Religious programmes are pretty scarce on Channel 4, so when one pops up on a prime time slot you tend to take notice.
Jesus’ Female Disciples: The New Evidence last Sunday night, was rather full of its own importance with claims of rewriting early Christian history, of “explosive” new evidence, “overturning centuries of Christian thought”, a “radically different story”. Actually, no.
Minus the inflated expectations, it was interesting enough and easy watching. The best bits were those that showed us the actual locations of the New Testament stories, and introduced us to archaeological discoveries, like the early church dedicated to Biblical character Salomé. Historian presenters Helen Bond and Jean Taylor were engaging and it was hardly radical to argue that there were women closely involved in the life of Jesus and the early Church, and that they were often overlooked later.
Their starting point was to show that Mary Magdalene wasn’t a prostitute, but there was nothing new there. I thought this bad press for her had been debunked years ago.
Based on the theory that her name might have meant ‘tower’ they tried to suggest equivalence between her and Peter the ‘rock’.
Then they took brief mentions of women in the Gospels and speculated extensively with little actual evidence. They really stretched it in trying to show from an ancient mural that there had been a woman bishop. There were telling phrases like “I have a theory…”, “I’d like to think…”, “I kind of like the idea that there might have been”. The narrator said they had set out on a dramatic road trip to try to prove controversial claims – it seemed to me that there was too much shoe horning of flimsy evidence to fit a predetermined theory.
Meanwhile there were some noteworthy items on the Eighth Amendment debate. On Wednesday of last week The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk) featured an interview with Dr Mark Murphy of Together For Yes. Towards the start I thought we were going to get a thorough and challenging interview.
When Dr Murphy used the illogical argument that because abortion pills were already in use illegally, we should legalise them, Kenny suggested we don’t legalise what people do “simply because they’re doing it”. Unfortunately most of the rest of it was soft and unchallenging.
Dr Murphy’s arguments were not robustly “interrogated”. For example he used the old slogan about abortion pills being “very safe”, but wasn’t asked how safe they were for the unborn baby. Dr Murphy accused the pro-life side of lies, and then claimed that the Eighth Amendment means that the baby “takes precedence” over the mother, when in fact the Eighth explicitly acknowledges equality. In fact if anything, especially in the first two trimesters of pregnancy the mother must get priority, as, if she dies, so does the baby. Kenny didn’t make that point either.
He did put it to Dr Murphy that the pro-life side would describe the unborn as a “baby” (duh!), but his guest deflected – “I will always turn it back obviously to the woman”, and Kenny did not pursue the issue.
On Friday’s show there was an even softer interview with the anonymous ‘Deirdre’ who told of taking abortion pills. Both contrasted strongly with a very challenging interview recently with Maria Steen, of the pro-life side.
Over on The Hard Shoulder (also Newstalk) on the Thursday evening Ivan Yates interviewed Peadar Tóibín TD (Sinn Féin). As always Tóibín started by outlining his party’s pro-choice policy, but then gave a robust defence of his own pro-life position. He stressed he was coming at this from a secular human rights perspective. He said if we don’t give equality to everyone, including the unborn, then it was a case of discrimination.
Yates gave him a good run at the start but then made so many interruptions, quizzing Tóibín intensely. I hope he will give the same style of grilling to his next pro-choice guest.
Further, Yates gave what I’d consider a naïve view that “no-one is in favour of abortion”. He also pointed out that you couldn’t be sure what legislation would follow as there might be a new minister for health. “That’s exactly the point,” said Tóibín, pointing out that the whole point of a Constitution was to protect basic human rights from the ‘ebb and flow’ and flip flopping of party politics.
Plenty of that around.
Pick of the Week
MY COUNTRY, MY FAITH: IRELAND
EWTN, Sunday, April 15, 10.30 am, also Wednesday 7 pm
Kathy Sinnott and Fr Brian McKevitt discuss abuse scandals, poor catechesis and erosion of Catholic faith.
EWTN Monday, April 16, 11 am
Though not a Catholic, the writings of C.S. Lewis have a great influence on Catholics who seek a deeper understanding of their faith.
The Leap of Faith
RTÉ Radio 1, Friday, April 20, 10 pm
Topical religious and ethical issues.