Religion News Roundup: Atheism; Transcendental Meditation; Marijuana for religious use; and more

Atheism

Scandinavian Nonbelievers, Which Is Not to Say Atheists

Phil Zuckerman spent 14 months in Scandinavia, talking to hundreds of Danes and Swedes about religion. … Anyone who has paid attention knows that Denmark and Sweden are among the least religious nations in the world. Polls asking about belief in God, the importance of religion in people’s lives, belief in life after death or church attendance consistently bear this out.

It is also well known that in various rankings of nations by life expectancy, child welfare, literacy, schooling, economic equality, standard of living and competitiveness, Denmark and Sweden stand in the first tier.

Well documented though they may be, these two sets of facts run up against the assumption of many Americans that a society where religion is minimal would be, in Mr. Zuckerman’s words, “rampant with immorality, full of evil and teeming with depravity.”

Which is why he insists at some length that what he and his wife and children experienced was quite the opposite: “a society — a markedly irreligious society — that was, above all, moral, stable, humane and deeply good.”

Mr. Zuckerman, a sociologist who teaches at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., has reported his findings on religion in Denmark and Sweden in “Society Without God” (New York University Press, 2008). Much that he found will surprise many people, as it did him.

The many nonbelievers he interviewed, both informally and in structured, taped and transcribed sessions, were anything but antireligious, for example. They typically balked at the label “atheist.” An overwhelming majority had in fact been baptized, and many had been confirmed or married in church.

- Source: New York Times, Feb. 27, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Transcendental Meditation

The technique of transcendental meditation, made famous by The Beatles, is now being taught to children in schools across America:

Stressed? First take a big breath

Meditation has come a long way since The Beatles first promoted it as a natural alternative to LSD in the 1960s. It is now a serious psychological discipline, as likely to be used by heart patients in hospitals as hippies in an ashram. In these days of economic turmoil, it is also a very effective way of managing stress and anxiety. … It’s now being taught to kids in schools across America thanks to a foundation set-up by surrealist Hollywood film director David Lynch, who practises TM twice a day. Lynch has persuaded former Beatle Paul McCartney to give a benefit concert for the foundation next month. The Twin Peaks director has also written a book on the subject, Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity.

- Source: Irish Independent, Mar. 2, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

The Church Around The Corner

We keep our collection of offbeat religion stories in ‘The Church Around The Corner.’ Like so:

Inmate Sues Over Interference With Satanism

A 35-year-old man imprisoned for drug possession has filed a $10 million federal lawsuit against Yellowstone County, alleging jailers interfered with his satanic religious practices while he was in jail. The lawsuit filed by Jason P. Indreland claims county jail staff took from him a religious medallion, denied him access to a “Satanic Bible or Book of Satanic Rituals” and ridiculed and punished him for his religious beliefs.

- Source: AP via CBS News, Feb. 20, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Americans tell judge marijuana is for religious use

Two military dependents with ties to Aviano Air Base are using an unusual defense in an attempt to avoid drug charges in Italy. The two men, who have not been identified in Italian media reports or by the base, reportedly told an Italian judge they are Rastafarians and the pound of marijuana they had in their possession would be used for religious purposes, according to an article in Il Gazzettino newspaper.

- Source: Stars and Stripes, Feb. 28, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

The paper says the defendants might actually have a case, since a “decision by Italy’s highest court — the Court of Cassation — in July said that Rastafarians are allowed to smoke up to 10 grams of marijuana a day as part of their religion.”

Youth pastors learn Batman’s fighting techniques

We’re not quite sure what’s going on at Highland Park United Methodist Church in Texas, but whatever it is, visitors can rest assured: the church recently hosted a two-hour, hands-on session on the Keysi Fighting Method. The session was designed to help youth pastors learn safety and security issues.

