Some time ago the question of what constitutes a religion was raised. I don’t want to be too much of a presuppositionalist but it is apparent that one’s definition of religion is decided by the starting point of the enquiry; either a sociological or anthropological approach would have very different results from a theological. Within theology there are differing standpoints, a Calvinist will come to a very different conclusion from a hand wringing, never mind truth let’s all be friends, progressive “Christian.” There are so many approaches it is impossible to decide what is a religion and what is not.
The prize so far for most outré admission to the ranks of religions or belief systems to be protected by law, even more bizarre than Jedi, is a belief in public service broadcasting.
Mr Devan Maistry has been given permission by a Birmingham Tribunal to sue the BBC for wrongful dismissal on the grounds of age and belief discrimination. South African born Mr Maistry had worked for the BBC Asian Network for six years before being sacked. He now claims that during those six years he suffered from discrimination and has filed a claim for “religious or belief discrimination.”
His case rests on the belief that “public service broadcasting has the higher purpose of promoting cultural interchange and social cohesion.” He alleges that this belief led him to be treated unfairly by the BBC. How a public service broadcaster discriminated against one of its employees on the grounds that he believes in public service broadcasting is less than clear.
The interesting aspect of this incident is that the tribunal has accepted the case for adjudication. Pam Hughes chairman of the tribunal said: “The claimant had a genuine and strongly held belief in what I will describe in short as the higher purpose of public service broadcasting. It is clearly of great personal significance to him.”
This means the tribunal equates belief in the vaguely beneficial and well meaning with religion. This should not surprise us as another tribunal has already found in favour of someone with a belief in environmentalism and global warming.
The BBC’s lawyer Tariq Sadiq in defending the Corporation drew a comparison between the BBC and the NHS. He is reported as saying that, “A belief that the aim of the NHS should first and foremost be to look after the health and welfare of its patients could, if the claimant were correct, amount to belief for the purposes of the 2003 regulations but it would be absurd for that to be the case.”
There is a blind faith in the NHS amongst the general populace, cynically exploited by political parties; it reaches levels of belief the average churchgoer never attains. Criticise the NHS, the medical staff, and especially “our wonderful nurses” and you will meet not just disbelief but hostility.
Perhaps Nigel Lawson was correct when he remarked that the NHS was “the closest thing the English have to a religion.”
When a word can mean anything it means nothing.