OMG – Stephen Nolan is an atheist!


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It’s not often I feel sorry for Stephen Nolan –  I more often feel sorrier for his interviewees  – but I do this morning. Why is that, Virginia? He’s been forced to say he’s sorry when he shouldn’t have been.

No,  not because he’s fallen off the diet-waggon again. Not because he shouted at Vinnie and Vinnie planted one on him.  It’s because he’s revealed he’s an atheist.

Yes I do say, Virginia.  It appears that on Easter Monday, while talking to a Tyrone missionary called Maud, he said “I don’t believe in God”.  Maud told him “That jeopardises your ability to chair this discussion neutrally”. Maud went on to say she sees gay issues being raised and she’s offended that they’re chaired by a man who doesn’t believe in God. Nolan said “It was a mistake. I shouldn’t have done it”. Apparently BBC guidelines on impartiality say presenters “may not express personal views in BBC output”.

Pass me the smelling salts. I’ll concede that there are those who think the  BBC is biased. During the Scottish referendum, they were massed outside the BBC protesting at its anti-independence coverage.  But to be forced to apologise for being an atheist?

Try it on the other foot: supposing he’d had to apologise for being a Christian. Or a Jew. Or a Muslim. There’d have been unholy hell raised.  But because he says he’s an atheist, he’s seen as being biased.

Well here’s the thing: he has to be something. An atheist, an agnostic, a Seventh Day Adventist, a devil-worshipper,  a Christian.  Following logically on the caller’s complaint, being any of those would make Nolan biased. Was there ever such tripe?

Everybody has to be something. There are no blank slates, except you’re unconscious. The question is not Nolan’s atheism; the question is how that affects his chairing of discussions. And the answer is, not at all. Or rather, not necessarily at all. If he were a Christian, presumably Maud would have been happy with that. But wouldn’t that have meant, by her argument, that Nolan would be biased in favour of Christianity?  Maud’s argument would drive all presenters into having no views of any kind on anything, and that’s an impossibility, even for the dimmest of them.

No, Maud, bias comes in other forms. Bias comes in language which talks about “the British Isles”. Bias comes in reference to “The Province”. Bias comes in the name Radio Ulster, when in fact the station serves only those in the six north-eastern counties.  Bias comes in the events that aren’t covered (hello Feile An Phobal) and the little NI map like an island that introduces programmes. Bias comes, or perhaps more accurately came in the disproportionate coverage of the Orange marches on The Twelfth, when the BBC’s top man sat with the Orange Order’s top man, having lunch and watching the brethren go banging past. Bias comes in forcing all TV presenters  to wear a poppy on air.

So Stephen, don’t apologise for your atheism. You’re entitled to your beliefs about the nature of human existence, just as Maud or anyone else is entitled to their belief in Christianity or any other faith/religion. That doesn’t make any presenter biased. You can chair a meeting of opposites without throwing your weight behind either and you don’t have to be a blank slate to do so, for the very good reason that you can’t be a blank slate. Shock/horror and hold the front page: Stephen Nolan is a human being.

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16 Responses to OMG – Stephen Nolan is an atheist!

  1. Cushy Glen May 5, 2015 at 8:25 am #

    Of course an interviewer can’t avoid personal bias. My issue with the BBC is that it pretends to be neutral when it’s often fairly easy to perceive an interviewers bias.
    Nolan was just being honest. Lets have more of it instead of this play acting and practiced public deceit.