El Paso celebrates Mardi Gras; After feasting come fasting, penitence: “This is the last partying before the sacrifice,” [said Brenda Muñoz, 32]. “I don’t want to make it into a religious thing because it wouldn’t be right with the whole flashing for beads and let’s get drunk, but it is the beginning to our Ash Wednesday. “It’s a very religious period after I get drunk today.”


Televangelists

Atlanta man puts Bakkers’ PTL shows up for sale

A piece of televangelism history is going on the auction block. More than 15,000 hours of taped PTL Club episodes are scheduled to be sold later this month. Ben Dyer, an Atlanta venture capitalist, and his partners now own the tapes of the trend-setting televangelism show that ended in 1987 amid a sex and money scandal. An entrepreneur had the tapes and was planning to extract performances of gospel singers and musicians and sell or air them. He defaulted on his loan from Dyer and his partners who got four tractor-trailer loads of 2-inch tapes. … Shar Graham, a spokeswoman for Jim Bakker, who lives in Branson, Mo., said Bakker has been told the tapes are appraised at about $8 million.

- Source: AP, Feb. 28, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

PTL ministry might see new life on cable TV

“You put them all on a satellite channel, and you wouldn’t have to hit ‘repeat’ for three years,” said Dean Becker, vice chairman of Ocean Tomo, a Chicago-based merchant bank that auctions intellectual property. His firm will handle the “PTL Library” auction March 27 at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco.

The PTL (for Praise the Lord) empire in Fort Mill Township, included a hotel, campground and Christian theme park. The centerpiece was always the TV programming, beamed to millions each day. Fans smiled and skeptics winced as Jim Bakker offered upbeat sermons from the couch and Tammy Faye, shedding mascara-tinged tears, sang about Jesus. Guests over the years included Ronald Reagan, Billy Graham, Pat Boone and Art Linkletter.

It all came crashing down in 1987 amid scandal: Jim Bakker paid hush money to keep church secretary Jessica Hahn quiet about their sexual encounter, and PTL defrauded thousands of followers by overselling “lifetime partnerships” in Heritage Village.

The Bakkers eventually divorced. Jim Bakker went to prison for fraud. And in 2007, Tammy Faye Messner died after suffering from colon cancer.

Despite all this disgrace and unhappiness, Dyer and Becker both insist that nostalgia and a hunger to hear the Christian message delivered in a professionally produced setting could make 20-year-old PTL shows popular again, especially with evangelical Christian audiences.

- Source: The Charlotte Observer, via HeraldOnline.com, Feb. 28, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Judaism

Brooklyn Hasidic Community Grapples With Scandal

A month after allegations of child sexual abuse surfaced in the mainstream press, the Hasidic community in Brooklyn, N.Y., is taking cautious steps to confront the scandal. Meanwhile, outsiders are tackling the issue head on.

On Sunday, state Assemblyman Dov Hikind plans to host a community-wide “morning of chizuk” (support) for the alleged victims of abuse. Hikind, an Orthodox Jew who is largely responsible for bringing public attention to the scandal, has recruited rabbis and community leaders to speak at the event, which takes place in Boro Park, the center of the Hasidic district he represents. [...]

This story has received attention by the local Jewish press, notably The Jewish Week. But even with the publicity generated by NPR’s coverage, Engelman says, there’s been a “deafening silence.” Her neighbors have avoided the subject with her, she says, largely because people in this Hasidic community do not confront Jewish leaders, because they depend on them to educate and later arrange marriages for their children.

- Source: NPR, Mar. 1, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Church and State

Questions Raised Anew About Religion in Military

Military officials have worked to enforce tougher restrictions on proselytizing and religious bias since a flare-up over religious discrimination in 2005 at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where the football coach posted a locker room banner for “Team Jesus.” Officials said they had made great strides in the last few years, with training for officers and a concerted effort at the inclusion of all faiths. … Signs of continued friction over the issue still abound, however.

