Category : Religion & Culture

(NYT) Chiune Sugihara: The Japanese Man Who Saved 6,000 Jews With His Handwriting

In 1939 Sugihara was sent to Lithuania, where he ran the consulate. There he was soon confronted with Jews fleeing from German-occupied Poland.

Three times Sugihara cabled his embassy asking for permission to issue visas to the refugees. The cable from K. Tanaka at the foreign ministry read: “Concerning transit visas requested previously stop advise absolutely not to be issued any traveler not holding firm end visa with guaranteed departure ex japan stop no exceptions stop no further inquires expected stop.”

Sugihara talked about the refusal with his wife, Yukiko, and his children and decided that despite the inevitable damage to his career, he would defy his government.

Mr. Zimbardo calls the capacity to act differently the “heroic imagination,” a focus on one’s duty to help and protect others. This ability is exceptional, but the people who have it are often understated. Years after the war, Sugihara spoke about his actions as natural: “We had thousands of people hanging around the windows of our residence,” he said in a 1977 interview. “There was no other way.”

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Japan, Judaism, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture

(CL) Witchcraft Casts an Ever-Widening Spell on Millennials

If you’ve noticed an increase in references to witches and mysticism lately, that’s not just because Halloween is approaching. Surveys, social media sites and product branding indicate an increase in people who practice or are interested in witchcraft. Trend-spotters say millennials—especially young women—are drawn to Wicca, astrology and new-age spirituality.

About 1 to 1.5 million Americans label themselves Wiccan or pagan, according to a 2014 report by the Pew Research Center. That’s more than the membership of some mainstream Christian denominations in the United States.

The rise in witchcraft is likely more than a trend, according to Carolyn Elliott, founder of Witch magazine. “We are in the midst of a beautiful, occult, witch renaissance,” she says. Her comment appears to be in line with the ever-increasing reach of the occult into the general population. In a series of three surveys conducted from 1990 to 2008, Trinity College watched Wicca rise from 8,000 practitioners to 340,000 over the course of those years. Now, as Pew reported in 2014, that number has risen to as many as 1.5 million.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Religion & Culture, Wicca / paganism, Young Adults

(WSJ) Jeremy Dys–Is a War Memorial’s Cross Illegal?

Yet after years of litigation, a three-judge panel of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined this year that this memorial is unlawful. According to the court, the memorial’s cross shape violates the Constitution.

Chief Judge Roger Gregory dissented from the decision to deny a review of the case before the full Fourth Circuit. “Nearly a century ago, Maryland citizens, out of deep respect and gratitude, took on the daunting task of erecting a monument to mirror the measure of individual devotion and sacrifice these heroes had so nobly advanced,” he wrote. “The panel majority says their effort violates the Constitution the soldiers fought to defend. I, respectfully, think otherwise.”

Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III also understood the importance of the memorial, writing in his dissent: “The dead cannot speak for themselves. But may the living hear their silence.” Judge Paul V. Niemeyer, also dissenting, wrote that the Fourth Circuit’s decision “offends the monument’s commemoration of those soldiers’ sacrifice. Moreover, it puts at risk hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of similar monuments.”

A few miles from Bladensburg is Arlington National Cemetery. Unless the Supreme Court agrees to hear our appeal and overturns the Fourth Circuit’s decision, the Canadian Cross of Sacrifice, the Argonne Cross, and perhaps the Tomb of the Unknowns—itself originally a World War I veterans monument inscribed with language intertwining the poetic and religious—could face desecration and demolition.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Death / Burial / Funerals, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(CT) Free at Last: Andrew Brunson Released by Turkey After Two Years

American pastor Andrew Brunson has been released after being detained for two years in Turkey.

At a hearing this morning, a Turkish court freed him from judicial control, which lifts his house arrest and travel ban.

Despite a guilty verdict sentencing him to 3 years, 1 month, and 15 days in prison, Brunson may return home to the United States as soon as today due to good behavior and time already served.

NBC News broke the news yesterday of the expected deal between Turkey and the United States over Brunson, a North Carolina pastor who had worked in Izmir for decades and was arrested on terrorism and espionage charges in the aftermath of a failed coup in 2016.

US officials and religious freedom advocates considered the charges against Brunson to be erroneous, and multiple witnesses retracted their testimonies against him during today’s hearing.

