BBC documentary "The Big Silence"

Commentary on and links to religion or atheism in the media
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DollarLama
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BBC documentary "The Big Silence"

Post by DollarLama » Fri Oct 22, 2010 10:51 pm

Wow, I don't watch much TV, but I just got up off the couch after seeing BBC's The Big Silence:
Abbot Christopher Jamison, a Benedictine monk, believes that he can teach five ordinary people the value of silent meditation, as practised by monks in monasteries, so they can make it part of their everyday lives. He sets up a three-month experiment to test out whether the ancient Chrisitan[sic] tradition of silence can become part of modern lives.

In this episode, Christopher brings the five volunteers to his own monastery, Worth Abbey, before sending them to begin a daunting eight days in complete silence at a specialist retreat centre.
Sounds lovely, doesn't it? What could possibly be the harm? Can you say "overt psychological manipulation"?

The programme takes four individuals, all of them recently bereaved, (or in the case of one person, subjected to complete ostracism by their family during adolescence) and puts them (for three days, to begin with) in a monastery of a silent order of monks, and then several days later, in an eight-day Jesuit-run silent 'retreat'.

These are all good-hearted, genuine people who want to do the right thing by themselves and their families, yet in the religious setting they're lied to (participants must attend mass every day, but are told: "we won't pressure you into any belief system - the belief is inside you"), manipulated (to a woman who's lost her faith after her father's sudden death: "the reason you're scared is because maybe you're afraid you don't have a good heart") and otherwise influenced (the guy ostracised by his family, who's an unsophisticated atheist, is directed to a deserted chapel, only to find there a bible opened at the page Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good... - he weeps).

I found it a real eye-opener. At every turn, the religious manipulators in the programme are cast as gentle souls, only interested in directing their charges to self-knowledge. The fact that they're adherents of a warped moral system with no factual basis is never challenged.

What really gets my goat is that the transcendental emotions and feelings induced by prolonged silence and introspection (or meditation, or marathon running, or free rock-climbing...), which we can all experience, are co-opted by religious believers as manifestations of God. They're not - they're just emergent properties of our consciousness. They are context-free.

Oh well, as my missus says, tongue in cheek, knowing it always get a rise out of me: "...but they mean well."

Tune in next week for part two, and in the meantime (BBC iPlayer not being available in the Republic - goddamn you, BBC) wait for the first episode to become available on BitTorrent. Sorry about the long absence. Thanks for letting me vent my spleen. I feel much better now.

Peace and blessings
DollarLama
"Religious belief of all kinds shares the same intellectual respectability, evidential base, and rationality as belief in the existence of fairies." AC Grayling
Ygern
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Re: BBC documentary "The Big Silence"

Post by Ygern » Sat Oct 23, 2010 2:26 am

Nice to see you here again :)
We've missed His Holiness's beatific grin shining down on us.

I wouldn't have a problem with this experiment if it was "ordinary" volunteers. I do think it is both inappropriate as well as potentially damaging to put people dealing with traumatic emotional issues through this sort of blatant manipulation.
The universe is huge and old, and rare things happen all the time ~ Lawrence Krauss
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DollarLama
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Re: BBC documentary "The Big Silence"

Post by DollarLama » Sat Oct 23, 2010 10:31 am

Thanks, Ygern - good to be back, and it's really great to see the community as vibrant and motivated as ever. Fair dues to you for the work you're doing administering the forum.

You're right, if these were well-balanced people (I won't even require them to be rational people) then this programme would be far less offensive. Clearly the producers had to give it a frisson by selecting people with unresolved emotional issues to participate.

Peace
DollarLama
"Religious belief of all kinds shares the same intellectual respectability, evidential base, and rationality as belief in the existence of fairies." AC Grayling
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