Mark Steel: When Mayan rebirthing just isn't mad enough

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The Independent Online

For the first time ever I felt like going to a Catholic Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Because it would have been worth it to yell during the sermon: "It's one thing tolerating the Inquisition and the Mafia and an assortment of paedophiles, but surely even YOU draw the line at Blair."

The Vatican will have to be careful. He's probably planning to stand for Pope, then announce that if they're to succeed in the modern age, they'll have to discard outdated ideas of us and them, and learn to embrace the devil. "This is the way forward for New Catholicism," he'll insist, upsetting Old Catholics when he spends two free weeks in Satan's holiday home.

Within weeks, transubstantiation will be sold off to private companies. The wafers will be like car-park tickets and have adverts on the back for Wickes Kitchens or Allied Carpets. And every aspect of redemption will be open to competition, so you'll get television adverts from "Soul-savers" that go: "For your soul-cleaning needs use our rosary beads, For when you've had that tug and spilt loads of God's seeds."

This is the major flaw in Blair's conversion; here's the man who built his entire career on being modern, modern, modern, rejecting any idea or institution that wasn't positively bursting with newness. So now he's joined a church that, from the days when it assassinated astronomers for interfering with God's universe to its current ban on the condom, is the most medieval, archaic, backward, anti-modern organisation on the planet. They've only just apologised to Galileo. They talk in bloody Latin. It's like a general declaring: "I want EVERYTHING to be modern. So to start with we're replacing our uniforms with chain mail. And when we hold a press conference, instead of showing film of our manoeuvres, the army's embroidery department will sew a tapestry."

In any case, the Vatican haven't thought this through. Because Jesus appears to have been a determined opponent of the wealthy, and the world's major empire, to the extent that he was crucified. Whereas "determined opposition to the wealthy and the world's major empire" isn't always the phrase that springs to mind when you think of Blair. So maybe Blair's misunderstood the whole thing, and thinks the reason every Catholic Church has a Jesus on a cross is it's their way of saying: "Anyone else thinking of proposing we throw the moneylenders out of the temple and that's what will happen to you."

If he does read the New Testament you imagine he'd be on the side of the Romans. Maybe there was someone like Blair running the place at the time, which would explain a lot. Because then, if some people were unsure about whether to crucify Jesus, the ruler would produce a dossier that said: "Our intelligence has evidence that he's turning water into wine, making the lame walk, and commanding the wind and the waves. If we don't deal with him now, by next year he could destroy us all."

So it would make more sense for Blair to pray to Pontius Pilate, saying: "Oh, Pontius, how I wish I could have been there to hold a press conference with you on the lawn." And Blair's reward for backing the empire is that across America he's now paid 200,000 a night for a speech, whereas even Judas only received a one-off payment.

As with most of his decisions, it's doubtful whether this conversion is due to a seriously held conviction. For example, if he's a devoted Catholic, why did he and Cherie undergo a rebirthing in Mexico in 2001, described in The Times thus: "Mr Blair and his wife, wearing bathing costumes, were led to the Temazcal, a brick-coloured pyramid... They were told the Temazcal was like the womb and those participating in the ritual must confront their hopes and fears before venturing outside... The Blairs were offered watermelon and papaya, thentold to smear what they did not eat over each other's bodiesalong with mud from the Mayan jungle."

So at that point Blair seems to have looked at Catholicism, with its insistence that we're all born with stained souls due to Eve being persuaded to eat an apple by a talking snake, and its belief that through a weekly offering you're accepting the blood and body of Jesus, and he's said: "The problem with this religion is it's not mad enough for me."

But now he's calmed down and taken his vows to be part of the Catholic Church, although to be fair its history probably does trouble him a bit. He must look at the role of the Inquisition and think: "How awful. They should have broken up that state monopoly and attracted business investment to create a truly excellent torture service. A PFI system involving Jarvis and Balfour Beatty would have provided thumbscrews in every village and pliers for everypriest. I have so much to teach these people."

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