Religion News Blog, Jan. 2-3, 2005
- NOTE: Religion News Blog is back in service after a software upgrade designed to accommodate our growing number of visitors and page views.
Our programmer is still putting the finishing touches on certain features of the site, including the news trackers, the RSS links and the story tools. The headline ticker will be back in service later this week.
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The end result should be faster loading pages. Following are the 25 most recent items:
[Netherlands] Evangelical broadcaster to answer God's letters
Dutch postal company TPG has decided to send all anonymous letters addressed to God to the country's evangelical broadcasting company. Up to now, the Deity's mail from the Netherlands has ended up in the wastepaper basket.
Members of the aftercare division of the EO broadcasting company will pray for the people who write the letters, clergyman Cees van Velzen, of the division, said on Monday.
[Books] Jewish scholar reviews concepts of the afterlife
Western religions that believe in a single god traditionally teach that after the present life, individuals will exist eternally in resurrected bodies. Eastern religions believe the soul is embodied in either human or animal forms in numerous past and future lives.
Now comes Alan F. Segal of Barnard College in New York with the latest review of Jewish, Christian and Muslim concepts: "Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion" (Doubleday). As one of the leading Jewish analysts of first-century Judaism and Christianity, Segal is admirably equipped to produce a 731-page blockbuster on this central, powerful theme.
[Mata Amritanandamayi Devi] $28m in aid pledged by Indian 'hugging guru'
A Hindu religious leader known for travelling the world and hugging people has pledged one billion rupees ($28 million) to help those facing the aftermath of southern Asia's devastating earthquake and tsunamis.
Mata Amritanandamayi, a maternal figure who uses hugs as a gesture of blessing and is often called "the hugging saint", has devotees throughout India and in the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia.
[Lord's Resistance Army] Truce fails in Uganda with attack on army
Hopes for peace in northern Uganda were dashed yesterday when President Yoweri Museveni threatened a new military offensive and condemned rebels from the Lord's Resistance Army for failing to sign a ceasefire.
Barely two days after Ugandan ministers and LRA commanders held a breakthrough meeting, raising unprecedented hopes for peace, a promised truce failed to materialise.
[Meditation] Meditation Gives Brain a Charge, Study Finds
Brain research is beginning to produce concrete evidence for something that Buddhist practitioners of meditation have maintained for centuries: Mental discipline and meditative practice can change the workings of the brain and allow people to achieve different levels of awareness.
[Aum Shinrikyo] Cult calls off 'hot water training' after death
A Japanese cult behind a deadly 1995 gas attack on the Tokyo subway will end a ritual in which followers spend long hours in scalding water after a sect member died in a bathtub.
Wakashio Togashi, 45, who had been a senior member of the Aum Supreme Truth cult, was found dead in the bathtub at another Aum follower's house in Tokyo on Saturday, a police spokesman said.
Togashi had served seven years in prison for helping build a plant to produce Nazi-invented sarin gas used by the cult in several attacks.
[Jeffrey Lundgren] 15 years later, cult member reflects on Kirtland murders
The parole board has two different Deborahs to consider at her next hearing in August.
The first is a 52-year-old woman who works maintenance and helps train dogs at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville. She chuckles after she tells you she has the most beautiful grandkids in the world. She says she's learned a lot about what led her to follow a murderer.
The second Deborah is 15 years younger. She was recently divorced, low on money and feeling hopeless.
She latched on to a cult in Kirtland and followed its leader even after he murdered three little girls and their parents.
That Deborah wanted someone to make all of her decisions for her.
"Jeff had all the answers," Olivarez said of cult leader Jeffrey Lundgren, who is also her cousin. "I couldn't tell you today what those answers were and what the questions were. I just felt like he had the answers, and he promised to take care of me. And all my life all I wanted was somebody to take care of me."
[Jeffrey Lundgren] Authorities recall horror of family's cult killings
The bodies of Dennis and Cheryl Avery and their three daughters, of Madison Township, were discovered 15 years ago this week.
