Life & Faith

Life & Faith: Looking Over the Fence

When people say that we live in a secular society, what does that really mean?

In this episode of Life & Faith, we explore the original meaning of secularism and track its development to the present day.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson kicks us off with a few reflections on what people really think about religion. Legal philosopher Iain Benson, whose writing on secularism has been cited by the highest courts in Canada and South Africa, explains the surprising origins of the secular state. And Craig Calhoun, an American sociologist who was until recently Director of the London School of Economics, offers us some snapshots of how secularism plays out in different contexts today.

Then, Charles Taylor, who essentially wrote the book on this topic - his 800-page magnum opus, A Secular Age - ties the threads together. He describes our modern secular age as one in which all people – from the most devout believer to the staunchest atheist – find themselves looking over the fence at one another’s belief systems.

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Life & Faith: Based On A True Story

Mark Leach’s life reads like the script of a blockbuster movie. There’s diamond smuggling, war and conflict, some romance, and a couple of major plot twists.

He was born in a village in Zambia, trained as a doctor in South Africa, and is now based in Sydney as an Anglican Minister, a business and leadership consultant, and a Board Member for International Justice Mission.

In this episode of Life & Faith, Mark fills us in on all the remarkable details of his early life, and why – in the face of his experience of evil and trauma – he holds fast to his Christian faith.

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More info about International Justice Mission: https://www.ijm.org

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Life & Faith: Transgender Identity

Gender and gender identity is one of the most fraught issues of our time. We run into gender stereotypes everywhere from nursery rhymes to department store catalogues, and much of our lives are ordered around the categories of male and female - school uniforms, bathrooms, and Olympic sporting events are just a few examples.

But there’s a group of people for whom none of this is straightforward - people who experience gender dysphoria, and identify as transgender.

In this episode of Life and Faith, we explore this topic with Australian sexologist Dr Patricia Weerakoon in the broader context of identity, sexuality, and culture. Plus, we speak with “Joan” about her experience of gender dysphoria and what it’s like to live as a transgender woman.

If these conversations raise questions for you, cause any distress, or if you want to talk to someone about the issues we’ve discussed, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or use their online chat service at www.lifeline.org.au

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Life & Faith: The Elephant Not In The Room

The relationship between religion and the media in the West has a long history. The first newspapers were often printed on the very same presses that were used to publish Bibles, and the first radio broadcast on Christmas Eve in 1906 included a reading from the Bible.

But times have certainly changed. If you look at the media landscape today, there’s not a lot of room for religion.

In this episode of Life & Faith, we’ve enlisted the help of a couple of experts to guide us through the world of religion in the media. First up, the former Religious Affairs Editor for The Age in Melbourne, Barney Zwartz, looks back on his time as a religion reporter and why he’s now a fierce advocate for good reporting on religion. Then, a former journalist for The New York Times, Ari Goldman, explains why he took a year off reporting to search for God – at Harvard.

“So much of religion is good, and we’re just constantly reporting on the religion that’s bad,” says Ari Goldman, “so what I try to do is tell the good religion story, without ignoring the bad one, but putting it all in perspective – and I think that’s our responsibility as journalists and as citizens, just to know the difference.”

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READ Barney’s article, ‘Religion in the Media’: http://ab.co/2bASpqH

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Life & Faith: Compassionate Conservatism

Dr Marvin Olasky is a leading proponent of compassionate conservatism – two words we don’t often hear together.

But it’s not just political word candy. According to Olasky, it’s a philosophy that could transform the current US welfare system for the better.

And, it’s worked before. In his book, Compassionate Conservatism: What It Is, What It Does, and How It Can Transform America, Olasky writes: “A century ago, before the federal government ever became involved, thousands of local faith-based charitable agencies and churches around the country waged a war on poverty much more successful than our own.”

In this episode of Life & Faith, Olasky explains Compassionate Conservatism and how it might work in modern America. Plus, he shares his own fascinating story about the role of religion and faith in his life.
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Life & Faith: The Untold Story of Slavery

This month on Life & Faith, we’ve heard from experts and scholars about the influence of Christianity in the West. It’s all part of a sneak peek at our documentary due for release in 2017, For the Love of God: How the church is better and worse than you ever imagined.

In this episode, we tackle the question of how Christianity has played a role for better - and for worse - in the global practice of slavery. We ask the question, has Christianity been a friend or a foe of this terrible institution?

Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, explains:

“… [Christianity and Judaism] light a long fuse of argument and discovery which eventually explodes, and people realise, ‘actually, we should do something about this’. That’s how slavery is dealt with. In the Middle Ages you have the beginnings of a real theoretical assault on the notion of slavery.”

But this is not just an historical question. The “long fuse” extends to the present day, with more people in slavery today than at any point in human history - around 27 million people.

Rowan Williams is joined by philosopher and theologian David Bentley Hart, biblical scholar Iain Provan, and humanitarian Baroness Caroline Cox, as we unpack the influence of Christianity on the institution of slavery.

