So the BBC resolves to improve its treatment of religion, to take it more seriously as a major force in our culture. Good. But if clumsily undertaken such intentions can backfire, and deepen the liberal elite’s disdain for religion. Imagine if Thought for the Day was doubled in length, or if Songs of Praise was aired twice a week.
The challenge is to find new forms of religious broadcasting that unsettle assumptions. I can only think of one example of this in the last decade: Rev, the sitcom that combined affection for the C of E with satire. Because it was irreverent, it could also be profoundly sympathetic – it even showed a man praying, with engaging honesty and wit.
I think one area the BBC should focus on is intelligent discussion – but in a very different tone from the ordinary. When I go to dinner parties I find that religion is what people hunger to discuss – and they’re not just politely doing it for my sake. And most people I meet discuss it with humour and honesty, whatever their viewpoint. But you hear none of that on Beyond Belief, Radio 4’s religion chat show. It has a worthy, pious, academic, politically correct aura that is at odds with real people’s real interest. There should be a discussion programme in which believers can be relaxed, honest – and maybe have some fun. There’s one or two science discussion shows like this, and lots of arts ones. There is no point in the BBC increasing its religious output, unless it invites a new tone on to the airwaves, a tone of affectionate irreverence.