May 1, 2005


Reality TV in monastery changes five lives forever (Jonathan Petre, 30/04/2005, Daily Telegraph)

Five men, ranging from an atheist in the pornography trade to a former Protestant paramilitary, have found their lives unexpectedly transformed
in the latest incarnation of reality television - the monastery.

More Oh Brother! than Big Brother, the five underwent a spiritual makeover by spending 40 days and 40 nights living with Roman Catholic monks in Worth Abbey, West Sussex.

The experiment, which will be shown on BBC 2 this month, was designed to test whether the monastic tradition begun by St Benedict 1,500 years ago still has any relevance to the modern world.

Although participants were not required to vote each other out, they faced the challenge of living together in a community and following a disciplined regime of work and prayer. By the end, the atheist, Tony Burke, 29, became a believer and gave up his job producing trailers for a sex chat line after having what he described as a "religious experience".

Gary McCormick, 36, the former Ulster Defence Association member, who spent much of his early life in prison, began to overcome his inner demons.

Peter Gruffydd, a retired teacher, regained the faith he had rejected in his youth and Nick Buxton, 37, a Cambridge undergraduate, edged closer to becoming an Anglican priest.

The fifth "novice", 32-year-old Anthony Wright, who works for a London legal publishing company, started to come to terms with his childhood traumas.

The three-part series called The Monastery shows the five abiding by the
monastery rules, with a strict timetable of instruction, study, prayer, reflection and work duties. They are also shown holding intense and often painful sessions with their religious mentors, individual monks assigned to guide each of them on their spiritual journeys.

At the end of one of these sessions, Mr Burke, his voicing breaking with emotion, confessed his feelings in a video-diary entry. "I didn't want this to happen," he said.

"But something touched me, something spoke to me very deeply. It was a
religious experience.

"When I woke up this morning, I didn't believe in this but, as I speak to you now, I do. Whatever it is, I believe in it."

Certainly one of the strangest aspects of Christophobia is the near psychotic hatred of monasticism. It seems like it must derive from a terror of what it would be like, being brought face to face with who you truly are.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 1, 2005 10:44 PM

If only religion weren't a double-edged sword. The same force that can influence bad people to do good can also inexplicably influence good people to do bad. I happen to be an atheist myself, and I certainly can see the appeal of religion, as I used to be religious myself, and while I have not the hatred of religion that many secularists do, (mainly because many secularists are thinly disguised statist-socialists, i.e.; fascists, which is a religion unto itself), I do have a deep mistrust of the motivations of many who use religion as a vehicle to power. All that being said now, I support W 100%, and am pleased with the new pope. This might shock many people, but I hate fascists, socialists, communists, and Islamists with all my being, and though I might disagree philosophically with religious people, I do know who is on the side of Liberty and Good, and who is evil incarnate.

Posted by: Improbulus Maximus at May 1, 2005 11:02 PM

While I do not dispute your observation, oj, it is nonetheless true that basic military training can have similar outcomes. Even a good deal of modern "organizational development" training. Group cohesion, Stockholm Syndrome and all that. Most of us are remarkable suggestible.

Posted by: ghostcat at May 1, 2005 11:25 PM

Yes, all quite the opposite of looking into your own soul.

Posted by: oj at May 1, 2005 11:28 PM

To thine own self be true.

Posted by: Sandy P. at May 1, 2005 11:38 PM

oj -

While largely true, a good deal of corporate training over the past 15-20 years has focussed on personal inward-looking. Rick Warner's book represents a fusion of that kind of training and traditional Christian thinking. That's why some fundamentalists view him as Spawn of Satan.

Sandy -

Some Hamlet

Posted by: ghostcat at May 1, 2005 11:47 PM

Not at one's soul.

Posted by: oj at May 1, 2005 11:51 PM

Sandy -

(Sheesh. The comments software here has gone from unreponsive to hair-trigger. As I was saying ...)

Some Hamlet experts now claim that old Polonius was a fool. Still, I like that line. It's right up there with "There are more things in heaven and earth ..."

Posted by: ghostcat at May 1, 2005 11:53 PM

oj -

I respectfully disagree.

Posted by: ghostcat at May 1, 2005 11:56 PM

Four out of five ain't bad.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 1, 2005 11:57 PM

OJ must be posting this stuff to lure me in.

All BroJudd readers should know that it is nearly impossible to spend any significant amount of time among monks without being affected in some profound way, although it might take years to realize it. The sense of piety mixed with awesome historical continuity is palpable in their presence. The suggestion that all or most of them are religious "freaks" or mindless automatons is obscene.

If you doubt this, drop in at this place sometime and you'll meet some amazing people. There's Abbot Theodore Wolff, a truly holy elderly gentleman; Brother Francis Schmitz, an athletics enthusiast who's somehow tough and extremely kind at the same time; Brother Mel Tichota, a real-life Western cowboy type who likes to lasso; Father Mike Liebl, a physics savant and probably the most brilliantly intelligent person I've ever known...on and on it goes. You could write a novel about these guys.

People who dedicate their lives to God aren't typical -- which is what makes them interesting.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at May 2, 2005 2:30 AM

Matt Murphy,

Like you,I boarded in a Benedictine monastery for four years of high school. A very valuable time in my life.
Some of those monks were possibly saints. Some sure were not, but as you say, almost all were quite interesting. I learned to separate the idea of the Church from those who might be running it during that time.

Posted by: jdkelly at May 2, 2005 10:44 AM


Which monastery was it? I'm not aware of any others that double as a boarding high school, so I hope the place is still open!

Posted by: Matt Murphy at May 2, 2005 4:46 PM

St. Bede, Peru, Illinois. Graduated in 1965. Times have changed. They did away with boarders in the late '70s. Went coed soon after. It was (and still is,I assume) a fine school.

Posted by: jdkelly at May 2, 2005 6:12 PM

Ah yes, all Mount Michael boys dreamed of the day when we would finally go coed...

Hasn't happened yet, but we did start allowing a few nonboarding students a few years ago. I just hope the school can keep its monastic character going; the monks aren't getting any younger.

It's a fine school though, maybe one of the best in the country. Usually has the best ACT scores in a five-state area (We've also been surprisingly powerful in athletics considering our academic standards). I remember going to college and everybody bitching about Western Civ classes; me, I remembered it all from high school.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at May 3, 2005 12:07 AM