Life & Faith

22 Million

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


"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."


To get a copy of The Refugee Crisis and Religion: Secularism, Security and Hospitality in Question, go to:

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Not Just A Game

On any given Sunday in America, you may find more people in football stadiums than in churches.


"If you had a kid right now, you would put them on the waiting list to be able to purchase season tickets for the Green Bay Packers by the time they were 49 years old."

It has been said that football in America is more than a game – it’s a religion. For example, in the city of Green Bay, which has a population of just over 105,000 people, their 80,000-seat stadium is always at full capacity for home games.

"There are more people in stadiums on Sunday than in churches," says Troy Murphy who serves as a chaplain to the Green Bay Packers.

In this episode, Troy discusses just how big football is in America, the challenges that players face, and his role in the team – which stretches far beyond running chapel services and Bible studies.


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Not Quite A Silent Night

An exploration of the discomfort, disagreements and disasters of Christmases past and present.


"When you’ve spent three months researching and preparing the perfect Christmas lunch, something on trend with rustic table ornaments made from old jars, salad with kale, some socially responsible bonbons, and perfectly placed jugs filled with Christmas cheer … and Aunty Vera arrives with her three-day old potato salad that gives everyone the squirts and plonks it with pride in the middle of the table. And you want to punch her in the face."

This is just one way Christmas get-togethers can go awry, according to Bec Oates. But there are lots of reasons people might not find the Christmas season so merry and bright.

In fact, the first Christmas was a particularly brutal for the holy family. Unlike the picturesque nativity scenes in shopping malls and on Christmas cards, the biblical account of Jesus’ birth and early years is one of discomfort, poverty, and even genocide.

In this episode, we take a closer look at the fraught first Christmas, and how this merry and bright season is also one that offers solace and hope for people who are struggling to find Christmas cheer.

Also, don’t miss a special performance by beatboxer, Jeffrey Liu, with the CPX crew. Jeffrey was a semi-finalist on Australia’s Got Talent a few years back, and he shares his incredible gift of sounds and beats with us.


Read more from Bec Oates:

Read more from the CPX Crew on Christmas:


Mr Eternity

The story of Arthur Stace and the message of hope he wrote on the footpaths of Sydney.


"As a child, I played in the streets a lot and I did see him quite occasionally, walking around in a steady way, always dressed in a navy blue suit, always very neat, but I have no memory of seeing his face smiling," Joan Riley recalls. "So I try not to be sad about that. But he did certainly make an impression on many people."

Every day for more than 30 years, between the 1930s and 1960s, Arthur Stace would walk the streets of Sydney for hours, and write the word 'Eternity' on the city’s footpaths. Many, like Joan Riley, had no idea who was writing it, or why it was written, because Arthur Stace’s identity was a secret for almost 20 years.

"He was very humble and very shy, and he just felt this was his mission for God, and he didn’t feel that he needed to share it with anyone," says Elizabeth Meyers, co-author with Roy Williams of Mr Eternity: The Story of Arthur Stace.

Her father was one of Arthur Stace’s closest friends, and even though he knew the identity of 'Mr Eternity', he kept it to himself until Arthur was ready and willing to share his story. "My father never even shared it with us as a family."

In this episode, we trace the remarkable life of Arthur Stace, from his troubled childhood, alcoholism, and his time on the Western Front, through to the moment he turned his life around, and why he started writing Eternity everywhere he walked.

You’ll also hear from a few people who saw this mysterious man chalking his one-word message of hope all around Sydney, and the lasting impression it made on their lives.


Purchase a copy of Mr Eternity: The Story of Arthur Stace: 


REBROADCAST: Portrait of an Editor (Part I)

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


“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:


ABC’s Religion & Ethics website:

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This episode was first broadcast on 1 October 2015.


No Longer Untouchable

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


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.”


Dignity Freedom Network: 

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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.


"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."


READ Alissa Wilkinson's articles for Vox:

Get a copy of How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of the World


REBROADCAST: Museum of the Bible

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


"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."


Visit the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC: 


This episode was first broadcast on 7 April 2016.


The X Factor in the Reformation

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


"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."


Listen to full conversation on ABC Radio National’s The Spirit of Things:

Find out more about Sydney Ideas events:

Buy Rev Dr Mark Worthing’s book, Martin Luther: A Wild Boar in the Lord's Vineyard: 


500 Years of Reformation

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


"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."


Watch ‘The Story of Martin Luther’ (Playmobil Animation):

Visit ‘The Luther Effect’ Exhibition in Berlin:

Find out more about the Luthergarten project:

Read Barney Zwartz’s article in The Age: