(Jules Gomes takes a semi-satirical look at the interfaith service at Gloucester Cathedral)
An enormous elephant has occupied Gloucester Cathedral. It squats in the nave waving its trunk between the transepts. When prodded by the verger’s wand it stands to its feet and trumpets a new gospel in the Church of England.
Gloucester Cathedral is celebrating the Feast of All Religions from 14 January to 26 February with a festival of interfaith hospitality. Since the haggis has hit the fan in Scotland following a Koran reading denying the divinity of Jesus at St Mary’s Cathedral, clergy in Gloucester have been warned not to copy the clerical cock-up that occurred last week in the country of Salmon and Sturgeon.
But Anglican clergy rush in where angels fear to tread, and the dog-collars of Gloucester Cathedral have bullishly charged ahead with a multi-religious a la carte menu offering acts of interfaith worship within the consecrated space of the Cathedral and its sacred precincts hoping to Allah that the viral eruption of Twitter doesn’t turn the cathedral into a volcanic Vesuvius.
The liturgy for this sanctified freak-show begins with a procession led by a rabble of Rastafarian drummers smoking incense-like cannabis. They are singing a Bob Marley reggae hymn. The hairy Rastas are followed by bald Buddhist monks in saffron robes chanting the praises of the Buddha—who they insist is not god because there is no god. Behind them is a troupe of half-naked Hindu dancers clanging cymbals, singing praises to Brahma, Vishnu, Ganesha, Kali, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. (add about 33,000,000 etceteras).
Next, come the pagans, singing the famous anthem “Lucifer Rising” by the pagan rock band Inkubus Sukkubus. ‘Misguided Messiah, Pariah of twisted beauty, Spirit of fire climb higher…’ They don’t mean Jesus was a misguided Messiah, clarifies a footnote in the pew sheet.
The Hindus have put the pagans nose out of joint. They have been passing snide comments at them because pagans worship nature only. The Dean of Gloucester has done his best to convince the Hindus to loan the godless pagans a couple of hundred of their 33 million deities, but the Hindu Brahmins have refused because the British pagans don’t have a caste identity.
So far the procession is merrily proceeding into the Cathedral—even though every religion believes something entirely different from the other.
The Jewish Klezmer band follows the pagans. They have been warned that any mention of Israel, Zion or Jerusalem in any of their songs could trigger off a pro-Palestinian protest and since every Jewish song they know makes reference to the above three, they are sticking to Yiddish instrumental music.
There is also a Salvation Army brass band, a black gospel choir and a fire-eating vicar. Reverend Fire Eater represents the new trendy Anglican worship known as ‘Fresh Expressions’ in the C of E.
The procession climaxes with the Dean and Chapter and Bishopess of Gloucester. A gaggle of anorexic and bulimic teenage girls accompany Rachel Treweek, Bishopess of Gloucester. Rachel has been valiantly championing the cause of this new victim class, who according to her, lack self-esteem.
The six clergy are all wearing blindfolds. Is this to signify the blind leading the blind in the C of E? Gosh, no! It is to enact the story of the Six Blind Men and the Elephant and demonstrate how none of us knows the whole truth about God. In fact, Reverend Ruth Fitter, vicar of St Paul and Stephen Church, who helped arrange the event, told the media: ‘We live in a world that is becoming more and more polarised by people who claim to have the truth. No one has any proof of God—that’s what faith is about.”
As the clergy arrive at the centre of the nave, Imam Hassan who has refused to join this idolatrous procession of kuffars stands and chants the Adhan—the Islamic call to prayer: Allah is Great, I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger.
If the Imam is right, Christianity is wrong. But that is precisely the point of the elephant. There is no right or wrong because the new gospel in the C of E tells us that the only truth is that there is no truth and that all truth is relative.
The six blind clergy now surround the elephant. Their holy hands feel a part of its body. Bishopess Rachel grasps the tail. ‘This is the rope used to ring the Cathedral bells.’ Dean Stephen Lake feels the ear. ‘This is a banner stitched by the Mother’s Union.’ Rev Ruth Fitter fiddles with the tusk. ‘I imagine this to be one of the smaller pipes on the organ.’ Canon Celia Thomson hugs a leg. ‘This is the tree we gather around for our annual Tree-Hugging Mother Earth Service.’ Canon Precentor Mitchell tugs at the trunk. ‘This is the serpent we have identified with the devil, and by doing so, we have sadly excluded the Satanists.’ Archdeacon Jackie Searle leans on the elephant’s side. ‘This is the wall dividing religion from religion, Britain from the EU; this is the wall Trump wants to build on the US border. Let’s break down walls and bring in more immigrants.’ The congregation responds with a resounding ‘Amen.’
Suddenly there is a sound like the burst of thunder. The elephant emits a blast of flatulence followed by a truckload of elephas maximus sanctus excretus (elephant holy crap). The six clergy remove their blindfolds. They are no longer blind! They can now see! The elephant looks like an elephant and sh**s like an elephant!
At a post-mortem meeting Bishopess, Dean and Chapter dissect the service. ‘Did we get anything wrong?’ asks Bishopess Rachel. ‘We forgot to mention the most important character in the story of the elephant,’ says the Dean. ‘Who’s that?’ ask the others. ‘Well, in the original version of this story, it is a king who gathers the six blind men and allows them to make fools of themselves. The king is not blind. He can clearly see what the whole elephant looks like. That is the only reason why the story can conclude that the blind men have only a partial grasp of the truth,’ replies the Dean.
‘That is a very narrow-minded interpretation of the story,’ shoots back Bishopess Rachel. ‘Leave that to the bigots, homophobes, Islamophobes, xenophobes, and the basket of deplorables who voted for Brexit and Donald Trump. Let’s get on with preaching the gospel of inclusion, tolerance, niceness and self-esteem. Glastonbury, I mean, Gloucesterbury 2017 has been a success! Now I hope they’ll make me Bishopess of London.’