Radio review: Outlook, The Essay, and The Secret History of Science and Religion

28 June 2019

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IT IS difficult to know which is worse: that your daughter’s future father-in-law is serving time in Wormwood Scrubs; that he was imprisoned for dealing crystal meth; or that you had to find out via an episode of BBC’s Question Time. But that is, indeed, the story of the Lubbock family, as told in Outlook (World Service, Thursday).

James had always regarded his parents as solid and dependable. His father, Richard, was clean-living and reliable. The first moment of upheaval was when his father announced that he was gay; the second was when his mother announced that she was, too. Then Richard starting doing drugs, predominantly crystal meth; and then he started dealing drugs. Richard’s excuse is that, as a newly uncloseted homosexual, it helped him to meet people; but aren’t there apps for that? It certainly puts a new spin on “breaking the ice”.

The low point of this disintegration comes when father encourages son to partake; yet, also, this is the moment of greatest bonding between father and son, spliffed to the eyeballs and playing one another their favourite YouTube clips. Eventually, Richard is imprisoned at Wormwood Scrubs; James gets engaged; an episode of Question Time is filmed at the Scrubs; and Richard is one of those chosen to ask a question. And so we come full circle. One imagines the story has already been optioned.

The story of the Lubbocks plays out on so many levels: among other things, it’s about dysfunctional love, and masculinity. And it would have sat comfortably in last week’s series of The Essay (Radio 3, weekdays, repeat), in which scholars observed male behaviour through lenses of varied tilt. The stand-out contribution came from the criminologist Dr Alistair Fraser, whose talk formed a commentary on a Glaswegian ballad which celebrates the culture of the Glasgow “hard man”. Fraser admits to a certain nostalgia for the passing of that loyalty in adversity which was one of the hard man’s more attractive character traits.

Last week, Nick Spencer launched a three-week series — The Secret History of Science and Religion (Radio 4, Friday) (Comment, 21 June) — which represents a very different form of cultural revisionism. For all of us who have grown up thinking that scientists and theologians have for ever been at one another’s throats, Spencer offers an alternative narrative.

In particular, he picks out some of the most iconic ding-dongs in history, such as the Galileo affair, and the “great debate” between T. H. Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce about evolution.

Galileo, we are now told, was the victim of a struggle within, not between, science and religion; and Huxley was by no means the indisputable victor over Wilberforce. Sadly, the myth of conflict will continue so long as for some it is a convenient myth.

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