Archive for the ‘spirituality’ Tag
Really enjoying working on this new project (Phase 1 launched yesterday, main site launches 13th September at http://www.4thought.tv) First C4 programme to have URL as a title. It was great to read this initial reaction in The Guardian as they clearly get the idea…
Channel 4 rescues the God slot
The new Channel 4 series of religious and ethical meditations breathes life into a stale format
If last night’s 4thought.tv is indicative of things to come, then there might yet be some hope for the God slots.
The new series of short films to be screened after Channel 4 News feature a single speaker who reflects on religious and ethical issues or aspects of their spiritual lives from their personal experience. Nothing particularly new there is would seem. But despite being considerably shorter, and generally more spacious with its script, it looks like being a lot grittier and down to earth than the platitudes which emerge during other pauses for thought such as Radio 4’s Thought for the Day.
The first offering to kick off the series was by Dr Gill Hicks, who lost her legs in the 7 July London bombings. In just a few powerful sentences, she reflected on her experience of God through those who helped her, but also the choice she felt she faced between life and death.
Usually God contributions are the preserve of the identifiably religious. Clergy, theologians, even thinktankers have been chosen as religious
“representatives”. This has predictably led to the debate about who should be “in” and who should be excluded from delivering their reflection, on the basis of whether their belief system is important, or relevant enough to qualify. With a few notable exceptions, the slots subsequently reflect back – in often bland monologue with a moral pay-off at the end – the values and perspectives of big religion.
It’s not the fault of the contributors so much as the way the slots are structured and the culture that surrounds them. Often devoid of attitude and original experience, the presentations can sound contrived, and meander aimlessly amidst the harder news output. Which is a shame, because space for reflection amongst the 24 hour news churn should be an important contrast to help the listener or viewer refocus and get a sense of perspective in a way that is accessible to all.
And there are many ways to do it if you are prepared to move beyond the old formula – as Channel 4 is now showing. In particular they seem to be reviving the idea of “testimony”. For their slot focuses on people’s lives and experiences as much as philosophical or doctrinal concepts. Gritty, difficult, uncomfortable issues and ideas that haven’t been packaged into a neat formula can emerge more easily when the focus is what has happened to a person, rather than a more abstract tradition of thought.
There is of course huge value in philosophy, theology and the wisdom that has developed over centuries. But there is merit too in stepping away from it, and listening to the experiences to those who would not immediately be identified as religious. In many ways it makes perfect sense. If you want a reflection on exclusion, then listen to the excluded. If you want to hear about poverty, then listen to those who live with it on a day to day basis. And if you want a new angle on the old, tired debate about whether God exists, and if so why there is so much suffering, then listen to someone who has survived the carnage of a bomb blast. They may just have some powerful and thought provoking reflections on whether God was there or not.
The first words I heard this Easter Monday morning were Allah Akbar. They blared their way at 5am across the fields from Jisr az-Zarqa, across the stream from which it takes its name (bridge over the blue [stream]), along the Roman aquaduct which flowed right down to Caesarea, and through the flower-lined streets of Bet Chananya where I am staying. In my half-sleep I lay wondering: What did God actually ask? Presumably he never mentioned electronic amplification in the Koran. I suppose he said something along the lines of get up high and call the faithful to prayer. No speakers. No microphone in the Holy Book I’m guessing. Just the human voice. So why the need to broadcast beyond the call of the human voice?
I’m just back from the streets of Jerusalem, from the Via Dolorosa to the Wailing Wall. On Good Friday I saw the faithful carrying wooden crosses into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, site of Calvary. It coincided with Passover this year and of course shortly after the resonant hour of three o’clock the Jewish Sabbath kicks in. At the hotel where I was staying the electric revolving door was switched off for the Sabbath and you had to push it around manually. The reason the electricity was switched off is because switching on electricity has been interpreted as constituting work. Presumably electricity doesn’t get a specific mention in the Torah. But you end up with your shoulder to the heavy revolving door doing the bovine work of pushing your way into your temporary crib. So interpretation ends up achieving the opposite of the spirit of the law.
And anyway, what’s that Orthodox Jew doing carrying two bulging plastic bags across the lobby on Sabbath afternoon? He’s not even supposed to carry money in his pocket – that’s work too apparently. In North-West London near where I live, the Orthodox Jewish community tried to or actually built a network of thin, high wires around certain streets of NW11 to create an ‘eruv’ which seemingly constitutes some kind of enclosure which would permit Orthodox Jews to have money in their pocket or push a pram on the Sabbath within its near-invisible confines. Religions have this habit of finding ways and interpretations to get round their own rules.
Heading West to Holland Park you’ll find the sumptuous Arab Hall in newly restored and just reopened (yesterday) Leighton House, home of the prominent Victorian painter Frederic, Lord Leighton. He was a keen collector of Isnik and other Islamic tiles. On the walls of the Arab Hall, setting off its central fountain and latticed windows, are tiles depicting birds and natural beauty. But Muslims, like Jews (and technically Christians), are forbidden from creating “graven images”. It’s right up there as rule/Commandmant No. 2: “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath”. So birds are a no-no. Look carefully at the tiles though and you’ll see a line has been scored across their necks in the glaze. Apparently that gets you off the hook with God.
So there’s the spirit of religion on the one hand, and the question of human interpretation and institution on the other hand; there’s the human voice and the cycle of work and rest, and there’s contemporary applications of religious rules and the predominance of the letter of the law or the interpretation thereof over the spirit of the law.
A few days ago – ironically on St Patrick’s Day – on Radio 5 I heard Steven Nolan interviewing a certain Monsignor Dooley, a senior representative of the Irish Catholic Church. He asked him whether he would report a priest to the police if he knew he was abusing a child. His reply was that he had no legal duty to do so …nor, indeed, any moral duty. This was from a close colleague of the churchman who was reading out that very day in Armagh Cathedral the Pope’s apology for the abusive and deviant behaviour of his Church in Ireland – the apology which ended up with a call on the (increasingly appalled) Irish Catholic congregation to do a year’s peninence for the sins of… of whom … of the representatives of the Pope’s rotten institution in their country.
In some religions to become a priest or community leader you have to be married, preferably with a family. The Catholic Church will remain rotten at heart as long as it enforces celebacy of its officials. Supressing sexuality and natural urges obviously just misshapes people, and wherever it finally bursts out of some resultant kink or deformation, like a hiss of burning sulphurous steam, it causes pain and stink. I’ve met angry Catholic priests. I’ve met obviously gay ones, who either don’t realise it or don’t want to be honest about it. I’ve met ones over the last couple of years whose faith has clearly been shaken by recent events. I’ve seen, I’ve smelt those whisps of suppressed and displaced feeling.
In Richard Price’s excellent novel ‘Clockers’ he describes in unforgettable fashion what his cop character calls “the Cycle of Shit” – basically how abusive behaviour and its consequent damage transmits from generation to generation in a vicious, downward spiral. Which begs the question, what in God’s name has been happening to those priests in the seminaries and institutions in which they’ve grown up and trained?
It turns out the voice that abused my ears this morning wasn’t even a real person. It was a tape recording. The officials of religion that feed these Cycles of Shit are steeped in the rankest of hypocrisy. Not that I’d have felt that much better if the lazy bastard had gotten out of bed to disturb me and make me this grumpy.