Miles Kington: Do the British take religion seriously?

You might as well sacrifice a model of a person, or slaughter a bull which was dead already
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Yesterday I brought you the minutes of part of a session of the United Deities, the all-god monitoring group which sits in heaven and watches our goings on. Their discussion was on the implications of Guy Fawkes and the 4th centenary of the Gunpowder Plot, and as none of us will be alive to see another of those, it might be instructive to stick with the gods for one more helping.

1. An unidentified Aztec god said that his worshippers were always being criticised for indulging in human sacrifice, but he could not see much difference between that and burning people, as they did on 5 November in Britain.

2. The chairgod said he was happy to say the Aztec god had got it wrong. The British did not burn people on 5 November. They only burnt effigies. That is to say, a model of the person who was being remembered.

3. The Aztec god said he was disgusted. What was the point of burning an effigy? You might as well sacrifice a model of a person, or slaughter a bull which was dead already. Did the British not take religion seriously?

4. No, they did not, confessed the chairgod, but that was not the point. Bonfire Night was not really a religious festival, and most of the people who celebrated it did not know what it was about.

5. The Aztec god said he thought that was even sadder. What was the point?

6. The Anglican God said that he hated to criticise the country which had first worshipped him, but the British really had no religious ceremonies left at all. Even Easter and Christmas had more or less lost their religious meaning. The only religious ceremonies still taken seriously in Britain were imported ones, such as Ramadan or Diwali.

7. The Jewish God said he would like to put in a word for Yom Kippur.

8. The Aztec God asked what Yom Kippur was.

9. The Jewish God said it was the day when it was very hard to find a taxi in London, boom, boom.

10. The Catholic God sighed and said it was best to take the long view, and realise that festivals and ceremonies changed over the years. For instance, in the island of Guernsey in the English Channel, Bonfire Night had no reference to Guy Fawkes or Catholicism at all, and was called Boudlo, which apparently was a corruption of Bout de l'an, the French for "End of the year". So it was the remains of a much older pagan custom.

11. The same was true in Northern Ireland, said the Anglican God, where, for fear of tensions between the Catholics and the Protestants, Bonfire Night was celebrated at Hallowe'en, which in itself was a Christianised version of an old pagan custom.

12. The chairgod said this might be a good opportunity for any pagan gods to have a say, if there were any present.

13. The Norse god Thor said he did not think there was any such thing as a pagan god. It was all talk and superstition.

14. A voice which seemed to have no visible source said that it had come to something when the gods themselves refused to believe in other gods.

15. Thor swore by the nine virgins of Valhalla and demanded to know who had said that.

16.The voice said she was the Great Goddess, the mother of nature, the deity believed in by all the best paganists, that she was everywhere and nowhere, and that they could carry on without her, now she had had her say.

17. The chairgod said he did not know if anyone else felt the same, but he was rather shaken by that experience.

18. Many gods said they felt the same.

19. The Aztec god said that most gods present knew what it was like to be replaced by other, later gods, with better marketing divisions, and he sympathised with the Great Goddess, wherever and whoever she was.

20. Thor said that in his experience the only goddesses who refused to show their faces were as ugly as sin. He had once encountered a giant goddess with snakes in her hair, and a face like a doormat ...

21. The chairgod said that his remarks were out of order, and they would now move on to the next item: how much longer to give humanity before the oil ran out.

More from the gods soon, I hope.