Life & Faith

Are You Serious?

Andy Bannister on how life’s biggest questions are not just abstract, but deeply personal.

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"I think the gospel has something to say in every area of life. Christianity is a public truth. One of the mistakes Christians make is answering yesterday’s truth. One way to address this is to do a lot more listening and a lot less talking."

In the West, it’s safe to say that there are many obstacles that come between people and taking faith seriously. There’s the idea that science holds the answer to all things; that religion is the cause of all wars; that all religions are the same.

"It’s far more respectful to my Muslim friends to recognise that what they believe is different, and to take the effort to understand those differences, and not to assume they’re just like me."

Andy Bannister is the Director of Solas Centre for Public Christianity in the UK, and author of the book The Atheist Who Didn't Exist: Or, The Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments. He’s dedicated the better part of his life to encouraging people to consider faith, to think carefully and seriously about it.

In this conversation we talk about life’s big questions; some of the key differences between Islam and Christianity; and what Christian faith has to offer our culture that might be worthwhile.

"The reason I treated you with respect and dignity was because I believe you’re a person made in the image of God and that your life bears incredible value and dignity. You, on the other hand, have told me three times during our lunch that you believe human beings are nothing more than atoms and particles - nothing more than biology. But you haven’t treated me as a person made of atoms and particles, you’ve actually treated me as a person made in the image of God. You’ve treated me on the basis of my worldview, not yours. I’m very grateful for that."

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REBROADCAST: The Ethical Imagination

This episode was first broadcast on 30 July 2015.

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Bioethicist Margaret Somerville talks about rights, choices, and why she’s against euthanasia.

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Do we - or should we - have the right to choose when and how we die?

"A physician intervening with the intention to kill is a radical change in the law, it’s a radical change in medicine, and it’s a radical change in the most fundamental of society’s values, namely, respect for life."

Margaret Somerville is an Australian bioethicist. She’s sympathetic to those who see euthanasia as a way of easing suffering - but also strongly disagrees with them.

Simon Smart talks to Professor Somerville about what’s happening with euthanasia around the world, how we make ethical choices, and what kind of society we want to leave for future generations.

"You can’t judge a society by how it treats its strongest, most powerful, most privileged members. You can judge it by how it treats its weakest, most in need, most vulnerable people. People who are old and fragile and dying - they belong in the latter group. So if all we’re going to do for them is give them a lethal injection, I think we’re a pretty sad and sick society."

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Faith in the Firing Line

Personal stories of terror, forgiveness, and faith from around the Middle East.

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"I have nothing against them. I really forgive them. What do I get if they were killed or anything? The only thing I would ask for them is to be enlightened. If they are enlightened, the whole world would be a much better place."

These remarkable words were spoken by a woman whose son had just been killed in a terror attack in Egypt. But her response was not an unusual one. Many Christians, in the wake of attacks on their churches and their people, have chosen to forgive.

Ehab from the Bible Society in Egypt says there’s a very simple reason for this - it’s what they learn to do in their churches because it’s what the Bible says.

"What the Bible is teaching Christians is to love their enemies, do not take revenge, to be forgivers, to show love in everything they do … So that’s the very natural response to these events based on the very strong convictions that they have from their Christian perspective."

The Middle East is the birthplace of Christianity, but in recent years, persecution and discrimination have forced many Christians to flee.

In this episode of Life & Faith, we speak to Ehab from Egypt, Nahid from Iran, and Nabil from Iraq about what’s happening, and how people of Christian faith cope with what’s happening on the ground.

"When I was in Mosul, this is what’s happened. We went to visit the church and it was burnt. But when we go out, I saw flowers. I told the bishops there: 'Look, if the people destroy the church, God creates new things.' There’s hope all the time. I don’t want to lose hope."

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REBROADCAST: Good For Business

This episode was first broadcast on 13 February 2015.

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Religious freedom expert Brian Grim explains why religious restrictions are bad news for everybody.

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"Where faith is restricted for people, it makes them start to question: Does this society even want me? Do they value me?"

Religious adherence is growing around the world - and so are restrictions on religion. Dr Brian Grim is President of the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation, and has lived in many places where religion is heavily restricted. He talks to Simon Smart about why religious freedom is good not only for society but also for business, and why he’s optimistic that people of different faiths can live together well.

