An Adventist pastor joined the debate on the BBC’s ‘The Big Questions’, discussing the ‘end of the world’. There was a lot of laughter at his concept of the Second Coming of Jesus and his biblical understanding of the end of the age. Although teamed up with theists he was on his own. The response from theist and atheist was one of derision. Considering who were the main participants my question is, why was the pastor there? More on the participants later.
If the BBC had looked up Ben Witherington’s blog they might have treated the subject as a non-subject. But ‘end time’ scenarios has its appeal, even the pop scientists feed us those through the media on occasions. And as a debate opportunity it allowed the BBC to present its atheist armoury.
I would concur with the blogs reporting on the programme that while there was a cohesiveness among the atheists, this couldn’t be seen among the theists, who were a mixed bag – from Christian biblicist to Muslim and all between. The absence of mainstream evangelical churches, represented in Baptist, Methodist, United Reformed, or Evangelical etc, stood out. Was it for the same reason as the Church of Scotland excused itself in a later debate on the discussion on Gay Marriage in Scotland – it would not serve any purpose for them to participate. If so, one can sympathise with that response by asking the question attributed to Tertullian – ‘What has Jerusalem to do with Athens’?
Being “in a confrontational programme that very briefly explores points of view” doesn’t allow putting those points of view in a biblical context, even if there was any regard for that context – so a sentence in full flow that can sound absurd without its context can induce laughter and derision, evidenced on that programme.
Whatever the sincerity of the pastor in wanting to represent the biblical worldview, I question the merit of discussing Christian belief in that kind of arena where Christians can be held up to ridicule if they are not as politically as well as media savvy as their atheist opponents. It is not a question of critiquing someone in the ‘hot seat’ – I’ve been there – I was watching the horrific blaze of the ‘Waco compound’ on the early morning news. It’s difficult to avoid answering the telephone call from the BBC which places you straight on air to answer questions on a crisis situation. Would I then go to the local studio for an interview? Following that and another interview with the local independent radio the local BBC made the invitation to participate in a Sunday morning radio programme. The Waco siege was a ‘hot potato’ for Adventists and some of the media was aggressive and unfair in cobbling together its information, but in both interviews I was treated very courteously and fairly. But both interviews were in a ‘controlled’ setting, where straight questions could be replied with straight answers without interruptions from opposing voices that want to ridicule belief.
That was back in 1993. Would I notice a change in the BBC today? The BBC has been accused by the Christian church of a bias against Christianity. And perhaps one can be persuaded by the arguments from Catholic and other blogs and websites that this is so. When I read Peter Sissons’ take on BBC bias or read about atheist, Dr. Francesca Stavrakopoulou, being the BBC’s ‘face of religion’, and the BBC admission by its own research admitting that it is biased against Christianity, it’s very difficult not to conclude from the line-up of atheists on that particular programme of ‘The Big Questions’, to feel suspicious.
So I do wonder why a Christian should want to be placed in the ‘hot seat’ of that kind of debate in the first place where ‘convince a man against his will he will be of the same opinion still’? I just can’t imagine Jesus throwing his hat into the arena as representing just one of the many belief systems available. He claimed he is the only way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). And if he is the one who alone has paid the consequence of our sins on the cross, why shouldn’t he make that claim?
So yes, there was the ridicule and the guffaws from believer as well unbeliever alike. Even Bishop Stephen Lowe of Manchester protested most vehemently at the pastor’s ‘fundamentalist’ views of Scripture, which causes trouble – (was he echoing Dawkins there?); for which the bishop got a mauling from the atheist opposition for his claim to more modern reinterpretation of Scripture. Why believe Scripture at all if it has to be reinterpreted for the present age?
I deliberately paid attention to the following week’s episode on “Is There Any Evidence For God?” It was worth watching the programme to see what is going on ‘out there’ in the world of belief and unbelief. But it was also worth observing if there was confirmation of the BBC’s anti-Christian bias. I saw no evidence of the presenter, Nicky Campbell, not being fair to participants. I wonder how he manages it!
