Wit and Wisdom by Adam Harbinson

Adam Harbinson
Adam Harbinson

So, the BBC’s Thought for the Day has been accused by Fraser Nelson in the Spectator magazine of presenting its listeners with daily doses of “lobotomised inanity”.

It was a blistering attack that questioned that great institution’s attitude to and understanding of religion and its role in modern society. He quoted the striking example of the credentials of the translator the BBC is said to have provided for the new Pope’s rendition of the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Our father who are in the Heaven, be your name blessed… be your will done as in earth so above... deliver us from our sins as we deliver them from, um, from the sinners…’ – funny if it wasn’t so serious.

That said, when I first heard reference to lobotomised inanity, I have to admit I wasn’t paying too much attention and I thought the esteemed journalist was accusing religious leaders of peddling lobotomised inanity (a lobotomy is a surgical operation involving an incision into the brain, that in days gone by was used to treat mental illness, and something that is inane is silly and insignificant).

Now, would that be a fair description of the truly great institution of religion? My mind goes back to a comment made by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, when he said: “The trouble with a lot of government initiatives about faith is that they assume it is an eccentricity practised by oddities.”

However, there is always the danger that when people move in elevated circles such as leader of the Anglican Communion, they can easily become detached from reality. After all, he earns just under £70,000 a year, has a chauffeur-driven limo and lives in a riverside palace.

He can know little of the pain of the sick and the elderly who have to choose whether to eat or heat. He cannot have any understanding of what it is like to be hungry.

Now here’s the conundrum: on the one hand these people claim to worship and be followers of Jesus, the one who ‘had not where to lay his head’, the one who taught ‘do not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth,’; on the other hand they are part of an organisation that spends £110million a year on its buildings, when the Bible they preach from tells us that God ‘dwells in buildings not made with hands’ – in other words he prefers to live in people rather than cold stone buildings.

Their organisation has assets of almost £6billion, and yet they complain about the half million pound hole in their pension fund – what was that their founder said about not laying up treasures on earth?

Clearly the writer of the New Testament Book of the Revelation (3:20) was ahead of his time when he foresaw Jesus standing outside the church at Laodicea, knocking on the door and pleading: ‘If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends,’ but he was locked outside while the inane festivities continued inside.

So, back to the question: is it fair to describe the institution of religion as an eccentricity practised by oddities? Are the one million people who attend services each Sunday up and down the land being fed some kind of lobotomised inanity? I couldn’t possibly comment, I’m just happy to follow the Master.

Adam Harbinson - adamharbinson@gmail.com