The religious and philosophical fatalities of 2016


Hilary Putnam

Everyone is aware that 2016 saw us say goodbye to an extraordinary number of significant figures in the public eye. However if you were to ask someone to list a few of them you can guarantee those few would come from the entertainment section. I felt it my duty to list a few religious figures and inspirational philosophers who left us last year. This list is varied as opposed to comprehensive, offering a microcosmic look at those whom we lost.

Hilary Putnam

If a stranger were to know of any philosophers who passed away in 2016, it would be Hilary Putnam. A devastating loss to the field, he is hailed by The New York Times as a ‘Giant of Modern Philosophy.’ The American great sadly passed at the age of 89 from cancer, leaving behind an extraordinary legacy. The Guardian stated that he, ‘revolutionised the philosophy of the mind,’ but this was just one field in which his expertise shone through. In addition he made remarkable progress in epistemology, the philosophy of language and metaphysics. Described by the Huffington Post as, ‘a philosopher of amazing breadth,’ he was most greatly inspired by Socrates and John Dewey. He was wary of irrationalism and dismissive of philosophical ‘fads’ such as logical positivism, insisting that philosophy could never be reduced to physics. He was known for his tendency to change his stance on philosophical matters; applying the same level of criticism to his own work as to that of his colleagues. His bestsellers include the likes of, ‘Philosophy of Logic,’ and ‘Reason, Truth and History.’ At the time of his death he was a Professor at Harvard University. Aside from his professional life, he was a very loved man by those who knew him personally due to his generous, kind and inspirational personality. His legacy that we must self-assess and use our reason constantly ought to live on, and counteract the growing view in America that Philosophy is a waste of a discipline.

DJ Official 

At the tender age of 39, Christian hip-hop pioneer DJ Official left us following complications after a double lung transplant. The DJ’s real name was Nelson Chu but he was known by fans as ‘Fish.’ He was famous for shaping the Christian hip-hop sound and raising quality of production. To his name is credits on almost 160 hip-hop songs which express belief in the Christian faith. His music career began in the early 2000s when he started out with the group ‘Cross Movement’ who popularised the lyrical theology movement. His unique promotion of gospel rap saw him DJ for Trip Lee and Tedashii under the management of Reach Records, and he even accompanied the artists on their Unashamed Tour before working full time for them. With Reach Records he achieved his full potential as an artist, a talent showcased in his 2009 album ‘Entermission.’ Indeed he had such a relationship with Reach that when he needed a bone marrow transplant a few years ago, it was partially funded by their ‘Bless the DJ’ campaign. He is survived by his wife Teresa Chu who produced this eulogy for her husband: “May we all rejoice in knowing that Nelson is home and that his purpose for the Lord has been fuflilled. May Nelson rest in peace, pain free, making angels sing, rap and laugh standing beside our Almighty Father and Lord and Saviour in Heaven.”

Mother Mary Angelica

The loss of this pioneering figure in the Catholic Church marks the loss of the founder of the Catholic media network. The nun died at the age of 92, leaving behind her the Eternal World Television Network: one of the biggest religious media operations in the world. The EWTN broadcasts 24 hours a day to homes in over 144 countries in multiple languages. Mother Mary Angelica said herself that she accompanied her faith with a, ‘theology of risk,’ which is evident in disputes she had with many church figures including the archbishop of Los Angeles and the head of the Milwaukee Archdiocese. She was controversial to say the last, due to her brash and outspoken personality, however no one could deny what she achieved in her lifetime. This is evidenced by the honours she received, including Pope Benedict XV1 awarding her the Pro Ecclesia of Pontifice Cross for her service to the Church.

Umberto Eco

Known predominantly as a writer, particularly for his most famous book, ‘The Name of the Rose,’ we have said goodbye to the Italian legend Umberto Eco this year. An incredibly intelligent man, Eco listened to renaissance music and read dictionaries to relax, becoming a master of several foreign languages. Despite the fame ‘The Name of the Rose,’ gave him, this did not bring him happiness…rather he was burdened by the fact his life was never private again. His favourite subject was conspiracies, and as a professor of Semiotics at Bologna university he witnessed political extremism and conspiracy first hand. The university was described by the Guardian as, ‘a hotbed of red Italian activism.’ In 1963 the left wing writer helped to set up ‘Group 63’: a cultural association which stood against conservatism in the arts. His philosophical works which will survive him include discussions of semiotics, linguistics, medieval studies and literary theory. Titles include, ‘The aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas’ (1988), ‘Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language’ (1984) and ‘Kant and the Platypus: Essays on Language and Cognition (1999).

Cliff Barrows

Barrows was known mainly as the colleague of Billy Graham. As his musical director the two of them became ‘one of the most enduring partnerships in evangelistic history,’ as accredited by Christianity Today. Barrows’ musical contributions were extensive: he was a singer in Youth for Christ, a gospel trombonist and evangelist. He became music director and state manager for Graham’s crusades. He once said, ‘the Christian faith is a singing faith, and a good way to express it and share it with others is in community singing,’ which is reflected in his running of mass choirs and congregational song. He also hosted the radio broadcast ‘Hour of Decision’ which included Christian music and studio sermons from Bily Graham. He was the foundation of Billy’s success, as was mentioned by Graham at the International Conference of Itinerant Evangelists in Amsterdam in 1986, when he stated, ‘God has given me mighty men, but the mightiest of all has been Cliff Barrows.’

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