Category : Other Faiths

(NYT) Is a Buddhist Group Changing China? Or Is China Changing It?

…five years ago, a Buddhist organization from Taiwan called Fo Guang Shan, or Buddha’s Light Mountain, began building a temple in the outskirts of…[Shen Ying’s] city, Yixing. She began attending its meetings and studying its texts — and it changed her life.

She and her husband, a successful businessman, started living more simply. They gave up luxury goods and made donations to support poor children. And before the temple opened last year, she left her convenience store to manage a tea shop near the temple, pledging the proceeds to charity.

Across China, millions of people like Ms. Shen have begun participating in faith-based organizations like Fo Guang Shan. They aim to fill what they see as a moral vacuum left by attacks on traditional values over the past century, especially under Mao, and the nation’s embrace of a cutthroat form of capitalism.

Many want to change their country — to make it more compassionate, more civil and more just. But unlike political dissidents or other activists suppressed by the Communist Party, they hope to change Chinese society through personal piety and by working with the government instead of against it. And for the most part, the authorities have left them alone.

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Posted in Buddhism, China, Religion & Culture

(DW) Islamist extremism: Germany invests millions to prevent radicalization

Germany’s Family and Youth Minister Katarina Barley on Wednesday called for her country to strengthen its efforts to prevent all forms of extremism, calling for a federal law on the prevention of extremism to stabilize projects and initiatives against, for example, right-wing extremism.

Although there is now more money available for prevention, “we aren’t yet on target,” Barley said on Wednesday. Announcing the findings of a report into extremism prevention, Barley said at a press conference in Berlin that in fighting Islamist extremism, “we must not wait until young people have become radicalized.”

“Security and prevention must go hand in hand,” she added.

According to Barley, prevention work must begin where the threat is particularly high, for example in the school yard, on the Internet, and also in the prisons.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Germany, Islam, Religion & Culture, Violence

(NPR) For Christians In Egypt, Building A New Church Can Set Off Violence

ARRAF: Samuel was 20, and Beshoy was 22. They’re considered martyrs now. That’s because they were among 20 young Egyptian workers beheaded by ISIS in Libya two years ago. To commemorate their deaths, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi gave permission for a huge new church on the road to al-Our. Building churches is so controversial here, it took an ISIS attack to get permission to build one.

The village is 70 percent Muslim. Some of the villagers protested and threw stones when construction started on the church. Churches are a sensitive subject throughout Egypt, even though about 10 percent of the population is Christian. It’s hard to get permits to build them. In Minya, a poor province which has the biggest concentration of Christians, even talk of a church can be dangerous.

EBRAHIM FAHMY: (Through interpreter) They burned my house. They burned the house my brother was building and the houses of five other brothers. They thought we were going to open a church.

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Posted in Egypt, Islam, Middle East, Muslim-Christian relations, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Violence

(WSJ) Clare Ansberry–The Teenage Spiritual Crisis

Thomas [Ramey] hit another hard stretch when he was about age 16 and three people close to him died, including a friend of the family who had dementia. Thomas and his mother visited often, helping the man’s wife care for him. “For weeks I prayed for God to kill this man so his wife wouldn’t have to see him in pain anymore,” he says. “He suffered and died in a terrible way.”

“Thomas is very compassionate,” says Mrs. Ramey. He stops in twice a week to help an elderly neighbor empty her trash and works in a soup kitchen.

Sometime after that, he quit praying. “If something bad is going to happen, it’s going to happen,” he says. “Deal with it head on. I am not going to sit there and say to God ‘Don’t let this happen and don’t let that happen.’”

Thomas still believes in God. The earth and solar system are too complex and fragile not to have something influencing and connecting everything, he says. “Whether whatever created us, loves us, is a different matter,” he says. He doubts there is an afterlife and isn’t troubled by that.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Teens / Youth

(WSJ) Charlotte Allen–In Spain Muslims demand to worship in a cathedral that hasn’t been Islamic since 1236

“The Great Mosque of Cordoba.” That’s what Unesco—the cultural arm of the United Nations—calls the 24,000-square-foot 10th-century structure visited by 1.5 million tourists a year. It was declared a World Heritage site in 1984, and rightfully so: The building’s interior is a stunning example of Moorish architecture.

