It's about time we paid another visit to the United Deities, the celestial gathering of gods, which surveys and monitors the way we humans look after our affairs on Earth. Here are the minutes of part of their most recent meeting on to the subject of blasphemy. I thought it might be interesting to see what gods have to say about such a peculiarly god-oriented crime.
1. The chairgod said as far as he remembered they had never actually discussed the subject of blasphemy. Atheism, yes. When the USSR became the first modern state to adopt atheism as its official religious creed, the gods had had a long session to discuss the threat posed by people not believing in them.
2. The Russian Orthodox God said he remembered the meeting well. He had been very angry and had wept a lot. That was because he was Russian. He had also agreed to abide by the decision of the meeting. That was because he was orthodox. (Laughter. )
3. Jove said he couldn't remember the meeting at all. What had they decided? In his day, if people didn't believe in him, he slew them with a thunderbolt. It felt good to slay people with a thunderbolt. You threw it. You counted to five. Wham! The look of surprise on their faces! Seconds later they were dead, and queuing for the ferry across the River Styx. Those were the days…
4. A Mayan god wanted to know if Jove had ever missed his target and got the wrong person.
5. Jove said, Yes, often. That was fun too.
6. The chairgod said that he hated bringing people back to the subject but in 1917, after a far-ranging debate in the wake of the Russian Revolution, it had been decided to admit atheism as a bona fide belief system, even though no gods were involved, because at least atheists had the grace to actively disbelieve. It was agnosticism that was recognised as the real and true enemy of the gods, because agnosticism meant that people didn't care whether gods existed or not.
7. Agnosticism was worse than blasphemy? said an Aztec god. How could that be? Was blasphemy not the ultimate anti-god offence?
8. Well, no, said the chairgod. After all, you could not mock someone without believing in them. And blasphemy was an offence invented by humans, usually by human institutions such as churches. A church might be offended by blasphemy. A god was surely too grand, too wise, too remote, to be offended by blasphemy.
9. After all, said the chairgod, did not the gods in these sessions take delight in teasing and mocking each other? Had he himself not heard Loki make fun of all of them? Did not Jove sometimes condemn other gods as namby pamby milksops? Had not even Allah, the most feared of all gods, sometimes been described in terms which, on earth, would have led to instant stoning for the offender? If gods committed blasphemy against each other, could not humans also do it?
10. Certainly not, said Odin, the chief Norse god. For gods to joke against each other was fine. It was like teachers in the common room making fun of each other. But that was no reason for pupils to join in. He thoroughly deplored the tendency of gods to turn a blind eye to human blasphemy. He was, for instance, in favour of putting a thunderbolt through the man Dawkins.
11. Who was the man Dawkins? wanted to know several minor Hindu gods.
12. An Oxford atheist with no sense of humour, said Odin. He was one of those unimaginative scientists who go through sacred texts disproving them, and concluding therefore that gods do not exist.
13. We do not believe that this man Dawkins exists, said the Hindu gods. (Laughter) Everyone knew, they said, that almost all sacred texts are deeply flawed and untrustworthy.
14. Everyone except humans, said the Jewish God. The way humans had implicit trust in sacred texts was quite depressing. He himself was quoted in the Bible as saying that "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain", and he was pretty sure he had said no such thing. It was only his spin doctor, Moses, who had said that.
15. Oh? said the chairgod. What had he actually said, then?
16. The Jewish God said it was all a long time ago now, but as far as he remembered, he thought he had asked the Israelis to leave no litter on Mount Sinai.
More of this soon.
The Independent Thurs July 17 03