Saturday, 21 February 2009

Religion by Travelogue

Thanks to first broadcasts, later broadcasts and the BBC iPlayer, I have now watched all editions of Around the World in 80 Faiths presented by Peter Owen Jones (who seems to talk to someone at the side and not into the camera). At first I grew irritated with the programme, that seemed to be superficial and arbitrary, a travelogue via religious moving snapshots, and indeed missed some of the following early programmes. Then I watched the later broadcasts, and filled some in via the iPlayer as a theme or two did emerge.

The later broadcast of the Latin American programme brought back my interest because there was a theme there, which was understated but evident: that the Labour shortage of Roman Catholic priests and its uninvolvement of lay people in congregations is allowing back the indigenous faiths of the localities. The Roman Catholics had been to some extent syncretistic, but now the Pagan originals were coming through. The people in localities were using Roman Catholic sites, often on Pagan sites, to bring back the old religions. I thought this is good, and Peter Owen Jones seemed to be saying the same.

The most bizarre moment for this participant in rituals of different faiths was when he said that as a Church of England priest he cannot carry out a gay wedding as the Episcopalians did, though personally he approved.

POJ often described himself as a Protestant Christian and also as a priest. Yet it was with Protestants, especially the more strident kind, that he felt most uncomfortable, and seemed to feel most comfortable, with the exception of Australian urban Wiccans, with the very local religious and some of the more newer syncretistic (though he though Cao Dai were full of rules - my late Unitarian friend was fascinated by the Cao Dai so I knew something about them). Indeed over and over again you could see that the more open the better. His praise for the Baha'i Faith was unfortunately uninformed: it is simply not true (since Shoghi Effendi) that you do not have to leave your own religion to be a Baha'i, and furthermore the Baha'i Faith inherits a literalism of scriptural words similar to the Islamic tradition. It also welcomes all religious perspectives only in the way it understands and changes them. Also he might have asked why, in the area he visited, as he praised equal rights, women are simply excluded from the International House of Justice, the Baha'i ruling parliament.

Of course one thinks this: that if he was wrong on something I know something about, as he zips through, was he wrong on something I do not know about? Presumably he had researchers.

He really ought to have included the Unitarian Universalists in his United States visit, because they are part of the congregationalist origins of the States and gave rise in part to Transcendentalist literature, and have been an example of evolving even secularising religion in the US and, more recently, a movement from rationality towards including the mystic and New Age. They may be only some 300,000 but they are increasing, unlike (say) the Episcopalians (and his treatment of them was virtually insignificant to tabloid).

His own conclusion was left to the apparent end in Europe (in that he also summarises some aspects at Lake Titicaca). He had approved of a tiny group in Italy, the Damanhur Experiment, which is fully syncretistic and offered what many great faiths don't: harmony, and then he moved in the narrative from Italy to his home turf, at the Long Man of Wilmington. There he concluded that he'd found that the religious pulse of the planet still beats; faith helps us retain purpose, hope and feelings (like intuition and love). Faith isn't about proof that God exists but is a journey inwards. Human beings were the most fascinating discovery: they were generous and showed humilty, faith, imagination; they gave a welcome and love informed by faiths that have evolved. He learnt to be wary of religions that denomise others for not believing in their way, and conversely to learn from open religions open to other religions. Now back to what he had missed, he was off to take his own service (which made me chuckle: its liturgical text is hardly one that learns from other religions), and then go to the pub.

They were not eighty faiths, of course. They were eighty branches of fewer faiths and categories, so a peculiar collection. The BBC does not list them, though on one BBC web page you can reconstruct the list as broadcast - at least one having been left on the cutting room floor - and I have done this:

Episode 1: Australasia and Indonesia

01. The Bissu ritual Religion: Islam and spirit worship Location: Sulawesi, Indonesia

02. Ancestor worship Religion: Christianity and Location: Sulawesi, Indonesia

03. Pulilan Carabao festival Religion: Roman Catholicism Location: Pulilan, Bulacan province, Philippines

04. Fertility festival Religion: Roman Catholicism Location: Obando, Bulacan province, Philippines

05. Aboriginal Dreaming (Baby smoking) Religion: Indigenous religion of Australia Location: Alice Springs, Australia

06. Purification Religion: Iraqi Mandaeans Location: Sydney, Australia

07. Drawing Down the Moon ceremony Religion: Urban Witchcraft Location: Sydney, Australia

08. Drinking kava Religion: Indigenous Kastom Location: Tanna, Vanuatu

09. Flag raising ceremony Religion: John Frum Cult Location: Lamakara, Vanuatu

10. Healing ceremony Religion: Prophet Fred and Unity Location: Tanna, Vanuatu

Episode 2: The Far East

11. Oto Matsuri Religion: Shinto Location: Shingu, south east Japan

12. Naked Man Festival Religion: Buddhism Location: Wakayama, Japan

13. Hindu Street Shrine Religion: Buddhism and Hinduism Location: Erawan Street Shrine, Bangkok, Thailand

14. Buddhist ordination Religion: Theravada Buddhism Location: Bangkok, Thailand

15. Visit to a Confucian temple Religion: Confucianism Location: Confucian temple, Beijing, China

16. Taoist devotions Religion: Chinese Taoism Location: Jade Spring Monastery, 50 miles south west of Beijing, and the Hua-shan Mountains, China

17. Pentecostal service and prayers Religion: Korean Pentecostal Christianity Location: Yoido Full Gospel Church, Yeouido Island, Seoul, South Korea and Prayer Mountain, Jorimyun, Paju, Kyunggido province of South Korea, near border with North Korea.

