HAVE you noticed that there seems to be just now an
unaccountable number of TV programmes focusing on the largest
country in South America? The theologian Dr Robert Beckford took us
on a journey unfamiliar to many in his Seven Wonders of
Brazil (BBC2, Friday); for he was focusing on that nation's
diverse and vibrant religious life.
He was making the point that religion is not an added bit of
colour, a take-it-or-leave-it hobby: it is central to people's
lives, and if you do not understand and respect that, then you
cannot understand or engage with the country itself.
Brazil is, of course, a particularly strong demonstration of
this truth, and Dr Beckford relished the interrelatedness of faith
and communal life: the heritage of Portuguese Catholicism; the
African religions of the slaves; and now Pentecostalism, the
quasi-religion of carnival.
In his account, the important thing was the level of
intermarriage and creative dialogue between these differing systems
of faith, and how people live happily combining strands of two or
more of these powerful expressions.
No doubt another film could be made about the competition
between them; but his enthusiasm was compelling, and we were
carried along with Brazilian energy to conclude that the towering
figure of Christ the Redeemer, arms outstretched above Rio in
blessing, is no bad symbol of the underlying syncretistic unity
manifested in this extraordinary nation.
Such a programme made about Britain would, of course, have to
include the subject of The Battle for Stonehenge (BBC2,
Saturday). This marked the opening of the new visitor centre, and
the improved setting finally achieved by the closing of one of the
roads that severs the circle from its surrounding sacral
I watched wearing two hats: as a minister keen to take all
religion seriously; and as the veteran of some 40 archaeological
excavations. On both of these fronts, it failed dismally. The
presenter, Alastair Sooke, seemed unable to discern whose
relationship with the monument should be taken seriously, and whose
should be taken with several barrels of salt.
He spent too much time on the self-styled Druids, an invention
of 19th-century Romanticism. He also told us that no one knew the
original purpose of Stonehenge, which, if perhaps strictly true,
does not preclude our knowing what it was not used for -
namely, anything whatsoever to do with the real Druids, who came
He seemed unwilling to engage with English Heritage's real
problem, which is how to maintain one of the world's greatest sites
in the face of the millions who visit it.
There was more delusion in The Girl Who Talked to
Dolphins (BBC4, Tuesday of last week).I n a tale of 1970s New
Age flakiness, the neuroscientist John Lilly encouraged his
research associate, Margaret Howe, to set up house with a dolphin
called Peter, convinced that she could teach him to talk.
The distinction between mimicking sounds and understanding what
they meant seems to have passed them by. It was a tragic story:
Lilly's attention led to Peter's early death.