All hail the computer-cool Bible you can verily dig

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The Independent Online
'Why is it called the All Hail] Bible?' I asked. I was sitting in a small coffee bar in Soho, one of those places where you wait for a while for the waitress to appear, and you order a coffee, and she goes away and waits for a while, then comes back to ask what you ordered, thus ensuring that the price of coffee has risen since you entered, enabling her to put a small surcharge on the bill.

Opposite me was my old mate, Adrian Wardour-Street, who has been described as the doyen of British public relations, mostly by people who have no idea what a doyen is, and that means most people. He is now in the employ of the Church of England, which has asked him and his computer to come up with a new image for the old place.

'They never expected me to come up with a Hello] magazine version of the Bible,' said Adrian. 'Nor did I, frankly. But that's what the office computer came up with, and that's what I've got here. Of course, we couldn't actually call it the Hello] Bible. For one thing, it would infringe the copyright. For another, 'Hello' wasn't a very biblical expression. So for both reasons we have decided that we will call it the All Hail] Bible.'

I fingered the glossy proof copy and browsed at random through the New Testament.

'Did Jesus really say things such as 'Take Care' and 'Have a Nice Day'?' I asked. 'I thought he was more in the habit of saying 'Verily, verily' and 'Go In Peace' and things like that?'

'Who can say what he really said?' replied Adrian, beckoning to the waitress and ordering a pain chocolat. 'Every generation has its own idea of what he said. We think that he said 'Verily, verily' because the King James Bible tells us that, but that's only because 'Verily, verily' was a bit of a cult phrase in 1605 or whenever it was that King James brought his version out.'

I flipped further through the All Hail] Bible. I spotted a feature called 'At Home with the Virgin Mother: A Manger can be a Divine Place, says Mary'. There was another called 'Flight to Egypt: Holiday Special with Joseph'. Another called 'Ten brilliant ways of serving locusts and honey] We talk to John the Baptist . . .'. Another called 'Dance the Salome Way to Health and Fitness: Special All Hail] Bible Veil Offer]'.

I began to see the way the All Hail] Bible was working.

'What does the Church of England think of your computer as a prophet?' I asked Adrian.

'Basically, the church seems to like the idea,' said Adrian. 'The bishops sit around reading it and saying 'Yeah' and 'Cool' and 'Verily, I dig this . . .'.'

'Verily, I dig this?' I said.

'Yes, well, some of these bishops are a bit Fifties,' said Adrian. 'In my experience, you can rewrite the Bible overnight, but it takes for ever to modernise a Fifties person.'

It sounded almost like an epigram. I noted it down in my notebook. 'The trouble is . . .' said Adrian.

'Don't tell me,' I said. 'They've decided it's too upbeat after all, and they want you to tone the Bible down? Or get a bit of Birtian balance into it?'

'Worse,' said Adrian. 'They want me to get more women into the Bible.'

'More women?' I said. 'You mean, a bit more sex appeal?'

'No, you pillock,' said Adrian. (For a man who has been working closely with archbishops, Adrian has an unusually earthy tongue sometimes. Or maybe he picks that sort of talk up at Lambeth Palace. I don't know.) 'No, it's all to do with this drive towards women's ordination.

'The church thinks the updated Bible should reflect women's new status by giving them a higher profile. So the bishops asked me to ask the computer to do a rewrite, laying greater stress on things like the Virgin Mary's decision-making abilities and Mary Magdalene's supportive role in a Jesus context . . .'

'Do modern bishops talk like that?' I asked, feeling vaguely nauseated.

' 'Fraid so,' said Adrian. 'Anyway, that's not the point. The point is that I went straight back to the office and told the computer that the church wanted a Bible rewrite giving women a much higher profile.'

'And?'

'It wouldn't'

'You mean, it couldn't?'

'I mean, it wouldn't. It refused simply point-blank. The computer has been up to here with religion for weeks past now, and it is developing prejudices of its own. And now, after this last instruction to get more women into the Bible, it tells me it wants to leave the Church of England and go over and join the Roman Catholic Church.'

He fell silent. We both fell silent. There didn't seem much that either of us could say.

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