View from the Bridge: 21

by John Morrison


21: Pick 'n Mix Religion

Now that religion has largely been supplanted in the national psyche by visits to garden centres and car boot sales, a lot of people are finding there's a big hole in their lives where blind, unquestioning faith used to be. After all, how much spiritual comfort that can be drawn from haggling over the price of a pot-plant or a second-hand Hoover?

The new vicar of Milltown knows the problem only too well. His church - an unprepossessing, smoke-blackened pile - echoes emptily every Sunday morning with the thin, reedy voices of his elderly parishioners. It was during Queen Victoria's reign (before hellfire and damnation had been reduced to the lifestyle options they are today) that the decision was taken to demolish the quaint little medieval church and erect a building more in keeping with Milltown's civic aspirations. No sooner had the new church been consecrated than the congregations went into a decline that's continued ever since.

As a man who's never yet seen a bandwagon he didn't like, our vicar is ready for the challenge ahead. Hoping to attract a few of those lost souls who can't tell the difference between religion and brand loyalty, he has bowed to the fickle outpourings of public sentiment. He's taken down the placards in front of the church featuring those excruciating puns thought up at central office, and replaced them with an imposing new sign. He allows himself a few moments of indulgence to admire his handiwork - 'Welcome to the Church of Diana', it says, in dignified day-glo lettering - before scurrying back into the the church to replace the hymn-sheets with copies of the Elton John Songbook.

Of course, there are many people in Milltown who would no sooner go to church that wear jam in their hair. People who dismiss Biblical miracles as being unfeasible, yet manage to weld together such disparate notions as UFOs, Feng Shui and past-life regression into a pic 'n mix portfolio of irrationality. Some of them are so relaxed, after years of therapy, meditation and getting on first-name terms with their inner child, that they are no longer able to stand up unaided. So relaxed, indeed, that they take Valium as a stimulant.

Wounded Man, for example, has found his own spiritual niche, consisting mostly of hugging women and talking bollocks: a role for which he is eminently suited. He's got the half-witted look of a man who has been closeted in a small room with a large pile of dry-cleaning. It's an expression that a remarkable number of women mistake for spiritual profundity. To supplement the day job Cyberpet Premature Demise Trauma Counsellor he has carved out a small career offering oven-ready platitudes to his undemanding devotees: the sort of people who aren't sure whether Shiatsu is an alternative therapy or a type of long-haired cat.

Years of training have given Wounded Man a number of skills vital to his role as a counsellor: the ability to listen, to empathise uncritically and - most important of all - to yawn with his mouth closed.

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