Give It Up, for God's Sake

Article excerpt

Byline: VICTOR LEWIS-SMITH

BACK in the days before all-night television, when post-pub viewers faced a sobering choice between The Epilogue and bed, my favourite pastime was collecting the most outlandish "... and you know, God's rather like that, isn't He?" analogies. Over the years, I've heard some real stinkers, including, "And you know, God is rather like this ventriloquist's dummy on my knee", and, "God is, in many ways, like a traffic warden", but the most tortuous simile of all was "God is like a pancake".

And yet, you know, the Church of England's God actually is rather like a pancake, because while this week's newspapers have been full of photos of near-naked samba dancers celebrating Mardi Gras on the streets of Rio de Janeiro with several drunken days of carnival, and similarly exuberant festivals have been taking place throughout the Christian world, how did we Brits mark the arrival of Lent? We combined flour and eggs, poured the mixture into a frying pan, then squirted the juice of a plastic lemon on to the circles of solidified batter, thereby proving that we are a nation of tossers.

God on the box is also rather like a pancake, being flat, insipid, sugary, greasy, a bit of a lemon, and very hard to swallow. That's why ITV schedulers used to fulfil their religious obligations after 11pm (when there were no rival programmes), and why today's broadcasters stick their God shows out during the graveyard hours on Sunday (when all good Christians should be in church anyway), but on Channel 4, they've started to colonise The Slot for this purpose. For years, I've been praising this precious gap that follows the excellent Channel 4 News because it (uniquely) allows programme-makers to experiment with the medium during primetime, so it's worrying to see it given over to blandness and pious platitudes, as with The Lent Slot. Having watched and listened to all four of the contributions this week, the sheer banality of the pontifications has left me giving thanks to God that I'm an atheist.

The common theme has been " giving up something for Lent", which in my case has meant almost giving up the will to live and wishing that the speakers would give up talking bilge. The first two were proudly putting their Christianity into practice by "giving up chocolate" for 40 days (I suppose it's Satan who decrees that piles of Easter eggs should appear in supermarkets as Lent commences, by way of temptation), but last night's contributor had grander spiritual ambitions.

"I would like to give up trying to achieve everything," declared teacher Zoe Baker, who went to great lengths to assure us that "I'm a very busy person" ("call mum, pick up shopping for dinner, go to upholstery class, mark A-level essays . …