Tag Archives: Channel 4

How to Make a Christian

One thing I haven’t commented on so far is the final part of Make Me a Christian, the rumblings about which have even reached the hallowed pages of the Church Times, who published a news item about the programme last Friday.

The item treads a similar path to that of the earlier Telegraph article, focusing primarily on Joanna Jepson, who perhaps as expected has come out fighting against what she sees as a programme that portrayed Christianity in a wholly unbalanced way. Although she has apparently taken legal action to stop the programme, that failed to stop transmission, but apparently did have some effect on what was shown. A spokesman from Channel 4 described the purpose of the programmes as follows:

“The programme aims to demystify Christianity and introduce its basic teachings to a diverse group of people.�

Unfortunately Jepson hits the nail on the head with this comment:

“It was so destructive. The take-home message was almost that you can’t come to God unless you sort out your sex life.�

Perhaps one of the things to consider is that maybe with the way that Christianity gets portrayed in the media, especially with the massive arguments over homosexuality, the impression of the basic teachings of Christianity are being skewed in the public perception.

Anyway, on to the final programme. Interestingly it didn’t feel nearly so much like the George Hargreaves show. Thanks it seems to the intervention of Joanna Jepson and the Catholic mentor Father John Flynn, two of his targets from last week actually seemed to get a beneficial outcome.

Although it wasn’t shown in the programme, the Church Times report quotes a statement made by Joanna Jepson to the whole group about Laura, the lesbian participant in the programme. Jepson is quoted as saying the following:

“I said to all of them: ‘When God looks at Laura, he sees Laura, not a lesbian that we have labelled.’ I told Laura on the very last day, if you want to encounter God, forget about your sexuality for a moment; put that to one side, and then see what God says to you in the context of your relationship with him.�

The comment can be equally applied to a number of the other participants, all of whom were labelled to some extent by George. However, although there were a couple of scenes in the programme with George and Laura, Joanna Jepson’s influence seemed to be coming through. Initially Laura had discovered the Metropolitan Community Church, a small denomination which reaches out in particular to the LGBT minorities. Laura went to one of their services in London, but didn’t seem to get much from it – George of course dismissed the whole church. However after that Jepson suggested a retreat at a convent, to give Laura time to think. We didn’t hear the opinion of George on this, but from Laura’s point of view it certainly seemed beneficial, and by the end of the programme she seemed a lot more comfortable both with her sexuality, and her burgeoning faith.

Another significant change was again no thanks to George. Aaron, who had previously had an argument with George over sleeping with his pregnant girlfriend – being told that it was fornication – introduced Catholic mentor Father John Flynn to his mother, who was currently in the midst of a cancer scare. The big thing was that she was massively anti-Church, and really wasn’t that keen on her son being involved, however she was also obviously scared about the potential of having cancer. He didn’t try to convert her, or start preaching at her, all he did was sit and talk to her, and then wrote her a letter saying that he knew that she didn’t believe, but that did she mind if he prayed for her anyway. That seemed to open a door, and by the end of the programme she was sitting with the other participants in the programme.

There were possibly some successes that could be attributed to George. The badgering of Kevin, who was repeatedly cheating on his long-term girlfriend resulted in him admitting what was happening to her, and Faye, the lap dancer seemed to have made some changes too. The family included even threw a neighbourhood barbecue and sorted out a long time disagreement with one of their neighbours. The Muslim participant was largely forgotten for the final episode, which just leaves Martin, the atheist biker.

Certainly, George didn’t get very far with Martin in a religious sense, largely because George seemed incapable of actually discussing anything with him. The people who did repair Martin’s opinions of Christians were the Salvation Army. Despite some initial reluctance, he went along to a local Salvation Army old peoples centre, where he helped with transporting the pensioners to the centre, and then with serving them a meal. At the end of it he highlighted that these were one of the first groups of Christians he had met who were actually putting their faith into action.

There was also one final parting gift to Martin from George – a set of false teeth. One of the first things you noticed about Martin was his lack of teeth – this was because he had a massive fear of dentists, so much so that he had removed his own teeth with pliers rather than go along and have treatment. Whilst George singularly failed to make Martin a Christian, he did succeed in getting him to a dentist.

