Over the past month, these are the events in faith, science and culture that have been catching our attention.
30 June – Physician-assisted dying became legal in California, the fifth US state to allow the practice. Data for the first six months has been released and shows that a total of 111 terminally ill people ended their lives using lethal prescriptions, most of them with cancer, and the next largest group with neuromuscular disorders. The law allows anyone with less than six months to live to request ‘aid-in-dying’ drugs.
27 June – Peter Berger, the sociologist and theologian who opposed the ‘God is dead’ movement in the 1960s, died at his home in Massachusetts. In perhaps his most famous book, A Rumour of Angels, ‘he argued that the skepticism of the atheist was just as questionable as blind faith,’ and that ‘faith can flourish in modern society if people learn to recognize the transcendent and supernatural in ordinary experiences.’ Obituaries from Christianity Today and Religion Despatches here.
23 June – Turkey is to stop teaching evolution in secondary schools as part of a new national curriculum. ‘We have excluded controversial subjects for students at an age unable yet to understand the issues’ scientific background,’ said the head of the education ministry’s curriculum board, Alpaslan Durmuş. By that, he meant students aged 14-18. Turkish academics noted that ‘the only other country to exclude evolutionary theory from schools is Saudi Arabia’.
21 June – Stonehenge was the destination of some 13,000 people on the longest day of the year, gathering to see the sun rise at 4.43am. Some visitors dressed in druid-style robes or wore garlands of flowers in their hair to greet the dawn of the summer solstice. The Vox website posted an entertaining and educational video with an interpretation of what the 5,000 year-old monument is all about.
19 June – Sarah Ruden has produced a fresh, colloquial and highly readable translation of the Confessions, in which St Augustine examines his life and journey to faith. Ruden ‘chooses to translate Augustine as a performative, engaging storyteller,’ making his ‘ancient text accessible to a new generation of readers’, according to the reviews. A couple of weeks after publication, in an article for the New Yorker, How St Augustine invented sex, Stephen Greenblatt used Ruden’s new book to introduce the life and thought of Augustine to modern readers. ‘There has probably been no more important Western thinker in the past fifteen hundred years,’ he said.
17 June – RE in schools was debated in TES (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) in an article with the eye-catching title, It’s scandalous that we’ve allowed RE to wither – it’s now just a ‘pub quiz’ of world religions. Thomas Rogers argued that while children are crying out for meaning in their lives, RE has been diluted into religion minus God. ’We can’t sell our children short by only offering them an Instagram answer to questions that have troubled mankind since the dawn of time.’
15 June – Justin Brierley has hosted his radio show, Unbelievable? for the past 10 years, inviting atheists, sceptics (and believers) on to Premier Christian Radio to debate arguments for and against the Christian faith. But how have all those years of discussion with Richard Dawkins, Derren Brown and others affected Brierley’s own faith? In his new book, also titled Unbelievable? Brierley tells the stories behind the radio show, and explains why (to borrow the book’s subtitle) ‘I’m still a Christian’.
15 June – Thomas Keneally, the author of Schindler’s Ark (which became the movie Schindler’s List) and other novels, has written a new novel, Crimes of the Father, which pits the church’s attempt to cover up cases of child abuse against a young priest who wants to help the victims of abuse to be heard and find justice. ‘It captures the honourable priests determined to expose the outrage and the church hierarchy equally determined to discredit them,’ says the Guardian.
14 June – Richard Dawkins shared his wisdom on the beauty contest of the world’s religions with this tweet: ‘Christianity was the world’s most evil religion. Now massively overtaken by Islam. And Muslims are the main victims, especially women.’ Among the hundreds of replies was this: ‘Can’t you take a day off and tweet funny cat pictures for a change? I’m too depressed for this.’
14 June – Tim Farron resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats, after a general election campaign in which he was repeatedly questioned by the media about his views on homosexuality and abortion. ‘I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in,’ said Farron, who became an evangelical Christian at the age of 18. ‘In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society. That’s why I have chosen to step down as leader of the Liberal Democrats.’
11 June – Richard Dawkins spoke in favour of religious education in schools at the Cheltenham Science Festival, saying, ‘I don’t think religious education should be abolished’ (but see the entry for 17 June, above). Dawkins was promoting his latest book, Science in the Soul, a collection of his essays ranging from evolution (of course) and natural selection, to alien life, whether science is a religion, and the role of the scientist as a prophet. Said Dawkins, ‘I think that it is an important part of our culture to know about the Bible – after all, so much of English literature has allusions to the Bible.’
8 June – Novelist Julian Barnes has contributed to the engaging Vintage Minis book series with a short book that’s not for the faint-hearted. It’s simply called Death, and sits alongside more upbeat titles in the series such as Love, Desire and Summer, all of them pairing great modern writers with the experiences that make us human. The book is apparently ‘both fun and funny’ as ‘Barnes dissects with tremendous verve and insight the awesome inevitability of death and its impact on the human psyche.’
6 June – Canada repealed its 125 year-old blasphemy law, which had last creaked into action in 1980, when the owners of a movie theatre in Ontario were charged (but not convicted) with blasphemous libel for screening Monty Python’s Life of Brian. The last person actually jailed for blasphemy in Canada spent 60 days behind bars in 1927.