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Radio review: World of Secrets: The disciples, and Things Fell Apart

26 January 2024

BBC/Journeyman Pictures

World of Secrets: The disciples (World Service, Wednesday of last week) investigates T. B. Joshua, a Nigerian TV evangelist who attracted an international discipleship

World of Secrets: The disciples (World Service, Wednesday of last week) investigates T. B. Joshua, a Nigerian TV evangelist who attracted an internati...

THE most popular topics for multi-episode podcasts are surely scams and cults. The presentational templates are well-established, and soundtracks are off the shelf from a music library. World of Secrets: The disciples (World Service, Wednesday of last week) tells of T. B. Joshua, a Nigerian TV evangelist who attracted an international discipleship. Of those who made the pilgrimage to his “Synagogue Church” in Lagos, some remained for many years in a community run according to strict and eccentric rules (News, 12 January).

The accusations that this documentary makes against the late Joshua and the Church are as predictable as they are horrific. The reporters Yemisi Adegoke and Charlie Northcott have been tenacious in their inquiries, and tell a riveting story.

For all that, where this and other investigations of its type fall short is the absence of curiosity about the main subjects’ spiritual ambitions, save general statements about how they were experiencing scripture with their own eyes. One episode spoke of the recruitment of disciples from UK churches; we heard how Immanuel Church, Winchester, a Charismatic community now defunct, had links with the Synagogue Church of All Nations.

But the spiritual mechanics of this recruitment were passed over. Only rarely did we get a sense of the disciples’ personal agency — although, when we did, even unwittingly, it was revealing. One told of her initial motivation for joining the community: “There’s a bunch of books in the Bible called the Gospels and they’re all about the miracles that Jesus performed. . . I want to know the God of the Gospels . . . and if I can’t see them and they’re not real, I’m out of here.” The message one is compelled to draw is that we should have more, not less, religious education in our schools.

When it comes to cults and conspiracies, Jon Ronson is a veteran. He has made a career out of people who believe mad stuff, though, by the manner of his engagement with them, he manages to avoid confrontation and even elicit sympathy. Thus, in the second episode of Things Fell Apart (Radio 4, Tuesdays), he was able to include sections of an interview with Judy Mikovits, the anti-vaccine campaigner, despite her being the main villain of the piece. We could hardly equate the “Judy” of this interview with the ferocious presence threatening legal retribution as seen on television.

This second series of Ronson documentaries seeks to trace back to their origins significant battles in the “culture wars”. Always insightful, there is, nevertheless, much wishful thinking involved, as Ronson draws a line between a causal event and its result decades later. That line is necessarily dotted, as is the one that attempts to establish connections between events and circumstances in the United States and the UK.

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