Life & Faith

REBROADCAST: The Long Shadow of Slavery

A confronting - and deeply personal - look at the roots of racial division in the US.

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"We still live under the long shadow of the plantation. Indeed, freedoms have been spread to a larger group of people over time, but that spread has been at the cost of ongoing oppression of black people in ways that have become very apparent thanks to video cams and cell phones that betray the brutality of the police state that we sometimes live in as black people."

Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Alton Sterling. These are names familiar across the world: the names of African-American men – three of many – who died after being shot by white men. Those who shot them have all been acquitted of their deaths, sparking national outrage and re-igniting the old debate on racial profiling and civil rights.

In this episode of Life & Faith, we asked Professor Albert J. Raboteau from Princeton University, an expert in the African-American religious experience, to walk us through the history of race relations in the US, and the deep roots of racial division – from the plantations to the Black Lives Matter movement today.

But he’s not just an expert – Professor Raboteau has lived the reality of racism as well:

"My father was killed by a white man in Mississippi, three months before I was born. The white man who killed him was never tried. He claimed self-defence and he wasn’t indicted even. … When I was 17 and getting ready to go off to college, [my mother and stepfather] sat me down and, for the first time, explained to me what had happened.  They said, 'The reason we didn’t tell you before was we didn’t want you to grow up hating white people'."

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For The Love of God: How the church is better and worse than you ever imagined is in cinemas from May 9. Buy tickets, or host your own screening: www.betterandworse.film

Professor Albert J. Raboteau's latest book, American Prophets
Seven Religious Radicals and Their Struggle for Social and Political Justice, is available to purchase here: www.press.princeton.edu/titles/10655.html

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This episode of Life & Faith was first broadcast on 2 March 2017.

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Belfast Cabbie

Jim lived through the Troubles. He takes us on a very personal tour of this fraught history.

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"When I used to get up out of bed in the mornings, my first thought was: how do we avoid being murdered, by the murder gangs? Also, how do we avoid the British army? And also, how do we attack the British Army? The change being today, when my kids get out of bed in the morning, they say, well ok, we have to go to work to get our mortgage paid. You see the change?"

It’s been 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement ended the 30-year period of conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles.

Jim was 8 years old at the start of the conflict, so 1998 was the first time in his life he really remembers seeing peace. These days, he takes cab tours around Belfast – which is how Simon met him, in the course of filming a segment on the conflict for our documentary, For the Love of God: How the church is better and worse than you ever imagined.

The Troubles is often cited as evidence that Christianity inevitably causes division and bloodshed. And it’s true that it was in some sense a clash between Catholics and Protestants. But it’s also a lot more complicated than that.

"Remember, in 1979 the Pope got down on his knees here and he said please, please, stop the violence. It continued on. Also remember, the Queen of England on many, many occasions, she appealed to the Protestant paramilitaries, the loyalist paramilitaries, to stop murdering people. Again, they didn’t listen. So religion was never taken on board by these paramilitary leaders."

Jim tells Simon about life during the Troubles: about the first Protestant he ever met; a game called "spot the bomb" that he and his mates used to play; and the story of the time he was shot - twice - by a British soldier. Join us on a very personal tour of this fraught history.

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For The Love of God: How the church is better and worse than you ever imagined is in cinemas from May 9. Buy tickets, or host your own screening: www.betterandworse.film

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SUBSCRIBE to ‘Life & Faith’ on Apple Podcasts: http://bit.ly/cpxpodcast

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Dominus Illuminatio Mea

John Lennox on where science came from, religious violence, and God talk in post-Soviet Russia.

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"You probably believe in gravity - are you aware that nobody knows what it is? You believe in consciousness; no one knows what it is. You believe in energy; no one knows what it is. You believe in time; no one knows what it is. And yet they believe in these things."

John Lennox is a Professor of Mathematics at Oxford, a scientist, a Christian, and - as he finds reason to point out in this interview - not John Lennon.

We interviewed the good professor for our documentary, For the Love of God: How the church is better and worse than you ever imagined. In this episode of Life & Faith, we play an extended version of our in-depth discussion on topics ranging from the old chestnut that Christianity has opposed science, to visiting Russia in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War.

