Many British churchgoers have been left reeling after a top Church of England Bishop came out as an atheist. “After much consideration, I decided that I couldn’t continue living a lie and that I needed to be honest with worshippers,” declared Alec Squink, who was ordained as Bishop of Staines only last year. “I realise that by not previously mentioning my lack of faith I was deceiving not just myself, but Christians all over Britain and lying by omission.” Leading Christians up and down the country have been left asking how it could be that a man who doesn’t actually believe in God has come to be ordained as a Bishop. “Is it a recent thing, a crisis of faith?” ponders Rod Wadd, a lay member of the General Synod. “Or has he always been ‘one of them’, hiding his secret since he was first ordained as a priest? If the latter is the case, then it renders his every sermon meaningless and undermines the validity of every wedding and funeral he has presided over!” In answer to such questions, Bishop Squink has released a statement confirming that he is, in fact, a lifelong non-believer. “This is no passing phase or whim,” he confirmed in the statement. “The fact is that I have never believed in God or the resurrection. Well, I say never, but there was a time when I was five or six, when I might have accepted the existence of some beardy bloke in the sky. But it quickly became obvious to me, even as a child, that such a belief was illogical and irrational. I’ll admit that, for a while, I wasn’t sure that I was an atheist – I toyed with agnosticism, but that was too much like having your cake and eating it, saying that you swung both ways between belief and disbelief.”

Despite his recent pronouncements and the storm of criticism they have attracted from ordinary worshippers and fellow clergy alike, Squink remains in post. Indeed, not only is he still in charge of his diocese and occupying the Bishop’s Palace in Staines, (actually a modest two bedroom semi on the outskirts of the town), but Squink apparently also has the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury. “As far as I know, there are no plans to suspend Bishop Squink or take any other disciplinary action against him,” commented Rory Felch, Arch Deacon of Canterbury Cathedral. “The prevailing opinion of the Church hierarchy is that his personal beliefs, or lack of belief, does not, in any way, impair his ability to carry out his ecclesiastical duties.” Felch’s comments have, understandably, left Squink’s critics enraged. “How can not believing in God not bloody impair his ability to carry out his professional duties?” asks a fuming Rod Wadd. “Surely believing in the Almighty is a key competence for a Christian priest! I ask you, how can he even be a bloody Christian, let alone a Bishop, if he doesn’t believe in the Holy Trinity?”

However, at least one top theologian has challenged Wadd’s assertion. “Is being a Christian actually dependent upon a belief in the literal existence of a supreme deity?” opines Dr Hank Pring, Senior Lecturer in Theology at Camden School of Modern Dance. “Surely it is actually about believing in the actual tenets of the Christian faith. Arguably, even this is not enough – to truly be able to call oneself Christian, one would have to live by these tenets.” Squink himself has moved to try and explain his position as a ‘Christian Atheist’, echoing Dr Pring’s sentiments. “I’ve always liked the whole Christian ethos,” he explains. “The teachings of Christ – all that ‘Love thy neighbour’ and ‘I am my brother’s keeper’ stuff – always seemed like a perfectly sensible philosophy by which to live one’s life. It’s all about love and peace and how the pursuit of material wealth is illusory – which are all good guiding principles. It was just all that supernatural mumbo jumbo that came with it that I couldn’t swallow! I ask you – virgin births, people returning from the dead, feeding five thousand people with a Big Mac and a side order of fries, or whatever it was, who in their right mind is going to believe that sort of stuff? It really is insulting to people’s intelligence!”

Consequently, Squink has claimed, he focused his sermons on the practical aspects of Christianity: helping the poor, caring for the sick and living one’s life within a moral framework which accepts doing good as its own reward, rather than expecting material compensation for simply exhibiting human decency. “Not only that, but I’ve always taken it out into the community – actually helping out at homeless shelters and soup kitchens, volunteering to do charity work and such like,” he says. “To be quite frank, I think I’ve been a better Christian than any of those sanctimonious bastards who claim to actually believe but think that turning up to church every six weeks and sticking a pound coin on the collection plate constitutes being a Christian!” Despite his practical approach to Christianity, Squink doesn’t dismiss the Bible completely out of hand. “The trouble is that people take it all literally,” he says. “Which, obviously, you can’t – it’s utterly ludicrous in places. The stories there are meant to be taken allegorically. I mean, surely you aren’t supposed to take all that stuff Mary being knobbed by an angel seriously?”

Dr Pring points out that there is precedent within the Church of England for Squink’s approach. “The late David Jenkins, former Bishop of Durham, was of the opinion that the scriptures shouldn’t be taken literally,” he opines. “But nobody ever suggested that he was a non-believer – such notions are perfectly compatible with mainstream Christian faith.” Unsurprisingly, Rod Wadd has little time for either Pring or Squink’s thoughts on Christianity. “It’s utter bollocks!” he splutters. “I’ve never heard such shite in my entire life! The whole point of religion is the act of faith involved! Without that you might as well be a bloody social worker if all you are interested in is the do-gooding! If you want to explore bloody lefty liberal philosophical wank then become a Buddhist!” He fears that the failure to dismiss, or at least suspend, Bishop Squink will legitimise the idea of non-believing clergy, resulting in an influx of atheists to the Church of England, seeking non-spiritual solace. “It will be like all those bloody ‘Corbynistas’ who have flooded into the Labour Party and destroyed it as a political force,” he worries. “Before you know it, the Church of England will be less a religion than a mass movement campaigning for mild do-goodery! Why couldn’t the batard have just come out as gay, like every other C of E priest? Then we could have avoided all this unpleasantness!”