If it’s religious, it must be Sunday

It’s understandable that so many religious programmes are concentrated on Sundays. Some may feel it puts religion in a media ghetto, but in a way it’s also showing sensitivity to the Lord’s Day.

On last Sunday morning’s Sunday Sequence (BBC Radio Ulster), Audrey Carville presented a timely item on the morality of paying hostage takers: should one pay to free the hostage or refuse in case that might encourage more hostage taking? However, I thought the most striking item on the show was the previously recorded account given by former Unionist Party leader Jim Molyneux of how he was one of the first allied soldiers to liberate the Belsen concentration camp.

The details were horrifying and Molyneux’s genuine humanity shone through.

He gave a particularly touching account of a young priest saying Mass in the camp while at his feet lay another priest, who had just died while saying that Mass.

A Protestant himself, he was moved by the faith of these people.

Meanwhile, Rev. Philip North was a Church of England vicar who didn’t want his upcoming consecration as bishop to be performed by anyone who had ordained women bishops. Susie Leafe, a lay member of the Church of England didn’t agree with his theology, but was glad that her Church was fulfilling a previous agreement whereby the variety of theological beliefs would be respected, and she suggested that the show should have got one of the traditionalists to explain that position as it was being misunderstood or misrepresented by opponents.

I liked the discussion about the “politics of verbal gymnastics” with journalist Peter Taylor.  This was in the context of using words like ‘terrorist’, ‘freedom fighter’ ‘combatant’ or whatever in conflict situations.

Choice of language is also crucial in the same-sex marriage debate that was covered on the show. Dr Frank Hurl of Catholic Comment did well defending traditional marriage, particularly concerning the rights of children and the redefinition of marriage and family, while on the other side, Presbyterian Minister Chris Hudson supported same sex marriage “as a Christian minister” which certainly begged a few questions.

Later that morning, Sunday Spirit (RTÉ Radio 1 Extra) also had a wide variety of topics. I liked the roundup of the religious news of the week, and in a nod to its predecessor there was an item previously broadcast on The God Slotabout women in the Church, featuring both Protestant and Catholic women speaking of their roles, including twin sisters Tríona and Gemma King, both pursuing the little known vocation of ‘consecrated virgin’ in Dublin’s pro-cathedral.

The item was particularly apt for last Monday’s Day (and the ongoing Year) for Consecrated Life.

Heart and Soul (RTÉ Radio 1 Extra and BBC World Service) featured an enthralling documentary on Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. Presenter Mark Dowd was obviously an admirer, showing much enthusiasm for his inspiring subject.

He played audio of the assassination of the archbishop which I hadn’t heard before, and it had quite an emotional impact, with Romero being shot down in the middle of saying Mass. The programme left us with a sense of optimism about the ongoing canonisation process for the archbishop.

Finally, what can I say of Stephen Fry’s appearance on The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne last Sunday night? RTÉ released, in advance, a few previews from the show, including the clip that featured Fry’s all-out insulting verbal attack on God, a clip they subsequently further plugged on Facebook. What agenda was served by this?

It was ironic of course – Fry putting such venom into an attack on a God he doesn’t believe exists. His criticism seems to have been aimed at some caricature version of God that, admittedly, he may have picked up from some believers, perhaps in school.

He’s an otherwise intelligent man, but it was as if his religious education got stuck somewhere at school level. For example, he had a distorted view of the Church’s teaching on original sin (as if it was to make us feel guilty for being born) and his idea that Jesus’ strictures on being judgemental meant there could never be a court of justice suggests a surprisingly literal and fundamentalist approach for a person who generally seems to delight in irony.


Pick of the Week

Theology of the Body for Teens

EWTN, Saturday, February 7, 10pm

Teens discover that celibacy is much more than sacrificing sex and earthly marriage.

The Big Questions

BBC 1, Sunday, February 8, 10am

Nicky Campbell presents the moral, ethical and religious discussion series live from Southampton.

Meaning of Life, with Gay Byrne

RTĖ 1, Sunday, February 8, 10.30pm

Boxing legend Barry McGuigan talks to Gay about his strong Catholic faith.