One of the things I’ve noticed about public debate in the media is that sometimes certain views are marginalised. People are often unaware of this, or conveniently oblivious, until they find their own views suffering the same fate and then the penny drops.
This is happening to a certain extent in the debates over Covid-19, with some coverage seeming like PR cheerleading for the Government line. Contrarian voices may sometimes be misguided, but it’s useful to have them. So I was glad to hear journalist Karl Dieter on the Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk) last Thursday, in debate with Dr Sam McConkey.
The debate was about the merits or otherwise of our lockdown. Dieter was in favour of opening up the economy more promptly, citing arguments from freedom, human individual rights, the damage caused to the economy and to people’s wellbeing by lockdown. McConkey was more inclined to favour the Government’s approach. Neither was arguing that Covid-19 was negligible, or that social distancing or ‘respiratory etiquette’ was to be abandoned.
I wasn’t too keen on Dieter’s “bodily autonomy” arguments. I didn’t notice presenter Pat Kenny getting the flaw in that argument during the recent referendum, but he gets it now – he challenged Dieter – yes, do what you want with your own body but not with mine – don’t infect me! It’s not just me bringing abortion into it but Dieter explicitly made the point, referring back to the Repeal campaign with approval, seeing the result of that referendum as a good thing. I was conscious yet again of how the strong individualistic streak can trump social solidarity.
Away from the fractious debates, last Sunday’s Songs of Praise (BBC1) was a tonic. The focus was on modern hymn writers, and while presenter Aled Jones’ pieces to camera and some of the interviews were new, they relied, as so many shows do these days, on archive material.
Among these featuring was Catholic composer Bernadette Farrell and we got a fine rendition of her well-known song Christ Be Our Light. She was humbled to hear how her songs connected with people – particularly so when she heard from a prison chaplain about how this song of hers was popular with inmates. She thought hymns should be challenging and we learned how her work sometimes dealt with modern issue like threat to the environment.
For Graham Kendrick hymns were a blend of experience poetry and theology – he wanted to sing his Faith and wrote so that people could “sing the truth” – he performed one of his best-known modern worship songs, Shine Jesus Shine.
Kendrick was one of those featured in the YouTube hit UK Blessing which was replayed on the show – it’s one of those virtual choir split screen performances, and if you liked that try also the wonderful version of Be Not Afraid on YouTube by Catholic Artists From Home.
Also on the show we saw how Grammy Award winning American singer-songwriter Michael W. Smith was inspired these days by looking to the heavens – inspired by the wonder of the universe, he wondered how anyone seeing this could not believe in God.
Music director Ken Burton, had lots to say about hymns – they have a “collective empathy”; they could be cathartic, soothe the soul and convey sentiments. He recognised the power of the old hymns – they have “sustained Christian communities”. He referenced scripture where hymns celebrated, commemorated and even lamented. Modern hymns could capture “the essence of the age” with “deep theology”. He followed his reflections by a clip where he was directing a choral piece Come Let Us Sing of a Wonderful Love – a marvellously heartfelt performance.
Music was also central in Dana, The Original Derry Girl, which aired first on RTÉ1 on Monday of last week but was repeated several times during the week on RTÉ and BBC. It was emotional yet dispassionate, and a fascinating review of Dana’s life. In a clip from an EWTN show she said “each one of us is created unique” and her life has certainly been unique – she is a trailblazer in music (from folk club days through Eurovision to Top of the Pops and her latest album recorded in Rome) and in politics (uniquely an Independent presidential candidate on two occasions and an MEP).
It was clear that music with its creativity was kinder to her than politics with its dirty tricks, but what a full life so far.
Pick of the Week
SONGS OF PRAISE
BBC1, Sunday, May 24, 1.15 pm
Islands of Faith: Katherine Jenkins introduces uplifting stories of Faith amidst spectacular scenery as she looks back to when Songs of Praise has explored islands around the British coastline.
WOMEN OF GRACE
EWTN, Friday, May 29, 4.30 pm
Women of Grace encourages and affirms women in their dignity and authentic femininity.
THE LEAP OF FAITH
RTÉ Radio 1, Friday, May 29, 10.05 pm
Topical religious issues with Michael Comyn.