By Dane Neufeld
CBC Radio annoys and agitates me on a deep level almost daily, and yet I continue to listen. Why would a conservative, traditional Christian spend his long travelling hours with a media outlet that is both the fount and basin of secular ideology in our country? The reason is pretty simple: It is the best radio out there. There are no commercials! The hosts speak with normal voices, not the high, nasally, irritating tones of pop radio. There is a great variety of interesting and thoughtful programming that deals with many big issues of the day.
Ideas, the high point of this programming, engages the work of world-renowned scholars and local PhD students. Radio 2 plays the best music that our civilization and others have produced from any era, and it never fails to astonish me that it is the CBC and not local Christian radio stations that keep traditional Christian music (choral, classical, or gospel) on our airways. Perhaps CBC radio’s greatest contribution to our national life has been its role in connecting a sparsely populated country across an enormous land with a keen eye to local contexts and the realities that connect one place to another.
Yet for all these virtues, a conservative Christian will have to weather many subtle forms of scorn, belittlement, and mockery, either from the hosts or the guests they pander to. I have sworn many times I would never turn it on again, but even a brief exposure to the alternatives usually brings me back. There is no greater measure and gauge for the mind of our culture and country than CBC, which, for all its claims to diversity in programming, tends to live increasingly within a very narrow spiritual and moral range: the past was bigoted and judgmental, and history is about the gradual elimination of all forms of exclusion. To the degree this single idea represents the views of educated Canadians, it is difficult to turn it off, and I suppose one could argue that Christians should be conversant with the dominant ideas of their culture.
But there is some risk involved in this exposure, however difficult it may be to measure. In some sense CBC has a moral and spiritual vision of reality, one that is seldom discussed or examined, but that no doubt informs the judgments and decisions of its producers and programmers. The Jian Ghomeshi scandal was a devastating blow to this moral vision; no one on the CBC represented its inclusive and pluralistic ideology with as much style, passion, and conviction as Ghomeshi. His popularity in Canada was almost without parallel. For the years that he was in ascension he was quoted in countless sermons across our country by young preachers hoping to emulate his sharp cultural engagement and his intense personal style. (For what it’s worth, Christians of all people should be quick to realize that the moral fall of a prominent figure does not discredit all that he represents)
Listening to the CBC does represent a risk to the Christian mind, not only because it relentlessly advances and bludgeons the listener with its one moral idea, but because it represents a contemporary style of intelligent, cultured intellectual engagement that supplants or diminishes the alternatives. In some ways it has painted the portrait of the sophisticated and intellectually authentic Canadian modern man or woman. As C.S. Lewis’s Demon Wormwood predicts about the new Christian convert caught between ‘sophisticated society’ and his Christian vocation: “He will be silent when he ought to speak and laugh when he ought to be silent. He will assume…all sorts cynical and skeptical attitudes which are not really his.” (The Screwtape Letters: Chapter 10). This form of double mindedness effects the contemporary Church in powerful ways that we are still struggling to understand.
Where would the average Christian reader or listener find edifying alternative examples of intelligent commentary on Canadian life and values? The options are few: the National Post has certainly become an important voice for free speech, but not exactly Christian, nor is that the intent. The sudden rise of Jordan Peterson has undoubtedly been a reaction to the monochrome voice of Canadian government and the CBC. I imagine many people are thinking the same thing: finally, a credentialed and intelligent person is providing some kind of alternative, though the exact nature of that alternative is not quite clear to me.
Various reactions aside, CBC Radio remains the dominant public voice in our homes, in our vehicles, and on our phones; it is the place where contemporary issues are arbitrated and discussed and it has come to model the very form of this engagement. One wonders how many Anglican bishops and clergy have passed idle hours imagining themselves as guests on Q or As it Happens, winsomely presenting Christianity to its cultured despisers. A very real example of this occurred after General Synod 2016, when Primate Fred Hiltz gave an interview to Susan Bonner, who concluded with a question designed to skewer the national leader right then and there: Is there homophobia in the Anglican Church of Canada? His reply was brief. What could he have said that would have made any sense in the moral universe of the CBC, in which homophobia and traditional views of marriage are synonymous?
For all its pretensions to seriousness, CBC Radio is not the forum for grappling with the fundamental questions of life, at least from perspectives other than its own (though Tapestry recently took a gleeful interest in an Anglican Druid priest from Saskatchewan). Which is fine in a way; it is just a radio network that represents certain interests and not others. The danger is that it depicts the elite and progressive values of our culture as though there is nothing else worth considering. Christians who are not skilled or interested in certain kinds of discernment may find themselves thinking that the Church exists to serve these values in straightforward and unreflective ways. Even worse, they may find themselves growing embarrassed and confused about the strange and obscure features of Christian faith that stand as its very foundation but would not present very well in the public forum that has come to shape many of our imaginations.
Indeed, the real concern is not the CBC at all but mainline churches, whose values and concerns are often indistinguishable from the public and prevailing morality of our nation. In Augustinian fashion, we should expect some overlap, but also stark differences both in form and substance. Though I believe that the Church needs to grow more skilled in articulating its convictions and beliefs within the murky shadow morality of modern secularism, I am still a Canadian with a deep love for this country. For this reason, I have no plans to switch the dial: CBC Radio represents our country with great breadth and precision, and though it often leaves me feeling cold, I took vows to serve the Church and the people in this land for the sake of the gospel. Surely as Christians we can endure a little public contempt without returning it in kind. Even more, if we are discerning, there are fewer media outlets that provide such rich territory for theological and pastoral thinking in a country that no longer, by default, believes in God.
Agreed. Excellent, as always, Dane. I remember someone saying to the assembly at a General Synod not so long ago that the Anglican Church of Canada is the CBC at prayer! Sigh.
Dane, you have clearly articulated what I have had as a gut feeling. I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but when I noticed that Mr. Ghomeshi could hardly go more than a day or two without talking about sex, I switched to the classical station.