There was a time when I did have a television but about five years ago I decided to get rid of same so now I depend mostly on the radio for my news. This, of course means that I did not have the option of watching RTE One’s New Year’s Eve Countdown Show. In view of the controversy surrounding the sketch which depicted God as a rapist, I feel quite relieved that I was not exposed to content which I admit, would have found upsetting.
Obviously, in view of the over 6,000 complaints that the Broadcaster received I am not the only one! So what is all the fuss about?
Well, in the sketch a mocked-up news report featuring former RTE news presenter, Aengus MacGrianna read: “In a shocking revelation this year, God became the latest figure (referencing Harvey Weinstein) to be implicated in ongoing sexual harassment scandals. The five-billion year–old stood accused of forcing himself on a young middle-eastern migrant and allegedly impregnating her against her will.” In the background we can see a man dressed as God being led away to court by a Garda.
Grounds for Complaint
The first complaint I heard voiced was by Róisín Shorthall, the Co-leader of the Social Democrats. She was a member of a panel on an RTE radio news show and when asked for her view, replied briefly that it was never funny to joke about rape. This response was interesting because it pointed to the fact that there was concern not just from religious believers, but from many who perhaps had no interest in that dimension of the sketch, but were concerned about humorous references to a crime which has devastated the lives of so many women.
The gag drew criticism from the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, who noted that the broadcasting of such a deeply offensive clip about God and His Blessed Mother during the Christmas season was an insult to all Catholics and Christians.
The Association of Catholic Priests, commented as follows, “On behalf of our members and Christians of all denominations we would like to express dismay at the decision for RTE to televise a very offensive portrayal of the God whom Christians worship.”
The new Archbishop of Dublin, Dermot Farrell accused RTE of “mocking the divine” and “trivialising rape victims”.
Interestingly it was not only Christians who protested; the Chairman of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council, Shaykh Dr Umar Al – Qadi tweeted “…Sexual abuse isn’t a topic for comedy, at religious people’s expense.”
Brendan Griffin, a member of the Dāil Communications Committee made a very interesting observation, which highlighted another dimension to this controversy. After the sketch his seven-year old son asked him “What was God arrested for?”
Griffin explained, “In our house, two nights a year the family stay up late. Those are the Toy Show and New Year’s Eve. Surely someone in RTE should have realised a great many more families than usual would be watching the show and proofed it accordingly.” It should, he noted, have been family-friendly, instead of which parents like himself found themselves having to deal with difficult questions relating to rape.
Another aspect of all this is the offence caused to the older people in our society who traditionally are more religious. These are the vulnerable people we have been particularly conscious of since they were forced to cocoon as a result of Covid-19. Many have been unable to connect with their families for quite a long time now, and for more than a few it was the consolation of their faith that has helped them to persevere. It is somewhat ironic that the National Broadcaster who continually talked about their welfare should undermine their beliefs in such a disrespectful manner. There are many for whom faith is indeed an intrinsic aspect of their welfare.
It is a lamentable fact that anti-Semitism was somewhat ‘acceptable’ until the Nazi rule in Germany under Hitler led to the Holocaust. After the terrible images of Auschwitz were broadcast to a horrified world, baiting the Jewish people was not something that seemed any longer palatable. It was painfully obvious what lack of respect, and ultimately hatred could lead to when it was endorsed by the people in power.
Many have observed that RTE would never have shown a sketch which would have been offensive to Muslims. Implicit in this is not that they would have respected Islam more, but rather that they would have been afraid of a backlash from fundamental elements, who would never have tolerated such an affront to their faith.
It is indeed a pity if fear is the only deterrent. Surely it would be preferable to act out of respect for the beliefs which all people of faith cherish. Why is it necessary to mock and humiliate the sincerely held beliefs of others?
I will finish where I began, with a reference to the radio, in this instance a comment made by Oliver Callan who was standing in as host on The Ryan Tubridy Show. One of the listeners said she had lit a candle for another listener who had emailed about a very difficult time she was going through. Callen thanked her sincerely for the nice thing she had done, even though its efficacy might not perhaps be believed by everyone. I felt Oliver was probably one of these but he had the grace to treat the action with respect.
The world would indeed be a better place if everyone chose to behave in such a gracious manner.