Is retirement a substitute for the after life?

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It is a little while since we heard from the United Deities, the ecumenical all-god forum which meets up in heaven to monitor the behaviour of us poor mortals down on Earth. Here are some extracts from the minutes of the latest meeting.

It is a little while since we heard from the United Deities, the ecumenical all-god forum which meets up in heaven to monitor the behaviour of us poor mortals down on Earth. Here are some extracts from the minutes of the latest meeting.

1. The chairgod said that several Greek gods had wished to know if the Olympic Games were over yet. He could reassure them that it was now safe to come out again. (Laughter.)

2. The chairgod said that the first item on the agenda was a British TV broadcast about atheism, called A Brief History of Disbelief, in which Dr Jonathan Miller and his merry band of non-believers had poured scorn on all believers.

3. It was certainly not the policy of the United Deities to review any individual TV programme, as if they were some kind of heavenly writing club, but the subject of atheism was not without interest to gods. (Laughter.) He wondered if anyone had any comments.

4. Thor, the Norse god of thunder, said he would like to take Dr Miller outside and bounce his, Thor's, hammer lightly up and down on Dr Miller's cranium until Dr Miller agreed to believe that at least one god existed.

5. The chairgod said he doubted that that would have any effect. Dr Miller would only believe that he was subject to some neurological phenomenon which science was not yet in a position to explain.

6. Allah said he would like to know if there was any basis for a belief in the existence of Dr Jonathan Miller. Was it not stretching things a bit to ask them to believe in a chap who had started as a comedian, gone on to be a doctor, then made a success of directing opera, and was now pursuing a fourth career as an atheist ?

7. The chairgod asked him which bit he found hard to believe.

8. Allah said he did not think anyone who had had the sense of humour to be a comedian could go on to take opera seriously.

9. The chairgod said that he thought the discussion was drifting away from the issue. Perhaps, as Jonathan Miller was Jewish, the Jewish God might like to make a comment.

10. The Jewish God said that he had no comment to make, except that he had always enjoyed Dr Miller's work and to be disbelieved in by him was an honour. (Laughter) It reminded him of the story of the rabbi who went to visit a lighthouse...

11. Perhaps some other time, said the chairgod hastily.

12. The Catholic God said that while he could not approve of atheism as such, he could see the point of it. Was it not correct that true believers were also partial atheists? A devout Catholic, for example, would believe in only one god and yet disbelieve in many. So a devout Christian was on the verge of being an atheist.

13. Mars, Roman god of war, said that all this clever stuff was a bit beyond him. But he found it very hard to believe in some gods, even ones he knew personally. For instance, he had always got on well with Ganesh, the Indian god, but still found it very hard to convince himself that he was actually having a lively chat with someone who was half elephant, half human. As for the one with six arms ...

14. The chairgod said that perhaps they could move on to the next subject, which was pensions. Not pensions for gods, as the gods had an inflation-proof supply of ambrosia, nectar, elixir of youth, whatever. But there had been a suggestion that the increased life span of humans, and their dependence on pensions, might have affected their religious beliefs.

15. Mars asked him to explain what the hell he was on about.

16. Well, said the chairgod, in the old days men worked till they died. They never retired. So they looked forward to the afterlife. As a well-earned rest. But now they retired and lived for several decades more, and got their well-earned rest on Earth. The question was: was retirement acting as a substitute for the afterlife? And therefore undermining belief in an afterlife?

More of this riveting stuff soon.

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