I Believe In Robert Lind

Here’s my translation of a classic 1979 revue routine by Hans Alfredson and Tage Danielsson. Kramfors is a town of 6000 inhabitants in central Sweden, near the 62nd parallel.


TD: New religions keep popping up like mushrooms, and now it’s time for the – ubiquitous in entertainment these days – Religious Corner. Sitting next to me is a fellow man [HA: “Flatterer”] … a co-slipper on the endless unsanded sidewalk of life. And I would like to ask you a straight and direct question: do you believe in God?

HA: No, in Lind. Robert Lind in Kramfors.

TD: Is that someone you know?

HA: No, but I believe in Him.

TD: But you don’t know if He exists?

HA: I believe He does. I’m almost convinced that He exists. I can sort of feel it in my entire body that He exists. Yes, I believe He exists. The answer is “yes”.

TD: So this is something inside of you?

HA: Yes, I believe, I sort of know. Also, I’ve felt that I could hear His voice.

TD: How so?

HA: I called Him.

TD: How do you know it was Him? It might have been Bosse Parnevik [a popular impersonator at the time].

HA: I don’t think so. Parnevik was on tour in Finland at the time.

TD: But my dear friend, do you have any evidence for the existence of Robert Lind?

HA: Well, evidence, you know, it’s hard to come by. But He does advertise every week. I think that’s a kind of evidence. Last week for instance there was a big ad in the Saxon weekly, for a biodynamic health bike in rugged Hammer Plastic, and other things. You know, He has this mail order company in Kramfors, “Robert Lind in Kramfors Ltd.”, you’ve heard of them, right?

TD: But I don’t understand, how can a person learn Robert Lind’s will?

HA: Well, prices and stuff are in the catalogue…

TD: Yes, but if you are troubled and want contact, everyone can’t just call Him, can we?

HA: That’s true, it would get expensive if everyone called. Kramfors is after all outside the Stockholm area code. But I usually call from work, that’s the kind of guy I am. Simply a bad boy!

TD: But I was thinking of Him [gestures towards the ceiling], He must get completely swamped by calls.

HA: Yes, that may very well be true. He did seem a little miffed last time I called. He said, “You again? Dammit, there’s got to be an end to this now!”. This suggests that the End is nigh.

TD: But if this Robert Lind really does exist [HA: He does! He does!], then do you feel that he may have existed for all eternity?

HA: Yes, in the beginning was Robert Lind, yes, box, all right.

TD: But how do you know?

HA: I can feel it. And besides, my mother says so. I asked my mother, and she said, “Oh, Robert Lind in Kramfors, they must have been around for ever”. You aren’t suggesting that my mother is a fibber?

TD: Certainly not!

HA: Watch it or I’ll sic the old lady on you! She’s strong! Middle-weight Olympic winner.

TD: Please understand that these are all new concepts to me. How do you picture Robert Lind?

HA: I think he’s short and fat. Or tall and muscular. He’s got hairy legs. I don’t know, I’m just guessing, sort of imagining him. I’ve got a diffuse, a diffident idea of Him.

TD: How do you picture the Afterlife?

HA: That’s a bit clearer to me. I believe that when you die, you go to Kramfors. But if you’ve been wicked, then you’ll have to stay in Dals Långed.

TD: What is your mental image of Kramfors itself?

HA: I think it’s all light and beauty. But Dals Långed is a hellhole.

TD: And I suppose that Robert Lind rules the quick and the dead?

HA: I wouldn’t go that far. But He has a certain influence, at least in Kramfors. You see, He’s on the Municipal Council. He’s a very powerful person. Generally speaking, I’ve devoted my life to Him. I’ve become a sales agent! Can I offer you a set of garden furniture in pressure-treated softwood? Four pieces? Including a couch?

TD: No, really, I demand a bit more of the One I believe in than a set of garden furniture in pressure-treated softwood, including a couch, four pieces.

HA: Oh. Well, then you’re talking to the right person, because there’s a soap dish included as well!

TD: Aha, now we’re talking!

Two Stockholm Dissenter Churches De-Sanctified

I follow the decommissioning of Sweden’s churches keenly for several reasons. I like churches, the older the better, but I don’t like the Church much. And I take great interest in the West’s ongoing secularisation process. Before, I’ve blogged about how Maglarp Church was torn down, about how Örja church was sold as housing and about the National Heritage Board’s advice to congregations that decide to stop heating their churches.

Two upscale 1890s dissenter churches in the posh Östermalm precinct of Stockholm have been similarly de-sanctified in the past year.

A year ago, a real estate company co-owned by footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic bough the 1898 Elim Church next to the Swedish History Museum, where I spend a lot of time. Elim was a Baptist church and is now being converted into luxury housing.

