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

Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot