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Radio review: Half-Full Philosophy Hour, and In Our Time

16 October 2020


In his Half-Full Philosophy Hour (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), Rob Newman offered a tongue-in-cheek interpretation of Jesus overturning the tables of the money-changers

In his Half-Full Philosophy Hour (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), Rob Newman offered a tongue-in-cheek interpretation of Jesus overturning the tables ...

AS A hermeneutic, it at least has the value of novelty: that our Lord overturned the tables of the moneychangers and generally caused a fuss in the Temple not so much because of the perceived defilement of this holy place, but because he was “hangry” (hungry plus angry).

Rob Newman, in his Half-Full Philosophy Hour (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), asks us to consider the evidence: according to St Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had just cursed a fig tree for not providing fruit, even though it was not the season for figs. A little unfair on the poor tree, you might argue.

Newman’s tongue-in-cheek interpretation continues. As he rampages through the Temple, Jesus does a James Bond, whose cars routinely career through narrow streets, trashing shops and stalls without a care for the livelihoods of ordinary people. In both instances, we see how Nietzsche’s “Superman” brushes aside the practical and moral concerns of the crowd. Thankfully, Newman’s analogy ended there, and he went on to have a go at the Enlightenment.

But stick with it, because, by the end of the 30 minutes, Newman had constructed an artful and memorable case from his disparate materials, as he argued for a restitution in the balance between the biological and physical sciences. God does not, pace Einstein, always choose the simplest way. Consider not the lilies, but the mating habits of wood wasps: there is definitely a better way of procreating than waiting until you encounter a forest fire and then flying right into it; but tell that to Syntexis libocedrii.

Newman might have made a valuable addition to Melvyn Bragg’s team, as last week’s In Our Time (Radio 4, Thursday of last week) took a stab at Deism. That God created the universe and then stood back to let it run its own course is an idea at least as old as Aristotle; but it made its way into mainstream Christian culture via Edward Herbert, eldest brother of the poet George, and beyond that into the revolutionary thinking of the late 18th century.

BBC Radio has been saying goodbye to some serious movers and shakers in recent months. The departures of Sue MacGregor (Radio, 25 September) and Jenni Murray were marked publicly; but moving and shaking no less energetically has been Christine Morgan, whose tenure as head of Radio Religion and Ethics came to an end last week (Comment, 9 October).

It might reasonably be argued that religious coverage has fared better on BBC Radio than in any other area of the media. Who would have guessed, for instance, that Thought for the Day would survive even a decade into the new millennium, despite the regular calls for its removal?

With longevity comes an ability to ride the modish controversies and adapt to longer-term trends: an ability that Morgan has ably demonstrated. Let us hope that whoever and whatever succeeds her can show the same resilience.

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