Category : Other Faiths

(Guardian) ‘I only know one god – and that’s me’: non-believers on the meaning of life

Religion may once have been the opium of the people, but in large swaths of the world the masses have kicked the habit. In countries once dominated by churches characterised by patriarchy, ritual and hierarchy, the pews have emptied and people have found other sources of solace, spirituality and morality.

In the US, those who say they are atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” is up from 17% in 2009 to 26% last year. In Britain, according to the most recent data, more than half the population proclaimed no faith in 2018, a figure that rose from 43% to 52% in a decade.

But there are many different ways of being an unbeliever – among them labels such as atheist, agnostic, humanist, free thinker, sceptic, secular and spiritual-but-not-religious. According to Understanding Unbelief, an academic research project based at the University of Canterbury in Kent, “unbelief in God doesn’t necessarily entail unbelief in other supernatural phenomena… Another common supposition – that of the purposeless unbeliever, lacking anything to ascribe ultimate meaning to the universe – also does not bear scrutiny”.

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Posted in Atheism, England / UK, Other Faiths

(WSJ) Yahya Cholil Staquf–How to Make the Islamic World Less Radical

The world isn’t going to banish Islam, but it can and must banish the scourge of Islamic extremism. This will require Muslims and non-Muslims to work together, drawing on peaceful aspects of Islamic teaching to encourage respect for religious pluralism and the fundamental dignity of every human being.

The most enduring way to address an extremist religious ideology is to recontextualize its teachings and reform it from within. Four centuries ago, Catholics and Protestants routinely killed each other; now they coexist. I believe the same type of change can occur within Islam in one or two generations. What’s needed is a credible alternative that is consistent with Islamic orthodoxy and developed and promulgated by those with religious and political authority in the Muslim world.

Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest independent Muslim organization, for which I serve as general secretary, is promoting such an alternative. Positioned firmly within the spiritual, intellectual and legal traditions of orthodox Sunni Islam, we recognize that much of the fiqh constitutes not the unchanging, spiritual essence of religion, known as thawabit, but rather its historically contingent expressions, or mutaghayyirat. These latter expressions of Islam may be changed.

Countless Indonesian Muslims have taken up this task of reform in recent decades. Starting in the 1980s, prominent heirs to this tradition led Nahdlatul Ulama officially to sanction collective ijtihad: the application of independent reason to renew temporal elements of fiqh and ensure that Islamic teaching and practice embody universal love and compassion, the primary message of Islam.

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Posted in Indonesia, Islam, Religion & Culture

(The World) Undeterred by ICC decision, Uighurs hail EU, UK steps toward holding China accountable

After more than 70 years of Chinese rule over the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, there’s mounting evidence that in recent years, their occupation has intensified into an environment of strict surveillance, with more than a million Uighurs held in internment camps.

Reports show many are forced to pick cotton and work in factories that supply international brands and that some Uighurs are even subjected to forced sterilizations and organ harvesting.

For several years, Beijing repeatedly denied those allegations, while companies like Nike said they’ve made sure they’re not using Uighur slave labor. But some recent developments suggest 2021 may see a breakthrough in the Uighurs’ long struggle for justice, with help from a new group of international lawmakers.

“I’m accusing the Chinese authorities of the worst crime of the 21st century. I am also accusing the international community for being a part of this crime, for abetting it through its silence,” European Parliament Member Raphaël Glucksmann of France said during a Dec. 17 debate, through an interpreter. “I’m also accusing Nike and other multinational corporations that are taking advantage of slavery.”

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Posted in China, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Islam, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution

(WSJ) Christopher Caldwell–Macron Seeks an Enlightened Islam

Devout Catholics have often chafed under laïcité. But having either lived through or studied the Dreyfus era, they understood laïcité’s historic logic. Today’s young Muslims have no such folk memory. And history has moved on. In 1905, mass movements—socialism above all—were ready to provide antireligious muscle for the state. Today they are weaker, and they face a different religion, one that does not feature “turn the other cheek” among its precepts.

Nor does Islam have any hierarchy through which the state’s commands can efficiently resonate. When Combes told the church to close thousands of schools, bishops obliged. Laïcité requires such institutional interlocutors. Where France once tore down Catholic institutions, it must now build up Muslim ones. The CFCM is one example. As part of his antifundamentalist push, Mr. Macron has called for more Arabic instruction in schools.

The French leaders who invented laïcité knew the church. They were often lapsed Catholics themselves. Now when they sing the praises of an “Islam of the Enlightenment,” one wonders whether this is a realistic prospect or a figment of their ideological imaginations. Muslims may prefer the real Islam they have studied and lived to the licensed, accredited Islam of “Republican values” that Mr. Macron is proposing.

