This post is about a program I half-watched on Sunday evening, as I was reading: ‘My Mediterranean, with Adrian Chiles’. It was the first in a new BBC2 series that followers the presented on a journey round the Mediterranean. Nothing special, you might think. The thing that the show’s title doesn’t tell you, however, is that the show is actually all about religion. Why is Adrian Chiles presenting a show about religion in the Med? Well it turns out that he’s been a Catholic for about 10 years, and is very interested in exploring his faith more. Where better to do this than the coast of the Med, where Christianity, Judaism and Islam brush up against one another on a daily basis? This post is a response to the program – half review, I suppose, and half simply what I’ve been thinking about since watching it. This post has the potential to go long, but I hope you find it interesting, and I’ll say right now that it’s a series worth watching if you’re interested in the intersection of faiths.
Before I go any further, I want to say that I think this show has the potential to be a very good thing. It’s an honest, entertaining look at the Abrahamic religions – the kind of thing that doesn’t appear very often on the mainstream TV channels, and it should be praised for bringing this kind of discussion about faith to the fore. As you’ll see, I disagree with Adrian and the show in a number of ways, but the last thing I want this to come across as is anything like a personal attack on him, or an argument for the sake of making an argument.
You see, the problem, for me, starts with Adrian’s main line of argument in the show: that Christians, Jews and Muslims basically share the same God. He spends time with people of the different faiths, learning about what is important to them, and basically makes his argument on the basis that everyone shares a common ground in wanting to love each other and, I think, obey God. The problem is, no matter how nice it would be to admit that actually, beneath it all, Christians, Jews and Muslims worship the same God just isn’t what I believe.
Unfortunately, the way that the show is edited, intentionally or not, demonises this view that I hold. Of all the people that Adrian talks to, the only ones that he has a negative experience with are evangelical Christians, who say, on camera, that they believe that the Bible is the truth and that Jesus is the only way to God.
This is what I believe.
On the show, they’re framed as intolerant bigots with out of date beliefs, or that’s how it seemed to me, anyway. They’re the perfect contrast to the loving Jews and Muslims who have all contributed to Adrian’s argument that they are under the same God.
When Adrian spoke to the evangelicals, they were in an evangelical festival on a beach in Israel, with rock music blaring and people jumping around. This stood in stark contrast to the peaceful Catholic churches, and friendly communities of Jews and Muslims that Adrian had spent time in, as if all there is to evangelical Christianity is loud music and intolerance. Now, I wouldn’t normally call myself an evangelical, but a) I know lots of people who do call themselves evangelicals, and b) it was the closest representation of my own beliefs on the show, so I feel the need to defend it to some extent. The main thing should be said, though I can’t believe I’d actually have to say it, is that, just like everyone else on that show, evangelicals enjoy loving communities with each other, want to follow God the way they think is best, and want what’s best for other people. If you only go on what the show says, you’d think that evangelicals are shallow and intolerant.
Why do they come across as intolerant? Because they say that Jesus is the only way to God, and this is at odds with the message of the show. I think what troubled me most about the presentation of Christianity on the program was that there were few mentions of Jesus, and even fewer mentions of his specific role in Christianity. You see, once you start talking about Jesus, it becomes very hard to say that Christians, Jews and Muslims all worship the same God. This is because Christians say that Jesus is God, whereas Muslims and Jews say that he isn’t. This is a distinct stumbling point for the ‘all one God’ argument. How do you get around that stumbling point? Well, you can’t really, not without diminishing the status and/or actions of Jesus. How does the show do it? Well, Adrian just doesn’t talk about it.
I’ll hold my hands up and say that there has only been one episode so far, and this issue may be addressed. If it is, you’ll probably hear more from me about it afterwards! But for now, I’m just going on what was said in this first show. Now, let’s pretend that the simple fact that Christians call Jesus God doesn’t matter too much because, hypothetically, what God’s character and actions are can still be the same across all three faiths. This also doesn’t stand up. Why not? Because at the heart of Christian theology is the idea that God died. In Judaism and Islam, God doesn’t die, yet Christians say that he did. In Christian teaching, God died to take all of our junk onto his shoulders, and clear a path for us to know him without all of that guilt weighing us down, and then he rose again to show that death has no power over those who follow him. That is radical, and my faith would be very, very different if God hadn’t done that. In fact, it would probably look a lot more similar to the other Abrahamic religions. Actually, it probably wouldn’t exist at all.
Let me make this abundantly clear: without God doing and being something fundamentally different to what the other religions believe he does and is, my faith would not exist. Christianity, as I understand it, simply cannot be assimilated with the other Abrahamic religions. I’m not saying this to be intolerant, I’m just trying to state the simple facts. My God is not the same God because he has done something completely different! And I believe that Jesus is the only way to God because I believe that his death was the only way that makes sense to get rid of everything that separates me and God. I cannot meet God’s perfect standards, I just can’t. No amount of praying or rituals or rules will get me anywhere close to him. The only way that I can get close to him and be the person that he wants me to be is if I surrender myself to him and let him shape me.
So while I think the show is a great idea, and I admire Adrian Chiles for being honest about his faith and bringing this topic to the wider population, I can’t agree with his premise that Jews, Muslims and Christians worship the same God. I can’t accept that because to do so would be to ignore all that I believe that God has done for me, and to ignore the cornerstone of my faith: Jesus Christ.