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.

23 AprilPeter Adamson, Professor of Philosophy at the LMU in Munich and at King’s College London, is continuing to add podcasts to his monumental series, ‘A history of philosophy without any gaps’. In April alone he has posted podcasts on William of Ockham and his critics, and naturalism in Indian philosophy, which ‘anticipates modern-day theories of mind by arguing that there is no independent soul; rather thought emerges from the body’. The podcasts are 15-20 mins in length, and they have also been published as a book.

22 AprilOn Earth Day, more than 600 Marches for Science took place around the world. The Guardian reported: ‘Hundreds of thousands of climate researchers, oceanographers, bird watchers and other supporters of science rallied in marches around the world, in an attempt to bolster scientists’ increasingly precarious status with politicians.’ The organiser of March for Science in Washington said that the 40,000 who turned out for their march ‘were just waiting to be mobilized to defend science and its role in society and policy’.

21 AprilJane Austen is the focus of a new book, The Spirituality of Jane Austen, by Paula Hollingsworth. Drawing on Austen’s books, including Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park, plus her letters, her friendships, and the characters she created, the book explores Austen’s gentle but strong faith and the effect it had both on her life and her writing.

20 AprilDave Tomlinson, ‘the villains’ vicar’ who took the funeral of the train robber Ronnie Biggs a couple of years ago, has written a new book, Black Sheep and Prodigals: An Antidote to Black and White Religion. Written for people who are on the edges or outside of mainstream religion, the book sets out to present a contemporary approach to faith, drawing on honest doubt, common sense and spiritual experience.

18 AprilThe UK tabloids got very keen on a story that claimed a team of biblical scholars and genetic scientists were trying to track down the DNA of Jesus. ‘The crack team of adventurers are using state-of-the-art technology to extract the sacred genetic make-up from artefacts including Shroud of Turin and a set of bones believed to belong to Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist,’ said a breathless article in The Sun. Blogger Gene Veith said: ‘The quest to find Christ’s DNA is surely a wild goose chase. But still, it sends the mind reeling.’

14 AprilJesus had a terrible public defender, according to an inventively humorous Easter feature on the Above the Law website. ‘Overlooked in the well-known tale of Good Friday is the public defender assigned to the Jesus matter. What sort of law school did this attorney crawl out of to botch this case?’ The feature concluded that the fictional lawyer got most of the case wrong, but ‘in his defense, Jesus told him they’d talk it over on Monday.’

13 AprilThe Mighty and the Almighty is a new book by the religious commentator Nick Spencer, and is subtitled: ‘How Political Leaders Do God’. Says Spencer: ’It is striking how many global political leaders are Christian believers and how far their faith shapes and is shaped by their politics – for better or for worse.’ The book explores how leaders have done God, including Tony Blair, George W Bush, Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, Nicholas Sarkozy and Margaret Thatcher.

13 AprilNew YouGov research found that Jesus is in fourth place on the list of things people most associate with Easter. ‘Brits are much more likely to associate chocolate eggs than Jesus Christ with Easter,’ said YouGov. The top five looked like this:

Chocolate Easter eggs (76%)
Bank holiday (67%)
Hot cross buns (62%)
Jesus Christ (55%)
Easter bunny (49%)

The research was based on a survey of 2,670 UK adults.

10 AprilThe legacy of Martin Luther was the subject of BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week. Andrew Marr and four guest contributors looked back 500 years to the moment when Luther challenged the power and authority of the Catholic Church. The guests included Peter Stanford, author of a new biography, Martin Luther: Catholic Dissident; and historian Alec Ryrie, who also has a new book out: Protestants: The Radicals Who Made the Modern World.

9 AprilThe resurrection of Jesus featured in a poll for Easter commissioned by the BBC, and there were some surprises. A quarter of Christians said they didn’t believe the resurrection happened, while ‘almost one in 10 people of no religion say they do believe the Easter story, but it has “some content that should not be taken literally”.’ The poll also included attitudes to the Bible and life after death.

7 AprilBBC Religion and Ethics is to close. The loss of the department is ‘as a direct result of the loss of Songs of Praise to independent producers, earlier this month,’ reported the Church Times. The remaining religious TV producers have been made redundant. The broadcaster Roger Bolton said, ‘The BBC is not ‘fit for purpose’ in this vital public service area,’ while Terry Sanderson, of the National Secular Society hailed it as ‘good news’.

4 AprilEaster eggs enjoyed a rare moment at the centre of controversy when both Cadbury and the National Trust were accused of ‘airbrushing faith’ by the Church of England. Their sin? Rebranding Easter Egg Hunts as ‘Cadbury Egg Hunts’. The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, said this was like ‘spitting on the grave’ of Cadbury’s Quaker founder, John Cadbury. Even Theresa May, the prime minister, took time off from Brexit to call the name change ‘ridiculous’ and said, ‘I’m not just a vicar’s daughter – I’m a member of the National Trust as well.’ In response, PR Week ran a thoughtful piece about religion and brands, and said: ‘The debate highlights how commercialised religious events have blurred the lines between what they represent and the role brands play in society and culture.’

Photo of March for Science in Washington: Geoff Livingston under CC license