I know this title will shock and annoy most people here. The following is not meant to discredit or dismiss all the complaints about the BBC’s shabby treatment of people with Christian faith. I’m not here to claim there is no BBC harsh treatment of the religion itself and its various churches as opposed to what Mark Thompson admitted was the soft touch with Islam. I offer this only as a moment to take notice when the BBC actually does get it about right, as giving credit where due can only help deter charges of the blog seeing only negatives in everything and not ever taking an objective approach.
Watching the latest episode of Neil Oliver’s “Sacred Wonders of Britain” was a refreshing change to the sniggering and sneering or casting doubts we usually get from Beeboids about faith, especially that of believing Christians. For example, Jeremy Paxman giggling when asking Tony Blair if he prayed together with George Bush, or Radio 4 suggesting that the danger from Christian extremists was just as bad as from Mohammedan jihadi extremism, or having atheist Melvyn Bragg present a controversial programme about Gnostic Gospel ideas on Good Friday, have all added to the perception that the BBC treats Christians faith with some disdain. And let’s not even get into all the hate poured out by “edgy” comedians and the likes of Stephen Fry. Usually it seems like the only time the BBC nomenklatura approve of religious Christians is when they’re the useful kind: right-on vicars who espouse Socialism or hold the usual approved thoughts on pet BBC issues. I confess to being a little wary initially, being aware of Oliver’s otherwise typical BBC ideological credentials. For example, I saw him turn a segment of one episode of his “Coast” series into an advertisement for wind turbines.
In this series, though Oliver actually treats the expressions of faith with wonder and a smile. There are no side quips about modern problems, no rolling of the eyes at discussions of how faith was important in daily lives. His demeanor does not come across as phony or patronizing. While the series obviously began covering the old pagan faiths, it’s now into Christianity and it’s offered without any diminishing qualifiers.
Another recent example of getting it about right was the “Tudor Monastery Farm” series. Previous versions of the historical farming series didn’t really get into religion at all, but this one had it at its center because of the premise. This time, the producers chose the historically accurate plot vehicle of having the crew act as if they were tenant farmers on a monastery estate. So they really had no choice but to have unadulterated, old-school Christian faith infused into almost everything.
(Yes, I know some people here have been outraged at seeing a black face in Tudor England. I know it can be seen as a gratuitous token done not out of historical respect but in fealty to what we know to be their editorial policy to promote multiculturalism at all costs. Perhaps those who are angry can take comfort in the fact that, from what I saw, the blacks were never shown to be allowed indoors. This has nothing to do with the topic of Christian faith in the series, and I’m hoping we can all leave this issue alone this time.)
In this series, they had no choice but to act as if faith was the guiding force in everyone’s daily lives. Food was symbolic, the meals could take on ritual elements, and real faith was involved in nearly everything on some level. Like Oliver in his show, the “Tudor Farm” cast explained the various religious facets with smiles on their faces and positive expressions. It was done with sincerity, no downplaying it as, “This is what those people did, we’ve now advanced,” sort of thing, nor did they try to say that faith wasn’t all that important. Sure, they were probably acting for the camera, but that doesn’t detract from the sincerity of the presentation. Faith was not described as a negative influence at all. Celebration of religious festivals was not done ironically. Instead, it was presented as a fact of daily life, without negative qualifiers or denigration. Religion wasn’t the point of the series at all, of course. It was just there because it was accurate.
Sometimes – not very often – the BBC can get it about right on matters involving Christian faith. I think we should recognize it on the rare occasions when it does happen, if only to show that our own biases don’t prevent us from noticing. If anything, giving the BBC credit when they do it right should only strengthen our position on criticizing them when they get it wrong.