What stopped me in my tracks as I listened was his incredibly honest reflections on receiving a disastrous review by Phil Daoust in the Guardian as a new-comer to British comedy back in 2005 and especially the insight into the fragility of the human ego.
People are quite contemptuous of artists who are not good at dealing with reviews but I think it’s completely disingenuous because it hurts being told that what you’ve worked on is useless.And I’m probably particularly not good at it. Which is why I don’t read them anymore.
Imagine you had to get up, you the listerner, dear listener, had to get up every night and do a whole lot of jokes that you already know that you don’t find funny any more, write a whole lot of songs that you don’t like the tunes of anymore because you wrote them yourself, sing with a voice that you loathe because its your own voice. These are all normal human things right to not like your own material.
And someone in a national newspaper, your newspaper, the one you respect and read makes specific criticisms of specific bits in the show and doesn’t say that this could do with work but says this makes this person not deserve to be on stage.
How would you feel at the point, you get to that point in your show that night? How do you get up on stage and get to that joke again with that guy’s words ringing in your head?
It wasn’t the worse thing in the world but it was very, very hard to recover from it.
The very first item of news on the BBC 5live breakfast programme yesterday morning was ‘Experts say patients with less than a year to live should be given help to die at home.’
So important was the news that the item was given the prime-time slot after the 8am news (listen in at 2hrs and 6 minutes) and was later a major focus on the Victoria Derbyshire show in which she interviewed Lord Falconer the chair of a ‘Commission on Assisted Dying’.
So who was interviewed, what views were put forward and how should we assess the BBC’s coverage?
For some inexplicable reason the BBC decided that rather than interview a member of the panel who supported its conclusion alongside one of the many voices opposed to its conclusion it would instead simply interview two members of the panel in support.
Nor did the BBC even decide to include in the interview the one and only member of the commission, Reverend Canon Dr. James Woodward, who did not support its conclusion (unlike the Channel 4 7pm news later in the day).
Rachel Burden although making reference to opponents to a change in the law on assisted suicide failed to highlight just how widespread that opposition really is.
Peter Saunders CEO of Christian Medical Fellowship has written extensively drawing attention to much that the BBC failed miserably to reveal.
You might think that listeners would like to have known a number of facts about the commission exposed by Dr. Saunders and yet not raised by Ms. Burden in the interview. For example wouldn’t it have been helpful to know that;
That might have been especially pertinent when Penny Mordant MP (a member of the panel) was allowed to get away with stating in the interview ‘Members of the panel – many of them are very sceptical’ and further that the panel held ‘a very wide range of views.’
Instead the best we got from Rachel Burden was just one question about where the funding came from and therefore whether it was truly independent.
On the basis of the cross-examination of the two commissioners offered by the BBC it was impossible to arrive at a fair and unbiased assessment of the issues surrounding both the commission itself and the views of the wider medical profession.
There is a sense in which WWJD is the wrong question to ask. A better question, when it comes to grasping the message of Christianity is what DID Jesus do? It is his life of perfect obedience and his death as a sin-bearing sacrifice that alone brings us into relationship with Christ. As the Apostle Paul says ‘God justifies the wicked’ Romans 4:5. So when it comes to answering the question what gets us right with God WDJD is a better question.
But in another sense once restored to a relationship with God through Christ WWJD is a good question.
Philippians 2:5 (NIV) says ‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.’
1 Corinthians 11:1 (ESV) says ‘Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.’
Ultimately we are called in the strength of God’s spirit to follow the example of Christ. Luke 9:23 ‘Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me”
The Bible contains surprising verses, even offensive verses, passages of the Bible that seem to be at odds with our understanding of the way the world should work and God behave.
Exodus 20:5 is one such verse;
I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.
If you’re a Christian you probably, like me, find a verse like that a little unsettling. What can such a verse mean?
1. It can’t mean that God actually punishes innocent people for the sins of an earlier generation. After all Deuteronomy 24:16 makes clear that ‘Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers.’
2. Rather through this verse God warns Israel that as Stuart comments;
‘God will indeed punish generation after generation if they keep doing the same sorts of sins that prior generations did. If the children continue to do the sins their parents did, they will receive the same punishments as their parents.’
Ryken notes that;
‘God never condemns the innocent only the guilty. Here it is important to notice something that is often overlooked — namely, how the threat ends. God says that he will punish three or four generations “of those who hate me” (Exod. 20:5). The children hate God as much as their fathers did (which, given the way they were raised, is not surprising).’
And here is his sobering conclusion
‘As parents plan for the future, they should be more concerned about the second commandment than they are about their financial portfolio. This commandment contains a solemn warning for fathers. When a man refuses to love God passionately and to worship God properly, the consequences of his sin will last for generations.
The guilt of a man who treasures idols in his heart will corrupt his entire family, and in the end they will all be punished.’
