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Life & Faith: Beyond Belief

According to Hugh Mackay, Australia is in themiddle of a “soft revolution”.

After 30 years of consumerism and theso-called happiness movement, Mackay says people are ready to rid themselves oftheir materialistic and narcissistic characteristics and embrace that there’smore to life.

“Unless there’s something I put my faithin, life is meaningless.”

This is essentially what dozens ofAustralians across the spectrum of faith and spirituality told Mackay as heconducted interviews for his new book, BeyondBelief: How we find meaning, with or without religion.

The book explores Australia’s current spiritualclimate and recent shifts in our religious faith and practice. Mackay openlyadmits, though, that the book probably won’t appeal either to committedbelievers or committed atheists – and in this interview Simon and Hugh findplenty to disagree on, as well as some common ground.

In this episode of Life & Faith, we explore the spiritual landscape of Australian society,challenge some of Mackay’s views on Christian faith, and discuss the role ofreligion and the church in helping people find meaning and purpose.

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Life & Faith: Freedom Regained

Neurons and genetics cannot explain away the existence of free will, according to Julian Baggini.

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When philosopher Julian Baggini – author of more than a dozen books, including Atheism: A Very Short Introduction and Freedom Regained: The Possibility of Free Will hears someone talking about free will, they’re usually talking about why humans don’t have it. This doesn’t sit well with him.

“They think it’s the view of intelligent informed opinion, that there’s some sense in which science has shown that we definitely don’t have free will,” he says. “So it’s ceased being a matter of philosophical speculation and it’s become a matter of empirical, scientific fact.”

In this episode of Life & Faith, Baggini takes back the reins on the free will debate and guides us through his thoughts on this question of whether we have free will, and what true freedom might look like.

“Freedom isn’t about the ability to just choose anything you want, it’s actually the capacity for your actions to flow from your best nature.”

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Life & Faith: By The Book

Can books be a cure for the common cold?  

Can a novel help us navigate a midlifecrisis?

Can reading be a remedy for a broken heart?

These are just some of the questions that bibliotherapyclaims to be able to answer. Whatever your ailment may be, there’s a novel – ortwo – that will supposedly provide temporary relief of your symptoms.

The first instance of bibliotherapy wasrecorded in an Atlantic Monthly articlepublished in 1916. The author writes about bumping into an old friend, Bagster,who has set up the Bibliopathic Institute. Bagster welcomes clients into hisoffice in the basement of his church, and prescribes books to heal a variety ofailments.

In the article, Bagster says:

“Bibliotherapy is such a new science thatit is no wonder that there are many erroneous opinions as to the actual effect whichany particular book may have. … 

A book may be a stimulant or a sedative oran irritant or a soporific. The point is that it must do something to you, andyou ought to know what it is.”

This episode of Life and Faith explores thetherapeutic and perhaps even salvific qualities of books, in response to the“Bibliotherapy” theme of the 2016 Sydney Writers’ Festival. 

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Life & Faith: Exceptional

The human brain is the most complex object known to exist in the universe.

This is the thought that Marilynne Robinson begins many of her classes with. The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and acclaimed essayist is a Professor at the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop.

“I want to encourage my young writers to value their characters sufficiently to make them complex enough to be credible and also to value themselves in a way that makes them push toward real authenticity, real originality,” she says.

Human exceptionalism is something that comes across not only in the characters she writes about, but in the way she treats her readers.

Robinson’s latest offering, The Givenness of Things, builds bridges across science and religion, theology and humanism, to provide a gracious, respectful, and an ultimately hopeful contribution to public culture and conversation about life and what it means to be human.

“We know that given any possibility, human beings blossom into beauty and ingenuity and tragedy and all the rest of it that could not be anticipated and that the world would be utterly cruel without,” she says.

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READ Natasha Moore’s review on The Givenness of Things: http://ab.co/1oqtqI6

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Life & Faith: Reconciliation Week

The story of Christianity and Aboriginal culture in Australia, is one of tragedy, loss and deep sorrow.

“It was the church’s decree that they pillage our land and conquer us,” Larissa Minniecon says. “So through Christianity, or churches - we have lost everything.”

Larissa is a Kabi Kabi woman and a Torres Strait Islander. She is also a Christian woman. In fact, her last name may sound familiar - Ray Minniecon, is her father and a prominent Aboriginal Christian leader.

“We deeply believe in the message, we deeply believe in Jesus, and I think because of that we’ve survived all the atrocities that have been thrown to us,” she says. “Being a Christian helps us survive and give grace to a lot of people, and also hope.”

In this episode of Life & Faith, we consider these stories of hope and reconciliation that are found hidden within the darker narrative that charts the relationship between the church and Aboriginal people.

You’ll hear from Larissa Minniecon, who heads up Common Grace’s Aboriginal Justice team, and her colleagues, TanyaRiches and Shane Fenwick.

Grant Paulson, an Aboriginal man, a son of a Baptist minister and a trained clergyman himself, also joins us with a candid interview about his thoughts on reconciliation. He’s also recorded a song for us so listen out for it at the end of the episode.

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Life & Faith: A Religious World

It may feel like we’re living in an increasingly secular world, but the numbers tell a different story. 

