HOW is the Reformation like Facebook? The question appears absurd; but never let it be said that broadcasters are put off from their flogging by the state of their pet horse. The Long View (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week) has, for some time, been straining the limits of credulity, but, with last week’s show, it may just have passed through into Wonderland.
The individual commentaries on the theology of Purgatory on the one hand, and on the scandal surrounding Facebook’s harvesting of personal data on the other, were, however, of some interest. The Revd Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch is always worth listening to; and he graciously played along with the conceit, describing prayers for the souls of the dead in Purgatory as analogous to Facebook “likes”.
A technology analyst, Mic Wright, was similarly informative on the principles of the News Feed, and how we might get our stories up the pecking order. But, as he admitted, Mark Zuckerburg is hardly the Pope, nor his apps detestable enormities. The question in the end was whether Facebook would — like the Roman Catholic Church — survive the current expressions of outrage and betrayal; or whether the current hashtag “deletefacebook” will wipe it from the face of the earth.
Mr Zuckerberg’s creation, in the opinion of these experts, is more resilient than people are currently giving it credit for; and we need our likes just as we need our prayers.
There are times when no amount of prayer or liking will do, and the process of self-affirmation must come from within. The most powerful moment in Meeting the Man I Killed (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week) came when the presenter, Jonathan Izard, admitted that he had no idea how he might do penance or receive forgiveness for his transgression: that of running over one Michael Rawson on New Year’s Eve, 2015.
Although no blame can be attached to Izard, he continues to feel in a moral limbo; and, in this documentary, he sought out people who knew his victim, as much to receive some expressions of disapproval as to understand who his victim was.
He received no such comfort. The manager of the care home in which Rawson lived was adamant that her charge was negligent for not wearing his high-vis jacket that night. The closest he got was a bracingly direct friend of Rawson from the care home who called him a “naughty boy”; but that hardly counts.
Instead, he sought sympathy from others in relatable situations; and found, via her website accidentalimpacts.org, Maryann Gray, who, as a student, ran over and killed an eight-year-old boy in front of his house.
That she was not technically to blame is not the point. Blame and shame are unrelated in such circumstances, and one is left only with Gray’s withdrawal to the realm of sage cliché: “Terrible things happen to perfectly good people.”