I am saying that because for the last four years or so I have brought you occasional pieces about visits to the United Deities, the all-god session up in heaven where gods past and present criticise and insult each other, and make jokes at each other's expense. Ever since I started the feature, I have half-expected to get letters of protest against my frivolity with religion. But I have not had one in four years. Not even one from a sensitive Muslim or touchy Catholic. Quite the reverse, if anything – letters now and then asking for more.
Clearly, I have failed in my attempt to incite religious hatred, and whenever I feel I have failed with religious jokes, my mind goes back to a teenager I met in America in the 1960s, who told me a story about Christianity which I have never forgotten.
It was about a delinquent boy who runs away from every school he is sent to, and will not buckle down to any system of education. Military, progressive, state, private – every type of school he is sent to fails. Finally, in desperation, they send him to a Catholic boarding school, and turn up to deliver him to the place, and it really is very Catholic – monks scurrying here and there, stained glass windows, incense and a huge life-size Crucifixion in the entry hall, etc.
So they leave him. And at the end of term his report is terrific. He has been a model pupil. But what made the difference?
"Well," said the boy, "do you remember when we first arrived there? Well, when I saw what they had done to that guy in the hall – boy, then I knew they meant business!"
What was interesting about that was that the kid who told me the story was himself Catholic. Catholics often tell the best anti-Catholic jokes, just as blind people have the best blind jokes, etc, etc. I can't remember now if it was a Jew or a Christian (or a golfer) who told me the story about Jesus and Moses playing golf one day, up in Heaven. In the story Moses goes first and hits a perfect drive just short of the first green. Jesus, by contrast, steps up casually, swings at his ball and slices it into the woods. It bounces off a tree and is caught in its mouth by a passing rook, which flies over the green and drops it in a rabbit hole at the back. The ball reappears from another rabbit hole, rolls slowly down the green and goes in the hole. Hole in one.
"Look," says Moses to Jesus, "are we going to play golf or are we going to piss around?"
Yes, folks, you get the idea. I, too, am telling all my religious jokes before this new law comes in. Like the one about the elderly Jew who is knocked over by a car outside the Catholic Church, and is lying there stunned when the priest, thinking he is dying, rushes out to minister to him. "Do you believe in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost?" says the priest, leaning over him. "I'm dying, and he asks me riddles!" says the Jew.
And it was Arnold Roth, an American Jewish cartoonist, who told me one of my favourite jokes, which I end with today, about two old Jewish guys, Solly and Morry, who come to an agreement that whoever dies first will come back and tell the other one what heaven is like. And in due course Solly dies and is buried, and the night after the funeral Morry is woken by a voice in the dark.
"It's me. Solly."
"You're dead, Solly! It can't be you!"
"Remember I said I'd come back and tell you what it's like over here?"
"Oh, yes! You did! So, what's it like?"
"It's great! Especially the breakfasts! All you can eat! And after breakfast, it's non-stop sex!"
"All the way to lunch! And what a lunch! Forget breakfast – lunch is really great! Oh, and after that, it's non-stop sex again, and I mean non-stop ..."
"Hold on!" says Morry. "You're telling me Heaven is like that?"
"Heaven?" says Solly. "Who said anything about Heaven? I'm a bull in Montana."