Sunday 8 December 2013

Faith schools, Pope Francis, U.S. conservatives, the Central African Republic and the Buddha

Back to this week's Sunday on Radio 4, hosted by Edward Stourton.

What else was there besides happy memories from all concerned of Nelson Mandela? Well,  there was time for some of the usual sorts of thing as well.

There's usually some left-wing campaign that needs plugging, and this week's chosen left-wing campaign group was the Fair Admissions Campaign. They claim that faith schools discriminate against poor pupils. (It's part of their more general campaign to abolish faith-based selection completely in all state-funded schools). They are supported by various secularist organisations, unions, left-wing MPs, equality think tanks, etc. Kevin Bocquet went to - and challenged with their findings - a Jewish and a Catholic faith school (Quelle surprise!). We did hear from both sides of the argument during the report, but it was tilted towards the campaign by having the BBC's Gillian Hargreaves describe the Church defenders' responses with the somewhat dismissive word "utterances", by Kevin's open encouragement to Radio 4 listeners to check out the map on the Fair Admissions Campaign's website, and (almost always a sign of where the heart of a report on Sunday really lies) by giving the last word to a campaigner from the F.A.C. (the programme's favourite Jewish guest, Jonathan Romain).

No less surprising was another piece about Pope Francis, introduced with the words "Pope Francis has, by and large, had a very good press on this side of the Atlantic." (Well, yes, especially on Ed Stourton's Sunday - unlike his predecessor Benedict XVI.) 

This report, however, looked at the less favourable take on Pope Francis from some U.S. conservative Catholics, who aren't impressed with his anti-capitalist rhetoric or his apparently more liberal tone on certain sexual matters. It was presented by the BBC's very own Matt Wells, a reporter who sprays labels (like "hardline", "defensive" and "extreme") around like confetti whenever he reports on the doings of U.S. conservatives, yet never does the same when talking about U.S. liberals. (Funny that!) 

His three expert 'talking heads' were firmly on Francis's side (and the most pro-Francis one was, as usual, given the closing words of the report). Besides some guarded comments from one parishioner, the only voice from the critical conservative camp - the side we were meant to be hearing from - was Rush Limbaugh (a clip from one of his rants) - as if ranting Rush were really representative of that wing of Catholic opinion in America (especially as he's not even a Catholic!). Couldn't Matt be bothered to try to locate and talk to a less easily-dismissable U.S. conservative voice? Did he even try? Probably not. 

Typical biased Matt Wells reporting. 

In the course of the report though Matt played an extract from the Pope's favourite piece of music - the Et incarnatus est from Mozart's Mass in C minor. Good choice, Your Holiness!

There was also a report from the Central African Republic where, as you may already know, the country's Muslim minority spawned first a rebellion, then a military coup and now a staggeringly vicious marauding Muslim militia (alongside Muslim mercenaries from Chad and Sudan) which began murdering, raping and looting on a massive scale, attacking Christians and Christian churches. Vigilante Christian militias formed in response, to fight back and defend both themselves and their churches. It's a desperate situation, verging (according to some) on genocide - and there's been more than enough of those in Central Africa over the past twenty years. 

That's the version of events that I've gathered from following the story over recent months. The account on Sunday gave an impression of the chaos wrought by the conflict there but gave such a scanty account of its origins that most Radio 4 listeners would surely have been left scratching their heads. If I'd been listening to this discussion between Ed Stourton and the BBC correspondent in the area, I'd have assumed that the problem began with the Christians attacking the Muslim population - especially as that's where the BBC reporter began when reporting the very latest developments, and that - now - both sides are as bad as the other. That's not a fair impression for them to have given us, as far as I can see. 

Still, at least the programme had an interesting feature that would have appealed to the programme's Buddhist listeners. As I've said a fair few times before, Buddhists (like Hindus and Sikhs) get a raw deal from Sunday. They rarely get any attention from the programme. (Sikhs fair worst of all). 

The programme discussed some intriguing archaeological discoveries about the Buddha, possibly pinning down the exact place of his birth in the gardens of an active shrine in Lumbini, Nepal and plausibly providing a much firmer date for his date of birth - some time in the sixth century B.C. Until now, that date has been subject to wildly diverging speculation. 

The work - a mixture of science and logic - was done by a 15-strong British team, led by Professor Robin Coningham of Durham University, so well done to them. Nothing is absolutely proven though, so it's far from being the end of the story. Still, it's good to see British academics giving our Buddhist friends some fascinating research. I'd love to know what they make of it out East. 

If Sunday didn't seem to be constantly looking through its own narrow, liberal lens and if it didn't give the impression of pushing various angles so often, think what an absorbing programme it could be.

As this has been a rather serious post, let's end with some Buddhist jokes:
Two monks were sitting in a cave. One was silent. The other one said, ‘I could have done that’.
Q: What happens when a Buddhist becomes totally absorbed with the computer he is working with? A: He enters Nerdvana.
A Zen master once said to me, ‘Do the opposite of whatever I tell you.’ So I didn't.


  1. Did you hear Ed Stourtons last "thought for the day" he left us with?
    He read out a tweet (or equivalent owl pellet) suggesting that Trendy Pope Frankie could do worse that beatify Nelly...and if the BBC could only "raise the issue a bit more"( as I read his body language of the airwaste!) could be done by the time Obama lands on a lavender self-sustaining cloud( not a plane belching out crap-for these are Obama miles, you see).
    Stourton, being a Media Catholic(Patten-Longley Rules) saw this as not a problem( "No Matter what"...Gately Hypothesis!).
    But-I got `em...for during the flummery at the 8am news...Welby was accused of " sending up prayer flags or such" for old Nelly..ONLY A FEW YARDS...YARDS...from the S.A Embassy at St Martins in the Feels.
    Imperial?...not metric...didn`t a Sunderland Martyr die for less( Neil Herron RIP?).
    Hope you`ll catch the rising tide with this`re onto something big I`m thinking!

    1. I did hear that.
      I hoped, as a naive trusting type, that the pellet guy was being sarcastic.
      Surely he couldn't have meant it? Nels was (like Margaret) a Methodist after all.
      Actually, I really do think the tweetie guy WAS being sarcastic and that Ed (because of his Tabletista liberal wishful thinking) had simply failed to spot the dry humour in his pellet!

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