Yet this “mosque” is actually the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Córdoba. In 1236, King Ferdinand III of Castile captured Córdoba from the Almohad Caliphate. He then had the building consecrated for Christian use. Or reconsecrated, rather, since underneath the mosque lay the demolished remains of a sixth-century church built by Spain’s Visigothic rulers before the Muslim invasion in 711. Today, Mass and confession are celebrated inside. The cathedral has been a Christian house of worship for centuries longer than it was an Islamic one.

The discordance greeting tourists is the result of more than 200 years of antagonism toward the Catholic Church by left-leaning Spanish intellectuals. They have used the cathedral’s unique architecture essentially to de-Christianize it in the name of restoring its historical Islamic roots. This secularist campaign began in the early 19th century but has gained new force in the past 20 years. Recent Islamic immigration to Spain has given the anticlerical leftists new allies—Muslims demanding to worship in their “Great Mosque.”

But that would require taking the building out of the Catholic Church’s hands.

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Posted in Church History, Islam, Muslim-Christian relations, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Spain

(CEN) Andrew Carey–We must wake up to the Islamist threat facing us

It is important to counter extremist ideas including those that are fascist, Stalinist or racist but we all know that Prevent’s real job is to tackle Islamist radicalism. Ideologies should not be banned or outlawed but they should be countered effectively, especially when they lead to criminality or terrorism.

The main terrorism that we face today is related to Islam. And the problem behind Islamist terrorism is the difficulty of certain forms of Islam in compromising with modernity, and the failure of many Muslims to come to terms with being a minority in a world that largely regards religious belief and piety as a purely private matter.

But many Muslim leaders seem surprised when questions about terrorism are put to them. These terrorists are killers and Islam bans killing therefore, they reason, the terrorists cannot be Muslims. But that is to duck the problem.

If Muslims do not tackle the issue of how terrorism arises out of the Muslim community and is fed by certain crucial theological ideas, then the ideology will never be effectively challenged. There is a sort of collective brushing under the carpet in the Muslim community that is deeply unhelpful to all of us.

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Posted in England / UK, Islam, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Violence

(Veritas Forum) How Oxford and Peter Singer drove me from atheism to Jesus

From there, I started a rigorous diet of theology, reading the Bible and exploring theologians such as Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Ramsey, and F.D. Maurice. Christianity, it turned out, looked nothing like the caricature I once held. I found the story of Jacob wrestling with God especially compelling: God wants anything but the unthinking faith I had once assumed characterized Christianity. God wants us to wrestle with Him; to struggle through doubt and faith, sorrow and hope. Moreover, God wants broken people, not self-righteous ones. And salvation is not about us earning our way to some place in the clouds through good works. On the contrary; there is nothing we can do to reconcile ourselves to God. As a historian, this made profound sense to me. I was too aware of the cycles of poverty, violence and injustice in human history to think that some utopian design of our own, scientific or otherwise, might save us.

Christianity was also, to my surprise, radical – far more radical than the leftist ideologies with which I had previously been enamored. The love of God was unlike anything which I expected, or of which I could make sense. In becoming fully human in Jesus, God behaved decidedly unlike a god. Why deign to walk through death’s dark valley, or hold the weeping limbs of lepers, if you are God? Why submit to humiliation and death on a cross, in order to save those who hate you? God suffered punishment in our place because of a radical love. This sacrificial love is utterly opposed to the individualism, consumerism, exploitation, and objectification, of our culture.

Just as radical, I realized, was the new creation which Christ began to initiate. This turned on its head the sentimental caricature of ‘heaven’ I’d once held as an atheist.

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Posted in Apologetics, Atheism, Other Faiths, Theology

BBC’s Beyond Belief–How Islamic is the So-Called Islamic State?

In claiming responsibility for the Paris atrocities, the so-called Islamic State described the attacks as “a blessed battle whose causes of success were enabled by Allah”. Last year, when the group’s self-imposed Caliphate was declared, hundreds of Muslim leaders and scholars from across the world wrote an open letter to the self-professed Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, accusing him of heinous war crimes and a violation of the fundamental principles of Islam. So how Islamic is ‘Islamic State’? Why have mainstream interpretations of Islam so far failed to provide an effective counter-narrative? What needs to happen for the group to be defeated?