  2. Francis May 5, 2015 at 8:48 am #

    “The biggest show in the countreee, the Stee-van-no-lan show”….Impartiality in a fractious post conflict society?! Norn Iron isn’t a wee country, as Nolan and his large ego might wish to aggressively promote…National question aside, as ego maniacs go, he competes with the best of them.
    William Crawley a few months ago had Jeffrey Donaldson on. They were discussing the latest attacks in immigrants here by loyalists. Donaldson commendably stood up for the Polish family in question, citing their involvement with the allies in the War effort.
    Donaldson affirmed his planter roots, to which Crawley, uncharacteristically let his unbiased guard down, and warmly affirmed his. Forefathers firmly rooted, Donaldson asserted, that like the Poles, the planters also had faced…wait for it,- “Prejudice” when they first moved to “Northern Ireland”!!!…I nearly crashed the car laughing so much. Straining to hear if Crawley would deconstruct this manifold absurdity through my irrepressible mirth, I caught only that they congenially bumbled on as all was right with things, and truths, facts and perspectives, were all were they should be that fine day….Political satire it was not, but tears were dripping from me with laughter at this brazen consensus betwixt the twain of them…..I like Crawley,-he has opinions and roots to, but I find him generally a fair and decent fella. Put two modern Planters in a room together though, and ye’d need to get the tree surgeons in….after Donaldson’s comparison with those East of the Bann with the Poles, I searched frantically for something I could say apt to Jeffrey in the “hamely tongue” so he’d understand…whats Ulster Scots for “Yer Arse”?

    • Cushy Glen May 5, 2015 at 11:48 am #

      Francis, tell me who are these ‘Planters’ you refer to?

  3. paddykool May 5, 2015 at 9:25 am #

    Yes , Jude, I remember writing a piece about this last year sometime.I found it refreshing to discover that Mr Nolan had no religious affiliation.Many out there profess to have one but have trouble either living up to its tenets or find that they don’t actually fit into the modern world.He said that he didn’t “get” religion …Mind you he said , in conversation with Clive James , that he didn’t “get” poetry either . I think that he doesn’t really “get ” many cultural things like music, either, but he’s not really on his own in that either and his life is such that his career consumes every part of his time , every day and night of the week.He mightn’t even bother to think of these things as his life is full to the brim, already.
    Why shouldn’t he not believe in god? A belief in god should be a private affair anyway.Problems are raised when people want to “convert” or otherwise spread these personal beliefs in quarters where they are not wanted …like when political parties are driven by something like the Caleb Foundation as the DUP appear to be and where religious , moral doctrines bleed into the politics as happens when people begin to talk about “souls” and the sanctity of the same.Faith is not a logical thing anyway.To believe in god does not require a reason .It is more of a personal need for some.A gathering of like-minded people huddled for succour.
    In a divided place like Norneverland , which can only become even more complex with newer beliefs and novel immigrant cultures entering the social arena every year, what better person to act as chairman than someone outside all these beliefs who can act as ringmaster in an unbiased way.

  4. sherdy May 5, 2015 at 9:46 am #

    Was Nolan born an atheist or is it something he believes in, or maybe the DUP would suggest he made a lifestyle choice?
    Maud thought he couldn’t be impartial discussing Christian matters as he is not a believer, but if you extrapolate her thinking:
    If the subject matter is politics you would have to be a politician. But then you might be the supporter of a party not in the discussion.
    If you were discussing sport you would have to be a sportsman/woman, but if you were a footballer you couldn’t discuss golf.
    Poor Maud in her innocence!
    But was she onto something when she complained about the number of stories Nolan does on gays, LGBT etc?
    I cannot say if she knows something about Stephen’s other beliefs/lifestyle choices and proclivities, but her comment seemed rather pointed, and I had myself that he does seem to have a fixation on this subject, airing it on any possible occasion.
    As you said in a post last week Jude, I don’t know, but I’m just publicly wondering.
    As to the BBC policy on views and beliefs, would Nolan have been safe from the censors had he declared himself to be a lapsed atheist?

    • paddykool May 5, 2015 at 11:20 am #

      I would say, Sherdy…that everyone is born an atheist. All that religious stuff comes after the “Great Event ” of your birthing and the form it takes depends on which family you are born into and possibly which part of the world you might pop out in. If you were born into a family of aborigines in Australia or maybe to a family in North Africa, you might have a different education to someone born into a family of New Age pagans living on a farm somewhere in Cork or Wales.

  5. Iolar May 5, 2015 at 11:25 am #

    “I don’t believe it?”

    An atheist is someone who disbelieves in every form of deity, not just the God of traditional Western theology.

    The agnostic says,
    “I don’t have knowledge that God exists.”