So did the programme teach anything about how to make someone a Christian? Whilst the overriding impression given is that Christianity will have a big thing about your sex life, hopefully for those people that stuck it out, the work by Jepson and Flynn maybe will show that there are other ways…

Make Me a Christian

I’d seen the trailers, and from those I knew it would probably be bad, but seriously as a practising Christian “Make Me a Christian” was enough to put you off Christianity totally.

For a start, the main front man for this self-proclaimed mission to save the sinful soul of Britain was George Hargreaves, leader of The Christian Party. A quick look at their policies, and you quickly realise this is your classic Christian in the Dawkins sense, in that he is a creationist, states that God wrote the bible, and has all your classic hang-ups with homosexuals – ironic then that he co-wrote Sinitta hit “So Macho”… He does have three assistants in this mission, another evangelical preacher, a catholic priest, and a female Church of England priest with the most bizarre taste in clerical shirts you will have seen, but in general George Hargreaves is the star of the show.

The poor souls that Channel 4 have chosen to throw to his particular lions den are a mixed bunch. Many are lapsed Christians, some have no faith background at all. Amongst them we have an atheist biker who had been through a Christian school and was unable to resolve the teachings in the bible with the way he was treated by the school. We also have a 23 year old lad whose girlfriend thinks they are in a committed relationship, whilst he is going out and sleeping around behind her back. They’ve also got a lesbian teacher, and a lap dancer who dabbles in wicca in her spare time, a Christian who has converted to Islam, and finally a couple of families, one with a teenage pregnancy, and the other almost your archetypal average family from the suburbs.

The one consistent thing between all of them is that they are looking for something, but they’re not sure what. The biker is most vocal about his searching, in that he is looking for answers to the questions brought about from his school experiences. Unfortunately Hargreaves doesn’t seem to be in the business of going off the planned agenda, especially not where awkward or difficult questions are concerned. After telling the assembled guinea pigs that he believes in creationism “because Jesus did”, when the biker starts asking difficult questions, the Hargreaves tactic is to talk over the guy, until ultimately he walks out. The rest of the participants to be honest seem rather glad that he is gone – from my point of view, the biker seems to be the only one that is challenging the narrow and extreme branch of Christianity that is being presented.

The forthright and hardline efforts to put over his agenda continue elsewhere. The Hargreaves technique on the lap dancer is to reduce her to tears telling her what a total sinner she is, at which point she goes to stay with her boyfriend for comfort. When she comes back, she gets grief for that too. The commentary hints at a number of underlying issues in the woman’s past, but rather than exploring and addressing those, it’s just Bible bashing. The clips for the programme next week show the same woman spending time on retreat with some nuns – hopefully we’ll see a lot more Christian love and compassion then.

Essentially, this is US style conservative Christianity with an English accent – beating people up and making Christianity to be primarily about rules and regulations – well at least the rules and regulations Hargreaves is choosing to follow.

Needless to say, this is just another in the ongoing stream of Channel 4 Crazy Christians programmes. It doesn’t have Stephen Green this time around, but Hargreaves theology is little different, coming from the same brand of extremist conservative Christianity that so poorly represents the majority of Christians in this country.

The Guardian review sums it up pretty well:

With his polarising views and divisive political campaigning, George is just the man to be fronting a makeover show, and the broadcast will doubtless be accompanied by the percussive sound of thousands of Christians enthusiastically smashing their foreheads against the wall with delight at the way they’re represented.

But then I guess mainstream Christians just don’t make the sort of edgy TV that Channel 4 are after…

Crazy Christians Night

Tonight was another one of Channel 4’s periodic crazy Christian nights, this time a documentary in the Dispatches thread related to the Human Fertilisation and Embryo Bill that is currently working it’s way through parliament. Although at it’s heart the documentary was trying to make an important point about the growing influence of fundamentalist Christian movements within the establishment, it did inter-cut the segments on those groups with the more obviously nutty elements, including Stephen Green and Christian Voice. Whilst that did give the opportunity for the programme to ask the more establishment participants if they agreed with what Stephen Green was saying, including some of the sequences of both him and the driving instructor from Bristol certainly seemed to be as much for the entertainment value as anything else.