Now I hear that the Trinity Church near Östermalmstorg Square, a beautiful neo-Gothic brick structure inaugurated in 1894, has been sold. It’s been a Methodist church, and that particular sect isn’t doing so well in Sweden. The buyer is internationally famous Grammy-winning music video director Jonas Åkerlund, who intends to use the building for unspecified cultural purposes.

The latter case is kind of funny. 30 years ago, Jonas Åkerlund played drums with the seminal Satanist black metal band Bathory. His most recent music videos, however, have been for Coldplay, Beyoncé and Jay-Z.

Thanks to Johan Lundström för the tipoff.

Update same day: Aard regular Thomas Ivarsson points out that the 1880 Caroli Church in urban Malmö, not far from Maglarp and Örja, was de-sanctified by the Church of Sweden in 2010 and is now part of a shopping mall.

Download Dawkins’ God Delusion In Arabic For Free

Bassam Al-Baghdady (@Al_Baghdady on Twitter) is a Swedish film writer. He’s translated Richard Dawkins’ 2006 best-seller The God Delusion into Arabic. Bassam tells me the file may be disseminated freely, so go ahead and download Dawkins’ God Delusion in Arabic for free! وهم الاله بقلم ريتشارد دوكنز.

Two disclaimers, though.

1. Despite numerous contact efforts over many weeks, I haven’t received any response from Richard Dawkins or his staff when I’ve asked for permission to put the book up for download. The reason that I am going ahead anyway is that there is no official Arabic translation of the book that I could recommend people to buy. If Dawkins or his staff get in touch with me and ask me to take the file down, I will do so swiftly.

2. I don’t know Arabic. For all I know, the file may actually contain the script of the third season of Seinfeld. But I trust Bassam and I will be interested to receive comments on his translation.

Critical Thinking Training Makes Kids Smart And Also Atheist

I’m weeks late to the party here. If you pay attention to atheist issues you’ve probably heard that a recent major meta-study* concludes that at the population level, atheists are a bit smarter than religious folks (mainly Protestant Americans and English in this case). Not dramatically so, but in a statistically significant way. The difference persists even if you control for gender and education level. This means that if you look only at poorly educated people, the unbelievers are a bit smarter, and likewise if you look only at highly educated people, or women, or men. Here are some thoughts about this.

Intelligence is, to the extent that it is measurable, caused by both genetics and environment. Take a pair of twins and give one good nutrition, care and education – and withhold all this from the other twin. Then the first twin will score better at IQ tests than her sister. On the other hand, kids with smart parents tend to grow up smarter than other people even if they are separated from their parents at birth. The new study documents a drop-off in the difference in intelligence between atheists and believers after higher education. Atheists are still smarter, but the difference shrinks. That is very telling to me.

I don’t think having atheist beliefs makes you smarter. Nor does being smart make you more likely to become an atheist. The study’s authors suggest that the main explanation for the difference is that “intelligent people do not accept beliefs not subject to empirical tests or evidence”. This is almost certainly the wrong explanation. It may be an observational truth, but it is not a causal explanation.

Here’s how I think it works. It has to do not only with the amount of education controlled for by the study, but with the content of your early indoctrination and later education – specifically, whether you are encouraged to think critically or not.

By definition, religious upbringing and education teaches acceptance of some scriptural authority. Not only on ethical issues, but on matters of fact, such as “Is there a god and what’s her name?”. This is why religious affiliation runs so strongly in families, communities and cultures. There are an awful lot of Hindus in the world, for instance, but geographically and culturally they are sharply delimited. This religion’s success has nothing to do with smart people in India looking over the global options and picking the best one. It is due to everybody in that area, smart or stupid, being indoctrinated in the readily available and culturally accepted default faith. Religious people often attend religious schools and universities.

Non-religious upbringing and education, on the other hand, tends to be equally big on the ethics but more critical and open on factual issues. My kids, for instance, often get the reply “Can you guess?” when they ask their dad questions. This, I believe, gives a child’s intelligence a big push. The fact that this correlates with atheism is simply an epiphenomenon. If taught critical thinking, kids become more intelligent and also happen to be less open to accepting untestable or empirically false religious beliefs. Critical thinking training makes kids a bit smarter – and also atheist.

* Zuckerman, M.; Silberman, J. & Hall, J.A. 2013. The Relation Between Intelligence and Religiosity: A Meta-Analysis and Some Proposed Explanations. Personality and Social Psychology Review, Aug. 6, 2013.

I was inspired to write this blog entry by the discussion on episode #100 of the excellent Skeptikerpodden podcast. Congrats guys, keep up the good work!