Today programme host: ‘Thought for the Day’ should have secular voices
This is so obvious it should have been done years ago, but the BBC have a blind spot about their religious programming. They even claim that the "faith" content of TftD is balanced by the "non-faith" of the rest of the Today Programme. It's just part of an insidious insistence that morality is the exclusive preserve of religion, which is not only false but profoundly so. An excellent case can be made that religious considerations of moral questions are inherently lacking in morality, and that the only truly "moral" approach to such questions is a secular humanist one.
Nelson Jones (aka "The Heresiarch") took up the matter in New Statesman:
New Statesman - God's Morning Monopoly
...giving a comprehensive overview and a reasoned argument that, today, thoughts don't have to be religious.
New Humanist chimed in with the following:
New Humanist Blog: Time for atheists on Thought for the Day?
Not just time. It's long overdue.
Secularists on Thought for the Day will expose the loneliness of atheism – Telegraph Blogs
There’s so much wrong with Guy Stagg’s article one hardly knows where to start. We'll try the beginning:
Evan Davis has called for Thought for the Day to be opened up to secular contributions. The Today programme presenter thinks that the show is discriminating against the non-religious. Davis probably thinks this would strengthen the role of secularism in society, but in fact the opposite is true.
Thought for the Day is one of the better things about the Today programme. In comparison with some of the indulgent and irrelevant slots that fill up the three hours, Thought for the Day is consistently focused and intelligent.
What is more, as most atheists recognise, faith has plenty of lessons for religious and non-religious alike.
Finally, Radio 4 gives lots of space to secular contributions – a few minutes of God in the middle of the morning is hardly a victory against the Enlightenment.
There are also practical problems with Evan Davis’s idea. Who would be invited onto the new Thought for the Day? Davis suggests “spiritually minded secularists”. I guess that would include philosophers and academics, but presumably poets and lifestyle coaches as well. The question is: who does it exclude?
There is something a bit immature about the idea, like a schoolboy trying to get off chapel. It belongs to the same category of silly proposal as Alain de Botton’s secular temples, or Dawkins's rebranding of atheists as “brights”. It shows that, although secularists have realised that they cannot simply be defined by opposition to religion, nevertheless they have little to offer in its place. Crucially the secular tradition has no successful institutions to preserve and spread its principles.
This is something that few secularists admit: atheism is quite lonely. Not just existentially, but socially as well. Secularism does not offer the sense of fellowship you find in religion. Watching old Christopher Hitchens debates on YouTube with a like-minded sceptic is entertaining, but I doubt it's as nourishing as Sunday Mass.
This doesn't make the claims of religion true.
For what it’s worth, I doubt them as much as Evan Davis. But I recognise that atheism has a long way to go to provide a complete and compelling alternative to religion. And it will take a lot more than inviting some yoga teachers onto the Today programme.
As mentioned above, the BHA has an ongoing campaign about Thought for the Day, and they are once again urging secularists, humanists and others to write to the BBC trustees. Here's my effort, sent on 2 April:
BBC Trust Unit
180 Great Portland Street
In today's Independent, Evan Davies, one of the presenters of Radio 4's Today Programme, is quoted thus:
Davis, an atheist, feels strongly about Today's "Thought for the Day" slot. A decade ago he complained that it was "discriminating against the non-religious". Now he says: "I think there's a very serious debate about whether the spot – which I would keep – might give space to what one might call 'serious and spiritually minded secularists'. I don't think "Thought for the Day" has to only be people of the cloth."
The BBC has over the years received many calls to restore balance to this slot but has not done so. The calls keep coming.
As a listener to the Today Programme for several decades I would like to add my own strong feelings that "Thought for the Day" should include secular views. The consideration of ethical questions is not the sole purview of the religious, and given that the slot is not called "Religious Thought for the Day" its content remains unbalanced. I urge the trustees to rectify this as soon as possible, in line with what is likely to be the majority view of the programme's audience.
Paul S. Jenkins
I sent this via email, to firstname.lastname@example.org
(...and only now, on pasting this in, do I realise I spelled Evan Davis' name incorrectly.)