BROADCAST NEWS by Joanna Moorhead HO represents
religion? In the past it has always been the exclusively male, usually middle-class and often middle-aged bishops who have been wheeled on to have their say, but times are changing, and in recent years it has been known for a nun, a layman or even, dare I say it, a laywoman to be allowed to put the Church's case.
In extremely rare cases, the nun, layman or laywoman has even been in the under-60s age group and has spoken with a regional accent. These things matter, of course, because the medium is so very much the message, and no bishop would want to give the impression that the Church catered only for white, middle-aged, middle-class males just because that was the only sort of person who ever spoke on its behalf.
It is more important than ever for those who represent religions to be drawn from a variety of levels, and a variety of types of their memberships if religion is to be persuasive in its claim to be a force for today, it must be seen to include the sort of people who are seen as "today's people".
Sadly, this was not a message reinforced by those who sought to put the case for religion in (Channel 4, Monday). Leading the Churches' defence was the male, middle-aged Anthony Scrivener QC, while heading the humanist attack was the more youthful, and female philosopher Anne Kelleher. Scrivener's team boasted one woman, but the other two were middle-aged and male.
Ms Kelleher's backers, on the ,other hand, included the extremely forceful Labour party strategist Patricia Hewitt and agony aunt Claire Rayner. Her team did, admittedly, contain one man, but at least he was, or at any rate appeared to be, under 30.
It's impossible to say which side won because, as the avuncular chairman Sir Denis Forman announced cheerily at the end. there was no judge nor jury and no verdict to be reached.
The debate over the rights and wrongs of religion will rage on, just as it always has. Beyond Belief sought to polarise the argument by pitching believers against humanists, but in real life you are as likely to encounter a priest slamming religion's role in past conflicts and current wars as you are an atheist. Today's believers do not see themselves as apologists for yesterday's believers: all any of us can testify to is a personal experience of God, not a structural one.
But if the concept of Beyond Belief left much to be desired, the methodology was fascinating. Unlike Americans, who can tune their TV sets daily to courtroom dramas, here those of us who are not lawyers get little opportunity to watch top banisters in action.
So to be able to watch as talented and skilled a barrister as Anthony Scrivener at work was a privilege indeed.
His wily and impatient questions were like poisoned darts seeking to prick the opposition witnesses where it hurt, while they, fearful of his every move, pussyfooted around, terrified of destroying their case. Anne Kelleher, in contrast, was every bit the philosopher in her approach, seeking to persuade rather than outwit in her crossexaminations.
The three-part series draws to a close with next Monday's episode, which features among others Dr Sheila Cassidy, the former missionary tortured in Chile and now director of a Christian hospice in Plymouth, and the Dutch Dr Admiraal, one of the world's leading experts on euthanasia.