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Sharpened outrage

21 October 2016

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HAS God been airbrushed out of the story? I don’t usually agree that Christianity has been dropped from the realm of public discourse, but The Aberfan Young Wives Club (ITV, Wednesday of last week) did back up that thesis. Commemor­ating the 50th anni­versary of the disaster in which 116 children were killed, I was not expecting any theological examination of how, in the face of such horror, any faith in a loving God could be sustained.

But I cannot believe that, in 1966, Chapel — not to mention Church — was anything other than central to the life of the com­munity, and surely it moved centre stage in the face of this tragedy. Yet, apart from a brief acknow­ledgement that the Young Wives Club was founded on the sugges­tion of “the Reverend”, nothing was said about any in­­volvement by religious bodies.

I don’t think this is evidence of any deliberate atheistic agenda: I think it is simply, on the part of the well-meaning director and crew, sheer ignorance; an assumption that our faith cannot play any part in the lives of anyone other than bigoted extremists, and that, above all, the experience of the death of half a town’s children would extin­guish any lingering faith in God.

We all know that tragedy is just as likely to bring people to faith as turn them away. How curious that this is ignored, even suppressed.

The Young Wives Club made a helpful focus to what was really a more general documentary. Half a century has, if anything, sharp­ened the sense of outrage that such a thing could happen, and the dignity and courage of the club members was deeply moving.

The Lost Tribes Of Humanity (BBC2, Wednesday of last week) proved that we did not evolve from apes, or, to be more specific, that we were nothing like the only humans to have descended from apes. There was no single, pro­gressive line of development, with each successive version an im­­provement over the previous model; Professor Alice Roberts showed us how DNA analysis assists the fossil record, and provides decisive proof that mod­ern humans shared the planet with at least three other distinctive kinds of human. Also, that many of the things we have assumed were uniquely character­istics of Homo sapiens — abstract thought, artistic creativity — belonged also to the unfairly traduced Neanderthals.

More than that: we interbred with them; so we carry their DNA. Perhaps the succession was not one of annihilation, aggress­ive Homo sapiens wiping out an older rival; it is now being posited that perhaps inter-species partner­ship and influence might be closer to the mark.

The heroine of The Secret Life of Sue Townsend Aged 68¾ (BBC2, Saturday) lost her belief in God as a child. The fascinating aspect of this telling of her remarkable life was how it managed to miss out not just the divine, but the basic fact that the Adrian Mole books are very funny. Of course she was a serious artist and a passionate Socialist; of course she continued, despite her fame, to be committed to her roots in Leicester — but she was a really great humorist.

Perhaps God and jokes are alike unbearable to a certain contem­porary frame of mind.

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