This was the topic of a gathering at Acadia University on February 28, 2019, organized by Acadia Students’ Union Rep for Theology, Zachary Goldsmith. The MacRae Centre partnered with the ASU to organize and fund the evening.
Rather than simply set up a binary argument about science and faith, we invited three Acadia University scientists who believe in God to discuss how they reconcile the existence of God and their commitment to scientific inquiry.
At the outset of the evening, the large group of almost 200 people in the room, with more watching the livestream, was asked to report their attitude towards the compatibility of God and science. Here were the results:
Zack introduced the evening, and then our MacRae Centre director, Dr. Anna Robbins, moderated the discussion with Dr. Rob Raeside (Geologist), Dr. John Marimboh (Chemist) and Dr. Mike Robertson (Physicist). Each had a slightly different angle on how they personally held faith and science together in belief and practice. Though many philosophical questions remained, it was a good event with lots of conversation, and opportunity for dialogue as we ‘raised the conversation.”
At the end of the evening, the opening question was asked again. The results are posted below and you can see the numbers of people who changed their minds during the course of the evening. Perhaps the two most significant observations are that several changed their mind from ‘Mostly compatible’ to ‘Absolutely compatible’, and those who moved from ‘I have no idea’ to ‘mostly compatible.’ One person moved from ‘absolutely incompatible’ to ‘mostly incompatible’ which is only significant because it represented a shift of 50%. While there was some movement through the grid during the night, it probably is as reflective of ‘bias confirmation’ as it is of any genuine shift of opinion.
That does not negate the importance of these evening events where we have opportunity to explore the beliefs that people hold, and how faith in the contemporary context is perceived, experienced, and expressed, by a variety of people. For Christians it appears to have been an opportunity to strengthen their confidence in the contemporary context, where faith and science are often unnecessarily set at odds.
You can watch the recording of the event below.
The title, and artwork, compelled gallery visitors to consider the identity of Maud Lewis, and the concept of commodified identity – to whom does an artist and their work belong? And what about us?
Artists Steven Rhude and Laura Kenney produced works and studies of Maud, and her experience that explored beyond the sentimentality of Hollywood to the honest struggles and sometimes grim backdrop of her life.
I was privileged to spend a couple of hours on the red sofa with all three of these experts on Maud at the Acadia University art gallery. I was excited by the ideas we explored, and hoped the conversation would be interesting for those who know a little about Maud, but would like to explore more about her life and work with those who have done research, and know quite a bit about it. I also hoped the discussion would help to open up the world of art to people of faith who are unsure about how to encounter and engage an artistic space, particularly an art gallery.
One of the best ways we can learn to engage culture is by engaging with art, as it expresses, and demands, asks questions of us, and causes us to ask questions in return. Living in London, if I needed a fresh look at the world, and to be driven out of my usual grooves of thought, I would make a visit to the Tate Modern art gallery. Inevitably I would be challenged and changed and be given fresh insight for whatever project I was working on. We are blessed beyond measure to have an art gallery as part of our university here in Wolfville. I visit here for the same reasons. Its diminutive size does not diminish its impact.
The light was beautiful that morning in the art gallery at Acadia. You can see the way it plays on the colours in the room in the photograph above. Unfortunately, we ended up with problems with both the sound and the video recording from this conversation, and so I refrained from posting it at the time, resolving to rebook a conversation at some point in the future.
However, February 18 is Heritage Day in Nova Scotia, and this year we are honouring the person and contribution of Maud Lewis. I thought it might be worth posting these videos, hoping that some might at least listen and gain something from them. The sound is echoey, and the video is monochrome. But as you listen, you will hear a challenge emerge. Have we commodified Maud? How does identity become commodified anyway? Is art only for mass production and printing on socks so that we can possess it? Or does it mean something else, something more? Do we really care about Maud Lewis?
How much do we commodify our relationships? One another? Allow ourselves to be commodified? Will others like the real me, if they new the whole story of my life?
The first video below considers these sorts of questions among others. and in the second, the artists introduce a few key pieces from the exhibition.
Scroll down to the third video to hear from Dr. Dalton how she goes about curating an exhibit, that will offer guidance to help you engage with the world of art. The final two videos are the uncut full interviews for diehard fans!
Happy heritage day, as we celebrate Maud Lewis.
Guest Post by Dr. Dorothy Hunse
I’m not very proud of my initial reaction to hearing about Anthony Bourdain’s death by suicide.
I didn’t voice my reaction out loud, it amounted to a thought that quickly flitted through my mind, but I’m still not proud of it.
I don’t remember exactly how it went, but it was something like this: “what reason does he have to kill himself?”
