Thought for the Day will not be opened to atheists, says BBC religion chief


The BBC will resist calls to include atheists on Thought for the Day, the corporation’s head of religion has said.

Aaqil Ahmed disclosed he has reviewed Radio Four’s ‘God slot’ in response to complaints that it was “too religious”.

However, the daily homily on the Today programme is intended to provide a “religious” perspective on the news and should not be opened up to people of no faith, Mr Ahmed has concluded.

“We should always analyse whether we should continue with something and in the last year or two we’ve had some very detailed thoughts about this and we’ve decided to continue as was,” he said in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph ahead of a major conference this week on religion in Britain hosted by the BBC.

He added: “People have complained, as they have the right to, and I have taken a view that at this moment in time as far as I’m concerned we stay as we do.

“It is a specific slot within the Today programme which is a reflection from a religious perspective on stories of importance in the news.”

At the conference, Re:think, the BBC will also unveil new figures showing that the number of people in Britain who affiliate with a religion has dropped from 68 per cent in 1983 to 53 per cent last year.

The figures also show a significant gap between younger and older members of society, with 77 per cent of people over 66 saying they are religious compared to 35 per cent of people aged between 18 and 25.

Written By: Edward Malnick
continue to source article at


  1. To be fair, it’s called the ‘God slot’ for a reason. Now if the name was the ‘Philosophy hour’ and the goal was to provide a deeper analysis of the news..

    And don’t we atheists ‘own’ the shows dealing with science and nature? Pretty fair deal.

  2. Are you implying Atheists have nothing to say about god?  Because the religious have quite a lot to say about philosophy and many other subjects.

  3. Why is this a big deal? He is head of Religion for the bbc, atheism is not a religion, why should we be struggling on opinion with religious folks, in a slot for religious views on news?

    We already have a slot on huffpost live. If bbc wants to do something let them do it.

    Again, why is this even on here?

  4. Broadcaster’s (publishers) will increasingly be confronted with the consequences of consumers who WILL abandon them if they insist on insulting our intgelligence. Only stupid, ignorant people believe religious hogwash, and I can only assume Mr. Ahmed is one of them.

  5. Seems like a reasonable decision to me.  It isn’t like science programs on BBC 4 like “The Life Scientific” are being forced to include a religious perspective on science.  Just because I think religion is silly doesn’t mean I think shows for the religious should be forced to include an atheist perspective.

  6. All fair comments, and ones I’m a little surprised by to be honest. My concern is that it’s not called “the god slot” in anything but nickname – it’s called “Thought for the day.” Part of me resents the idea that atheists, or at least humanists, can’t comment on the moralities of what’s in the news at the moment.

    Still, I do agree that atheist ways of thinking already monopolise many other intellectual, especially scientific, programmes on Radio 4, and it’s unfair to leave the religious without a slot where they can enjoy their own philosophical ponderings. Perhaps if it was renamed to have a more religious-specific title I wouldn’t mind.

  7. Thought for the day presumably is more about morality with god thrown into the mix by the contributor. in case no one realised, aetheists can do morality and should have the right to contribute.

    I don’t buy the argument that aetheists have science and nature programmes, they aren’t badged as aetheist slots, the are simply just factual. Ideally thought for the day should be religion free although I’d happily support contributions from the religious if contributions were also allowed from followers of the tooth fairy, easter bunny and Santa clause.

  8. As long as there is a religion-only slot without something parallel into which others can be included, the BBC cannot claim to be impartial, even though the law which allows them to exist requires that they be so. It doesn’t help that this slot is used to falsely equate morality with religion, which means it exclusion of the non-religious is judgemental. For comparison, the BBC Asian network doesn’t pretend being Asian is the same as being good.

  9. So atheism isn’t a religion – good that’s sorted that out, at least.

    There may be a bit more going on here than is reported. The BBC have a reponsibility in their charter somewhere to broadcast a bit of religion. If these few minutes get counted in, then perhaps something worse is being counted out. After all, the BBC’s current affairs is actually pretty atheistic.

