Thursday, January 8, 2009
Around the World in 80 Faiths
One of the few quality TV programmes that is getting my undivided attention these long winters nights is a corker of thought and rumination, called "Around the world in 80 Faiths" ( see link above ) on the BBC.
In it, Peter Owen Jones has set himself an enormous challenge: to travel the globe and take part in the most important rituals of 80 of the world's religions, a journey covering our most beautiful and holy places, people and events.
Throughout his tour he meets the practitioners of the faiths, attempts to understand their beliefs and immerses himself in astonishing religious ceremonies. Jones' epic quest covers six continents, taking in the Far East, where the world's most ancient religions are still practiced, Europe, Africa, Australasia, North and South America, and the Middle East, the epicentre of religious turmoil today.
Amid often baffling and intense events, Peter finds moments of serenity and also terror: from the remote beauty of the Mongolian mountain shrines to the synagogues of Lithuania left empty in the wake of the Holocaust.
Peter Owen Jones is a writer, television presenter and forward thinking, Anglican Vicar in a Sussex parish in the UK. He is the author of several books, including Bed of Nails, which describes his experiences at theological college, and Small Boat, Big Sea, a year-long account of his life as a parish priest. His television presenting credits include The Lost Gospels ( one of my favourite things he did ), The Battle for Britain's Soul and Extreme Pilgrim.
I hope, of course, that we have not already seen in the first episode, the weirdest religion that will ever be featured.
But it's hard to believe that again in this eight-part series, that his far-flung efforts will uncover a set-up quite as strange as the John Frum cult. John Frum, it appears, was founded as a challenge to the Christianity that had been assaulting the island of Tanna, in the south Pacific, ever since Captain Cook first turned up there in 1774. The first missionaries had been eaten. But this didn't deter others, and by 1969, when cannibalism finally ended on the island, conversions were so widespread that a determined rearguard action had gathered pace.
A distinct cult first emerged in the 1930s, apparently, with a promise from somewhere that if the islanders would only return to the spiritual traditions of Kastom, then they would be provided for. But the cult didn't get its name or its symbol until the Second World War brought a US air base, and it was decided that Kastom had delivered these free-spending men. They would introduce themselves as "John from...", which became John Frum, and they loved the Stars and Stripes, so the US flag is the cult's most revered religious symbol. Mainly, the cult exists to campaign against the imported religion, untroubled by the Christian identity of the US, but deeply resentful of religious colonisation.
In the modest travels the Rev Owen Jones has so far made, in Australasia, it is the odd clashes and weird accommodations between indigenous and imported religions that give the show its fascination, and its intellectual bite.
For me it is welcome grist to my mind mill, as to the fascination, of when Humans, having never come in contact with the main religions, are they any less Human Beings for not having been converted?
Maybe i will never come to any other conclusion than the one i hold now: That Human Nature is at its core, basically Good. That a Man should be left to believe what he wants to believe. That he shouldn't be affected by the herd mentality of others, unless he wants to be, and that he shouldn't ask people to believe what he believes, because he says so, or believes that they will be "better" for believing as he does.
Sir Dayvd ( still soaking it all up and thinking about it ) of Oxfordshire
Posted by dkWells