I'm looking forward to a Godless new year

'Leftie teachers only tell you that Castro has interesting ideas, not that the sun and moon bow down before him'
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The Independent Online

One of the finest traditions of the post-Christmas period is Christians who whinge that Christmas wasn't Christian enough. It's heartening that many of them feel like that as, even in relatively secular Britain, they get most things their own way. True, when I was 10 it was worse. Despite going to a non-religious school, every morning I had to sing hymns that seemed to consist of lyrics such as: "Oh Lord God who made everything/The sun is nothing compared to you/I'm so sorry we're miserable and human/We're not even grateful, we deserve a good hiding."

One of the finest traditions of the post-Christmas period is Christians who whinge that Christmas wasn't Christian enough. It's heartening that many of them feel like that as, even in relatively secular Britain, they get most things their own way. True, when I was 10 it was worse. Despite going to a non-religious school, every morning I had to sing hymns that seemed to consist of lyrics such as: "Oh Lord God who made everything/The sun is nothing compared to you/I'm so sorry we're miserable and human/We're not even grateful, we deserve a good hiding."

And the teachers were trained to spot the one pupil going "mer mer mer di-dum di-dum". They'd stride through the throng, drag you to one side and yell "Sing!", as if God was an early version of Ofsted and the teacher was thinking: "If he sees that some of them aren't worshipping him, he'll shut the place down." At least leftie teachers only tell you that Castro has some interesting ideas, and not that the sun and moon bow down before him.

Now most schools, quite properly, cater to kids from non-Christian backgrounds. But almost every school still performs a nativity play. How would they feel if Jewish kids were allowed to direct these plays, and the wise men said: "Behold, 'tis the baby Jesus. He'll be a decent enough prophet but nothing special. Messiah schmessiah."

And Radio 4 still broadcasts Thought for the Day every morning. I didn't hear it yesterday but it probably went "It seems the BBC attracted nearly 10 million viewers for their blockbuster feature Titanic. As long as, with the help of God's love we're prepared to face up to our own icebergs, we can all attract a larger percentage share than ITV."

Last year Morning Worship even interrupted the coverage of the cricket in South Africa. Half an hour before the lunch interval as well. God's got an eternity, surely he could have waited half an hour.

The problem isn't that religion causes the world's problems. I don't believe that any loyalist ever threw a brick at a Catholic while thinking: "Transubstantiation, my arse." And there are many positive things to have come out of religion: gospel music, Muhammad Ali, stained glass windows, Easter eggs - and it's stopped Cat Stevens making records. Though I do wonder at the wisdom of teaching the Old Testament as virtue. The old boy floods the entire planet because people aren't worshipping him enough. And when he takes offence at one city, he scorches the place to the ground except for his mate's family; and even when one of them turns to look, he thinks "Oh blimey, a witness" and turns her into a pillar of salt.

So the real question is not whether there is or isn't a God, but why anyone should want to worship a filthy old tyrant like that.

But at least religious people believe in something, whereas the most soulless types are half-believers, the sort that believe in God but only go to church at Harvest Festival. As if a God that drowned the planet can be palmed off with a tin of apricots.

My real gripe is that, even in theologically diverse Britain, one creed is afforded a lower status than any other - atheism. New Year, at present a fairly meaningless celebration, should become the official atheist festival. The Queen could make a speech like "Many of my subjects are sustained by their faith. Others consider that if you take Ancient Greece as an example, everyone was convinced that Zeus was Chief of the Gods; utterly convinced. Now no one believes that anywhere in the world. So perhaps God is a product of men and women, rather than the other way round. But when the defining song of the country starts with an announcement that God saves me personally, I'm hardly likely to venture down that road. Anyway, wasn't the Olympics marvellous?"

Schools could put on an annual nativity play in which scientists flock to give presents at the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species. The precocious kid could run home excitedly yelping: "Mummy daddy, I've been picked to play the chimpanzee." And to make sure all the children take part, there can be 30 tortoises, who do a chorus "We're all slightly different/ depending on our region/Try and make sense of that with religion."

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