Tomorrow the Radio Times will publish an interview with presenters of the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme in which they dismiss as “boring” the Thought for the Day contributions that are introduced around 7.45am each morning. The Telegraph has a piece, but it has already been leaked on Twitter and in the Guardian.

What is disturbing about the reported comments by the presenters is the staggering ignorance of what the slot is about. Set aside the arrogance that dismisses religious perspectives as irrelevant – rooted in assumptions that a five year old could drive an intellectual coach and horses through – and we are still left with questions.

I declare an interest. I do Thought for the Day from time to time. The script had to be written the day before and should be topical – which in today’s fast-moving media world is challenging. The script had to be complied before it can be delivered the following morning. Sometimes it had to be amended at the last minute; sometimes a script had to be scrapped and a new one written quickly because of ‘events’.

Thought for the Day is not about privileging religious nutcases in order to appease an irrelevant subculture in the face of a BBC public service remit. It is also not about presenting religious views or views about religion. It is all about looking at the world through a religious lens, opening up perspectives that subvert the unconscious (or conscious) prejudices about why the world is the way it is – shining a different light on world events that the unargued for and unarticulated secular humanist assumptions undergirding the rest of the programme miss.

Underlying the protests against Thought for the Day (so hackneyed they are in themselves boring to anyone with a brain) is what I call the ‘myth of neutrality’. I am embarrassed to have to say it again. This myth, so effortlessly held by so many, is that there is a neutral space held by secular humanists, leaving those who have a religious world view somewhere up the loony scale. According to this assumption, a religious world view is so odd that it is potentially dangerous and has no place in the public square it should be imprisoned in the sphere of the ‘private’.

But, why is the secular humanist world view to be privileged as ‘neutral’? It isn’t.

Thought for the Day is a bold resistance to this nonsense. If we are no good at it, fire us, ruthlessly. But, then get in people who can do a better job at revealing the world and its events through the lens of a religious world view that challenges the easy and lazy assumptions of those who think their lens is either self-evidently true or neutral.

Over 85% of the world’s population hold an individual or social/communal religious commitment. In order to understand the world, we need to look through their eyes. This isn’t about proselytism, it is about something far more important: understanding and mutual coexistence.

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The Meissen Commission continued it’s work this morning with a review of last night’s interfaith seminar at the German Embassy.


This then led into a deeper discussion of how churches in Germany and England face the challenges and opportunities presented by a wider culture that can be characterised by both (a) multi faith and (b) ‘aesthetically postmodern’ (to use Wolfgang Huber’s phrase).

Part of this challenge stems from the assumptions of many in our societies (and particularly in the media) that religion is inherently problematic and that there is neutral space – and that the neutral space is occupied by the secular humanists. This assumes that if you took ‘religion’ out of people, they would then be secular and humanist and very nice and very humane. Of course, history begs to differ when it comes to evidence, but that is not the main point here.

I was reminded by a colleague here of Walter Brueggemann’s deceptively simple, but devastatingly accurate statement in his book ‘The Word Militant’ that “all reality is scripted”. In other words, there is no reality that is not accounted for outside of a ‘script’ – that is, a narrative according to which the account of reality makes sense and finds place. There is no neutral space. There is no neutral world view. It seems to me that every ‘script’ has to be subjected to testing, and that does not exclude any religious world view.

This arises when we begin to ask why so many Christians lack confidence in articulating a Christian world view in the public square. OK, it can be a rough environment; but, that’s never stopped us before. One of the questions here (and we have at least three serious academic heavyweights in three different disciplines among our number) revolves around how Christians can be helped to understand their faith, articulate it and allow it to be subjected to scrutiny. I noted (I think) Chesterton’s (but it might be CS Lewis) assertion that “if Christianity is true, then it is true because it is true; it is not true because it is Christianity”. Lose the fear. If it ain’t true, it ain’t worth living.

However, we live in a culture in which ‘truth’ is not asked about. Our pragmatic and relativistic culture asks if ‘it works for me’, not if it is ‘true’. And that is why people can believe several contradictory things at once and not be embarrassed. It’s also why we hear so often a view preceded by the phrase, ‘for me’… or ‘it is true for me’. Weird or what?

The concern of the Meissen Commission today was to explore how our churches can give real attention to apologetics and learning in building confidence in the Christian Church in a pluralistic society. I still find the phrase ‘confident humility’ appropriate in this context.

In order to earth some of this, we visited two parish churches in the East End of London, close to where we are staying at St Katherine’s Foundation in Limehouse. It is never good to do abstracted thinking without allowing it to be questioned or shaped by a particular context.

First we visited an evangelical church plant at St Paul’s, Shadwell – a predominantly younger church in the charismatic (Holy Trinity Brompton) camp. Around 300 people ‘belong’ to the church and the population is transient. The church finances itself and its staff and plants in other places from it’s own congregation. It is looking for ways of reaching out to the local Bangladeshi community, but already provides space for neighbours to meet each other (children and youth work, open fun days, etc.). They run menu of services (different cultural milieux) on a Sunday and see hospitality as a vital gift of the local church.

From there we went to St Mary, Cable Street, where we could smell the incense on entry. This is an Anglo-Catholic Church in the midst of a complex housing estate and it has a small congregation of committed people. Here the ministry is incarnational in the sense of being present and engaged in all aspects of the local community in the name of Christ, but not trying to grow the church ‘artificially’ from outside.

In very frank discussions with the clergy at both churches we heard different models of doing the same thing: churches being faithful to God’s call to worship, nurture, reach out and give away. And each has it’s own answer to how that faithfulness should be lived out: one is very well resourced (because of the generous giving of the people) and one is in need of generous support – because, on its model, it can’t grow in that parish into a large well-resourced church.

Te challenge to the Church is how to honour both approaches whilst ensuring that the weaker church is resourced for its particular ministry and outreach.

The Commission will be coming back to the dynamic of evangelisation, nurture, apologetics and learning in it’s future work – but this gives a taste of where we are heading.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:London