William Crawley discusses the beliefs which underpin the so-called Islamic State in the light of the Paris terrorist attacks with Sheikh Dr Salah Al Ansari, an Imam, theologian and academic; Haras Rafiq, Managing Director of the anti-extremism think tank, the Quilliam Foundation; and Dr Katherine Brown, an expert in Islamic Studies at King’s College London.

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Posted in Islam, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Theology, Violence

(PRC FactTank) Muslims and Islam: Key findings in the U.S. and around the world

Muslims are the fastest-growing religious group in the world. The growth and regional migration of Muslims, combined with the ongoing impact of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) and other extremist groups that commit acts of violence in the name of Islam, have brought Muslims and the Islamic faith to the forefront of the political debate in many countries. Yet many facts about Muslims are not well known in some of these places, and most Americans – who live in a country with a relatively small Muslim population – say they know little or nothing about Islam.

Here are answers to some key questions about Muslims, compiled from several Pew Research Center reports published in recent years…

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Posted in Globalization, Islam, Religion & Culture, Sociology

(WSJ) Sohrab Ahmari–How Nationalism Can Solve the Crisis of Islam

Then again, the 19th-century marriage of liberalism and nationalism ended in a very ugly divorce in the first half of the 20th century. What about the dangers of reviving nationalism today? “There is no a priori guarantee that it could not devolve into something nasty,” Mr. Manent says. “But if we don’t propose a reasonable idea of the nation, we will end up with an unreasonable idea of the nation. Because simply: However weakened the idea of the nation, nations do not want to die.”

Then there is the example across the Atlantic. Like Tocqueville, Mr. Manent sees much to admire in the American experiment. Even as Europeans have sought to pool or even abandon their sovereignty, he says, “Americans remained very much attached to the idea of a people making its laws to protect itself.”

True, “this people was open to the world, since of course it was formed by immigration. But people came from all over the world, not to be human beings but to be citizens of the United States, which had a keen sense of its exceptionalism and unique character.” In the Second Amendment, the persistence of the death penalty, and the reluctance of U.S. courts to follow foreign precedents, Mr. Manent sees “not a proof of American barbarism” but of democratic vigor.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Europe, History, Islam, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(Fulcrum) Colin Chapman–Christian Responses to Islamism and Violence in the name of Islam

Max Warren, General Secretary of the Church Mission Society from 1942 to 1963, used to tell a story from his time in hospital after returning from service in Nigeria with a serious illness. One day he was examined by a medical student as part of his final examinations in front of his professor. After the examination the student gave his diagnosis of Warren’s illness to the professor. Warren knew that the diagnosis was wrong. So when he saw the professor the following day, he said to him, ‘I suppose that student failed because he got the diagnosis wrong’. ‘Oh no!’ replied the professor. ‘The diagnosis was wrong. But he would have got there in the end because he asked all the right questions’.

While we have been living with Islamism for some years, the creation of the so-called ‘Islamic State’ in June 2014 no doubt took all of us by surprise. And if there’s been a variety of responses among national governments, academics and journalists, there’s also been a variety of responses among Christians. So if none of us can claim to give a definitive answer to the question of how Christians should respond to Islamism and ISIS, can we at least attempt to ask some of the right questions? These would be the ten questions that I would want to ask.

(1) What do we Mean by ‘Islamism’ and How does it Differ from Other Kinds of Islam?

I hope we are past the stage of speaking about ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ and are starting to use terms like ‘Islamism’, ‘political Islam’ or ‘radical Islam’. I am not talking about ordinary Muslims who may have a political agenda of one kind or another, but Muslims who have a clear agenda about creating some kind of Islamic polity. It is important to recognise, however, that Islamists are not all the same. Some believe in democracy, pluralism and human rights, while others do not. Some believe that violence is sometimes justified in pursuing an Islamic agenda, while others reject the use of violence. They all want to see Islamic principles applied in the public sphere; but they recognise the huge differences in the political make-up of states all over the world and have different ideas about how a particular state could be more Islamic….

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Inter-Faith Relations, Islam, Muslim-Christian relations, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Theology, Violence

(BBC) Egypt Coptic Christians killed in bus attack

At least 23 people have been killed and 25 wounded after gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying Coptic Christians in central Egypt, state media report.

The incident occurred in Minya province, 250km (155 miles) south of Cairo, as the bus headed to a church.

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Posted in Coptic Church, Egypt, Middle East, Muslim-Christian relations, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Violence

(538) How culturally significant a part of American society are Atheists?

