Over the past month, these are the events in faith, science and culture that have been catching our attention.
23 August – VR Jesus may be coming to a screen near you soon, because previews of a hyper-immersive virtual reality movie about the life of Christ are to be screened at the Venice Film Festival in early September. The movie, entitled, Jesus VR – The Story of Christ will be one of the first feature length films to be shot in 360 degree format, and viewers will need to wear headsets to see it. Film director David Hansen says: ‘The viewers truly feel they are there with Jesus and his disciples. This is the most powerful story of all time and virtual reality is the perfect way to tell it.’ According to the Hollywood Reporter, ‘the film will release this Christmas on all major virtual reality platforms, including Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear, Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR and the HTC Vive.’
22 August – A kitchenware factory which produced chalkstone cups, bowls and jars in the time of Jesus has been unearthed by archaeologists working in Galilee. The 2,000 year-old quarry and workshop is in a limestone cave, halfway between Nazareth, the town where Jesus grew up, and Cana, where the Gospel of John says he turned water into wine. Yonatan Adler of Ariel University, who headed the dig, said, ‘It is certainly possible – perhaps even likely – that large stone containers of the type mentioned in the Wedding at Cana story may have been produced locally in Galilee in a cave similar to the one we are now excavating.’
18 August – Mother Teresa was controversial in her own lifetime (she died in 1997), with large numbers of religious admirers, as well as trenchant and high profile critics, including Christopher Hitchens. Bill Donohue, who debated Hitchens about Mother Teresa, has written a new book with the pugilistic title of Unmasking Mother Teresa’s Critics. The book ‘unmasks her critics and puts to rest the cruel myths they promoted about her’.
8 August – The Pope’s Instagram account, Franciscus, has just landed its 3 millionth follower, after just 157 posts since it was launched in March. The first million followed within 12 hours of the account’s launch, making it the fastest growing since David Beckham took 24 hours to achieve the same feat. Since then, Francis has posted pictures of him with dogs, doves, children, people snapping selfies, huge crowds and the old Pope. A post one week ago, showing Francis praying in Auschwitz, gained 190k likes.
28 July – John Cleese unexpectedly (and a propos of nothing very much) launched a spoof church, the Church of JC Capitalist, in a YouTube video. Dressed in red robes and bishop’s mitre, Cleese intones: ’We believe that if we save just one solitary soul from eternal torment, then the founding of this church will have been worthwhile. Especially as it gives us huge tax advantages.’ Cleese has helped create some brilliant religious satire – not least, Monty Python’s Life of Brian – but this seems a bit of a plod. The video has racked up just 83k views to date.
26 July – St Paul’s Cathedral will unveil a new video installation by the American artist Bill Viola in September, showing Mary carrying the body of Jesus. The cathedral already has a piece by Viola, Martyrs, which was installed in 2014, and which has ‘all his trademarks… ultra slow-mo, cinematic lighting… and above all, as direct an appeal to the heart as the mind’. Viola comments: ‘The two themes of Mary and Martyrs symbolise some of the profound mysteries of human existence. One is concerned with birth and the other death; one with comfort and creation, the other with suffering and sacrifice.’ The Mary installation will be revealed on 8 September.
25 July – Ben Hur launches in the UK on 7 September, and Director Timur Bekmambetov has said that he chose to follow a different interpretation of the original novel to that followed by the famous 1959 screen epic. The novel is Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, and was written by Lew Wallace in 1880. Where the older movie, starring Charlton Heston, was essentially a tale of revenge, Bekmambetov’s film is a tale of forgiveness. ‘The 1959 movie is not the same as the book, which has a very different message,’ says Bekmambetov. ‘The book was written about forgiveness, and the movie they made in 1959 — a great movie — it’s about revenge and miracles. Our movie is different.’
21 July – Rowan Williams has a new book out (paperback or Kindle), Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian life. The book explores faith, hope and love, forgiveness, holiness, social action and life in the Spirit. It is for anyone near the start of their spiritual journey, or who wants to get an inside view on what the Christian faith is about.
7 July – Noah’s Ark (or at least, a giant replica of it) has opened to the public in Kentucky. The replica boat, the centrepiece of Ark Encounter, a Christian theme park, is 155 metres long and 25 metres high (roughly the same as the Statue of Liberty lying down), with a 4000 space car park for visitors. The attraction is operated by Answers in Genesis, a fundamentalist Christian organisation headed by Ken Ham, which promotes young earth creationism against the findings of modern science. Journalist Cort Gatliff visited Ark Encounter for Christianity Today in July, and ‘left with a flood of questions’. Ark Encounter plans to add a Tower of Babel and a ride to take visitors through the 10 plagues of Egypt in the coming years.
Photo of sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by Mother Teresa: hpalomaresl