The general way that the film handled the participants was much the way that these programmes often go, which is with an element of apparent journalistic disconnection – essentially waiting for the participants to do something that would make good TV. Stephen Green served up one moment pretty early on. The documentary team filmed him on some of his pickets outside performances of Jerry Springer: The Opera, and Stephen Green seemed to be decidedly unpredictable, veering from being happy to have the cameras around and co-operating, to wanting the cameras to go away and stop filming. Then during prayers outside the final performance in Brighton, at a point when he is being co-operative, a seagull flying over him relieves itself over his shoulder whilst the crew is filming, resulting in Green declaring that the seagull is a message from God telling him not to co-operate. Of course considering that they were praying for the financial ruin of the company behind Jerry Springer: The Opera you could argue that it is a message from God against that, or alternatively that it is all just pure chance and not God controlling the bodily functions of a seagull at all!

Alongside this the programme also found a born again Christian from Bristol. A twenty-nine year old driving instructor, the programme highlighted the fact that he lived alone, and was a virgin. Again seeming to head down the crazy Christians line. We also got to see the private school run by his Church which is teaching it’s children creationism – something again that Channel 4 has covered before.

What tends to unite these elements is that more often than not these elements are extreme enough that they aren’t overly taken seriously. Whilst Stephen Green did garner a good deal of publicity in the early stages of the Jerry Springer: The Opera furore, he has largely been sidelined again, indeed much of his footage either showed him picketing gay rights events on his own, or with small groups. Whilst his opinions are extreme (he describes Islam as being the work of Satan at one point), there is at least the solace that these are apparently small groups.

What was much more interesting and perhaps concerning about the programme though was the third participant, Andrea Williams from the Lawyers Christian Fellowship, who is significantly more media savvy. Whilst the programme showed Stephen Green and relatively small groups, it showed Andrea, who admitted to sharing the same views as Stephen Green – although rephrased in less provocative language – handling much bigger demonstrations, and moving amongst some pretty well known politicians. Unlike some of the other participants she is well aware what plays negatively in the wider media, so the hellfire and brimstone preacher at the demonstration was moved away, she was careful to ensure that BNP members hanging around on the periphery of the demonstration were moved away, and when one of the participants in the demonstration started verbally attacking a pro-choice campaigner it was the demonstrator who she had moved.

That’s not to say that the documentary didn’t corner her on a couple of occasions – for example when the interviewer throws in a question about fossils and the age of the Earth she quickly flounders and calls a halt. Similarly when she is interviewed alongside Conservative MP Nadine Dorries, who she has been helping draft the upcoming abortion amendment, and the interviewer asks Nadine whether they have discussed some of Andrea’s other beliefs – at which point he asks Andrea her opinion of Islam – after starting to answer Andrea then thinks better of it and turns off her microphone and refuses to say anything else. At another point in the programme, the documentary crew film a presentation given about Islam in Nigeria to a group of Christians which subsequently is partially retracted.

Having said that, it is disturbing quite what influence the group appears to have. Quite apart from the assistance to Nadine Dorries, which includes writing the amendments for her, a meeting with Lord Tebbit is also shown, where again a fully drafted proposed amendment is handed over. The group is also backing cases such as that of Andrew McClintock a magistrate who stood down over the civil partnership laws, aided by significant financial backing from across the pond.

That essentially is the key message of the programme, that in much the same way as they have done for a number of years in the US, fundamentalist Christians are starting to use the courts, and to wield influence in parliament to move their agenda forward. Also in much the same way as has occurred across the pond they are aware of what plays badly in the public perception and are steering around it, and as such, are becoming a very vocal and powerful small minority having a comparatively large influence compared to their size.

The problem of course is that as the fundamentalist wing of Christianity makes more of this sort of well targeted and well managed noise, the broad range of opinions across the non-fundamentalist Christians gets lost, and the small minority of fundamentalists end up being taken as speaking for the whole, so for example with the current bill, whilst in reality there is a broad range of Christian opinion, only one Christian voice seems to be being heard.

Here we Go Again

Big Brother 8 has kicked off, netting Channel 4 a 6.2 million average audience last night. The twist this year is that all the eleven initial housemates are women…

For a straightforward run-down of the first housemates head over to the BBC. Alternatively, The Times is once again providing a service to those who want to keep up with the house and is running their Big Brother Blog – their housemate rundown is somewhat more entertaining…

Whilst you’re taking a look at this years selection, check out this rundown of what previous housmates are doing now. There is a real mix of attempted media careers, normal jobs, and even a few who have left the country, but the biggest surprise is George who walked on day 13 last year, and shunned all media contact – he now works for Big Brother on their media relations team!

