The Daily Smackdown: Cynical Bishops Exploit Terrorism For Publicity

BBC Religion Television

Who will condemn the bishops for exploiting our fear of terrorism in their grubby bid to preserve taxpayer funding of the BBC’s religious output?

The Church of England is very upset that the BBC is considering cutting the amount of taxpayer money it spends on (predominantly) Christian television output.

From the Telegraph:

A spokeswoman confirmed that the BBC was planning to “look at ways we can reduce costs” as it faced “huge financial challenges” but added that cuts would come from across the corporation.

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James, the Church of England’s lead spokesman on media issues, said the move could threaten something which was “fundamental to our public life”.

“It seems to me that religion has already taken a hit,” he said.

“It has already been reduced certainly in terms of its scope as an independent part of the BBC, at a time when we already need – as everyone acknowledges – more religious literacy in the nation.”

Nothing unusual there. The Church of England is a well oiled lobbying machine, and any private organisation lucky enough to have a bloc of 26 unelected representatives sitting in parliament to influence our laws in their favour would be foolish not to make good use of them. Thus it is no surprise that the unelected theocrats of our state church have been hard at work speaking out against the BBC’s planned actions.

But the fact that the Church of England’s behaviour is understandable does not make it any less reprehensible. Firstly, because it makes a total mockery of the idea of the BBC as an independent broadcaster. Nobody seriously believes that an organisation whose budget is nearly totally dependent on taxpayer money can be truly independent, but the fact that the Lords Spiritual are now actually speaking in parliament about the internal decisions and strategy of the BBC makes any pretence of the BBC’s impartiality or the government’s non-involvement utterly ridiculous.

Worse than this, though, is the flimsy rationale now offered by the bishops as a pathetic excuse for more taxpayer funded religious programming:

Bishops have warned the BBC it risks turnings its back on efforts to tackle extremism and aid integration by slashing spending on religious programming.

[..] The first female cleric in the House of Lords, the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Rev Rachel Treweek, remarked that the decision had presumably been taken “to reduce the possibility of offending people with too much God stuff over the holiday”.

It is good to see the newly enobled Rachel Treweek, my Lord Bishop of Gloucester, is wasting no time in rolling up her sleeves and interfering in our national democracy as generations of theocrats have done before her. She will be making the home team very proud. But unfortunately, she and her fellow Lords Spiritual are talking nonsense.

The argument that cutting the amount of taxpayer money devoted to religious television and radio programming on the state broadcaster is somehow a threat to anti-extremism efforts is as ridiculous as it is unfounded.

More moderate Christianity on TV will not result in less Islamic extremism on the margins of British society. And pontificating, busybody bishops who abuse their parliamentary platform to suggest otherwise should provide evidence for the supposed link, or else retract the claim and admit that they are simply exploiting serious issues of national security in a cheap ploy to gain more taxpayer-funded airtime.

The real issue is not so much the pull factor of extremism as the push factor of the alienation of too many young Muslims from British society. It’s the fact that we have living among us too many self-segregated societies comprised of people who hold the same passports as us, but look upon us – and the enlightenment values of reason, education, liberty and democracy to which we try to adhere – as alien and unwelcome. By failing to inculcate a strong and inclusive sense of Britishness, out of craven fear of causing offence, we provide the Islamist recruiters with easy fodder.

Do my Lord Bishops of Gloucester and Norwich (flowery titles for a bygone age) seriously believe that the kind of alienated youths and their families who are now quietly slipping away to ISIS in Syria or seeking out radicalising materials online are the same type of people who tune in to BBC Two at six o’clock in the evening, ready to be reached out to and placated with a documentary about public spirited imams, rabbis and priests working together to open a new community centre? What nonsense.

The people most in need of the BBC’s moderate religious programming and generally liberal worldview are those whose eyes are glued to YouTube videos of anti-American 9/11 conspiracy theories or seditious social media conversations on their smartphone screens. More government intervention – be it through Prevent or the BBC – is not going to make meaningful inroads to these people. The only lasting solution must come from the bottom up, a revitalisation of patriotism and pride in Britain, and the promotion of a common British identity which transcends racial divides (rather than revelling in a multicultural dystopia which sees groups living side by side but separately in parallel, alienated lives.

Do the Lord Bishops have anything meaningful to say about that? No, they do not – perhaps with the exception of the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres.

This is in no way intended as an attack on religion, or on the Church of England (so long as it stays within its own boundaries and stops trying to play an undue role in our public life). I grew up watching Songs of Praise on a Sunday, and have happy memories of doing so. But it is not right for general taxpayers of an increasingly secular country to continue funding religious programming using a model that invites some appointed bureaucrat or another to choose which religions or denominations are to be favoured above others.

Perhaps the Lords Spiritual begin to grasp this. Perhaps they are grasping at these increasingly ludicrous excuses for their continued influence because deep down, they realise that they have no place in the government of a twenty-first century democracy.

But if these are the death throes of theocracy in Britain, they are still very offensive indeed. Claiming that the BBC should continue to spend taxpayer money on religious output favouring the established church because failing to do so will unleash more extremism – and note how the bishops cannot bring themselves to utter the name of the religion from which that extremism currently emanates – is cynical and manipulative, playing on the fears of British people just to win more free promotion.

I have never expected much from the Church of England’s upper hierarchy, or their antidemocratic parliamentary delegation. But this is low, even by their rock-bottom standards.

First female bishop to sit in House of Lords

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