On a ring and a prayer

 
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By Khaled Diab

God now has a number. Sadly, it goes straight to voicemail, but I’ve got my messages ready. What about you?

March 2009

God, they say, moves in mysterious ways. But he seems to have fallen surprisingly quiet in recent times, after hectic centuries anointing prophets, parting seas, sacrificing his son, writing books on stone tablets in heaven which he then had faxed down to humanity by an angelic PA, and appearing in saintly visions.

In a sign of the changing times, God has gone from voices in the head to voicemail. For the next six months, people can call God in the Netherlands. You could say the Book of Numbers is being brought up to date with a telephone directory in annex. Look out for listings of all the major prophets and angels in the coming months – although the ‘Beast’ has revealed no plans to activate the number 666.

Unfortunately, given God’s busy schedule, (s)he does not actually have time to take your call, but (s)he does invite callers to leave a voicemail message. This irked one of my friends, Stef, who urged the Lord in no uncertain terms to “answer the phone, God damn it”. Meanwhile, Nikolai is worried that, inundated with calls, God may decide to employ an irritating automated call centre which would announce: “For ritual sacrifice, press one…”

As you’d expect from God, who always seems to carry out his divine mission on earth through mediums, the telephone number was set up by a human agent. The Dutch artist Johan van der Dong hopes the mobile phone number can help reconcile an ancient ritual, prayer, with a modern one, mobile telephony. “This will help people to order their thoughts and that is also a form of prayers,” believes van der Dong.

While I appreciate that the faithful may welcome this new channel for their prayers, if I could have a direct line to God, I would use it to ask him about all the things that just don’t add up about religion.

Despite all the questions in my head, I’ll limit myself to ten questions (please feel free to add your own):

  1. Do you really exist? If so and given that you are the All Mighty, could you please prove it definitively to dispel the controversy once and for all? On behalf of the Guardian, I’d invite you to write a column about it.
  2. Which religion is yours? Most religions believe that they have the inside track on you and that you have chosen the followers of that faith and blessed them above the rest of humanity. Is the Quran equivalent to the Bible? Are you the only god for the three big monotheistic faiths or do you have a couple of competitors out there? Which fundis are your favourites?
  3. If you created all humans as equals, why do many of your scriptures condone slavery, class and caste, and the inferior status of women? You’ve sent us your son. Now, in the spirit of equal opportunities, when can we expect to receive your daughter?
  4. Why does it seem that, in your book (or books), ritual is held above substance? Surely, people do not need to pray, go to a temple, embark on pilgrimages or fast, etc., to prove that they are good human beings. Conversely, people can be bad and also do all that you ask. Why do you demand blind obedience? I mean that’s not what I would expect from my kind of supreme and supremely confident being.
  5. Why are you so fixated on sex and sexuality? Why does religion seem to regard sex out of wedlock or between people of the same gender as more of a risk to society than war and climate change? Where do you stand on AIDS? Should people really not wear condoms even if it ends up killing them?
  6. Why is it that in the toss up between faith and reason, you expect us to choose faith? Surely, you should respect your creations enough to allow them to exercise their minds and reject your commands if they conflict with rationality.
  7. How do you explain the contradictions between scientific fact and religion? One example is ‘creationism v evolution’. Although some believers have managed to reconcile the two, there will always remain the conflict between our religious nature as God’s chosen creature and our biological nature as little more than smart apes who aren’t as clever as they think. And if there is no contradiction between science and religion, why have religious establishments often been the most vociferous opponents of scientific progress (note: I do realise that religion has also historically acted as a catalyst for science)?
  8. If you are merciful and loving, why did you create hell? Are you really in the habit of choosing one group of humans over another and, if so, how merciful and loving is it of you to condemn untold billions of people to eternal damnation for accidents of birth (i.e. being born into another religion) or choice?
  9. Is everything written or do we have free will? If You created us, are omniscient and know everything we are going to do before we do it, how the hell can you hold us accountable for our actions? Surely, they are, by implication, your actions.
  10. Why do you refuse to democratise faith? Presuming you’re as omnipotent as the descriptions, I’m sure you’d have no trouble in finding a way to talk to us all directly without the need for prophets and clergy to get in the way.

This column appeared in The Guardian Unlimited’s Comment is Free section on 4 March 2009. Read the related discussion.

This is an archive piece that was migrated to this website from Diabolic Digest

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