18. Shamanic swordsmanship Religion: Korean Shamanism Location: Mountain retreat, South Korea

19. Cao Dai service Religion: Cao Dai Location: Cao Dai Temple, Tay Ninh, Vietnam

20. Spirit possession Religion: Vietnamese Mother Goddess Location: Phu Gaiy temple, Nam Dinh, Vietnam

Episode 3: Africa

21. Mamywata Religion: Voodoo Location: Cotonou, Benin

22. Gris Gris Religion: Voodoo Location: Cotonou, Benin

23. Church of Thron Religion: Voodoo Location: Church of Thron, Cotonou, Benin

24. Trance Dance Religion: San Bushmen Location: Ghanzi, Botswana

25. Sangomas Religion: Zulu Location: Johannesburg bus station, Johannesburg, South Africa

26. The 12th Apostolic Church Religion: Protestant Christianity Location: Edumisweni Apostolic Church of Christ, Hillsboro, Johannesburg, South Africa

27. Afrikaner Calvinist service Religion: Afrikaner Calvinism Location: Groot Marico, South Africa

28. Rastafari Religion: Rastafari Location: Shashemene, Ethiopia

29. Khat ceremony Religion: Ethiopian Islam Location: Negash, Tigray province, Ethiopia

30. Feast of St Michael Religion: Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity Location: Church of Mikael Imba, Tigray province, Ethiopia

Episode 4: The Middle East (only 9 - reference to Baha'i?!!)

31. Hebrew Israelite prayer meeting Religion: African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem Location: Village of Peace, Dimona, Israel

32. Good Friday procession and Mass Religion: Christianity Location: Along the Via Dolorosa and at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel

33. Purim celebrations Religion: Judaism Location: At the Jerusalem Great Synagogue and in Merrsharim, Jerusalem, Israel

34. Muslim prayer Religion: Sunni Islam Location: Umayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria

35. Dancing and whirling Religion: Islam - Sufi Dervishes Location: House beside a 14th century Sufi mosque, Aleppo, Syria

36. Cem ritual Religion: Turkish Alevis Location: Cemevi (or house of gathering) in a suburb of Istanbul, Turkey

37. Yazidi New Year celebrations Religion: Iraqi Yazidis Location: Village, 15 miles from Mosul, northern Iraq

38. Samaritan Passover Religion: Samaritans Location: Mount Gerizim, near Nablus, West Bank

39. Festival of Ridván Religion: Bahá'í Location: Shrine of the Báb, Haifa, Israel

Episode 5: United States of America

40. Serpent handling Religion: Pentecostal Protestant Christianity Location: Edwina Church of God in Jesus Christ's Name, Newport, Tennessee

41. Baptist preacher prodigy Religion: Evangelical Christianity Location: The Greater Travelers Rest Baptist Church, Decatur, Georgia

42. Revival meeting and laying-on of hands Religion: Evangelical Christianity Location: Ignited Church, Lakeland, Florida

43. Séance and spiritualist reading Religion: Spiritualism Location: Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp, Cassadaga, Florida

44. Navajo sweat lodge Religion: Navajo Location: Navajo sweat lodge, Arizona desert

45. Mormon prayer meeting Religion: Mormonism Location: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah

46. Polygamist family gathering Religion: Fundamentalist Mormonism Location:The Work of Jesus Christ, Centennial Park, Arizona

47. Same-sex marriage ceremony Religion: Episcopalian Christianity Location: All Saints Episcopalian Church, Pasadena, California

48. Nectar ceremony Religion: Summum Location: Summum Pyramid, Salt Lake City, Utah

49. Burning Man festival Religion: Non-religious Location: Black Rock Desert, Nevada

Episode 6: The Indian Subcontinent (11)

50. Tara ritual Religion: Tibetan Buddhism Location: Kutsab Ternga monastery, near Jomsom, Mustang district, Nepal

51. Muktinath waterspouts Religion: Hinduism Location: Stupa of Muktinath, near Jomsom, Mustang district, Nepal

52. Child blessing Religion: Hinduism and Buddhism Location: Kathmandu, Nepal

53. Durga Puja Religion: Hinduism Location: Calcutta, India

54. Aghoris Religion: Hinduism Location: Tarapith, West Bengal, India

55. The Bishnoi Religion: Bishnoi Location: Rajasthan, India

56. Firewalking Religion: Nath Location: Rajasthan, India

57. Zoroastrian wedding Religion: Zoroastrianism Location: Parsi Fire Temple, Mumbai, India

58. Guru Granth Sahib 30th anniversary Religion: Sikhism Location: Nanded, Maharashtra, India

59. Jain nuns and monks Religion: Jainism Location: Monolithic statue of Lord Gomateshwara, Hassan district, Shravanabelagola, India

