Why not ask Muslims to lead council meeting prayers?
PUBLISHED: 09:00 20 July 2019 | UPDATED: 12:52 20 July 2019
Religion - and Christianity in particular - has a great capacity for making people's toes curl.
The young curate taking his first primary school assembly and trying to explain the immaculate conception; the tone-deaf vicar ending up singing a Lord of the Dance solo at a wedding packed with non-believers who are too uncomfortable to join in; the "now let's say grace" before a meal with a family you've only recently met (even worse if they hold hands around the table).
These are all occasional, relatively unplanned moments of discomfort.
But certain organisations knowingly inflict horrors upon their members.
Norfolk County Council has recently been the subject of a motion from a member, calling for an end to prayers being said before full council meetings. Some district, town and parish councils still have the same tradition.
"Let us pray", says whichever denomination of Christian leader they've lured into the chamber. He or she might just as well say "Let us shuffle uncomfortably and feel the colour rise in our cheeks".
What follows for many of the assembled bored is:
1 - Zone out, trying to stifle a yawn
2 - Imagine the vicar in a ballgown or a mankini to keep yourself awake
3 - Keep your eyes open to see if anyone else has kept their eyes open, then close them quickly when you're spotted
4 - Mumble "amen" at the end, along with the others - creating a chorus of the underwhelmed.
It's so very British - and so very pointless.
Of course prayers before council meetings should stop. For this is NOT a Christian country (and arguably it never has been, as my reading of the faith is that it's about human souls, not territory or politics).
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England is a country of many religions and no religions, which opens up too options - either have nothing religious at council meetings, or try to cover all the bases.
The former is the sensible choice, but the latter could be fun.
Each Norfolk full council could be opened by a member of a different religion, including the likes of Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Sikhism, Juche, Bahai, Jainism, Shinto, Cao Dai, Zoroastrianism, Tenrikyo, Jedi, etc.
As they believe that the "last is first", Christians won't mind if I start with the religion of Jedi - which sounds silly, but has as much basis in truth as any of the others.
The meeting could begin with a Jedi Knight from the local gaming shop trying to switch on the hearing aid loop system by using his mind powers.
For fairness, he'd have to hand over to a lady from the Dark Side, to use her mind to switch it off again.
On another day, the local Jain could hand out masks to all the councillors, to ensure they don't breathe in any insects while pontificating. Other pre-meeting rituals could include animal sacrifice, self-flagellation, group whirling dervish dances and prayers to Ahura Mazda.
I also quite fancy the idea of getting the councillors dressed like the Dalai Lama.
There could also be a third way - let someone from this country's most prevalent religion do the honours every time (that, after all, is why meals, meetings, events and assemblies have been interrupted by Christian prayers for so long).
It's contentious, but right now I'd argue that Muslims are in the lead.
Many millions still call themselves Christian in the Census, while there are estimated to be about 2.7m Muslims in England. But when it comes to being the real deal with zeal, the Christians don't have a prayer against their Abrahamic cousins.
Take out the show-your-face-on-Sunday, only-pray-in-an-emergency ones and you're left with a small and shrinking hardcore.
So logic and fairness dictate that it's time to let Islamic leaders have their chance with the pre-meeting prayers. It'd be fun just once, to see the expression on the councillors' faces.