Every Western country has a version of this problem. All our treasured “values” were formulated for a society more uniform and more orderly than today’s. Why do we assume these values will survive diversity? Why does France assume that a system devised to subordinate its historic religion can serve just as well to mediate between its more recent secularism and a (rising) foreign religion? For a long time laïcité has rested less on its own logic than on the forbearance of its citizens. Under conditions of globalization, mass migration and the ethnic and religious recomposition of that citizenry, such forbearance can no longer be assumed.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, France, Islam, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(BBC) France launches checks on dozens of mosques

The French authorities have launched inspections of dozens of mosques and prayer halls suspected of links to Islamist extremism.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced the crackdown, saying some could be closed if found to be encouraging “separatism”.

It comes a week before the unveiling of a new law to combat such extremism.

It is a response to attacks in October, blamed on Islamists, including the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty.

In a note to regional security chiefs, reported by French media, Mr Darmanin said there would be special checks and surveillance for 76 mosques and prayer halls, 16 of them in the Paris region.

He ordered “immediate action” concerning 18 of them, with the first checks set to be done on Thursday.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, France, Islam, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(1st Things) Rowan Williams–The Joy of Jonathan Sacks

Just over twelve years ago, Sir Jonathan Sacks, as he then was, gave an address to the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops—the first Jewish speaker to be invited to this event. He spoke with all the energy and clarity he invariably displayed as a lecturer, and had a palpable effect on all. The atmosphere of the conference was a bit fragile—a lot of absentees, frustration on the part of many that we were not planning to pass resolutions, even a cynicism that the event was an exercise in evading unwelcome decisions. We were discussing the idea of an Anglican “covenant” to affirm the vision (and the limits) of our shared identity, often with more heat than light.

Jonathan (unprompted by the organizers) spoke precisely about covenant, and transformed the word for us. From the Jewish point of view, he said, a covenant could be a “covenant of fate,” a solidarity grounded in shared trauma and pain, or a “covenant of faith,” the free decision to risk mutual commitment and to be implicated in one another’s acts and sufferings. The unchosen common experience of slavery in Egypt was the foundation of one profound strand in Jewish identity; but only at Sinai, when Israel says yes to God’s invitation to seal the human side of the covenant, is the full nature of covenantal identity established, as the people make their promise to one another as they do to God.

He had spelled out some of this a year or so earlier in what is surely one of his best books, The Home We Build Together. In it, he explains how social solidarity cannot be secured just by the market, or just by the coercive authority of the state; it needs the conscious investment of covenanting with one another for the common good. This is significantly more than just a social “contract” because it presupposes a continuing sympathetic regard for one another, a willingness to make constant adjustments to maximize the well-being of the community as a whole. It needs attention, flexibility, and, above all, loyalty.

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Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, England / UK, Judaism, Religion & Culture

(LA Times) Muslims reel over a prayer app that sold user data: ‘A betrayal from within our own community’

Five times a day, tens of millions of phones buzz with notifications from an app called Muslim Pro, reminding users it’s time to pray. While Muslims in Los Angeles woke Thursday to a dawn notification that read, “Fajr at 5:17 AM,” users in Sri Lanka were minutes away from getting a ping telling them it was time for Isha, or the night prayer.

The app’s Qibla compass quickly orients devices toward the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia — which Muslims face when praying. When prayers are done, the in-app Quran lets users pick up reading exactly where they left off. A counter tallies the days of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Listings guide users to halal food in their area.

These features make it easier to practice the many daily rituals prescribed in Islam, turning Muslim Pro into the most popular Muslim app in the world, according to the app’s maker, Singapore-based BitsMedia.

But revelations about the app’s data collection and sales practices have left some users wondering if the convenience is worth the risk.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Islam, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(Theos Think Tank) Zaki Cooper–A Tribute to Rabbi Lord Sacks

For all his intellectual prowess, Rabbi Sacks was not a bookish don, who wanted to hide away in an ivory tower. He engaged with people, and was interested in meeting them, and learning from them. He developed a worldwide following. It included princes, Prime Ministers and other leaders but also multitudes of people without titles, people of all faiths and none. One of his many catchy sayings was “good leaders create followers, great leaders create leaders.” He was not talking about himself, but he could have been. He had millions of followers but at the same time also acted as a spur to inspire a generation of rabbis, teachers and community leaders.

