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BBC reinforcing religion ... again

For readers who aren't in the UK, BBC Radio 4 has a long-running programme called Desert Island Discs, in which a well known person is interviewed about their life, interspersed with their choice of 8 pieces of music (or occasionally spoken word) that they would want to take to a desert island with them.

At the end of the programme, the interviewee is also asked which one book s/he would like to take. The Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare are also thrown in as standard (presumably because, if they weren't, this part of the show would become very repetitious, since so many guests would ask for one or other of them). There is scope for a little bit of flexibility here though: where requested by the interviewee, the Bible has been replaced with the Koran or the Bhagavad Gita, and the Shakespeare has been replaced with, for example, the Complete Works of Goethe. A previous atheist interviewee has refused the Bible and simply taken the Shakespeare and his own choice of book instead - i.e. 2 books, rather than the usual 3.

However, the latest edition of the programme had Michael Mansfield QC as the guest, and he wanted to replace the Bible with Tom Paine's Rights of Man - but had his request refused on the basis that it had to be a religious text and 'we'll get letters'. (The relevant bit starts at about 41 minutes in on the attached BBC iPlayer link - which will only work if you're in the UK, I'm afraid.)

If you're in the UK and, like me, think this rule needs to be updated to allow the religious text to be replaced with a philosophical one, please write in to complain and make this request. This is really all of a piece with the BBC's policy on the horrendous Thought for the Day, which also takes the view that a thought only counts as a proper thought if it is based in religion, and steadfastly refuses to allow the non-religious to participate.

This may seem like a trivial matter - it's just a radio programme, after all, and one based on a fiction at that; but it is a very long-running and highly popular radio show, part of the national psyche, you might say, and it is in examples like this that we see how very little openness there is to secularism at the heart of the British establishment. There would be an outcry (and rightly so) if a Muslim guest were told s/he couldn't replace the Bible with the Koran, so why shouldn't a non-religious person be able to replace it with a text that s/he draws philosophical inspiration from? It seems to me that this kind of unchallenged assumption simply perpetuates and reinforces the foolish but widely held notion that religion is the only true source of moral and 'spiritual' inspiration.



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