60. Gorehabba ritual, during Diwali Religion: Hinduism Location: Gummatapura, village on the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border

Episode 7: Latin America

61. Midnight Mass for the Feast of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Religion: Catholicism - Virgin of Guadalupe Location: Basilica Guadalupe, Mexico City, Mexico

62. Santa Muerte prayers and tattooing Religion: Santa Muerte Location: Barrio de Tepito, Mexico City, Mexico

63. Offerings to the Mine God Religion: El Tio Location: Cerro Rico mine, Potosi, Bolivia

64. Llama sacrifice Religion: Pachamama Location: Hill above Sampaya, Bolivia

65. Automobile blessing Religion: Catholic Christianity Location: Car park outside the basilica of the Virgen de la Candelaria, Copacabana, Bolivia

66. Cleansing and exorcism Religion: Assemblies of God Location: Benfica detention centre (Casa de Custodia de Benfica), Leopoldina, Rio de Janeiro and the Assembly of God of the Last Days (Assembléia de Deus dos Últimos Dias), São João de Meriti, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

67. Samba Day and orixa possession Religion: Candomblé Location: Concourse of the main railway station (Estrada de Ferro Central do Brasil), Rio de Janeiro, and Candomble, Estrada Estiva 19, Sepetiba, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

68. Temple of Goodwill meditation Religion: Temple of Goodwill Location: Templo da Boa Vontade (Temple of Goodwill), Brasilia, Brazil

69. Vale do Amanhecer ritual Religion: Valley of the Dawn Location: Vale do Amanhecer (Valley of Dawn), 3 miles from Planaltina, 30 miles north of Brasilia, Federal District of Brazil, Brazil

70. Ayahuasca service Religion: Santo Daime Location: Ceu do Mapia, State of Acre, Brazil

Episode 8: Europe

71. Lutheran baptism Religion: Norwegian Lutheranism Location: Lutheran Church, Sussjavri, Lapland, northern Norway

72. Yoik Religion: Sami Shamanism Location: Vesterama Sami Camp, Lapland, northern Norway

73. Shabbat prayers and meal Religion: Lithuanian Judaism Location: The Choral Synagogue, Vilnius, Lithuania

74. The Hill of Crosses Religion: Christianity Location: The Hill of Crosses, 12 km north of Siauliai, northern Lithuania

75. Feast of the Epiphany and Baptism of Christ Religion: Russian Orthodox Christianity Location: The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Kropotkinskaya Square and an ice hole on Zhivopisnaya street, Moscow, Russia

76. Atheist discussion meeting Worldview: Atheism Location: Moscow State University, Universitetsky Prospect, Moscow, Russia

77. Hare Krishna procession Religion: Hare Krishna Location: Krishna Temple, Begovaya Street, Moscow, Russia

78. Kalmyk Buddhist meditation Religion: Kalmyk Tibetan Buddhism Location: Syakyusn-Syume Temple, Elista, Republic of Kalmykia, Russian Federation

79. Vespers (evening prayers) Religion: Roman Catholic Christianity - Benedictine monks Location: San Benedetto's Monastery, Subiaco, Italy

80. The Damanhur Experiment Spirituality: Damanhur Location: Damanhur Community, Baldissero Canavese, near Torino, Italy

The missing one

Shingon Buddhist rituals Religion: Shingon Buddhism Location: Daigo-Ji Temple, Kyoto, Japan (in the Far East)


Anonymous said...

I only watched one or two of these programmes. I thought they were a hoot and he did great credit to the C of E. He was so attractive, so 'open', so non-judgemental, yet still - basically - some sort of believer. That's my C of E - under enormous pressure, yet so obviously appealing and decent that it's inconceivable that it won't - somehow - flourish.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Yes I see what you mean about a 'hoot' and credit for the C of E and agree regarding his appealing characteristics.

Erika Baker said...

He was wonderful, trying to discover the positive in other faiths, not digging for the negative that all religions also contain.

My personal favourite was the Burning Man festival, that wasn't religious at all, and yet full of a genuine spirituality and rhythm, a real sense of authenticity. It's a bit what religion could be like if it wasn't fossilised in rituals and liturgy.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

The only thing the Burning Man ceremony lacked was Edward Woodward. I joke, but I bet they've all seen the film. I'm pretty sure that he underplayed the naturism and sex that happens at the Burning Man.

Erika Baker said...

So naturism and sex are per se anti-religion? Or are they just anti the purity cult most religions establish?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I don't think that at all. I think he underplayed them. There was one shot I think of a nude or semi-clad female on a motorcycle.

Doorman-Priest said...

"Peter Owen Jones who seems to talk to someone at the side and not into the camera."

That bothered me until I realised that he has very bad teeth and is, presumably, embarassed. (I would be).

That apart I really warmed to him.