Bryan Hemming

short stories, comment, articles, humour and photography

An exercise in the absurd


Most of the absurd conversations I ever have are with beaming religious zealots. They smile with the all the keenness of axe-wielding madmen on the run from the asylum. You know the type, they come knocking on your door selling you heaven like an insurance policy against going to hell. But they are not the same the world over, except in their passion for asking the absurd.

In the city of Konya, famous as the home of the sufi mystic Mevlana and whirling dervishes, I was once asked by a smirking hotel porter why the rock star, Cat Stevens, converted to Islam. Famed for his song I love my dog little could be more absurd than a man called Cat professing to love his dog. But little is not nothing. And as the comedian Eric Morecambe used to say: “There’s no answer to that.”

While still an innocent teenager, I remember asking a kindly-looking school chaplain why he believed in the existence of God. Shrugging his shoulders and raising his eyebrows, he said it was a bit like everything else. If we disregard all the incontrovertible evidence of the existence of a divine omnipresence the Bible provided, belief was a matter of statistics as much as anything. Things like statistics and percentages of probability. At first I assumed he meant you’re more probably likely to believe in Christ as the son of God if you’re born in a predominately Christian country. But nothing so logical.

He went on to explain the probability of the existence a supreme being set against its improbability. After flummoxing me with talk of flowcharts, pie charts, algorithms and stuff like that, he concluded with the propostion that believing in God is rather like believing someone’s a thief or a murderer. Though, in all probability, it wasn’t the best comparison to get his point across, he went on.

If a good deal more than fifty per cent of the population believes you to be guilty of theft or murder, then to all intents and purposes you are. In fact we can put an exact figure on it. In a court of law if ten good jurors believe you to be guilty of murder, while two do not, even if you’re innocent, you will go down in history as a murderer by majority verdict.

So when a good deal more than fifty per cent of the population believes God exists, to all intents and purposes he does. Furthermore, once that number climbs to nearer ninety per cent, the balance of proof falls on the denier to demonstrate God doesn’t exist. He then asked me to prove God didn’t exist in a rather threatening manner, and I hurried away.

That sort of crazy thinking always raises confusion in my mind. For instance, if you had society where more than three-quarters of the population suffered mass schizophrenia, each sharing identical hallucinations all day long, would their illusory world be real? Statistically, according to school chaplain logic, it would. Those in the minority – though sound as you and I – would be deemed deranged. But then, why ask a school chaplain about the existence of God? I must be mad. By any definition he has to be some sort of zealot.

Nevertheless, there was an undeniable logic to the chaplain’s absurdity. The sort of undeniable logic that sends rational individuals round the bend.

Maybe he has a point. It isn’t so long ago we were all deluded into believing banks were rock solid institutions charged with the responsibility of guarding the world’s wealth, rather than a bunch of reckless gamblers throwing our hard-earned cash down the toilet. We were blinded by statistics, flowcharts and percentages of probability, whatever they are. Only the percentage of probability didn’t allow for what happens when greedy, grey-suited lunatics get hold of the key to the vaults.

Talking of religion and lunatics, with the Christmas, New Year and dia del Reyes celebrations already over, here in Conil we only have almost a fortnight of carnival to look forward at the end of February. That’s before Easter’s week of sinister nightly parades begin. And if we don’t count the annual drunken San Sebastian  march to El Colorado a couple of weekends ago. Many pilgrims fall by the wayside, too out of their brains to move on.

Caravan 4

Click onto photo for more pictures of the Romeria

They’re a pretty religious lot in Conil. When it comes to celebrating they eat and drink both religiously and prodigiously.

Each evening, in the week leading up to Easter, packs of hooded men escort penitents bearing cumbersome effigies of Christ impaled on the cross through the streets.

Accompanied by brass bands, it’s a bit of majesty spiced with a hint of Ku Klux Klan. Religion at its most dazzling and fearsome, the black cowls and gowns hold more than a hint of the Spanish Inquisition. However hard I try told to hold irreligious thoughts at bay, I can’t help thinking of Monty Python. As Oscar Wilde once observed, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to laugh.

It’s at moments like these I began to worry about the distant future. To a time when we finally manage to eradicate all forms of life – including our own – from the planet. It doesn’t help.

To my mind there’s little doubt any extra-terrestrial archaeologists from far-flung outposts of the universe will judge we human beings from what we discarded on our landfill sites. That’s what we humans do best: throw stuff away.

From the mountains of garbage we bequeath the universe, higher forms of alien life could easily conclude there’s plenty of compelling evidence to show the existence of Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald. Excavating acres of refuse on the outskirts of great conurbations they will find more than enough proof to indicating both Mickey and Ronnie once strode Earth.

On discovering ruins of buildings adorned with twin golden, gothic arches, they could easily contend they were ancient sites where billions of Planet Earth’s unwashed paid homage to a deity called McDonald. In other such temples a god known as the Burger King Whopper competed for worship.