Here are some highlights.

On the rise of modern science from the 15th and 16th centuries onwards:

"They came to the conclusion aptly expressed by CS Lewis: men became scientific because they expected law in nature, and they expected law in nature because they believed in a law-giver," John Lennox says. "So we owe Christianity a great deal - which is precisely what you’d expect, of course, if Christianity were true."

On the worst of religion, and no religion:

"I think that using a religious message for political purposes often loses the whole spiritual dimension that’s supposed to reside at the heart of it, so it simply becomes another kind of political attempt to overthrow the power structures that exist. This has happened all through history, sadly," says John Lennox, before adding: "As a Christian I’m ashamed of it, but we’ve got to face it."

However, Professor Lennox observes, "those who criticise most loudly Christianity are often totally silent on the bloody history of the 20th century. There comes to mind what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said … he was asked to give account for 100 million deaths in the former Soviet Union. He said, 'If you want the short answer it is we have forgotten God.'"

On Russia, and how efforts to get rid of God and religion entirely didn’t quite work out as planned:

"Communism never completely crushed belief in God, just as no other ideology has ever overcome belief in God," John Lennox says. "I believe that is true because when people come to trust Christ and are genuine, they are not proceeding simply unaided under their own steam - and God gives them, sometimes, absolutely remarkable stickability, endurance, even under the heaviest of persecution."

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For The Love of God: How the church is better and worse than you ever imagined, is in cinemas from May 9. Buy tickets, or host your own screening: www.betterandworse.film

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SUBSCRIBE to ‘Life & Faith’ on Apple Podcasts: http://bit.ly/cpxpodcast

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Hope is Violent

Master storyteller Tim Winton on unlikely friendships, masculinity, and grace.

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“Hope deranges us. Hope breaks things and breaks things down. In order to change, things must be broken.”

Tim Winton’s latest novel, The Shepherd’s Hut, opens with a quote from American poet Liam Rector’s “Song Years”: “Change is hard and hope is violent”.

Continuing the Winton tradition of celebrating the lives of outcasts (or, the “people with bad teeth”), the story focuses on the life of a neglected, abused teenage boy on the run. He finds himself in the unforgiving Australian wilderness, where he strikes up an unlikely and awkward friendship – with an exiled priest.

“They’re at each other, but they’re dancing around each other, they’re trying to figure each other out … they’re teaching each other, they’re educating each other, they’re unconsciously nurturing one another … they’re stuck out there together, and they realise that they need one another to stay alive.”

In this episode, we speak with Tim Winton about what draws him to these “outcast” characters, his understanding of faith, and the antidote to toxic masculinity.

“I’m interested in the way that men are blind to how rotten patriarchy and misogyny is for them as well. … You watch these lovely, tender, vulnerable, graceful boys, having all those lovely qualities – which are natural qualities in boys as much as in girls – having it shamed or beaten out of them. So they cleave to one very narrow view of masculinity, which is hard, narrow, silent, angry, and taking never giving.

It impoverishes kids, it impoverishes boys, it impoverishes their manhood, and it impoverishes and endangers everybody around them – and it’s not necessary. And I think the church has quite a bit to answer for in this regard.”

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Mary of Magdala

The story of one of the most elusive, controversial, and misinterpreted figures in ancient history.

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"The film does navigate a very intimate relationship that Mary has with Jesus, and an immense love she has for him both as a human being and as a divine person. Ultimately, what these two do together is far more profound than a marriage, or a relationship - it’s something far greater."

Mary of Magdala is one of the most elusive, and often misinterpreted, figures in Christian history. The Catholic Church mistakenly deemed her a prostitute for several centuries, and it has been suggested in some popular fiction that she was Jesus’ wife.

But Garth Davis’ film Mary Magdalene represents a deliberate attempt to rehabilitate her image.

"Jesus was the first person who actually saw Mary for who she was and acknowledged it," Garth says.

"Everyone else around Mary, even though they loved her and supported her, thought there was something wrong with her. Jesus was the person who gave her the courage to follow her calling."

Garth says he didn’t set out to make a Christian film, or a film for Christians – instead he believes Mary’s story is one that we can all relate to.

