Two stories grab the eye today: (a) the rejection by the BBC Trust of a series of complaints about the lack of non-religious contributors to the Radio 4 Today programme’s Thought for the Day and (b) the launch of the new atheist poster campaign.
The BBC Trust said of the former that only allowing religious contributors on the slot did not breach editorial guidelines on impartiality. It did, however, state that the slot must comply with requirements of “due impartiality” and that any future complaints on broadcasts during the slot would be judged on a “case-by-case basis”. This follows 11 complaints about TFTD and a single complaint about BBC editorial policy on non-religious programming. The Trust added that it was a matter for the BBC executive board as to whether the remit of Thought for the Day should remain the same or be changed in the future.
It was the response by Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, that was odd. He said the NSS was “very disappointed” by the decision and would continue to campaign to “open it up” to other groups – understandable and fair enough. But then he stated:
Every edition of Thought for the Day is a rebuke to those many people in our society who do not have religious beliefs. It says to them that their ‘thoughts’ are not worth hearing and that somehow religious opinions are more worthy of a special, unchallengeable platform. This is so blatant an abuse of religious privilege that we cannot simply let it pass. We will be looking at other ways of challenging this unjustifiable slot.
Er… so is it the ‘slot’ that is unjustifiable or its unique character? Make up your mind.
I can think of several reasons for some people not liking TFTD, but to see this ruling as a ‘rebuke’ and to speak of ‘abuse’ is just weird. The NSS will continue to huff and puff, but their case might hold more weight if it were presented in a more rational way.
You can’t accuse Ariane Sherine & co of poor presentation. Their new poster campaign continues where the imaginative ‘atheist bus’ adverts left off. The bus campaign was wonderful in that it kept people talking about the probability of God and was at least a funny, clever and engaging way to have a go at religious advertising. The new campaign poster looks like this:
It looks nice and simple, doesn’t it? It sounds perfectly reasonable, too. “Let’s not indoctrinate our children into any particular worldview, but let’s let them grow up to make up their own mind.”
Er… how? On what basis? With what information and experience? Even the statement is based on the assumption that the tabula rasa assumption about the human mind and character is universally and self-evidently ‘true’. Now, that is weird.
If the poster was asking us to bring up our children to be able to think intelligently about human meaning, experience, morality, etc., then I am all for it. But to suggest that you can bring children up with no philosophical input, no pointers, no assumptions about reality, no priorities, no account for the values, beliefs and experiences of their parents and others is just irrational.
Or, to repeat the obvious: to not tell a child that there is a God is not to leave that child philosophically neutral, but to positively indoctinate the child into the assumption that there is no God. Why is that more rational or less bad?
Anyway, I welcome this new poster campaign and hope it will get people talking in the same way as the bus poster. Whatever conclusions we come to.