Michael Faraday (above), the physicist and chemist, and one of the greatest scientists of the Victorian era, was born today in 1791 to the family of a blacksmith from Cumbria who had moved to Newington Butts, London. The family was so poor that Faraday’s parents often struggled to feed their children, who had a bare-bones education. They belonged to the Sandemanians, a small group of dissenters who met in Paul’s Alley in the Barbican. Faraday embraced his parents’ Christian faith as a teenager, and later, at the height of his fame, became a deacon and elder in the Sandemanian meeting. His love and curiosity of nature, and his critical, enquiring mind, were nurtured by his lifelong Christian faith.
‘What a weak, credulous, incredulous, unbelieving, superstitious, bold, frightened, what a ridiculous world ours is, as far as concerns the mind of man. How full of inconsistencies, contradictions and absurdities it is… There is One above who worketh in all things and who governs even in the midst of that misrule to which the tendencies and powers of man are so easily perverted.’ Michael Faraday, letter, 1853
Today in 2013, suicide bombers devastated All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan, one of the oldest Christian places of worship in the country. The two bombers detonated their explosve vests as worshippers were coming out of church after Sunday mass, killing 127 people and wounding 250 more. An Islamic terrorist group claimed that the bombing was in retaliation for deadly US drone strikes in Pakistan.
‘The academic scandal of the 20th century’ came to an end today in 1991 when photographs of the Dead Sea Scrolls were made freely available to scholars worldwide for the first time. Discovered in the desert caves overlooking the Dead Sea in 1947, the scrolls had ever since been in the iron grip of a small cabal of scholars, some of them with drink problems, who locked down access to the scrolls while publishing at a snail’s pace themselves. The situation had been so bad it generated conspiracy theories which claimed that the Vatican had ordered the scrolls to be hushed up because they contained writings which would destroy Christianity if made public. The logjam was broken when the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, issued a press release saying that its photo collection of the scrolls was now available to researchers.
It is the birthday of the revolutionary suffragette Christabel Pankhurst, who was born in Manchester today in 1880. In the early 1900s, she and her mother Emmeline led the campaign for women’s rights, turning to terrorism when politics failed. Pankhurst fled to France to avoid imprisonment as the suffragettes inflicted letter bombs, arson attacks, assassination attempts, and bombs planted in St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. After the First World War, Christabel reinvented herself after chancing on a book about biblical prophecy in a bookshop. She travelled to California in the early 1920s and became a travelling evangelist for the Second Coming, successfully morphing into something between a feminist saint, a suffragette curiosity, a brilliant speaker, an eccentric Englishwoman, and a true believer.
‘The biggest war ever known is just behind us, and another, that will be worse by far, is now suspended over us by a mere thread. Is this progress? There is but one sure line of progress traceable through history, and that is the progress represented by God’s carrying out of His purpose to bring in everlasting righteousness through Jesus Christ our Lord… we see this progress nearing the climax of His Return, as the darkness thickening over the world witnesses that sunrise is near.’ Christabel Pankhurst, The World’s Unrest, 1926
Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, died today in 1539 in the Punjab, Pakistan. His essential teaching, given in a series of poems in the Sikh scriptures, is that there is one God, who is accessible to everyone without any need for priests, pilgrimages or rituals, and that all people are equal, regardless of caste.
Image: Library of Congress