• The Great British Pray Off! You cannot be serious 10 April 2017 | View comments

  • 10th April 2017 | By David Jolley

    I am fascinated by the editorial in the Guardian today 8.4.17.

    It begins with the information that the BBC is to close its religious and ethics studios in Manchester, but goes on to provide a series of quotes which are as breath-taking as they are revealing.

    ‘merely part of the long slow dismembering of the corporation’.

    This is by replacing the in-house facility with sponsorship of independent companies. This chimes entirely with the culture of the governing party which has seen parks, prisons, railways, buses, roads and much more removed from direct management from the public sector. Care of older people in nursing homes and in their own homes, is largely a province of private companies. For the well-off this often works well enough. For those dependent upon rationed care sponsored by local authority it is more often scarce and mean. But it all fits, and shifting broadcasting of religious and ethical matters into these hazardous waters can hardly be surprising.

    ‘Songs of Praise, the archetype of an unfashionable BBC programme’.

    ‘It is important that the BBC should continue to broadcast some shows that have no appeal to metropolitan people, or to anyone much under the age of 65.’

    Now I had thought that Songs of Praise was still popular. I have found it difficult to be sure of the viewing figures but they have fallen. The most watched programmes are the ‘soaps’ with figures over 6 million. Songs of Praise is more like 1 million. It may well be that most of those watching are old. Active Christians may be at church at this ‘God Slot’ time, though evening services are fewer than they were. It acts as something like an alternative to a church service. Initiatives to make it more viewable have given rise to critical observations likening it to ‘The One Show’, whatever that is!

    But the tone of this editorial is beginning to be clear, ‘nonmetropolitan’, ‘not under the age of 65’. These are clearly not groups any thinking person wishes to be associated with or labelled as.

    ‘The London centric BBC has little interest in questions of religion and ethics’.

    ‘Symbolised first by the religious departments move to Manchester’. This puts us firmly in our place. Manchester is equated with the land beyond civilisation and a suitable dumping ground for matters which are, by common agreement, of no value to a modern population.

    But wait. ‘It is very dangerous in today’s world to misunderstand religion as a preoccupation of people who are old, strange, or both …’

    Reading Francis Collins’ wonderful ‘The Language of God’ there is no doubting that religion and ethics have preoccupied the very finest intellects ever to walk this earth. The fact that they have become ‘unfashionable’ and best dismissed to the outer regions, and the quality of programmes trusted to the market, best value for money or simply the cheapest, is a commentary on the values of these times. How this has come to be is a mystery, for it is at odds with all common sense. The changes at the BBC are reflections of a drift, but the media provide education and they steer opinion and attitudes. They create and sustain heroes and gurus and they can destroy perfectly reasonable people and movements. I am not sure if they can encourage cohesion within local communities and the open and honest exchange of memories, stories, thoughts and fears which are necessary for exploration of religion and ethics. A serious and positive strategy would do a great deal of good. Maybe this can grow from the wasteland in which these great matters are to be sown.

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