ARE there any more disturbing words in the English language than: “And now Anne Atkins with Thought for the Day”?
The broadcaster, novelist and all-round annoying person always sets me muttering; but, then, perhaps Anne would chunter if I presented an atheist slot on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
It takes all sorts, and some will be religious sorts with thoughts.
To analyse my Anne-phobia, what irks, I think, is her middle-England condescension wrapped around a sermon. Then again, perhaps I’m a middle-England person too,only without the religion.
These thoughts arise because the BBC has announced this morning that it is to increase its religious coverage to better represent all faiths. Thought for the Day is safe and Anne Aktins can continue to be an ecclesiastical irritant for as long as she wishes. This won’t please John Humphrys. The veteran Today presenter and general grouch said in October that the slot was “deeply, deeply boring often” and should be dropped.
He added that it was odd to broadcast “three minutes of uninterrupted religion” when “more than half our population have no religion at all”.
Well, yes, John, this man who ticks no religious boxes often feel irritated by Thought for the Day, especially when Anne mounts the radio pulpit. Yet in a sense my intolerance worries me, as if you try to be a tolerant person, you should tolerate religion, too.
Just now on the radio, the BBC was reporting on itself, as it does, explaining that the BBC newsroom’s global religious affairs team will be expanded, and Thought for the Day will be more closely linked to news items
These proposals follow a new set or rules from Ofcom which told the broadcaster to have more religious programmes on BBC One and BBC Two. And the Corporation has now said it will, according to the Guardian, use “popular programmes such The One Show to celebrate Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Jewish holy days”.
I do have a problem here – with the idea that The One Show is a popular programme. The signature tune for that show sends me to the off button more quickly than the words: “And now Anne Atkins with Thought for the Day.”
So, if there is to be more religion on The One Show, it won’t disturb this not-watching one.
The Today programme reporter tasked with reporting on his employer used the throwaway line: “One in four people believe in angels.” This does, of course, suggest that three in four don’t, but never mind. Angels are a wonder of religion iconography and I don’t mind believing in them myself, but only as an idea or a character from a story, an image too enduring to shake off.
But do I believe they exist? Ahem, no. That would be silly. Yet according to an AP/GFK poll in 2011, more than three out of four Americans believes angels literally exist – while only 40 per cent believe climate change is happening and that it is caused by man (and not, say, angels). More Americans believe in angels than in climate change – oh, great. Then again, a surprising number of Americans believe in Donald Trump.
To return to my starting point, do we need more religion on the BBC? No for this listener/viewer, although programmes and items that explore religion in a critical context may be welcome. Let’s just keep the preaching to a minimum, please. And acknowledge the harm as well as the good that religion can do and has done.
And that is my Thought for the Day done with.