More God’s Next Army Discussion

It seems that I am not alone in being disturbed by God’s Next Army last night. Alongside debate in the Channel 4 forums, which includes a topic discussing the programme itself, plus a related discussion about Christians and politics. The forum also includes postings from more mainstream Christians concerned at the impression of Christianity that programmes such as God’s Next Army give to viewers.

There are a number of blogs that have posted on the subject. The Ship of Fools also has an interesting discussion, which as a Christian site starts from a slightly different standpoint.

In amongst all of these are some interesting gems – firstly there is this blog posting from a former fundamentalist Christian, who has some interesting comments:

These students almost universally had no idea how to learn (as opposed to how to be indoctinated), as they have been brought up in environments (including PHC) that discourage questioning and free thought, and reward blind obedience. How many of them even have any idea of the evolution and compilation of their own Bible? How many have even read it all through? To continue to believe in its infallibility when confronted with its numerous contradictions requires a special kind of unconsciousness.

Only an unconscious person could think that Jesus would approve of them opposing workers’ compensation for asbestosis because ot would be bad for big business. Only an unconscious person would believe that the man who rebuked his disciple for defending him by cutting off a soldier’s ear would approve of a gun-toting nation (they approve of a fully armed population).

She also makes a similar point to mine over the similarity of fundamentalist Christianity and fundamentalist Islam, but in a slightly more amusing a direct way… 😀

When fundamentalists of any type start spreading their thoughts on the evils of homosexuality, or the ‘Truth’ that only they hold, I want to get them, Muslims and Christians, and sit them facing eachother, then say, ‘look. That’s you that is.’

Having said that, reading through the discussions has also highlighted a recent article from Christianity Today which indicates that all is not well at Patrick Henry College. According to the article, almost a third of their full-time faculty members are leaving following a contentious debate over the interpretation of Scripture and academic freedom.

The problems stem from the academics wish to discuss ideas and to hold different beliefs from the college founder. One academic is quoted in the article as saying:

“We are put in a hard position. We’re told this is an open dialogue, but if you engage in open dialogue, you’re in trouble. It’s infuriating because you’re an academic and want to engage in ideas. He told me that a person of the Reformed position to which I hold cannot in good conscience sign the statement of faith. When I responded that I failed to see the discrepancy between the two, he replied, ‘I define the statement of faith.’â€?

Two other of the staff, both ruling elders in their respective Churches, published an article in the campus newsletter, arguing against the notion described in the programme that the Bible is the only source of truth. Their article started with the following:

“A common misconception among American evangelicals, and one that cannot be supported by the Scriptures themselves, is that the Bible is the only source of truth. We argue that this misconception amounts to a blasphemous denial of Christ’s words in Matthew 5 that ‘he sends rain on the just and the unjust.’â€?

Needless to say that produced a swift response from the college founder.

Certainly the whole article is well worth a read, and certainly worth considering in light of the blog posting I highlighted above that asks whether the students are learning or being indoctrinated.

If you missed the programme, Channel 4 are repeating it in the early hours of Saturday morning (3:50am on 10th June) – I would certainly recommend that it is worth watching.

Learning to Laugh at Yourself?

This weekend we had the first two episodes of Channel 4’s new comedy series ‘The IT Crowd’. It has been available for download for the last week from the web, so I’d heard a couple of opinions of the show, however we waited until Friday to see the show.

The reviews I’d had from friends who had seen the show were pretty mixed, ranging from a ‘not bad’ to one person – who oddly enough works on an IT support desk – who thought it was absolutely dire. Having watched the first two episodes, I really enjoyed it, and Beth thought it was pretty good too. The writer of the show was also behind Father Ted, which I think gave us a pretty good idea of what to expect – as Beth said, it was pretty much Father Ted in an IT department. Thinking about it, you could almost describe it as a cross between Father Ted and a Dilbert cartoon!

