RTE is a step closer to killing off the Angelus once and for all
Published 23/10/2015 | 02:30
If you conducted a poll of RTE staff it would be interesting to know how many would favour retention of the Angelus. According to the head of religious programmes at the station, Roger Childs, research has indicated that two-thirds of those who watch RTE want the Angelus retained. Would as many RTE producers, presenters, researchers and so on be of the same view? Highly doubtful.
If you're a viewer of the Six One News on RTE 1 you'll be well familiar with the Angelus and how RTE presents it. On radio you merely hear the bells, but on TV you can see the accompanying imagery.
For years it consisted of an icon of the Virgin Mary and the Angel Gabriel announcing to her that she is to bear a child.
This was then deemed to be too Catholic, although I can remember a former Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Walton Empey, saying that his father used to pray the Angelus. All Christians believe that Mary is the mother of Jesus - even if not all Christians venerate her.
In any case, that did not stop RTE ditching the image of the Virgin Mary from its Angelus broadcast.
Indeed, periodically there are attempts to remove it completely. All RTE needs is a hint that another Church or religion does not like it. About 15 years ago another Church of Ireland Archbishop, Robin Eames, indicated that the Angelus was too Catholic - and instantly there was an item on Prime Time debating whether or not it should be dropped.
I was on the show that night with representatives from the Church of Ireland and the Jewish community. Neither wanted to see the Angelus dropped or, so far as I recall, changed in any way.
Nonetheless, RTE has pressed on with changing it bit by bit, watering it down bit by bit, neutering it bit by bit.
The Angelus, therefore, was turned into a generic call to prayer. Not Catholic, not Christian, but religious in a vague kind of way.
Now the station has gone a step further. It's no longer explicitly religious at all. The accompanying clip I saw on Tuesday showed two women baking bread. I wasn't entirely sure what the relevance of that was. Perhaps the point is to be as completely inoffensive as possible, and who could object to two women baking brown bread?
Actually, Atheist Ireland objected, not to the bread mind, but to those pesky and offensive bells. The ringing of bells is not exclusively religious, of course. Bells can be rung out in celebration, for example. However, even what that happens, they are almost always rung from a church.
The unavoidable fact is that most people associate the ringing of bells with religion, and in this country they associate them with the fact that a Mass is soon to begin.
So Atheist Ireland is sort of right to complain that the ringing of the bells by the national broadcaster is still a religious act, even though they plainly go too far in saying it is clearly a Catholic act given how much RTE has watered down what the Angelus once was.
The juxtaposition of images with no obvious religious content and the ringing of the bells with its obvious religious association, makes the new version of the Angelus a very peculiar hybrid - which is really neither fish nor fowl.
It's a bit like religious broadcasting on RTE in general. The Meaning of Life, presented by Gay Byrne, rarely seems to interview orthodox religious believers. Recently he interviewed Hozier, who seems to think he's still living back in 1950 given the way he talks about the Catholic Church.
Last week Richard Dawkins was interviewed, who at this stage is a sort of atheist bishop. He wanted Pope Benedict arrested when he visited the UK five years ago.
Why won't it interview John Waters, say? He's very well known and has provocative views. Is the problem that his views are too politically incorrect for the show's tastes?
In his TV review column in The Sunday Times last weekend, Liam Fay laid into another product of RTE's religious broadcasting unit, namely Joe Duffy's Spirit Level. It's too milk and water altogether for Fay's liking. It now includes a cooking section, which is very odd.
Fay wants religious programming on RTE to be more ferociously critical of religion. It's not so much 'old time religion' he wants as 'old time irreligion'.
The truth is, of course, that RTE, as a general rule, is an inhospitable place for believers in 'old time religion'. This is one reason why the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland receives a lot more complaints that a particular item on the station was anti-religion in its bias, not pro-religion. A fair number of these complaints have been upheld, although not enough.
Fay believes that RTE should hold up religion and its claims to critical scrutiny in the same way it holds up politics to critical scrutiny.
Two things can be said in response to this. The first is that lots of programmes on RTE do exactly that (the real problem on RTE is that the tenets of liberalism are not held up to proper critical scrutiny - on the contrary, they are uncritically accepted as absolutely axiomatic).
The second thing is that even when a presenter is grilling a politician, it is clear that the presenter believes in politics, and usually in a certain kind of politics, namely left-of-centre politics. The presenter might be hostile towards a given politician, or a given political party, but never towards politics, per se.
Interviewed on RTE the other day, Roger Childs admitted that none of the minority religions want the Angelus done away with. He also admitted that he did not consult any faith leaders except in an "anecdotal way" about his plans to revamp the item. This begs the question: why didn't he? It's actually an astonishing admission. The man responsible for the religious affairs output of the national broadcaster didn't properly consult the main religious stakeholders in the country about his planned changes to the Angelus.
Also, given that two-thirds of RTE's audience favours retaining the Angelus - presumably in the old form - and no religious leaders want the Angelus dropped, why did Childs do the next best thing, namely to turn it from a call to prayer into a call to "reflect"?
He said something to the effect that he wanted it be more 'inclusive'. Are we really so delicate that we can't stand a prayer turning up on RTE for two minutes a day?
At this stage it might be more honest to drop the Angelus altogether. Or else turn it back into a definite, unapologetic call to prayer.
RTE is not going to do that. Instead, it will continue to kill it by the death of a thousand cuts.