Marginalising the religious from Thought for the Day

By Jonathan Bartley
September 18, 2009

I have just had a press release through from Andrew Graystone at the Churches Media Council (CMC) advertising a debate about whether Thought for the Day should be expanded to include Humanists.

It’s an issue close to my heart. In 2004 I wrote about it in Faith and Politics After Christendom long before I was a Thought for the Day (TFTD) contributor myself, and feel that there is a compelling theological case for expanding the slot, which is also about Christian ideas of equality. I also believe that TFTD in its current form puts religion further into its own broadcasting “ghetto”.

I even went on the Today Programme and called for Humanists to be included. I had a long discussion with fellow TFTD contributor Giles Fraser before I did it, saying that I thought I would probably lose my place a TFTD contributor as a result - and sure enough I did. (You can read more here: )

It is great that CMC are having the debate. The problem is that they claim in the press release they are going to “give a proper airing to the arguments on all sides”, but actually as things stand they aren't. There will be no one putting a religious case for equality and expanding the slot.

Speaking in favour of expanding TFTD they have two humanists (who are lovely people and who I count as friends – Andrew Copson and Ariane Sherine). Speaking against they have two establishment Anglicans (including another friend Giles Fraser). The religious perspective for expanding the slot is conspicuous by its absence.

The debate on the night has been set up once again to be one of the religious v humanists, (which it shouldn’t be and indeed isn't). And in so doing it will play right into the hands of the religious people who want to limit the slot to just the major world religions.

The main argument mounted by such Christians against expanding TFTD is that those who want change are only secularists, and indeed some even suggest a “secular” plot to get rid of TFTD completely. They also suggest that all the rest of the BBC output is ‘secular’, and so we need a religious slot to prevent religion being marginalised.

Not only is this terrible theological dualism, but also fails to acknowledge the extent to which Christians have many special privileges when it comes to broadcasting.

The irony of it all is that in their zeal for the “religious voice” not to be marginalised, they are …er…marginalising the religious voice that wants equality.

I have put these points to Andrew Graystone, but he feels the range of speakers is "pretty broad" and there will be lots of chances to speak "from the floor". But the fact remains, by the time other people get to speak from the floor, the agenda will already set by a religious view that doesn't extend beyond establishment anglicanism, and an opposing view that only comes from the perspective of humanism.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.