When they all gathered in a great back-slapping ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of The Today Programme, the presenters were of one mind: they wanted to see Thought for the Day scrapped. John Humphrys says it’s anodyne and amounts to little more than the suggestion by all the contributors that “Jesus is rather nice.” We’re lucky if it even amounts to as much as that.
The former Today presenter Evan Davis once said he would like to hear “serious and spiritually-minded secularists” on Thought for the Day. But, with one or two distinguished exceptions, these are the only sort of speakers we ever hear in that lethal slot. There is nothing authentically religious about TFTD. It is a vacuous, multi-faith political pep-talk from the soft Left and so bum-clenchingly politically-correct as to be beyond satire. It is the social gospel – only without the gospel.
The presenters always trendily try to link their “thought” to an item in the day’s news:
“Jesus didn’t go in for binge-drinking but, after a long day chastising the money-changers and the greedy City bankers, there was nothing he liked better than to chill out over a few beers with his disciples – though he was careful not to exceed the recommended daily alcohol units…”
“Guru Nanak did not stigmatise obese people but showed his love for them by distributing low calorie curry dinners…”
“In one of his many speeches about global warming, the Buddha…”
The array of TFTD presenters is like Grand Guignol. There is Anne Atkins, formerly the terrifically scary bible-basher, now mutated into a terrifically scary agony aunt and post-modern novelist. And the faux-proletarian Dr Giles Fraser, fully paid-up member of the Church Militant Tendency.
Lord Harries, the retired Bishop of Oxford, comes on every few weeks to support embryo research and always justifies the killing of embryos by saying that many of them die anyway – a vivid demonstration of TFTD’s non-sequiturial style: like arguing that because some people fall under buses, it’s OK to push them.
There is a tremendously progressive Muslim with a name and an intonation that sounds like Moaner Sid Eekie. Now that Rabbi Lionel has died, they can no longer wheel him on tell us a mildly mucky joke and end by saying it’s great to be Gay. I haven’t heard Bishop “Tom” Butler for a while. It was always nice to hear him reminisce about how, returning soberly from a reception at the Irish Embassy, he found himself lying down in the back seat of someone else’s car, throwing toys out of the window: “I’m a bishop. It’s what I do!”
Hardly any of the contributors to TFTD are what you might call religious. Rather they translate traditional biblical stories into secular metaphors. For example, the feeding of the 5000 was no miracle but only a lesson in “sharing.” No more than a socialist picnic. Jesus did not rise physically from the tomb: it was just a case of the disciples’ subjective experience of “new life” – though how they gained this experience if Jesus remained dead they don’t explain.
There is no need for a religious slot these days. The BBC relentlessly preaches its own syncretistic secular religion, ecumenically combining anti-Trumpery, and opposition to Brexit, hatred of Israel, addiction to pop-music, multiculturalism, the adulation of tawdry celebs and left wing playwrights and an obsession with climate change. Amen.
PS I used to present TFTD in the 1970s. In those days you did four mornings on the trot and the content of the short talks was invariably Christian. They wouldn’t let a dyed-in-the-wool, believing high churchman like me within a Sabbath day’s journey of the studio these days. Nothing demonstrates the radical change in Britain from a society based unemphatically on Christian principles to today’s authoritarian secularism than the history of TFTD. It began in the 1950s as a replacement for Lift Up Your Hearts – four minutes of genuine religion: “A story, a hymn and a prayer.” Christian naturally. Those were the days of our innocence before the multiculti invasion and takeover.