Religion News Blog — Every Saturday we hand-select five important religion news stories published over the past week. This is the second installment of this new feature.
Question: When is it OK for a broadcaster to blaspheme or make fun of a religion?
Answer: When it’s a religion with ‘broad shoulders.
That’s according to BBC director general Mark Thompson, who claimed in an interview that Christianity is treated with less sensitivity than other religions because it has “pretty broad shoulders”.
The interview is part of the ‘Free Speech Debate’ — a research project at Oxford University.
Referring to faiths that have a “very close identity with ethnic minorities,” Thompson juxtaposed what he terms ‘polite complaints’ apparently filed by Christians unhappy with the way their faith is portrayed in the media with ‘violent threats’ received from followers of another faith.
“Without question, ‘I complain in the strongest possible terms’, is different from, ‘I complain in the strongest possible terms and I am loading my AK47 as I write’,” Thompson said. “This definitely raises the stakes.”
Mr Thompson said the fatwa against Salman Rushdie over his novel The Satanic Verses, the September 11 terror attacks, and the murder in Holland in 2004 of film-maker Theo van Gogh, who had criticised Islam, had made broadcasters realise that religious controversies could lead to murder or serious criminal acts.
The murder was the culmination of three days of horrendous torture the 15-year old received at the hands of his sister and her partner.
Eric Bikubi, 28, and Magalie Bamu, aged 29, attacked him with — among other things — knives, sticks, metal bars and a hammer and chisel, causing the young man to suffer to such an extend that he ‘begged’ them to let him die.
The pair, who are both originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, believed the boy was trying to bewitch them with ‘Kindoki’ — a form of witchcraft. The belief in Kindoki is widespread in parts of central and western Africa.
Sky News says “the extreme rituals that resulted in the death of Kristy Bamu in an east London flat in Christmas 2010 are a relatively new phenomenon.”
But the station also notes that
It is quite routine for children in some African countries to be accused of being witches and the phenomenon is particularly strong in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
It is illegal to accuse children of witchcraft in DRC but revivalist churches preaching the benefits of child exorcism have gained greater influence in the past decade.
Many churches throughout Africa denounce children as witches, often in an attempt to get rich by offering exorcism rituals.
Kristy Bamu’s death brought to mind the case of 8-year old Victoria Climbie who was murdered in 2000 by her aunt and her aunt’s boyfriend after being accused of being a witch.
The issue was first highlighted by the case of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie in 2000. Victoria, who travelled to Britain from the Ivory Coast, died at the hands of her aunt and her boyfriend after being branded a witch.
One year later came the discovery of the mutilated torso of a boy found in the Thames. Evidence suggests he was a victim of a muti ritual, in which the body parts of children are sacrificed in pursuit of spiritual power.
According to the Daily Mail police believe he may have been killed by someone with a terminal illness who believed his murder would save them.
In 2005 three people were jailed for between four and 10 years over the torture of an eight-year-old Angolan girl they accused of being a witch. The girl was beaten, cut with a knife and had chilli peppers rubbed in her eyes.
Project Violet, the Metropolitan police’s faith-related child abuse unit, has a team of three dedicated officers working with communities, schools, religious leaders, and the medical profession to raise awareness, said Sharpe. “We have ongoing community engagement … and are in the process of increasing awareness of Project Violet within the Met police so that frontline officers who attend incidents are aware of these particular issues,” he said.
Project Violet has reportedly investigated 83 witchcraft cases over the past ten years, but The Guardian notes
Critics argue the unit has been seriously neglected in recent years, after making an initial impact when it was established in 2005 as a response to the abuse of child B – an eight-year-old Angolan girl who was beaten, cut and had chilli rubbed in her eyes for being a “witch”.
“Project Violet is a shadow of its former self,” said Ariyo. “The police are not engaging enough with faith groups, and there is a gap that needs to be filled. We shouldn’t shed tears after another child has been killed. We need to act now.”
Afruca is calling on the government to make branding a child as a witch illegal, and is calling for greater monitoring of churches and preachers.
The Church of Scientology doesn’t have a good reputation, and critics believe that is one reason the cult uses a variety of front groups.
It is believed that by jumping onto the bandwagon of popular causes — such as human rights or anti-drug education — Scientology hopes to gain a measure of respectability.
And it wouldn’t hurt if the Church, which is in the business of selling spiritual secrets thought up by the failed science fiction author who founded Scientology, would gain some recruits along the way.
Of course Scientology being what it is, a UFO cult which believes Earth was founded 75 million years ago by an alien tyrant called Xenu, it tends to counteract such marketing efforts as well.
