“WE ARE talking different languages. . . . If you’re a Christian, you’ve got a very clear idea of what sin is. . . But, if you’re not a Christian, it is different.”
Tim Farron’s interview for the Breakfast strand on Premier Christian Radio (Wednesday of last week) is worth listening to in full. The take-home headline was that he regretted saying during the 2017 General Election campaign that homosexual sex was not a sin (News, 28 April 2017); but the full 15-minute exchange is instructive for what it tells us about the near-impossibility of doing religion in British politics.
Mr Farron said that he was a “counter-cultural” Christian: he is an Evangelical of the Left, socially conservative, and politically liberal. One can sympathise with his frustration, but what many people will find objectionable is his appropriation of the Christian “language” in the service of one particular moral stance. At no point was it suggested that other Christians might hold other views regarding homosexuality, or, indeed, the nature of sin itself. Mr Farron’s lament over the impoverishment of religious discourse in the public sphere might be reasonable, but it is this sort of reductionism that exacerbates the problem.
We should not be too harsh: stick a microphone in front of anybody with a cause, and they are liable to overplay their hand. A textbook case was the performance of the psychotherapist Steve Pope on the World Service’s Newshour Extra (Friday). The topic was gaming addiction, and the panel included academics and industry bigwigs. But Mr Pope was the authentic voice of the counsellor who had seen the addiction at the sharp end; we heard from one of his patients, a promising young footballer, Jack, who had thrown it all away in his obsession for the video game Call of Duty. Benders lasting three days, peeing into plastic bottles — it is because of young men like Jack that the World Health Organization has designated gaming addiction as a distinct mental-health condition.
It was when Mr Pope started telling us that it is a greater problem even than gambling, alcohol, and drugs that he began to lose us. There is a fair amount of research out there, conducted by bodies such as the Oxford Internet Unit, which pours cooling water on to these incendiary claims. Then a representative from the gaming industry told us that, in fact, gaming was excellent in developing hand-eye co-ordination, cognitive skills, and even social confidence.
Dr Andrew Przybylski, of Oxford University, said that our instinctive bias in favour of real games — in the open air, with real people — over digital games has no rational basis, and is unsupported by current research . . . at which point this listener started feeling queasy. OK, so today’s game-obsessed youth might not all be micturating into unconventional vessels or conducting drive-by shootings, but surely fresh air is better than the imagined smell of some body-strewn virtual battleground.