"With Mary, I can completely relate to her, the battle between flesh and spirit. How do you find a language between those two things? I think she really felt a spiritual connection to God - or whatever you want to call it - and found she couldn’t express it. I think a lot of people can relate to that. They go through their lives not even having any time to inquire about their own spirituality."

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For more information, film resources, and to book tickets, visit: www.marymagdalene.com.au

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Grain of Sand

What is an artist doing working for NASA? Dan Goods on the beauty and vastness of the universe.

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"I had one grain of sand, and that represented our galaxy. What was cool was that I could have someone at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory drill a hole a tenth of the size of the grain of sand into it - and that little, tiny hole is where we live."

The universe is a vast and beautiful thing. We know more about it than ever before, but there’s still so much to discover.

Dan Goods is a Visual Strategist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and his job is to make the universe just that bit more comprehensible through art – like drilling a hole in a grain of sand, or creating retro travel posters for other planets. For example, the tagline for the planet Kepler-16b? "The land of two suns … where your shadow always has company."

In this episode, Dan shares his enthusiasm for the mystery and wonders of the universe, and why he can never stop being in awe of the world around us – and beyond.

"Awe has to do with vastness and things that are much bigger than yourself – there’s a sense of reverence involved in it. That feeling draws you to something that starts a spiritual conversation. You may call it God, or the universe, or whatever … but I think it starts asking these questions."

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More from Dan Goods: www.directedplay.com

Find out more about the Museum of Awe: www.museumofawe.org

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Three Women

How Florence Nightingale, Hannah Marshman, and Harriet Beecher Stowe changed the world.

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March 8, 1917. As the world is in the throes of a brutal war, tens of thousands of people gather in the centre of the Russian capital, Petrograd. They’re on strike, for "bread and peace".

This day marked the beginning of the Russian Revolution. Four days later, the Czar abdicated, and women were given the right to vote - because the protesters that started the Russian Revolution weren’t male workers, they were mostly women.

The Governor of the city said the crowd consisted of "ladies from society, lots more peasant women, student girls and, compared with earlier demonstrations, not many workers."

We now use this date every year to celebrate International Women’s Day.

In this episode, we remember and celebrate the achievement of women in all areas of life.

Meet the woman who professionalised nursing, revolutionised health and sanitation, and wrote a book protesting the oppression of women in her time:

"To have no food for our heads, no food for our hearts, no food for our activity, is that nothing? … One would think we had no heads nor hearts, by the total indifference of the public towards them. Our bodies are the only things of any consequence. … Jesus Christ raised women above the condition of mere slaves, mere ministers to the passions of the man, raised them by his sympathy, to be ministers of God. He gave them moral activity. But the Age, the World, Humanity, must give them the means to exercise this moral activity, must give them intellectual cultivation, spheres of action."

And the woman who was a missionary’s wife in India, and a missionary in her own right, driving educational and social reform in India:

"It’s almost impossible to persuade people that the missionary movement was a women’s movement. Not just in the late 19th century when they began sending unmarried women, but from the first. I really haven’t found an example of a married missionary couple where the woman and the many daughters they had (when they came of age) didn’t start teaching women, giving informal medical care, having classes … This happened all around the world."

And the woman who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin and supposedly started the American Civil War:

"Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the bestselling book in America before the Civil War, with the exception of the Bible. Part of the reason for that is that in some ways it’s a very revolutionary book. Uncle Tom is a Christ figure - and to say that a slave is a representation of Christ is a very radical thing. Harriet Beecher Stowe did not believe that Christianity was about the power that ministers or that elites had, but that the power of Christianity lay in the lowly people."

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FIND OUT MORE about our documentary, For the Love of God: How the church is better and worse than you ever imagined: www.fortheloveofgodproject.com

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You Do You

An exploration of one of the most central questions of our culture: who am I?

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"All of our lives have unscripted moments, things that don’t go according to plan."

You do you. It’s one of the more recent variations on an old motivational theme. Follow your heart. To thine own self be true. Write your own story. But how well do we really know ourselves? How much control do we have over the script of our lives?

"The odd thing is that even though there’s such a weight of importance put on knowing who you are and acting accordingly, a lot of people don’t know who they are anymore," says Brian Rosner, author of Known by God: A Biblical Theology of Personal Identity.

