As the MV Darwin left Liverpool docks bound for the third world, passenger and reformed vicar Mike Hartnell contemplated the enormous task which lies ahead of him. His mission, to be followed by others on many similar voyages, is to go out there to the farthest reaches of the planet, talk to the natives and persuade them that they ‘really shouldn’t rely too much on all that stuff they were told a little while ago.’
‘I’ll be seeking out peoples who have had no contact with atheists, in some cases for hundreds of years.’ he said, with nervous excitement. ‘These poor people often have nothing but the clothes they stand up in, a ragged copy of the bible, perhaps a ramshackle church and a fixed grin to keep them going, and I sense in my soul that it is time for them to make contact with the outside world.’
Mr Hartnell will be taking trinkets to win the natives over over – among them iPods with audio books by Richard Dawkins pre-loaded; packets of three (ribbed); tickets and posters for Riverdance and messages from several hundred supporters of his cause (some of them well known in the western world), all of which are fewer than 140 characters long.
‘I expect to get a pretty hostile reception at first. Perhaps they’ll lunge at me with outspread arms chanting in Latin, offer me cakes at reasonable prices or wave strange burny things at me which smell quite nice but which actually just cover up a multitude of sins. But I feel in my heart that once I’ve gained their trust I can spread the message that if they want to worship the sun, the wind, the sky, and understand and really be part of the world immediately them around, well now that’s ‘absolutely, totally fine.’
‘And I will vigourously stress that if you see a tree which is particularly lovely just for being a tree, then go ahead. Hug it. It’s ALL RIGHT!’
‘It’s a tremendous voyage,’ he added, ‘I’ve heard terrible stories of non-believers being consummated by Catholics in the Congo, but I’m ready, prepared, and will wave a copy of Hello! at them if it’s all getting too much. I may not be back for years but I’m determined that my teachings will help sort out all sorts of problems and truly be a force for good.’
‘First stop: Belfast.’