Christopher Smith wonders whether we might all soon be in Dan Walker’s shoes
How wonderful it is that we have arrived in Eastertide once more. Now we can tuck into those cup-cakes that we were given at the railway station at Leicester, and anything else that our Lenten discipline prohibited. Once again we proclaim ‘Alleluia’ in the liturgy, and the scripture readings at mass speak to us of the confident assertions of the first Christians that the Lord had indeed risen from the dead. What a relief that all that post-war guff about the Resurrection not really having happened except in the over-active imaginations of the disciples has run its course.
There is a well-known quotation from C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity to the effect that Jesus was either Son of God, or he must have been a lunatic ‘on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg’, or if not a lunatic, then a devil. Jesus again and again makes claims that must have shocked those who heard them at the time: claims that put him on a level with his Father. The theologian A. M. Hunter thought that the greatest of those claims was made at the institution of the Eucharist: this is the New Covenant in my Blood. No mere mortal, except a lunatic, would make such a claim. And I wonder whether perhaps C. S. Lewis was influenced in his comments by the nineteenth-century Scottish theologian John Duncan – ‘Rabbi’ Duncan – who wrote that ‘Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or he was himself deluded, or he was divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma’.
It perhaps does us no harm to be aware of the scale of what we have taken on. We have thrown in our lot with someone who made such outrageous claims that the authorities had him killed as a common criminal. We have thrown in our lot with someone whose followers subsequently claimed had risen from the dead, and not only risen from the dead but returned to heaven and sent his Spirit to continue his work among them. We have thrown in our lot with someone who claims to be the resurrection and the life.
That’s ok, isn’t it? We can still do that in this country, can’t we? Well, yes we can – but we might look with some alarm at the recent brouhaha over the promotion of a sports journalist to the exalted role of presenter of a TV programme called BBC Breakfast. I only ever put the telly on first thing in the morning if England are playing cricket on the other side of the world; but I gather BBC Breakfast has very respectable viewing figures, and is a chatty, newsy start to the day for many people.
The name of the presenter in question is Dan Walker, and the reason for the clamour was not over whether he is any good as a broadcaster (a matter on which I am in no position to comment), but on his religious beliefs. He is a Baptist, and the son of a minister. When his appointment was made public in mid-February, The Times ran a story in which they accused (I use the word advisedly) him of being à creationist’. That nugget of information had arrived at the newspaper courtesy of a BBC spokesman, but no further information was given – and it strikes me as highly likely that nobody pontificating publically on all this knows the truth about Mr Walker’s private understanding of exactly how God made the world. It is entirely possible that he has a literalist understanding of the creation story in Genesis 1 – many people do – or it may be that he sees it as more metaphorical but revealing important truths about God’s action in creation.
But it matters that a number of pundits have seen this half-baked ‘revelation’ as an excuse to write articles which matter not only for Mr Walker, but also for you and me. Take the particularly snide piece in The Guardian: ‘It’s tricky to trust a presenter who feels God got him the job: Dan Walker has a right to his beliefs, but someone who reads the news must distinguish between fact and fiction.’ So: he has a right to ‘his beliefs’, but only if he doesn’t take a job where he might be imparting information to others. What does that include? Teaching? Advising clients as a lawyer? Being a doctor? Pretty much anything professional, I’d have thought. Clearly, he can’t be a journalist, where the difference between fact and fiction is so jealously guarded! Maybe the writer of the piece, one Catherine Bennett, would only be happy if Mr Walker were stacking shelves in a supermarket: but not, of course, responding to enquiries from shoppers. There was an equally sneering piece in The Daily Telegraph, and The Mirror has now triumphantly pronounced that Mr Walker ‘looked uncomfortable’ during a discussion on his programme about fossils, although the footage attached to the article on the paper’s website does not bear out their accusation.
This matters to the rest of us not merely because Dan Walker seems like a nice guy who is, in effect, being persecuted for his faith. It matters because we are all only one small step from being on the receiving end of this sort of vitriol. We are rejoicing in the event that is the logical consequence of the Incarnation: victory over death. We are rejoicing because God has not only created us, but also redeemed us. We are rejoicing because God Incarnate has risen from the dead – truly risen, for ‘if Christ be not risen, our faith hath been in vain’. One of these days, we too might have to defend that belief against a hostile world. ND