Sacred cow: Thought for the day should permit secular and irreligious ideas too

The argument in favour of keeping non-believers from airing their own thought is weakening

Share

At around 7.45am, a sizeable proportion of the several million listeners who tune in each day to Today on Radio 4 go back for a snooze for about two minutes and 45 seconds, this being the allotted time for Thought for the Day. Other listeners stay alert throughout this time precisely because they want to take a break from hard news items and engage in a little elevating reverie, inspired by whichever cleric has been selected for the homily.

Disputes over these few minutes have been raging for years. In 2002, more than 100 well-known figures signed a petition urging the BBC to open the slot up to non-religious thinkers. The BBC declined to do so, and the slot remains an atheist-free zone. According to the Corporation, it is not meant for any old common or garden reflection, but for reflection “from the perspective of a religious faith”. In other words, secular thinkers such as Richard Dawkins or A C Grayling should get their tanks off Thought for the Day’s lawn.

The point is a reasonable one, and the BBC no doubt fears being accused of abetting the marginalisation of Christianity, and of other faiths in Britain, were it to allow atheists to breach the ramparts of Thought for the Day.

Nevertheless, the argument in favour of keeping non-believers from airing their own thought is weakening. According to the 2011 census, 25 per cent of the British population has no religion, while the percentage of Christians has dropped to under 60 per cent, well down from over 70 per cent a decade earlier.

Some Christians fear that by 2030, professed atheists – however contradictory that term sounds – will outnumber them. They may be exaggerating their plight. But there is no question that Britain is now not only a multi-faith society but one in which a growing number of people have no faith. That makes the rules governing Thought for the Day look  increasingly anachronistic. No one is suggesting that atheists should take over Thought for the Day, merely that they have a share. Perhaps they could alternate, with Mondays for atheists, and so on. To borrow a religious term, it could be the salvation of a national treasure.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The final instalment of our WW1 series

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Simon Usborne: The more you watch pro cycling, the more you understand its social complexity

Simon Usborne
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice