Believable beliefs

28th November 2003 at 00:00
Terence Copley reviews a video that talks to secondary pupils about key religious issues using images and words they can identify with

Faith In Action

Channel Four video, pound;19.99

Children don't always find it easy to see how faith can inspire or change human lives. Finding suitable exemplars, neither too old nor too uncool to have "street cred" in the world of the classroom, can be difficult. These five 15-minute programmes for key stage 4 provide case studies from different religions about how faith motivates people. My favourite was The Strength to Quit, in which a young man reflects without bitterness on his troubled past, his drug addiction, his conversion to Christianity and his new life and work with disadvantaged young men and women.

Described like this, it doesn't seem much different from similar stories.

The magic here is the cool language, the person himself, the credibility of it all, the lack of preaching at the viewer and the purely human scenes, such as the man break-dancing in a public park to amuse his toddler and his wife.

With Hope and Help shows celibate Buddhist monks, aware of their "cold and remote image", who do not usually even discuss sex, touring Thailand to educate people about taking precautions against Aids. The monks are alert to comedy when they're waving condoms around and playing games to get the message across to children. But in reflective moments, we see this linked to Buddhist ideals, values and deep compassion.

In Sacred Nature, an Indian connects his deep Hindu conviction about the sanctity of life with his chosen work as an environmental campaigner.

Peace Warriors shows a group of Hindu and Muslim young people trying to promote harmony between riot-torn communities in India. Not for secular reasons such as civil order, but out of a deep-rooted conviction that their religions at heart do not oppress, do not incite and do not demand blood.

The Indian-based programmes carry good footage of their main characters at worship and talking about their faith, not merely performing televisually good works.

In The Perfect Baby?, a young female Anglican ordinand, after reading about the abortion of a baby merely because of its cleft palate, tries to find out how Christian families in the UK address issues of bioethics and disability. She has a Down syndrome brother, whom we meet. We are also introduced to the parents of a severely disabled baby who lived for only six months. They are sure that his life had meaning. The programme is one-sided - we do not hear the case of those who choose terminations.

However, perhaps this an excusable oversight in a society where plenty of contra information is around and the issues often go undebated by default.

Terence Copley is professor of religious education at the University of Exeter

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