Life & Faith

REBROADCAST: Portrait of an Editor (Part I)

Scott Stephens, editor of ABC’s Religion & Ethics website, has his own fascinating backstory.

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“You want to be able to stand before God with as clear a conscience and as pure a soul as one can.”

As editor of the ABC’s Religion & Ethics website, Scott Stephens spends his days trawling through the best of contemporary theological and ethical thinking. But the story of his life proves just as intriguing as the material he daily immerses himself in.

In this episode of Life & Faith, Scott talks about being the son of a staunchly Republican father and a peacenik mother who instilled in him a love of art and literature, and an upbringing that set Scott on his current course in life.

It’s a fascinating tale told in two parts, and you can listen to the second part of this conversation here: www.bit.ly/2Ba0RGc

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ABC’s Religion & Ethics website: www.abc.net.au/religion/

Subscribe to Life & Faith: www.publicchristianity.org/podcast 

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This episode was first broadcast on 1 October 2015.

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No Longer Untouchable

One man’s commitment to free vulnerable people from oppression and restore their dignity.

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They asked us to bring education with a different worldview - one that tells them that we’re all created equal, and we’re all created in the image of God - and bring worth to the child.”

The Dignity Freedom Network, as their name suggests, is an organisation in India that works with local communities to free vulnerable people - known as dalits - from all kinds of oppression, and restore their dignity. This includes providing shelter, education, and vocational training for women and children.

It all started when key dalit leaders approached Dr Joseph D’Souza, a bishop in India, in the late 1990s, during major caste upheaval in Northern India. They told him they would “find their freedom one way or another” and asked if “the church would be interested in solidarity in their struggle for human dignity and freedom”. Joseph D’Souza said, “yes”.

Though these dalit leaders weren’t themselves Christian, and even though the church in India had often failed to address caste issues, they turned to these pastors for help. They specifically asked for an education for their children that would have a Christian ethos, because they thought it would have the capacity to break the slave mentality of caste.

The Dignity Freedom Network now runs more than 100 schools across India, and they’re opening more all the time. Joseph D’Souza still remembers one of the first girls that graduated from their school program – she’ll finish her PhD in Pharmacology next year.

“I have asked her many times, ‘Tell me, do you think you’re a dalit?’ She says, ‘No, I have no concept of being an untouchable because ever since you got engaged in our lives, you have told us we are equal, made in the image of God, and I can stand up in front of any upper caste person and compete and stand for myself and work.’”

In this episode, hear from International President of the Dignity Freedom Network, Dr Joseph D’Souza, as well as Kate, who’s CEO of the Australia and New Zealand chapter, about the work they’re doing in India.

Plus Joseph D’Souza shares his personal connection with dalits and other groups outside the caste system, one that begins way before his work with the Dignity Freedom Network. Though he was born into the upper ranks of the caste system, he married a woman outside of it.

“They don’t trust us upper caste men because we exploit them, we fool them, we tell them we’ll marry their women, we marry and we dump them. So winning their trust, and going to their villages, and meeting with them, and assuring them that I was sincere, was a huge part of it.”

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Dignity Freedom Network: www.dfn.org.au 

Subscribe to Life & Faith: www.publicchristianity.org/podcast 

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Zombies, Faith, and Politics

Film and TV critic Alissa Wilkinson on the end of the world - as pop culture imagines it.

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"Dystopia is like the more woke version of utopia. It’s where we’re working out our biggest anxieties as a culture. For instance, does the human race deserve to continue? Or would it be better if we just went away?"

Alissa Wilkinson fell into film and television criticism after completing a degree in computer science – which she says actually helps her analyse culture well.

"I think my job is to watch a movie as well as I can, and then be able to look at my reaction to it as a good watcher and articulate why that reaction happened, and then also to make space for the reader to have their own experience with the work of art," Alissa says.

