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Beyond Belief


Series exploring the place and nature of faith in today's world

Series exploring the place and nature of faith in today's world
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London, United Kingdom




Series exploring the place and nature of faith in today's world





Pope Francis has reached an historic agreement with the Chinese government which could restore diplomatic ties broken in 1951. Before September this year, Catholic bishops appointed by either the Vatican or the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association were not recognized by the other party. But now the Pope has agreed that in future, the Chinese can submit a list of suitable names from which Rome will make a selection. The Pope has also officially recognised seven Bishops appointed by the...



On the 11th November at 11am it will be exactly 100 years since the end of the First World War. There will be the usual Ceremony of Remembrance at the Cenotaph on Whitehall when the nation honours those who lost their lives in two world wars and more recent military conflicts. Is this the best way for us to remember war? Do acts of Remembrance have any relevance today and should religion play a part in these ceremonies? To take a look at these questions, Mark Dowd is joined by a panel of...



Frankenstein, the tale of a scientist who creates a creature that ultimately destroyed him, has been a popular subject for films for many years. But the religious content of the original novel written by Mary Shelley is lost on the big screen. Her story centres on the scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who plays God. His creation identifies first with Adam and then with Satan in Paradise Lost. He has admirable human qualities but is deprived of love and affection and becomes brutalised. Joining...



The issue of why a loving God would create a world full of suffering has exercised the minds of the world's greatest thinkers. How can you reconcile a loving God with dreadful illnesses for which there is no known cure? For millions who live with disability it is no mere academic question. If they are men and women of faith, they have to wrestle with this question on a daily basis. Developments in science now allow expectant parents to make informed choices based on scientific evidence about...


Religion in Mexico

When Pope Francis visited Mexico in 2016, he paid his respects to the Virgin of Guadalupe, a dark skinned Madonna who is said to have appeared to a peasant man in 1531. Then, standing at the Mexican border, he turned his attention to the migrant crisis, "No more death, no more exploitation," he declared. Mexicans have experienced a lot of death in recent years. Drug cartels operate freely in the urban areas. They have even appropriated their own folk Saint - called Santa Muerte or Our Lady...


Hay Festival Special: Religion and Humour

When it comes to religion, what is an acceptable target? God surely must enjoy a joke. Why else would he have created mankind? But are those who worship him fair game for comedians? Undoubtedly certain religions have been the source of much humour. Jewish comics such as Joan Rivers, Woody Allen and Groucho Marx have always been willing to make fun of their culture but should they also poke fun at their religion and how do you disentangle culture from religion? If you enjoy laughing at the...


The Romanovs

Early one morning in July 1918, the Russian Imperial Family was led into a basement and murdered. Nicholas the Second was only 26 when he became Tsar of All the Russians. He was ill equipped for the job and faced challenges which would have tested a more gifted man. But Nicolas was deeply religious and had a profound sense of his duty to God to uphold autocracy and defend the Church. Joining Ernie Rea to discuss the last of the Romanovs is Andrew Phillips, Archpriest of the Russian Orthodox...


Jane Eyre

Today's special edition of Beyond Belief comes from the library in the Bronte Parsonage Museum at Haworth on the edge of the Yorkshire moors. It was here that Charlotte Bronte conceived the plot of her best known work, 'Jane Eyre'. Religion features large in this novel - which isn't surprising as Charlotte was the daughter of Irish priest Patrick Bronte, the curate for many years of St Michael and All Angel's Church in Haworth. What is surprising though, is that some critics at the time...



The annual Met Gala - which takes place in New York tonight - is often described as "fashion's biggest night out". It is a fundraising event for the Metropolitan Museum of Art that welcomes celebrities from all walks of life and fashion industry paragons alike. It also signifies the opening of the NY Costume Institute's annual fashion exhibition which this year has the title 'Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination'. Religion has had an impact on the way we dress for many...



There is a certain way of saying the word 'spinster' that gives it implications of disapproval or even pity; as if for a woman, not being married is an inferior state. Why does it sound so unpleasant? And why is it more acceptable to be a bachelor than a spinster? Could part of the blame lie in religious traditions with their stress on the centrality of the family? Today women are forging careers and putting off marriage and babies. Is there a positive role for single women in religious...