    But still, excluding atheists from a programme called “Thought for the Day” is wrong.

  10. No, it’s not called ‘The God Slot’. There is no mention of religion in the title, so don’ t pretend there is! 
    Sly, devious, disingenuous as usual with religion; it must be renamed to reflect its true purpose. 

    “Bonehead Thought for the Day”, perhaps?

  11. “77 per cent of people over 66 saying they are religious” What’s wrong with the old farts- ever more scared of death? 

    (BTW, I am an old fart, so I know that of which I speak 🙂  )

    Go the kids- more educated/informed/aware than the oldies. Consign religion to the margins where it belongs.

  12. That a head of religion (A muslim one for that matter) doesn’t want atheists to speak is only to be expected.  However it is not ethical to exclude the voices of those that disagree with you, it is merely the reaction of someone who is scared.   He needs a change of job title. Like Head for the protection of irrational thinking and  religious dogma.

    Atheists have views on the existence of doG just like anyone else and considering that the ontological status of the sky god of death is about the same as the Spaghedeity, the thinking of all parties could be aired purely for the sake of objectivity.

    I suspect the BBC want an easy ride, they don’t want SHRILL, STRIDENT tirades from enraged religios screaming about how offended they are that some one dares to question their favourite mentral aberration.  More pertinetly they are probably more scared (and with some justification) about how the religion of peace’s most deluded zombies resort to extremes of violence aginst anyone who says they are not peaceful.

    Oh dear does that sound a tad shrill and strident? 


  13. The problem with Thought For The Day is that it is entirely inappropriate to the tenor of the rest of the Today programme.   When every other speaker over the course of two hours is interrogated, often quite aggressively, about their subjects, it is simply irrational to have a slot for someone to present a point of view – religious or otherwise – without being subject to similar cross-questioning.

    Therefore the solution is one of three possibilities.  Scrap the silly Thought For The Day entirely; leave the slot as it is but have its presenters aggressively cross-questioned by the likes of John Humphrys, James Naughtie etc.; or invite the usual assemblage of politicians, businessmen, scientists, activists, and the rest each to present their stuff in a five-minute slot without any interrogation by the programme hosts, in the interests of consistency.

  14. Overall I do not really care too much about this, but saying that, there are a couple or points that should be made.

    1, The BBC are always going on about balance when dealing with views, until it comes to protecting religion.  This is called Thought for the Day and not A religious thought for the day.

    2, One may take a cynical view on this and think that the BBC do not want people of religion to know that atheists, humanist and anti-theists may have a moral take on the news…no wait, that can not be true surly, hmm, I wonder!

  15. GPWC

    But still, excluding atheists from a programme called “Thought for the Day” is wrong.

    It’s the “god-slot Thought for the Day”,

    not the “rational Thought for the Day”. 

    You know that theist thoughts cannot stand up to the challenges of rational criticism, without becoming a tangled mess of irrationality.  
    Short programmes are not long enough for much contorted obfuscation!
    It seems to be a sheeple reassurance programme presenting a choice selection of woo sellers.

    (Putting astronomers in an astrology section would also upset the astrologers and the sheeples!)

  16. I am going to be a bit controversial here. But it is an honest concern. I am a South Asian who has studied & lived in Europe for the past 10 years.

    Aquil Ahmed, isn’t a typical British name. So I am guessing he is an ethnic minority. I am starting to see a pattern in Britian. There are lot of third-world immigrants in important media & political positions. And more often than not, they tend to have a third-world view on women’s rights, freedom of speech & expression & in general, human rights. There is a significant push by this group towards retrograde policies. People like Baroness Warsi, Sadiq Khan, Keith Vaz etc.  And this seems to be spreading across the pond to America with people like Nikki Haley & Piyush “Bobby” Jindal.