One of the notable things in the last few days have been the many, many stories of the way so many people were touched by him, on a personal not just an intellectual level. When someone had a bereavement or another personal crisis, he was there for them. When they got engaged or a baby was born, again he was there for them. He understood human joy and pain and found the right words to augment the former and assuage the latter. He was a man of compassion and kindness, described by the Jewish Chronicle in a tribute editorial as “a mensch.” He was steadfast in Orthodox Judaism, but incredibly non–judgemental about Jews who were not as religious. At his core, he was a family man, who was devoted to his wife of over 50 years, Elaine, who sustained and supported him, as well as his three children and many grandchildren.

Rabbi Sacks was a one–off. His death leaves a huge unfillable hole. Jews, he once said, have not been so much interested in “the idea of power, but the power of ideas.” Through his incredible legacy, we will continue to learn from him and be inspired by his ideas, as future generations of disciples, of Sacks–ites. Whilst his death is painful, we must celebrate the majesty of his achievement and life.

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Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, England / UK, Judaism

(RNS) After Nice attacks, Pope Francis and French Catholics call for peace with Muslims

After a man killed three people Thursday (Oct. 29) at the Catholic cathedral in Nice, France, Pope Francis expressed his closeness to the French Catholic community, offering prayers for the victims as well as wishes that “the beloved French people may respond united for good against evil.”

The attack, one of three on Thursday attributed to Muslim extremists, took place in the Basilica of Notre-Dame in Nice as a man reportedly yelling “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great,” stabbed the cathedral’s custodian and two women, one of whom was taken to a nearby café but later died, according to The Associated Press.

“It’s a moment of pain, in a time of confusion,” said Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni in a statement to reporters. “Terrorism and violence must never be tolerated. Today’s attack sowed death in a place of love and consolations, such as the house of the Lord.

“The pope is informed of the situation and is close to the grieving Catholic community,” the Vatican statement continued. “He prays for the victims and their loved ones, so that the violence will cease, and they may return to see each other as brothers and sisters and not enemies so that the beloved French people may respond united for good against evil.”

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, France, Islam, Muslim-Christian relations, Pope Francis, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Terrorism

(BBC) Vienna shooting: Austria hunts suspects after ‘Islamist terror’ attack

A gunman shot dead by police has been identified as a 20-year-old “Islamist terrorist” who was released early from jail in December.

Two men and two women died of their wounds after gunmen opened fire at six locations in the city centre on Monday evening.

Twenty-two people were wounded.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the four who died were an elderly woman, an elderly man, a young male passer-by and a waitress. Witnesses described how the gunmen had opened fire on people outside bars and chased them as they fled inside.

It was clearly an attack driven by “hatred of our way of life, our democracy”, the chancellor said. He earlier spoke of a “repulsive terror attack”.

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Posted in Australia / NZ, Judaism, Religion & Culture, Terrorism

(C of E) Archbishops join interfaith call to PM to allow public worship

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, together with the Bishop of London, have joined national faith leaders in calling on the Government to permit public worship during the forthcoming lockdown in England.

Read it all and the full letter at the link.

Posted in --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell, Church of England (CoE), Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Inter-Faith Relations, Other Faiths

(NLJ) Jason Blakely–Scientism and Civilizational Rallying: Dawkins and the New Atheists

In Dawkins’s grand vision the world faced a dualistic split between the party of enlightened liberal atheism and backward authoritarian theism. His call was for a public movement of atheists to rally and mobilize into an open political bloc against religion. This suggested that the War on Terror should more rightly be reconceived as a War on Religion. In this way, scientific liberalism became for Dawkins a way to crusade against multiculturalism in favor of a liberal, scientific monoculture. Once religion had withered away and disappeared, humans would be free to enjoy freedom defined not as serious religious or spiritual pluralism, but as exercising various banal market freedoms.

Dawkins never seriously grappled with the tension between his avowals of the triumph of liberalism and his decidedly illiberal views on the religions constituting nearly every traditional human culture. Instead, for Dawkins the advent of a liberal, materialist atheism would mean a decline in world violence and a rise in social harmony. After all, Dawkins noted, “individual atheists may do evil things” but “they don’t do evil things in the name of atheism” and thus no war had been “fought in the name of atheism.”[5]

In other words, a liberal, atheist perpetual peace was on the horizon. At the same time the pages of The God Delusion expressed a unique, implicit justification for the War on Terror being waged all around Dawkins as he wrote. While he had believed he was popularizing the Darwinian science of memes, he had in fact joined in the construction of a culture for his fellow humans to inhabit. This was the varied scientistic culture of the War on Terror—truly a house with many rooms in it.

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Posted in Atheism, Other Faiths, Philosophy, Science & Technology

(Tablet Magazine) American liberalism is in danger from a new ideology–Stop Being Shocked

No one has yet decided on the name for the force that has come to unseat liberalism. Some say it’s “Social Justice.” The author Rod Dreher has called it “therapeutic totalitarianism.” The writer Wesley Yang refers to it as “the successor ideology”—as in, the successor to liberalism.

