TV Review: The Bible: A History - Jesus (With Gerry Adams)

22/02/10 | Posted by MattPage

Gerry Adams’ exploration of Jesus and his teaching was always going to prove controversial, but it was pleasing to see that Channel 4 didn’t just go for the headlines, but also managed to make a high-quality, thought-provoking, documentary as well.

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 In this, the 5th episode of The Bible: A History, Gerry Adams looks at Jesus

Adams divides opinion wherever he goes; he’s been key to the Northern Ireland peace process, yet he is still considered a terrorist by many of his countrymen.  But he is also incredibly articulate and honest enough to admit he has made mistakes in the past. Is that sufficient when he still considers it politically legitimate for Irish Republicans to have taken up an armed cause? Opinion remains divided.

The problem for me is that I still don’t quite know what to make of Gerry Adams. I grew up horrified by the IRA’s violence and desperate for peace in Northern Ireland. But when it finally seemed to come, Adams was praised as one of the key reformers. He has always denied being part of the IRA, but then, who on earth would admit it? He suffered violence during his imprisonment but claims to have forgiven those who “beat him senseless”, and though he carried the coffins of IRA suicide bombers, he also seems to have persuaded them to lay down their arms.

Such conflicts seem to reach to the core of the man. He admits he has regrets, but is careful to avoid giving examples. And when his interviewer disputes whether he can pick and choose which bits of Jesus’ teaching to follow, he admits that we “mightn’t be right to do it, but we all do it…because we’re human…we’re not perfect”.

As a lifelong Catholic Adams must be no stranger to contemplating Jesus’ teaching, yet the documentary somehow manages to catch him still wrestling with Jesus’ message and its implications. Does following Jesus mean you fully reject the right to fight? Is forgiveness really required, or is it enough to turn your back on revenge?

Adams background gives him a unique angle on the life of Jesus: he knows what it is like to be beaten by the representatives of an alien government; he’s quick to call the Jewish historian Josephus a defector, and talk of Jesus “taking on the establishment”, and when scholar Helen Bond explains how Caiaphas genuinely seems to act for the sake of the nation, Adams is quick to counter that “the problem with that is that elites never present their case as anything other than being for the common good”.

Having sketched out a few of the key moments in Jesus’ life, and summarised the core of his message, the programme ends by looking at how Jesus’ teaching relates to the situation in Northern Ireland. Adams talks to two of those to lose loved ones in the troubles, a loyalist whose wife and father-in-law were killed by the IRA, and the widow of a Republican solicitor. Both have turned their backs on seeking revenge, in the hope of a better future, even if neither of them feels quite able to forgive yet. It’s powerful stuff, and it demonstrates that Jesus’ message can change far more than just individual morality.

Those with strong views about Adams will probably find their opinions on this programme match their take on the man himself. But for the rest of us such a complicated and multi-angled look at Jesus and the impact of his teaching provides mountains of food for thought.

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Your comments

Gerry Adams is not a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

You quote on Adams that ‘He has always denied being part of the IRA, but then, who on earth would admit it?’

Well, quite a lot. Martin McGuinness certainly admits to his involvement in the IRA. Gerry Kelly does too. Why can’t Gerry? After all he has been caught in photographs wearing an IRA beret at a funeral. If he cannot be honest in this why should anyone believe him in anything else?

#1. By David Acheson on February 23, 2010

Thanks David. I’ve amended the Nobel Prize error.

Matt

#2. By MattPage on February 23, 2010

I found the meeting between Gerry Adams and the widower whose wife was blown up in the fish & chip shop really disturbing. He did not really ask for forgiveness, he just regretted that it happened as collateral damage. I think it is dangerous to have people like him call themselves Christians. He said at the end that he wishes that the conflict could have been resolved in a diplomatic way but in the end violence was justified as it was the only way the British government would listen. I do not remember Jesus saying turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, love your enemy and if that doesn’t work well I guess you will just have to blow them up!
I would love to see Tony and Cherie Blair give us their interpretation of the Bible and try to justify the war!

#3. By sasha on February 24, 2010

how could that wicked man even be associated with the gospel? my friend was blown up on an army bus in northern ireland by the ira in 1983 he didn’t die straight away but crawled into a field and bled to death there.
gerry adams never shows any remorse for anything…the only consolation is that one day he will be judged.

#4. By liana johnson on February 25, 2010

The very words ‘collateral damage’ don’t sound as bad as ‘murdering innocent civilians’ do they?

#5. By David Acheson on February 25, 2010

I was looking forward to seeing something about the Biblical Jesus - but I think the programme told us a little more about Gerry Adams.  Not that that is a bad thing - but the title of the programme suggested we’d see something else.

Such a shame we couldn’t have heard more about the real Jesus according to the witness statements, rather than from people who seemed not to know Him or even who seemed not to want to know Him.

#6. By Suzy on February 27, 2010

I think the cover up of British violence perpetrated against republicans and nationalists in the north of Ireland is even more horrifying than the IRA violence because the cover up continues. Also the way in which hundreds of years of British violence has been perpetrated against the Irish people is horrifyingly reasonate. But you probably wouldn’t know anything about that seeing how it was covered up. Unions, like the UK, can get away with so much more than Nations, because no-one really feels the pressure of responsibility, but is ignorance of the crimes of a political union really a legitimate defence for it’s politicians and citizens. Just wondering.

#7. By Michael on March 29, 2010

Yawn! How come you know so much about it seeing how it was covered up?

#8. By David Acheson on March 29, 2010

I don’t regard Adams as a shining example or authoritative interpreter of Jesus’ teachings, as recorded in the Bible. This episode has plainly shunned Jesus, unlike its treatment of the previous Jewish heroes and prophets. Have the producers an undeclared agenda?

#9. By Alan Miller on December 22, 2011

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