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Laurie Taylor is startled by his mail bag
What about Tom Baker?" "The one who used to be Doctor Who?"
"That's right. I think he's some sort of rationalist."
"Are you sure you're thinking about Tom Baker rather than the character he played. Doctor Who was a sort of rationalist within the parameters of all that nonsense about time travel."
"No, I think I read somewhere that he'd once been in a monastery and left because he lost his faith."
"Stick him down."
Most of the guests who've been invited to the party we're holding early this month to celebrate the New Humanist going bi-monthly were selected on rather more coherent grounds than Tom, but it was still a rather haphazard business. How could it be otherwise? If we wanted to attract the movers and shakers who'd add presence and pizzazz to our party in the crypt of St MartinintheFields we needed to be razorsharp in our tactics,cutting edge in our strategy. Failing that, we could try sitting the editorial board around a table and free associating.
"How about Melvyn Bragg?"
"Anyone know his address?"
"Send it to In Our Time at the BBC. Mark it 'PERSONAL'. And write something on the card about last week's programme. I think it was about the Crusades. Or was that the week before? It doesn't matter. Put something like, 'Hope you'll join our little crusade' with a line under the 'our'."
We were able to offer ourselves one major consolation as we busily posted a few dozen more envelopes to dubious rationalists at uncertain addresses. We'd found a perfect way to upset those in very high places.
'God Won't Like It' was how we advertised the new bi-monthly status of the New Humanist on the back cover of the last edition and there was unanimous support for the idea that this should stand boldly forth in red capitals at the top of every invitation card.
Our logo was, of course, controversial. If it was a little cheeky (or even childish) to hold our secular rationalist party in the crypt of a church (albeit a church associated with free and radical debate about the great moral questions of our time) it was surely compounding the error to use a joke at the expense of God in its promotion. It was that concern which made the letter I received last Thursday seem so extraordinarily apposite.
"Dear Laurie Taylor," it began. "I see that you are advertising the launch party of the bi-monthly New Humanist with the slogan 'God Won't Like It'. Well, I'm desperately sorry to disappoint you but in fact I have absolutely no objection whatsoever to there being an increasing number of editions of the New Humanist being available in a single year. Although I cannot claim to have read every single copy of the magazine during its long and distinguished history, I have certainly read sufficient to realise that your are engaged in a serious debate about the meaning of life and the proper foundations for morality rather than running a vulgar simple-minded campaign aimed solely at proving my non-existence.
"Even though you would not know it from some of the activities and statements of the functionaries who currently claim to be my representatives in the great religions of the world, I have always been in favour of tolerance and free enquiry.
"But before I begin to sound too much like the kind of wishy-washy liberal divinity that has been embraced by significant numbers within the Church of England in recent years, let me declare a few more of my intrinsic features.
"I'm afraid, for example, that I must upset those contributors to your magazine like Stephen Fry and Will Self who have recently chosen to talk of me in your pages as some kind of transcendental, neo-Platonic, free-floating, ubiquitous essence of truth and beauty. In fact, I am, as so many more traditional scholars correctly intuited, an elderly man with a beard. And although I certainly do move around from time to time (that being virtually a precondition for one whose attributes include omnipresence) I do spend most of my time sitting high up in the clouds very much in the manner depicted in the Clare Short's description of the religious pictures of her childhood (I refer to the interview in the current edition of the NH to which I enjoyed privileged access).
"I'm sorry that space and time do not permit me to give my opinions on such other vexed topics of the age as fatwahs, weeping virgins, the Atkins diet, and the imminent consecration of gay bishops. I would, however, be grateful if in view of everything I have written you would now see your way clear to modifying your present logo. Might I suggest: 'The New Humanist goes bi-monthly. "I like it" GOD'. Or would that be a tad too paradoxical for such an insistently rational lot as the RPA. Paternally Yours."