The five victims were bound and gagged with duct tape and shot one by one in Kirtland by cult leader Jeffrey Lundgren on April 17, 1989.
[Church and State] Governor to expand faith plan amid flap
Ignoring objections from critics and looming court battles, Gov. Jeb Bush is expanding his quest to hand over state dollars to faith-based organizations to care for Florida's neediest citizens.
Mirroring his brother's 2001 creation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, Gov. Bush issued an executive order in November formalizing a similar advisory board of religious advocates and others, many of whom contract with the state.
[Church and State] U.S. Gave $1B in Faith-Based Funds in 2003
The government gave more than $1 billion in 2003 to organizations it considers "faith-based," with some going to programs where prayer and spiritual guidance are central and some to organizations that do not consider themselves religious at all.
Many of these groups have entirely secular missions and some organizations were surprised to find their names on a list of faith-based groups provided to The Associated Press by the White House.
Other grant recipients are religious, offering social service programs that the government may have deemed too religious to receive money before President Bush took office.
[Religion, General] Archbishop of Canterbury admits: This makes me doubt the existence of God
The Asian tsunami disaster should make all Christians question the existence of God, Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, writes in The Telegraph today.
In a deeply personal and candid article, he says "it would be wrong" if faith were not "upset" by the catastrophe which has already claimed more than 150,000 lives.
Prayer, he admits, provides no "magical solutions" and most of the stock Christian answers to human suffering do not "go very far in helping us, one week on, with the intolerable grief and devastation in front of us".
[Religion, General] Of course this makes us doubt God's existence
Every single random, accidental death is something that should upset a faith bound up with comfort and ready answers. Faced with the paralysing magnitude of a disaster like this, we naturally feel more deeply outraged – and also more deeply helpless. We can't see how this is going to be dealt with, we can't see how to make it better. We know, with a rather sick feeling, that we shall have to go on facing it and we can't make it go away or make ourselves feel good.
The question: "How can you believe in a God who permits suffering on this scale?" is therefore very much around at the moment, and it would be surprising if it weren't – indeed, it would be wrong if it weren't.
[USA] Senator Says Lifetime Terror Detentions 'Bad Idea'
A reported U.S. plan to keep some suspected terrorists imprisoned for a lifetime even if the government lacks evidence to charge them in courts was swiftly condemned on Sunday as a "bad idea" by a leading Republican senator.
The Pentagon and the CIA have asked the White House to decide on a more permanent approach for those it was unwilling to set free or turn over to U.S. or foreign courts, the Washington Post said in a report that cited intelligence, defense and diplomatic officials.
Some detentions could potentially last a lifetime, the newspaper said.
[USA] Long-Term Plan Sought For Terror Suspects
Administration officials are preparing long-range plans for indefinitely imprisoning suspected terrorists whom they do not want to set free or turn over to courts in the United States or other countries, according to intelligence, defense and diplomatic officials.
[USA] Guantanamo Briton 'in handcuff torture'
A British detainee at Guantanamo Bay has told his lawyer he was tortured using the 'strappado', a technique common in Latin American dictatorships in which a prisoner is left suspended from a bar with handcuffs until they cut deeply into his wrists.
The reason, the prisoner says, was that he was caught reciting the Koran at a time when talking was banned.
Thousands of documents obtained last month under the US Freedom of Information Act by the American Civil Liberties Union support the claims of torture at Guantanamo, which has apparently continued long after the publication last April of photographs of detainees being abused at the US-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. They include memos and emails to superiors by FBI and Defense Intelligence Agency officers, who say they were appalled by the methods being used by the young military interrogators at Guantanamo.
[Hate Groups] Hate music gains ground -- publisher
Minnesota-based Panzerfaust Records is nearly halfway to its goal of distributing 100,000 sampler CDs of white supremacist music for teens to hand out to friends. "Project Schoolyard" aims to spread the white power movement to young people turned on by the heavy metal and punk music.
The angry band names - H8Machine, Rebel Hell, Brutal Attack - and voices screaming "White supremacy!" are enough to give Brenda Brown of Flint troubled pause.
