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Word of a child

04 December 2015

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AS TEENAGE ambitions go, one not much promoted by British careers advisers is “­­founding your own church”; and yet that is exactly what 14-year-old Daniel longs to do.

Channel 4’s Unreported World (last Friday) looked at the curious phenomenon of child preachers in Brazil — so widespread an element in the burgeoning Pentecostal scene as to merit an annual national congress, where, in a kind of “God’s Got Talent” competition, they compete against each other to determine who will be awarded the seal of approval.

Daniel is a seasoned performer on the circuit, highly professional in the way he nurtures and moulds the congregation, rising to peaks of emotion and whipping up frenzy like a trouper. Alani is only 11, and yet her ability to channel, as they would see it, God’s power to heal was recognised by her minister father some years ago, and she is the star of his services. Her innocence makes her, in his view, an especially appropriate vessel for the work of the Holy Spirit.

We saw her apparently heal someone with a physical disability, and another woman with cancer, without even touching them. The pattern is familiar: “Slaying in the Spirit”, calling on those healed to run and dance to demonstrate their freedom from pain.

Although the reporter attempted some investigative questioning, he did not examine, for example, how Alani prepares for her work; and, in terms of religious practice, the programme was surprisingly context-free. Daniel may well preach extempore, but how much is he informed by a regime of Bible study and prayer?

There was political background: the economic inequalities in Brazil make people long for radical solutions, untainted by those whose abuse of power have lost them credibility. Child preachers apparently fill that vacuum.

But money comes into their world, too. Selling DVDs of your sermons can provide an income, and founding his own church might provide a house for Daniel’s family, who are currently homeless. There was no hint that the children themselves were anything other than entirely genuine in their faith and ministry, but the way in which they are being taken up by politicians who seek to demonstrate their freedom from corruption is troubling.

A child seems to be the key to the mysterious goings-on in the second series of The Returned (More4, Fridays), turning up at key moments armed with a disturbing power to drive people, without saying a word, to murder and madness.

Why did the dam burst, wiping out a peaceful town? Why, years later, are those drowned turning up again? Why do they always walk about in troupes? Why is everything grey and damp? There is constant flickering backwards and forwards across the time-scale; so you are never quite sure if you are watching “today”, or “years previously”.

As most of the cast are already dead, that accounts for their behaving like zombies, but does not give much clue whether they are really fine actors, or actually just not much good.

The frisson of the first series has pretty much worn off; but being from France, where enigmatic silence is the deepest expression of existential profundity, it remains stylish and strangely unsettling.

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