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Page last updated at 07:20 GMT, Wednesday, 15 July 2009 08:20 UK
Should Thought stay sacred?

The Archbishop of Canerbury, the Most Rev William Temple, speaking on the BBC in 1942
Should Thought for the Day make space for non-religious viewpoints?

Is it time for the Today programme to allow non-religious speakers onto Thought for the Day?

A religious broadcast has been part of the Today programme since it began 50 years ago.

For more than 30 years this has taken the form of Thought for the Day - 2 minutes 45 seconds of faith-based reflection at quarter to eight.

While Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist thinkers have spoken in the slot, secular or atheist viewpoints have not been used.

Now, speaking on Feedback , Radio 4 controller Mark Damazer has said that the rules for who can speak on Thought for the Day may be up for grabs.

"The BBC Trust is currently considering this question," he said. "They may well suggest we should take in a wider range of voices."

Pressure on the Today programme to allow a non-religious voice on Thought for the Day has been mounting for some years.

In 2002, more than 100 public figures wrote to the BBC Governors demanding the "ban" on non-religious speakers to be lifted.

In response, Professor Richard Dawkins, a high profile atheist, was asked to broadcast an alternative Thought for the Day , but his thought - that "we have been born and we are going to die, but before we die we have time to understand why we were born" - was broadcast in a different slot on the programme.

Earlier this year, the Humanist Society Scotland launched an alternative Thought For The World podcast for those atheists who switch off the radio at 0745.

Discussing the issue on the Today programme, regular Thought for the Day speaker Christina Rees , said she thought the programme is already secular enough.

"Over 80% of people, if not more, have a faith and many more accept a spiritual dimension to life," she argued.

"Devoting 177 minutes to coverage of world events from a default secular position, it is entirely reasonable to devote 3 minutes to comments on news which reflect an understanding of humanity and life that includes the spiritual."

But philosopher AC Grayling argues that if a news programme is to have reflections at all, it should draw from ethical thinkers of all varieties, not just the religious.

"Concentrating on one particular kind of perspective, that is a faith-based perspective, leaves out of the counter a great range of perspectives that could be rather useful," he said.


Do you think the Today programme should change Thought for the Day to allow non-religious speakers? Let us know using the form at the bottom of the page.

Thought for the Day is a spiritual moment when a topic or subject can be given fresh insight from a broad range of gifted speakers. For me I hope it stays multi-faith as secular or humanist contributors could not offer the spiritual aspect. Keep it as it is, please.
Michael Gear, Nantwich, England

To suggest, as your interview did, that humanism only concerns itself with things you can "see, touch and measure" would be incorrect. Humanism embraces the spiritual aspect of society and human experience but rejects belief in the supernatural. I would welcome some secular thoughts for the day - go on, be brave!(Humanist spiritual asperation.)
Nicholas Hodges, Moretonhampstead, Devon, England

They should get rid of it for being so exquisitely banal. The verbal equivalent of those interludes of kittens playing that they used to have in the early days of TV.
Malcolm Pryce, Oxford, UK

There are more philosophies in Radio 4 than in all our heavens and earths. Bring them all on.
Paul Beardmore, London UK

Thought for today should not be changed from its already wide and varied 'faith based ' commentary on current events. It is always refreshing, and always thought-provoking.
Bryan Beggs, Andover, UK

The weekly output of specifically reserved Radio4 Religious spots:

Prayer for the day 6 x 2 mins = 12' 00"
TFTD 6x2'45" = 16' 30"
Beyond Belief = 30' 00"
Sunday Worship = 40' 00"
"Sunday" = 45' 00"
TOTAL = 143' 30" (2 hrs 23 mins 30 secs), or 1.752% of total output.

Not much, really, for a country whose census shows 8.6m people had no religion out of 58.9m people (14.6%), meaning that 85.4% have an attachment to a religion. Perhaps we should have more religious output on Radio4, not less.
John, Leics, UK

Monopolies of any sort are by their nature exclusive even religious ones so lets have a broader platform. Allow us the listeners to hear if the humanists, atheists and others are equally stimulating, for after all its surely supposed to be a "thought for the day"
Max Bowman, London

This slot would be much more entertaining if John Humphrys was allowed to interrupt the speaker, as he does rather excel at demolishing dodgy arguments. As it is I "religiously" switch off for it. Please consign it to history!
Martin Thomas, Faversham, Kent

