Over the past month, these are the events in faith, science and culture that have been catching our attention.
28 September – An AI deity is apparently being created by a former Google engineer, who has founded a quasi religious organisation called Way of the Future. Anthony Levandowski was instrumental in developing Google’s self-driving car, but Way of the Future’s mission statement – ‘to develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on artificial intelligence and through understanding and worship of the Godhead contribute to the betterment of society’ – goes way beyond sorting out earthly transportation problems. Wired has an extended piece on Levandowski and his career here.
28 September – Philosopher of religion Keith Ward has written a new book, The Christian Idea of God. The book takes a fresh look at the ancient philosophy of Idealism, connects it with findings in modern science, and makes the case that a combination of good science, good philosophy, and a passion for truth and goodness, can underpin religious faith. Find out more about Keith Ward here.
26 September – Seven Messiahs have been filling the camera lens of Norwegian photographer Jonas Bendiksen for the past three years. Since 2014, he has been documenting seven self-proclaimed Messiahs from around the world, each truly believing that they are the second coming of Jesus Christ. His new book, The Last Testament, chronicles his journey. In this BuzzFeed photo essay, Bendiksen shares photos from the project, as well as his thoughts on religion, the second coming of Christ, and his personal expectations in meeting the Messiah.
21 September – The Great Spiritual Migration is a new book by Brian McLaren, an acclaimed speaker and outspoken advocate for ‘a new kind of Christianity’. McLaren proposes that the conventional understanding of Christianity needs to be upended: ‘from system of belief to way of life, from exclusive Supreme Being to the loving, healing, reconciling Spirit embodied in Jesus, and from an organised institutional religion that supports an unjust status quo to an organising movement-building religion that helps a better world be born.’ See the Brian McLaren website here.
21 September – Religion and delusion is the subject of a Guardian article by Dean Burnett, a doctor of neuroscience who moonlights as a comedy writer and stand-up comedian. He argues (presumably contra Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion), that ‘religious belief isn’t a delusion– in psychological terms, at least’.
18 September – Alister McGrath has written a new book, Enriching Our Vision of Reality, which shows theology and science in conversation, rather than at each other’s throats. The book is written for scientists with an interest in theology, and Christians and theologians who are aware of the importance of the natural sciences, and includes six ‘parallel conversations’ between science and theology, which lay the groundwork for the enriched vision of reality McGrath is proposing. See the website of Alister McGrath here.
17 September – An atheist confessed that he’s developed a fondness for dropping into his local churches with his young son. Andy Hill, who writes for the Metro, says he values churches for the feeling of community, the link with older generations, sermons which connect with current affairs, and the free biscuits and juice for children. He concludes: ‘It’s OK if you think “The Church” is weird. You’re right, it is. But churches? They deserve nothing but praise.’ See our blog item about this here.
15 September – Only six per cent of British adults read or listen to the Bible, pray at least once a week, and go to church at least once a month, suggests a new poll commissioned by the Church of England. The aim of the poll is to help the church show the scale of the task it faces in communicating its message. Rachel Jordan, the church’s national mission and evangelism adviser, says: ‘This is not about how many are in the pews; this is about assessing how many people in this country are likely to be deeply committed, practising Christians.’
10 September – The Grenfell Tower fire and the anger and grief of the local community has found expression in a poem written by local priest Alan Everett. He is the vicar of St Clement church, close to the base of the tower, and was moved to write after the church became a refuge for people escaping the fire. Read the poem here.
4 September – Science and secularism is a partnership that’s been around since the late 19th century, but Peter Harrison, writing in Aeon, argues the relationship is so awkward that it can only damage science: ‘Religion is not going away any time soon, and science will not destroy it. If anything, it is science that is subject to increasing threats to its authority and social legitimacy. Its advocates would be well advised to stop fabricating an enemy out of religion, or insisting that the only path to a secure future lies in a marriage of science and secularism.’
4 September – More than half of people living in the UK are not religious, according to the British Social Attitudes Survey by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen). The survey of almost 3,000 adults showed that 53% of people described themselves as having ‘no religion’, compared to a 1983 figure of 31%. Roger Harding of NatCen said the figures should make religious leaders ‘take their congregations’ lead on adapting to how society is changing’. Read the NatCen summary here.
Photo of Inri Christo of Brazil, by Jonas Bendiksen in The Last Testament