    The atheist says,
    “I don’t have a belief that God exists.”

    And now, here is the news…

    A fresh tremor of magnitude 4.0 on Tuesday jolted the quake-hit Nepal, where the death toll from the April 25 deadly temblor has risen to over 7,500…

    More than 5,800 migrants have been rescued and 10 bodies recovered off the Libyan coast over the weekend…At least 1,750 people have died this year trying to cross the Mediterranean, a 20-fold increase on the same period in 2014 when 96 people died…

    The Palestinian population is subjected to fixed and mobile checkpoints, watchtowers, searches and roadblocks on a daily basis. Coming on top of this is the expansion of settlements in the area – considered illegal under International Human Law but under the protection of the Israeli army…

    300 Yazidi hostages executed in Iraq…

    Such ‘news’ items raise significant questions. Why do natural disasters occur in many of the most economically deprived areas throughout the world? What is the real link between wealth concentrated in a few hands and underdeveloped third world countries? Famine and drought are facts of life for many on the continent of Africa while at the same time there appears to be no shortage of weapons and munitions? Arms manufacturers continue to make vast profits from ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the north of Ireland we squander a vast fortune on the annual marching season.

    God’s will?

    • Francis May 5, 2015 at 10:51 pm #

      An insightful assessment indeed lolar, and one more refreshing than the sideshow of distractions in the form of the enfolding Royals’ lineage. Its a sad place where our priorities become so misshapen by bullshit in many forms. All of the above miseries you cite could be stopped. Mankind determines actions on this planet methinks, and interventionist deities if extant, are asleep perhaps at the wheel.

  6. neill May 5, 2015 at 11:26 am #

    Francis put two modern Ulster Gaelic inhabitants in a room together though, and ye’d get a great mopefest…wouldn’t you agree…?

    • Ceannaire May 5, 2015 at 2:54 pm #

      No, Neill, you’d get a split. 🙂

      • neill May 5, 2015 at 7:23 pm #

        Have to say that made me laugh Ceannair!

      • Francis May 6, 2015 at 12:19 am #

        Ceannaire,! No they wouldn’t!……Remember Orr

  7. Perkin Warbeck May 5, 2015 at 2:33 pm #

    One was always under the impression, Esteemed Blogmeister, that the main reason why broadcasters, both broad and narrow, are paid such morbidly obese sums of moolah was to ensure they managed to keep their own private opinions out of the public domain.

    Hence their Popeye-muscled forearms to be seen wheeling their wheelbarrow loads of gosh-provoking dosh home through streets broad and narrow.

    This was to ensure broadcasters remained as neutral or as blind as both a soccer referee and commentator combined. For their role on the radio / TV combines the elements of both functions, featuring as it does the whistle of a ref and the facile ability to bristle of a commentator.

    Alas, down here in the Free Southern Stateen, the vast bulk of broadcasters, including those who are not of a vast bulk, are graduates of a particular school of commentating named in tribute of a fellow who once directed a movie in Kilmainham Jail.

    That would be the Marty Feldman School of Commentating. In an acclaimed spoof radio sketch, Marty of the bulbous and misaligned eyes, once commentated on an imaginary game of soccer, oops, football, between England and some non-English team.

    The referee was described by the artful Marty as a ‘fine neutral specimen of strapping youngish Swiss manhood’ as he tooted on his fluteen to commence the game. Alas, things did not quite go to plan. And as the game went from bad to worse for England, with the concession of goal after goal to the opposition, so too did the terms of endearment used to describe the referee deteriorate, accordingly.

    From being a neutral Swiss to a biased Swiss-German to a prejudiced prat of Prussian descent to being a bought Kraut before finally morphing into the hun and spawn of Hitler himself.

    In sporting terms in the FSS one is no so much thinking of GAA commentators like another Marty, oddly enough, indeed, very oddly enough, as in Morrissey where the odds on bringing predisposition to the table are 32 to 1, leaving the endemic anti-Dubs bias aside for the moment

    Rather is it in the twin sports of soccer football and rugby football where the Irish commentators have the, erm, Feldman all to themselves.

