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The prophet of nudge

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 10 March 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1448
  1. Liam Farrell, general practitioner, Crossmaglen, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, UK
  1. drfarrell{at}

“Life’s not fair,” I raged. “Why does god always take the smokers first?”

I was watching Joe’s funeral. The church is inconveniently situated beside our health centre, and I usually duck out of sight as the cortege looks over accusingly. If I’m spotted someone is sure to shout, “You should have sent him for that x ray” or “I told you he needed a strong antibiotic.”

Strong? I feel like shouting back. “It was so strong we had to store it on a separate shelf to stop it attacking the other antibiotics.” This time my conscience was clear: Joe had smoked like a chimney, and then, with cosmic irony, been hit by a meteorite.

But when God actually appeared to me I was underwhelmed. He was tall and rather pointedly Caucasian, with a long white beard—every cliché in the book, and, what’s worse, he didn’t sound one bit like Morgan Freeman. I stepped into the winged chariot, which was piloted by an angel. Male or female, I couldn’t quite make out, but he or she was disconcertingly attractive.

“I have decided,” God said, a drum roll filling the air, “to be more proactive on health promotion. The consequences of smoking will no longer be deferred; short term gratification versus long term punishment, with humans it’s no contest. So I’m making it one of the Ten Commandments—I’ll take out adultery; that’s so 20th century. From now on, anyone who smokes is gonna get smacked in the face by a meteorite. Consider it a form of celestial nudging.”

There was a squeak of annoyance, and the drum roll stopped abruptly as an angel dropped a drumstick over the edge of the chariot. It spiralled downwards into the clouds, nearly taking out a cruising US AWACS Hercules C-130.

“You shall be my prophet,” he continued, “to spread the word of nudging to the four corners of the earth.”

I looked at the other prophets doubtfully. They were smoking hookahs, foaming at the mouth, and torturing a pagan.

“I’ll just put nudging on Facebook,” I said, but I was getting up to speed with the whole gestalt. “Yea verily, Lord,” I said, “I would crave a boon.”

“Seventy six virgins wasn’t meant to be taken literally,” he said, crooking a finger at an angel, who swayed toward me in a seductive yet non-gender specific manner. “And,” he said, seeing my confusion, “I’m making you bisexual.”

“Cool,” I said.


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1448

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