Trump administration officials were optimistic but cautious that Turkey would follow through on the deal, reported The Washington Post. The deal would likely lift recent US sanctions in exchange for Brunson’s release by being sentenced today to time already served.

Officials expect Brunson to “be handed back his passport and put on a plane to the US,” reported The Wall Street Journal….

Read it all.

Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Evangelicals, Foreign Relations, Law & Legal Issues, Missions, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution, Turkey

(CEN) Gambling adverts are ‘out of control’, the bishop of St. Albans says

‘Gambling advertising is out of control’, the Bishop of St Albans claimed this week.

The Rt Rev Alan Smith is calling for ‘strong yet sensible’ regulation in the UK. He pointed to Italy, which has already banned gambling advertising entirely. And Australia has also banned gambling advertising during sporting events.

Writing for Politicshome, Bishop Smith, the Church’s lead bishop for gambling,said that parents in the UK ‘were horrified their children were bombarded with gambling adverts’ throughout the World Cup. He said that ‘live-odds’ adverts placed ‘extensive pressure of viewers to bet’.

These are often shown during commercial breaks and informs viewers of the most recent odds, encouraging them to place bets as they watch the sporting event.

He said that these ‘relentless’ adverts would have been seen by an estimated 430,000 problem gamblers in the UK. He pointed out that victims of the gambling industry cost the tax-payer between £260 million and £1.2 billion every year.

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Gambling, Religion & Culture

(Tablet) Supreme court rules in favour of bakery in same-sex wedding cake case

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court found in favour of an appeal by Asher’s bakery in Belfast, reversing earlier decisions made in the Belfast County Court and court of appeal, which had ruled that the bakery discriminated against Mr Lee on the grounds of his sexual orientation.

Announcing the ruling, Supreme Court president, Lady Hale, said: “It is deeply humiliating, and an affront to human dignity, to deny someone a service because of that person’s race, gender, disability, sexual orientation or any of the other protected personal characteristics.”

“But that is not what happened in this case and it does the project of equal treatment no favours to seek to extend it beyond its proper scope,” she continued.

She said that freedom of expression includes the right to “not to express an opinion which one does not hold”.

“This court has held that ‘nobody should be forced to have or express a political opinion in which he does not believe’”, she said.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Evangelicals, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Religion & Culture

(ABC Aus.) Michael Jensen–Sydney has always been a gambler’s town, but it’s a game for mugs

What was and is needed is a description of the deeper causes of this cultural addiction to luck — which is reality a deep-rooted theology of luck.

The Anzac could see that he might be dismembered at any minute. Luck might be against him. Why not see if the universe might turn his way a little?

The farmer on the land knows that hard work might yield no result, if bushfire, drought or flood prevailed. Why not bet on a different outcome, since it was all a gamble anyhow?

The factory worker’s routine was grinding her down and for all her labour brought meagre rewards. Who knows if a quick return for a small investment wasn’t just around the corner?

But there’s an alternative way of telling the story. It’s the story not of luck, but of blessing.

Read it all.

Posted in Anglican Church of Australia, Australia / NZ, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Gambling, Religion & Culture

(Observer) Church and state – an unhappy union?

How is it, they might wonder, in the 21st century, in a country where by every measure the number of people defining themselves as non-religious is growing and the number identifying with the C of E is shrinking, that we have a God-ordained monarchy pledging to preserve the privileges of a religious institution rejected by the vast majority of the population?

According to David Voas, professor of social science at University College London (UCL) and co-director of British Religion in Numbers, there are many ways of defining religious affiliation. “But, very clearly, we’re at a point where, under any definition, a minority of the population – in practice, single figures – is Anglican. There can no longer be a majoritarian argument for an established church.”

The most visible manifestation of establishment, which dates back to the reformation, is the monarch’s dual role as head of state and head of the church. But there are many elements: the 26 seats in the House of Lords reserved for Anglican bishops (the only other country to ringfence seats in its legislature for clerics is Iran); the formal appointment of bishops and archbishops by the monarch; the need for church laws to be approved by parliament; the requirement for the Church of England to minister to the whole population, with every inch of the country divided into C of E parishes; Anglican prayers at the start of parliamentary business each day; the legal requirement for every state school to hold an act of daily worship that is “broadly Christian in character”. The legal prohibition on the monarch marrying a Roman Catholic was lifted only five years ago.