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This is Part IV of our four-part series featuring interviews from our forthcoming documentary, For the Love of God: How the Church is Better and Worse Than You Ever Imagined. To catch up on Parts I, II and III, subscribe to Life & Faith on iTunes: http://bit.ly/lifeandfaithpodcast.

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Life & Faith: Women

In the second century, a Greek writer called Celsus criticised Christianity as a religion of women, children and slaves - that is to say, a religion not to be taken seriously.

There are echoes of this sentiment in contemporary critiques of Christianity, and religion more broadly. For example, the idea of women being more religious than men, on the whole, can be seen as something that discredits religion as irrational.

However, Christianity is much more likely to be condemned today, no for being a religion of women, but a religion against women – this despite evidence of a strong thread of gender equality in the early Church. 

“In its inception Christianity set before women a true possibility of complete transformation on equal terms alongside men,” says Professor Sarah Coakley who has written extensively on gender theory and the philosophy of religion.

“But at the same time it very quickly accommodated itself into existing religious and cultural mores - and you could say that that tension has been played out since then.” 

In this episode, we’ll hear from Coakley and a host of other scholars – Judith Lieu, Rodney Start and Beverley Gaventa – about the role Christianity has played both in the flourishing, and the oppression, of women.

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This is Part III of our four-part series featuring interviews from our forthcoming documentary, For the Love of God: How the Church is Better and Worse Than You Ever Imagined. To catch up on Parts I and II, and to make sure you don’t miss the rest of the series, subscribe to Life & Faith on iTunes: http://bit.ly/lifeandfaithpodcast.

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Life & Faith: Crusades

“Religion is the cause of all wars.” This is a popular assumption in the West – but also a lazy one. History suggests the relationship between religion and violence is much more complicated.

One of the best-known episodes of violence in the history of the Christian church is the Crusades. But how much do we really know about this notorious conflict?

In this episode of Life & Faith, we speak to experts and scholars who unpack the history, myths and misconceptions surrounding this series of religious wars between the 11th and 15th centuries.

“The Crusades seem glamorous, they seem dramatic, they seem alien,” says historian Christopher Tyerman. “In the West … they are seen as an example of medieval brutality in the name of religion. In other parts of the world they have been rebranded as an example of early Western imperialism and colonialism. Both sides of that equation are false.”

This is Part II of our four-part series featuring interviews from our forthcoming documentary, For the Love of God: How the Church is Better and Worse Than You Ever Imagined. To catch up on Part I and to make sure you don’t miss the rest of the series, subscribe to Life & Faith on iTunes: http://bit.ly/lifeandfaithpodcast.

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Life & Faith: The Evolution of the West

In 2017, the Centre for Public Christianity will release a documentary, For the Love of God: How the Church Is Better and Worse Than You Ever Imagined. It takes a deep dive into the history of Christianity in the West, and unpacks its influence on our society and culture.

Some of the key ideas the documentary will explore include the development of human rights, and why we often find Christians at the heart of social justice work such as feeding the hungry and alleviating poverty. But we’ll also explore some of the ways the Church has abused its power and failed to uphold justice, show mercy or give hope – the very things it is called to do.

This month on Life & Faith, we’ll be showcasing interviews from some of the international experts we’ve been speaking with for the documentary. Each week will examine one theme – the Crusades, women’s rights, slavery – but first, we want to offer a sweeping, bird’s-eye view of the role Christianity has played in creating the world we live in today.

In this episode, we feature an interview with Nick Spencer, director of Theos think tank in London and author of The Evolution of the West: How Christianity Has Shaped Our Values. He says:

“[Christianity] hasn’t always been used on the side of the political or the cultural or the economic angels, but … to think you can understand our idea of right, democracy, human dignity, the scientific revolution, even the welfare state without understanding Christianity – you’re making a big mistake.”

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Life & Faith: Going Nuclear

Nuclear fusion energy has been heralded asthe answer to the global energy crisis, a virtually endless – and cleaner –source of power that will last several generations.

If there’s anyone who should be singing itspraises the loudest, it’s Professor Ian Hutchinson from MIT, a leader in thisfield. While he’s certainly enthusiastic about the science and technologybehind fusion power, he’s quick to downplay the hype. 

“There is no magic bullet for energyresources for human kind, he says, “so I don’t want to promote fusion as aninstant solution to energy problems that exist.”

There’s still a lot of work to be done, hesays, namely, finding a stable environment on our planet at 100 million degreesCelsius for nuclear fusion to happen – and he’s right in the thick of it havingbuilt such an environment.

“It has the strongest magnetic field of anyexperiment and, I have to admit, starting up that experiment … was very much ahighlight of my scientific career.”

But as powerful as he knows science to be,as much as he finds it intellectually engaging and satisfying, ProfessorHutchinson also believes that science does not hold all the answers.

“Science works by being able to dorepeatable observations or experiments … and we’re find out about the ways in whichthe world behaves reproducibly,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean that that’sthe only thing to find out about the world.”

In this episode of Life & Faith,Professor Ian Hutchinson talks about the latest developments in nuclear energy,and the fusion of faith and science in his work and life.

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