    It is a serious concern. I believe it is a valid point for public discourse. The rationalist & atheist community of South Asia is dwindling, with most of them being in the older age group.  With increasing migration from South Asia into US, UK & Europe, I am worried that these minority groups are going to reinforce the religious right than the liberal left.

  17. To be honest it should not be this guy’s decision. He run religious programming. Its more a question for the Today programme makers. Do they want a God slot? Does it fit in with the ethos of the rest of the hour?

    I enjoy many thoughts for the day. Who couldn’t prick up their ears when Lionel Bloom was introduced? Because brilliant commentary on the days news from a humane and/or compassionate mind is just that. It stands apart from the usual political or economic correspondent. It can be enlightening and refreshing or downright hilarious.  The fact that the speaker is a Robbi, Iman or Vicar is often irrelevant.

    But then there is the mind numbing by the mind dumbed who cannot see beyond the certainty of God  (and so on). This is the problem. Its right out of place. It turns people off, dare I say it turns people against religion too?

    But the killer here is to argue to BBC’s issue with Radio 4 and the Today programme. They are tremendously successful but have an awful demographic (the dying classes) that the BBC has to break. They are quite ruthless elsewhere casting ageing DJs to Radio 2, mature lady newsreaders to the dole line.

    The secret here is the people the BBC wants to attract to Radio 4 and Today are that 18+ group for most of whom religion is a turn off. Without attracting them to Radio 4’s flagship programme they will enter a slow decline in tandem with the CoE.

    Of course the oldies (sorry, other oldies) want nice comforting religious programmes and as licence payers they deserve them. I, for one don’t have a problem with God programmes like ‘The Morning Service’ or the delicious Choral Evensong on Radio 3 (I bet even RD enjoys that for its angelic(!) voices). There is also a Religious Today programme in the Sunday slot. But they are specific programmes aimed at particular interest groups and labelled as such. Just like Jazz or Theatre Organs (yep a real Radio 2 programme). People tune in or out as they wish. Its the imposition of religion in an otherwise secular programme that grates.

    Its the mix that is the issue. The BBC’s need to modernise … a bright and secular 5 minute slot is what the programme needs. And I can think of a Bishop or two who can enlighten secular minds as much as dear Richard. So they would still be very welcome. Just get rid of the tub thumpers.

  18. “The fact that the speaker is a Robbi, Iman or Vicar is often irrelevant.”

    Could you please elaborate on that ? How about someone with a real qualification talking about the topic of the day? What makes a Rabbi or an Imam or a Vicar experts on human compassion, if that is what the programme is intended for? Compassion from the hearts of misogynists, paedophiles and bigots. These are the people you want to listen to for comapssion?

  19. It is clearly far too disturbing for religious thinkers to face the onslaught of rational discussion. Fingers in the ears, all together now, “la, la, la, la”.

  20. “However, the daily homily on the Today programme is intended to provide a
    “religious” perspective on the news and should not be opened up to
    people of no faith, Mr Ahmed has concluded.”

    I assure you, my opinions on religion are a religious perspective.

  21. @Alan4discussion

    “It’s the “god-slot Thought for the Day”, not the “rational Thought for the Day”.

    Evidently that’s how it’s now being defined by the BBC. In fact here is their definition:

    “A unique reflection from a faith perspective on topical issues and news events. Speakers from across the world’s major faiths offer a spiritual insight rooted in the theology of their own tradition”.

    Originally, though – and my guess is that Thought for the Day has a very long history at the BBC – it was simply Thought for the Day. The fact that only religious people were contacted to speak was because noone at the BBC ever thought about inviting a non-religious speaker. It was probably years before a non-christian got to broadcast.

    So my contention is that this was never a “religious” programme, more a philosophical or alternative view about a current event. Now it’s been redefined to be specifically religious … sadly.