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), Church/State Matters, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(Archbishop Cranmer Blog) Lord Carey challenges Bishops to break their silence on the ‘significant cloud’ hanging over the name of Bishop George Bell

[Bishop] Bell was more than an energetic, courageous and knowledgeable public figure. He was a man rooted in prayer and worship; a high churchman who loved the order and beauty of liturgy. In his exceptionally busy life he was supported loyally and lovingly by his wife, Henrietta. She was always alongside him, as were his chaplains who there to take some of the burden of his high public office.

And then, 57 years after his death, his own diocese which he loved greatly and served faithfully made an announcement which was likely to affect Bell’s reputation for evermore. The announcement was widely interpreted by press and public alike as an accusation that Bell had sexually abused a child between 1949 and 1953. Strangely, church leaders deny that they have ever said that Bell was guilty of the abuse, but this is surely disingenuous? In the Archbishop of Canterbury’s words, a ‘cloud’ hangs over his name.

In that initial announcement, very few details were given but it was clear that an unspecified sum of money had been given to the complainant. The Church said it had decided to give this compensation on the basis of the ‘balance of probabilities’. But even on this evidential basis, arguments for the defence should have been heard. Previously, no other accusations – or even rumours – had ever been heard against Bell. And on the basis of this one unproven, and probably unprovable allegation, his name was removed from buildings and institutions named after him.

A recent detailed review of the case by Lord Carlile showed that no significant effort had been made by the Church to consider any evidence that might have supported Bell’s innocence. In particular, those investigating did not consult Bell’s biographer, Andrew Chandler, nor the living people who worked with him at that time.

George Bell’s cause was given no legal advocate. Instead, in a process which I referred to in the House of Lords in 2016 as having the character of a ‘kangaroo court’, it seems as though the ‘victim’ was automatically believed. The normal burden of proof was reversed and it was considered ‘wicked’ to doubt the veracity of the allegations.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Church History, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Law & Legal Issues, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Theology

(LA Review of Books) Christianity and Resistance: An Interview with Alan Jacobs

So, what does “evangelical” mean?

Right now, I have no freaking idea. [Laughs.] I couldn’t begin to tell you.

What is it supposed to mean?

So, the most classic definition is one that was coined by Scottish historian David Bebbington (you can Google the term “Bebbington quadrilateral”), and it consists of these four things: evangelicals are people who believe in a conversion experience; they believe in the authority of scripture; they have a theology centered on the cross, and Jesus’s atoning work on the cross; and, as Bebbington puts it, they engage in a theologically informed activism, they get out there and preach the gospel and try to win people over. Some have suggested revisions to that, but that’s the general thing.

And what we’re looking at now is that many of the people who call themselves “evangelical” in polls are people who actually could not in any meaningful way affirm any of those four things. But that’s not encouraging to me, because what that suggests is that there are all these people who have some kind of tribal association with the word “evangelical.” And that means that evangelical churches have allowed themselves to degenerate into a kind of tribalism, rather than theologically informed, compassionate activism.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Evangelicals, Religion & Culture

(CEN) UK Faith leaders urge protection for the displaced

Faith LEADERS have written an open letter urging national government leaders to strengthen the protection of displaced people.

Over 50 leaders of faith and religious organisations, groups and communities, including the Bishops of Durham and Salisbury and the Archbishops of Wales and South Sudan, pointed out in their letter that faith leaders are present before crises occur and are key providers of assistance and protection both during them and afterwards.

As such they have ‘special relationships of trust’ and insights into and access to communities.

“We can no longer stand by as the number of people forced from their homes but who have not crossed a border continues to rise in the wake of protracted crises and climate change, they said.Their letter explains that currently there are more than 65 million people displaced due to conflict and violence, and 40.5 million of these remain in their countries of origin.

“It would take more than a year to read all their names. Millions more are displaced due to climate-related events and disasters. We call on leaders of national governments to do more to ensure that the needs and rights of internally displaced people are addressed and upheld.”

Read it all (may require subscription).

Posted in England / UK, Religion & Culture

(WSJ) Jillian Kay Melchior on bell hooks–A Prophet for the ‘Social Justice’ Movement

There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of bell hooks, or recognize the name only vaguely. But if you follow the turmoil on American college campuses, you’re indirectly aware of her influence. Leftist scholars—and nonscholars too, increasingly—put her in the pantheon of thinkers whose names every educated person should recognize: Plato, Descartes, Marx.