    But, of course this phenom is not just confined to the field of sport but is also to be observed in the less politically charged arena of politics and current affairs..

    Take Joe Duffy, for example. (Please do: take one Joe D, and you get one Joe D. free). Kilmainham Jail (see above) has already been namechecked in relation to a Marty-made movie, ‘The Last Remake of Beau Geste’ in which incidentally the part of Crumble the Butler was played by S. Milligan, Uasal.

    The Bould Joe D, that Nabob of Neutrality, is currently involved in a project thingy not entirely unrelated to another loaded episode involving KJ in which James Connolly had a wheel-on part.

    This noble project has involved the already over-worked Joe in single-handedly and heroically researching the names of all those hitherto unnumbered and unnamed children whose lives were abruptly concluded during the ‘mayhem’ of Easter 1916.

    ‘Mayhem’ is a daaarling word, Joxer, and a word used as recently as today at lunchtime on RTE itself (where curiously Joe of the Joxer Accent is employed in the wheelbarrow department). This occurred in a report on a mass (no mistake, a mass and in a RC church in Ringsend) by the Rev J. Duffy to commemorate those tragic children of that parish who perished in the ‘mayhem’.

    Now, there are those inevitable curmudgeons who are claiming that this is but a rather subtle attempt by RTE to subliminally link SF and RC with the Vale of Tears in AVOCA (A Victim of Child Abuse).

    Not so, way off the mark. For even at this moment in t., going forward Perkie’s inner listener to both fish and rumour mongers, can almost categorically state that the Nabob of Neutrality (see above) is already immersed in carrying out a similar audit of all those delightful Turkish children who perished during the Dub-influenced debacle of the Dardanelles.

    The only loose end to be tied up is the hiring of the Blue Mosque itself in Istanbul, where seeminfgly rather stringent terms and c’s apply.

    To conclude with the briefest of refs to last Sunday’s must-listen Dame Dosh Finucane show. Listen up, we were urged, so naturally Perkie’s inner knob turning wireless buff, listened in to catch La Finucane’s professional and un-Feldman like take on THE royal story of the week end.

    Alas,never was the counting of K-fried chickens ever so misplaced. Plenty of course about some unknown and unnamed leanbh /baby delivered in a London materniy hospital. Hearing the mention of royalty somewhere along the way Perkie mistakenly imagined that maybe a Siamese singleton had been born to the Queen of Siam or something remotely newsworthy like that, but no.

    Instead,the devout listenership was treated to a full half an hour of the professional Lady Broad Caster protesting that ‘she/we Irish are not really interested in all this hoo-hah and – her witty catchphrase – ‘so on and so forth, don’t you know’.

    Thirty valuable tax funded minutes which might have scratched the surface of the fabulous career of a member of real royalty and who had just passed over (to be passed over). Instead not a dicky b.

    When Ben E. King (for it is he !) sang:

    When the night has come
    And the land is dark
    And the moon in the only light we have’

    he was not strictly accurate but may be forgiven on artistic grounds, superb artist that he was. For indeed if he had ever come to Dublin he would have known that the brightest lights / na soilse is gile to be seen when the land is dark are the mega rear reflectors on the wheelbarow of Dame D.Finucane.

    So they are.

    • Jude Collins May 5, 2015 at 6:06 pm #

      If you had said even your last three words, Mighty Perk, your posting would have been once more superb. So it would.

      • Perkin Warbeck May 6, 2015 at 8:19 am #

        GRMA aris, Esteemed Blogmeister.

        PS Rumours are rife and title-tattle are husband and wife down here in the ROI / French for King that an announcement is imminent regarding your Esteemed Blog.

        That it is about to receive the highly regarded Rhythm Stick Award !

        This is a bauble which is within the gift of Charlie ‘Je suis Charles’ Flanagan, Foreign Minister of the Free Southern to bestow and it is a gesture, indeed, un Beau Geste lui meme which is never undertaken lightly.

        Or, forsooth, without profound prior cogitation by our cerebral minister. who is palsy walsy with cerebral celebrities from the deserts of Sudan to the gardens of Japan and from Milan to Yucatan.

