Terence Blacker: Verily, he has sent unto them his religion tsar

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The Independent Online

And it came to pass that in that country, there came a man, saying, "I am John Battle. To this day, I have been but a humble foot-servant to the Governor, just another beard from the backbenches. Henceforth, as a seasonal offering from the Government to the people, I shall be your religion tsar.

"For it is written that, just as the Governor shall travel the world speaking of morality, faith and inclusiveness and smiting the non-believer, so shall I, his religion tsar, reach the faith communities throughout the land."

Hearing this, the people were sore confused, asking, "But what exactly is a religion tsar? Who are you, and what has our faith to do with you?

"We have had a drugs tsar who did naught but make a fool of himself on Newsnight," they said. "There was a homelessness tsar who was never heard of again. Do we really need yet another government busybody telling us what to believe and how to behave?"

Then spake the religion tsar, saying, "Perhaps it would help if I ran my mission statement past you. My task is about whether the best of the faith community can find fuller expression, rather than the worst being asserted all the time.

"Are we making space for faith traditions or is the culture shutting them down? My job is to create that space, looking on the impact of inter-faith communities and feeding them back into the power centre. Such is the will of the Governor, whose faith is very important to him, you know."

And there was wailing and gnashing of teeth within the multitude. Some asked, "What is this faith community?" Others were troubled by the manner in which inter-faith communities could impact and feed back into the power centre. "You have had our votes," the people said. "Would it be too much to ask that you leave our souls alone?"

Then the religion tsar answered, saying, "Verily, I'm glad you asked me that." But the multitude heeded him not.

There came a voice from the crowd, saying, "Every day we are nagged about faith and morality. On the radio there is Thought for the Day. A pearly-toothed ex-public schoolboy is given free advertising space for his Alpha cult on ITV.

"Everywhere we look there is Sir David Frost, or Dame Thora Hird, or Joan Blackwell studying the way of fornication in the name of morality. Cliff Richard is taken seriously. The decision by Geri Halliwell to walk with the Lord is solemnly reported in the newspapers. On the news every day, the Governor explains why our innate faith and goodness requires us to bomb and kill.

"Sometimes," said the people, "we yearn for the rule of the last Governor. That lot may not have been moral, but at least they did not preach and boss us about like sanctimonious head prefects."

And the religion tsar replied, saying, "These are all tremendously valid points which I shall feed back into the centre, and hopefully the Governor shall appoint a task force to address your very legitimate concerns.

"But for now my work is simple. I shall remind faith communities that the Governor is a good man, that no one cares more about community and morality than he does for he is, at the end of the day, a churchgoer and God-loving family man.

"I shall make myself available for extensive photo-opportunities with members of the Sikh community. I shall study the transcript of telephone conversations conducted by Muslim peers and persuade them that the message for all faiths is the same, that they should be on-message.

"For the Governor includes each of us in his vision for a Britain, all clean, moral and lovely, united by faith in God, or gods, whoever it or they might happen to be."

Then a silence fell upon the multitude, for they had fallen into a great sleep.