I never wanted to be a religious affairs correspondent. I had always regarded it as a slippers and pipe sort of a job, to be given to ageing hacks in beige cardigans working their way towards retirement.
Anyway, weren’t we all pretty ecumenical these days? Didn’t religious chaps and chapesses think the best of everyone, even those not of a like mind? How wrong I was. This was in the days before 9/11, George Bush’s election and the dawning realisation of the murderous impulses of religiously inspired Islamic terrorism, but I soon discovered there were quite enough feuds to be going on with even in the good old Church of England. The first inkling was when I opened what was to become my favourite religious periodical, the English Churchman, a deeply conservative publication which still calls the Pope the Anti-Christ, publishes the odd article suggesting slavery was not really such a bad institution and argues that Margaret Thatcher’s worst mistake was allowing shops to open on Sundays.
The religious correspondent is the one specialist on the Guardian who has to justify his specialism to the sceptics, on the paper and outside (“Why do we have to read this rubbish?”), and to our many religiously inclined readers (“Why are you always so hostile to religion?”). The Guardian actually gives more space to a wider range of religious (and non-religious) opinions than any other paper. That is precisely because religion is important as a philosophical, political, cultural, social and historical motivating force across the world and, despite the best efforts of atheists and secularists – some as fundamentalist in their beliefs as the most dogmatic religionist – will remain so.
Now I am moving on. It was time to go. What faith I had, I’ve lost, I am afraid – I’ve seen too much, too close. A young Methodist press officer once asked me earnestly whether I saw it as my job to spread the Good News of Jesus. No, I said, that’s the last thing I am here to do.
I wonder if he ever reported on the Pastafarians...weirdness of preacherman Huckabee's son, the necessity of Congress in "Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith" or the tenets of the Mormon religion....