A fascinating article on digital media and what it is doing to us in the New York Times.
Bill Keller, Executive editor of the Times, declares himself to be no luddite but in a week in which he introduced his 13 year old daughter to Facebook he writes of the unforeseen, unintended consequences of pursuing digital technology;
‘My inner worrywart wonders whether the new technologies overtaking us may be eroding characteristics that are essentially human: our ability to reflect, our pursuit of meaning, genuine empathy, a sense of community connected by something deeper than snark or political affinity.’
‘The shortcomings of social media would not bother me awfully if I did not suspect that Facebook friendship and Twitter chatter are displacing real rapport and real conversation, just as Gutenberg’s device displaced remembering. The things we may be unlearning, tweet by tweet — complexity, acuity, patience, wisdom, intimacy — are things that matter.’
A few weeks ago I posted a copy of a letter I sent to the BBC regarding it’s decision to commission a three-part series entitled ‘The Bible’s buried secrets.’ Here is the BBC’s reply with my comments on their reply in italics.
Dear Mr Powell
Thanks for contacting us regarding ‘Bible’s Buried Secrets’ broadcast on BBC Two.
I understand that you felt this programme was biased against Christianity (No, I didn’t say that. I said that the BBC is biased against Christianity. My letter was a complaint that the BBC is very willing to broadcast programmes critical of the Bible and that the BBC seems willing to broadcast quite sensationalist claims about all sorts of errors in the Bible but would never broadcast programmes critical of the Qur’an), and feel there should be other similar programmes exploring other religions beliefs (that bit is right).
Whilst I appreciate your concerns, Christian programming is, and remains, the cornerstone of the BBC’s religious output (not sure how that actually addresses my concern). In addition to exploring and celebrating all the other major faiths in the UK, the BBC delivers a range of content that reflects, celebrates and debates Christiaintiy across TV and radio.
It’s simply not correct to say there are no programmes on Islam or that the BBC would not address issues about Islam. (Oh dear. It really would help everyone concerned if you had read my letter and interacted with my arguments than answer points I’m not raising.) Since the events of 9/11 there have been numerous programmes about fundamentalist Islamic terrorism, extreme beliefs of some Muslims and issues about Sharia Law. (Again that’s not my point ).
On the subject of the Qur’an (at last!) Channel 4 did address academic studies that question the conventional reading of the authenticity of the Qur’an (Well not exactly. The documentary, entitled The Quran broadcast in July 2008 was a genuinely good piece of broadcasting, but a very different one from the BBC’s on the Bible. The channel 4 documentary didn’t address the issue of the authenticity of the Qur’an as you suggest it did. Rather its focus was the issue of diverse interpretations of the book. At no point did it criticise the Qur’an or suggest in any way that it might be merely a human book full of errors in the way that the BBC’s Bible’s Buried Secrets did for the Bible.)
This programme was only transmitted two years ago and no new academic work exists to warrant another film at present (You’ve got to be joking! In my original letter I gave examples of Islamic scholars questioning the origins of the Qur’an that have not been touched by any documentary maker, ever, in the UK. So why not make the programme that no broadcaster dare make ‘The Qur’an’s buried secrets’ on how a growing number of scholars are arguing that the origins of the text of the Qur’an was from pre-existing, pre-Islamic writings.)
So there we have it. The BBC is willing to broadcast programmes about Islamic extremism, channel 4 is willing to broadcast a programme on how the Qur’an is interpreted, but if this response is anything to go by the BBC still thinks it’s a good idea to give the Bible a good kicking but not the Qur’an. I wonder why?
The article in today’s Daily Telegraph had a sad ring of familiarity to it. The opening sentence begins ‘The BBC’s new face of religion is an atheist who claims that God had a wife and Eve was “unfairly maligned” by sexist scholars.’ And it goes on to explain that the BBC have decided to invest your licence fee and mine in a primetime BBC Two series, The Bible’s Buried Secrets, which will set forth controversial and provocative views on the text of the Bible as interpreted by an atheist scholar at Exeter University. No doubt this will all be out in time for Easter.
The head of BBC’s religious output is Aaqil Ahmed. So today’s headlines got me wondering when the BBC’s series attacking all the other world religions is likely to be commissioned. I thought I’d draft Mr Ahmed a letter to find out and I thought I’d share it with you.
Dear Mr Ahmed
I note with interest that the BBC has commissioned another series of programmes designed to disparage orthodox Christianity, The Bible’s Buried Secrets. No doubt in pursuing your agenda of equality and diversity you have also begun prelimenary work on spending my licence fee on programmes designed not just to ridicule the faith of Christians but Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus too. When, for example, can we expect to find The Kuran’s Buried Secrets on our TV screens? There are a number of Islamic scholars who are themselves either liberal Muslims or atheists whose unorthodox views would be as interesting to hear as that of Dr Stavrakopoulou.