"Sometimes [my job is] to just say 'this is bad' or 'this is a masterpiece', but if I don’t add the 'why?' then I’m not doing my job at all as a critic."

She’s particularly fascinated by 'end of the world' narratives and is the co-author of How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of the World.

In this episode, Alissa talks The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, Strangers Things and The Handmaid’s Tale - and how the dystopian futures we imagine more often than not tell us more about the society we live in today.

"The bigger question is, what would it take for us, as an enlightened and progressive society, to end up back in that kind of a place. The answer The Handmaid’s Tale gives is really sobering - if we take our eye off the ball, if we get too distracted by our own comfortable lives, little by little our rights and freedoms that we enjoy can be chipped away."

But it’s not all about death and destruction. Alissa also recognizes that in the doomsday narratives, there’s often something more going on.

"We’re brought into the story to recognise ourselves in it, and then this sort of mysterious, transcendent thing pops up, and it adds a new dimension to the story, but it also shows us that it’s something we’re really longing for."

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READ Alissa Wilkinson's articles for Vox: https://www.vox.com/authors/alissa-wilkinson

Get a copy of How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of the Worldhttp://www.alissawilkinson.com/book/

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REBROADCAST: Museum of the Bible

The world’s best-selling book has its own museum - of biblical proportions - in Washington.

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"One of the items that we’re especially proud of is a slab of the Gilgamesh-Epos, among the oldest literature of humankind that is known - about 5,000 years old. It’s a story of Gilgamesh, and that includes the story of the ark and a big flood."

The Bible is the best-selling book of all time: today, over 100 million copies a year are either sold or given away around the world. It’s also had an immeasurable impact on the world – for better and for worse.

In 2017, the Bible is getting its own museum. The Museum of the Bible is due to open in the middle of Washington DC, just a few blocks from the US Capitol and the Smithsonian, with a collection of more than 40,000 objects.

What is the museum for? What will be in it? Why is it a good idea? Who should visit it and why? In this episode of Life & Faith, Simon Smart and Natasha Moore interview two of the key players in this process: Allen Quine, Vice President of International Relations for the Museum of the Bible, and David Trobisch, director of the collections, to get an idea of what the Museum of the Bible will look like.

"Law, medicine, science, art, music, literature … you name it and you can see the Bible has had an underpinning in so much of what we do, and say, and talk about - and we don’t even realise it," says Allen Quine. He’s talking about his favourite floor in the museum that shows the impact of the Bible on culture around the world. "Our goal is that people will walk through that floor and say, oh wow, I never knew that, I never thought about that coming from the Bible before."

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Visit the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC: www.museumofthebible.org 

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This episode was first broadcast on 7 April 2016.

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The X Factor in the Reformation

A dangerous personality. The printing press. Social reform. What made the Reformation so successful?

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"His personality, the combination of being a good communicator, passionate, stubborn, belligerent, extraordinarily intelligent, all played a role. If any of those weren’t there, he probably would not have been able to succeed as well as he did."

What was the X factor that gave Martin Luther an edge in changing the most powerful organisation in 16th Century Europe, which then changed the world? This was the question posed to a panel of experts at a recent forum hosted by Sydney Ideas and ABC Radio National’s The Spirit of Things, 'The X Factor in the Reformation'.

In this episode of Life & Faith, we bring you highlights from this event - including the answer to the question.

You’ll hear from: Mark Worthing, Lutheran professor and author of Martin Luther: A Wild Boar in the Lord’s Vineyard; Michael Jensen, a theologian and Anglican minister in Sydney; Kristina Keneally, former Premier of New South Wales and a Catholic feminist; and Carole Cusack, a religious studies specialist from the University of Sydney.

Also, the panellists ponder whether the ideas of the Reformation still resonate today.

"One of the things the secular world inherits from Christianity is the notion that human beings are imperfect and they need to be improved," says Carole Cusack. "So we work on making ourselves better people, making our societies more just … we’re on a perpetual journey of improvement. I see that as a secular inheritance of the idea that a Christian must continually strive towards virtue, and to be godly."

