Thursday, July 30 2015

Eros and wisdom: some recent radio

A couple of recent BBC radio 4 programmes that might be of interest:

What Is Eros? Exploring Freud and Plato on our yearnings.

Start the Week. Talking about ancient philosophy and Alan Watts, with Tim Lott and others.

Friday, July 10 2015

Rupert Sheldrake in discussion: What the Greeks can teach us

We've published the latest discussion between myself and Rupert Sheldrake. They're available as podcasts or on iTunes.

We explore how the ideas and way of life of the Stoics, Platonists and others can help us today bridge supposed divides between science and spirituality. We also look at how Christianity adopted and developed older perceptions of reality and what this means for modern therapies and insights.

Our conversation is prompted by the publication of my new book, The Idler Guide to Ancient Philosophy.

Thursday, June 4 2015

The Atheist Experiment

We've published the latest discussion between myself and Rupert Sheldrake. They're available as podcasts or on iTunes.

In his book, Atheists: The Origin of the Species, Nick Spencer tells the story of atheism as one of protest and politics, rather than simply as an argument about the existence of God. In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask what history can tell us about atheism as a way of life, as an account of being human, and what the future of atheism might bring.

Thursday, May 14 2015

Skeptiko interview on Christianity, Atheism and Rupert Sheldrake

It was a more robust discussion than I anticipated, though maybe what feels like discomforting aggression in England is but a bracing exchange in California. But here's my conversation with the host of the useful Skeptiko podcast, Alex Tsakiris.

Wednesday, March 18 2015

Seeking an Easter Experience

Or, how to know Easter in the heart as well as head.

A podcast - available on iTunes or here as a feed - in which I try to talk about how the liturgical drama of the Easter services, from Maundy Thursday, through Good Friday, to Easter Sunday yields more insight than any doctrine or creed.

Friday, February 20 2015

Buddhism, mindfulness, therapy, politics

A podcast of our BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking programme, broadcast last Wednesday.

Rana Mitter discusses Buddhism in Western therapy and in Eastern politics with psychotherapist Mark Vernon, Rupert Gethin - Professor of Buddhist Studies in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies and co-director of the Centre for Buddhist Studies at the University of Bristol, Dr Anne Mette Fisker-Nielsen expert in religion and politics in Contemporary Japan and Christopher Harding – Cultural historian of India and Japan.

Monday, December 15 2014

What happens when we die - conversations with Rupert Sheldrake

We've published the latest two discussions between myself and Rupert Sheldrake. They're available as podcasts or on iTunes.

In the first, we discuss our postmortem experience by thinking about what we know of being alive. Might dreams tell us something about what happens when we die? Is the notion of the subtle body an indicator of life after death? How do the living relate to the dead, and how might the way we live our lives shape our experience after death?

In the second, we explore how the communication of science routinely exploits notions of wonder and beauty, and what this might tell us about how science opens onto wider dimensions of reality. Does science fiction similarly suggest that science is grappling with aspects of reality that it can't itself contain? Why is the experience of wonder and, further, the so-called supernatural so popular with the public? What is the hidden metaphysics embedded in popular science, and so perhaps in science itself...

Thursday, November 6 2014

New conversations with Rupert Sheldrake - anatheism and common prayer

We've published the latest two discussions between myself and Rupert Sheldrake. They're available as podcasts or on iTunes.

The first is on an anatheism, the notion that atheism is a phase that many people go through, as is widely recognised within spiritual traditions as a transition period in which ideas about God are discarded so that a deeper perception of the divine might emerge. We wonder whether the same thing happens at a cultural level and so whether contemporary atheism is itself a phase leading to more vital conceptions of God.

The second is on common prayer, that is, the value of spiritual practices undertaken with others. We ask what is lost when the so-called 'spiritual but not religious' generation assumes spiritual practice is an essentially individual pursuit, and what needs to happen in order for collective traditions to become accessible once more.

Friday, October 3 2014

New Science and Religion talks, Institute of Art and Ideas

How did consciousness arise? Is the universe rational? Is there a meaning to life? Once these questions were the domain of the sacred, but in the modern world, science offers very different answers to religion.

In this course, Dr Mark Vernon explores the common ground between these allegedly incompatible world views. But which can provide us with the best description of reality?

Part One: The Battleground. Vernon reveals the history of the science-religion conflict and its place in our culture.

Part Two: Alternatives to the Conflict. Can we think about science and religion differently and avoid the conflict altogether?

Part Three: Science and Consciousness. Vernon proposes a new model for solving the problem: does consciousness hold the key?

Tuesday, September 16 2014

BBC Beyond Belief - agnosticism

Agnosticism was the subject for this week's Beyond Belief, on BBC Radio 4.

I was trying to make the case for an agnostic spirit that is not just an option for some but actually part and parcel of the human condition and crucial for theists who want to undo their inevitable idols.

You can pursue the issue at book length too!

Monday, August 4 2014

God-shaped hole, discussion at Things Unseen

Is there a God-shaped hole at the heart of our post-Christian world?

Does it matter? Is it all potential gain, with freedom of expression and liberation from oppression at last possible? Or are there unforeseen losses, too? Has the decline in religious practice and ritual opened up a void now all too easily filled with consumerism, the social media, and a preoccupation with therapy and self-help? Indeed, with ‘oneself’?

Mark Dowd chairs a discussion on this controversial issue with Peter Stanford, Mark Vernon and Julian Baggini.

