Sunday, 24 May 2009

Do carrots have souls?

Time to admit a secret vice.
Every Sunday morning there’s a TV programme called The Big Questions which is essential viewing in our house. We watch it – well, almost religiously I suppose, but mainly while rolling around the floor screeching with laughter.
It’s the spawn of an earlier BBC quasi-religious but mucho PC and determinedly multi-culti thing from BBC Manchester whose name I now forget. I ought to know because (another confession) it was originally created by students and tutors from my old college as part of a ‘Christian Communication’ final year option. Two of the students got a first and at least one continues to work in religious programming: the main tutor is also a BBC employee and advises the English Catholic hierarchy on their media strategy.
The general format is you have three 20 minute ‘moral questions’ debated by a rigorously mixed studio audience under the stewardship of Nicky Campbell, who struggles to keep tongue firmly in cheek throughout. Lots of dog collars, weird beards, and turbans on show, and everyone seems to represent some two man and a dog pressure group with names you just could not make up.
This morning’s themes, unsurprisingly, included the Irish Catholic child abuse report. Only one ‘official’ Catholic apologist there, a Father John Owen who is apparently a communications officer for Welsh Catholicism. He distinguished himself by saying we should face the ‘fact’ (dragged from only he knows where) that 95% of offenders were homosexuals and most victims were teenage boys, so the real lesson (presumably) was to witch-hunt gays out of the priesthood. This went down badly, and I really thought we were going to see a priest lynched live on TV.
The next topic was ‘should prostitution be legalised’, and the floor given to various Christian ‘human rights campaigners’ against ‘traffiking’. Surprisingly, God’s Pimp himself, Rev. Steve Chalke, while a regular whingebag on the show, wasn’t there to solicit more public funds for his Stop The Traffik scam.
His argument was mouthed by a couple of former street girls who resembled the Betty Bowers spoof group Crack Whores for Christ in their demeanour and logic. They seemed to be on heavy medication, but then, Baptist converts always look like that to me.
The other ‘reformers’ were from Christian Concern for our Nation (or ‘Nazis for Jesus’, as they never had the nerve to call themselves). When even the lady from the W.I. (one of Chalke’s attempted allies for law change) opined that the UK should follow the admirable New Zealand model of legalisation and licencing for small brothels to keep sex workers off the street I think even they realised the argument was lost.
The final topic was ‘Do pets go to heaven?’ This allowed a lady cleric from the Gloucester Cathedral Animal Prayer Group (no, really, that was the name and she gets paid to run it) and someone else who runs a business offering pet funerals with some sort of new age shamanistic twist to say they do.
One of the Crack Whores for Christ intervened in support of fluffy bunny angels - or something, but by this point the medication was really kicking in. Her comments were followed by a short silence as the audience scratched their heads and fidgeted nervously. Finally, one cynic said if animals do go to heaven he wasn’t looking forward to meeting all the cows, chickens and pigs he’d eaten, or hearing what they had to say about his cannibalism.
In short, this is the theological equivalent of Britain’s Got Talent, and if you ever despair of campaigning against religious privilege you need to watch it. The sheer audacity and paucity of religious arguments – apparently the best the major churches can muster in some cases – will inspire you to mock without mercy and without fear of an intelligent response.
OK, it will have the side-effect that godbotherers can claim an audience exists for religious programming and use it to gain employment. But it would be worth a few pence of your licence fee just for the entertainment.
Alternatively, just as the excellent Platitude of The Day website (see sidebar) is much more thoughtful and funny than the ‘real’ thing (and the BBC ought to sponsor it) maybe the Beeb should just rebrand this programme along the lines of ‘talent search’ shows. There’s a much bigger audience out there for freak shows, and they could always recoup the money from phone-voting.

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