- Source: New York Times, Feb. 28, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Resource:
Religion and the military: Source of comfort, point of controversy
This information provided by the Religion Newswriters Association is useful for other researchers as well.


Hate Groups

Snoop Dogg joins Nation of Islam

Snoop Dogg has revealed he has joined the Nation of Islam after appearing at the religious group’s annual Saviours’ Day event in Chicago.

The rapper, who described himself as the “leader of the hip-hop community”, told followers he would share what he learned with other musicians.

He told reporters that he joined the group because he was “doing what’s right and representing what’s right”.

It preaches self-reliance for black people within an Islamic framework.

At Sunday’s event, the rapper sat on stage while Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan gave a speech.

- Source: BBC, Mar 2, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Also Noted

Salvation from voodoo, gangs: Nicky Cruz tells his story: “Cruz, 70, was one of 18 children born to witchcraft-practicing parents in Puerto Rico. He was severely abused and said he lived in terror of his parents’ evening practices, which included horrific rituals. At age 15, he was sent to live with a brother in New York City and by 16, he’d became a member of a Brooklyn street gang known as the Mau Maus. Within six months, he was their leader. He was arrested many times and held the blood-soaked body of a dying friend, but it wasn’t until he met a street-preacher named David Wilkerson that his life began to change. Cruz is now married, the father of four daughters and seven grandchildren. He has written 16 books, including an international best-seller, ‘Run Baby Run.’”

U2, the biggest of veterans, wants to be the next new thing: “U2 has entered the fourth decade of a career that began in 1978, when its members were teenage schoolmates in Dublin; they are now in their late 40s.
And U2 may well be the last of the megabands: long-running, internationally recognized rockers whose every album, from “Boy” in 1980 to “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” in 2004, has sold millions of copies worldwide. In an era when CD sales have plummeted, Top 40 radio favors hip-hop and teen-pop, albums are fractured by MP3 players’ shuffle mode and the old idea of a rock mainstream seems more and more like a mirage, U2 still, unabashedly, wants to release a blockbuster.” [...] “After two albums of comparatively straightforward guitar-driven rock, “No Line on the Horizon,” U2’s head-spinning 12th studio album, takes new experimental tangents and redefines the band yet again. The album, to be released Tuesday, burbles with cross-rhythms, layered guitars and electronic undercurrents in songs the band wrote with its longtime producers, Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. It’s not as startling a swerve as 1991’s “Achtung Baby,” on which U2 reinvented itself after the earnest ’80s with irony and electronic beats. But “No Line on the Horizon,” the result of a convoluted two-year process, presents a band that is still restless and impassioned, kicking formulas aside.”

Leonard Cohen returns to the road, for reasons practical and spiritual: “Religious devotion weighs heavily in both music and life for Mr. Cohen, and it takes many forms. After a five-year stint in a Zen Buddhist monastery and various legal distractions, he is back on the road: an undertaking that seems to combine his quest for spiritual fulfillment with an effort to regain his financial footing, lost when his former business manager made off with his money while Mr. Cohen was living as a monk on a mountaintop above Los Angeles.”

Wearing their religion on their record sleeves: “An L.A. exhibit of religious album covers from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s reflects the post-World War II era of hula hoops and Cold War anxiety, when men still wore starched white shirts to church.”

Bobby Jindal, the Exorcist: “A day after Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s widely ripped Howdy Doody-meets-Mister Rogers response to President Obama’s address, Max Blumenthal piled it on with an interesting article on The Daily Beast reiterating some things not widely known about the “Bayou’s boy wonder.” One of the most interesting facts in the piece, titled “Bobby Jindal’s Secret Past,” was that Jindal said he witnessed, and then haltingly participated in, the exorcism of his very close friend (a woman named Susan) when he was in college”

Churches That Abuse: “At what point does biblical authority turn into spiritual violence? When does a church cross the line between conventional-church status and abusive-church status? What are some signals or indicators that a given group is headed for the margins?”


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