In an effort to widen support for its cause, the Archbishop for Greater Olea, an olive oil producing state in the east of Europe, visited a British Civil Service head to request an application be made requiring all Britons to carry identity cards stating their professed religion - a request firmly supported by both IRA and Ulster Orangemen, but frowned on by the London Civil Service chief who, when asked, thought its size might be greater than than that of the average pocket. “It’s not that we object to minorities (or majorities) expressing their opinions - after all, we are renowned for our tolerance of free speech” - said Sir Humphrey Appleby, “but it would use up a lot of valuable paper, in addition to violating one of Henry VIII’s first religious edicts: thou mayest believe whatever thou likest but if asked (by me) thou shalt declare thy affiliation to be to me (ie Church of England, High or Low Church).”
“It is precisely because we don’t want to break a historic edict that we don’t ask,” expanded Sir Humphrey. “That way no laws are broken and there is total freedom of expression,” he continued, rather bewildering the good Byzantine Archbishop, who had not had a full grounding in British diplomatic inuendo. “But God speaks to me,” he gasped, trying to impress the full gravity of the situation on the knight, only to receive the beaming reply: “Indeed he does, Your Eminence, indeed he does. God speaks to all his children; and louder to some than others. Such a pity so many don’t hear him!”
“And consider the logistics of the operation,” he added. “On the reverse of the card must be an instruction sheet explaining what the relevant heiroglyphics or numbering means. In a country with pluralistic religious expression, like Britain, this has to cover C of E, High and Low, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Calvinist, Chapel, Lutheran, the various Muslim sects, Jewish, Baptist, Christian Scientist, Brahmin, Buddhist, various Orthodox sects, Episcopalian, Pantheism - just to name a few. I believe the full list runs to some 640 entries!” Any document covering that lot would be much larger than the average pocket and totally unworkable.”
“But 97% of our people belong to one religion,” countered the Archbishop. “Ah, but it’s the 3% that cause the trouble, you see,” explained Sir Humphrey. “It’s those that do not follow the majority thought and need to be identified, isn’t it,“ he queried?
“I don’t care about the minority, I want the majority to be able to express their devotion,” wailed the prelate. “It’s a majority thing, not a minority. Don’t you understand?”
The knight frowned for an instant before beaming once again. “My good Archbishop, it’s terribly simple. Consider everybody, all 100%, Orthodox unless someone chooses not to be and insists on expressing it. Then no identity cards are needed at all, for anybody. Only those who dissent and insist on expressing it have the problem and they - instead of you - will have the laborious task of trying to document it.”
Sir Humphrey looked quizzical again. “You see, Your Eminence, life is so simple,” he uttered. Only we don’t know if the priest added “Right!”
(Posted March 2005. Previously published in Hellenic Star, Septebmer 2001.)
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