Radio review: Sea of Faith, Lent Talks, and The Essay: Nothing is real

22 March 2019

Anglia TV

Don Cupitt

Don Cupitt

THE predominant emotion evoked by Sea of Faith (Radio 4, Friday) (Features, 15 March) will surely have been not outrage at Don Cupitt’s presumption, or humour at the outrage he elicited from the public, but nostalgia for a time when the BBC might broadcast a six-part series of serious theological polemic, and when anybody really cared about how meta- is the physical in Christ.

The presenter, Giles Fraser, wrestled with his instinct to cite his own experiences and opinions as he sought those of other Cupitt protégés; although he might blame this instinct on Cupitt himself, who was, some critics say, the ideal theologian for the Me Generation. One of his former pupils dared to label Cupitt’s supervisions “Dona­logues”, into which — longways or edgeways — no student utterance could be inserted. Yet his inspiration, as much as his provocation, is widely attested. Linda Wood­head is still a big fan, and sees in the church hierarchy’s inability to embrace Cupitt’s views a symptom — possibly even a cause — of its decline.

Others would disagree — including Fraser, whose sensible sign-off reminded us that, in the 21st century, faith is one of the most important motivators in human affairs. The Sea of Faith must be observed globally; and, as the tide recedes from these shores, it is rushing over the sands of other continents.

This year’s series of Lent Talks (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week), whose theme is “Uncertainty”, opened with another cleric who has veered away from the Church. In his essay, the former clergyman turned psychotherapist Mark Vernon made the case for Doubting Thomas’s being the most spiritually fulfilled disciple of them all; that, through doubting, he was able then to see truth more clearly.

To loosen oneself from certainty to accept mystery is a psychologically valuable, indeed healthy, process. One might want to question whether the former self-evidently entails the latter; or, put another way, whether mystery is always a good thing. But, as an example of proper theological discourse, Vernon’s contribution was an encouraging start in a series that has a tendency to be hit-and-miss.

When people no longer find meaning in the traditional expressions of solemnity, what do they turn to? According to recent surveys of popular funeral music, to Frank Sinatra and Monty Python. So it was encouraging to hear that even the pop-music guru David Hepworth, in The Essay: Nothing is real (Radio 3, Friday, repeat), thinks that his beloved genre is unsuitable for funerals. Subtitled Pop’s struggle with authenticity, Hepworth’s thesis is that pop music is about life, about the start of things, about getting things out of proportion.

And, if you do choose for your memorial service that track that you feel sums you up better than anything, you would be well advised to check the lyrics.

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