"Where you have religious freedom, and a rich pluralism of ideas, and faith is part of the natural dialogue of society - it’s not imposed and not removed - then you find better lives for everyone."

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The Story of Gender

Professor Sarah Williams on the importance of language and history when it comes to gender.

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"We have lost the language for talking about any form of biological determinism. Gender has replaced the word sex, which is ironic given the fact that it was introduced to create the possibility of nuance."

Questions about gender are a big part of the zeitgeist - they’re incredibly important for us at this point in history, and incredibly charged. It’s interesting to discover, then, that the word "gender" is a relatively new addition to the English language. The idea of gender, though, has a long and complicated history.

Professor Sarah Williams from Regent College in Vancouver has been mapping the history of gender. In this episode, we take a deep dive into that history, and how we’ve arrived at the understandings we have today. Plus, we discover the key roles that the Bible, and Christianity, played in gender equality and women’s rights movements.

"Somewhere along the line, Christianity has been written out of the feminist narrative and of the women’s movement. Women like Josephine Butler, who argued very strongly from a Christian perspective it was essential for the woman to have the vote, using Christian theology as the basis of her political philosophy.

The late modern feminist doesn’t quite know what to do with Christianity being a radical force for women, rather than a subjugating force for women. And as a Christian feminist myself, it matters a lot to me that we recover this part of the history of feminism."

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SUBSCRIBE to Life & Faith on Apple Podcasts: www.bit.ly/cpxpodcast 

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REBROADCAST: Beautiful Proof

This episode was first broadcast on 30 June 2016.

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Exploring the beauty of maths, we may just find that faith and proof are not mutually exclusive.

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"An equation for me has no meaning unless it expresses a thought of God." - Srinivasa Ramanujan.

Ramanujan was a self-taught mathematical genius from India, who moved to Cambridge University in 1914 to work with the eminent mathematician, G. H. Hardy.

His story, as told in the movie The Man Who Knew Infinity, is not only one of a brilliant mind capable of remarkable work, but of an unlikely friendship between a devout Hindu, and an atheist who was a stickler for proofs.

"Your theorem is wrong," Hardy tells Ramanujan in the movie, "this is why we cannot publish anymore until you finally trust me on this business of proofs."

Once described as "the most romantic figure in recent mathematical history", Ramanujan’s life also speaks to the idea of finding beauty in maths - and this is what we explore in this episode of Life & Faith.

You’ll hear from a leading Australian mathematician about her response to the film, and her sense of the relationship between divine reality and mathematical practice. Then, Oxford mathematics professor John Lennox shares his thoughts about the beauty of the world of numbers and patterns. We wrap up the episode with a poem written and read by former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams - you won’t want to miss it.

"Why are numbers beautiful? It's like asking why is Beethoven's Ninth Symphony beautiful. If you don't see why, someone can't tell you. I know numbers are beautiful. If they aren't beautiful, nothing is." - Paul Erdős

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Look at the Stars

Dr Luke Barnes talks science, rationality, and the wonders of the night sky.

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"We’ve described the way the world works. We haven’t in any way explained why it’s there in the first place."

In this episode, we celebrate National Science Week with Dr Luke Barnes, an astrophysicist with the Sydney Institute of Astronomy.

Join us as we unravel the mysteries of the universe (sort of); find out if stars truly are the great lion kings of the past looking down on us; ask what an orderly world suggests about the possibility of a 'Rational Mind' behind it all – and more.

And he encourages all of us to look into the night sky and take a moment to contemplate the universe.

"I think it’s very good to be reminded of how small we are."

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Purchase your copy of, A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely-Tuned Cosmos: www.physics.usyd.edu.au/~luke/book/

Find out more about National Science Week: www.scienceweek.net.au

Subscribe to our podcast: www.bit.ly/cpxpodcast

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I Don’t Judge Anyone (Except Christians)

For actor Anna McGahan, Christianity flipped the logic of life and of the entertainment industry.