  22. That’s fine….but then it shouldn’t be called ‘Thought for the Day’, especially on a current affairs programme, if it is to be exclusively for the use of woo woo religious propaganda.

    I don’t insist that science be included in the schedule of ‘Songs of Praise’  for example. Let the fuckwits have their 5 minutes of woo woo by all means, but then call it what it is, ‘Woo Woo thought of the Day’.

    At least Channel 4 plays the game with their 

  23. Head of Religion and Ethics???  Why are the two linked?

    And why couldn’t it be a philosophical take on the news, rather than religious?  Why let in the woo-woo?

  24. To be fair, it’s called the ‘God slot’ for a reason. Now if the name was the ‘Philosophy hour’ and the goal was to provide a deeper analysis of the news.. 

    Where on the listings is it called ‘The God Slot’?… 

    And don’t we atheists ‘own’ the shows dealing with science and nature? Pretty fair deal.

    Atheists don’t ‘own’ any such thing. Science and nature programmes are for everyone to learn from, religious programmes are not, they are for a particular section of the community. Not so fair in my opinion.

    The ‘Today’ programme is a current affairs programme, not religious or science or nature programme, so lets not have any false equivocation. Making ‘Thought for the Day’ solely religious is biased. Apart from the fact that is makes the title an oxymoron.

  25. I remember having a good laugh at the programme when it was called “Lift up your Hearts”! Some trendy ton-up motorbike vicar would rabbit on about The Beatles’ “Yesterday” and how relevant it was to issues of the day. Even in the 60s, the contributors were desperate to leave their “God” out of the content, and only sneak him in at the end as some sort of bolt on remedy.

    The God Slot? No way, they steer well clear of Him! They are cute enough to realise that as soon as they bring in “God”, the listeners tune out.

    “Religious perspective”, my backside. What’s the “religious perspective” of an almighty God allowing a family to be murdered in France? None at all, except how impotent this God character appears to be.

  26. Sad but to be expected. The Today program is a news program, it is not a religious program, and TFTD is not advertised as a religious slot. If the Beeb wish to continue with only allowing religious types to speak on this slot, it should be advertised as such, “Religious Thought for the Day”.

  27. “Could you please elaborate on that ? How about someone with a real qualification talking about the topic of the day? What makes a Rabbi or an Imam or a Vicar experts on human compassion, if that is what the programme is intended for? Compassion from the hearts of misogynists, paedophiles and bigots.”

    Qualifications? You’ve got me there. 

    Do you know I don’t even know the qualifications of that other good Radio 4 programmes “the Now Show” or the Chair of the “News Quiz”. Except they make me laugh, they make me think and in two ticks they destroy any credibility left in the government. Or indeed any government.

    On reflection I know one has a Geography degree and is the son of bishop. Does this make him a better/worse satirist?

    And are you calling Lionel Blue a misogynist, paedophile and bigot?… 

    There are good guys and bad guys (who’s the misogynist now?). I think you will find that we haven’t got exclusive rights to one lot and the religions the other. Away from religion some can speak as much good sense as anybody else. Those not prepared to listen might be accused of bigotry.

    (sorry I haven’t yet worked out how to quote properly in the new website)

  28. The programme is called “Thought for the Day”, not “Funny Joke of the day” or the “The Ramblings of Religious Nutters”. If that was the case, I wouldnt ask for qualifications.

    Why should I have any respect for the mass delusions? I have no issue with a rabbi or an imam or a priest or a monk pouting his vicious ideas. I support freedom of speech in its entirety. But then you should give the same slot for the pastafarians, teapotists, harrypotterist, goths, vampire fanatics, lord of the rings nerds, startwars geeks. After all they are mass delusions & fantasies. More often better and well thought of fantasies, reflecting modern 21st century ideas. Not the usual bigoted crap of the old religions be it hinduism, islam, judaism or christianity.

    Sorry, I refuse to respect your religion, what ever that might. It is your fantasy and that is all there is to it. I dont give a rats-arse about how many million followers you have.