They wouldn’t necessarily deduce Earthlings were stupid enough to actually pay good money to eat a mash of ground bovine lips, eyeballs and bum holes fashioned into a patty served in a doughy pap bun sprinkled with sesame seeds. Let’s face it, even we call it junk food. I mean, which is more likely?

Would they actually believe we regarded these culinary abominations as delicious concoctions of best ground beef, homemade pickle and fresh picked salad with a dash of wholesome mayonnaise? Somehow, I think not.

Far more likely, they would conclude hordes of ignorant savages congregated at gaudy temples to gorge themselves on vile offal washed down by gallons of noxious brown liquid. In return they brought offerings to an evil deity known as Ronald McDonald. The offerings took the form of amulets and bills bearing images of tribal dictators and tyrants, such as George Washington, Queen Elizabeth II and Charles de Gaulle. I mean, we can’t assume aliens would understand the concepts of money and capitalism when Christine Lagarde, the International Monetary Fund, The World Bank and nearly international bank executives obviously don’t. After all, they’re not exactly the most intelligent ways of running global economies, as recent events have shown.

Of course, if sales statistics and flowcharts are anything to go by, many of us do worship Ronald and Mickey. It seems to be catching; I’m starting to think like a school chaplain.

Now, I can just about believe Ronald McDonald exists, having seen an androgynous mop-topped figure flit about TV commercials grinning inanely at babies and senior citizens, but I’m pretty confident Mickey Mouse doesn’t exist as a life form.

Yet there will be plenty of evidence for aliens to conclude we believed he existed in the non-decomposable plastic effigies and relics they will find at every corner of the globe. When the remains of huge complexes are unearthed in California, Florida and outside Paris, they might deduce they were constructed to replicate what Earthlings believed would be their final resting-place, the great Disneyland in the sky.

But if there really is a clown figure called Ronald McDonald somewhere on earth, I suspect he’s more of a figurehead in the mould of Colonel Sanders of fried chicken fame, rather than in charge of McDonald’s global receipts. After all, he dresses like a clown. But then again, it turns out clowns have been looking after global receipts for decades. Not very well, though. One thing is certain, even if Old MacDonald had a farm; Ronald McDonald more likely had a circus.

Talking of Colonel Sanders, as I was a couple of seconds ago for those with the memory of a gnat, I seem to remember a campaign to get rid of the old dog after he started complaining about the quality of the tasty golden chicken nuggets bearing his name.

To me, he always had the look of a Southern Baptist minister. His fingers so lickin’ good I might have licked them myself were it not for the fact I kept confusing him with that other colonel, Colonel Parker of Elvis fame. There’s a man whose fingers I’d never think of licking. I’d always worry where they’d been.

Colonel Sanders will probably be best remembered for bringing the unhygienic practice of finger lickin’ out of the closet, for which parents of grubby toddlers will never forgive him. And Colonel Parker will become Colonel Whatisname. Colonel who? I can already hear readers asking.

Yet none of this religious hocus-pocus seems quite so far-fetched when you consider the cargo cult members of a remote Pacific Island.

Incredible as it may seem, the Duke of Edinburgh is worshipped as a god on Vanuatu. I can’t think why, he certainly isn’t worshipped in Edinburgh. Maybe it’s something to do with the great distance lying between the two. Perhaps he would be worshipped in Edinburgh more if he were Duke of, faraway, Vanuatu.

The aging Greek prince, more famed for senile mutterings with racist undertones than theological polemics, hardly befits any title, let alone God. Bearing more resemblance to an old men’s outfitters mannequin, than an effigy of his ancient compatriot, Zeus, I’d rather be seen worshipping Michael Jackson. No, wouldn’t.

Mind you, to get back to the point, if there is a point to half-witted ramblings, I wouldn’t fancy asking a posse of those satin-hooded gangs prowling the lanes and byways of Conil over the holy week for proof of God’s existence. They look like blokes who have ways of making you believe.

And just in case you believe your money is safe in the bank, think again, after watching this Max Keiser video.

2 comments on “An exercise in the absurd

  1. Bryan Hemming
    February 7, 2014

    Thanks, Wesley. Must admit I liked the video too. The song always sticks out in my mind, as do many of his other songs. And he’s back touring again. Last year he was doing Latin America. Here’s a link to his site:


  2. colltales
    February 7, 2014

    Excellent, Bryan. Just in time for the bad taste left by Bill Nye’s embarrassing debate with a media-hungry, Noah-Arch-Failed Project creationist. Mentioning some of America’s most misguidedly beloved icons was also priceless. And this old Yusuf Islam clip is definitely a gem. Thanks for that. Wesley


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This entry was posted on February 7, 2014 by in Articles, Humour.

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