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Desert Island Discs needs the Bible

The Bible is not simply one of the finest achievements of our culture; it is also the word of God

By on Friday, 16 August 2013

The National Secular Society think the Bible should be dropped from the popular Radio 4 show (CNS)

The National Secular Society think the Bible should be dropped from the popular Radio 4 show (CNS)

The Telegraph published a good article by Allan Massie, “We can’t cast away our Bible”, on August 12. He is always worth reading: cultured, conservative in outlook, and humorous. As a Scottish writer, he naturally also likes Sir Walter Scott – he was a past president of the Walter Scott Society – which puts him up a few notches in my estimation. My father, who grew up in Glasgow before WW1, once told me that his reading as a boy had been “Dickens, Scott and Thackeray”. I expect he also read GA Henty, a popular boys’ writer of the time, on the quiet; but wanting to impress him I went off and read a lot of Scott. Today his novels are as dead as dodos unfortunately, which goes to show that the greatest reputations don’t last forever.

Except for Shakespeare. This is why he is always included as a matter of course on the imaginary shipwreck of Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs – alongside the Bible. It is this latter work that is the subject of Massie’s article. It seems that the National Secular Society, “a body not noted for its sense of humour” according to Massie (which makes one wonder if a rather stolid solemnity and a public proclamation of secularity go together) has called for the Bible to be dropped from the programme on the grounds that most people no longer believe what it says.
Massie hints that the subject might have been discussed within the BBC although this august body has stated there are no plans to ditch the Bible. A little voice inside my head says “I bet they would if they could get away with it”, but I immediately dismiss this cynical thought and return to Massie’s article. He rightly contends that the Bible is central to our culture. It is not just a matter of a collection of compelling stories and characters; it is because the Bible is, alongside Shakespeare, at the very heart of the English language and has thus shaped the way people have thought for several hundred years.

Massie is referring in this context to the King James authorized translation, commenting, “One reason to be thankful for having been born into an English-speaking culture is that the English Bible is a great resplendent work of literature, made when our language was at its most fecund and vigorous.” He makes the point that our inherited culture, expressed through our finest literature, is deeply Christian: “our ideas of what is right and what is wrong remain essentially Christian and have been inculcated by the reading of the Bible over generations.” Even if “we may have come to disregard many of its prohibitions…whatever is admirable and generous in our morality derives from it, and especially from what Jesus taught…”

One should add here that for Christians, including the greatest (and secret Catholic) poetic dramatist of them all, the Bible is not simply one of the finest achievements of our culture; it is also the word of God – although Catholics of the Jacobean era would have been acquainted with a Catholic translation as well as the King James. The weakness of Massie’s case is that he appears to be writing as a champion of traditional culture rather than as a Christian believer. In response to his article Bishop Nazir-Ali wrote a Letter to the Telegraph on 14 August, stating “Yes, the Bible has formed our notions of right and wrong. But these will not survive if we abandon the vision of the Bible concerning ourselves, the world and God.”

No indeed; the National Secular Society take note.

  • Julian Lord

    St. Jerome’s Vulgate is still, though, hands down the best translation of the Bible ever made.

  • teigitur

    We should just stop giving the tiny “national secular society” the oxygen of publicity.

  • $20596475

    Tiny? Maybe their actual membership could be so described but I would wager that if you polled the general population about their core values it would reveal a considerable level of support. I would expect a much higher score than for a similar poll on Catholic core values.

    I had never thought about whether the Bible ought to be a standard possession for the shipwrecked on Desert Island Discs. It just always was and, after all, this is just a radio show. Now I do I can see the point the NSS are making. Times have changed and maybe it has become an anachronism. Maybe we just need to allow the participants a choice.

  • teigitur

    It has 10,000 members old friend. So yes, tiny. What you expect and what you would get would be far apart I suspect.

  • NatOns

    Yet its adherents are many – and its believers are legion.

  • $20596475

    I don’t. Let us see what happens if such polls are ever run, but I would take long odds on me being proved correct.

  • teigitur

    Yes….oh wait some of us have lives to lead.

  • Nathan Cook

    I have always thought that Desert Island Discs gives you the Bible (or the Quran, Bhagavad Gita, Torah etc.) and Shakespeare to elicit a greater variety of choices for the other book you are allowed to pick. It stands to reason that most religious people would otherwise choose their holy book, and most of the remainder would pick Shakespeare!

  • $20596475

    Of course, me too. I would be more than happy to see everyone just getting on with their lives and respecting that others have lives to live too.

  • ostrava

    Give them the Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, and the complete works of Richard Dawkins.

  • ostrava

    Last time I looked the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, were part of the Bible, Nathan, but perhaps somebody has changed all that.

  • Nathan Cook

    Well, I heard Kirsty Young offer Daniel Kahneman the choice between Bible and Torah just today. Interestingly enough Kahneman preferred the (Christian) Bible, saying “the more the better”.

  • ostrava

    Makes sense.

  • Kevin

    “the Bible has formed our notions of right and wrong. But these will not survive if we abandon the vision of the Bible concerning ourselves, the world and God” (Nazir-Ali)

    They haven’t survived our abandonment of the Catholic Church as the guardian of Sacred Scripture.

