'The Big Questions' discussion: atheist input needed by BBC

'The Big Questions' discussion: atheist input needed by BBC March 25, 2016

I was contacted this week by the producer for the BBC debate show ‘The Big Questions’,  Edwina Madden-Egan, who asked me to draw attention to an upcoming edition in which the programme will be discussing the legacy of William Shakespeare to mark 400 years since the playwright’s death.
She wrote:

‘The Big Questions’ is the BBC1’s flagship live moral, ethical and religious debate show presented by Nicky Campbell. Each week three topics are discussed – these are ethical or moral questions, often linked to topics in the news or other topics of mainstream debate.  We broadcast Sunday morning’s at 10am  on BBC1 from a different location each week. We are also the production company behind ‘Question Time’ and ‘Free Speech’.

On the 3rd of April we will be recording a one hour prerecord special in York (for broadcast on the 10th of April) where we will be discussing the legacy of Shakespeare. We will be gathering a panel (approx. 8-10) of experts on the subject; academics, historians and people of faith, to discuss issues of Shakespeare and belief, and looking at asking a question something like ‘Is Shakespeare a better moral guide than the Bible?’ or ‘Is there more truth in Shakespeare than the Bible?
We have just started looking at this debate, but subjects likely to be discussed within this hour include Shakespeare in the religious context of his time, Shakespeare’s views on timeless issues such as gender, race, religion, power, etc, and also his relevance in the world today.
We are very keen to hear atheist viewpoints on this topic, and I wondered would this be of any interest to yourself or any of your contributors who might have an interest in this subject?
We would require our guests from around 1 pm on the day, to record from 2-3 pm. We record as live with no stops or breaks. We would make all necessary arrangements regarding transport and/or accommodation if you were interested in taking part.

If you are interested in participating, please let me know ASAP. E-mail barry@freethinker.co.uk with your contact details,  marking you message “Shakespeare” and I will forward them to Edwina.
Note: In April 2014 Slate carried a feature entitled “Much Ado About Nothingness: was Shakespeare an atheist? Or more of a secular humanist?”

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  • Broga

    “We are very keen to hear atheist viewpoints on this topic,”
    This seems to me to deserve a positive response. Being keen to hear an atheist viewpoint makes a change from the apparently obligatory religious viewpoint. It is not something I could handle but I hope an atheist with more knowledge than my limited acquaintance with Shakespeare can do it.

  • Barty

    Have you watched ‘The Big Questions’. I have watched a few editions on You Tube. And they are very very very disturbing. I had no idea that there were fanatical zealots like these roaming freely in our towns and cities.I think it will be safe to walk the streets of York whilst he programme is being recorded because all the loons and fruitcakes will be safely detained in the studio earnestly proclaiming their faith and religious views.

  • barriejohn

    What a joke. Today’s offering was the following programme about the fictional Judas Iscariot, treated by the presenter (Rev Kate Bottley) as history (facts derived from that reliable source, the Bible!):
    This drivel was on a par with what one would expect from a fourth-form secondary class, and left me wondering whether the woman had ever actually read her Bible. She certainly hadn’t read very widely outside it, and her “experts” (all discussing the Gospel stories as – well – “gospel truth”) just happened to be fundamentalist believers like Simon Gathercole! This was a complete waste of licence-payers’ money,and would have been – had I watched it all – a complete waste of sixty minutes. But this isn’t all – the BBC is trailing a six-part series by Paul O’Grady puffing the Salvation Army of all things (The Sally Army & Me). I guess most atheists have long since thrown in the towel!

  • Barty

    Time for the BBC to stop religious programming. Saying that they have to satisfy all elements of the audience is fatuous rubbish. The BBC must stop all religious programming. There is huge bandwidth amongst the blizzard of digital channels for religious programming. So the godly should use that and then people like me would not have to tolerate religious crap on the BBC. I say thats fair. Otherwise lets have regular weekly programmes on the BBC from the British Humanists, the British Secularists etc etc.

  • David Anderson

    “‘Is there more truth in Shakespeare than the Bible?”
    Well given that some of Shakespeare’s work was based on people that are known to have existed, then the answer is yes.
    Anybody who has read anything about Shakespeare will know that there is no evidence for his religiousity nor lack of it.

  • Barry Duke

    OT but this gave me a laugh:
    Chris has Risen!

  • Broga

    I never watch any of these religious programmes. And I haven’t listened to Thought for the Day for months. My life has improved as a result. I get my “spiritual” fix from this site.

  • AgentCormac

    The nauseating Reverand Kate Bottley has certainly come to be a bit of celebrity vicar. Her rise to media fame started when she was part of a flash mob-style wedding event which, as you’ll see if you click on the following link, didn’t go down too well with some of the congregation who decided to leave in droves.
    As a result of her stomach-churning performance at the wedding service she has now become a regular mouthpiece for her god on both Gogglebox and the truly invidious ‘Pause for Thought’ spot on Chris Evans’ Radio 2 breakfast show. Especially on the latter, she uses every opportunity to spout such nonsensical and utterly unsubstantiated bollocks about her invisible friend and his non-existant son that I find myself yelling and laughing at the radio in equal measure.
    No doubt there are people out there who think her cuddly, bubbly persona is doing a wonderful job for the church. I’m glad to say that I think she comes across as being such a fucking halfwit that she is doing the absolute opposite.

