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18 February 2008


The separation between law and religious injunction has got to be absolute and stay that way, otherw

By Oliver Postgate

Unusually for him, the Devil was wroth. In fact he was hopping mad and made no secret of it. “Hey!” he bawled in a voice of flame, “What have you been up to?”

“Nothing evil.” said God. “Just tidying things up a bit. You know.”

“I do indeed! And a right pig’s ear you’re making of it! It’s my job to sow discord among the teeming masses so that you can comfort them and tidy things up. It’s been like that for yonks!”

“So?” asked the Deity.

“So the moment my back is turned, you unload a gross, crapulous, heap of contention on the world, one that was quiescent for years, and shove a spike into it.” The Devil was incandescent.

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“If your grisly highness would deign to be categorical for a moment,” said the Lord coolly, “there would be less chance of your setting fire to my beard, and of my consigning you to eternal damnation. Tell me. Just what am I supposed to have done?”

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“You’ve allowed law to get mixed in with religion.”

“So? Why not? They’re already mixed.”

“They are not! They are different things!

“No they’re not,” said God. “They are both ways of making people behave in an orderly fashion.”

“Rubbish!” shouted the Devil. “Ever since you first gave your loved ones permission to make their own gods and go around killing people who didn’t follow in their paths of righteousness. Ever since you allowed them to call their prejudices “law”, your world has been a pot-hole of religious strife and holy beastliness in which people have been nastily murdered, not for what they did but for what they are!”

“That’s your line of country, isn’t it?”.

“Strife and injustice are my speciality.” said the Devil modestly. “But at least I know what I am doing. You go round handing out freedoms like infected jelly-babies.

“Now come, Lucifer. I can see you’re upset.” said God in an ominously conciliatory tone. “Sit down on something non-inflammable and tell me what’s bugging you.”

Lucifer sat.

“There is law.” he began, “This has been a slow distillation over a few thousand years, in which, gradually, sensible people have learned to live together and have identified certain actions that are not acceptable to the community on the grounds that they do damage to others and to their welfare. The essential criterion, the deciding factor, is that the evidence must be indisputable and that actual damage must have been suffered. The essence, the basis, of law is that it considers the case. It does not judge what a person is but what he or she does. All right so far?”

“Your honour is being a bit simplistic, but I’ll go along with that.” said God.

“Then there is something called ‘religious law’, which is not law at all, but superstition. It may have no connection with damage and is decided by whether a person’s action is in concordance with a set of rules and attitudes which are said to have been handed down by some invented deity. Failure to conform to the ‘god-given’ rules may be punished not only by death but by exclusion from some promised afterlife in paradise. If the rules of the religion should happen to include some prohibitions or permissions that are sensible, that is a happy coincidence but it doesn’t alter the fact that it is part of an edifice dispensing conformity rather than justice. Thus these aspects of religious-type behaviour are not laws in the true sense, but injunctions, instructions to the adherents of a religion, instructions which, insofar as they may be sensible and compassionate, are clearly a worthwhile adjunct to civil law and could, insofar as they comply with the law of the land be included as part of it.
“BUT,” continued the devil with some vehemence, ”the proposal to adopt into law one aspect of a religious injunction and its consequent general application including possibly to those who may abhor the religion from which it originates, requires that the new law be absolutely disconnected from its religious origin.

“OK.” said God. “Isn’t that what is being proposed? It sounds very reasonable to me. So what are you beefing about?”

“Because it’s too bloody reasonable!” retorted the Devil. “People don’t work like that. Things don’t work like that! The people are shit-scared they’re liable to have their hands chopped off or be beheaded. They are afraid that once, in the name of multiculturalism, they put on one corner of the robe, some zealot will drop the lot on them – especially as some of these religions believe they can make up their rules as they go along and can decide they are required to bump off anybody who fails to follow them.
“The immediate screaming reaction of the tabloids to what your hairy agent announced was absolutely human and natural. As a reaction it didn’t make sense, but people are not ruled by sense. They are ruled by fear, by an overwhelming desire for basic safety.
“No, the separation between law and religious injunction has got to be absolute and stay that way, otherwise fear will come back into the land and history will go back to a time of turmoil that even you have forgotten!”

“So what are bawling at me for?” asked God. “Fear and injustice are your department – or so I thought.”

“They are, they are,” said the Devil, “but I am in the retail trade – a little bit here and there. But you’ve just emptied a bulk container of anxieties all over the whole country, and now somebody’s got to clear up the mess!”