Minutes from a meeting on the celestial plane

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The Independent Online

Today I am bringing you more of the proceedings of the last recorded meeting of the United Deities. This, you will remember, is a heavenly equivalent of the United Nations - a talking shop where the top gods of all the top religions get together to discuss the world and never quite do anything about it.

We broke off proceedings last time just when Mars, the Roman god of war, was about to elaborate on comparisons between the Roman Empire of yesteryear and the modern American superstate. I don't know about you, but I'd like to hear a bit more of that discussion.

1. The chairgod said that he had to say that there didn't seem to be much difference at first sight between modern America and ancient Rome. They both wanted to rule the world, and they both pretended it was for other people's benefit.

2. On a point of order, Mars pointed out that there was no pretence involved. They really believed that their world domination was good for the world.

3. The chairgod said he took his point, but still could not see any major difference between Roman and American empires.

4. Mars said he was only a simple god of war and that he was not paid to think. Bashing and killing was how he understood the world, and it hurt his head to think beyond that. But even he could see that whereas the Romans were happy to occupy a country and then let the natives get on with life, the Americans wanted to change the way of life of the people they conquered.

5. The chairgod asked him to give an example.

6. Mars said that the Americans forced their subject races to drink fizzy cola drinks and eat a sort of beef mush in a bun, which made a great deal of money for the Americans and ruined the health of the subject races.

7. An Inca god who did not give his name said that he was still furious at the misuse of the word "coca" by the Coca-Cola company. The coca leaf came from a good old Peruvian plant which gave the miserable Peruvians a little pleasure in their miserable lives, and to have the name of this extremely powerful foodstuff hijacked by a firm making a dreary, brown, sugary, fizzy drink was something that made him, personally, see red.

8. The chairgod said that if there was one thing that Coca-Cola was good at, it was bringing lawsuits against criticism, and he hoped the Inca god was well insured against that sort of thing, or at least prepared to take spectacular revenge. There was laughter.

9. The Indian god Vishnu said that imperialism was a two-way thing. The British had conquered India and ruled it for 200 years. The result of this rule should have been that the subjugated Indians now ate British food. Instead, the opposite had happened, and all the British now ate Indian food.

10. Well, said Mars, perhaps the Americans, too, will end up eating the food of the people they conquer. Did anyone know what they ate in Iraq?

11. The chairgod said that he didn't quite follow. The American national dish was pizza. Had the Americans ever conquered Italy?

12. Not really, said the Catholic god, but the Italians had surely conquered America. There was laughter.

13. The Anglican god inquired whether the Mafia were a religious lot. Did they pray much?

14. Yes, they did, replied the Catholic god, but they tended to ask for things he did not feel he could grant. In any case, this was all confidential. It was like asking the Anglican god whether, in times of war, British leaders prayed for guidance and victory.

15. The Anglican god said that, among friends, he had no difficulty in answering that question. Mr Churchill had sometimes prayed to him after a few brandies so it was hard to make out what he wanted. Mrs Thatcher had kept in touch with him from time to time, but he suspected that she thought he was "not one of us" and was less than frank with him. Mr Blair was quite a religious man, but prayer took a strange form with him.

16. Meaning what? asked the chairgod.

17. Well, said the Anglican god, Mr Blair didn't actually pray for anything. He simply said what he wanted and, having said it, assumed that he had already got it. Mr Blair did not seem to be a man who could listen and talk at the same time.

More of this tomorrow, I hope