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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 14 August, 2002, 15:46 GMT 16:46 UK
Sparing a thought for today
Thought for the Day, BBC Radio 4's daily religious ponder, has again secured its position as one of broadcasting's most controversial spots. Could the latest quarrel point to a larger debate in society?

In seeking to represent the major religions in the UK, contributors to Thought for the Day are drawn from Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Sikhism, as well as the variety of Christian denominations.

Some of there religions have common ground, most have some shared values. But religions by their nature are not easily interchangeable, and it is a risk acknowledged by the Daily Telegraph that in seeking to please everyone, no-one may be pleased.


If we include secular voices, we undermine the slot's distinctiveness

Christine Morgan

"With very few exceptions, what you get from rabbi, priest and mullah alike is Religion Lite: doctrine so watered down as to be inoffensive to all - or, rather, offensive only in its patronising banality," it said.

Ethically valid

And now the humanists and atheists are wading in to the debate. Madeleine Pym, policy officer of the British Humanist Association, says that the UK has now nominally accepted that non-religious people do have a ethically valid set of values. This should be reflected in Thought for the Day.

Professor Richard Dawkins
Professor Richard Dawkins made an atheist broadcast
"There is a coherent and valuable system of non-religious ethical and moral beliefs that goes back at least 2,500 years to the philosophers of Ancient Greece, with which Humanism shares its origins.

"These beliefs are at least as valid as those of the major (and, let's not forget, minor religions). And they are alive and well in the views of modern philosophers and in the everyday moral perspective of many of the 30-40% of non-religious people in this country."

Unique insight

Christine Morgan, the series producer of Thought for the Day, has said that opening it up to people non-religious voices could destroy it.

"This short strand is unique, offering a faith perspective within a news programme. If we include secular voices, we undermine the slot's very distinctiveness."

But it does highlight the debate about what the relationship is between religious beliefs and secular standards.

Default position

Humanist philosopher Professor Peter Simons, of Leeds University, says there is widespread unease that matters of ethics are so "dictated or influenced" by religious opinions.

"There's a kind of default position which is a reflex that if people are in a medical or ethical dilemma, they should go and see a priest or a rabbi or an imam who will tell them the right thing to do."

Rabbi Lionel Blue
Rabbi Lionel Blue, a listeners' favourite
Having a humanist input into Thought for the Day could add this extra dimension, he says, although he predicts that he or she would not necessarily stick out from the religious contributors.

Dr Colin Morris, a former head of religious broadcasting at the BBC, likens claims that Thought for the Day discriminates against atheists as being like saying the Proms discriminates against the tone-deaf.

"Their ears are tuned to a different wavelength," he says.

It is perhaps ironic that on the day the slot was being criticised for being bland, regular contributor Anne Atkins made what many listeners will have found a particularly moving broadcast about the grief for the parents of the two missing Cambridgeshire schoolgirls.

Missing girls

Nearly in tears herself, she tussled with a perennial thorn in the sides of many believers and non-believers alike - namely how can a caring God permit such suffering.

"What possible reasoning can reconcile us to the absence of two children? What philosophy can teach parents to endure such a terrible night of waiting? What theology could have given this morning's hope or arguments ease the ongoing pain?

"So we naturally ask where was [God] through the night, and why he does so little in the face of suffering... Sometimes there aren't any answers, or the answers we get are worse than no answers."

She concluded: "[God] was there [with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane]. He was there in the tears, and the watching and the waiting through the long night. He was there in person, in a frightened man clinging to hope and facing an uncertain future."

Dr Morris says the slot is there either to challenge or to comfort. Both sides in the debate will agree that it is certainly doing at least that.



Religious or secular... send us your thought for today, using the form below

Religion is for control of people's minds and against free thinking. Enough said.
Mark Judd, Britain

Atheism like any other religion is a matter of faith.
Simon Richardson, UK

A parable with a moral or ethical issue, embedded within a religious context, remains a moral or ethical issue, nonetheless, and as such is relevant to anyone with morals or ethics, be they religious or not.
Kaye Elling, UK

Let no one tell you who God is, they have no more idea than you do
Brendan MacLean, Birmingham

How about "Today, I shall not inflict my beliefs or opinions upon others"
Chris Moore, UK

If God said he would no longer interfere, why do we look to him so much for help?
Steve, England

Wouldn't the world be a much nicer place if everyone wasn't on the make but instead did things out of kindness for one and other?
Simon Cambridge, England

What use is religion if those who "believe" fight more than those who don't?
Lee R, UK

Let us assume God is not there and try to build better world. In this shrinking world it is not very easy to have so many religions and beliefs.
Prakash , India

Do we seriously expect God to be in our lives, when we spend so much time and devote so much effort, to shutting Him out?
Matt Haywood, England

I pray for the safe return of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells
Sue Sinden, Kent

In the darkest times; light a candle and enjoy its simple, silent warmth.
Chris, UK

My thought for today, as it is most days, is "Roll on tomorrow"!
Ian, Scotland

How do you make God laugh? Make a plan.
Chris, US

Has anyone ever known a fanatical atheist? Hopefully one day everyone will see the benefits of humanism.
Andy Lilley, UK

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14 Aug 02 | Entertainment
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