At some point, it will have a formal name, one that properly describes its mixture of postmodernism, postcolonialism, identity politics, neo-Marxism, critical race theory, intersectionality, and the therapeutic mentality. Until then, it is up to each of us to see it plainly. We need to look past the hashtags and slogans and the jargon to assess it honestly—and then to explain it to others.

The new creed’s premise goes something like this: We are in a war in which the forces of justice and progress are arrayed against the forces of backwardness and oppression. And in a war, the normal rules of the game—due process; political compromise; the presumption of innocence; free speech; even reason itself—must be suspended. Indeed, those rules themselves were corrupt to begin with—designed, as they were, by dead white males in order to uphold their own power.

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” as the writer Audre Lorde put it. And the master’s house must be dismantled—because the house is rotted at its foundation.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Education, Media, Movies & Television, Philosophy, Politics in General, Secularism

(WSJ) A Former Catholic Dances With the Torah

Given the social distancing mandated by the current pandemic, this will be a Simchat Torah unlike any other. In Israel, currently mired in an intense lockdown, many synagogues will be closed. Around this side of the world, whatever dancing takes place will be muted. Nevertheless, the fragility of life we’ve experienced in the past months allows us to appreciate better what the Torah means to us. The pandemic has made us understand what we often took for granted: how the ability to gather weekly in synagogue and study the Torah together is one of our greatest gifts. And we better appreciate how, in the face of life’s trials, it is the Book of Books that sustains us.

Strikingly, this point about Jewish learning was made by one of America’s most insightful Catholic thinkers, who experienced a moment that mirrors Mr. Dubner’s revelation in a synagogue. A decade ago, Charles Chaput, then archbishop of Philadelphia, visited the study hall of New York’s Yeshiva University, where hundreds of students spend much of their day learning Torah. Archbishop Chaput returned to church to deliver a homily about what he saw. He said he realized how “the Jewish people continue to exist because their covenant . . . is the foundation and glue of their relationship with one another, with their past, and with their future. And the more faithful they are to God’s Word, the more certain they can be of their survival.”

Mr. Dubner and Archbishop Chaput, former and current Catholic alike, discovered the heart of our faith. When all else fails, it is the Torah that sustains us. We know that now more than ever. This year, what is usually a jubilant song on our lips will become a clarion call in our hearts.

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Posted in Books, Judaism, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Theology: Scripture

(Reuters) Blasphemy convictions spark Nigerian debate over sharia law

Fuad Adeyemi, an imam in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, respects those who believe that a 22-year-old man accused of sharing a blasphemous message on WhatsApp should be punished. But he thinks the death sentence is too harsh.

He was referring to a ruling handed to Yahaya Aminu Sharif by a sharia court in the northern state of Kano in August. On the same day, the court sentenced a 13-year-old boy, Omar Farouq, to 10 years in prison, also for blasphemy.

The sentences caused an international outcry and sparked a broader debate in Nigeria about the role of Islamic law in a country roughly evenly split between a predominantly Muslim north and mainly Christian south.

“They should review the judgment … and reduce the punishment,” said Adeyemi, clad in a white robe and sitting on the concrete floor of a half-built Abuja mosque where moments earlier he had led more than a dozen men in prayer.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Islam, Law & Legal Issues, Nigeria, Religion & Culture

Saturday Food for Thought from Harry Blamires

“There is no longer a Christian mind. It is a commonplace that the mind of modern man has been secularized. For…

Posted by Kendall Harmon on Saturday, August 29, 2020

Posted in Books, Secularism, Theology

(AP) Some Religious Leaders to Invoke Frederick Douglass on July 4th

About 150 preachers, rabbis and imams are promising to invoke Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass on July 4th as they call for the U.S. to tackle racism and poverty.

The religious leaders are scheduled this weekend to frame their sermons around “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” on the 168th anniversary of that speech by Douglass. The former slave gave his speech at an Independence Day celebration on July 5, 1852, in Rochester, New York. The address challenged the Founding Fathers and the hypocrisy of their ideals with the existence of slavery on American soil.

The initiative to remember Douglass is led by the Poor People’s Campaign, a coalition of religious leaders seeking to push the U.S. to address issues of poverty modeled after Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last crusade.

“(The Declaration of Independence) was written mostly by Thomas Jefferson. Yet he owned hundreds of human beings, and enslaved them,” Rabbi Arthur Waskow plans to tell The Shalom Center in Philadelphia, according to prepared remarks. “The contradiction between his words and his actions has been repeated through all American history.”

