Imagine reading out your Thought for the Day knowing that all this sneering and smirking is going on right in front of you. If it were just about Thought for the Day, it might not matter quite so much. Sometimes the slot is good; sometimes it is not so good. But it has become a totem of the BBC’s attitude towards faith generally – that it is an embarrassing relative it has had to invite to the party, but one who can be made to sit in the corner, and about whom it is acceptable to make jokes. To the overpaid panjandrums of the BBC, religion is for the little people, for the stupid and the gullible. And it’s easy to play this for laughs to a gallery of those who have read a few chapters of the Selfish Gene, and think this has turned them into philosophical giants.
Personally, I don’t see the problem with having a slot ringfenced for a particular subject such as religion. The BBC has several for football, and for science. And then there’s Woman’s Hour. And quite right too. But for some reason, the very presence of religion, even at the homeopathic levels at which it is entertained by the BBC, is perceived as some sort of insult to the precious, godless secularity of the news.
But the news isn’t godless – just the people who report on it. About 31% of people in the world are Christians. About 24% are Muslims. About 15% are Hindus. The vast majority of the people on this planet believe in some sort of God. These faiths, and many numerically smaller ones, have shaped world history, ethics, politics and culture like no other force known to humankind. And, for good or ill, people still live and die for their faith. Quite simply, you cannot understand the world unless you understand something about the way that faith functions in the lives of its adherents.