I’ve only just started watching BBC i Player’s Young, Welsh and Pretty Religious, but I am already finding it brilliant and eye-opening.
The programme follows nine young people in Wales, exploring their faith and looking at any difficulties with their families and broader society.
I’m only on episode one, but I have already had my prejudice and illusions shattered about the Hare Krishna religion (it’s more traditional than I thought and funnily enough does not solely involve singing the Hare Krishna mantra over and over again.)
We meet Gopala-Raya, a 29-year-old Hare Krishna monk, who joined the religion in his twenties. He gets up in the early hours of the morning, around three am, to attend to the deities, which are about the size of a doll. He cleans them, polishes them and delicately dresses them in fine clothes and jewellery. He explains that the deities are not idols, but that followers of the religion can worship God through them. Each morning, the deities are given fresh garlands of flowers. Gopala says that through this act of devotion, the deities and therefore God become part of your life.
We are also introduced to a pagan – paganism is thought to be the oldest religion in Wales, stretching back around 2,500 years, pre-dating Christianity.
We meet Mhara, a 22-year-old pagan. Each morning, she sweeps the floor with a broom, which dispels negative energy. I found it fascinating that she said part of the reason she became a pagan was that she came out as gay as a young teenager and then, later, came out as transgender, which was very difficult for her in terms of fitting in. She has found her community and part of her identity within paganism.
We watched her and her partner’s pagan worship – they consider that all life starts with Mother Earth and they dedicate their prayers to Her. There was a very touching prayer at the end, where Mhara and her partner held hands and said that they promised to be faithful to one another as long as they loved one another.
We also come across Safar, a high-flying scientist and campaigner against Islamophobia who wears the veil. Oh, and she also enjoys sky diving! We watch her as she prepares to take to the skies. She says that her choice of sport does raise eyebrows, but at the same time, it is suitable for Muslim women who want to keep their modesty as everyone who goes sky diving has to wear a snood, which covers much of their face. We see how nervous she is when she is still on the ground – the final instruction to go ‘out’ is always the most frightening. Then we see her absolute joy and elation when she has managed to jump out and has landed safely. “I did it!” she cries.
We are introduced to Chloe, an evangelical Christian. Christianity is apparently on decline in Wales, with fewer than 1% of the population going to church, but evangelical churches are on the rise. The one that Chloe belongs to plays Youtube videos and worshippers chat to God like He’s a friend. She is in contact with God throughout the day, waking up each morning and asking Him casually, “hi, how are you?”
There was once 5,500 Jews who lived all around Wales, but there are now only 2,200, who live mostly in Cardiff. A lot of young people move to London, where there is a larger community, like Hannah, 24. Hannah still, however, considers Wales to be her home and often goes back to celebrate Shabbat, or the Sabbath.
Shabbat starts at nightfall on Friday and ends when the sun sets on Saturday. Jews have Friday night meals, where they eat Challah, sweet Jewish bread, often have chicken soup and enjoy a family meal together. Traditional Jews, such as Hannah, completely relax and do not do anything that would have been considered work in biblical times. This has been interpreted to include modern inventions, such as driving or using electricity. I’m Jewish, although I am not religious, so I do not observe Shabbat. I have often wondered whether it would be nice to have a whole day where I “switch off”. A lot of modern Jews try to keep the spirit of Shabbat, e.g. not doing any homework, spending more time offline and not thinking about work.
Finally, in this episode we meet Yousra, who says that as a practicing Muslim, part of her observance is dedicating herself to her work. She is an optometrist, and also a fashion designer. All her clothes are “modest” designs, which means that they can be worn by observant Muslim women. At the same time, she wants all the women who wear her creations to be “catwalk ready!” She certainly loves colour and sequins and she is very creative. It would be interesting to watch her career as it grows.
All episodes of Young, Welsh and Pretty Religious are available in the UK on BBC i Player: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p0787vrn/young-welsh-and-pretty-religious-series-1-episode-1