Tuesday 4 December 2007

When, how and why?

I’ve never actually tried sailing a small yacht through a Force Ten storm, but I imagine that it requires the same sort of superhuman effort that a friend and I had to apply to steering the conversation at lunch on Saturday. I was lashed to the wheel while my first mate frantically hauled in sail as we endeavoured to tack away from the big revelation that our guest was clearly determined to share with us. I could have sworn that he was going to “come out”, but the reality was far more surprising: he has found God.

Not only that, but God’s agents down here have revealed to him a number of helpful details of the forthcoming Apocalypse. I’m afraid I can’t share them all with you, since at this point I adopted my Plan B avoidance strategy and got spectacularly drunk. However, I do recall that the end of the world is scheduled for some time in 2012; and that it will be heralded by a catastrophic global economic collapse, starting in the USA. Sounds frighteningly plausible, doesn’t it?

I was remarkably unfazed by this information because I have long had Saturday, February 4, 2012 inked into my diary as the date of my demise. I got that information from a laugh-a-minute website called www.deathclock.com which calculates life expectancy from one’s Body Mass Index and smoking habits.

It also used to take into account something called “attitude to life”, and I evidently got a heavy markdown for being so relentlessly cynical and negative. Because I’ve just tried the new, simplified version and find that I’ve been granted an extension until March 14, 2028. This rather conflicts with my friend’s theory that the trumpets will have sounded and the four horsemen appeared 16 years earlier.

Such uncertainty is doubtless a good thing. If I really believed I’d be off in a bit over four years, I wouldn’t devote my remaining time to prayer and good works, but waste it in an orgy of appalling self-indulgence. For a start, I’d be off down to the garage to buy 200 cigarettes and a case of whisky rather than sitting here writing this column.

My own religious views can be simply stated. I am a member of the group described by Sir John Mortimer as “Atheists for Christ”. We recognise that all the greatest achievements of western civilisation are rooted in Christianity. We adore ecclesiastical architecture, art and music, and revere the Latin Mass, King James Bible and Book of Common Prayer. We are never happier than when lustily singing traditional hymns. Our problem is that, whenever we fancy going to church to indulge in a bit of that, we find it full of shining-eyed fanatics intent on ripping out the pews, giving us the “kiss of peace” and encouraging us to sway along to karaoke-style sub-Eurovision pop songs, accompanied by twanging guitars.

However, I recognise that we are the ones who are out of step. Religion is on the march almost everywhere in the world, and the Christian fundamentalism that is gaining so much ground in the USA seems at least as strange (and potentially dangerous) as militant Islam.

As I’ve doubtless remarked before, I think that the only answer is to take nothing whatsoever too seriously. Seize every opportunity that comes your way to laugh at Fate. Fortunately, it requires a heart of stone not to laugh at the mess in which Mr Abrahams has landed the Laurel and Hardy of our day, the legendary double act of Brown and Harman.

And if your sense of humour about that is a bit strained, perhaps because you are a Labour Party official, let me draw your attention to a job advertisement from this paper on Friday, seeking an embalmer, the first line of which read: “Applicants must possess good communication skills.” Now make yourself a nice cup of tea and sit down for five minutes to ponder the question: why?

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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