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The pious and the pie-eyed

THE GOD of thunder rode one day upon his milk-white filly. "I'm Thor," he cried; the horse replied, "You've forgotten your thaddle, thilly." Oh well, all right, they didn't quite put it like that in A God a Minute (R2), but they weren't far off. In his relentless quest for the quick laugh, Colin Morris gave us a thumbnail lexicon of gods - not serious ones, like Christ or Jehovah, but reasonably safe, remote, risible gods, worshipped by people who probably don't listen to Radio 2, like the Kikuyu or the ancient Egyptians. So we had the Valkyrie, alias the waitresses of Valhalla; Osiris who would pounce on "any hapless carrot-top" (for goodness sake, how many redheads were there in ancient Thebes?); and Ghede, the frock-coated fornicator of Haiti, who appeared in a James Bond film. Was it Chesterton who said that the ancients could laugh about religion because they didn't really believe in it?

It was all in aid of World of Faith week and, probably, pretty harmless fun. Hindus might have felt uneasy when one of their own, Promati, the god of fire, cropped up in such company, but their faith got a fairer airing in From Birth to Eternity (R2), which looked at the rituals provided by world religions to help their adherents through the stickier moments of life. We heard about the elaborate procedure of a Hindu wedding, the messy rite of circumcision - and listened to Thora Hird remembering tearfully her husband's funeral, accompanied, as is every Christian ceremony, by the inescapably Old Testament 23rd Psalm. In this serious and interesting survey, the most surprising moment came when an old man underwent his delayed bar mitzvah. Orthodox Judaism is bound by rigid rules, and one of them allows this rite-of-passage only to 13-year-old boys. If, however, you miss that moment and go on to live out your three-score-years-and- ten - and then survive yet another 13 years, you can have a second shot at it. Maturity, at last.

Most of these great moments are accompanied by a party, and in our culture that means a booze-up. Dear Diary (R4) this week snooped on the self-deluding maudlin moments of famous drunks. So Byron blamed boiled cockles for his, ahem, indigestion, rather than the prodigious amount of drink with which they were washed down, and Evelyn Waugh grumbled that too much excitement made him poorly. But the clear winner in Simon Rae's eyes was Boswell. He merited two long confessions. In the second, he described waking feeling dreadful at noon, "vexed that I should have been guilty of such riot". A swift brandy put him right, whereupon he played that silly game of opening a Bible at random for inspiration. Alas, he hit upon the text: "And be not drunk with wine, wherein there is excess". "Some," wrote the unrepentant diarist, "would have taken this as divine interposition."

It is always confession-time in America, and we, who already give air- time to Oprah Winfrey and the alarming Vanessa, should not feel complacent, for Coming Soon ... TV's True Confessions (R4) uttered a dreadful warning. Before long our screens, too, could be full of their spawn. Simon Dring himself confessed to a pretty nasty vice. Every time he goes to America, he shuts himself in his hotel room and sprawls on his bed, drinking chocolate milk - ugh, how could he? Boswell would rightly throw up. Then he surfs the telly for any of the 27 daytime talk-shows currently topping the ratings.

Dring isn't quite sure how to take these. Clearly fascinated by people's willingness to submit to the ignominy of these shows, he is simultaneously repelled by their lurid exploitation of the sordid and the frail. There is huge money in it. Transsexual prostitutes, strippers and pimps have made Jerry Springer extremely rich, but to hear Dring interview Lisa, a young, scarred veteran of the Ricky Lake Show, was to realise just how manipulative and destructive they can be.

"Ya have to hook 'em, hug 'em and hold 'em," opined a Love Doc of the Internet, but the telling moment came when Dring pounced on another self- confessed expert, this time one who teaches "neuro- linguistic programming", or body-language. This irritating man was quite certain that we Brits have a serious problem: we are apparently unable to "get earthy", to draw close to the "touchy-feely" part of ourselves. We need American chat shows, he said, to help us break through that barrier. I don't know about him, but I'm with Boswell: I need a drink.