What role has secularization and the sidelining of religious values played in the decline of Britain, and Western culture at large? The BBC provides a case study.
The BBC World Service (international broadcaster of the British Broadcasting Corporation), famously began its programmes with the announcement, “This is London Calling.” With its worldwide audience, the BBC—affectionately known as “Auntie Beeb”—is widely considered the preeminent broadcaster of the English language. And with broadcasts in more than 40 other languages focused on local regions around the globe, the BBC truly speaks to the world.
Since the Brexit vote of 2016, the objectivity of BBC reporting has come under scrutiny. Chartered as a national broadcaster under Royal Decree by King George V in December 1926, the BBC has within its charter the following mission statement: “The Mission of the BBC is to act in the public interest, serving all audiences through the provision of impartial, high-quality and distinctive output and services which inform, educate and entertain” (“Royal Charter for the Continuance of the British Broadcasting Corporation,” BBC.co.uk, December 2016).
Today, the pursuit of impartiality may well be the greatest of the BBC’s challenges. Though impartiality was a relatively easy assignment in the 1920s when it served a homogenous audience of English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish, the situation has changed in many ways since those foundational days of broadcasting.
The challenge of impartiality was recently highlighted when Boris Johnson’s administration proposed the appointment of two individuals who had been arch-critics of the BBC. One appointee was to chair the BBC itself, and the other was to lead Ofcom, the broadcasting regulatory body responsible for ensuring that the BBC lives up to its charter. The prospect of these appointments prompted BBC employees to threaten a mass exodus of staff.
Why? Because the BBC has been a left-leaning institution for so long that much of its staff has no sympathy for anything that is not of the left.
Controversy also followed the new BBC Director General’s mandate that staff can no longer support campaigns, “no matter how apparently worthy the cause or how much their message appears to be accepted or uncontroversial” (“BBC’s new social media guidelines: Staff told not to back campaigns even if they appear ‘uncontroversial’,” INews.co.uk, October 29, 2020). Many BBC employees had previously been seen as “leading the charge” on various social issues. Furthermore, these same people had become opinion leaders simply because of their large numbers of followers on social media platforms. Many among the BBC’s more prominent staff have also used their roles within the corporation for considerable financial gain outside of it, to the point that BBC positions have increasingly been seen as opportunities to grow rich rather than to serve the public.
To be fair, the problem is not necessarily of the BBC’s own making. Rather, it is the product of an education system that is systemically left of centre and produces left-leaning employees.
In the years since the BBC’s founding, a once-homogenous British society has become multicultural. The years following the Second World War saw an influx of new citizens from around the world who brought their distinctive cultures with them. Once comparatively cohesive, the outlook of British citizens has increasingly become shaped by divergent views from every corner of the earth.
In those same years, Britain sought to become a scientifically-driven society. The study of science was vigorously promoted by national leaders, and the social sciences were given full rein in the development of British culture. The result has been a decidedly secular transformation of British society, not unlike the transformation of France and other European states. Yes, the Queen is still the head of the Church of England, and senior church roles are still appointed by today’s British government, but these roles are increasingly seen as anachronistic. Indeed, many of the “new” British are more religious than those amongst whom they have settled.
So, how could anyone maintain a sense of impartiality in such a diverse, multicultural society as is now the United Kingdom?
The problem the United Kingdom faces today is that it has no foundation on which to create a cohesive vision for its increasingly complex society.
Where can we look for that foundation? In the Jerusalem of his time, the prophet Jeremiah delivered a prophecy that still holds true today. He explained that human beings do not have knowledge of how to direct their own ways (Jeremiah 10:23). They need an external understanding to put things into perspective, to provide a sense of purpose to their existence. Science and technology may create a vibrant economy and represent the intellectual prowess of a society, but they neither provide nor reveal the reason for its existence. One of the sagest British minds of the last several decades, the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks—Britain’s chief rabbi from 1991 to 2013—gave the keynote address at a conference devoted to religion and media in 2019, in which he noted:
Science tells us how. It doesn’t tell us why. Technology gives us power, but it doesn’t tell us how to use that power. The market economy and the liberal democratic state give us choices, but often no advice as to which choices to make (“Keynote remarks at the Religion and Media Conference,” RabbiSacks.org, April 30, 2019).
Sacks understood that religion is essential to answering those questions. He echoed the wisdom of King Solomon, who noted in his proverbs that we should not lean on our own understanding or be wise in our own eyes. Rather, Solomon taught the need for human beings to accept the place of God in their lives and seek to do what He wants us to accomplish. Doing so brings spiritual and psychological health to the individual—and, by extension, to society (Proverbs 3:5–8).
Impartiality, in and of itself, is an empty pursuit. To be meaningful, the goal of impartiality requires a shared societal ideal. It requires a foundation of answers that, as Sacks said, science cannot provide. It requires a real religion with real answers—not any of the secular substitutes we have adopted so freely in the Western world. We as a society have rejected the place of God in our lives to our own hurt.
Jeremiah’s warning is also for each of us. He laments that we have forgotten our God and have followed false idols—a truism of the current British society, which seeks to define itself by science instead of a relationship with God. The final, lamentable outcome of such forgetfulness, described by Jeremiah, is national nihilism and subjugation to others (Jeremiah 18:15–17).
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