The dead have no known address

I DON'T know when exactly it became apparent that nobody at all believed in God. Up until quite recently, I thought it was just me and everybody I knew and pretty well everyone I'd ever met in my life who thought it was a load of old rubbish, perpetuated by the arms business for the sole purpose of fomenting one war after another. But quite recently I've realised that nobody at all believes in God, even the people who think they do. Or, at any rate, say they do.

The first suspicion of this truth came with the arrival or all those derr-brained bishop from Africa for some Church of England conference. Now, I'm not a great expert on any of this, but it was difficult to avoid the conclusion that Christian forgiveness was not very high on the agenda of a lot of these awful scum, that they were on the whole much keener on hatred and the incitement of violence against innocent homosexuals.

There's no need to take any of these people seriously, but the twit who said that he wouldn't ask a homosexual to address the conference for the same reason that he wouldn't invite a prostitute was especially interesting; I wonder whether his edition of the Bible just left out the bit about Mary Magdalene, or whether he just never quite got that far in his reading. I know, I know, it's awfully hard and stupid and boring and full of incredible silliness, but if you're a Bishop, you are supposed to read a bit further in the Bible than Leviticus.

But the sublimely enjoyable story, which finally confirmed that belief in God had completely come to an end, was the innocent waifs of Walsall. If you missed it, a lot of tots came home from Sunday school wailing and in terrible distress. It emerged that their Sunday School teacher had told them that the late Princess of Wales was probably in hell, having led a sinful life, and that they should repent before it was too late. The mothers of Walsall, I fear, are in uproar; "He worshipped Diana," said one mother of her tiny, without apparent irony.

When I had finished laughing at this splendid story - which I'm sure has been raising just as much merriment in every news room in the capital before the hacks sit down to compose their outraged prose - I just began to wonder. I mean, 50 years ago the proposition that if you lead a sinful life and die without repentance you will go to hell would have been regarded, in general, as unarguable.

It might, of course, always have been thought rather tactless or presumptuous to cite particular examples. But the theology is unfaultable, and the question of whether or not it made a few kiddies cry somewhat beside the point.

The truth is that nobody believes in God any more, even the poor saps who send their kids to Sunday school. Perhaps, in fact, only the odd Sunday school teacher, who is rare enough to merit tabloid denunciations. We quite like the idea of heaven, particularly a heaven with our favourite people twinkling away in the firmament, but we obviously don't believe in it; if we seriously thought there was anything in it, we'd also believe in the possibility of hell, and maybe even amend our lives. But of course, we don't; we only believe in talking about heaven in the way we believe in Father Christmas, as something for the children.

And Christianity? The Ten Commandments and the going to Church and the fleeing fornication and fearing the Lord? Well, that's a bit more tricky. "It's all a bit... over, isn't it?" a friend of mine has the habit of saying, of anything from Tommy Hilfiger to post-structuralism. And if anything is over, Christianity is. Humanity outgrows things from time to time; it has outgrown animism, it is outgrowing imperialism, it will outgrow Christianity as surely as it will outgrow cargo cults.

And in the meantime, we will carry on going through the motions, and telling our children that the Princess of Wales is a star in heaven, simply because it is too boring and complicated to tell the truth; that she was a good woman, who worked hard and achieved many good things; who frequently demonstrated kindness in the face of concerted public hatred; who, by doing what she thought was right, made ordinary silly people understand that Aids and leprosy were not easily contagious, that compassion was the universal right of human beings. And, in the year or two before her senseless death, she used her fame to state that the sale of landmines could never be justified.

She is not in hell; but she is not in heaven either. She was a good, ordinary woman, and that, surely, is enough even for children. I wish it was possible to tell them so, in accordance with what everybody now so clearly believes, not to start talking about angels in heaven, and respect not only the dignity of the dead, but our own dignity.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent