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There's a thin line between saintliness and madness. Here are inspiring tales of holy folly that laugh in the face of human wisdom... and also breathtaking examples of religious stupidity that fly in the face of common sense.

As told by Stephen Tomkins

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6: Smoking a cigar to the glory of God
HEY CALLED HIM the last of the Great Puritans. They called him lots of other things as well, but most of all they called him CH Spurgeon, pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.

He was, to be fair, a very positive kind of Puritan, happier to eulogize what he was in favour of (salvation, predestination, you know the kind of thing). But he did enjoy telling people what he was against.

The Pope was top of the list, with the Arminians a close second. Then there were such iniquitous pursuits as dancing and theatre. He was as tolerant of coarse language as the next person, but the next person was the founder of Smutbusters. Spurgeon wouldn't allow organ music or choirs in his church. He would get apoplectic about Sunday trading.

So DF Pentecost assumed he was on safe ground.

Rev Pentecost visited from the United States in 1874, and came to "The Tab". It was decided that both of them would preach in the Sunday service; Pentecost kicking off, Spurgeon responding in the second half.

Penetecost told the 1000-strong congregation about the dangers of tobacco. He shared his own struggle with the noxious weed, from which God had graciously and wondrously delivered him. He warned his listeners that there was no smoke without hellfire, and urged them to sin no more and commit their lungs to Jesus.

It went down a storm with the crowd. Not quite so well with Spurgeon, though, who was, unexpectedly, the heaviest smoker this side of Marlboro Man. He could have kept schtum and picked up on some other point of Pentecost's inspirational 40 minuter. But that wasn't Spurgeon's gift.

He mounted to the pulpit and explained that his well-intentioned brother was sadly misled on the subject of tobacco. Smoking was no sin. "In fact," he concluded, "I fully intend, this very night, to smoke a cigar to the glory of God."

Pentecost wasn't thrilled by this revelation. The press, however, were. They paid slightly closer attention to Baptist sermons in those days.

Reports fired off. Soon the papers were ablaze with impassioned debate on the theology of smoke. Spurgeon's unorthodox technique for glorifying his maker reached such notoriety that opportunist cigar makers started putting his face on their packets.

So Spurgeon won the home leg of this international friendly, I suppose. In fact, you could say he won the away as well. For, while Spurgeon was inexplicably never invited for a return visit himself, before Pentecost had long been back home, he had once again succumbed to the need for weed. Whether for chemical or theological reasons, we don't know.

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