Melanie McDonagh

The real reason atheists want to be on Thought for the Day

Text settings

Oh God. Or maybe not. There’s a letter in the Guardian today from assorted unbelievers asserting their right to a place on Radio 4’s God slot, Thought for the Day. 'It’s time for the BBC to open Thought for the Day to humanists. Religion doesn’t hold a monopoly on ethical worldviews. Humanists… make sense of the world through logic, reason and evidence, and always seek to treat others with warmth, understanding and respect…' Etc.

It’s signed by Sandi Toksvig, Julian Baggini, the philosopher, agony aunt Virginia Ironside and Peter Tatchell. Plus 29 others.

Consider folks. Is there a gap in your life that comes from not hearing enough of Sandi Toksvig? Is reading Julian Baggini’s biting reflections on Christianity in the Guardian not enough for you? Is the thing that strikes you about the BBC, and the broadcast media generally, that there aren’t enough mouthy agnostics? Why, all that’s missing from the lineup, and it can only be an oversight, is the name of Stephen Fry: he qualifies as an atheist, surely, with more self regard than any bishop you will ever meet. And where is Polly Toynbee?

The thing about all these people – and I’m minded to make an exception for Peter Tatchell, just because I like him – is that their vanity and self-importance isn’t to be satisfied by being ubiquitous and dogmatic. They want to occupy every single bit of airtime. They have more sense of the rightness of the rightness of their views than any churchman - who at least has the saving virtue that his views are an expression of the traditions of the Christian or whatever faith. The Chief Rabbi won’t be on simply as Ephraim Mirvis, but to expound the Jewish take on the events of the day. The delightful Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner did TFTD recently on having a transgender child, but it was grounded in scripture, which meant it transcended her subjective take on the subject. Whereas humanists have nothing in common except the absence of a belief in God. And in the case of the signatories to the Guardian, thwarted clericalism; they long to tell people what to do and want a platform to do it from. They want to pontificate, that is, they want the attributes of the pope or rather the deference that these imply.

As for treating others with warmth, understanding and respect, don’t make me laugh. Ever heard Sandi Toksvig on people who disagree with her on gay marriage or abortion? Warmth and respect, eh? Sarah Sands, editor of the Today programme, is, thank God, sane enough to see this lot off.

Written byMelanie McDonagh

Melanie McDonagh is a leaderwriter for the Evening Standard and Spectator contributor. Irish, living in London.

Topics in this articleSociety