This weekend's think piece comes to you with an official endorsement from the 105th occupant of the throne of St. Augustine in Canterbury.
That isn't something that happens every day.
This is the latest chapter in the ongoing debates about (a) the role of religious programming at BBC, England's state-backed utility for news and information and, on a deeper level, (b) the attitude that many elite British journalists often show toward religious faith and the lives of ordinary Brits. Sounds kind of familiar, right?
The headline in The Telegraph proclaimed: " 'Excellent comment': Archbishop of Canterbury praises article accusing BBC of sneering attitude to religion." And here is the overture:
The Archbishop of Canterbury has suggested that the BBC is “sneering” at people with faith after leading presenters criticised Thought for the Day.
Justin Welby said a column calling on the BBC to “stop sneering and keep the faith” was “excellent”.
It comes after John Humphrys, the Radio 4 presenter, claimed that the daily slot on the Today programme was “deeply, deeply boring”. He added that, in an increasingly secular society, it was “inappropriate” for the show to broadcast “nearly three minutes of uninterrupted religion”.
The Most Rev Justin Welby responded last night by endorsing the critical newspaper column on his Twitter account.
In this case, we can point weekend think-piece readers to the actual essay by Father Giles Fraser in The Guardian that is at the heart of this debate, since it isn't hidden behind a paywall somewhere (which happens a lot when you're dealing with British media). The headline: "Here’s my Thought for the Day: stop sneering and keep the faith, BBC."
It's clear that this fight is not about Thought for the Day, which offers short reflections by well-known Brits and/or people who are in the news. Click here to surf some information about that program.
Truth be told, this debate is about a larger issue, writes Giles. Read this long passage all the way to the end, including the final line that should sound rather familiar to regular readers of this here blog:
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.
Here's the way we've been saying that for the past 14 years: Journalists who want to cover real stories in the lives of real people in the real world need to be real serious when it comes to handling religion.
Yes, 50 percent of people in the UK now claim that they have no religious ties at all. That's a religion story, too.
Giles has more to say. Read it all.