  • zoofood

    Proof positive that the National Secular Society is losing the plot – rapidly!

  • adamson

    The National Secular Society members know what they are doing.
    They have a plan,

  • $24570317

    People increasingly just don’t join “movements” any more in the numbers they once did. This is true of political parties, and most only join unions and “professional associations” for insurance cover, job security and other benefits, mostly relating to their work and advancement. Religious movements largely acquire their members at birth.

  • anon

    At present the British public pays little attention to Catholic core values; when we know the truth of attempts to introduce euthanasia, assisted suicide, pressurising of the disabled etc., we might wish we were very far away on that desert island, or alternatively embrace life-affirming Catholicism. Try polling the public on the question of human embryo experimentation or whether 7 million abortions reflect a dysfunctional society and a dangerous absence of God.

    A reasonable person, having reflected on these things, would probably opt for a rosary rally and Te Deum.

  • Sour Farts on Wednesday

    Even if one doesn’t believe it to be the Word of God, any aspiring intellectual must know the Bible.

  • Don Camillo

    Into Latin, maybe- but of little use unless you can read Latin: and if you don’t, why not learn Greek or Hebrew?

  • Sara_TMS_again

    They do have a choice- some choose the Koran, and others have chosen other sacred books, or none.

  • $20596475

    What nonsense! There is no euthanasia, and if anyone attempted to introduce it there would be outrage. Assisted suicide remains illegal and a subject of intense debate. The “disabled” are more respected and valued than ever before. Human embryo experimentation needs to be better explained, so it’s benefits can be truly understood but once done would be accepted I am quite sure.

    Most people would, I think, agree that there are far too many abortions but not that they ought to be banned.

  • Atilla the Possum

    ”The disabled are more respected and valued than ever before”
    That statement is only true when it refers to the Roman Catholic Church – where we are truly valued, respected and championed as people of true worth with something to contribute to the world. Many great saints and Doctors of the Church suffered chronic illness but served God and touched many lives long after their death by what little they are able to do.
    ‘If I am sick, my sickness will serve Him.’ Blessed John Henry Newman.
    ‘My job is to be ill.’ Saint Bernadette Soubirous.
    As for the rest of society – particularly successive governments – we are viewed as scroungers, useless, a burden on society, a boil on the bum of national debt who deserve to be humiliated by people who don’t know anything about us and seek to earn bonuses by asking stupid questions about whether we can operate a washing machine or not – in order to decide whether or not we deserve financial help!!!!
    Elsewhere, there are some people/thick wigs who have all the consideration and empathy of a retarded slug when they let their pit bulls attack guide dogs, steal mobility scooters and other equipment that’s essential to well-being and quality of life.
    I’m writing as someone who IS disabled and who doesn’t want to be a victim. I have friends who are at varying degrees of disability who have been through the whole spectrum of reactions to their predicament – from dirty looks to condescending grins.

  • $20596475

    Whilst am I am sorry for your obvious frustration, and don’t doubt that some of the things you describe do happen, that doesn’t change my view that things are better now than they ever have been. That we still have much to do is obvious but progress has been made, attitudes are better and greater support available when needed.

    Of course assessments need to be made. They have to be in every part of social care provision and those in genuine need are liable to get frustrated. My brother is also disabled and, although he gets annoyed at the system, he understands why it is necessary.

    I respect that you don’t want to be a victim and my advice would be simple. Don’t be one. Regard people as equals and expect to be treated by them in the same way. Ignore, or pour scorn, on those who belittle, for they deserve contempt and are the real losers.

  • Dave

    Yes–though of a different sort of translation, George Buchanan’s Psalm paraphrases are also something wonderful.

  • Ann Couper-Johnston

    I noticed Kirsty Young putting her foot in it, too.

  • anon

    Please do visit for information on their campaign to stop euthanasia via the Liverpool Care Pathway: cash for fulfilling targets to kill elderly patients (tens of thousands)-now hopefully ended by outraged families, Catholic campaigners and the (Rabbi) Neueburger Enquiry.

    Attempts to legalise and promote assisted suicide persist.

    The ‘disabled’ are being compelled to attend WRAG centres and four hundred thousand have lost essential housing subsidies.

    The remnant of our ‘deeply Christian’ ‘inherited culture’ evidently needs strengthening and the new CTS Missal would keep us prayerfully connected to the world’s Catholic communities even on a desert island.

  • $20596475

    The LCP is NOT euthanasia and the attempts to so characterise it are shameful, as are your descriptions of it. It was an honest attempt to introduce best practise for the care of the terminally ill. That it hit some problems is obvious but I am quite sure that we will find an updated and improved version replacing it, with more training and better supervision.

    Attempts to legalise and promote assisted suicide may continue, and might succeed for those who want then. What does that mean, other than that choice is available?

    Many social benefits are under review in these difficult times. The disabled are far from alone in feeling the effects. We all are.

    Our future has very little left to learn from it’s Christian past. Those days are fading swiftly into history.