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Listen to full conversation on ABC Radio National’s The Spirit of Things: http://ab.co/2zlPOcm

Find out more about Sydney Ideas events: http://bit.ly/2yGRtfs

Buy Rev Dr Mark Worthing’s book, Martin Luther: A Wild Boar in the Lord's Vineyard: http://bit.ly/2m2fism 

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500 Years of Reformation

A Martin Luther impersonator, a pastor, and an artist on an event that changed the world.

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"Martin Luther’s idea of the freedom of the Christian set up a certain understanding of freedom of the people. We are individuals, we have the right for freedom, and we are equal children of God like our prince, or like the emperor - they are not better at all than we are."

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the doors of The Castle Church in Wittenberg, little did he know that it would be the beginning of an event that would change the world.

His idea was simple:

"That we are justified by God, only by grace, and not by our own deeds," explains Hans Kasch, Director of the Lutheran World Federation Centre in Wittenberg. "We can pray as much we want, we can be as good as we are, and we can do as much as we are able to do - but this doesn’t help us in God’s eyes. That was his discovery, and the starting point for the Reformation."

From this idea came the birth of the Protestant church, the foundations of modern democracy, the priority of the individual, education for the masses (including women) … and this idea continues to inspire people five centuries on.

In this episode of Life & Faith, we travel to Wittenberg, the birthplace of the Reformation, to speak with a Martin Luther impersonator, a Lutheran pastor, and more, about the far-reaching and long-lasting impact of the Reformation on our world.

"For many people, Martin Luther was a hero of faith, a great professor. I want to show he was a man like you and me - in another time, of course, with other problems," says Bernhard Naumann, Church Master at the Town Church in Wittenberg, and Martin Luther impersonator. "Maybe we can learn not to say 'the times are like the times are', but we can change the things around us. Because Luther was at first a small monk only, and then step-by-step he became that great reformer."

Then, join us on a tour of 'The Luther Effect' exhibition in Berlin by the Deutsches Historisches Museum. It showcases the effect – and counter-effect – of Protestantism around the world, including in Sweden, the US, Tanzania, and Korea.

"We choose Korea for several reasons: one is that it's the 'boom land' of Protestantism, and the other is that Korea missionised itself. The first translation of the Bible into the Korean language was not made by European missionaries."

"In the beginning, Protestantism played a very important role in the national identity of Korea," says Boris Nitzsche, an historian and press officer at the Deutsches Historisches Museum. "The Bible was translated into Korean at a time when the Korean language was in decline, and it introduced education for the masses, especially for women - they learned to read and write because they wanted to read the Bible."

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Watch ‘The Story of Martin Luther’ (Playmobil Animation): www.youtu.be/tox2TflUH90

Visit ‘The Luther Effect’ Exhibition in Berlin: www.dhm.de/en/ausstellungen/the-luther-effect.html

Find out more about the Luthergarten project: www.luthergarten.de/welcome.html

Read Barney Zwartz’s article in The Age: www.bit.ly/2ydJ0Ar 

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REBROADCAST: Wise Science

 

Physicist Tom McLeish thinks of science as a way of healing our relationship with the natural world.

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"I’ve become really upset that science is something for most people so distant, something they feel they can’t enjoy, it was difficult when they were at school, they didn’t get the hang of it. I think it’s like music, art, dancing, drama or painting - it’s one of those sorts of things that everyone can enjoy to some extent."

Tom McLeish is a theoretical physicist at Durham University and the author of Faith and Wisdom in Science. As a young man, he was impressed by Christianity because it offered the best explanation of this world and everything in it.

"For me, Christianity has lit the world up in a helpful, consistent, and challenging way that no other worldview does," he says. "And science sits within it."

In this episode, Tom talks about what he loves about science, how the history of science goes much further back than we usually think, and why a "theology of science" can be a very useful thing.

