Thursday, March 17, 2005


“Certainly, sir. But which one did you have in mind?”

A fair question, surely. I mean, there seem to be just so many on offer. So difficult to choose.

It doesn’t help either that a few religions appear to promote two varieties, one here on Earth and another in the hereafter. It can be really most confusing.

Take Catholicism for example. Why the church hierarchy should have failed to progress any further through the gospels than, “Suffer all the little children…” is a mystery to me but doubtless they had their reasons. And now old J P has decided that the best example he can set his flock is to show them how to achieve grace through suffering, all he needs to do now is get rid of that burdensome piece of Roman real estate, move into a favella, sire eleventeen kids and live off black-eyed beans for the rest of his natural.

Now that it has come to light that catholic priests in Africa are the ones propagating the idea that condoms are responsible for HIV and AIDS, I must confess it is difficult to see just how much further they can run with this suffering idea.

Even Mother Theresa must have been sailing pretty close to the wind when, whilst admittedly doing bugger all to actually relieve the physical symptoms of the suffering, she provided a reasonably comfortable environment in which to breath one’s last.

And what of those Catholics who, for some unholy reason, lead a life almost devoid of suffering? I mean, Marie-Claire marrying a Proddy and going to live in Dublin hardly counts, does it? Well, the church has rather thoughtfully provided a safety net of guilt with which to trawl for those unfortunate enough to be free of pain and anguish. We are all guilty of something apparently. Yea, even from our very origins. I would imagine Catholics feel the same way on seeing a priest as the rest of us do at the sight of a policeman. “Oh, god. What have I done now?”

I guess it’s only logical then that their idea of Hell should be the most terrible. Fire, brimstone and precious little treacle. Very Heironymus Bosch. Flames, tridents and white-hot metal thrust into anal orifi.

Anglicanism in comparison, due to its almost apologetic nature, is probably something best treated (to paraphrase Saki) with patronising affection, as if it were something that had grown up in one’s kitchen garden.

A proper C of E idea of Hell on Earth would be best represented by a Midlands’ city, Coventry for example. A place where one is sent for wearing the wrong sort of hat to the Harvest Festival. A theology of embarrassment.

The hereafter version would, most likely, involve the discovery that God wasn’t English after all and an eternity spent enquiring loudly and slowly of foreign types as to the departure times of non-existent trains in a run-down station waiting room, all the while complaining amongst themselves about the absolute impossibility of getting a decent cup of tea anywhere.

And the Jewish idea of Earthly purgatory? That one’s easy. Thirty years old, still single and living with your mother. Hell would probably involve an overwhelming sense of shame and an eternity spent closeted in one’s cell waiting for a particularly horrendous perm to drop out.

The Islamic? Well, that might be the discovery of a misprint in the Koran. It wasn’t 17 virgins you were promised. It was actually 17 Belgians.

And my own? Simple. A place where there is no possibility of ever holding kitchen conversations, of course.

Okay, I admit it. I ran out of steam after the Catholics. Guilty as charged, m’lud. I am suitably ashamed.

Just next time, when you wish me on the road to eternal damnation, could you please be a little more specific?

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