Hats off to Robert Pigott, religious affairs correspondent of the BBC, who takes on the ambitious question of how God has fared during the first decade of the 21st century. The series title of “What Have the Noughties Done for God?” may be too precious by half, but I cannot dismiss it as being forgettable.
Pigott’s introductory piece is 14 minutes, which in TV land qualifies as in-depth reporting. Pigott selects various events to illustrate trends — Muslim extremism here, the irreverence of Jerry Springer: The Opera there; newly muscular atheism here, calm Anglican responses there. There are inevitable generalizations about tensions between religious institutions and a surrounding secular culture, and of how some believers adapt their faith to withstand challenges from nonbelievers.
For maximum effect, watch Pigott’s big-picture report and then supplement it with individual interview segments featuring the series’ talking heads: Sister Wendy Beckett, Reform Rabbi Lionel Blue, Anglican priest and journalist Richard Coles, scientist and celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins, Anglican vicar Rose Hudson-Wilkin, journalist and social critic Simon Jenkins, Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan, actor David Soul and Anglican priest and conservative activist Rod Thomas.
It’s especially amusing to see David Soul, former costar of Starsky & Hutch, complaining about people who picketed Jerry Springer: The Opera without first attending a performance. (Soul played the talk-show host.) There’s something vaguely ridiculous about a beefcake actor showing righteous indignation because some people do not wish to see a performance in which Jesus appears wearing only a diaper.
Pigott’s series is a respectable attempt to make sense of broad ideas during a decade of frequent turmoil. I’m not sure if it qualifies as the first draft of history about the Noughties, but it’s a good preview of the first draft.