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Posted in History, Inter-Faith Relations, Islam, Judaism, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Poverty, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture

(1st Things) Carl R. Trueman–The Road to Bostock

It is here that Farrow’s book is so singularly helpful. The essay “Autonomy: Sic transit anima ad infernum” is worth the price of the book all by itself. In it he traces with both remarkable depth and enviable conciseness the rise of the modern self: the autonomous self-creator to whom reality must bend or, better still, for whom reality is merely what works best for the individual concerned. With roots in Rousseau and Nietzsche, this self lies behind Anthony Kennedy’s oft-cited fantasy of selfhood in Casey and lurks in the background of all the subsequent Supreme Court rulings on matters involving sexuality, up to and including Bostock. Indeed, Farrow makes the necessary point:

The autonomous will really has no choice but to attack the body as well as the mind. For the body is the most obvious locus of the given, the most stubborn impediment to the power claimed by the will.

Transgenderism is the logical outcome of all this. In fact, the annihilation of gender as a stable category tout court is the logical outcome—a point that seems to have eluded Justice Gorsuch, who apparently wants to keep his binary categories while not realizing the metaphysical depths of the revolution he has now placed into law.

The shock and awe surrounding the Bostock ruling perhaps indicates that the old task of apologetics is now being oddly reversed. The pressing pastoral need of the hour for the church is not to explain the faith to the world but rather first to explain the world to the faithful. If Richard Rorty’s famous quip—the truth is what your contemporaries let you get away with saying—works as a descriptive rather than prescriptive principle in terms of cultural dynamics, in terms of which arguments work and which do not, then it behooves us to ask in what kind of culture the stated logic of the Bostock decision has come to make sense. If Christians do not understand the wider context, then they will continue to underestimate the true depth of the cultural problem, be perplexed at the speed of apparent change, and be disturbed by new developments. And that will make it very hard to navigate this world as both good citizens and good stewards of the gospel.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Other Faiths, Secularism, Supreme Court

(TGC) Americans Don’t See Human Life as ‘Sacred’—But See Humanity as ‘Basically Good’

The Story: A new study finds that a majority of Americans no longer believe human life has intrinsic value, with six out of ten rejecting the idea that “human life is sacred.” Yet a majority also say that humans are “basically good.”

The Background: According to new research from the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, only 39 percent of Americans today view human life as “sacred,” or as having unconditional, intrinsic worth. Groups that still hold this view include adults with a biblical worldview (93 percent); those attending an evangelical church (60 percent); born-again Christians (60 percent); political conservatives (57 percent); people 50 or older (53 percent); and Republicans (53 percent).

Some religious groups had only a minority who viewed life as sacred, including those attending Pentecostal (46 percent), mainline Protestant (45 percent), or Catholic (43 percent) churches. Evangelicals were the group most likely (60 percent) to say that life is sacred, while spiritual skeptics were the least likely (13 percent).

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Sociology

(Bloomberg) Religion Meets Profit Generation in a Slew of New Faith-Based ETFs

As much as Samim Abedi loved his job as part of the team that managed Google’s corporate investment portfolio, he couldn’t always square the work with his Muslim faith. He worried that some of the companies whose securities he traded had ties to alcohol or tobacco or gambling.

So he quit to join Wahed Invest, which in July 2019 launched the first exchange-traded fund in the U.S. that’s compliant with Sharia, Islam’s religious law. It’s one of eight ETFs introduced in the U.S. last year that incorporate faith-based principles, raising the total to 11. More are coming: In June, money manager Global X filed to launch a bond fund aligned to Catholic values. “We’re all trying to solve the same question,” says Abedi, the global head of portfolio management for Wahed. “How do we invest our wealth in ways that align with our ethics?”

Religion-based funds can differ on what they consider ethical. A stock fund that caters to Catholics shuns companies that sell weapons or exploit child labor. Several ETFs for Muslims steer clear of anything related to interest-based finance, which the religion frowns upon. Those funds invest in a Sharia-compliant alternative to bonds called sukuk, which provide regular payments that are considered profit-sharing rather than interest.

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Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Islam, Other Churches, Personal Finance, Religion & Culture, Stock Market

(WSJ) Saudi Arabia Shrinks Hajj Pilgrimage Because of Coronavirus Pandemic

Saudi Arabia said it was curtailing this year’s hajj pilgrimage to only a small number of people already in the kingdom, rather than the millions who usually flock to Islam’s holiest sites, amid concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus.

The hajj, the Muslim world’s most important religious pilgrimage, is considered a pillar of Islam and has been held since the seventh century in Mecca. All Muslims who are able to are required to make the journey at least once in their lifetimes.

