodoo.
Which reveals clearly enough the bias inherent in pretty well all religious thinking – not least the blinkered, ignorant and arrogant species prevalent in the god-fearing US of A.
I wrote here last week that I hoped Tony Benn and Bob Crow were not the last of their kind. And of course they weren’t.
One man who shares their warmth, humanity and principles – and has a better sense of humour – is the MP for Bolsover, Dennis Skinner. And, of course, he shares with them too the dubious honour of having been unfairly vilified by much of the national press throughout his career.
Now 82, Dennis is as sharp as ever and still one of the good guys.
In the wake of last week’s Budget, he drew attention to an advert emanating from Conservative Central Office that crowed: “Bingo! Cutting the bingo tax and beer duty – to help hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy”.
Could anything reveal more clearly or shamefully the patronising Tory attitude towards the people who actually do all the work? As Dennis asked: “What next? Tax breaks for whippets and flat caps?”
This question is going to sound like something from one of those irritating “personality quizzes” that used to reside in “lifestyle” magazines and now infest the internet. In this case, however, it’s a serious query, drawn from real life. Mine.
Your attention is distracted while you’re putting together the ingredients of a familiar, not to say routine, recipe for your daily bread. You can’t remember whether you’ve put in the correct two cups of water, or only one.
Do you:
a)      carry on as it is, risking ruining the loaf?
b)      put in another cup “just in case” – risking ruining the loaf?
c)      put in another half-cup, hoping it won’t be disastrous, but guaranteeing that it won’t be perfect?
And now a subsidiary question.
Having chosen option (c), you find your loaf turns out a bit better than usual, and you still don’t know whether it was over-watered or under-watered. So what do you do next time?

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