Leaps of faith
Padraig Reidy endures some breakfast listening
Christopher Hitchens recently wrote that he awakes each day with a profound sense of annoyance. Normally, I'd find it difficult to muster anything as vigorous as bile so early in the morning, but a few weeks of listening to Radio 4's 'Thought For The Day' has switched me on to the Hitch's wavelength. It's those single-minded leaps in logic that render the first cup of builder's so unpalatable. Everything, for the FM pundits, has to be reduced to just one answer.
Take Anne Atkins eulogising the late Robin Cook. Apparently, his abdication from parliament in the lead-up to the Iraq war puts him on a par with Jesus. Which is clearly nonsense: every New Labour apparatchik knows exactly who the Messiah is. Atkins proposes the view that "the greater the renunciation, the more the respect." Hence, resigning a senior government position is now equivalent to dying on a cross - just like the act of her 'friend' who gave up a Harley Street consultancy to go and patronise the poor in India.
So far, so silly. But that's only the start. Referring to Thomas More and Thomas a' Becket, she informs us that: "Like their Master, they realised death can achieve far more than life". If someone came out with that at Finsbury Park mosque, he'd probably find himself on the first flight out of here. But it's perfectly acceptable, apparently, on Radio 4.
And it's not just Atkins who has trouble with the notion of reasoned argument. Regular contributor Clifford Longley is clearly in line for chief copywriter at Hallmark. "The word 'awesome' is one of our favourite words, usually with reference to pop musicians or sportsmen, or even Test matches. This morning I'm reclaiming it for astonishing events that shocked the world - and continue to shock the world - in Hiroshima and Nagasaki 60 years ago this weekend."
Where are you going with all this, Cliff? Oh, here it comes. Hiroshima, Longley reveals, was so 'awesome' and terrifying because "scientists had taken apart the fundamental building blocks of the Creation, undone God's handiwork so to speak." It obviously hasn't crossed his mind that atomic scientists are no more guilty of undoing 'God's handiwork' than the inventor of non-stick frying pans.
Some may be silly and presumptuous; others are downright offensive. The Rt Rev James Jones, speaking on the day after the Helios air crash in which over 140 people died, uses this tragedy to make us feel sorry for God: "If God is able to identify so strongly with all his creatures then in a sense he must never be without pain," he tells us. "Christians and others long for that day when God will wipe every tear from our eyes, when death will be no more and mourning and crying and pain will be things of the past. If we who suffer from time to time long for this how much more must God, who we believe carries the suffering of the whole world, ache for such a day?"
So, er, why doesn't he do something about it, in all his omnipotence?
Even the more sensible pulpit bashers can't help falling at the last hurdle. The Sikh speaker Dr Jeevan Singh Deol recently came out with a reasonably insightful monologue about what it means to be Asian, or British, or Asian-British or British-Asian. Only at the very last did he slip into the obligatory reductionism with a half-hearted reference to the second Guru. I couldn't help thinking that someone from the BBC Religion and Ethics Department had frantically edited the poor man's script, to soften the dangerous secularism.
And then there's the lovely Lionel Blue, so cuddly that disliking him seems a bit like having violent thoughts about Winnie the Pooh. But I can't be the only one to recoil at his cheerful analysis of the Middle East, where settlers could "learn a lot from ordinary tired tourists". Considering Lionel's advice to ordinary tired tourists was to "keep chocolates handy," chocolate, clearly, is the new God.
Of course, I could just switch off. But that's not quite the point, is it? The fact that someone can come on a respected radio programme and interrupt important news stories by spuriously attempting to link the savage murder of a teenager on Merseyside to the life of a first century mystic is not something I can just ignore. The allocation of airtime to this deadening fuzzy logic, bang in the middle of a programme that's supposed to be about truth, honesty and fairness, is one of the great mysteries of the modern age. No one else gets a party political broadcast in the middle of a news programme, so why should God?
Rational friends of mine refuse to get irked about 'Thought For The Day'; most see it as soothing background noise, a bit like the shipping forecast. But the shipping forecast doesn't lie, does it? The shipping forecast doesn't peddle platitude in place of fact.
And most of all, the shipping forecast has never sought to explain how 'Malin Head - 8 - rising, visibility; good' is really about Jesus.