Take, for instance, the ironically — many would say, hypocritically — named ‘Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a Scientology front group that engages in an ongoing hate campaign against psychiatry and psychiatrist.
In New Zealand revelations that the Drug-Free Ambassadors — a Scientology front groups — were given taxpayer cash to publish drug awareness pamphlets based on Scientology teachings, have sparked a review by the Department of Internal Affairs.
Drug education experts say the information in the pamphlets funded by the grants is not based on science. This should come as no surprise, as Scientology’s medical claims amount to nothing more than quackery.
In 2005 then State Superintendent Jack O’Connell urged all California schools to drop the Narconon antidrug education program after a new state evaluation concluded that its curriculum offers inaccurate and unscientific information. Narconon is, you guessed it, another Scientology front group.
Citing non-profit groups that work with people inside the sect’s insular communities, Ben Winslow at KSTU FOX 13 in Utah says Jeffs has reportedly set a new deadline to purge more people he has declared to be “unfaithful.”
That ouster came soon after Jeffs issued a flurry of new rules.
Observers believe such ousters are designed to foster even more loyalty among the polygamist group’s members. By striking fear in their hearts regarding the consequences of being ousted — such as having their wives and children assigned to another man — cult leader Jeffs forces his followers into ever-increasing unquestioning obedience.
Now however it is rumored that federal authorities have renewed scrutiny of the activities of Jeffs and other FLDS leaders. There are no official confirmations.
Civilized people anywhere cannot conceive of a religion that forces itself upon people to such an extend that to disbelieve and abandon it is a crime punishable by death. Indeed not all Muslims agree on this issue. For details, see the Wikipedia entry on Apostasy in islam.
But while it is correct to highlight Iran’s persecution of Nadarkhani, both the secular and the Christian press have — with rare exceptions — failed to cover an important aspect of this story: it is incorrect to refer to Youcef Nadarkhani as a Christian, a Protestant, or an Evangelical Christian.
Youcef Nadarkhani is a follower of the late William Branham — a self-proclaimed prophet who was considered a heretic of the Christian faith.
Branham also taught that the Word of God was given in three forms: the zodiac, the Egyptian pyramids, and the written scripture — and he said that anyone belonging to any denomination had taken “the mark of the beast.”
Branham’s teachings place hims outside the boundaries of the historic Christian faith. Therefore Christian apologists and other theologians refer to the (decentralized) movement of Branham followers as, theologically, a cult of Christianity.
As we’ve said all along, that does not make Nadarkhani’s plight any less serious or less wrong than if he indeed were a Christian. But it is important to clearly mark the distinction between Christians and those who, while claiming to be Christians, actively try to destroy the key doctrines of the Christian faith.
He is reported to be the evangelical pastor of “the Church of Iran”. However, what might come as a shock to many evangelical believers is that “Pastor” Nadarkhani is actually one of the leaders in a growing cult in Iran, which is linked with the Oneness Pentecostalism (Jesus Only) cult, which is non-Trinitarian, believes in baptismal regeneration, and is very closely linked and supported by the United Pentecostal Churches outside of Iran. They greatly admire and follow the teachings of an American preacher, William M. Branham, who claimed to be the last of God’s prophets on earth, that the doctrine of the Trinity is from the devil, and only those who are baptised in Jesus’ name are saved.
For the past number of years, these anti-Trinitarian cult teachers, including Youcef Nadarkhani have been militant in their proselytising and recruiting of individuals, especially in Rasht and Shiraz. Pastor [name withheld for security] (as well as many other of our Christian contacts), who is the evangelical pastor of a truly evangelical church in Rasht, confirmed to us personally that Mr Nadarkhani, and his colleagues reject all other protestant churches as not being true churches. Moreover they teach, other classic errors of the Jesus Only cult, including speaking in tongues as the main sign of true salvation. In a recent TV interview by Press TV, Mr Nadarkhani confirmed some of his doctrinal beliefs, which clearly show that he is not an evangelical Christian, even though he speaks about trusting Jesus Christ. He clearly denies the evangelical doctrine of the Trinity.
Parsa Trust further says, “It is a sad fact that many evangelical Christians do not realise the affect such teachers are having on the true churches in Iran. Many house churches have been devastated, and a false man-centred gospel has replaced the gospel of the free grace of God in Jesus Christ.”
We believe it is correct for Christians and non-Christians alike to lobby Iran on behalf of Youcef Nadarkhani, but Christians in particular should be aware of the fact that it is not correct to refer to him as a Christian.
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