Daniel Nour says one of his main motivations for taking part in SBS’s reality TV show, Christians Like Us, was to be a visible representative of Eastern Christianity in the Australia media.
“People need to see themselves reflected back to them in the media and as an Arab, the son of migrants, I know very keenly how desperate you can feel sometimes on a subconscious level to see a familiar face, one that looks like yours, on TV,” Mr Nour told The Catholic Weekly.
“Arab Christianity doesn’t have a lot of currency in our culture… when people talk about Catholicism it’s this contrived version of Catholicism that seems to have emerged from the moors and grasslands of Ireland rather than the deserts of Palestine, which is where it really came from.”
The 28 year-old Coptic Catholic and journalist was one of ten Christians who featured on the “Big Brother” style TV show recently aired on SBS.
The show, which was screened in two one-hour episodes, was a follow-up to the 2018 documentary Muslims Like Us.
The ten participants, from various denominations and personal persuasions of Christianity, were filmed continuously as they lived together in the same house over the course of one week.
As a reality TV show, it was of course deliberately structured so as to provoke discussion and conflict among the housemates on all hot-button issues for Christians today—abortion, same-sex marriage, clergy sexual abuse, homosexuality and female priests.
The household included a Roman Catholic, a Coptic Catholic, a Mormon, an Anglican female minister and a gay Protestant who had undergone “gay conversion therapy”.
“From the get-go I realised, and it became apparent throughout, this was never going to be a comfortable experience,” Mr Nour said, whose parents are Christian migrants from Egypt.
“It was profoundly tense. These were generally kind and sincere people, but they say you should never talk about religion and politics, and certainly that you shouldn’t bring it up with strangers, and that’s what we did for a week.”
The housemates were placed in scenarios that would test the courage of their convictions. When program producers discovered that Mr Nour likes to dabble in stand-up comedy they knew exactly what challenge they would set for him.
He was asked to give a stand-up comedy routine in front of a room full of hardened, cynical and anti-Christian comedians—a terrifying prospect by anyone’s standards.
“As a general rule, comedians don’t like organised religion and they certainly don’t like Catholicism… For like an hour we were sitting there and listening to just the most eye-watering, caustic humour, and then I got up and gave my own little [routine].”
Mr Nour said he “white-knuckled” his way through the week inside the household and prayed the Rosary on a daily basis.
As an Eastern Catholic, he said his beliefs were in conflict with some of the other housemates who had a more “liberal” approach to their faith.
“For migrant communities, when we talk about Christianity, we’re not just talking about some well-accepted set of values that everyone takes for granted. We’re talking about a very precious and valuable way to live.”
“I hope that something of the goodness and the charm and truth of our belief came through.”
He said that while the program may “to some extent” have been engineered to portray Christianity in a negative light, by highlighting differences between denominations and between individual Christians, it was still a worthwhile experiment.
“Christianity has never been fashionable and that’s the point of it. It presents a challenging narrow path, and the truth is good because it costs.”
“It was terrifying and thrilling but in the end rewarding and I’m glad I did it.”