The five-day event, which begins in late July this year, is a source of great political and religious prestige for Saudi Arabia, while also generating an estimated $8 billion in revenue for the kingdom each year.

The smaller umrah pilgrimage, which takes place in Mecca throughout the year, and international travel to and from the kingdom remain suspended.

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Posted in Health & Medicine, Islam, Religion & Culture, Saudi Arabia, Travel

(Sun Times Front Page) Chicago clergy on seeking God in the age of COVID: ‘The church has left the building’

Safety is also top of mind for the Rev. Shannon Kershner, pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church at 126 E. Chestnut St. along the Magnificent Mile. It’s why the church livestreams its 11 a.m. Sunday services from Kershner’s living room rather than the sanctuary.

“The empty sanctuary is really a statement of our love and action,” Kershner said. “It’s an expression of God — love your neighbor, essentially — love for our health care professionals and other essential workers who would be harmed if we were to somehow contribute to the spread.

“I’m going to be in my living room, just as all my members are. There’s an intimacy to it, as well as a solidarity that’s been really interesting to discover.”

Along with its worship services, the church in the wealthy downtown community moved online the many classes offered through its Center for Lifelong Learning — 700-plus church members are over 70. Kershner and seven ministers try to do phone checks on each of them.

“Church meetings are on Zoom,” Kershner said. “Bible study is on Zoom. Prayer meetings are on Zoom. In the beginning, we were thinking: If we can just get through Easter, things will go back to normal. Then, we realized that wasn’t going to happen and that we were going to have to remain in this adaptive mindset.

“Then, it was: OK, how can we sustain the ministry that we’re doing in all these new ways, getting clearer about what needs to be our priorities? One thing that became clear is that people really want to feel connected.”

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Posted in Health & Medicine, Islam, Judaism, Parish Ministry, Urban/City Life and Issues

(CT) Kamesh Sankaran–The Humbling of a Proud Hindu: How God got my attention when I thought I was too good for grace

My experience of becoming a Christian wasn’t like flipping a switch. Believing the gospel didn’t automatically lead me to conformity to Jesus Christ or produce the immediate fruit of righteousness in me. While I desperately desired the gift of forgiveness, I was reluctant to change anything else about my life or worldview. Given the enormous differences between Christianity and my earlier Hindu beliefs, my new life had to be nurtured before spiritual growth could occur.

Intellectually, I wrestled with three fundamental questions: Who is God? Who am I? What is my relationship with God? The more I pondered these questions, the clearer it became that the answers offered by Hinduism and Christianity are utterly incompatible. I had to reject the former to receive the latter. Functionally, I had to rethink all of life from a clean slate because I simply did not have a framework or vocabulary to make sense of my new identity.

Paul needed an Ananias to spark his conversion, but he also needed a Barnabas to accompany him in his new journey of faith. God similarly ordained the support I needed to grow as a disciple. While Hinduism ties one’s religious standing to one’s birth status, Christianity teaches that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. My new Christian community cared not about my first birth but about my new birth: my confession of faith, my commitment to fellowship, and my desire to live wholly for Christ.

Every genuine Christian conversion is a miracle—a transition from spiritual death to eternal life, from enmity with God to adoption into his family. Yet God seems to take special delight in seemingly impossible cases—like Paul, a former persecutor—so that the riches of his grace might shine all the brighter. When I consider the chasm between my old outlook on life and my new life in Christ, I can only marvel at God’s work of redemption—and fall down at his feet in praise.

Read it all.

Posted in Christology, Hinduism, Other Faiths, Theology: Scripture

(Guardian) ‘My rabbi’s tools now include a phone’: UK Jewish burials changed by Covid-19

Minutes before the rabbi started intoning funeral prayers over a shrouded coffin, his phone rang. The dead man: 90 years old, a victim of coronavirus, had been lying in a morgue for a couple of weeks while the authorities and his synagogue had tried to trace his relatives.

The man was one of 440 British Jews who had died from coronavirus by Monday, a statistic that belies the impact of the virus on the Jewish community, which has been disproportionately hit by Covid-19. Figures compiled by the Board of Deputies of British Jews suggest that more than 1% of all coronavirus deaths are Jewish, while Jews are only 0.4% of the total UK population.

Now the man’s grandson was on the line from Dubai. Although he had lost touch with his grandfather 30 years ago, he was able to give Rabbi Daniel Epstein valuable biographical information to supplement the man’s name, age and cause of death. Even so, the only people present to witness the coffin being lowered into its grave were the rabbi and staff of Waltham Abbey Jewish cemetery, in Essex, on the edge of London.