According to a recent study, by the year 2050, the number of people in the world without any religious affiliation will decline as a share of the global population. At the same time, Muslims and Christians are on track to make up nearly equal shares of the world’s population – around one-third each.

So, if you’re not religious or if you’re disinterested in religion, “you will be a stranger on this planet,” Dutch philosopher Evert-Jan Ouweneel says. “Just for the sake of feeling at home in the world, learn about other religions.”

In this episode, we discuss how to learn about other religions well, the ways we can bridge gaps between different religious groups, and what it means to reach out beyond borders to make a positive impact in the world. 

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Life & Faith: Music and the Mind

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.

There are more than 353,000 Australians living with dementia in Australia.

As part of Dr Beilharz’s program, Ivy - along with 750 other Hammondcare residents living with dementia - have received iPods with personalised playlists so they can listen to the songs they love and remember. 

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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Life & Faith: On Terror

One of the defining narratives of the twenty-first century is the threat of global terrorism. It dominates the news cycle and is one of our society’s greatest fears.

According to a recent Pew study, Australians consider the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) as the global threat they are most concerned about – 69 per cent of people responded that they were “very concerned” about ISIS, ahead of climate change and the economy.

This response means that for most Australians, terrorism isn’t a vague global threat that we perceive from afar – it’s real, frightening and near.

In this episode, we look at how terrorism affects people in our everyday lives. 

Richard Shumack talks about what it’s like to live alongside Muslim people and being a part of their community.

“Some people told me they hated me,” Richard says. Some of the people he worked with were grateful for his friendship, while others were bitter about their circumstances. Nevertheless, Richard says his first response is always compassion.

Professor Greg Barton explains what’s involved in the work that’s happening on the ground to counter violent extremism.

“Almost invariably, radicalisation happens through peer networks,” he says. “Friendship tends to be the first thing that moves people to the ideas.” Professor Barton talks about society as a whole having a ‘duty of care’ to steer young Australians away from a pathway towards radicalisation and violent extremism.

To round off our conversation on terror, clinical psychologist Leisa Aitken explores our greatest fear and suggests ways we can counter our collective and individual anxiety around terrorism.

“Work out a way not to avoid what you’re anxious of,” Leisa says. “Every time you avoid it, you send a message to yourself – I’m safe because I avoided it.” With terror attacks happening in places that we visit every day – a coffee shop, the airport, on a bus or train – it’s important and helpful to keep doing life normally.

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FIND OUT MORE about Professor Greg Barton’s work: http://bit.ly/1S6Q43P

CONNECT with Leisa Aitken: www.eaglepsychology.com.au

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Life & Faith: Adoption

“It’s a mixed blessing to see yourself in your kids,” says Geoff Broughton, the rector at Paddington Anglican Church in Sydney.

He’s only half joking.

As an adopted child, the first time he met a ‘blood relative’ was at the birth of his son. Watching his son grow up and take on his likeness stirred something in Geoff that he had never felt before – a desire to find out about his birth family.

By age 40, Geoff realized that he had to make a decision. He went from saying, “I don’t need to know”, to asking “Do I never want to know?” If he waited another decade, it might be too late.

In this episode, Geoff shares his story of reconnecting with his birth family and what his experience as an adoptee has taught him about the theological concept of adoption.

Also, we consider the fact that Geoff’s positive experience of adoption is not what many children in his situation face.

In Australia, 2013-14 figures show that more than 43,000 children were placed in out of home care. Compared to the 317 adoptions finalised in this same period, there’s clearly an overwhelming number of children in need of a permanent home.

Jane Hunt, CEO of Adopt Change, tells us the real stories behind these statistics, explains the need for adoption reform so that policies prioritise the best interests of the child.

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FIND OUT MORE about Adopt Change: http://www.adoptchange.org.au

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Life & Faith: Good Grief

Nothing in life is certain but death and taxes. But if death is something we all face at some point, and grief is part of the human experience, we talk about them surprisingly little. In fact, it’s something we don’t necessarily do all that well as a culture.

“The word death is not pronounced in New York, in Paris, in London, because it burns the lips,” wrote the poet Octavio Paz in 1961. His words still ring true today. 

Some of us, like musician Phil Davidson, eventually find a way to deal with sorrow after the loss of a loved one.

I could hear the foghorns of the ships that were leaving Belfast harbour and going out to sea,” Phil says about that night after he last saw Agnes, his grandmother, alive. 

“I was lying there just thinking about my grandmother, I could hear these foghorns, and I’m thinking these ships are kind of all lost at sea. I thought that’s a great kind of analogy of how I was feeling – I felt really lost at sea at that point, but she was also lost at sea as well.”

So he got up and started writing Ballymena Agnes. It was his way of connecting with his emotions and working through his grief.

For philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff, it has been a different journey. His son died at 25 years of age in a mountain climbing accident. 

When he turned to philosophical attempts to explain this loss, he didn’t find any of them compelling.

“So I live with unanswered questions,” he says. “I continue to have faith in that there is a creator of this universe and that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, but how I fit that altogether with the early death of a beloved son … I live with the question.”

In this episode, we explore the tension that is presented in the face of death. On the one hand, the Christian faith says that death is much worse than we think and our instincts are right, it’s really not ok. But it also says that there’s far more hope and comfort to be found in the face of death, more than we might imagine.

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