Miles Kington: Opium of the people? No, twilight of the Gods

Not being believed in any more is not as bad as it sounds ... the quality of the after-life improves immeasurably
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The Independent Online

It's high time we went on another fact-finding mission to see what the gods are talking about - another visit, in fact, to the United Deities, that endless coffee morning in Heaven where all gods past and present get together to monitor what is happening on Earth and to shake their heads over our folly. Here are some of the minutes of the latest gathering ...

It's high time we went on another fact-finding mission to see what the gods are talking about - another visit, in fact, to the United Deities, that endless coffee morning in Heaven where all gods past and present get together to monitor what is happening on Earth and to shake their heads over our folly. Here are some of the minutes of the latest gathering ...

1. The chairgod said that the next item on the agenda was religious tolerance. There was a move afoot in Britain to pass legislation which would make it illegal to incite religious hatred. Admittedly, this was only to put other faiths on the same anti-blasphemy footing already occupied by Christanity, but he wondered if any gods had any comment on the idea of legally enforcing religious toleration.

2. There was a long silence.

3. The chairgod said: "Come on, someone must have some thoughts on it. With so many gods present, there must be someone who is interested in religion."

4. The Anglican God said that didn't follow necessarily. Religion was very important for believers and priests and suchlike. But for gods themselves it was rather a chore to even think about religion. People believed in gods. But what did gods believe in?

5. The Jewish God said he absolutely agreed with the Anglican God. ( Ironic cries of "About time!" and "It's a miracle!" and "Mine's an ambrosia!".) Religion for a god only represented work, and worry, and responsibility. That is why he looked forward to these sessions with the other gods, when he could mix with people to whom religion was not as important as it was to fanatics on Earth.

6. Of course, said the chairgod, religion was blamed for a great deal on Earth. It was blamed for war, and for massacres, and bombings. In the case of the Catholic Church, it was even blamed for over-population and the spread of Aids.

7. "Oh, for heaven's sake, so to speak," said the Jewish God. They had been through all this before and everyone knew religion couldn't really take the blame or credit for anything; human beings were responsible in the long run. They just used religion as a tool or an alibi.

8. Religions did not spread because they were right or wrong. They spread through being the religion of the winning army. That was why Christianity and Islam were so strong, and why nobody believed in the Aztec or Inca gods any more.

9. An Aztec god said that not being believed in any more was not as bad as it sounded. Yes, there was a blow to the self-esteem when you realised that you would get no more sacrifices, no more prayers, no more funeral pyres in your honour, but on the other hand the quality of the after-life improved immeasurably. No more stress, no more strain. Plenty of time to think.

10. Allah said that it sounded dreadful. All eternity and nothing to do. It would drive him mad.

11. On the contrary, said the Aztec god. You would be amazed at the amount of things there were to do, and how busy he kept.

12. The Egyptian god Thoth struck the table and said that he was sorry, but this sounded exactly like a gathering of elderly businessmen discussing how to keep busy after retirement, and he did not intend to give up his own free time just to come along for frivolous discussions like this.

13. The Aztec god said that he took Thoth's point, and congratulated Thoth on speaking so clearly even though he had an ibis's head. Which brought him to a point he had often wondered about and never had a chance to ask, and it was this: if a god was part animal, part god, how did the animal part become immortal? If an ibis was mortal, how did it come to pass that the ibis part of Thoth became immortal?

14. Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, said he would like to come in here, before people started making fun of monkeys.

15. The chairgod said hastily that he thought that if the British government were making it illegal to make fun of other religions, it was probably an example that the gods would do well to follow, too, and could they move on to the next item.

More of this tomorrow, I hope

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