Religious Illiteracy – the Root of all Evil?

by - 27th April 2015

I prepared this two-minute speech as a panellist in a BBC Debate at Broadcasting House on 22 April 2015, chaired by Roger Bolton, with Aaqil Ahmed (Head of Religion, BBC), Ruth Gledhill (Christian Today), and Professor Robert Beckford (Theologian, Canterbury Christchurch).

[For Maggie Brown's report of the event for the Guardian Report, click here. The podcast is apparently not available yet.]

Religious illiteracy is thinking like Bernard Levin did that the only people persecuted for their faith were the Jews.

Religious illiteracy is literally not knowing what had hit you on 9/11.

It is thinking that Britain’s uniquely stable institutions are an accident of birth, or geography.

Or that we defeated Hitler because of Churchill, not because of a concerted resolve to defeat evil.

It is thinking that religion is dying out – and running your social and immigration policies accordingly.

Religious illiteracy is no way to run a whelk stall, let alone a newspaper, a broadcast service or a country.

Religious illiteracy is quite simply anti-journalism, and anti-thought.

Bernard Levin made his remark in a column in the Times in 1991.  That was the end of a century that witnessed more Christian martyrs than the previous 19 centuries put together.

It was an admission of a mentality closed to all but its own references.

And yet such closedness appears to be policy.

A foreign correspondent told me she was told ‘Don’t mention the Christians’ when she went to cover ISIS in northern Iraq.

That’s like going to Rio to cover the Olympics and being told not to mention the Brazilians.

Religious illiteracy is thinking you can be neutral about religion like you can about politics.

But religion is not a game of two opposing sides.

You would not be neutral about a commitment to life itself.

Nor would you be neutral about the act of seeing.  Yet neutrality chooses not to see quite a lot.

Religion is not dying out.  Secularization is no longer a useful prism through which to see the world and the future, if it ever was.  Globalization has brought to our consciousness a new/old reality that was lost only on the wilfully blind.

The world is chock-full of religion, and its efficacy and its abuse won’t go away simply by denying it.

Religious allegiances and motivations require serious attention and response. 

The root of all evil is not religious illiteracy.  That accolade must surely go to wilful ignorance.