If, because of the time you’ve had to spend considering how to offend Christians, you haven’t quite got round to thinking how best to insult other people of faith maybe I can suggest one or two avenues that you could explore. For liberal scholars who have done a fair bit of work deconstructing Islam how about commissioning Ibn Warraq to make a series based on his scholarly books such as The Origins of the Koran and The quest for the historical Mohammed. No doubt his views broadcast by the BBC will help boost ratings and make a few newspaper headlines. Or you could turn to Christopher Luxenberg and his ground-breaking ideas that the text of the Kuran is based on pre-existing Christian Aramaic texts. Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran: A Contribution to the Decoding of the Language of the Koran is the work to consult for more on that line of thinking.
I look forward to hearing back from you on how work is progressing on these series but I won’t be holding my breath.
Yours not very sincerely…
Who would have thought that the Independent would have reported research that shows that:
Couples who avoid sex before marriage end up having happier, more stable relationships and a better time in bed, according to psychologists. An American study backs the straitlaced view that sex should wait until one’s wedding night.
Compared with those having sex early, couples who waited until they were married rated the stability of their relationships 22 per cent higher. They also claimed 20 per cent increased levels of relationship satisfaction, 12 per cent better communication and 15 per cent improved “sexual quality”. The findings appear in the Journal of Family Psychology.
One of the co-authors Dean Busby commented in businessweek ‘the take-home message is that sex is a powerful experience. It really bonds us to one another and so it may be important before we go down that road to take the time to see if you can talk to this other person — see if you have similar personalities and similar directions in life — to see whether or not this is a relationship that can last.’
The warnings of God in the Song of Solomon seems to find its confirmation in this research
Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you:
Do not arouse or awaken love
until it so desires.
The context for sexual love is in the bonds of a permanent relationship – that of marriage;
6 Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.
Did you catch the BBCs screening of The Nativity over the Christmas period? (if not catch it here while you can). The screenplay was written by Tony Jordan best known for writing 250 episodes of EastEnders and more recently Life on Mars. In a fascinating interview in The Telegraph he tells of his own personal journey from scepticism to belief.
“I don’t come from a religious background and I don’t think I’m anybody’s fool. I was expelled from school at 14. I’ve been in trouble. I know that people from my sort of background have always discounted the story of the nativity and I certainly didn’t believe it when I started on it three years ago. But now I do.”
“The only thing I know for sure is that the words I read as coming from Jesus Christ are the most truthful thing I have ever heard. As a blueprint for mankind, it is so smart that it couldn’t even have come from a clever philosopher. Who would have been smart enough to say ‘He who is without sin cast the first stone’? Wow! That’s pretty cool.”
Even the virgin birth is taken in its stride:
‘If you accept that Jesus is Son of God, why would you not believe that Mary was a virgin, and that God must have had some handin the impregnation?’
It suggests to me that the biggest challenge that Christians face is in inspiring people to read the Bible for themselves. Perhaps the biggest barrier to faith is the beginning – once people start the journey many continue it to its destinations end.
Certainly it’s been my experience that once people meet Jesus on his own terms and take time to understand him that the cynicism faces and many find themselves drawn to him. There is something beautiful, compelling, attractive about the man, his message and his mission.
For a great review of The Nativity from a Christian perspective check out Mark Meynell’s blog here.
For an extended interview with Tony Jordan try this (with thanks to Mark Meynell).
My preferred weekly magazine, in its Christmas special, ran only one article on the Christmas story and they asked an atheist to write it. It’s called ‘Confession of an atheist: I respect Christianity too much to believe in it.’
Why would the magazine, which is conservative culturally and politically, prefer the view of an atheist for a Christmas comment? Well I guess because it’s a different angle. And that, my friends, is the problem for Christians when it comes to Christianity and the media.
There exists an inevitable bias against Christianity in the media because the media is always looking for new angles and new opportunities to say new things.
Andrew Marr at a recent internal seminar at the BBC let the cat out of the bag.
The BBC is a publicly funded urban organisation with an abnormally large proportion of younger people, of people in ethnicminorities and almost certainly of gay people than the population at large. It depends on the states approval at least for its funding mechanism and all this creates an innate liberal bias inside the BBC and I think if we pretend there isn’t an institutional liberal bias of that kind which is much more clearly expressed as a cultural bias than as a party political bias.
And it has always been so. Marr, in his presentation to the September seminar, actually quoted a parliamentary committee from 1936 which highlights how the old, old story will always be eclipsed by the new.
‘There’s an inevitable tendency in the general programmes of the Corporation to devote more time to the expression of new ideas and the advocacy of change in social and other spheres than the defence of orthodoxy and stability, since the reiteration of what exists and is familiar is not so interesting as the exposition of what might be.’
As Marr pointed out, ‘Any producer, any reporter worth their salt wants to go for newness, challenge, controversy – and the Continue reading »
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