Born Gloria Jean Watkins in 1952, Ms. hooks uses a lowercase pen name “to focus attention on her message rather than herself,” the Encyclopaedia Britannica reports, not altogether plausibly. That message begins with the “intersectionality” theory—the claim that racism, sexism and similar types of oppression compound each other’s effects—and advises social-justice warriors (or SJWs) on how to respond.

SJWs often resemble religious fundamentalists, and faith and spirituality are central to Ms. hooks’s vision. “Truly, there can be no feminist transformation of our culture without a transformation in our religious beliefs,” she writes in “Feminism Is for Everybody” (2000). She describes “fundamentalist patriarchal religion” as a barrier to “the spread of feminist thought and practice.”

She reserves particular vitriol for Christianity, “which condones sexism and male domination” and “informs all the ways we learn about gender roles in this society.” But Ms. hooks’s take on Christianity draws more from experience than scholarship….

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, History, Religion & Culture, Women

Bishop Stephen Croft–Artificial Intelligence: A Guide to the Key Issues

It’s a long way from robot vacuum cleaners to a superintelligence. At the moment, much artificial intelligence is “narrow”: we can create machines which are very good at particular tasks (such as beating a human at “Go”) but not machines which have broad general intelligence and consciousness. We have not yet created intelligent life.

But scientists think that day is not far away. Some are hopeful of the benefits of non human superintelligence. Some, including Stephen Hawking, are extremely cautious. But there is serious thinking happening already. Professor Nick Bostron is the Director of the Future of Humanity Institute in the University of Oxford. In his book, Superintelligence, he analyses the steps needed to develop superintelligence, the ways in which humanity may or may not be able to control what emerges and the kind of ethical thinking which is needed. “Human civilisation is at stake” according to Clive Cookson, who reviewed the book for the Financial Times[3].

The resources of our faith have much to say in all of this debate around AI: about fair access, privacy and personal identity, about persuasion in the political process, about what it means to be human, about the ethics of weaponisation and about the limits of human endeavour.

In the 19th Century and for much of the 20th Century, science asked hard questions of faith. Christians did not always respond well to those questions and to the evidence of reason. But in the 21st Century, faith needs to ask hard questions once again of science.

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(RNS) No longer the default, the Church of England goes to battle in religious marketplace

It’s not particularly news in Britain that young English people no longer automatically consider themselves Anglican. A government survey released this month was only the latest to confirm that “CoE” — Church of England — was no longer the default response when Englanders were asked their religion or checked a box on a form.

What’s new, however, is that the Church of England is not sitting back and accepting decline. The nearly 500-year-old denomination is answering back, via Instagram.

The U.K.’s annual British Social Attitudes Survey reported that only 2 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds identify with the Church of England, the established religion of the realm since the Reformation.

Overall, in fact, fewer than 1 in 7 of the English say they belong to the Church of England. Between 2002 and 2017, the share of the populace identifying with the church dropped from 31 percent to 14 percent. That was a faster decline than any other Christian denomination in England.

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(CT) The State of the Puerto Rican Church, One Year After Maria

During those first few days, we pastors were in shock. What would happen with our families? What would happen with the communities of faith we ministered in? We helped elderly people and small children flee the island for the mainland, unsure if we would ever see them again. The devastation across church facilities and congregants’ houses was enough to stir further panic. How were we going to rebuild? Where would we find the finances and the labor to work through this?

On a deeper level, we were forced to restate the purpose of our ministries: How were we going to minister to our communities during this time of utmost need? After decades of prosperity gospel teaching flooding our Christian churches and networks, we knew the majority of Puerto Ricans were not spiritually prepared to deal with a dream-shattering disaster like this.

But God, who loves us and works everything for our good, used these trying times to refocus the spiritual mindset of congregations everywhere, reshaping our understanding of the Christian life as it was intended to be since the beginning of the church in Acts: a group of chosen and saved people living in true community, loving God, loving their spiritual brothers and sisters, and loving the lost souls.

A few days after the hurricane, local congregations started to meet—no programs, no liturgies, no buildings in some cases. They read the Psalms, sang, and prayed. Without jobs and with no utility services at home, a sense of shared community kicked in, and everyone started to look for opportunities to serve the most pressing needs.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Natural Disasters: Earthquakes, Tornadoes, Hurricanes, etc., Parish Ministry, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, The U.S. Government