The second commandment in action
And then in the news today we find something that seems in every way to be a fulfilment of this warning in our own times. Dr Helen Wright, President of the Girls’ School Association, in a speech to be given tomorrow warns that the consequences of parents not knowing right from wrong are falling on their children.
‘I have a deep worry that some parents have been so deprived in their own lives of education and values, that they no longer know right from wrong and that they are as a result unwittingly ‘indulging’ children in some parallel universe where it is acceptable to let young children wear make-up and provocative clothing.
“If parents can’t see anything wrong in dressing up their children in ‘Future WAG’ T-shirts and letting them wear make-up, high heels and ‘mini-me’ sexy clothing, then something is intensely wrong in our society.’
Cecil B. De Mille the director of the Hollywood blockbuster, The Ten Commandments, described the folly of ignoring God’s 10 commandments in this way – he said ‘It is impossible for us to break laws; we only break ourselves upon them.’
On thursday’s Question Time the programme closed with this question;
What is the essential ingredient to GWB ‘General Well-being’?
The answers the panelist gave to what makes us happy were a little depressing with one notable exception.
Update: Seems that the BBC do have something to say after all – it’s just that the BBC can’t spell his name correctly and that their search engine isn’t very sophisticated.
How is it possible that a search of the BBC News’ website should return ‘no matches’ when I searched this morning for news of the fate of Iranian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani. How is it possible that obsessed as the BBC is with the fate of Amanda Knox, et al., it has nothing to say or report on a man who has been sentenced to death for the crime of becoming a Christian in a Muslim country?
Visit the Sky News website and you will find up to date news. Search the Guardian, the Times, and this excellent post on New Statesman site for detailed coverage. But for some inexplicable reason the BBC is silent on this human rights story.
Jeremy Paxman has a reputation of being a bit of a Bulldog. Yet last night on Newsnight the Bulldog failed to bark, let alone attack, preferring a tickle on the tummy from Richard Dawkins.
Dawkins once famously said
In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication some people are going to get hurt other people are going to get lucky and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it nor any justice. The universe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind pitiless existence. DNA neither knows nor cares DNA just is and we dance to its music.
As we know, atheism does hold a pretty bleak outlook on life but now the nihilist who believes in only ‘blind pitiless indifference’ has given his atheism a make-over. His new book The Magic of Reality conveniently hides from view his belief that nothing can really be considered morally evil preferring to find solace in the wonders of science; science in some sense reveals a magical reality according to Dawkins. It might be a book for children but it skilfully disguises the darker realities that this universe is indifferent to human notions of truth, beauty and goodness preferring to blind us with science.
And so last night was a perfect opportunity for Paxman to put Dawkins’ arguments to the test and in doing so expose the manifest contradictions in his portrayal of atheism. But instead we were exposed to a pretty sycophantic interview in which Dawkins and Paxman laughted together after giving the straw-man they had invented a bit of a kicking. Paxman’s question to Dawkins ‘Do you really care that there are a lot of stupid people around?’ summed up the level of discussion. To watch it tune in at around 43 minutes.
By simply accepting Dawkins’ flawed premise that religion and science are opposed to each other Paxman missed a great opportunity for a grown up conversation. A conversation that would have been considerably more profitable to the thinking mind if held in conjunction with another author who has a new book out and who has debated Dawkins on a number of occasions.
Professor John Lennox of Oxford University also has a book already out in the US and coming out in the UK next week called Seven Days That Divide the World in which he discusses the relationship between the Bible and science. Alvin Plantinga, describes it as being ‘as good as it gets in the religion/science area.’
There might be good reasons as to why John Lennox could not have attended, or might even have preferred not to attend, but there cannot be any good reasons for Paxman going along with Dawkins’ pretence that religion is nothing more than a misguided myth.
When the BBC decided it was time to broadcast another attack at the foundations of Christianity in the form of Bible’s buried secrets I wrote a letter to Mr Aaqil Ahmed the Commissioning Editor Religion and Head of Religion & Ethics at the BBC. My concern was not that Christianity should enjoy a protected or privileged status beyond contradiction but rather that Christianity should not be singled out for such critique when other religions, at their foundation, are free from critique. I received a reply from someone at BBC Audience Services which was far from satisfactory. Here is my second letter to Mr. Ahmed.
Dear Mr Ahmed
I am sorry that you were not able to reply personally to my letter sent regarding the concerns of many over the BBC’s ‘Bible’s Buried secrets’ broadcast on BBC2 earlier this year. Having now received a reply from a Mr Roberts of the BBC Audience Services it is important that I write again in light of the errors contained within his letter.
