God and the Beeb

Digby Anderson argues that quality, not quantity, is the main problem in religious broadcasting, but is media culture so far removed from true religion that most journalists can no longer understand it?

Senior figures in the Church of England want the BBC to have a senior figure of its own committed to extensive and deep religious coverage. The implied complaint is not that the current religious broadcasting is biased against religion but that its coverage is inadequate.

Religion does not get a fair share of airtime. Some Forward in Faith members might not complain about the quantity of time but the quality of comment. Some might consider the BBC biased against their case. I think the problem is more profound than either bias or inadequate coverage. I don’t think BBC religious journalists are able to understand religion any more.

A new ideology

Simply, the broadcasters’ culture is so far removed from that of true religion that it can’t handle it without converting it into something it can understand, such as sexual discrimination or church politics. For instance, they treat a church as if it were the creation of public opinion or the current state of reason, rather like a modern political party in a democracy.

They cannot understand that the church is God’s foundation, his legacy given on his last night on earth. Men are not at liberty to tinker with it to suit popular demand or the wisdom of contemporary culture.

It’s not only the BBC. Over the last two decades The Times has acquired a new ideology which judges things by how rationalist and modern they are. The traditional priesthood, sexual discipline, tradition and the Sovereign Pontiff are obstinately unmodern. The Daily Telegraph is rather different. While conservative, it is increasingly feminized and soppy, putting emotivation and sentimentality where once moral and religious thinking prevailed. This ideology thinks Catholic religion is unfair on women.

This explains the two charges against Forward in Faith: it has failed to move on and incorporate equality of opportunity and it is harsh and unfair.

The ‘package deal’

This cultural divide between media and traditional Christian culture is not new. But as the media culture has acquired more and more causes so the gap has widened. In his autobiography, The Missing Will, Michael Wharton, who worked for both the BBC after the war and later the Telegraph (writing the Peter Simple column in the latter), describes the domination of the ‘liberal consensus’ or ‘package deal’. The deal included internationalism, faith in the United Nations, egalitarianism, pacifism, hatred of the past and ‘a strange kind of inverted patriotism, an instinctive feeling that in any dispute our country must always be in the wrong. At its silliest [it] involved a belief in human perfectability and paradise on earth.’

But Wharton’s keenest observation about those who accepted the package was this: these ‘Hampstead thinkers simply did not believe that a person who seemed intelligent and educated could have opinions different from their own.’ That is, they found such opinions, and those who held them, unbelievable.

Losing our abilities

Since the late Forties, about which he was writing, we could add to the package obsessive anti-racism, anti-homophobia, environmentalism at the expense of humanism, feminism and scientism. The problem gets worse but its nature is the same. The package people cannot understand religion. Once, for instance in medieval Europe, there was a popular understanding of religion. What was then contemporary popular culture was based on religion. That popular culture is currently derided as superstitious. No doubt it included doctrinal misunderstandings but these people knew what religion was.

The sociologist Peter Berger has pointed out that the humblest peasant went to bed in Christian fear of death. This is a fear most of us are incapable of. We have lost the ability to understand. Cultures gain new abilities as time goes on. We know much more than medieval peasants did about some things. But we have lost some abilities.

African cultures, in some respects primitive, are aghast at modern western culture’s lack of sense of family. While we, for instance, are highly literate, we have lost the ability to remember culture orally. And we are losing the ability to understand, to appreciate religion.

Heading for disaster

Those, such as the Hampstead thinkers, the liberal consensualists, the BBC and other media who have lost it most, will not be taught it again by discussing the matter. The call for more airtime to debate religion will do no good at all. ‘Debate’ is itself one of the new gods of the consensus.

Experience suggests that one way an individual, having lost religious sensibility, starts to re-acquire it is generally after some personal loss or disaster. It is not an infallible prescription but the lives of saints and poets give many hopeful examples. I suppose what works for the individual might work for a whole culture. Fortunately the liberal ‘civilization’ is heading towards such a disaster. We must hope it is truly awful and imminent. ND

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