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This episode was first broadcast on 15 October 2015.

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A Strange Mental Twist

An alcoholic describes her long, complicated, and ongoing journey to recovery.

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"I came out of church one Sunday morning with a really bad hangover."

Penny Wilkinson started drinking when she was in high school. But it wasn’t until she was well into her 30s, living in the Eastern suburbs with her husband and three kids – she was living a seemingly perfect life – that it occurred to her that her drinking might be a problem.

"There’s this strange mental twist that goes on in the alcoholic mind. You can’t recall the damage at the point in time when you make the decision to take the first drink."

The road to recovery has not been easy or straightforward, but Penny eventually sought and received help from family and friends, addiction specialists, her church, and Alcoholics Anonymous. Then, she started running Overcomers Outreach to help others, particularly those who had the same faith as her, along their addiction recovery journey.

"Going into AA with a Christian higher power was a really hard experience. I knew I needed church. But I also knew that I desperately needed to be part of a fellowship that understood my mental condition."

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Find out more about Overcomers Outreach: www.overcomersoutreach.net

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REBROADCAST: Living With The Other

 

Love exceeds "tolerance" and "diversity" when it comes to living with others, says David Smith.

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"There’s a risk that this tips over into naiveté. There are bad things in the world. Cultures are not benign. There are things in all cultures that need to be resisted. But that doesn’t give me license to approach the world as if my culture is basically, in most things, right, and the other culture is mostly threat and darkness - because it’s always going to be more complicated than that."

Living alongside people from cultures different to our own is a fact of life, but even after decades of officially embracing and celebrating multiculturalism, it’s not always clear how we can do this well. David Smith discusses what it means to learn from - and to love - the stranger.

"Tolerance is a willingness to let someone be, whereas love is a commitment to someone else’s wellbeing – which is not the same as saying I’m willing for them to exist and I’m not going to attack them. I mean, that’s a good starting point. Tolerance is not a bad thing. But love is going a step beyond that, and saying the other’s wellbeing is important to me, and when that wellbeing is threatened I’m willing to step out of my way and seek to secure their wellbeing."

David Smith is Professor of Education and Professor of German at Calvin College in Michigan.

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This episode was first broadcast on 13 August 2015.

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In A Fog

Peter Hughes shares his experience of mental illness, and explains why it doesn’t define him.

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"When I was a teenager, I’d go through different bouts of being in a fog, so to speak. I just thought it was part of adolescence, I thought that’s what everyone went through. It wasn’t until university that somebody said, 'hey that’s not normal and you should go and see someone.'"

Peter Hughes is a minister at St Stephens Anglican Church in Sydney’s northern suburbs. He holds degrees in theology and neuropsychology - and he has a mental illness.

"So I went and saw someone, to prove this person wrong, but the counselor quickly diagnosed me with a form of high frequency bipolar disorder."

One in five Australians will experience mental illness every year. Internationally, the World Health Organisation reports that one in four people will be affected by mental disorders at some point in their lives.

In this episode, we look beyond the statistics and explore what it’s like to live with a mental illness.

"Through the year, I’ll go through periods of two weeks or so where I just feel like I’m in a fog - mentally, emotionally, physically - I have a lot of trouble sleeping and concentrating. But at the same time I’ll have a couple of days where I feel great. I can do anything."

Peter’s story is just one of many.

"I am somebody who has bipolar, but it’s not the thing that defines me. It’s not who I am. The thing that defines me is my relationship with God through Jesus. And that’s something I can hold on to through the rocky and stormy periods."

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If this story raises any concerns for you, or someone you know, please talk to someone. In Australia, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or chat to someone online at www.lifeline.org.au.

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If you’re in Sydney on Thursday, 12 October, Peter Hughes will be speaking at The Edge’s next event - ‘Beyond Worry: The science and stories behind anxiety, fear and depression’. Book your tickets here: www.bit.ly/2x2lPHL

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

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