Monday, August 24, 2009

Critical Review of Bayless Conley & Compass: Sikhing Woopi

By Michael R. Astle.

From four o’clock on Sunday morning channel TEN aired the show named after its host Bayless Conley (Conley, 2009). With his exuberant gestures and powerful voice he sought to engage with his audience whilst preaching about how to praise God. Ironically, all of this together with his ability to list the Biblical books from Daniel to Jonah in sequence and demonstrate his apparent understanding of Hebrew would seem to do more to draw attention to himself than his words. Nonetheless the passive audience from time to time was shown listening attentively and taking notes on his sermon during what he called their “Bible study night”.
Conley referred to multiple translations throughout his speech to ensure his listeners comprehended his words and obtained some deeper understanding of what the passages he referred to were intending to say. Unfortunately, whilst speaking of the second of the seven Hebrew words for praise, he made a point of how Jonah 2:1 begins with the word “Then” on the assumption that it is intended to mean “after that time”. This discredits his authority in regards to the Hebrew language, which he appears to favour, as a private comparison of translations revealed that it is equally valid for the prefix to be translated as “during that time”. At least two English versions omit the term altogether while another translated it as “And” (Green, 1984; International Bible Society, 1986; United Bible Societies, 1976). The Greek Septuagint also translated the prefix after this latter manner (Brenton, 1851).
However were this matter to trouble anyone then Conley has a solution- just praise God! According to his own profession, Conley believes that God should be praised in times of trouble and in times when there is no trouble. Conley assumed that he was preaching to the converted just as he presumed to have understanding of the aforementioned verse in Jonah without first confirming his suspicions. There was one moment where he requested his audience to say “amen” and they dutifully replied. He repeatedly mentioned how some audience members could be feeling certain emotions which affect their willingness to praise God; though whether or not the encouragement to praise God which they received had any lasting impact on their lives once they left their assembly remains hidden from the viewer.
As such, whether or not Conley achieved his aim depends upon what his actual aim might have been and who he was intending to reach with his message. As Clark (2004) would expect, there did not appear to be a large number of teenagers in his audience despite the broad racial mixture. So if his aim were to deeper the comprehension of mature adults in regards to religious praise then he may have achieved some success. However if it were his expressed aim of promoting the actual giving of unceasing praise to God then there is no evidence that it was achieved for there was absolutely no praising of God in any form broadcast at any time. Yet if his aim were to simply provide information regarding ways in which God may be praised in accordance with Old Testament customs then he at least provided a brief overview of the methods of some noteworthy figures such as David, Solomon and Jonah together with an explanation of what varieties of praise are intended in different contexts which information his audience was taking notes to retain for later possible use.
In contrast, the Compass programme entitled Sikhing Woopi, which aired on the second of August on the ABC, is directed towards the wider Australian community rather than towards current practitioners of the religion (Spring, 2009). It aims to portray the Sikh community at Woolgoolga in New South Wales as typically Australian yet distinct in regards to some of their customs and heritage. As one Sikh chose to declare the matter, “It’s just that some of us wear turbans and sell curry”.
The programme focused upon one family in particular where the third generation Australian Sikh husband had married a career-minded, socially modern wife from India. Their varying perspectives on numerous issues including their transnational linkages are raised (Beyer, 2006). It discussed how their children face issues similar to those of other Australian children yet with the strong support of their family. One child had a disability and diabetes whilst their eldest son had asthma but loved animals. The notions of the awareness of others and sharing were described as being paramount within the Sikh religion. The origins of this faith and a brief overview of its central teachings were provided. This lead into a discussion of how their faith can regularly impact upon their family life. Initially there is some indication that the rigidity of the masculine and feminine roles within the household are relaxed as each partner respects the needs and weaknesses of the other and seeks to assist. Although her husband preferred Weet-Bix, on special occasions the elder Sikh women expected the wife to cook traditional Indian meals. Nevertheless, in other areas of their lives this nuclear family were highly traditional regardless.
At the Sikh Games, which was recently held in Woolgoolga, there had been a sizable number of Sikhs not displaying the signs that they had been formally initiated into the Sikh religion. Yet the Indian-born wife exclaimed that she would never have married a clean shaven man claiming to be a Sikh nor one who did not wear the turban. Many Sikhs hoped that events such as the Sikh Games, which continue to draw their communities together, may enable their children to be influenced by banal religion and so promote the continuance of their unique cultural traditions (Hjarvard, 2008).
In this way the Sikh community endeavoured to integrate itself into Australian society. For this reason, traditional Punjabi sports are combined with popular Australian and global sports so that all participants and spectators may enjoy the Games. It is also revealed that many people, especially the young, enjoy the opportunity to be able to meet new people and potential partners. Their relationship with local politicians and community workers was explored in a positive way which suggests the producer intended to eliminate the portrayal of any negative images of the Sikh community.
This bias should be expected though for the aim of the show was to promote acceptance and understanding across the broad Australian society. As such, the limited attention given to the Games themselves so that the focus of the documentary could be upon the life of the Sikh family unit within the Australian context serves its purpose rather well. Towards the end of the show, the way in which one Sikh is shown jovially selling curry with yoghurt in a manner not unlike the familiar ice-cream van driver further reinforces how well their community is accepted around Woolgoolga.

Works Cited
Beyer, P. (2006). Religion and Globalization. In G. Ritzer (Ed.), The Blackwell Companion to Globalization (pp. 444-456). Malden, MA, USA: Blackwell Publishing.
The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English. (1851). (L. C. Brenton, Trans.) London: Samuel Bagster & Sons, Ltd.
Clark, L. S. (2004). U.S. Adolescent Religious Identity, the Media, and the "Funky" side of Religion. Journal of Communication (52), 794-811.
Conley, B. (2009, August 16). Bayless Conley [Television broadcast]. Sydney: Television Entertainment Network.
Green, S. J. (Ed.). (1984). The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-Greek-English (1 Volume ed.). Hendrickson Publishers.
Hjarvard, S. (2008). The mediatization of religion. Northern Lights , 6, 9-26.
International Bible Society. (1986). The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Zondervan Publishing House.
Spring, T. (2009, August 2). Compass: Sikhing Woopi [Television broadcast]. Sydney: Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
United Bible Societies. (1976). Good News Bible. Glasgow, Great Britain: William Collins Sons & Co., Ltd.

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