Nothing ‘synth’ about EWTN’s news show

Nothing ‘synth’ about EWTN’s news show Gemma Chan stars in Channel 4's Humans

I find it useful to tune in to Catholic news sources from abroad to get a broader view on the Catholic world, and to avoid being confined to the prevailing narrative of the secular media at home.

EWTN News Nightly is particularly useful. Last Friday’s episode, for example, covered a wide range of issues. First up there was President Trump’s high profile visit to the G7 conference, and Vice-president Pence’s frustration that aid was not getting through quickly enough to Christian and Yazidi victims of oppression in Iraq – an issue that fails to get much traction in mainstream media over here.

With mid-term elections coming up in the US, there was a report on a conference of the ‘Faith and Freedom Coalition’, an ecumenical gathering whose work includes rallying conservative activists and promoting pro-life politicians.

We heard about criminal charges proceeding in relation to the sale of foetal remains and from Republican Senator Mitch McConnell calling for more allies to progress a bill banning abortion of pain-capable unborn children from 20 weeks.

The programme wasn’t all about Republican politics – we learned also of the Democratic Governor of Louisana supporting restrictions on abortions after 15 weeks.

Not unrelated, and not without resonance for Ireland, there was a report on a Catholic conference in Georgetown University on division and polarisation among Catholics, particularly in relation to social thought and public life.

One of those involved, EWTN presenter Gloria Purvis, stressed that interconnectedness and a respect for the human person was relevant in all the controversial social issues. People had different passions and gifts, and just because people cared about the environment didn’t imply there didn’t care about the unborn – there are “no single-issue saints” she said.

Another conference of interest was held in the Catholic University of America. This was a gathering of Catholic scientists to explore issues of faith and science. Physicist Aaron Dominguez said he had never felt a conflict between his profession and his faith – it was like looking at the world with two eyes. But when mixing in the secular scientific world he felt a lot of negative pressure to keep the lid on that other way of viewing the world – these views, he said, were “strongly oppressed”.

Still on a scientific theme we heard from astronaut Mark Vonde Hei about his recent visit with Pope Francis. He reflected on faith and science and when viewing earth from the International Space station thought humanity, though fragile and delicate, seemed much more united when you couldn’t see borders.


Scientists and philosophers have always been fascinated with the concepts of intelligence and consciousness. Channel 4’s Humans (Thursday nights), now in its third season, explores these ideas in dramatic form – with robots (‘synths’) moving from artificial intelligence to consciousness.

The conscious synths are an anomaly and become an oppressed minority, suffering all the prejudices that human minorities suffer. Perhaps the parallels made are rather obvious but the appeal of the characters and plot twists are sufficiently engaging.

Previously we’ve even seen some synths developing a sense of God, even attempting prayer.  In this series one of them seems to be thanking God, but we learn that his attention is directed towards his human scientist ‘creator’ – he even has built a small shrine to him.

Despite some unsavoury elements there is a strong sense of morality. In last Thursday’s episode for example, a character who sought revenge is upbraided by the original victim: “I asked you not to…you did it just for you”; a young girl is distraught that an innocent man may go to jail for her crime; a woman who commits adultery has immediate regrets; a female synth gives guidance to a separated man who still loves his wife – “maybe you didn’t put Laura’s needs before your own”.

She has motherly instincts, and most interestingly is upset that her programing won’t let her put herself in danger for the synth child she is looking after – “I can only protect Sam if it poses no threat to my own well-being …I can’t be a mother”.

Finally, Michael Aherne was back on the Sunday Morning slot on Spirit Radio last weekend, with gospel inspired encouragement (including  sensible advice on attitudes to exams) and some of the best contemporary Christian music from the likes of Alison Krauss, Nicole C Mullen, Stevie Wonder and Kirk Franklin. Perfect for a sunny Sunday.


Pick of the week
RTÉ1, Sunday, June 17, 11 am 

Mass celebrated by Fr. Dermot McCarthy, with music from the Palestrina Girls’ Choir.

BBC4, Monday, June 18, 9 pm

Writer and historian Dr Helen Castor explores the life and death of Joan of Arc, extraordinary figure,  female warrior and saint.

EWTN, Friday, June 22, 9.30 pm

Dr Gerard Wegemer discusses the life and heroic virtues of St Thomas More, who gave his life defending the Faith during the reign of Henry VIII.

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