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"It’s weird because I was the kid that put on plays – and I was aggressive, I would make everyone do a play if we were hanging out with family, friends … However, I was much more interested in science, and I was interested in dance, and I wanted to be an author and an astronomer and a journalist. And I didn’t really consider acting at all."

Anna McGahan was partway through a degree in psychology when she decided to pursue acting as a career. In 2012, Anna won the Heath Ledger Scholarship, and she has since appeared in several Australian television series including Underbelly, House Husbands and Anzac Girls.

But there was something about her profession, and her success, that she didn’t feel completely comfortable with.

"I had always really hoped that I could be somebody that would give something good to the world, that would actually contribute. And I was desperately afraid that I hadn’t really contributed much but some half-popular television."

So she started looking for answers, and found them in the place she least expected to - and least wanted to.

"I had been trained in liberal arts education, I had come from the LGBT community, and I had come from a group of people that had felt so rejected by the church ... I used to walk around and say, 'I don’t judge anyone – except for Christians'."

But Anna started investigating Christianity, going to church, reading the Bible, and discovering the person of Jesus Christ.

"If this is true, it will change the whole world - and I don’t understand why no one’s told me about him before."

In this episode, Anna McGahan speaks with us backstage from the Justice Conference in Melbourne where she was performing a play she co-wrote with Joel McKerrow, People of the Sun. Anna gives us insight into the life of an actor, why she decided to investigate Christianity, and how it’s completely changed her life and work.

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FIND OUT MORE about the Justice Conference: www.thejusticeconference.com.au

READ Anna McGahan’s blog, ‘A Forbidden Room’: www.aforbiddenroom.com

SUBSCRIBE to our podcast: www.bit.ly/cpxpodcast

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REBROADCAST: Music and the Mind

This episode was first broadcast on 12 May 2016.

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How a music professor uses playlists and sing-a-longs to engage people living with dementia.

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Ivy is 105 years old and she loves music. She sings along to "old-timers" in the car when she’s traveling around Australia, and listens to "sad" songs before she goes to bed.

"I usually have the music playing softly," she says, "I go to sleep that way."

The truth is, Ivy hasn’t done that for a while. She lives with dementia and has been a resident at a care home in Sydney’s north for the past couple of years. Her carers tell me that Ivy goes to bed pretty early, around 5pm, and she doesn’t have a radio or music player in her room.

Instead, Ivy has an iPod loaded with a personalised playlist of songs for her to enjoy. It was given to her as part of Hammondcare’s new music engagement program designed by former music professor, Dr Kirsty Beilharz.

So, what’s on her playlist? "I like all the old time songs," Ivy says, before the conversation suddenly shifts to why she didn’t learn how to play the piano. "My mother tried to make me learn but I was too much of a larrikin," she says.

In this episode, we speak with residents, a care worker and Dr Beilharz, about the unique and powerful way music and singing can connect with people living with dementia.

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Not an Inspiration

How a spinal cord injury revealed to Shane Clifton both the wonder and fragility of life.

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"I landed upside down in the pit and I knew immediately I had broken my neck. I couldn’t move anything. I yelled out to my wife, and she thought I was joking at first. I remember just apologising to my wife. There was this sense that I’d done something I knew was going to impact our whole family drastically."

There are a lot of words you could use to describe Shane Clifton: husband, father, professor, theologian. When you meet him you’ll notice that he’s in a wheelchair, because Shane is also a quadriplegic.

But one word we’re not using to describe him is "inspiration".

"As soon as you say, 'that’s amazing because they’re disabled!' you’re actually diminishing what it is they’ve achieved. My point would be to do your best to treat people as people."

In this episode, Shane tells the story of how a freak accident led to him becoming a quadriplegic. He also explains his problem with the "positivity myth", and shares his insights on what the Bible and Christianity have to say about disability.

"The cycle of life, the wonder and the joy of life, all the good things that we’ve got in life, are connected to the cycle of fragility and vulnerability. ... If I can accept the wonder of the cycle of life, I guess I have to accept the consequences of that too, which in my case was a spinal cord injury."

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BUY Shane Clifton’s book, Husbands Should Not Break: A Memoir about the Pursuit of Happiness after Spinal Cord Injury: http://wipfandstock.com/husbands-should-not-break.html 

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