  • barriejohn

    AgentCormac: You have enlightened me. That performance was truly embarrassing, and if you want to see examples of other people making fools of themselves at so-called Christian services, just take a look at this programme which the Believers’ Bullshit Corporation broadcast earlier in the week:

  • Broga

    Why do they have to “battle for Christianity?” Pray to their omnipotent God and then its game over. No more problems. He will sort it out.
    I think atheists are doing a great job demolishing all these crap religious programmes. I think I lack maturity or detachment or some other essential quality because I run for cover when they appear i.e. I switch off. Sometimes I stiffen the sinews and summon up the blood (as we are on a Shakespeare theme) and listen to a bit of the “Sunday” programme. But the stamina soon runs out.
    What makes them so annoying to me is that there is no chance of any challenge or rebuttal. The drivel is delivered as if everyone accepts it. And Vincent Nichol (if he is still the head honcho for the RCs in UK) gets far more and far more sympathetic BBC airtime than Justin Welby. I assume Welby is still there. The BBC seem to have airbrushed him.

  • barriejohn

    Broga: Hahaha – you need to tune in to ITV News to avail yourself of Welby’s wisdom. I just couldn’t believe it when, whilst watching Meridian News the other night, our ears were assailed by this nonsense:
    What the bloody hell is the man talking about? What is this “sense of hope” that Easter gives him? Yes, in the Northern Hemisphere we see signs of “new life” in nature around us at this time of year, but his fucking Jesus did NOT “rise from the dead”. It’s a bloody myth, for God’s sake! The man talks absolute, unadulterated, meaningless garbage, and the fawning, sycophantic interviewers give me the pip.

  • barriejohn

    Here’s an example of an atheist trying to fight his corner on The Big Questions and being given a very hard time. Others might not be keen to follow in his steps!

  • harrynutsak

    They want people to work for them for free, or did they offer to cover expenses and pay you for your time?
    They are not asking intelligent, rational questions because they are the BBC, full of child-raping toadies who would rather make a lame show about nothings to waste your time and save them money by not paying you.
    The BBC is full of christians falling all over themselves to come up with yet another way to make their christian-themed programming a little more in-your-face whilst having the gall to beg you for your “atheist” point-of-view about, get this, FUCKING SHAKESPEARE!!
    I can’t believe you are actually going to waste your time with them. “Look, they’ve asked our opinion for a show no one will watch and we do it all for free!”
    Please reconsider. Your time shouldn’t be wasted on these gompfs.

  • Angela_K

    Yet even the BBC’s own surveys show that religion is at the bottom of the list when people are asked what they’d like more of on TV/Radio. The BBC is over-run with religious types from all the cults.
    I’ve seen some parts of the “Big Question” programme, usually the last 10-15 minutes while scoffing a fry-up waiting for “Sunday Politics”to start. Nicky Campbell gives the god bots and easy time and lets them gang up on non-believers. And, as per all BBC audiences, they are very carefully selected to ensure BBC bias is maintained.

  • Peter Sykes

    Any mention of the Salvation Army and have to post this:
    “The earliest reference to an organised opposition to The Salvation Army was in August 1880 in Whitechapel, when ‘The Unconverted Salvation Army’ was founded with its flag and motto of “Be just and fear not.”
    “In 1881 Skeleton Armies were raised in Whitechapel, Exeter and Weston-super-Mare, and the name was quickly taken up elsewhere as other groups were formed in the south of England; there are no records of Skeleton Armies north of London. Membership was predominantly lower to middle working-class. The “Skeletons” recognised each other by various insignia used to distinguish themselves. Skeletons used banners with skulls and crossbones; sometimes there were two coffins and a statement like, “Blood and Thunder” (mocking the Salvation Army’s war cry “Blood and Fire”) or the three Bs: “Beef”, “Beer” and “Bacca” – again mocking the Salvation Army’s three S’s – “Soup”, “Soap” and “Salvation”. Banners also had pictures of monkeys, rats and the devil. Skeletons further published so-called “gazettes” considered libellous as well as obscene and blasphemous.
    Several techniques were employed by the “Skeletons” to disrupt Salvation Army meetings and marches; these included throwing rocks and dead rats, marching while loudly playing musical instruments or shouting, and physically assaulting Salvation Army members at their meetings.”” – Skeleton Armies, Wikipedia

  • barriejohn

    Angela: Sadly, Richard Dawkins is now too unwell to participate, and Hitch is no longer with us, and any one lacking their resolute determination not to be cowed is in for a VERY rough ride indeed!
    Peter: My father, like most of his generation, who had experienced the Depression, had a soft spot for the Salvation Army, which I always found puzzling, as he was absolutely scathing about the way that “Aggie Weston’s” took advantage of sailors, and force-fed them evangelical bullshit when they visited the “Royal Sailors’ Rest” for cocoa and comfort, treating them like children. Fundamentalist believers are all the same, and not to be trusted.

