Atheism On The Air
It would appear that in over 30 years of its existence the B.B.C. has never once permitted anybody to voice an opinion in favour of Atheism in any shape or form, until one evening in January when Mrs. Margaret Knight (lecturer in Psychology at Aberdeen University), was permitted to state in her broadcast on “Morality without Religion” that we should tell our children that we no longer believed in God although some people still do. She compared God with Santa Claus and referred to the Christian myths as useless for moral instruction. In her opinion if we taught children these biblical myths, when they grew up and learnt that they were at variance with the facts, they would be easy bait for Communism. The problem of evil was one point which she dealt with by declaring that an infinitely wise and all powerful God would not create evil. “If God cannot prevent evil then he is not all powerful, and if he will not, then he is not all Good.” The answer that many Christians give is that evil is man-made and nothing to do with God, or that its existence proves that man has departed from God. But here she said that there are a lot of evil things among the animals for which mankind certainly is not responsible. “The cat,” she said, “takes delight in playing with a mouse and inflicting torture on it until the mouse dies after a long drawn out and painful death.” The rest of the talk was about what she called “scientific humanism” and the education of children without the traditional religious beliefs.
The next day the Press was shocked and upset. The News Chronicle's leading article was headed “Atheism on the Air” in which it declared “Should she have been allowed to put and press her points without a balancing exposition of Christian beliefs? That is where we think the B.B.C. went wrong .” (14/1/55.)
Why this wonderful tolerant idea of a balancing exposition? Has not the B.B.C. been broadcasting religious beliefs for 30 years every day and often several times a day on all programmes and by thousands of exponents? Have they not a committee that on religious broadcasts see that we are all well soaked in traditional religious ideology?
Letters to the Press poured in by the thousand; such an hysterical outburst of injured religious pride has not been seen for a long time. Dr. Garbett (Archbishop of York) said that the B.B.C. had been used as a "nationwide channel through which the speaker attempted to persuade parents to teach their children that belief in God might be compared to belief in Santa Claus” He told his congregation that “Christians had the right to demand that they be answered as soon as possible by some competent layman.” Another divine, Father Joseph Christie, declared, “The primary reason for uneasiness is that the B.B.C. is a monopoly which has the power to sponsor this type of anti-religious propaganda without allowing the other side to be heard. Unless the corporation is prepared to allow competent speakers the, same opportunities as Mrs. Knight, it must appear as favouring attacks of this nature. ” Dr. Matthews, Dean of St. Paul's, a tolerant voice rather eclipsed by reaction stated, “It is surely a welcome sign that freedom of speech is still a reality.” (News Chronicle, 17/1/55.) The facts have now proved that freedom of speech is not much to be seen.
What happened after this outburst? It resulted in a broadcast of a discussion between Mrs. Knight and Mrs. Morton instead of only two talks which Mrs. Knight had arranged to give. In this latter discussion it must have been obvious to all who heard it that Mrs. Knight was rather like the aged Galileo who, in order to save his own life, had to go down on his knees before the Pope and inform him that he earth did not go round the sun as he first supposed. Mrs. Morton opened with a long harangue of the usual sentimental religious slush devoid of any reason. Mrs. Knight’s defence was a climb down where she could have knocked her opponent for six, but did not. Such meaningless statements as “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son,” were passed unchallenged. Did God love the world when, if we are to believe the Bible, he drowned almost the whole of mankind and also millions of innocent animals? That Christ came to bring peace to the world was also unchallenged. Christ himself said “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth, for I come not to send peace but a sword, for I am come to set a man at variance against his father Slid a daughter against her mother.” Matt. Ch X, ver 34. To which any scientific humanist might have added, “then how much better for humanity would it have been if he had stayed away!”
Mrs. Morton said that the whole teaching of the Bible was concerned with the teachings of this world and not the next world. This went unanswered by Mrs. Knight, when she might have declared that life after death, heaven and hell, is the main theme of the Bible.
What was it that caused the promising start of the first talk to be followed by such a dismal failure to answer the easy material of a religious devotee? Can it be that Mrs. Knight was victimised? After all she has a job as a member of the working class even if she is a professor of psychology. She lives by the sale of her labour power to impart knowledge of psychology. She has to go to the senate, or governors of the university, cap in hand for employment, and so face the same economic conditions of all school teachers. Among those who are in a position to engage teachers are many hide bound orthodox conservative die hards restricted by Victorian prejudices. If it be true that “He controls my life who controls the means by which I live” then the explanation is clear. Universities teach theology and grant degrees in divinity, and it must have been very disturbing to the theological professors to hear that another university lecturer was debunking God. If many started to do this, then theology would rapidly decline and their jobs melt away. This, of course, is an important motive in the opposition. The church screamed out through its loudest mouthpiece, the Archbishops because they have the most to lose. Donald Soper reacted in a different way by declaring that Christians have the answer to all this, they need not be afraid. By capitalising this line he could score points against his competitors in the more orthodox sects.
The Materialist Conception of History can find wonderful examples in such religious conflicts on the air, and no doubt if we ever got so far as to get access to the air we should have to be replied to by the Labour Party, Communist Party, Liberal Party, Conservative Party, and several sections of the church. Religious intolerance is not dead, nor is there much freedom of speech on the air. With all the millions of words broadcast favouring these Biblical myths, it needs only a few sentences of honest doubt to cause an outburst of religious revivalism.