I was interested to see the line-up of ‘contestants’. The ‘belief’ side, again, was not cohesive, and couldn’t be. In the previous episode Bishop Stephen Lowe fell easily for the atheist’s criticism as did the Bishop of Oxford some years ago when he had a walk-on part in Dawkins’ ‘The Root of All Evil’ on Channel 4. He was verbally mauled by Dawkins for his liberal modern interpretation of Scripture.
“Andrew Billen in his review of Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale, describes Dawkins as a quiet, shy man in private, but “in public debate Dawkins can be vicious. His mauling of Richard Harries, the Bishop of Oxford and a former scientist, during a debate on the compatibility of religion and science is still bitterly or admiringly recalled.” In a walk on part in “The Root of all Evil,” Dawkins converses with the former Bishop of Oxford. Harries saw the Scriptures as texts which should be read in the context of the time they were written, and interpreted in the light of modern insights. Dawkins chided the bishop for his liberal Christianity: if we can pick and choose from the Bible, why do we need it at all? For Dawkins, being able to pick and choose what you want from the Bible implies that there is a higher standard than the Bible, so why not just use that? The viewer got the impression that Dawkins had used the bishop for his own ends and so embarrassed him once again. Although considered a friend of Dawkins Harries felt he had to make a reply in The Observer (Sunday 16 April)repudiating Dawkins’ atheism.”
In the episode of The Big Questions of 8th January we witnessed the atheist/s sitting opposite ‘mauling’ Bishop Stephen Lowe for the same reason as Bishop Harries got ‘mauled’ by Richard Dawkins, not that it phased the bishop.
So on the 15th January I noticed the familiar faces. On one side was the comparatively ‘lightweight’ and disparate group of theists – from evangelical Christian through to Moslems. On the opposing side were the cohesive politically and media savvy atheist professional academics. So, was the arrangement expressing the BBC’s anti-Christian bias? I took note of the atheist line-up.
Peter Atkins is an admirer of Richard Dawkins and a seasoned atheist campaigner who has debated some of the best theist minds, including Alister McGrath, John Lennox, and William Craig. Then there was David Aaronovitch of The Times – For him, ‘people create the God Myth’.
There was Diana Fleishman – Evolutionary lecturer Psychologist at Portsmouth University. Then there was Prof. Francesca Stavrakopoulou of Exeter University. An atheist, she has been hailed as ‘the BBC’s face of religion’. She presented the BBC’s Bible’s Buried Secrets, where she did her best to discredit Biblical history, – critiqued by Ian Paul. And then there was Kate Smurthwaite – Atheist Comedian. She has her own blog.
These are not laypersons or primary school teachers! These are politically and media savvy as well some being high profile academics who articulate their atheism with enthusiasm. So what is my point?
When Dawkins was confronted with someone ‘his size’ Channel 4 didn’t like it:
“In the making of ‘The Root of all Evil?’ one of Dawkins’ prominent critics, Oxford Professor Alister McGrath was invited by Channel 4 to debate with Richard Dawkins in the studio. Dawkins apparently seemed uncomfortable by the debate. McGrath says, “I was not surprised to be told that my contribution was to be cut”. ‘The Root Of All Evil?’ was subsequently panned for its blatant unfairness. “Where”, the critics asked, “was a responsible, informed Christian response to Dawkins?” The answer: “on the cutting-room floor,” says McGrath. It obviously did not suit Channel 4 to have discovered someone who was equal to Dawkins. It does appear that Christians are not on a level playing field in the media when it comes to a right of reply to atheism’s attacks.” I feel persuaded by McGrath’s observations. The cohesive coordinated professional atheist line-up against the mixed bag of theists, with no Christians of stature, who hold to a biblical Christian worldview, seems to me most suspicious.
There is no criticism of the pastor – he was sincerely representing God as best he thought – but it was in an arena where his peers admit he wouldn’t stand a chance. He got too descriptive for both theist and atheist over the Second Advent of Jesus. But against the odds he did his best. But isn’t there political as well as media training available for those in ministry aspiring to share the gospel through the media, and advice about being judicious with regard to what part of the media to be involved in? Still, for me, I favour Tertullian when he asked, “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?” What has secular arguments to do with ‘divine revelation’? It was not the right arena to express the best of Christian belief.
But coming back to Bishop Lowe – he’s got me thinking about Anglicans and the Second Coming of Jesus. But that’s for the next post.