If I settle down to Sunday night TV I want something cosy, undemanding, even uplifting, but that’s not how it turned out last weekend.
Would You Believe? (RTÉ 1) returned with impact last Sunday night with the first episode in a two-part exploration of the subject of evil. Mick Peelo’s report didn’t contain any blinding new insights but reviewed different theories and asked lots of searching questions. Was it to do with ‘wiring’ in the brain? Was it nature or nurture? Were there evil people or just evil acts? Was it a purely human phenomenon or were spiritual influences at play?
Fr Pat Collins, being both psychologist and exorcist, straddled the human sciences and the spiritual realm, and thought it would be naïve to rule out a spiritual dimension.
Prof. Ivor Browne, psychiatrist, thought we all had elements of “the shadow” but we need to accept, manage and take responsibility. Colin Sumner, Professor of Criminology at UCC inclined to the view that evil was based on ‘moral outrage’, though that sounded too relativistic – some things are evil even if we fail to take moral outrage.
Dr Clare Kelly of Trinity College thought it was all within. She explored the neuroscience, found certain areas of the brain inactive in psychopathic people, but understandably hesitated to identify an ‘evil spot’ in the brain. Christine Louise de Canonville had studied the psychology of evil and saw narcissism at the heart of it. Her experience of a seriously abusive person, whom she described as looking ‘demonic’ when violent, made her reluctant to rule out a spiritual dimension – she said there’s so much we don’t understand.
All very interesting so far, but I was uneasy at the use of named living people being regarded as embodying evil, and for continuity I think it would have been better to join the two episodes into a one-hour special. The questions raised for the second part don’t bode well, e.g. “maybe we need the devil as much as we need God?”. Really?
Meanwhile on another but not entirely unrelated front the Director of the National Women’s Council, Orla O’Connor was interview on The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk) on Wednesday of last week about that body’s new document on abortion and the Eighth Amendment. Though it concerned the taking of babies’ lives, there was no sense of evil or even of children being involved at all.
Pat Kenny did ask several challenging questions about how representative the National Women’s Council was and whether some of their constituent bodies would disapprove of the Council’s anti-Eighth stance.
He suggested they were “incredibly political” on the issue. I thought O’Connor was uncomfortable and hesitant on these questions, eventually referencing an AGM vote in support of abortion ‘services’ in Ireland. But she also accepted that some constituent bodies didn’t have a position on the issue.
She thought most women were on the ‘middle ground’ on the issue, but wasn’t asked why then the NWC was taking such an extreme position (similar, as Kenny pointed out, to the Citizens’ Assembly recommendations).
What bugged me most about the interview was Kenny’s use of the term “so-called pro-life” – I found this a mean-spirited denigration of one side in this debate. Not only that, but he is tending of late to suggest pro-life people might be labelled ‘anti-choice’ – so, two insults for one side, but the other side gets to choose its own labels.
The lack of logic and consistency was clear in this mouthful: “There’s an argument as to whether you should label people pro-choice or anti-choice rather than pro-life or pro-choice.” Notice how one side gets to be ‘pro-choice’ either way. Logically shouldn’t he be asking if it should be pro-life vs anti-life, or anti-abortion vs pro-abortion?
Finally, the uplift! I’m not a great fan of the Brennan brothers’ reality TV shows, but I have to admit I really enjoyed At Your Service: To the Rescue, on RTÉ 1 on Tuesday night of last week. John and Francis were enthusiastically overseeing a makeover for the premises of the Cork Penny Dinners group and it was so inspiring, particularly because of the generosity of the group’s volunteers and benefactors, the gratitude of those who benefitted from their services and most of all the touching personal stories of loneliness, homelessness and struggles to cope with challenging family and social circumstances.
It was the perfect antidote to the Christmas season’s commercialism.
Pick of the week
THE CHURCH UNIVERSAL
EWTN, Monday, November 27, 2.30 pm, Friday, December 1, 10.30 pm
The Courage Apostolate welcomes and accompanies people with same-sex attraction as they try to live in accordance with Church teaching.
A New Order
UTV, Wednesday, November 29, 10.45 pm
Former Manchester United footballer Philip Mulryne reveals his extraordinary journey from the Premiership to the priesthood.
David Brophy’s Choir of Ages
RTÉ 1, Thursday, November 30, 10.15 pm
David Brophy is on a mission to bridge the divide between young and old through music.