  29. Kbala – you have completely missed my point. I do not want a God Slot on the Today programme and I don’t want to hear any religious nonsense either. Its out of place and the arguements for putting it in place are very weak.

    I do want to hear a refreshing, thoughtful an alternative angle on current events. There is a place /slot for that. I was pointing out that is precisely what we sometimes what we get. Surprise, surprise some of these also believe in fairies. But if we ain’t talking fairies than that might not matter much.

    Sorry, I find your uncompassionate stereotyping and denial of reality as fundamentalist as the worst type of christian, jew or muslim.

    I do care about the millions of fellow atheists (not followers!) and they don’t deserve the rudeness you shared.  Or are you confusing your targets?

  30.  Not in the least bit. I do think every religious figure head is a moron. I have no respect for them. And I believe I am entitled to my opinion. As I said, I have no problem these morons sharing their view. But all I am asking for, that the slot available for Thought for the day, should be shared amongst all delusions – christianity, islam, hinduism, pastafarians, teapotists, harrypotterist, goths, vampire fanatics, lord of the rings nerds, startwars geeks and also with us, those of us who do not believe in any of those delusions – rationalists/atheists/brights. In fact, we want to share our platform with everyone and let the best ideas win. And I am confident that without the backing of the wealthy & the powerful, the religious world view would be defeated at the hands of scientific world view every single time.

    All we ask for is a fair share of time slot. Nothing more, nothing less.

  31. It would be interesting to know if they include Buddhists on their show.  If so, it’s somewhat of a contradiction since buddhism is a godless religion.

  32. Kbala – have you considered that you may be sharing some delusions?

    Despite making it clear in every post that I have no religion – you give me one (even if you are not quite sure what it is …). Despite me saying I want ‘thoughts’ but  no god slot (without a ban on non-atheists) you  apparently say not because these people are all morons (you didn’t answer on misogony, paedophilia or bigotry).

    Well Newton was pretty Godly. But I would love to listen to him (if BBC archives went back that far) on the misuse of Calculus in economic reporting. Would make a terrific secular thought for the day. You would turn that moron off would you?

    You may notice in some respects I’m more extreme than you. I don’t want a fair share of that religious slot. I just think a religious slot should not be there. And it is in the BBC’s longer term interest that it goes. 

    Bathwater and babies is the essence of my arguement …

  33. RationalConclusion 
    Yes they do. Indeed over the years the slot has changed from being an overtly christian mini-sermon to being shared out in very much the composition in the country. Many of the slots are now indeed secular in nature – just happening to be delivered by a religious person.The old lags (which is why I have mentioned Lionel blue as an example) rarely touch on religion at all and actually show the benefit of having a ‘secular thought for the day’. However there are some who find it difficult to talk to a varied audience without either explaining their religion or defending it. This is  one difficulty. The other is the ban on atheists because they cannot give a religious flavour to the topic. Whilst on the other hand one suspects the producers are giving the religionists a push to follow Lionel into the secular world.

    A classic British fudge which satisfies no one.

  34. Well, at last this bugbear of mine rears its head again – I put something on a post about a year ago about it ………   and feel the need to do so once more!

    There should not be a Thought for the Day on Radio 4.  Some good reasons have been outlined by others.  It gives a highlighted voice to religious nonsense –  I actually feel embarrassed by it, and the BBC should be embarrassed by it.

    Am I the only person who has to turn it off every morning to avoid getting wound up?

  35.  I suppose I will simply have to take my thoughts for the day from BBC Open University programmes, and leave the deluded ramblings to the deluded ramblers!

  36. I keep hoping they’ll change their policy and include atheists, secular humanists etc, but if a religoid is the one making the decision it’s no wonder they won’t.

    Maybe we should campaign for ‘Beyond Belief’ to live up to its title? That’s a full program, and it’s not even broadcast on a Sunday!