After signing an executive order earlier this month that seeks to relax restrictions on the political activities of tax-exempt churches, President Trump said the order was an important affirmation of the American identity. “We’re a nation of believers,” he said. Trump is right in one sense — 69 percent of Americans say a belief in God is an important part of being American — but he’s wrong demographically: Atheists constitute a culturally significant part of American society.

We’re not sure how significant, though. The number of atheists in the U.S. is still a matter of considerable debate. Recent surveys have found that only about one in 10 Americans report that they do not believe in God, and only about 3 percent identify as atheist. But a new study suggests that the true number of atheists could be much larger, perhaps even 10 times larger than previously estimated.

The authors of the study, published earlier this year, adopted a novel way to measure atheist identity. Instead of asking about belief in God directly, they provided a list of seemingly innocuous statements and then asked: “How many of these statements are true of you?” Respondents in a control group were given a list of nine statements, such as “I own a dog” and “I am a vegetarian.” The test group received all the same statements plus one that read, “I do not believe in God.” The totals from the test group were then compared to those from the control group, allowing researchers to estimate the number of people who identify as atheists without requiring any of the respondents to directly state that they don’t believe in God.1 The study concludes that roughly one-quarter (26 percent) of Americans likely do not believe in God.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Atheism, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture

(Rabbi Jonathan Sacks) Never forget how we, so small, are blessed to be part of a universe so great

I was riveted by a television program this week called The Day the Dinosaurs Died. It was about a team of scientists who’ve been drilling deep into the rock beneath the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico at the precise point where a 9 mile wide asteroid crashed into the Earth 66 million years ago with an impact equal to ten billion Hiroshima atomic bombs. The result was a dense cloud of sulphur that plunged the planet into a global winter, killing the dinosaurs and causing the greatest mass extinction in history. The result was space for small mammals to flourish, including eventually Homo sapiens, i.e. us.

What was fascinating was the scientists’ conclusion that what made the difference wasn’t that the asteroid struck but precisely where. Had it fallen thirty seconds earlier in deep waters, or thirty seconds later on dry land, the impact wouldn’t have been so great. The dinosaurs would have survived and we might never have emerged. Thirty seconds isn’t that long, even in a Thought for the Day, let alone when set against the four and a half billion years of the existence of planet Earth.

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Posted in Energy, Natural Resources, History, Judaism, Science & Technology, Theology

(Economist) The new strife–There is but one God, yet different forms of Islam are fighting for their own version of him

Morocco largely avoided street protests in 2011, and the king appointed an Islamist-led government in November of that year. As part of a broad counter-radicalisation effort after a spate of terrorist attacks in Casablanca in 2003, the Moroccan state has been gradually seizing direct control of the mosque. A new school for imams, including foreign ones from sub-Saharan Africa as well as France and Belgium, opened in Rabat in 2015. It seeks to promote a moderate form of Islam, based on Morocco’s Maliki school of thought and, crucially, acceptance of the king’s traditional status as “Commander of the Faithful”.

It has also begun a pioneering programme to train women as mourchidas (spiritual counsellors). One of them, who did not want to be named, explained that her task was to work with women and children on a range of issues, including literacy and fighting drug abuse. “We sometimes come across preachers who promote a radical message. We have to intervene to tell them to change their discourse. When we started there was more religious radicalism; we have noticed that it has dropped.”

The risk is that all this will be dismissed by some Muslims as phoney “state Islam”. Still, the campaign seems to be having some impact. Take the experience of Abdelkrim Chadli, a Salafist preacher who was arrested after a series of suicide-bombings in Casablanca in 2003, accused of inspiring jihadists (which he denies) through his writings. Pardoned by the king in 2011, he is now urging fellow salafists to join a royalist shell party called the Democratic and Social Movement (founded by a former police commissioner). Within three or four years, he hopes, it could win elections and hasten the process of Islamising society. It is a striking transformation of Islamists’ stance, brought about in part by fear of the sort of chaos seen elsewhere, in part by the firm limits set by the king, and in part by his good sense in giving Islamists a political outlet. “Today all salafists are the first defenders of the monarchy,” says Mr Chadli, “We consider Morocco to be an Islamic model—even with the drinking bars.”

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Posted in Islam, Religion & Culture, Theology