Sacred Spaces

Most people have a sacred space, a place which is special to them. It could be a beach, a mountain top, a building, even a sports ground - but why have they become 'sacred'? Many of the grandest sacred spaces have been created by the world's religions but what were their creators trying to achieve? Are there certain characteristics which define a sacred space and if so, are they still valid today To discuss sacred spaces, Professor Robert Beckford is joined by Ben Quash (Professor of...



For many years, transgender people have remained silent. But today they are affirming publicly that they have a rightful place in society and religious groups are now grappling with transgender issues. The Church of England General Synod recently debated a motion to draw up a prayer to welcome people who have transitioned from one sex to another. The House of Bishops turned it down. The Bible asserts that God made mankind in his own image; so what's the problem? Presumably he made people...


The Good Friday Agreement

What role should the churches in Northern Ireland be playing now that peace has come to the Province? More than any other organisations, they should know the meaning of compassion, truth, mercy and forgiveness but are they providing enough leadership in these areas and what have they done to facilitate community cohesion since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement twenty years ago on the 10th April 1998? Joining Ernie Rea are the Rev Norman Hamilton, former Moderator of the Presbyterian...


Sacred Gardens

Gardens have long been sacred spaces for many religions and at Easter, Christians reflect on the Garden of Gethsemane - the place of Jesus' arrest and betrayal. When Christians and Muslims imagine what Paradise might be like, they nearly always reflect on gardens. The Garden of Eden can be found in both the Bible and the Quran. Sacred Gardens are places of sanctuary and contemplation and for many they represent Paradise on earth. But what do they represent for religions which do not have a...



For the Christian world, January 1st is New Years' Day but for many religious communities it is not a particularly auspicious day because religious calendars differ and, consequently, different religions celebrate the beginning of their New Year on different dates. The difference in religious calendars is just one way in which religions disagree about the nature of time. Some, notably Christianity, Judaism and Islam think it is linear; that time began at the moment of creation and is leading...


Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol

Tiny Tim's "God Bless Us, Every One!" is the rousing conclusion to Charles Dickens' festive fable A Christmas Carol. But what is the Christian message behind this enduring story? Joining Ernie to discuss Charles Dickens' faith and the religious themes in his work are three fans, all of whom have written books about him: actor Simon Callow, author Claire Tomalin and John Bowen - Professor of Nineteenth-Century Literature at the University of York. Also interviewed is Rev Cheryl Kincaid, an...



During Hanukkah - the Jewish Festival of Lights - Ernie Rea takes a look at the symbolism and use of light in Judaism and other religions. He is joined by Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism; Alan Williams, Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Religion at Manchester University; and by Denis Blackledge SJ, Parish priest of the of St Francis Xavier in Liverpool. Producer: Beena Khetani.


The Good Samaritan

Politicians these days are not much given to quoting the Bible; but the Good Samaritan is the exception. Mrs Thatcher pointed out that he was only in a position to help because he was rich. Gordon Brown touched on the parable in support of bailing out the banks. Hilary Benn used it to justify bombing Syria. How can one story be used to support such diverse political policies? Why is it so popular? What resonance does the Good Samaritan have today? Joining Ernie Rea to discuss the political...


Swearing an Oath

We all know that lying in a court of law carries serious penalties so do we really need to place our hands on holy books and affirm our sincerity by swearing an oath? Joining Ernie Rea to discuss whether or not there is any place for God in a modern courtroom are Joshua Rosenberg, legal commentator and presenter of Radio 4's Law in Action; family law barrister Jasvir Singh, Chairman of City Sikhs; and Sarah Donaldson a Manchester based barrister and Quaker. Producer: Helen Lee.


Sacred Directions

When you stand in front of the altar in an Anglican or Catholic church, you are almost certainly facing East. The graveyard is very unlikely to be at the north side and if your church is called St Michael's, it will very likely be situated on the North side of your town or city. Cardinal points play an important role in sacred architecture. Is this simply a matter of history and culture or is there something deeper going on? To discuss sacred direction, Ernie Rea is joined by Martin Palmer,...