Is it the job of the BBC to propagate religion in the 21st Century?

What is the BBC doing about religion?

They have announced a review, not only of religious broadcasting, but also of the way they portray religion in drama and other programmes. I hope this includes soaps and documentaries. They say they have noticed that society has changed and they need to reflect this aspect of it too. At last!

Does this mean ‘propagating’ religion?

Some people object that it is not the job of the BBC to propagate religion. That would be a fair complaint, if the BBC was always uncritical in its treatment of the subject, but I think it tends to give a negative impression of Christianity in particular. I will come to that later. But first things first.


A preacher preaching. Propagating religion?
A preacher preaching. Propagating religion?
What should be the role of the BBC regarding religion?

There are several things the BBC should be doing, none of which constitutes propagating. It has a duty to inform, educate and entertain. Therefore:

  • The BBC should report on religious matters in news, current affairs and documentaries, just as it reports on other aspects of society, from business to the environment.
  • The Corporation should not confine its interest to any one religion or denomination. It needs to convey the breadth of beliefs and practices that exist, even within the Church of England.
  • It should try to understand people, institutions and ideas it reports on.
  • They should beware of stereotyping any group, whether clergy, businessmen, farmers or teenagers.
  • Religious programmes should not concentrate on doctrine. What actually goes on in a mosque or synagogue? In other Christian denominations? How does religion affect people’s daily lives?
Faith and Doubt. Real Christians understand both, unlike the stereotypes.
Faith and Doubt. Real Christians understand both, unlike the stereotypes.

I wrote about the reality many people find in being a Christian in the 21st century in my book How to Cope with the Church.

What complaints do I have about the way religion is treated at present?

I am especially unhappy about the portrayal of Christians in dramas. They are almost always shown as either judgmental hypocrites or nice but naive. I expect both kinds exist, just as most stereotypes can be found in real life, but the vast majority of Christians I have known have been sincere, human, fallible and generally reasonably intelligent and sensible. Most of the missionaries I have known have really cared about the people they went to serve, and have been at great pains to avoid cultural imperialism.

What would I like to see? Positive, but rare, examples I have seen on TV in the last year or so are Rev and the curate in Call The Midwife. Forgive me if I have missed any.


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