I am a daily listener to the Today programme but almost always switch off when 'Thought for the Day' comes on. I am sure I am not the only one. Not because it is faith-based but because so often the 'thoughts' are inane and patronising. Let's open it up - to philosophers, atheists and free-thinking people from all backgrounds and beliefs.
John Pelan, Humbie, East Lothian

Please keep TFTD as a religious slot. This is probably the only spiritual content that people are exposed to each day. Most daily discussion topics include murder, war, theft, corruption, rape - lets have some sanity in all this please.
Charlie Jones, Derby

I'm a Christian and I would be fine with humanists and atheists on Thought - it's only fair, and I'd be interested in what they have to say. Although I enjoy listening to Today, Thought for the day is the reason I listen, and if it was taken off, I would likely change to a different station.
Mike Smith, Leicestershire, UK

Non-religious contributors shouldn't be defined by their secular status. In fact, why draw attention to their non-religious status at all? Contributions should be judged on their content, not on whether the contributor has "bishop" or "rabbi" or "imam" in their title, or even "fervent atheist".
Mike Ranson, Warrington

I am a regular listener to Today and a practising Catholic. Please, please, please get rid of Thought for the Day, 'spiritual' or secular. It is invariably banal and seldom of remote interest to those of any faith or none!
David Cadman, London

As an atheist I often find some parts of the talks interesting and thought provoking, but other parts can sometimes be offensive. I am sure there are philosophers, psychologists and the like, who can bring us very worthwhile views on current events to get us thinking, without the overtone of religious comment.
Derek McComiskey, Stockport, UK

The existing contributors are very respectful of the views or beliefs of others, and never criticise them or proselytise. They also never speak about what they do not believe in, nor seek to persuade others not to believe in them. I would propose that atheists on Thought for the Day be required to abide by these same rules of conduct. They should not attack the beliefs of others or seek to persuade others to change their beliefs, nor should they speak about God or gods, since they do not believe in them. If they abide by these principles, then yes, let them speak: I for one would like to hear if they then have anything at all to say on Thought for the Day.
Simon Bramwell, Southampton

The rest of the morning is taken over with purely material human concerns. The fairly frequent shrieking by atheists about the three minute slot that doesn't conform to their world view is really rather churlish. I also seem to recall that the last time a 'humanist' was given the thought for the day slot, they spent it telling us how silly it was to be religious and that we really didn't need to be. Yeah, thanks for that. Obviously as a religious person I've never thought about my faith at all and just follow it out of sheer habit, thank God for atheists to remind us silly-heads to use our brains ;)
Marie Colwell, Sutton, Surrey

Most mornings I miss Thought for the Day as it is the few minutes between leaving the house and starting the car. However, when I do catch it, I often think that the speakers are drawn from such a limited pool of faiths and religions - I have yet to hear a Druid or a Wicca speaker. I think if it were to include a much wider variety of speakers, including secular speakers, it would regain some of its relevance. Taking time out to reflect is a good thing, and there needs to be a better balance of thoughts to allow this to be relevant to more of the listeners.
Natalie Cole, Exeter, UK

Thought for the day is the one part of the programme that I hate to miss. It is always a contrast, sometimes surprising and usually thought-provoking. I think it should be extended to include contributors from other backgrounds, as long as the quality is preserved. It should continue to provide a space to stop rushing and contemplate issues from a wider perspective than the everyday, immediate ones.
Margaret Aitchison, Whitley Bay

I like both Prayer for the Day and Thought for the Day. I think Thought for the day, which will have more listeners should be kept as a religious based topic. I also think it ought to be made more use of by the monotheistic speakers and a separate slot in the evenings found for speakers on historic, philosophical and personal opinions.
Marion Holland, Newcastle upon Tyne

I have no objection to foam-flecked militant atheists à la Dawkins. But I think that in fairness we should be subjected also to foam-flecked creationists and intelligent-designists. There is no such thing as too much nonsense
Douglas Finney, Cassis France

"Thought for the Day" should be something that stimulates thinking. At present it is often soporific. It typically takes the form of an often inappropriate biblical analogy rounded off with a facile moral. It should be open-ended, and controversial, asking: What do you think?
George Jelliss, St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex

I would be very interested to hear a range of thoughts both religious and non-religious. So not just believers or non-believers in a god or gods but a range of thoughts on ethics would be worthwhile.
Phil Tyrer , London

I enjoy the religious content. It provokes me to reaffirm my atheism almost every day.
James, Ludlow, England

I think Thought for the Day could accomodate non-religious speakers such as philosophers. TftD should not, however, move away from discussing the spiritual. TftD provides a hopeful, inspiring start to the day. I don't think reflection on non-spiritual philosophies would be at all uplifting.
Jennifer Davidson, Perthshire