In this episode, Brian tests the limits of the solitary journey to "find yourself", and explores the idea that we need others to define ourselves – including God.

"There was a sense in which knowing God had been something that removed, from my point of view, futility,” Brian says. “It gave me a sense of purpose and direction."

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Brian Rosner’s book Known by God: A Biblical Theology of Personal Identity is available here: www.amzn.to/2HR1U13

Subscribe to ‘Life & Faith’ on Apple Podcasts: www.bit.ly/cpxpodcast 

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REBROADCAST: The Ring of Truth

An atheist, a Taliban leader, and a teenager fighting cancer respond to the Bible.

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"At the heart of one of the most violent regimes the world has known, there was someone who was wanting to read the Bible but had never had the opportunity."

The Bible first made its mark on Amy Orr-Ewing’s life through her then-atheist father. He was told that the only reason he should become a Christian is because it’s true. "But my dad thought religion is about superstition and wish fulfilment - truth and God are opposite categories." He eventually came to change his mind, but he taught Amy that she would have to make up her own.

"Growing up in Britain as a Christian, I was always the only churchgoer in my class at school," Amy says, "there was a tremendous amount of peer pressure to disbelieve."

At 15 years of age, Amy was diagnosed with cancer - an experience that clarified some of her questions about faith, Jesus, and the Bible. 

"Here was an opportunity to vocalize what I was feeling. Frustration with God, questions, fear – and then to experience God meeting me in that place", she says. "The God that I was questioning and had an intellectual path to, that overlapped and intersected my own experience … God met me in the pain and suffering of this world."

She would go on to dedicate her life to promoting and defending the Christian faith as an apologist, in some of the most dangerous places on earth. In 1996, for example, she came face to face with a Taliban leader, and handed him a Bible - he took it and said, "I know exactly what this book is. I’ve been praying to God for years that I could read it. Thank you for bringing me this book; I’ll read it every day."

In this episode, Amy Orr-Ewing graciously defends the Christian faith as one of joy, compassion, and hope. Because for her, the Bible is truth for everyone – her atheist father, herself as a teenager fighting cancer, and even for a leader of the Taliban.

"The Bible describes the real world, as we know it, it has this ring of truth. It’s not this religious, mythical bubble that we need to jump into that only makes sense internally if we just close our minds to the real world that we experience."

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Amy Orr-Ewing delivered the 2017 Richard Johnson Lecture in Sydney, ‘Is Christianity Bad News for Women?’ Listen here: http://bit.ly/2nN1UFz 

The second part of our conversation with Amy - about the illustrious life of Dorothy L. Sayers, novelist, woman of letters, and public Christian - is available here: http://bit.ly/2qxUyHy 

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This episode of Life & Faith was first broadcast on 11 May 2017.

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22 Million

Why the world needs refugee organisations - both secular and religious - to work together for good.

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"There’s also this implicit assumption [in Western societies] that religion is somehow the source of all conflict. What that forgets is that religion is often also a source of peace - it’s an inspiration for people to engage in peace-building activities."

According to the UN, an unprecedented 65.6 million people around the world have been displaced, of them 22.5 million have official refugee status, and of those, half are under the age of 18. The numbers are staggering - and the work of nations and organisations that help and support refugees all around the world is monumental.

Erin Wilson is Associate Professor of Religion and Politics at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, and one of the editors of The Refugee Crisis and Religion: Secularism, Security and Hospitality in Question. The book details the ways in which the current global refugee crisis intersects with important but largely neglected questions of religion.

In this episode, we talk refugee policy, the role faith-based organisations have to play, and the problem with a narrative that dominates the refugee space - the Muslim refugee as a threat to the secular/Christian West.

"I think at the heart of the matter there’s a very simple question: are we prepared to see these people as the same as us - as deserving of the same kinds of quality of life and wellbeing as we are? If we are, we need to take responsibility for that."

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To get a copy of The Refugee Crisis and Religion: Secularism, Security and Hospitality in Question, go to: http://bit.ly/2mMpa7F

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

MORE from Erin Wilson: http://bit.ly/2DD5F8B 

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