Thursday, July 31 2014

Civilisation in peril - three online recommendations

1. Richard Chartres, the bishop of London, talked to Jules Evans, producing a really very remarkable interview.

Our spiritual culture at the moment is so impoverished and primitive. People find it extraordinarily difficult to be serious about angels or discarnate energies.

It’s a very modern tragedy that religion has become ideas in the mind. That’s why western religion is so feeble.

But alas we do not have many places where one can go today to learn and practice contemplation – we are very needy.

We don’t seek illumination from the whole but from bits and pieces. This is one of the reasons why this civilization is in grave peril.

The real trouble with the Church is not that it has retrograde social attitudes, or hasn’t embraced the emancipation of women – it’s that it’s spiritual incredible. It’s just as shallow as the rest of us.

2. If you feel C.S. Lewis is a little too vanilla, try Malcolm Guite's exposition. Never again. He also understands Tolkein, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams like no other.

3. Roger Scruton talked at Theos last month, as usual making a number of penetrating remarks and comments. I particularly liked his distinction between sound and tone: science understands sound, but it has no purchase on tone - though the rise and fall, mood and intensity of a musical phrase is the very stuff of life for us.

Or his distinction between causes and reasons. Again, science understands causes but it has no purchase on reasons as a prompt to action, and yet most of the meaning we find in life is linked to this aspect of our agency. We lose touch with this dimension at our peril. And perhaps we are in peril...

Saturday, June 21 2014

The Spiritual Senses

We've published the latest in the discussions between myself and Rupert Sheldrake. It's available as a podcast or on iTunes.

We discuss the idea that alongside five empirical senses, we have a range of spiritual senses that respond to pattern, wholeness, the implicit, the good. They tend now to be collapsed into a vague 'intuition', though medieval and ancient thinkers explored how they could be used to investigate the world much as the empirical senses are relied on today.

Thursday, May 29 2014

God and Mindfulness - some more thoughts

We've published the latest in the discussions between myself and Rupert Sheldrake. It's available as a podcast or on iTunes.

We discuss the mindfulness phenomenon, which although partly a therapeutic movement seems akin to a spiritual revival as well. So what does the interest in mindfulness say about our times, how does it relate to past movements such as transcendental meditation, what can Christians and other theists make of mindfulness, and might it be a sign of a renewal in the quest for God - or even, God's quest for us?

Friday, May 2 2014

Transparent minds?

We've published the latest in the discussions between myself and Rupert Sheldrake. It's available as a podcast or on iTunes.

Are our minds transparent to others minds, as most cultures for most of human history seemed to have assumed, or is that a delusion and our minds exist solipsistically, receiving empirical data through an absolute barrier that prevents direct exchange or communication?

Thursday, April 10 2014

What is Spirituality?

We've published the latest in the discussions between myself and Rupert Sheldrake. It's available as a podcast or on iTunes.

Spirituality is a word that whilst many people feel uncomfortable with, is one that nonetheless seems hard to put down. So what is spirituality, how can we talk about it, and what does it mean for what it is to be human?

Thursday, January 30 2014

The Hidden God of Atheism

We've published the latest in the discussions between myself and Rupert Sheldrake. It's available as a podcast or on iTunes.

Atheism is often taken as the default position with theism requiring additional beliefs or proof. So we talk about whether science actually rests on theistic assumptions, if with God removed from the equation. I 'play' atheist - trying to put the perspectives of the three greatest atheists in the modern world, Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche - and Rupert argues that science with its working hypotheses of intelligibility, law-like predictability, and so on actually, at least, draw on theism...

Saturday, January 4 2014

What does Christianity get right?

We've published the latest in the discussions between myself and Rupert Sheldrake. It's available as a podcast or on iTunes.

Our starting point this time is that militant atheism is falling out of favour, and a new atheism seems to be emerging, looking for forms of spirituality. But still, many find Christianity not a viable option. So we seek to ask where Christianity is compelling in its view of life and how to live, and where it is challenging, and perhaps in trouble.

Wednesday, November 20 2013

Lord Williams of Oystermouth: ‘Making representations: religious faith and the habits of language.'

I can recommend Rowan Williams' Gifford lectures of the last couple of weeks. Chewy but rewarding!

His main point seems quite straightforward, for all the subtle and complex ways he develops it. He is pointing out that if you reflect on language, you quickly see that it has to operate on many different levels or registers, not just the rational and empirical. In fact, the metaphorical seems far more basic to language than any supposed correspondence theory would grant. Apart from anything else, this is for the reason that language occupies that space in between the material and immaterial: it's an embodied activity - being sound and physical movement - that engages us symbolically.

What this has to do with God is what it says about the nature of reality, our embedded experience that gives rise, probably first, to music and then languages. The excessive nature of language, the way that it does way more than merely communicate sounds, does not prove God, as modern natural theology has been inclined to feel is its main task, but rather suggests that in language, we are every day grappling with a reality that can be interpreted as intelligible, giving and even compassionate - multi-meaningful, in the way a piece of music is meaningful.

That is commensurate with belief in God. Or to put it another way, a cosmos sustained by a creator such as the Judeo-Christian tradition conceives it, would be one in which you might expect people to speak in the many ways we do.

Tuesday, July 16 2013

Sheldrake on the evolution of consciousness

Rupert Sheldrake and I discuss the evolution of consciousness in this latest of our exchanges, available as a podcast or iTunes.

(Image: Oliver Spalt)

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