Idly thumbing through t’internet today, I came across a tweet from a priest friend. (Yes, I do have some clerical friends, believe it or not).
The Reverend Stephen Neill, close adviser to Barack Obama and long-time internet pal, happened to mention in his understated way that he’d been up to his neck in blessings:
Just blessed a road – last week a waste water plant, on Friday its a supermarket – At this rate I’ll have enough for a book of blessings!
The reverend gentleman’s tweet set me thinking about an idea I had quite a while back, for a high-speed mobile blessing machine, so I tweeted him back, to find out how close one needs to be to the thing being blessed.
Close enough to throw holy water, Stephen replied.
Interesting. What if the water misses the target? I wanted to know. Is it still blessed?
And the ever-patient Stephen kindly explained that what matters is the intention.
Splendid! After a little bit of to-ing and fro-ing, we had it nailed. To do local work, he could mount a holy-water cannon on the roof of his house and point it in the general direction of whatever needs to be blessed. If he fits guidance motors to it, he could be shooting blessings at anything he likes, without ever moving from his recliner in the Algarve. Just hook up his smartphone to the water-cannon software via an app, put in the GPS location and fire away.
But, you see, that’s only going to work for local blessings. The truly tech-savvy priest needs to be thinking globally, as Stephen immediately recognised.
Drones, he said.
Now you’re talking! Holy water drones, piloted by a kid who’s been trained since the age of two to use a games controller. I immediately spot the military applications. We could bomb the Taliban with holy water. Take out whole villages.
I can see us on the news, said Stephen. The chuckle brothers, accepting the Nobel peace prize.
I’ve been working on the holy water conundrum for several years now, ever since a priest visiting our school explained to me about the holy water tank outside a local church. I suppose if there’s one man who could claim credit for making an atheist of me, the gentle Dominican friar would have to claim the ceremonial biscuit, by mixing — quite literally — religion and physics.
You see, though you might find it surprising, I actually get the religion thing. I get the idea of a priest turning up at a supermarket or a road by-pass and blessing it. These are rituals we go through and they do no harm. That’s fine by me. I have not the slightest objection to people believing whatever they want, as long as they don’t expect me to believe the same.
What was it about the Dominican friar that started me on the road to atheism? Simple. Outside their church in this town, they have a little tank of holy water with a tap at its base where you can draw off some of the blessed fluid. That doesn’t happen so much these days, but when I was a child, everyone was doing it, including my religiously-devoted aunt. A lifelong teetotaller, my aunt always had a baby Powers bottle to fill with the wonderful liquid, and to be frank with you, I never gave it much thought until I was about ten years old, when the Friar of Physics turned up in our school.
It was towards the end of his visit that I raised my hand and asked the question in all innocence: how often do you bless the water?
Oh, we never do it, he replied, with a grin. There’s always some holy water below the tap, and it fills up just like a toilet, so it’s always full of holy water.
Really, Father? And it doesn’t get diluted? You’re saying you couldn’t be bothered to give it a flash of your super powers now and then, just to keep my Auntie energised?
I didn’t say any of that, needless to mention, for fear he’d subject me to mediaeval tortures, because even at that young age, I knew full well that the Dominicans were the men behind the Inquisition. Don’t mess with these lads.
Instead, I pondered his suggestion. No matter how much plain water you pour into this stuff, it never gets diluted. It would be a few years before I received any sort of rigorous scientific education, but even to a nine-year-old, the implications were overwhelming. It stood to reason. Go out there, Father, bless the clouds, turn all the rain into Holy Water and that’s the end of that. All water is holy.
Father Da Fé didn’t like my idea, though he failed to explain what was flawed in it. Instead, he left us with a cheery ha-ha-ha and we were back to our drab lessons and our fuming teacher. One great thing about visiting priests was the suspension of lessons. All these years later, I wonder what the Christian Brothers thought of them, and more to the point, what they thought of the holy brothers. It was probably thanks to the visiting Inquisitor that I first began to think about things in any sort of rational way, and for that I thank him. Sometimes, absurdity can be instructive.
Meanwhile, the gentle Reverend Neill stands accused of being tolerant, accepting and open to other points of view, damn him, including atheism. Nothing to fight with here.
But little does he realise that my captive scientists, working in the vast caverns beneath the Bockschloss, are already developing atheist water. Heavy atheist water. Now there’s a thing that really would end some wars.