But Brown's greater concern is that such music from racist bands is gaining a foothold in Detroit and elsewhere in Michigan through an aggressive campaign by a Minnesota record company.
[Books] The good, the bad in religious books
The year past was an unusual one in religious publishing because some fine books stemmed from Islam and Judaism while Christians bore the blame for the very worst ones.
Hallelujahs for the top four of 2004:
[Scientology (Consumer Alert!)] Scientologists join Aussie experts
Australian disaster victim identification (DVI) experts are being helped by Church of Scientology volunteers to preserve bodies of tsunami victims in Thailand.
[Polygamy] Saudi man with 58 wives stirs polygamy debate
In 50 years, he says, he has married 58 women and has forgotten the names of most of them. He knows he has had 10 sons, but ask about daughters and he counts on his fingers: 22. No, no, 28. No, that's too many. He settles on 25.
Al-Sayeri's story might seem a bizarre curiosity, but it touches a nerve in Saudi Arabia, the status of whose women is a matter of international controversy.
Sayyidaty magazine, which interviewed al-Sayeri, also spoke to psychiatrist Mona al-Sawwaf who said al-Sayeri does not treat a wife as a human being "but as a piece of clothing he can change whenever he pleases or an object."
"The biggest blame lies with the parents" who let their daughters enter such marriages, she said.
Al-Sayeri dismisses such critics as "crazy," insisting he is not breaching Islamic laws, which permit a man to have four wives at a time.
[Aum Shinrikyo] Japanese Aum Cult Member Found Dead
A male follower of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, which has been renamed Aleph, was found dead in a bathtub at the group's facility in Tokyo on Sunday [2 January], the police said.
The police said they suspect the dead follower is Wakashio Togashi, 45, a former senior Aum member who served a prison term for involvement in the cult's sarin gas attack in June 1994 in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, and having a hand in the construction of its sarin plant.
While a police autopsy found the cause of his death to be drowning, group members suggested he may have died from an accident while going through "thermal training" in which followers soak for long hours in hot water with temperatures of about 50 C.
[Falun Gong] Chinese TV Director Sued by Falun Gong Claims Free Speech Protection in the U.S.
Suits against Chinese officials by the movement's adherents in courts around the world are not unusual, and the officials typically ignore them.
But Mr. Zhao, who says the suit challenges his honor as an independent and objective journalist, has taken a different approach. In a filing on Thursday in the Federal District Court in New Haven, he said American free speech principles should protect him.
The case tests the bounds of the Alien Tort Statute, a 215-year-old law that allows foreigners to sue in federal court over serious human rights violations anywhere in the world. In June, the United States Supreme Court, in a separate case, upheld the law but said lower courts should apply it cautiously.
[Kabbalah] Everyday Kaballah
The ancient form of Jewish mysticism known as Kabbalah made a huge comeback in 2004.
Celebrities like Madonna, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Demi-and-Ashton made news for studying Kabbalah's teachings, learning Hebrew and donning red string bracelets to protect against the evil eye. Even Target stores, riding the red string fashion trend, briefly carried the bracelets earlier this year but pulled them after Jewish groups complained.
Around the country, ordinary people, their curiosity piqued, started Kabbalah study groups, taking Kabbalah lessons online and celebrating Jewish culture, whether or not they were Jewish.
[Religion, General] Heavens! That was a wacky '04
Summing up the year in religion isn't easy when one of the stories involved the eBay auction of a 10-year-old grilled-cheese sandwich bearing what the seller described as an image of the Virgin Mary. The news was that it sold for $28,000.
[Brazil] African religions resurgent in Brazil
Brought to Brazil by African slaves, religions such as Candomble, Tambor de Mina, Batuque and Umbanda long had to be practiced in secret, its deities disguised as Catholic saints – the sea goddess Iemanja, for instance, who became the Virgin Mary.
But even after slavery was abolished in 1888, Candomble was still considered backward, if not blasphemous – the province of the poor and dispossessed.
Now Afro-Brazilian religions are flourishing across Brazil, even in the middle class.
Anton and Janet Hein-Hudson
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