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Sunday, 27 September 2015

Society has largely lost the ability to talk about religion and belief in public discourse

There is an excellent article in today's Observer from Stephen Pritchard on levels of faith literacy in the media:

'“The media’s coverage of religion is a bit like covering football from the point of view of hooliganism and never really watching the game,” said Michael Wakelin, former head of religion and ethics at the BBC, at a fascinating, though occasionally depressing day of discussion held in London recently on Islam and its treatment in British broadcasting and newspapers. After years of conflict in Afghanistan and the Middle East, Muslims in Britain feel that they are too often associated with the crimes of extremists while too little attention is paid to the positive contribution they make to civic life or to the peaceful aims of their faith.

Understanding that faith – and indeed all faiths – is an urgent priority, said Wakelin, quoting Professor Adam Dinham of Goldsmiths University of London: “Billions of people around the world remain religious, despite the assumptions of secularity. Millions are in Britain, Europe and the west. After decades in which we have barely talked about religion and belief in public discourse, society has largely lost the ability to do so. Diversity, global trade and extremism make it pressing to do so now.”

Wakelin maintained that a generation of neglect, with education failing the religious curriculum, the major religions failing to engage with the wider public – and the media not understanding religion and therefore keeping it at arms’ length – had resulted in a society that lacked the confidence to deal with religious subjects and religious people.

Inspired by the success of the Science Media Centre in transforming the way science is reported, he is now involved in setting up a religion media centre. “We do not want to promote religion or even say that it is a good thing, but we are wanting to have a recognition that it matters and therefore it needs to be reported, discussed and examined with knowledge, fairness and respect.'

Earlier in the week Jonathan Freedland addressed this same issue in relation to society in general:

'Whatever else the seers of the past, the Aldous Huxleys, Jules Vernes and HG Wellses, imagined for the 21st century, it wasn’t ... that in 2015 we would still be in thrall to the stories we’d told one another for two millennia. And yet here we are ... a recurring theme of our era is the persistence of the ancient faiths.

It was not just the sci-fi writers who assumed we’d be over this by now. Most believers in science and progress took it as read that we would put aside such fairytales as we reached a higher stage of evolution. There would be no room in the space age for the sand and dust of the biblical past. What’s more, true progressives would want to hasten the banishment of religion from the public sphere, taking its superstitions, its fear-fuelled strictures about sex and its out-dated patriarchal attitudes with it.

But this has proved a double mistake. It’s failed as both description and prescription. On the former, its prediction of the future proved wrong: faith is still here, apparently stronger than ever. For that reason alone, for the role it plays in shaping our world, religion has to be taken seriously – more seriously than Dawkins-ite atheists, who dismiss it with talk of “fairies at the bottom of the garden” or “sky-pixies” will allow.'


Arvo Pärt - Credo.

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