If you want to hear a BBC discussion going hopelessly wrong, listen to the ‘debate’ between the Bishop of Lichfield, Jonathan Gledhill (brother of the better-known Ruth) and Alan Beith on the Today programme this morning. Radio 4 meant it to be about the established church, and set the Anglican bishop against the Methodist Beith.
Did they? Methodists and Anglicans have been in Covenant since 2003. They are not arch-enemies out to slay one another. They work together ecumenically, share local churches together and support each other on a number of social issues. Also, Ruth Gledhill is not related to Jonathan Gledhill - an error that Ruth has pointed out on Twitter.
But a freemasonry of the faithful took over, and ‘balance’ went out of the window. Conformist and non-conformist united against their common enemy, ‘militant secularism’. Not just Anglicans and Methodists, Beith assured us, but Sikhs, Jews, Muslims and Hindus were at one in their fear of the secularist menace.
“Freemasonry”? An unfortunate term in this context. The first definition of freemasonry in the Oxford English Dictionary reads: “The system and institutions of the Freemasons.” Back in 1985 the Methodist Conference voted that Freemasonry competed with Christian beliefs. Cohen, however, would have meant the second definition of this term: “Instinctive sympathy or fellow feeling between people.” A less ambiguous choice of words would have been “a shared perspective”. The jumbled phrases continue through the paragraph with Cohen suggesting that Sir Beith says that Anglicans, Methodists, Sikhs, Jews, Muslims and Hindus are in “fear of the secularist menace”. He didn't say anything like this. In fact, Sir Beith stands up for the views of atheists, some of whom would agree with Mary Ann Sieghart's piece in the Independent this week.
‘It is bad enough having to put up with the platitudinous propaganda of Thought for the Day,’ I thought, ‘but this is too much.’
Thought for the Day takes up roughly one minute of scheduling time. It’s topical, features participants of different faiths and, I think, would be an even better slot if it featured humanists too. Why didn’t Cohen lay into the Sunday Programme, which lasts 45 minutes every week? Maybe he likes the Sunday Programme.