  • Angela_K

    Barriejohn. Shame, we seem to be lacking in our “attack dogs”as the religious call them. I possess neither the knowledge [although I studied Shakespeare for English lit “A”] nor intellectual debating skills to take part in the BBC’s programme. Hopefully some one from our ranks will step into the BBC’s Lion’s den.

  • Barty

    I was in a village somewhere near Meriden yesterday. I drove past a small school at the gates of which was a group of around 20 people. One was holding a big wooden crucifix. Big means about 2m high 1m wide made of what looked like 150mm square timber. It looked quite old too – maybe made out of oak. I had some time to kill so I turned around and went back to see what was going on. Meantime the group had moved off led by a rather plump blonde very smugly arrogant woman clad in black robes and with one poor individual struggling to drag the crucifix. The rest followed in twos. They walked slowly and ostentatiously along the pavement and then turned off and walked a zig zag route through the residential roads of a housing estate. I followed and watched them for about 30 minutes. People crossed the road to avoid them. People dodged indoors from washing cars or cutting the grass. Anything to avoid contact with the sinsiter group. One little dog spotted them and ran off so fast its arse end beat its front end around the corner. The most striking thing was the demograhic of the group. Five of them were late teens early twenties and … how to put this … with obviously something wrong with them. The rest were a sorry looking bunch of beige clad plastic bag carring sixty something sad cases … hunched and minimised … shuffling along. They all looked rather sullen and morose. The only one of the sorry crew with any energy and and brightness was the priestess who paraded along with a huge, but rather disturbing, forced smile. She was putting on a brave face defiant face but she must have been soooo disapointed with the turnout. She was obviously leading a troupe of conscripts rather than happy volunteers. I found the whole spectacle very disturbing, as did everyone who encountered them. I guess they were in some way observing easter. Now if thats the best the christian’s can do then christianity in the uk is as good as dead. I went down to Hatton Locks and found hundreds of happy smiling people there enjoying a walk along the canal, tea and cakes at the cafe and beer and lunch at the pub.Now these folk were enjoying their day off. A much better way to spend time. Live your life today rather than wallowing in misery hoping for a better life after you are dead. Mr Welby should be deeply concerned. I was rather delighted.

  • Barty

    Smurfwaite is a good lady … but she called the religiots fools on one programme …. but I doubt she would be invited.

  • Barty

    And here is the wonderful Kate ….. slapping down the idiots … on The Big Question. Great stuff. And don’t many of the audience look like the bloody fools they are.
    I apologise to Kate for getting her name wrong

  • andym

    I won’t be volunteering to be the atheist sacrificial lamb-almost literally. The best performance I’ve seen on the programme was Douglas Murray. Rather than engage with the idiots, he just let his eyebrows rise to the ceiling. There is no point trying to engage in debate with religiots.

  • barriejohn

    Barty: Great clip. Nearly 45,000 likes! She certainly looks like a shrew that couldn’t be tamed. Maybe Stephen Fry could be cajoled into coming over to participate.

  • Peter Sykes

    How about A.C. Grayling. Or to really course trouble – Frankie Boyle!
    “Religion is just what we thought before we understood what mental illness was.
    “A bush talked to me”
    Brilliant. What did it say?…
    Let’s live our lives by what the bush said…
    You stupid fucking cunts.” – Frankie Boyle

  • barriejohn

    Ricky Gervais!
    “If there is a god, why did he make me an atheist?”

  • John

    So who will volunteer to be a part-time unpaid BBC token atheist?
    Quite right.
    The BBC is getting worse by the day. Today, for example, listeners to Radio 4 were bombarded by religious programming for much of the morning, even though the BBC has admitted it is the least popular form of programming – note allusion to mind-washing inherent in this label.
    Barry: you should respond back to this request with a flat refusal on the basis that this form of programming is the very worst the BBC produces.
    This misleadingly named BBC programme is yet another example of the dishonest and deceitful manner in which all religious cults work.
    They are not interested in discussing the ethical implications of anything.
    All they seek is an opportunity to proselytize the gullible and vulnerable.
    The BBC is a complicit whore alongside the religious cults in all of this.

  • Vanity Unfair

    So, there will be a C of E vicar to represent the state religion, an RC father because Shakespeare probably was RC and most of the historical characters and foreigners were, a rabbi to represent the interests of Shylock and Jessica, an imam for pre-converted Othello, a classical mythologist for the Roman and Greek characters, a Druid for the British pre-Christians and, “Oh, let’s have a token atheist for everyone to mock.”
    You cannot judge a playwright by his characters but if pressed I would say he was a humanist RC outwardly Protestant but not an atheist.

  • Michael Glass

    Shakespeare was too clever a man to be pinned down. He gives Shylock a great speech about anti-semitism but still makes him out to be a thoroughly unpleasant character. He sometimes goes far, but not too far. If he was a doubter he left himself plenty of plausible deniability in his plays. In any case, he is so even-handed that he has been claimed by Catholics, Protestants and Atheists alike.

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