Got slightly wrecked over the bank holiday weekend and had hoped to kind of glide through the early part of the week without too much requirement for that bane of the columnist, research – looking stuff up, talking to people, etc. But I crawled downstairs on Tuesday, switched on the laptop and there was a message bearing the address firstname.lastname@example.org: ‘Hey Rod, I might have something for you. Give me a call x.’
I hadn’t heard from Semp for three or four years, when he was a canny and ambitious junior press officer, helpful, disinclined to panic, never obsequious. Slightly grating Cardiff accent but other than that, a good sort. Now it seemed he was actually ‘Director of Communications’. For God. Now, if you’re going to be in PR, that’s the job to have, no? I rang the number and after the usual how-you-keeping stuff he got to the point.
‘Wondered if you’d like an exclusive interview with someone on a somewhat higher cloud than me. If you’ve got the time, obvs.’ A higher cloud? Who did he mean? Peter? Mike? Gabriel? ‘Higher still, higher still…’ Really? This could mean only one thing.
‘God Almighty!’ I exclaimed.
‘Well, indeed. He will call you at 3.15 this afternoon. All attributable, on the record… I’d gargle some Listerine if I were you, you’re sounding rough.’
‘Christ…’ (I couldn’t help myself. Interviews with God are rarer than hen’s teeth.) ‘Sorry… yes, thank you, of course, thank you, Semp. Why me?’
‘Ah,’ he replied. ‘Ambiguity. While the message itself will be very unambiguous, the mode of its communication will leave plenty of room for mystery and doubt, which is rather our sort of thing. Half the people who read it will think you made it up, pissed. One more thing… he’s very irked.’
‘Absolutely tamping, mate. Be prepared.’
I was a bag of nerves the rest of the morning. Took a shower to brighten myself up a bit, gargled, read a few verses from Genesis, tried to get myself in the zone. At 3.23 p.m. the phone rang and some babe called Jophiel said she had the Lord God Almighty, Jehovah, ready to talk to me. I stammered my thanks and when God was put through, said inanely: ‘Good afternoon, sir. I hope you are well.’
‘Still omnipotent,’ came the reply. ‘Which is the only real point of this business.’ His voice was patrician upper-middle-class English, not at all booming. He sounded like Anthony Eden when he still had a quiet dignity and authority about him, before Suez.
‘This… clown, Welby.’
Ah. Yes. I had rather hoped this might be the reason for the call. A tirade followed.
‘As if I do not have enough on my plate with that simpering, genuflecting, Argentinian idiot in Italy and those quasi-fascist Orthodox nutjobs. So I shall be brief, for I have much to do. First, Welby’s Easter sermon suggested – indeed as good as stated – that the two of us must have been in communication regarding the British government’s plan to process illegal economic migrants in Rwanda. He said such a plan cannot “stand the judgment of God”. As if he had been told what that judgment was. To be absolutely clear, I have had no communication with Justin Welby whatsoever, so his statement is grossly presumptuous. He has no more idea what my judgment might be than do you, or Vladimir Putin, or the popular and attractive artiste Rihanna. He is exceeding his pay grade. He is cloaking himself in an authority he does not have. He is making things up.’
‘Are you saying, sir, that you did not communicate perhaps covertly with him, via the medium of prayer?’
‘Don’t be so bloody stupid. If I had done that it would have been epiphanous and he would have known it beyond question. He would have been bathed in a spectral light and felt both weight and awe. He alluded to none of that, for the good reason that it didn’t happen. But that is not my main point.’
‘No, um, please go on…’
‘Oh, I will. Now, I have no idea whatsoever if this plan to send the migrants to be processed in Rwanda will work. My suspicion is that it will probably never get off the ground because lots of lawyers will become involved. Lawyers who – if I may put it like this – will come, upon their passing, to be surprised and disappointed at the location in which they find themselves…’
‘Ha ha! Very good, sir! Can I…’
‘I wasn’t joking. I’m God, I don’t do jokes. No, my main point is this. Welby was being weaselly and indeed cowardly. He would not address the practicalities of the whole business, preferring instead to grandstand on a generality without, as I have made clear, the authority to so do. In doing this he traduced the faith of which he is a fairly important upholder. Christianity is not about verisimilitude and seemliness – we leave that to the Zoroastrians – even if that does seem to be the entire point of the Anglican congregation. It is not about displaying one’s impeccable façade of fashionable piety so as to secure the approval of an editorial meeting at HuffPost UK. It is about self-abnegation and the realisation that sometimes difficult decisions must be taken which may on the surface offend the preternaturally sensitive. It is also about alleviating suffering. Would Welby prefer that more people died crossing the Channel? Or has he not even thought about that? Christianity has always been about outcomes, not utopian illusions. Justin Welby seems to have forgotten about that. And now I must go. Contact Mr Fidelis if you have any further questions. And please give my regards to Charles Moore.’
At which point the line went dead, but the phone had a weird ethereal glow about it, as if I had inadvertently left it in the microwave. Hair of the dog, I thought, as I opened another bottle from the fridge.
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