Watching it, I suspect that the reason my support desk friend didn’t like it is that a number of the jokes are very much at the expense of support desks. For example right at the beginning of the first episode we have one of the support team ignoring a ringing phone, something that I guess most people who have to phone IT support think they have encountered – certainly there is one particular team at work who we are sure leave their phones off the hook at times! Watching it as someone who works in IT you definitely need the ability to laugh at yourself, for example the efforts to not have to speak to someone on the phone, even sending an e-mail to the fire brigade to report a fire, and the whole sequence where the two techies cause a good deal of stress in the stress reduction session.

Anyway, in our opinion the series certainly seemed to get off to a good start, and if you’re a fan of Father Ted, I’m sure you’ll find much to enjoy in the IT Crowd.

Rock School

School of Rock [2004]

So in a move that is a so obviously an attempt to recreate the recent Jack Black movie School of Rock in real life, Channel 4 started a new series called Rock School. The premise is slightly different from the movie, in the movie the new teacher is struggling to find work, whilst on the show, the teacher is Gene Simmons, best known as founder member of Kiss. However it is also worth noting that, as he mentions in the programme, he actually trained as a teacher before going into music. The school involved is Christ’s Hospital, an independant boarding school in West Sussex, founded by Edward VI in 1552.

We actually started watching the show having seen the trailers, which have really played on Simmons doing his whole rock God routine, and getting the pupils to do thinks totally out of the ordinary for a school. However having watched the whole episode, these to some extent were pretty much for the cameras – although it is worth noting that his teaching methods are a lot less formal than would be expected.

The first comment I would make is that the senior management at the school really didn’t do their research, as Beth said “Didn’t they even just stick Gene Simmons into Google?” as the Deputy Head was getting concerned at his classes. Also worth noting that in this sequence the Deputy Head told the pupils off for participating, I assume as she couldn’t get anywhere having let Simmons and the film crew in in the first place!

Anyway, when he actually got down to it, despite the Rock God persona, Simmons actually seemed to have a good relationship with the pupils, and seemed to enjoy working with them. Of course as with any of these reality TV shows, it is difficult to really tell what it was like from the thirty minute show.

It is also worth bearing in mind that whether they come out of the end of the series with changed opinions over rock music, there are still a number of lessons that came out. One in particular in the first show was when he brought out a selection of posters of rock acts, right back to Elvis, and asked the pupils to comment. The important point that was picked up was that they were all different, whilst they were all successful acts, they had each taken their own style.

The real impression you get of Simmons, is that once you get beyond the rock persona he is actually a very intelligent person who knows exactly what he is trying to accomplish with that persona. Underneath he is a very shrewd businessman who has a strong understanding of his business, and what he needs to do to make money.

This is particularly bourne out at a couple of points during the episode. Firstly when he hears all the pupils in the class play their various instruments. All of them are talented classical musicians, one girl being grade 8 on her violin, and grade 6 on piano. However as Simmons tells them, musical talent is not what is needed for a rock band – people have been successful rock musicians bearly able to play two or three chords on a guitar.

The second point is at the end, when he picks the lead singer. There is one really good singer, that I have to say both Beth and I, and also most of the other pupils seemed to agree was the best, however Gene doesn’t pick him. Instead he picks Josh, probably the worst singer, one whom the other pupils fairly politely describe as a bit strange, and who Simmons spots as being the one in the class who is a bit of an outcast. In his interview at the start, Josh lists one of his interests as speaking Elvish, and comes across as generally pretty geeky. However during the episode, he is also the one who is able to drop his stiff upper lip, and actually takes on a persona when singing – even if he isn’t at all in tune.

However, perhaps one of the most interesting points is the interviews with the pupils after Josh has been picked. Most of the class are totally bemused, and some pretty annoyed that the best singer hasn’t been given the job. But the most touching moment is when they interview Josh, who is absolutely ecstatic about having got it, whilst he is usually left out, or ridiculed, here he is as the centre of attention. It is also worth noting that if you browse through the early lives of any number of well known stars, very often they are the ones who people found strange, or odd, but have found acceptance almost by taking being different to an extreme. For example take a look at this bio of Marilyn Manson.

Certainly it was a good start, and we’ll watch with interest to see if they do manage to produce a rock band by the end.

Incidentally, the show is also showing on VH1 in the USA.