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The Boy Who Keeps On Living
Sociologist John Carroll unpacks the ongoing appeal of the Harry Potter series.
Nearly a quarter of a century after the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J. K. Rowling’s story of the “boy who lived” continues to capture the imaginations of children - and adults.
The Harry Potter effect, it’s claimed, got kids reading again, got kids’ books selling at greater volumes, and made it possible for writers to produce longer novels for younger readers.
John Carroll, Emeritus Professor of sociology at La Trobe University, makes a bigger claim: that Harry Potter makes Rowling the greatest contributor to the public good of the last 20 years.
In this episode, he makes his case to Simon Smart. This conversation is for you if you’re a Harry Potter fan - but also if you’re not! It ranges from the materialism of our age and our death avoidance to the difference between a hero and a saviour, the importance of vocation, and our deep desire to live in an enchanted world.
“That's quite explicit in the Harry Potter books. I mean, the ordinary people, everyone knows, are called Muggles, and they’re mugs. Their lives are boring. Harry’s forced adopted family for the first 11 years of his life is terrified by basically the meaningless of its own existence. And in a sense, I think what's going on here is a warning to children: adulthood is at risk of being just like that, beware! The magic, the enchantment is in danger of going out of life.”
John Carroll, “Harry Potter & the teller of truth”, The Australian, 10 July 2021
Wizarding World, Kids React to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
9/11: 20 years on.
Unwinnable wars, fear, discrimination: we sift the long-term impact of the September 11 attacks.
It’s been twenty years since the attacks of September 11, 2001, when terrorist group Al-Qaeda flew two passenger jets into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City. Another plane hit the Pentagon in Washington DC, while a fourth plane – headed, it is thought, for the US Capitol – instead crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.
The attacks stunned the US and shook the myth of American invincibility. Military strikes on Afghanistan followed in October 2001 as then-US President George W. Bush demanded the Taliban, the country’s de facto ruling power, hand over Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the attacks.
The US-led ‘war on terror’ expanded to include Iraq in 2003, in search of its reputed weapons of mass destruction.
In August 2021, the Taliban reasserted control over Afghanistan just as the last American troops withdrew from the region.
As we mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11 on Life & Faith, we speak to Mark Maclennan, an Australian tourist who found himself at the World Trade Centre right after it had been hit.
David Smith, Associate Professor at the United States Studies Centre and the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Sydney, summarises the impact of the event and its aftermath on the United States and beyond.
Christian ethicist Stanley Hauerwas, artist Makoto Fujimura, and the work of Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, also feature in this episode.
Rowan Williams’ Writing in the Dust: Reflections on 11th September and its Aftermath
Interview with Makoto Fujimura
Interview with David Smith on US Politics and Religion
The Father Hood
Andrew McUtchen on the challenge and joy of the most important job he’ll ever have.
Andrew McUtchen is the co-creator of The Father Hood, an online community that supports Dads to take on the challenge of being the best Dad they can be. Father to three girls aged 6,7 and 8, along with an older stepdaughter, Andrew believes this is the best time in history to be a Dad.
Expectations of fathers have radically changed in recent decades. Andrew tells Life & Faith why that change is such a good thing. And why he wouldn’t have it any other way.
In this episode Andrew and Simon share some common threads in their respective upbringings, both being one of three boys with a Dad who was a minister. This leads to a discussion of the spirituality of parenting and the things to be gained by having your life turned upside down. And along the way they touch on wonder, awe and the power of appealing to our better instincts.
"There's an opportunity to reconnect with spirituality through parenthood because ... suddenly your drives are self less instead of selfish and they're giving instead of taking and suddenly you just rediscover all this goodness in yourself."
In a world obsessed with success, plenty of us feel a compulsive need to achieve.
We tell ourselves - and our kids - to try hard and never give up, for this is the secret to success. But by the time young people finish school, many students find it hard not to link their efforts and abilities with their identity and their self-worth with their achievements.
CPXer Justine Toh’s book Achievement Addiction calls out our fraught relationship with success. In this episode, we talk about tiger parenting and its fixation on academic accomplishment and how meritocratic ideas associating success with effort imply that our wins and failures are always deserved. We also discuss other social cues showing the value we place on achievement - like the way former Australian Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey once described Australia as a nation of “lifters, not leaners” which distinguishes between those who contribute to the public purse and those who take from it.
We also talk to Julia, a Sydney-based cardiologist, who wouldn’t describe herself as an achievement addict but who found herself striving for significance. She lets us in on what might be found on the other side of achievement.
Justine Toh’s Achievement Addiction and other titles in the Re:CONSIDERING series.
Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
Michael J. Sandel’s The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good
Meeting the Real Jesus
Journalist Greg Sheridan makes a compelling case for reading the Bible book by book and finding within those pages a Jesus as intriguing as he is attractive and compelling.
When journalist Greg Sheridan outed himself as Christian with his book “God is Good for You”, a friend challenged him to follow it up with something that would illuminate the living Jesus of the gospels. That was enough for Greg to commit to a couple of years soaking in the New Testament in search of a way to explain the Christian story to a people largely estranged from it.
The result is Christians: The Urgent Case for Jesus in Our world.
Sheridan says of his reading of the Bible, “ ... it's so gripping. It's so immediate, it's so visceral … there's also a tremendous power to it”. Here is his attempt to convey something of that power, and he does so with a disarming honesty and wide-eyed enthusiasm. His aim is to point people to the life-giving words of Jesus and his early followers and the way that message continues to enthrall, challenge and inspire today.
In this episode of Life & Faith Simon Smart speaks with Greg about the book, why he wrote it and the people who come to life within it.
Christians: The Urgent Case for Jesus in our world by Greg Sheridan
The 400th Episode
Life & Faith marks a milestone, and gets a bit nostalgic.
This week is the 400th episode of Life & Faith!
In this episode, Simon Smart, Justine Toh, and Natasha Moore get together (remotely) to swap stories of their favourite episodes, tech fails, meeting their heroes, and memorable surprises over the years of making the podcast. They also manage to cajole producer Allan Dowthwaite, the man who makes everything at CPX work, out from his preferred spot behind the scenes to answer a few questions in front of the microphone.
Join the team on a trip down memory lane with the ghost of episodes past, and enjoy Tim Winton making a joke at his own expense, Justine reflecting on spiritual seekers, Simon and Al recalling the least amount of prep time they ever had for an interview, Natasha admitting the most intimidating person she’s ever interviewed, and the novelist Christos Tsiolkas offering a powerful distillation of what Christianity (a faith he does not share) is all about.
Episodes referenced in this episode:
Hope Is Violent
Misadventures in Wellness
Murder Most Popular
An Empty Plate
An Evangelical Election
Out of the Fishbowl
He Had a Dream
Fear Is a Useless Thing
Wait for it every week!
I love the variety in this podcast and look forward to it landing in my podcasts each week.
Thoughtful, intelligent presentation with consideration for differences.
These are terrific thoughtful reflections about life and our journey. The courage to walk on paths which are uncomfortable is always impressive and spiritually enhancing.