In normal times, it is rare to conduct a funeral without mourners, but not now. The number of burials conducted by the United Synagogue Burial Society more than tripled in April, Epstein said. Some rabbis have officiated at three or four funerals a day – and in many cases, relatives and friends were unable to say a last goodbye to their loved one due to self-isolation or restrictions on travel.Read it all.

Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, England / UK, Health & Medicine, Judaism, Religion & Culture

(NYT) 15 Funerals a Day: The Pace of Death Stuns Brooklyn Muslims

All day long, wood coffins are carried in and out of Al-Rayaan Muslim Funeral Services in Brooklyn. What is meant to be a peaceful, reflective moment for grieving families has given way to a chaotic rhythm. Workers climb into a refrigerated truck and carefully carry the dead into the funeral home for a prayer, then back out to be transported to their final resting place.

They do this an average of 15 times a day in recent weeks. Before coronavirus hit, the home was holding only 20 to 30 funerals a month.

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Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, Health & Medicine, Islam, Religion & Culture, Urban/City Life and Issues

(WSJ) Tevi Troy–A Minyan in the Time of Social Distancing

Losing a parent is always difficult, especially as important financial and religious arrangements must be made during a time of intense grief. A global pandemic doesn’t help. But when my mother died on March 3, my family still had no idea how difficult it would be to stay safe while still honoring her in the Jewish tradition.

The Jewish response to death is communal. The local community comes together to support the mourners, who open up their home for a week of shiva. During this time the kaddish, or Jewish prayer for the dead, is recited at services three times a day. The mourner then may leave the home but remains obligated to say the kaddish three times daily for 11 months. According to Jewish law, these obligations must be fulfilled in the presence of a minyan, or prayer quorum of 10 men over the age of 13.

The current coronavirus crisis creates a challenge for those wishing to adhere to these Jewish mourning customs, especially in light of Judaism’s prioritization of public and individual health over ritual obligation. In Maryland, where I live, synagogues closed their doors last weekend to services and other community activities. In New Jersey, communities could not have communal prayer services in the home or even outdoors. In the interest of safety, similar changes are occurring throughout the country.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Children, Death / Burial / Funerals, Judaism, Marriage & Family, Religion & Culture

(NYT Op-ed) Meir Soloveichik–Queen Esther, a Hero for Our Time

Here we must understand how different the Book of Esther is from every other book in the Hebrew Bible. In this tale no mention is made of the divine; the Jews inhabit a world devoid of revelation. Whereas in every other scriptural tale political engagements are under prophetic instruction, in the Persian court God gives no guidance to the Jews facing a terrible danger. Esther, Rabbi Soloveitchik wrote, faced an unprecedented question: “How can the Jew triumph over his adversaries and enemies if God has stopped speaking to him, if the cryptic messages he receives remain unintelligible and incomprehensible?”

In this sense, Esther is the first biblical figure, male or female, to engage in statesmanship. Previous heroes — Moses and Elijah, Samuel and Deborah — are prophets who are guided and guarded by the Divine, but Esther operates on instinct, reflecting a mastery of realpolitik. As Isaiah Berlin wrote in his essay “On Political Judgment,” great leaders practice affairs of state not as a science but an art; they are, more akin to orchestra conductors than chemists. Facing a crisis, they “grasp the unique combination of characteristics that constitute this particular situation — this and no other.” Esther is the first scriptural figure to embody this description, emerging as a woman for all seasons, a hero celebrated year after year.

Purim thus marks the fragility of Jewish security, but also the possibility of heroism in the face of this vulnerability. It is therefore a holiday for our time. Around the world, and especially in a Europe that should know better, anti-Semitism has made itself manifest once again. As Esther’s example is celebrated, and Jews gather in synagogue to study her terrifying tale, we are reminded why, in the face of hate, we remain vigilant — and why we continue to joyously celebrate all the same.

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Posted in Judaism, Theology: Scripture

(CT) Recent Praise for Modi on India’s ‘Incredible’ Religious Freedom Doesn’t Match Our Research

…Modi’s record on religious freedom since becoming the leader of India has not been something to be proud of. His silence when minorities in India have been targeted and lynched by right-wing mobs has been telling. The worst sufferers of the wrath of extreme Hindu nationalists have been India’s Muslims—the targets of cow vigilantes and much hate speech—but Christians have not been far behind. The fundamental freedoms promised by the constitution of India to religious minorities are being constantly eroded, and persecution is a daily reality for many Christians in India.

Radicals affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) movement and its family of organizations—including Modi’s BJP—have been making concerted efforts to attack Christians both physically and socially. Groups such as Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which believe in the ideology of Hindutva as promoted by the RSS, have disrupted worship services in churches, beat up pastors and other Christians, engaged in vandalism and destruction of property, and have pressured many Christians to recant their faith and forcibly convert to Hinduism.

