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Feedback: Honest Doubt

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 09:00, Friday, 29 June 2012

Roger Bolton

"I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken". Those words were spoken by the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell in 1650. He was addressing the general assembly of the Church of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Over 350 years later a former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway, has been making a similar plea on Radio 4.

He resigned as Bishop and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church in 2000 and since then his own theological position has become increasingly radical. He still attends church, denies he is an atheist, and prefers to be considered a Christian agnostic and an "after-religionist".

He has just completed a 20 episode series on the network called "Honest Doubt". On the whole it has been well received, with many listeners greatly enjoying his exploration, through history, of the space between the certainties of religious faith and atheism, a journey that made much use of music and poetry and a wide range of voices.

However there were some Feedback listeners who felt that once again Christianity was being attacked in a way other religions would not be. James Pennington asked "Why always Christianity in the firing line?" Why hadn't the Archbishop of Canterbury been offered such a series? Chris Moorsom suggested that "It would have been far more interesting and fair minded to put this into a dialogue format .... based on real debate".

On the other hand an atheist wrote to say she had found it "a captivating programme".

In Feedback this week I talked to Richard Holloway and also to the Radio 4 Executive who commissioned the series, Jane Ellison. Here is our discussion

Also this week Mark Friend, Controller, Multiplatform and Interactive, BBC Audio and Music, explained the changes that have been introduced to the BBC Radio websites, particularly the one for Radio 4.

He was keen to emphasise that this was a "Beta" version, in other words on trial, and he was keen to hear listeners" views about it and said he was very willing to make appropriate changes. So do please have a look at the website and tell him what you think.

One other bit of news this week.

After an extensive review the BBC has decided not to cut any of its 5 orchestras. Instead it has cut their budgets by around 10%. You can read the report on the BBC Trust"s website.

Still no news on the new DG. An announcement is now expected in "early July".

Happy Listening

Roger Bolton

Roger Bolton presents Feedback

  • Listen again to this week's Feedback, get in touch with the programme, find out how to join the listener panel or subscribe to the podcast on the Feedback web page.
  • Read all of Roger's Feedback blog posts.


  • Comment number 1.

    Pro-religious views are given plenty of regular airtime on Radio 4 and elsewhere on the BBC. As a atheist and secular humanist, I found this series extremely interesting and made a point of listening to the omnibus broadcasts without fail. It was refreshing to hear religious matters covered in a sympathetic humanist manner.

  • Comment number 2.

    I listened to several programmes of Honest Doubt, and eventually gave up because it was so obviously one-sided and assuming that a spiritual power was out of the queston. I appreciated the idea of the series but I think you now need a series entitled 'Honest Belief' which would cover such interesting people as Jung (I don't believe in God, I know God), George Muller, Quakers etc etc. to redress the balance. I found the general message of the programmes rather resigned and uninspiring.

  • Comment number 3.

    As a believer I loved this programme - the beauty of the poetry - the need for both faith and doubt - the practical emphasis on mystery.
    For me, Richard Holloway is the right voice for this era. Bravo!

    Intelligent Design
    might that be
    where hands
    both mortal and divine
    combine to sign
    the beauty of their poetry.

  • Comment number 4.

    It was disappointing to hear on Feedback claims that this first-rate series was in some way anti-Christian. It was not. Richard Holloway helped by the likes of A N Wilson, Andrew Motion and Anthony Kenny provided a sophisticated account of the questions that both the religious and the non-religious have wrestled with throughout the ages. For many believers the scholarly and philosophical contributions of, for example, David Freidrich Strauss and Ludwig Feuerbach remain unknown. Also, many refuse to accept the overwhelming evidence that humans evolved from non-humans. I do not think the unsophisticated views of these Christians, no matter how sincerely held, should determine the output of Radio 4.

    I learned a lot from this series and agree with the point made by Richard Holloway that Christianity is no longer in a privileged position in British society. A series that sought to ram home the "truth" of Christianity would have been inappropriate for a secular society. Listeners to Radio 4 want something more than the unsophisticated arguments spouted by religious fanatics at every opportunity.

    I agree with the contributor to Feedback who praised the music.

  • Comment number 5.

    My wife and I both enjoyed the series, the fifteen minute duration meant that it was ideal to listen to every morning to start the day (via iplayer).
    It is disappointing that they aren't still available to listen to though.

  • Comment number 6.

    Why isn't this excellent series available on a podcast?

  • Comment number 7.

    Excellent series. I'd recommend Richard Holloway's book - Leaving Alexandria too.
    Will this series be made available for download.

  • Comment number 8.

    I have never felt compelled to comment on a radio series before, but in this case I had to. I absolutely loved Honest Doubt, and would even go so far as to say it is the best radio series I have heard for many years. I am surprised that it has been interpreted as attacking Christianity, or that it could be described as uninspiring. I couldn't disagree more! I found it constantly informative, thought-provoking, moving, and most definitely inspiring. As Tennyson said, "There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds" - it is not anti-religious to explore and question beliefs; it is entirely natural. The breadth of material Richard Holloway covered was so impressive, effortlessly encompassing music, poetry, philosophy, history.

    I would like to echo the comments calling for the series to be available to download or released on a CD, or at least for the scripts of the series to be available as a book. Such excellent writing does not deserve to be consigned to radio history after a single hearing.


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