Universe Column for 19th January 2003
By David Alton
In ancient Greece the messenger was always in danger of being executed when the recipient didn’t care for the message he delivered. The modern parallel is with the media and the desire to shoot the messenger because we don’t always like their message.
When the criticisms are fair, and the coverage balanced, we should accept this as part and parcel of life in an open society. When it isn’t, we should say so. And, as international Catholic broadcasting networks such as EWTN (Eternal Word) are demonstrating, alternatives can also be created that make a virtue of truth and fairness.
It would be absurd to suggest that nothing good any longer comes out of the BBC but as Britain’s largest minority Catholics have every right to voice their concerns when public broadcasting caricatures, defames or misleads. Millions of us pay our licence fees towards the BBC network.
Should we simply be quite, for instance, about the BBC’s travesty of the life of Mary? This attempted to put on one side the ‘myth’ of the Virgin of historic, orthodox tradition – and promoted the BBC’s other ‘real’, ‘historical’ Mary, who the programme suggested had sex with Joseph before marriage and an adulterous relationship with a Roman legionary.
This was yet another attempt to ‘demythologise ‘ and deconstruct the Bible.
It surely crosses the boundary of making a scurrilous attack on Christianity and ridicules the faith not just of Christians but Muslims too. Why is it that when it comes to the historicity of scriptural texts, the BBC seeks to undermine and criticise, rather than celebrate or examine the consequences for human action?
Some of their programme makers should remember their origins and take a look at the dedication placed at Broadcasting House by Sir John Reith and the first BBC governors proclaiming that “This temple of the Arts and Muses is dedicated to Almighty God by the first Governors of Broadcasting in the year 1931, Sir John Reith being Director-General. It is their prayer that good seed sown may bring forth a good harvest and that the people, inclining their ear to whatsoever things are beautiful and honest and of good report, may tread the path of wisdom and righteousness.”
The dedication – like the BBC motto, Quaecumque (“whatsoever”) are inspired by St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4:8).
Nine years later, as Britain braced itself for the aerial bombardment of its cities, Dr. James Welch, then the BBC’s Director of Religion, knew that bewildered people, dreading the arrival of telegrams heralding the loss of loved ones or the drone of German bombers, needed explanations about where God was in all of this. Through the war time broadcasts of C.S. Lewis and others, that followed, the BBC gave purpose and point to people’s lives and deaths.
In our times we have the same needs but programme after programme on the TV takes a deconstructionist, negative approach. What good is achieved in seeking to ridicule and destroy religious belief.
The consequences for believers who work for the BBC can be equally negative. One told me just before Christmas that “many of us here work in a subtle atmosphere of harassment, blame and ridicule (the jokes from some about my own faith are becoming a frequent occurrence). It’s a long way from the values of Reith – and so much for liberal tolerance!
Of course the producers will say that the BBC has no view and is merely reporting academic opinion – but over time this argument doesn’t wash. The assumption is always that the Bible is there to be attacked and viewers told ‘the facts’. I hope the new Archbishop takes a line on all this.