Thursday, April 2, 2009

Deborah 13: Servant of God & Scandal

I finally caught up, thanks to the wonders of YouTube with a doc I'd meant to watch when it was on BBC3, namely Deborah 13: Servant of God. The programme is an extended biography of a 13 year old girl whose parents are devout members of the United Reform Church. The parents,as the mother put it, 'allow the Lord to open and close the womb so we allow God to give us many children as he wants to give us.' This means Andrew and Ruth have eleven children. Deborah is number 4, and the documentary interviewed her over the course of 9 weeks, including the few days she spent with her brother in Buxton, where he's studying to be a chef.

The family come across as loving, warm, full of cuddles, kisses, and then the little touches of fanaticism emerged: the morning Bible meeting, the annual puppet show warning holiday makers at the local campsite of the hell-fire that awaits them come judgement day; the children lulled to sleep by online creationist preachers or bible readings. The children are home-schooled, and come across as articulate, funny and as well-adjusted as any child except that they are brought up in isolation from modern culture. The house seems to have few books other than the Bible or biblical-related literature, from Deborah's tracts which she uses to help her proselytise at the stray lambs of Bridport and Buxton to children's books of David and Goliath, no television, but plenty of computers and internet access, the parents clearly trust their children, and they by and large seem to live an idyllic lifestyle of romping the fields and playing with one another. Deborah has internet pen-pals, but her social life is bound up with her family.

The only disquieting element is Deborah's insistence on her own faith. But then, children often experience a phase of intense devotion - I remember my own friends around the time of confirmation suddenly taking up Bible reading and discussion with considerable fervour, sporting crosses and heading off to Chapel with enthusiasm. I might have gone in for a muted version of same myself. I remember secretly cycling off to Sunday services at the Episcopal church in Aberdeen as a student, largely for comfort at a time of homesickness, a reminder of the patterns and rituals of childhood. My only reservations regarding Deborah were that she seems to have absorbed a particularly grisly and gloomy approach to religion, convinced that we are all innately evil, doomed to hell which was for an imaginative child, clearly a terrifying prospect. She is also taking refuge in the common creationist view that scientific theories are unproven beliefs and consequently, no more valid than her own beliefs.

The documentary was irritating primarily for its omissions. I wanted to know more about the rest of the family, I wondered about the motives of young Matthew, the 20 year old 'making his own life in Buxton' in bringing his sister face to face with modern youth and mores and I really wondered about what the parents thought of their daughter presenting their faith in such a weird and wonderful light for gawpers to watch. But I did not feel the revulsion and anger that others have felt towards the programme and towards the Drapper family. I absolutely approve of eating as a family together, spending as much time together as possible, of not having TVs in rooms (and I go further than the Drappers, because our children don't have computers with internet access in their bedrooms either). It struck me as nothing but refreshing when Deborah couldn't identify Posh Spice or Britney.

What would be interesting would be to revisit Deborah and her brother Matthew in perhaps seven or eight years, when she is hitting her twenties and he is heading out of them. Quite coincidentally, I have been watching with one class the film Son of Rambow, about a small boy brought up in a Plymouth Brethren family and rejecting the narrow vision he was permitted in the sect. Deborah's situation seemed far less hemmed in and restricted - but I wondered what her parents' response would be if any of their flock showed signs of rejecting the teaching they had ingested.

Meanwhile, I picked up my monthly romance, this time a book that has received pretty much A all around the review zone, but for me it was a bit of a meh. Same old, same old, characters didn't seem real, situation didn't ring true, and it was all Ye Olde Englande teashoppe type setting, where suddenly you were deep in rural England only a few hours by carriage out of London. I know places like Fulham and Hampstead were villages two hundred years ago, but we were back in Fake-Disneyfied-England where there are castles round every corner and instead of living in a proper house in Mayfair our earl owned a Gothic/Tudor pile which took up a whole block...Sigh. The last decent historical romance I read was An Accomplished Woman by Jude Morgan and that was last summer.

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