Saturday, August 08, 2009

Organised Secularists are as tedious as Evangelical Christians

The other day I had the distinction of being the first person to vote in a Lib Dem Voice poll. It asked:
"Do you think Radio 4’s Thought for the Day should be opened up to
secularists and humanists?"
  • Yes, open it up
  • No, keep it for religion
  • Just scrap Thought for the Day
I voted to scrap it, confident that I would be in the majority.

Not a bit of it. Yesterday Liberal Democrat Voice published the results of the poll. The results were:
  • Yes 384
  • No 122
  • Scrap it 134.
I have never been entirely sure what a humanist is, but for a secularists to demand to be accommodated in a religious slot is downright bizarre.

My own religious position is settled. While I love Church of England architecture and music, that does not mean that its doctrine true. And to adopt an intellectualised form of Christianity so that I could enjoy them - saying that when we talk about life after death we are really saying something profound about this life - would be dishonest.

Besides, though I find Evensong in a cathedral moving, on the rate occasions I have been obliged to go to other services I have found the sermon worthless and the music a dirge. And I seriously hate the Evangelical, Christian Union style of belief. I have seen it do great harm in my own family.

The trouble is that organised secularists resemble no one so much as these happy-clappy Christians. They are just as tedious and in much the same way. Hence the recent atheist summer camp for children, for example.

There was a time when I was attracted to the secularist movement, but I found them closed minded. They took it for granted that if you agreed that there was no God or god then you would share a their views on a raft of subjects like abortion and euthanasia. For me, that simply didn't follow.

And have these people ever heard Thought for the Day? It is dull beyond endurance. Its short length and the demand for blandness kill any interesting ideas stone dead, and I don't see that atheist would cope with it any better. The best you could hope for would be to mirror the rebarbative certainty of Anne Atkins.

I can only recall only one good Thought for the Day. I think it came from Rosemary Harthill, who was then the BBC's religious correspondent and she talked about religion at school. At secondary school you were offered a wet, New Testament sort of God and kept your eyes open during prayers to show you did not believe. At primary school, by contrast, God was a fierce, Old Testament figure. He was a God of vengeance who might conceivably take your side against the headmistress.

What is most objectionable about Thought for the Day is the attempt to insinuate religion into the very worldly Today programme like an aspirin in a teaspoon of jam. It would be better by far to give Christians and other believers - and non-believers - their own programmes.

I still regret that Radio 4 no longer broadcasts the service of Compline late on Sunday evenings:

Brethren, be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist, steadfast in the faith.
That is the stuff to give the troops. Not pap like Thought for the Day, secularist or not.


Anonymous said...

I find a lot to agree with here Jonathan. Being brought up C of E three times on Sunday at church by a religious father, I absorbed the book of common prayer and the bible.
As an atheist there are a few important questions like 1. where do you get your morality from if not a religion, 2. how different are your feelings if your serious about no life after death and 3.if you can't call on your god to condemn people you don't like,giving you the justification for killing them or worse, how do you relate to your fellow men as equals.
These are all questions I would like to hear aired on thought for the day.

Chris Terry said...

It has, for me, come to the point where I dislike describing myself as an 'atheist', even though that is the term that describes me best because I am so tired of people who evangelically promote the cause of atheism, painting out religion as nothing but a great evil that has only brought the world pain and misery and backwardness, a historical narrative that is, at best, revisionist, at worst, downright ignorant.

HE Elsom said...

I'm come to the conclusion that having a strong opinion of any kind about God is a sign that you have authoritarian leanings. (People who really think about thelogy, like Rowan Williams, are usually quivering with doubt.) Sceptics can be tedious as well, but that's a problem with their interpersonal skills rather than their logic.

I've always quite liked Rabbi Blue on Thought for Today, if only for the genteel English way he tells whiskery jokes that normally require a Brooklyn accent. It's interesting that while boilerplate sermonettes on TFT and elsewhere are terrible, there are quite a few stand up comedians -- Stewart Lee and Eddie Izzard, for example -- who do pretty substantial work on religious topics.

Charlieman said...

I always welcome my morning sermon from Anne Atkins. Afterwards, I know that the worst possible aural experience of the day is over and that I can face management cant with new fortitude.

However I genuinely enjoy Lionel Blue's contributions which are thought provoking and secular. Perhaps when Blue departs it would be a fitting time to end Thought for the Day

Stephen Bigger said...

I agree with most of this Jonathan. As an atheist I have had my nastiest rows with secularists and pleasantist conversations with non-dogmatic religious folk. Think I'm an animalist rather than a humanist - what are humans anyway? I was once invited to do some similar slots on TV, on religious education in schools, they didn't know I was not a believe and when filming Lady something told me off when I said I was not pro Christian and anti- the other lot. 2 minutes rather than 5. These were very challenging to write, 200 words to say something meaningful. Taught me a lot. I found them recently and put them on Comments welcome, but remember, I was young... Stephen