The programme ‘Bible’s Buried secrets’ was a deliberate attempt to challenge the credibility of the Christian holy book and sacred text. As the review in the Daily Telegraph highlighted;
The programme’s findings, said Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou, would “rock the foundation” of Christianity and Judaism. She must have been very keen to press home this point, because she used the phrase again and again, although, perhaps worried we were tiring of it, she did once switch to “undermine the basis”
Michael Deacon goes on;
If you hadn’t already guessed from its subtitle, “Did God Have a Wife?”, you could tell this programme was trying hard to shock the moment you heard the music its producers had chosen to play in the background.
I very much want to make clear that I believe that programmes that question the origins and basis of religious traditions have a place in public broadcasting. I am in no way seeking a privileged place for religious belief and am certainly not seeking to exempt Christianity from critique on the grounds of personal offence. That the series was frustrating in both the manner in which the claims were sensationalised and perhaps more importantly in the way the views of a few on the fringe of academia were singled out for such a high profile is something perhaps I simply have to accept. Sensationalist claims boost viewing figures after all.
My original complaint, as Mr Roberts summarises accurately, is ‘that you felt this programme was biased against Christianity, and feel there should be other similar programmes exploring other religious beliefs’.
Given that he clearly understands my concerns it is Mr Roberts’ defence of the BBC’s position that cause great concern and warrants the need for a second letter. As a public service broadcaster the BBC must not only value, but be seen to value equality and fairness in its broadcasting and Christians ask for nothing more and nothing less. All we seek is a level playing field when it comes to world religions. Mr Roberts offers little if no assurance that the BBC is seeking to provide this.
He makes three responses to my letter.
Firstly he writes, ‘The BBC delivers a range of content that reflects, celebrates and debates Christianity across TV and radio’. I’m sure it does and that is not at all at issue so let us move on.
Secondly, he argues ‘It’s simply not correct to say there are no programmes on Islam or that the BBC would not address issues about Islam’. Again this is not in dispute and not a matter I raise in my letter. That the BBC has made programmes critical of radical interpretations of the Quran is neither here nor there.
The key issue, and my chief complaint, does receive the briefest of answers in Mr Roberts’ third point and it is here that the bias at the BBC seems to surface again.
In response to my complaint ‘why does the BBC attack the foundations of Christianity in programmes that rubbish the Bible in a way that it would never do to Islam in programmes that question the very authenticity of the Qur’an’ his reply makes a strange defence.
He argues that Channel 4 have already made that programme! It’s strange because firstly it’s not true and secondly it’s strange because Channel 4 is not the BBC!
In my earlier correspondence I pointed out various academic studies that if given the same sensationalising treatment as the ‘Bible’s buried secrets’ received would also ‘rock the foundation’ of Islam. Mr Roberts’ seems to think that these studies were reflected in a Channel 4 programme which he says ‘question(s) the conventional reading of the authenticity of the Qur’an’.
As Commissioning Editor for Religion and Head of Multicultural Programming at Channel 4 when this programme was made no doubt you share my concerns that Mr Roberts should have made, no doubt mistakenly, misleading claims as to the nature and content of the programme.
The Channel 4 documentary, entitled The Quran and broadcast in July 2008, categorically does not do what your correspondent maintains it does. It emphatically does not address the issue of the authenticity of the Qur’an. As you know its concern was to focus on the issues surrounding the diverse interpretations of the book not the book itself. At no point did the programme criticise the Qur’an or mention any academic work that suggests the Qur’an is based on pre-Islamic texts. In other words, the programme at no point suggests in any way at all that the Qur’an might be merely a human book full of errors in the way that the BBC’s ‘Bible’s Buried Secrets’ does of the Bible.
So when Mr Roberts wrote in reply to my letter ‘This programme was only transmitted two years ago and no new academic work exists to warrant another film at present’ he is either ignorant of the Channel 4 programme or ignorant of the academic work or both.
The reality is, as I’m sure the forthcoming BBC series on the life of the prophet Mohammed will demonstrate, that Islam enjoys a privileged status at the BBC in being protected from criticism at its foundation. The BBC has never broadcast a programme questioning the behaviour of the prophet Mohammed nor critiquing the origins of the Qur’an. No such privilege is given to Christianity. In fact it’s quite the reverse. The corporation is quite ready to spend licence payers money on mocking and ridiculing Christianity, whether in light entertainment programmes such as Vicar of Dibley, and it’s indefensible airing of Jerry Springer the Opera or in sensationalist programmes undermining the credibility of the Bible but there is no level playing field and I suspect we all know why.
Should the BBC be free to mock Christianity? Yes. Should the BBC provoke our thinking and challenge our assumptions? In the name of education, absolutely. But should it single out Christianity for attack whilst protecting Islam? This is the big question and on this matter I look forward to receiving your answer.
Dr. Peter Saunders certainly thinks there is a case to answer to.
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?
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