"...do you like what you hear at 0745...". No. What is more I have complained about this finger-wagging, patronising slot a great many times. Get rid of it Today!
Laing Donaldson, Gtr London

Please retain TfT in its current format - it allows me to safely take a 'fag break'.
A N Costello, Sheffield South Yorks

In our diverse and often troubled world it is refreshing to hear something of hope. It is hope that the faith community are attempting to express. As long as Thought for the Day is a faith slot those who wish to express a non-faith perspective should look elsewhere.
Jane Bowles, Conwy, Wales, UK

I listen to "Today" most days from about 8-9am. Thought For The Day is the only "religious" spot on the programme and lasts a mere 3 minutes - out of a total of 60 minutes that I listen. So my vote would be keep TFTD religious and expand it to 5 minutes.
Tim Stapenhurst, Aberdeen, Scotland

I have to turn over at 07.45 or leave the room. Thought For The Day usually starts quite sensibly, then they go and mention the G word and spoil the whole thing. I'd rather the whole thing was done away with but, if it can't be, please let's have a rational voice or two in there to counter the deity fantasists.
Dave Plummer, London, UK

If Christina Rees is correct (Today 15 July)that 80% of people have religious/spiritual beliefs, what justification can there be for excluding 20% of the population, who would prefer to hear thoughtful secular, humanist and aetheist views?
Sue Chawner, Watford

The problem with Thought for the Day is not that it is faith only, but that it employs such a small stable of contributors. The same voices week after week mouthing the same platitudes week after week. The repetition of a narrow range of banalities has become the slot's defining feature. So yes: open it up to non-religious voices, but failing that, open it up to a wider group of contributors from within the faiths. There must be lots of other, and more articulate, religious thinkers out there!
Richard Hamblyn, London, UK

Surely its the quality of the 'Thought' that counts? Why restrict the selection of speaker based on an arbitrary definition of spiritual?
Ian Ashton, Leeds, UK

I enjoy Thought for the Day and believe that the inclusion of non-religious thinkers would make the programme more interesting and challenging.
David Bell, Harrow

I believe that the present format of "Thought for today" is adequately balanced and does not require any wider remit. IF an input from a non-faith perspective was deemed necessary then it could be catered for by introducing a specific complimentary slot within the "Today" schedule.
Nick Beeton, Salisbury Wiltshire UK

I find the 3 minutes of Christian thinking a very good way of starting a day. There are far more humanist ideas cluttering up the airwaves, and the 3 minutes give a welcome break between the confrontational comments from the newscasters. It is a far better way to focus the mind.
ordinarymargaret, Doncaster South Yorkshire, England

I feel it important that this slot has relevance to people's lives - all people. To me that means encompassing a wide variety of view points including secular or atheist and not just religious thinkers. If relevance is the key then it is the message within the thoughts that is fundamental.
Sam Dick, Milton Keynes

No and if Anthony Grayling is not happy to live in a country which is religiously liberal and a country with a state religion - then he should move to a country without a state religion, like France. "Thought for the Day" is a very good 3mins of sanity and thought.
Isabelle Robinson, Bourdainville, France

Please keep Thought for the Day as it is at the moment with a religious perspective. It is wonderful to have a space for reflection in amongst all of the news items, many of which make me angry, upset, etc. There is more to life.....
Lilian Pitt, Beccles, Suffolk

A little Enlightenment philosophy is JUST what the nation and this TFTD slot needs. The enlightenment was / is just that. It was a period when European thought moved past religion and realised that its OK to think for yourself and have a moral life without old men with big sticks perpetuating a fairy story. As Heinrich Heine (1797 - 1856) said "In dark ages people are best guided by religion, as in a pitch-black night a blind man is the best guide; he knows the roads and paths better than a man who can see. When daylight comes, however, it is foolish to use blind, old men as guides."
Derek Ruskin, Worcestershire

Maybe the question should not be whether atheists should contribute to Thought for the Day, but whether a new, specialist, slot should be introduced for them. Waffle for the Day perhaps?
Gerald Aves, Leeds UK

I feel it's a very good and important 3 mins. surely in our crammed lives it's vital to allow 'thoughts' about spiritual aspects....just to help us keep life in perspective! I appreciate the fact that it's 'religious' but if it was a choice between opening it up to secular or getting rid of it...then I would go for opening it up.
Bernadette Hutchings, Norwich

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