Further to this post, it appears that 'Thought for the Day', the regular religious slot on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, has become a battleground in the ongoing religion/secularism debate. (See here for a regular sideswipe at the platitudinous nature of contributions to the slot.) Humanists have suggested that atheists and agnostics should be given access to TFTD, alongside the usual multi-faith selection of Christian, Sikh, Jewish, Muslim etc. commentators. Jonathan Bartley, director of the progressive Christian website Ekklesia, even used a recent TFTD to support the idea.
I've never been happy with this idea, believing that the slot was anachronistic and beyond redemption, and that widening the range of speakers would simply lead to a slanging-match in which 'religion' was pitted against 'humanism' or 'atheism' in a reductive and unproductive way. Surely it would be better to have done with the whole concept and admit that thoughtful reflection on news events is better done in other formats.
However, I've changed my mind a little, after hearing historian Lisa Jardine's recent contributions to Radio 4's Sunday morning programme A Point of View. Today Jardine was discussing the French presidential election, using it as a springboard for a reflection on cultural change in Britain and France, based on personal experience of the revival of 'localism' in both countries. Last Sunday she used the publication of photographs of imprisoned sailor Faye Turney in a headscarf, as the starting-point for a powerful discussion of issues of gender and selfhood, prompted by memories that the photos evoked of uncomfortable childhood dreams about loss of identity.
You can imagine what the regular TFTD speakers would have made of this issue: we would have had either a reactionary defence of religious and cultural traditions, or an 'on the one hand this, on the other hand that' attempt to 'understand' both Iranian and western attitudes. Instead, what we got from Jardine was a model of what a truly secular TFTD might sound like - and not a mention of 'religion' (or for that matter 'secularism' or any other -ism) in the whole piece. Perhaps they should give Lisa her own regular daily slot on Today and ditch all the others.