OPINION: An amazing thing happened in Switzerland last weekend during the annual Peace and Light Symposium. This inter-faith conference, renowned for its catering, had attracted leaders from every major belief system. Top of this year's agenda was the Russian meteor. All the theologians except the Archimandrite of Easter Island had seen it on television and were frightfully excited.
At the plenary session, held in the Davos Convention Centre, the Peace and Light Moderator told journalists that despite two days of commitment to the gravy train, the thinkers had been unable to reach a consensus on the meaning of the meteor. So the various factions would present their conclusions separately.
First to step to the microphone was a mullah, gravely wiping crumbs of strawberry gateau from his beard. "God is not mocked," he said. "And neither are his faithful followers. So when a member of the New Zealand Parliament chooses to denounce all 2 billion of us as misogynist troglodytes from Wogistan, it is hardly surprising that He should choose to express his wrath meteorically."
A journalist interrupted to ask why the meteor should have been biffed at Russia rather than New Zealand, but the mullah was not fazed. "Do you have any idea where New Zealand is?" he asked.
The journalist shook his head and conceded the point.
Next up was a cardinal from Omen Dei (De Imaginis in Pane Immolatis), the powerful Vatican committee for the interpretation of portents, cloud shapes and pieces of toast burnt with the image of the Virgin. "With all due respect to my friend the mullah," he began in Latin, "God could hardly have spoken more clearly. In the same week as the Holy Father resigns, whoompha. Coincidence? I don't think so. Our Almighty has a long history of communicating through celestial show, and this meteor is a clear warning to the Russian Orthodox church and other eastern schismatics. Now is the time for them to renounce their heresy and to return to the one true mother church. And I am assured by the Vatican Bank Enforcement Division that a suitable accommodation can be reached with regard to centuries of unpaid . . . "
"Poppycock," exclaimed a small man, leaping to his feet and shrugging off a straitjacket in what looked like a practised manoeuvre. He grabbed the cardinal by the chasubles and flung him into the wings, to applause from the Eastern Orthodox churches.
Seizing the microphone the little man glared at the gathering with eyes that swivelled independently. "As president of the Mayan Calendar Straw Clutchers I am thrilled to announce the imminent end of the world. We were right, you were wrong, so suck on that, sceptics."
"Wasn't it meant to be December?" shouted a journalist.
"What's a few months in an 18,000-year calendar cycle?" bellowed the little man with glee. "We're talking stone-age people here. They didn't have digital calculators, you know. We're all going to die."
"I refuse to share a stage with a doom-saying poltroon," exclaimed a Texan Baptist, rising to his enormous feet.
"Not so fast, big boy," exclaimed the swivel-eyed Mayan. "All of you have got a doomsday scenario, same as we have. Fire, brimstone, rapture, apocalyptic horses and so on. We're just the only ones prepared to put a date on it."
But the Texan had seized his chair and was advancing on the little man with obvious intent. Other divines rose to their feet, shouting. An ecclesiastical donnybrook seemed seconds away, with the journos cheering them on. The Archbishop of Canterbury squealed "No violence, please, I beg you," but no one paid him the least attention, which made him feel at home. But then just as the Texan raised the chair above his head there came a mighty crack and the roof of the convention centre split asunder.
The divines fell to their knees as one and gawped in awestruck silence. Above them lay the sweep of the cosmos in the form of a limitless multi-dimensional skittle alley. Meteorites by the billion criss-crossed the alley at dizzying speed.
And as their eyes grew used to the darkness of forever, the clerics made out a huge dim figure hunched in the heart of the cosmos, launching the meteorites arbitrarily into space like intergalactic bowling balls. And though the figure had neither ears to hear with, nor yet eyes to see with, whenever a meteorite struck a celestial body, wiping out a race of dinosaurs here, a whole planet there, a huge and eerie cackle rang through the reaches of eternity.
"Gosh," said the Archimandrite of Easter Island, reaching for an anchovy sandwich.
- The Dominion Post