The BBC has wholeheartedly thrown its lot in with the liberal reformers; there has been no “impartiality” on any of the big moral issues of the past half-century. In every instance, the socially conservative argument has been depicted as callous, reactionary and dogmatic. Any counterargument to the prevailing liberal consensus is now ignored altogether; social conservative voices are conspicuous by their absence on mainstream current affairs programmes. That is sometimes because there is no one in the production teams who understands the social conservative position, so it is no longer considered when programmes are in the making. The liberals now have a national culture moulded by their thinking and their laws; it is their world now – the old morality has been utterly vanquished.
Consider the way in which Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion was promoted by the BBC. The book was treated with reverence, and the lavish coverage helped to propel its author to the highest pinnacle of intellectual celebrity. He is now one of that small, glittering band of international intellectual superstars in demand around the world. The BBC was not his only promoter – the Times, the Guardian and the Independent, as well as most other serious television and media outlets, all paid homage to the new guru – but the BBC’s imprimatur is always worth more than the others.
The Corporation still commands respect among media professionals; there is a noticeable cultural cringe when other broadcasters, particularly those from places such as Australia and Canada, come into contact with it. Partly thanks to the BBC’s heady sponsorship, The God Delusion became a global phenomenon which – given its intellectual mediocrity – takes some explaining. The eminent American sociologist Peter Berger gave much thought to the general phenomenon of secularisation, and his observations are peculiarly apt as a way of explaining the success of Dawkins’s book:
“There exists an international subculture composed of people with Western-type higher education, especially in the humanities and social sciences, that is indeed secularised. This subculture is the principal “carrier” of progressive, Enlightened beliefs and values. While its members are relatively thin on the ground, they are very influential, as they control the institutions that provide the “official” definitions of reality, notably the educational system, the media of mass communication, and the higher reaches of the legal system. They are remarkably similar all over the world today, as they have been for a long time … I may observe in passing that the plausibility of secularisation theory owes much to this international subculture.”
So ubiquitous was the coverage that it felt at the time as if The God Delusion was being promoted as a quasi-official philosophy; away with the Book of Common Prayer, in with a book for the common man. And in the context of Berger’s “subculture”, The God Delusion has become one of the standard texts of the secularists; an enormously influential work colouring the opinions of millions of people around the world. The fact of its essential vacuity doesn’t matter because, with its reputation enormously inflated by an uncritical media, it has been promoted to the status of holy writ.
The old moral code is difficult to live up to; its stern injunctions run counter to human instinct in every respect. It calls for self-restraint and self-abnegation and does so in the name of a higher power. That’s why people find it difficult, and why many don’t like it. Mr Dawkins’s alternative Ten Commandments, as listed in The God Delusion, have the great advantage of not being at all irksome – they are, in fact, a very agreeable and flexible set of rules which allow an individual to do pretty much what they want. They certainly would not act as a brake on selfish impulses. The crucial point to grasp is that because they admit to no outside authority, but depend entirely on the individual’s own judgment (one might say “conscience”) of what is right and what is wrong, they validate an infinite variety of outcomes. Each man becomes his own “god”, and sets the rules accordingly. The obvious problem is that most people find it difficult to resist the temptation to self-justify their actions, and tend to give themselves the benefit of the doubt.
The noble lie at the heart of this new morality is that we can, as individuals and as a society, dispense with an objective moral code without harmful consequences.
The claim is that the old moral code was judgmental and harsh and based on a non-existent deity who had supposedly laid down rules about human conduct; in fact, say the atheists, the rules were concocted by power-hungry priests. The new moral code, they say, which dispenses with God altogether, allows everyone to live happier lives – free from the guilt that the traditional rules engendered. This idea has been successfully marketed to the country (after all, it’s not that difficult to persuade people to do what their instincts urge them to do) and, exercising our democratic free will, we have enshrined in law measures that overturn the old moral code.
The countless discussions of Dawkins’s book provided easy fodder for the pocket-intellectuals who make BBC talk shows, but the practical effect of this unilateral moral disarmament were never addressed. In recent decades millions of people have become unmoored from the country’s traditional moral code with sadly predictable consequences, not least on the nation’s mental health.
Increasing incidence of mental illness has been apparent in recent years, not surprisingly because the UK has one of the highest rates of mental health problems in the world. According to an NHS survey reported in 2017, at any one time, a sixth of the population is suffering from a mental health problem. As reported by the BBC website: “It seems to be getting more common – or at least among those with severe symptoms. While the proportion of people affected does not appear to have risen in the past few years, if you go back a little further there has certainly been a steady increase.”
The result of our national, transgressive moral revolution is now apparent: a horribly diminished sense of security for millions of children and a coarsening and debasement of our attitudes to sex, plus a rise in mental illness across the population. In addition, there has been a profound change in the value we put on human life itself. It is often said that contemporary Britain is a post-Christian country; if so, the ills that afflict the nation today cannot be laid at the door of the old belief system. This country of unhappy children and uncertain adults – this is the world social liberal values have conjured into being.
The BBC which, once upon a time, understood its responsibilities differently and promoted a straightforward Christian view of the world, has been the midwife to this transformation; in fact, more than the midwife – an active agent of change agitating for the new morality. And, the change having been successfully realised – with permissive liberal values now triumphant – the BBC no longer even allows a social conservative challenge to the new dispensation. Any claim by the Corporation to be “impartial” in this debate is a lie.
This is an edited extract from The Noble Liar: How and why the BBC distorts the news to promote a liberal agenda (Biteback Publishing). Robin Aitken is a journalist and author who worked for the BBC for 25 years