A strange ostrich-like relationship

A couple of years ago, my dear friends Phil and Del introduced me to their game ‘World Cup’ in which you play off 16 (or, if you have a lot of time on your hands, 32) things in a single category against each other in a series of heats, the winner of each round being the one that is ‘best’.

The joy of the game is that the randomness of the order of play, the vagueness of the question ‘which is best?’ and the fact that a single category (especially one along the lines of ‘things you can do on a Saturday’) can yield completely different types of ‘team’, makes for a bonkers series of heats in which you might end up fiercely debating whether the Bishop of Hereford is better than Elgar’s house.

I mention it because the BBC Religion and Ethics team played the same game at their hideously named BBC RE:THINK 2012 Religion and Ethics Festival, in which they asked some young people ‘which is the most important moral issue?’ out of the following choices:

– Paying taxes
– Having religious faith or beliefs
– Caring for the environment
– Buying ethical products
– Being faithful to a partner
– Looking after family
– Playing a part in your community
– Putting others before yourself

To point out, as did the person who drew my attention to this, that having religious faith is not a moral choice, is almost to take the ‘poll’ too seriously (though if we’re going to question the category itself, I had never previously considered ‘paying taxes’ a moral question, or even really a choice…). The point is that to pull eight Cub Scout Guide Book chapter titles out of a hat and ask young people to choose between them is as pointless as debating ‘what is the best thing you can keep in a hat’.

Apart from anything else, it’s not even like they’re exclusive and distinct categories. Some people play a part in their community because they have religious beliefs, without first stopping to ponder which is more important to them, or whether what they’re doing is actually more in the line of putting others before themselves. In a game of ‘World Cup’ at my school last summer, Covent Garden was being hotly contested against the Build-a-Bear shop (the category being ‘places in London’): eventually, the boys gleefully decided that Covent Garden was better because it actually includes a Build-a-Bear shop. They, at least, realised that it was ridiculous, showing more wit than the BBC Religion and Ethics team. (The fact that it is a prominent Anglican choir school does not excuse this.)

Aaqil Ahmed, Head of Religion and Ethics at the Beeb, considers the results ‘startling’. I challenge you to find a single startling thing in the results. I challenge you even to be interested enough to look up what they were. The only startling thing is that anyone thought it was worth taking part in such a vacuous survey.

As for using the results to show that their shows need to have ‘impact and relevance’ – and then desperately citing a documentary I’ve never heard of and Thought For the bloody Day… A department which made a documentary about the burial business in 21st century Britain ought to know when they’re digging their own grave.

I leave you with a simple question. Which of these things could you most live without in 21st Century Britain?

– Festivals
– Surveys
– Television
– Cycle lanes
– The BBC Religion and Ethics department
– The Build-a-Bear shop

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