Christina Patterson: No wonder God's been keeping a low profile

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The Independent Online

Poor old God. He doesn't get to choose his friends. If he, or his representative on earth, wrote in Psalm 34 that "no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned", he must sometimes wish people didn't take it quite so literally. At least Jonathan Aitken had the decency to wait until after he had been convicted of perjury to discover his friendship with the Lord - a friendship that led to a glittering new career as a writer of books with alliterative titles: Pride and Perjury, Porridge and Passion and Psalms for People Under Pressure.

Kenneth Lay, convicted on Thursday of conspiracy and fraud in one of the biggest scandals in US history, might well want to get his hands on a couple of Aitken's books. He may, however, already be writing his own. Within moments of being pronounced guilty of the fraud which wrecked the US's seventh largest company, he was calmly informing the amassed media that God was "in control" and would "answer our prayers".

The God, presumably, who thought it would be a fab idea to help Lay and his colleague, Jeffrey Skilling, destroy the lives, and livelihoods, of thousands of Enron employees.

Unfortunately, in this matter at least, America is a nation suffering from a kind of collective Tourette's. The "God bless America" script is as central to the American dream, and its cultural imperialism, as apple pie and freedom fries. God is friend of rich and poor alike. He may not particularly enjoy the collective claims of a Ken Lay or an OJ Simpson, but like the Queen, whose self-imposed silence is a pillar of her sovereignty, he refuses to comment on his friends. Instead, he smites his enemies. He does this by launching wars, and sometimes by encouraging his children to murder abortionists and making sinners die of Aids. He is an energetic, go-getting, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of God.

Bush's unprecedented expression of mild regret this week - for not being a little more "sophisticated" in his warmongering rhetoric - did not extend to his appropriation of the Almighty. Of course God was on his side in the universal fight for democracy and cheap gas. If Iraqis weren't proving quite as photogenically grateful as you might want, well, God's ways aren't necessarily our ways. God may hate the sin, but he loves the sinner. He loves Iraqis. He even loves Democrats. Just think of Bill Clinton's post-Monica prayer sessions with Billy Graham. Or his wife's conspicuous efforts to quell her image as a clever-clogs in favour of one as a cookie-baking Christian.

This is, thank the Lord, one cultural export which has failed to cross the Atlantic. If the New Labour Cabinet boasted an unusually high number of committed Christians, it was not something anyone wanted to shout about. "We don't do God," said Alastair Campbell famously. He must have winced when Blair told Parkinson that God would judge him for the Iraq war, and when Ruth Kelly's Opus Dei membership led to heated speculation about whether or not she sported a spiked chain around her thigh. Gordon Brown's Christianity is, luckily, of the harder-for-a-rich-man-to-pass-through-the-eye-of-a-needle variety, rather than the God-told-me- to-launch-a-war model - but, for the average Brit, it is still a little scary.

If David Cameron, Old Etonian man of the people and fan of Benny Hill, harbours any friendships in really high places, he has, wisely, kept them to himself. Instead, he offers us happiness. Vote for me, vote for happiness, he says. Tragically, we might.

Britain's First Family goes Ivy League

Happily, the special relationship has had one positive outcome. Following what one Sunday newspaper called "an Ivy League bidding war", Euan Blair has been offered a £50,000-odd scholarship at Yale. Harvard and Princeton fought manfully to gain the progeny of our own self-styled First Family, but had to concede defeat. Brand Blair, like Brand Beckham, is clearly one with global reach.

Blair junior, who graduated from Bristol with an unglittering 2:1, has, apparently, announced that he will devote his two years to studying British-US relations "as they pertain to the global war on terror". He also seems to be sporting facial hair as elaborately clipped as - well, a poodle's. Oh dear. No doubt he'll soon be joining Skull and Bones, the Yale secret society whose members have included three generations of Bushes. Britain has, so far at least, been refreshingly free of political dynasties. Possibly not for much longer.

* So, Clare Short has found love. Her new inamorato is Jon Norton, widower of her close friend Mo Mowlam, and a man who clearly likes a woman who saves her worries for weightier matters than wrinkles.

It's cheering precisely because the marriage of true minds, and saggy flesh, is still a commodity in relatively rare supply. For successful men, even intelligent ones, "trading up", ie securing a higher-status model, means trading down in years. They have, they feel, earned the right to that taut flesh. They have also earned the right to life-long insecurity.

If Paul McCartney had trusted what Woody Allen called his "second favourite organ", he might have rediscovered the joys of a companionship based on equality, one that doesn't force you into tight jeans, ancient fatherhood and alarming chestnut hair. Sadly, he didn't - and, boy, will he pay for it.

c.patterson@independent.co.uk

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