What’s been happening in faith, science and culture?

Over the past month, these are the events in faith, science and culture that have been catching our attention.

28 SeptemberAn ancient toilet found by archaeologists in the ruins of the city of Lachish, which was besieged and destroyed by the Assyrians in 701 BCE, has dramatically confirmed details recorded in the Old Testament book of 2 Kings. The book said that the Israelites used to complete their destruction of pagan temples by turning them into toilets, and the archaeologists at Lachish found exactly that when they excavated the city gate.

27 SeptemberLeigh Eric Schmidt has written a book called Village Atheists: How America’s Unbelievers Made Their Way in a Godly Nation, published today. The book explores the complex cultural terrain that unbelievers have long had to navigate in their fight to secure equal rights and liberties in American public life. Christianity Today has an extended review of the book. Leigh Eric Schmidt rebuilds the history of American secularism from the ground up, giving flesh and blood to these outspoken infidels, including itinerant lecturer Samuel Porter Putnam; rough-edged cartoonist Watson Heston; convicted blasphemer Charles Reynolds; and atheist sex reformer Elmina Slenker.

21 SeptemberThe Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science has announced that it is to partner with reform-minded Muslim leaders to tackle extremism and the jihadist movement.

20 SeptemberTimothy Keller has a new book out, Making Sense of God. Keller is a New York pastor who has written before on why belief in God is a reasoned choice. Says Keller: ‘I compare and contrast how Christianity and secularism seek to provide meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, a moral compass, and hope – all things so crucial that we cannot live life without them.’

15 SeptemberTom Holland the historian and author of books about ancient Greece and Rome, wrote an article in the New Statesman on why he has changed his mind about the cultural importance of Christianity. He said: ‘It took me a long time to realise my morals are not Greek or Roman, but thoroughly, and proudly, Christian.’

9 SeptemberThe Church of England launched projects designed to help Christians talk more confidently about their experience of science and faith, including a science festival and student discussion evenings. Said Rev Dr Tim Bull: ‘God is the God of the Higgs boson, just as much as the God of the church choir.’

7 September – Brian Cox spoke at a clergy conference in Liverpool and said in a YouTube video that the rows between science and faith are toxic: ‘Meaning is something that scientists alone are not qualified to extract from the world. This is where art and music and philosophy and theology live, and not only have a role to play but are an essential part of our discussion – what do these discoveries that we make mean? How are we to respond to them as human beings?’

4 SeptemberSt Teresa (or Mother Teresa as she used to be known) was canonised by the Pope in Rome. The media covered the event by telling the story of her life, work, critics and path to sainthood. Religion News carried an account of Pope Francis’s remarks at the ceremony. The Guardian said, ‘critics challenge her approach to suffering, views on abortion, and “superstitious, black magic” canonisation’. Paul Vallely asked whether Mother Teresa deserved to be canonised, and gave a good summary of the pros and cons. Time magazine looked at her complicated faith: ‘Letters made public years after her death in 1997 revealed that Mother Teresa spent nearly half a century without feeling God’s presence, neither in her heart or in the eucharist.’ And Christianity Today talked about how Mother Teresa transformed the Christian understanding of mission by living and working with the poor and destitute.

2 SeptemberJesus VR: The Story of Christ was released to rather bad reviews. The movie was panned for its content, but praised (sort of) for its technology. Says the Guardian: ‘The acting? Dire. The direction? Awful. The adaptation? Conservative and pedestrian. In conventional terms, everything about this new retelling of the Jesus story – showing here in Venice in an abbreviated 40-minute cut – is ropey… But technologically it’s a different story.’

31 AugustKing Solomon lived and ruled in the 10th century BCE, which is the date given by archaeologists to a palace they’ve just excavated in Gezer, which was once a city but now part of a national park in Israel. Philistine pottery found during the dig support biblical tales of Gezer’s rise, and marks of destruction tentatively confirm its fall to a jealous pharaoh.

29 AugustMel Gibson is to make a movie about the resurrection of Christ. In an interview at the end of August, Gibson said he and screenwriter Randall Wallace were looking at the possibility of a follow-up film to The Passion of the Christ (2004). Said Gibson: ’We’re talking about that. Of course, that is a huge undertaking. And you know, it’s not The Passion 2. It’s called The Resurrection. Of course, that’s a very big subject and it needs to be looked at because we don’t want to just do a simple rendering of it.’

Photo of the toilet excavated at Lachish: Igor Kramerman