We are still as a country in the midst of truth and reconciliation. Truth first. We should not brush lightly over facts like this article does, and lightly pass by the call to cull human beings, or simply disregard the fact that the land was occupied. Indigenous people are not asking Nova Scotians to forget Cornwallis.
This was the question I was left pondering after last night’s faith and politics event, including a screening of the film An American Conscience about the life of public theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.
Dr. Andrew Biro, Head of Politics at Acadia, raised the question of whether Niebuhr (or anyone of faith, by implication) has anything helpful to say to the significant and tragic issues of our time, such as environmental destruction.
Taking such a challenge seriously means first tackling the fact that the church has become largely sectarian in its approach to public issues. Moreover, a secular push to privatize faith has not been challenged, forcing political servants to hide their most basic commitments rather than finding support to work through the relationship of their faith to political life in more transparent ways. The result is that the profound resources of Christian wisdom and theology have had little to contribute to the common good in recent history. Too often, prophetic witness is exchanged for populist politics.
Niebuhr gives Christians an alternative vision. Fuelled by a belief in the limits of humanity, and the grace and love of God, Niebuhr abandoned an early idealism and sought ways to apply justice to the ironies of history. While the love of God was directly applicable to society for the Social Gospel, for Niebuhr, the love of God in the cross of Christ always exceeded that of which humans were capable. Humility results from applying love as divisible justice to the world, because it would always fall short of God’s love. Nevertheless, God’s love challenges people to pursue ever better and greater forms of justice, and to work for an ever better world. Democracy is then the best arena for pursuing justice. To paraphrase Niebuhr, humanity’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; our capacity for injustice makes democracy necessary.
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An open discussion followed the screening of the film. The question was raised as to whether faith and politics needs to be framed in this dialectic form to at all, given the long intertwining of the two in western history. I suggested that learning to negotiate the place of faith in a public space as democracy ferments will be crucial to the unweaving of Christian faith and politics in the west. At the same time, the dramatic and unexpected events of history can force the matter of religion to the fore of political life overnight. From the perspective of those with faith, we will need to own our responsibility to represent a long and deep wisdom for the common good, in plurality with others as part of a democratic society.
The importance of creating public spaces for conversation about these and similar issues was highlighted by many who attended, both those with faith and without; from contexts of university, town, and politics.
The MacRae Centre endeavours to forge public spaces where reasonable conversations on issues relevant to Christian faith may be held with respectful difference. If you would like to participate in future discussions, please sign up for our news and web notifications, and please consider supporting our work.
It’s what Niebuhr would do. 😉
The traditional place of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem lies in a grotto underneath the Church of the Nativity. It is a physically dark place, yet full of candles and centuries of incense, where women outside venerate images of Mary holding the baby Jesus in icons and paintings, and the doorposts are marked with the crosses of pilgrims from a thousand years ago.
Touching these symbols, one wonders about the darkness the world has seen, and still sees, just outside the door of this church in the West Bank. For what situations did these Christians over the years seek solace? What marked their lives, and their history? What darkness have they known? What darkness will we yet know?
Though I don’t put much stock in the designated spot of Christ’s birth, I like that it is a cave-like grotto sought out by crowds every day. I like that it is dark and yet marked with the light and shadow of flickering candles and lamps. I like that despite their differences, the diverse Christian traditions take turns holding their services in there. I even like that the little man who acts as a caretaker in there hurries you through between services, barking at you if you pause too long, linger more than is seemly. When you have waited an hour or more and are rushed through and up the stairs on the other side in a matter of seconds, you glimpse something of what it is to behold light in the darkness.
It’s a fleeting experience, of something bigger than ourselves, It’s a sense that what we see isn’t all there is. It’s a belief that Christ who came in a place and a time comes still, into our darkness. That’s how light is. It’s sometimes a brief glimpse in the darkness; sometimes passed on from one to another. It’s a thing of veneration and pilgrimage when we need to know there is hope. Which is always.
This Christmas, as we celebrate, lament, and worship, may we find ourselves holding candles of Christ’s light for others as they make their way through a dark world. The world may seem full of shadows, but it matters. It’s God’s creation, marred though it may be, and it is the living stage of God’s salvation plan for the world. The way is marked with the cross of pilgrim and martyr and beckons us to catch a glimpse of what they saw – the shadows of history marked out with the light of Christ. Only, don’t linger too long.
We are sent out to shine.
Wishing a peaceful Christmas and New Year to all on behalf of the MacRae Centre. Thank you for your support this year. We look forward to new opportunities for engaging faith and culture in 2018.