Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Podcast Presuppositions

The Friday Night BBC Radio 4 Comedy Podcast is usually a hit & miss affair – a few good lines in among a lot of old gags. It seems though that rather than concentrating on producing better material our current batch of comics are much more interested in promoting secular (anti religious) values in their half hour of air time. This week, in among jokes as cutting edge as, ‘Britain’s a good place to live for a start it’s not France’ (sic), Punt & Dennis took it upon themselves to expose the dangers of religious belief.

So we had a little girl’s voice asking her Daddy if there was a God. The father replied in measured gentle tones, ‘well some people think there is and others don’t, you really have to make up your own mind’. This was followed by the suggestion that this little girl would grow up enlightened, reasonable and an all round good citizen. Next the same little girl’s voice asked the same question. This time the father screamed in an Ian Paisley accent, ‘Yes there is and if you don’t believe it you’ll burn in hell forever’. The implication being that this litle girl would grow up to be a repressed and fanatical suicide bomber. How the audience laughed.

Firstly notice the stereotypes, the non-religious (or at most agnostic) father is reasonable, intelligent and in the business of promoting intellectual freedom in his children. Whereas the religious father is clearly an irrational bully and in the business of brain washing. Thus even before any actual assessment of their views is begun those in the religious camp find themselves vilified and caricatured. Now I know this was a comedy programme but nevertheless like the racist comics of previous years it drip feeds anti-religious prejudice into mainline culture – it gives permission for others to mock. The anti-faith lobby in Britain today leaves Christians feeling a little like Jews in 1930’s Germany – a minority who it is acceptable to distain, a group whose own human rights must always take second place to the accepted values of the political and media classes, and those upon which the blame for many of society’s ills can increasingly be laid. That of course (I hope) is to over-dramatise the situation but those who claim to promote the greater good in our society should be wary of such parallels.

Anyway, back to the joke in hand and the presupposition that children should not be told what to believe – how pleased people are when they tell you that they were brought up to make up their own minds about God. For them it is a mark of enlightened parenting and their intellectual independence. However, I suspect that most of them weren’t told in response to the question, ‘Are black people inferior to white people?’ – ‘well some people think they are and some don’t, you’ll have to make up your own mind about that’. Or to the question, ‘Would it be alright to kill someone if you really hated them? – ‘well son, I wouldn’t like to say, it’s really a matter of what helps people personally’. No self-respecting parent would fail to give strong and unambiguous guidance on such issues.

The option of ‘make your own mind up’ is left for categories that are regarded as essentially trivial, e.g. is Revolver a better album than Sgt Peppers? (The answer is ‘yes’ by the way). So Punt & Dennis are doing no more than revealing that they don’t think God is important. God is a matter of indifference. So whether my children believe in God or not – so what. The implication being that there are no implications. This is the presupposition that we need to tackle such secular beliefs upon – because as CS Lewis said: ‘if Christianity is false it is of no importance, if it is true it is of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.’