Terence Blacker: There's only one way to keep the devil at bay

Seclusion? Celibacy? We live in a 24/7 world. Getting out there and winning souls is what it's about
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The Independent Online

For those of us used to moving through life in a spirit of gentle, peace-love-and-understanding secularity, something faintly disturbing is happening. Religion is becoming hip. Faith, worn as openly as this season's new clothes, has become a fashion accessory.

For those of us used to moving through life in a spirit of gentle, peace-love-and-understanding secularity, something faintly disturbing is happening. Religion is becoming hip. Faith, worn as openly as this season's new clothes, has become a fashion accessory.

It is a startling development. For as long as anyone can remember, believing in a creator, an afterlife and the rest was laudable in its way, but never exactly cool. Now just as, back in the 1990s, Tony and his team put grimy old socialism into the spin-dryer and pulled out a gleaming New Labour, so religion has been carefully rebranded.

New belief is altogether sharper and more worldly than the old version. It does not hide its lamp under a bushel. It is out there, in the real world, as trend-conscious politicians, actors and pop stars have taken to mentioning their faith, a form of celestial name-dropping. They tend not to nag on about it in the manner of Cliff Richard; it is enough to mention it casually in passing, just so that everyone knows where you stand.

The vogue for fundamentalist belief has been creeping up on us for some time, but has become more noticeable recently. Last week, an acquaintance commented, without any hint of irony, "Of course, that is the kind of thing that the devil would say."

Satan in my own house - it was time to do some research into this new fashion. I put some tough questions to a leading religious style consultant.

Does belonging to the new faith involve standing on the sidelines at parties with an irritatingly sanctimonious expression on your face and missing all the fun?

Absolutely not. Like socialism, religion has suffered for a long-time from an image problem - too dour, dreary and virtuous. These days we realise that, like anything else, it needs marketing, and the best way to do that is by example.

By doing good works and spreading the word?

By partying, enjoying the good things of life to the full. Remember that, if you're funky, then so is your creator.

What about going to church and all that stuff?

Of course new faith involves a bit of communal worship, preferably as visible as possible, but the duty thing is more relaxed than it used to be. Winning souls is what it is all about, and a stage or a TV studio is a sort of contemporary church.

So you don't need to pray, contemplate and so on?

Seclusion? Contemplation? Celibacy? Excuse me, this is 2005 and we live in a busy 24/7 world. All that hippyish mooning around, gazing into the soul, agonising over spiritual matters is old hat. Religion these days is more a matter of the heart than head and should be kept as simple as possible. Getting out there and winning souls is a what it is all about.

Presumably charity is important.

You bet. Think of the coverage of Red Nose Day and the tsunami charity gigs. It is important to donate noisily, even aggressively, giving God as many name-checks as possible.

Or good, presumably. We are not actually talking about an old man with a white beard, are we?

Maybe we are. All that trendy vicar stuff about symbolism and metaphor is way too complicated. We're back to the simple certainties: God's looking down from heaven, the devil lurking ready to take non-believers to the other place. With the new faith, you know where you stand.

It seems a bit judgmental of God to be checking up on us all the time.

Relax, once you're in the big tent, your ticket to the pearly gates is pretty much assured. Fretting over exactly what to say or believe is like Peter Mandelson worrying about Clause 4. We have moved on.

But Satan's knocking around too.

Only for some. It is useful to mention him now and then, preferably with a knowing smile, when you encounter something or someone of whom you disapprove.

So what is my most important duty if I enrol in the new faith?

To look at other people's behaviour, feel concerned, and take offence as often as possible. All around you people are doing and saying things of which you can and must disapprove, particularly in the media, arts and among intellectually decadent academics. Your job, as a concerned/parent/citizen/reader, is to express outrage as loudly and often as possible. It is the only way to keep the devil at bay.

Miles Kington is away

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