  37. Atheism is a lack of beliefs so perhaps it is correct to not open it up on that basis. However humanists and secularists do have beliefs, just ones which are not guided by the supernatural, and they *should* be permitted to offer thoughts. It may be that such thoughts are guided by atheistic principles, but so what?

  38. Let the baby have its bottle. 2 minutes 45 seconds out of a 24 hour broadcasting period doesn’t suggest to me that the militant wing of the Church of England has staged a coup d’état on the offices of Radio 4. Besides, my radio has a volume control, which works just as effectively on Thought for the Day as it does when the opening music to the Archers kicks in or whenever Melvyn Bragg comes on.

    The God Slot has long been regarded by many aficionados of the 3-hour Today Programme as the moment when they get to visit the lavatory or make some toast. If intelligent, non-believing types are invited to participate, how long will it be before emergency rooms up and down the land become overrun with middle class white people whose kidneys have exploded?

    I really don’t see what the problem is with this. Are there people here whose grip on their own worldview is so tenuous that a 3-minute programme on a radio station they’re not compelled to listen to has them contemplating assembling a mob and descending, lighted torches in hand, on Broadcasting House?

    Besides, if you think Thought for the Day is moronic, you should try listening to Fearne Cotton on radio 1. A few minutes of that and your brain will soon be trying to garrotte itself with your own spinal column.

  39. Meh. If it’s a religion slot, it’s their prerogative, as long as they do not try to pass it as something that it’s not. I certainly wouldn’t have them getting shoe-horned into a serious science show, for ‘equality’ purposes. 

  40. Yes, it is called “Thought for the Day”, which does not imply that it is closed to non-faith thinkers. Perhaps it should be renamed “Irrational Though for the Day” to make it clear. Until this is done it is blatantly misleading.

    Normally it is indeed fairly mindless, but occasionally we get rather unpleasant comments – I tend to notice the homophobic ones. Some of the regular participants seem to be deeply unpleasant people.

    Being in the middle of the otherwise informative flagship news programme, it is hard to disregard it. I think it is close to the peak audience period for the entire network, so is not so inconsequential as people make out.

  41. Indeed, it is not inconsequential and, for early risers, there is a slot Prayer for the Day before 6 am.  Nobody has yet mentioned this one!
    Further to my last post, I really object to having the flagship BBC radio station, which has the byline Intelligent Speech, giving any sort of credence to ‘prayer’ – what place does such nonsense have in this context?

  42. There is a principle of fairness being broken by a corporation that is funded by all television owners in the UK, which includes BBC radio.

    If this ‘religious thought for the day’ moment was part of a ‘religious’ programme, very little could be said about it, but it is part of a current affairs programme. Given that a large portion of the UK’s licence paying public have no affiliation to any religion, shouldn’t the ‘thought for today’ include a view in line with those fee payers? I don’t even understand what the debate has to do with Aquil Ahmed, BBC Head of Religion and Ethics, the Today programme is outside his remit, Helen Boaden is director of News, whic covers the Radio4 flagship ‘Today’ programme.… 

    The BBC and Aquil Ahmed is disregarding its own guidelines in this case, here is just one that I believe is being flaunted.

    4.2.4: We are committed to reflecting a wide range of opinion across our output as a whole and over an appropriate timeframe so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under-represented.

    It seems pretty clear to me that this is not the case with ‘thought’ for the day.… 

  43. Each to their own, to me I think it’s no different to going to church. I personally would not waste my time doing such a thing but if they have their own religious show, as long as they are not attacking anyone else’s points of view or imposing their beliefs on others I say leave them to it.

    The last thing we need is to lower our standards and have a go at them or impose ourselves on them for no reason. That would make us as bad as fundamental religious extremists and it would not look good when trying to win people onto the side of science and reason. I am not saying we shouldn’t do everything in our power to battle extremists though….that is another matter altogether! 

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