A statue of George Orwell, who once worked for the BBC, was unveiled last year at Broadcasting House. The inscription behind it is a quote from Animal Farm:
“If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
George Orwell and his quote are the inspiration behind SELHuG’s campaign. We saw it as an opportunity to tell the BBC that they too need to hear a message they don’t like, namely that over half the people in this country don’t have a faith despite faith being entrenched in our national institutions, and that that number is growing.
Another unpopular message is that ethical behaviour does not flow from religion but from human behaviour and culture. Religion is one expression of that. Humanism is a parallel expression. They have shared the same discourse from the beginning of human contemplation of the big questions about the nature of the world, where meaning comes from and how we should live our lives.
Rabbi Lord Sacks made a powerful case for argument, debate and listening to dissenting views in his Thought for the Day about George Orwell’s statue and quote on 10 November 2017, ‘Truth emerges from disagreement and debate’:
“Why does it matter? Because truth emerges from disagreement and debate. Because tolerance means making space for difference. Because justice involves Audi alteram partem, listening to the other side. And because, in Orwell’s words, liberty means “the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
The BBC needs to bring religion out of the strange purdah of its ‘Religion & Ethics’ category and back into debate with non-religious perspectives. It will be much more interesting and relevant for everyone.