The lack of police action, and in too many cases the cooperation of the police with the radicals, has resulted in a culture of impunity, emboldening the oppressors to attack without fear of any consequence. This has resulted in a sense of insecurity felt by many Indian Christians. It does not help that responsible leaders of Modi’s party, including state and union ministers, routinely engage in hate speech against Christians and other minorities. This only bolsters the radicals, who view this as open encouragement to target minorities.

According to the Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), which has been documenting incidents of persecution against Christians since 1998, incidents targeting Indian Christians have risen steeply since 2014, when Modi came to power. The commission recorded 147 verified cases of persecution in 2014; 252 cases in 2016; 351 in 2017; and 325 in 2018. The EFI commission will soon release the data for 2019.

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I will take comments on this submitted by email only to KSHarmon[at]mindspring[dot]com.

Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Hinduism, India, Islam, Law & Legal Issues, Office of the President, Other Churches, President Donald Trump, Religion & Culture, Violence

(Sun Telegraph) Why millennial atheists like me are embracing church

During the noughties, many teenage contemporaries were attracted to the shouty certainty of the ‘New Atheism’, just as today’s youngsters choose the climate change pulpit to lecture older generations. Shamefully, I accused my mother – a consummate do-gooder – of child abuse for baptising me without my consent. The canard “If you’re not a socialist at 20, you have no heart; if you’re not a conservative at 30, you have no brain”, may be trite but it reflects a fundamental truth; maturity often involves the realisation that we can learn much from the past.

Indeed, the Church of England still safeguards our architectural and artistic inheritance. National identity is inseparable from its defining texts, the King James Bible and Book of Common Prayer. It is impossible to interpret much great art or literature created before the 1900s without some Bible knowledge.

But perhaps the most important lesson is how churchgoing takes us outside the trivia of our own lives – the preoccupations and obsessions induced by social media and that sense of ourselves as the star of our own B-movie biopic. It enables us to escape – if temporarily – such narcissism, focusing on the wider world and taking a longer view. For me it is at least a partial antidote to the illusory optimism, anxiety and depression that has defined my generation.

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Posted in Atheism, England / UK, Religion & Culture, Secularism, Young Adults

(Guardian) How Hindu supremacists are tearing India apart

The onslaught on JNU marked the middle of a season of nationwide protest, provoked by a new law. The Citizenship Amendment Act, passed by parliament on 11 December 2019, provides a fast track to citizenship for refugees fleeing into India from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Refugees of every south Asian faith are eligible – every faith, that is, except Islam. It is a policy that fits neatly with the RSS and the BJP’s demonisation of Muslims, India’s largest religious minority. To votaries of Hindutva, the country is best served if it is expunged of Islam. The act was both a loud signal of that ambition and a handy tool to help achieve it.

Since December, millions of Indians have turned out on to the streets to object to this vision of their country. The government has fought them by banning gatherings, shutting off mobile internet services, detaining people arbitrarily, or worse. After protests flared at Jamia Millia Islamia, an Islamic university in Delhi, cops fired teargas and live rounds, assaulted students and trashed the library. As demonstrations spread across the state of Uttar Pradesh, police raided and vandalised Muslim homes by way of reprisal. Detainees in custody were beaten; one man reported hearing screams in a police station all night long. (In various statements, the police claimed to be acting in self defence, or to prevent violence, or to root out conspiracy.) At least 20 protesters died of bullet wounds. Police officials denied firing at the crowds, even though the police carried the only visible guns at these rallies.

Still, the protests have persisted well into February. At Shaheen Bagh, a neighbourhood in south-eastern Delhi, hundreds of thousands of people have turned up over nine weeks to take part in an indefinite sit-in. The BJP has taken a ruthless view of all this dissent. On one occasion, Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu cleric who is chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, said: “If they won’t understand words, they’ll understand bullets.” One of Modi’s ministers used “Shoot the traitors to the nation!” as a call-and-response at a rally – the same slogan the ABVP had raised in JNU.

In its 72 years as a free country, India has never faced a more serious crisis. Already its institutions – its courts, much of its media, its investigative agencies, its election commission – have been pressured to fall in line with Modi’s policies. The political opposition is withered and infirm. More is in the offing: the idea of Hindutva, in its fullest expression, will ultimately involve undoing the constitution and unravelling the fabric of liberal democracy. It will have to; constitutional niceties aren’t compatible with the BJP’s blueprint for a country in which people are graded and assessed according to their faith. The ferment gripping India since the passage of the citizenship act – the fever of the protests, the brutality of the police, the viciousness of the politics – has only reflected how existentially high the stakes have become.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Hinduism, India, Religion & Culture