Bending the Brain around the Big Questions: A review of the radio show and podcast “Unbelievable.”

“Hello and welcome to Unbelievable, the show that keeps you thinking”  I’m Justin Brierley, and today I’ll be talking to….”

So opens the long running (from 2007) radio show and podcast, Unbelievable, to be found on the radio station Premiere.  This is a show where Christians debate with Atheists and secular humanists from all of their various branches, sects, denominations, meetings, groups, and organisations.  And not only that, Mr Brierley puts representatives from different faiths round the table, and if that wasn’t fraught with potential for grief enough, representatives from different denominations of the same faith.

The show is amazingly successful with all of the above.  Truly, it has devoted atheists, secular humanists, and God botherers of all stripes.  It’s success can be in large part attributed to Mr Brierley’s relaxed, courteous and measured approach to facilitating the debates.  He is genuinely interested in hearing what everyone has to say,  appears to very much want to understand them and get his guests to understand each other, the better to engage with each others views.

The range of shows and guests is immense.  For example we recently have had a Christian group purporting to love Muslims but wanting to destroy Islam (love the person but hate their faith), then we had highlights from a range of speakers at the Unbelievable yearly conference on boosting your skills in evangelism, then a show debating the multi-verse (big enough topic for ya?), and last week it was look at the life of Christian thinker Soren Kierkegarrd.  This a small selection of a vast back catalogue that can be found here.

The format is to introduce the guests, including a short history of their life/work and what either led them to take up or reject faith. Then an introduction from both on the subject being discussed.  Then battle is joined.  Then a  final summary.  Then Justin gives feedback from various shows.  Except it rarely seems like a battle as Justin is such a skilled and decent moderator that the guests are so often so decent and respectable to each other, which if they really try to understand and critique each others ideas, is how it should be.  The worst shows are where the guests agree with each other so much you wonder what the point was.  The shows where it really kicks off are a guilty pleasure, but in the minority.  Most are part way between extremes.

As a Christian sometimes I am frustrated by the lack of grounding in absolutely anything of some of the beliefs expressed.  I have no patience with those who believe that every word of the Bible is literally true, or that God committed genocide and it can be theologically justified, or that people will really attend a conference on annihilating  the souls of unbelievers after death as opposed to just tormenting them eternally.  Liberals today eh?  It’s political correctness run mad!   Nevertheless the value of this show is to give all these views a platform, hopefully with a good critical voice.  Through the synthesis of the two we may arrive at reason.

Premier is a station with a mission based on the evangelistic wing of the Christian faith and Justin is part of that, but nevertheless the show remain accessible to even the most rabid reader of Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett.

My favourite show?  The one where Justin comes under fire from ex Mars Hill bad boy Mark Driscoll and aces him with British cool.  Find it here.

I have moved from fear and hostility of the secular humanist world to a greater understanding and appreciation.  What unites most of us is that we are seekers after truth.  Happily the show makes this utterly believable.




A review of the graphic novel “Arkham Asylum: Living Hell”

This is one glorious fever dream of a graphic novel from DC, one of their hits from 2003.

It tells the story of Warren White, a super- rich fraudster and embezzler who makes the mistake of pleading insanity in Gotham at his trial in the hope of a cushy sentence.   It doesn’t, it gets him committed to Arkham.   Here he finds himself in an infernal carnival of the criminally insane. Nothing is what it seems.  And Hell itself will shortly come calling…

Writer Dan Slott gives us a multi layered narrative who different threads interweave in a truly narrative fashion.  It has moments of genuine, creep you out horror, pathos, and very dark humour.  It’s an example of how the DC Universe can be more fantastical and lurid than its Marvel counterpart.  DC really pushed the limits of the comic book frame in what we can imaginatively accept without the whole thing becoming too absurd for even the most ardent comic fan.  It’s one reason why DC struggles more to make their stuff work on the big screen.

It’s great to see old favourites here, the Joker, Riddler, Poison Ivy, and more, as well as the beginnings of a new creature, “The Shark,” and those we know less about e.g. Humpty, Jane Doe.

Batman and Batgirl are on the margins here, with most of the heroics being dished out by weary Prison Guard Mr Cash.  He’s an intriguing character; cynical, maimed and almost defeated, it’s when things are at their most dangerous and bleakest that he truly finds his strength.  And this is a blueprint for the heroics in all of us.

Ryan Sook and Lee Loughbridge are penciller and colourist respectively, with the inkers being Wade Von Grawbadger and Jim Royal. Together they create a dark and murky world of dark tones and lurid hues where black, green and of course red predominate.  Frames tell the story at a rapid rate and you are left feeling that there is always a horror you have missed, something nasty glimpsed by the corner of your eye.

Mike Heisler’s lettering has some interesting variations including gothic script for he more infernal creations, and a storybook type for Humpty’s tale.

If you like DC tales that focus on the Super Villains, then you’ll love this.