        The bauble is entitled the Rhythm Stick Award for the same identical reason that the current incumbent was appointed Foreign Minister of the Free Southern Stateen in the first place. It dates back to the the fun Fine Gael guy’s habit of making a ‘Je Suis Charlie’ of himself with his party piece at his Party’s annual knees up.

        Hit me with your rhythm stick, hit me, hit me
        Je t’adore, ich liebe dich, hit me, hit me, hit me
        Hit me with your rhythm stick, hit me slowly, hit me quick
        Hit me with your rhythm stick.

        While the TD from the Queen’s County’s frenzied performance both brought the house down and afforded a rare opportunity to the Prime Minister’s inner adolescent to relive his teenage kicks these factors alone were not sufficient to ensure the performer’s promotion.

        What ultimately tilted things in his favour were the grasp of foreign languages (see above) and his familiarity with geography (see below) on display, twin requisites for this globally significant gig.

        In the wilds of Borneo and the vineyards of Bordeaux
        Eskimoes and Arapaho move their bodies to and fro.

        To say that the hush-puppy pro-Brit blueblousy gals of Fine Gael were driven to a tush-push performance never before witnessed Cois Life/ Liffeyside by the rhythm stick Mountmellick man’s fruity booty tour de forcey, is to overwhelm the concept of understatement..

        Das ist gut, c’est fantastique
        Hit me with your rhythm stick
        It;s nice to be a lunatic.

        One’s reader of a particular vintage will recognise the lyrics as being the work of the incomparable Ian Dury. Now, while the jury may well be out on the musical merits of the man from the Clapham omnibus, one can count out Perkie’s inner perwigged judge. His verdict hands down the right of Ian Dury to wear the ID of authentic genius, albeit posthumously.

        It is perhaps the only question on which PW and CF are (gulp) ad idem. Or, to phrase it differently, on the q. of the rhythm stick, like two fat ladies, they click, click, click.

        Otherwise, mo lean/ alas, there is a yawning, Tanaiste-like gulf. Certainly on the impending bestowal of the Rhythm Stick Award on the Esteemed Blog,there is a discernible differ.

        While Perkie and other blogtrotters of his acqaintance (for unofficial eyes only) look upon the said EB as being the go-to blog as the escape exit de rigeur from the shovel-ready cliches of the kept commentariat and purchased press of the FSS, Charlie ‘Je Suis Charles’ Flanagan would tend to take a more Blockheaded, oops, hardheaded view of same.

        This view becomes a native of the Queen’s County whose DNA combines both a county gansey of Duchess of Cambridge blue and a true-blue view of the Six Counties as being identical with the Past: a foreign country.

        C’est ci bon, non? Ist est nicht?

        Thus, while the Foreign Minister manages to keep the eye alert on far flung places like the dock of Tiger Bay (not to be confused with Dr Tony O’Reilly, the quack doc of the Celtic Tiger), the road to Mandalay, on Bombay and Sante Fe and over the hills to Far Away, nonetheless his priority has been and will always continue to be, the Abroadness of Norneverland.

        So, comhghairdeas / congratulations in advance, Esteemed Blogmeister: grab the Rhythm Stick with both hands and long may you continue to bate the be-haysus out of the Latter Day Saintood of the Stickies, the Stoops and the Staters.

        Even if that is not the purpose for which the bauble was awarded. Or, maybe, even because. Nar laga Dia do lamh, lamh an drumadora.

        PS While title tattle are husband and wife (see above, top shelf) , at this moment in t., going forward, it is widely anticipated they will be wife and wife after the Referendum de dum to come.

  8. Pointis May 5, 2015 at 3:30 pm #

    I was just wondering how prevalent these extreme right wing evangelical views are in the North when I stumbled across this on youtube about a school in Banbridge which allegedly allowed these views to be expressed at their assembly.

    It is quite depressing if this is true that these things are used to indoctrinate young minds into Sectarianism, Islamophobia and homophobia.

    Is it possible that it is so deeply ingrained into the fabric of some faith groups that it forms part of their belief system?