RNB Roundup: a compendium of religion news stories

RNB Religion Shorts: a compendium of blurbs and links to religion-related stories you may have missed.

Religious Freedom

Beijing holds secret talks with banned churches as 100 million defy party rules

A secret meeting between Chinese officials and leaders of the banned underground Protestant Church has marked the first significant step towards reconciliation in decades.

The discussions, which were held in an office in Beijing, were the first time that members of the Government and stalwarts of the outlawed “house churches” had sat down as negotiators rather than foes, The Times has learnt.

The timing was significant: this year is the 60th anniversary of communist power and the Government is keen to ensure that there are no disturbances to mar its celebrations. The Year of the Ox also begins today and Beijing is anxious to usher in a year of stability despite economic difficulties.

For three decades China has allowed officially sanctioned churches to operate within strict limits. Protestants are supposed to worship under the aegis of the official religious body, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement — standing for self-governing, self-teaching and self-supporting. Catholics can worship in churches run by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. Other Christian organisations are illegal.

– Source: The Times (UK), Jan. 26, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Hate Groups

Neo-Nazi group part of litter-prevention program in Missouri

The phrase ‘white trash’ comes to mind…

A neo-Nazi group has adopted a half-mile section of highway in Springfield, Mo., as part of the state’s litter-prevention program.

The Springfield unit of the National Socialist Movement has committed to cleaning up trash along the stretch of U.S. 160 in west Springfield.

The state said it had no way to reject the group’s application. A 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling arising from a similar effort by the Ku Klux Klan says membership in the Adopt-A-Highway program can’t be denied because of a group’s political beliefs.

– Source: AP via KansasCity.com, Jan. 22, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog


A Scientology front group gets the boot in Albuquerque, New Mexico:

Second Chance removes last inmates from old jail building

Second Chance officials pulled the last of their inmates out of the old West Side jail building Saturday, marking an abrupt end to the drug rehab program’s controversial two-plus years there.

City of Albuquerque officials had given Second Chance until Jan. 31 to vacate the building. The city terminated the program’s lease for violations that include housing violent offenders and making unauthorized changes to the building.

– Source: Albuquerque Journal via Tradingmarkets.com, Jan. 25, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Companion article to the above report:

Scientology Base Denied By Officials

The Second Chance drug rehab program was pitched to lawmakers and the judiciary as the missing link in a broken system that recycled nonviolent drug offenders between jails, prisons and the streets.

The past year, it has struggled through money problems and accusations that it is housing ineligible inmates. On Saturday, faced with a city-delivered Jan. 31 deadline to vacate, Second Chance officials moved the last of its inmates out. But throughout the program’s two plus years of operation, an underlying cause of concern has been its close ties to Scientology.

Since it opened in October 2006, Second Chance officials have said the program has its roots in “secular discoveries” made by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

They have insisted that the program is not based in Scientology. Some officials are Scientologists.

Former and current Second Chance employees tell a different story. They say “everything that happens there is based in Scientology” and offer the following to back up their claim:

• Inmates and employees are put through “courses” and “ethics training” that are straight out of the Scientology playbook.

• Scientology-related entities have played a major role in operations at Second Chance.

• Second Chance has received the vast majority of its money from wealthy Scientologist donors.

• And the program itself, according to the employees, is virtually the same as Narconon, a drug-rehabilitation program started by Scientologists, and Criminon, a criminal justice program run by Scientologists that is used in prisons. Both of those programs are based on Hubbard’s teachings and were classified by the IRS in a 1993 court case as “Scientology-related.”

– Source: Albuquerque Journal via Tradingmarkets.com, Jan. 25, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Tom Cruise is in control

[Tom] Cruise was born to sell and, for more than 25 years he has sold himself so successfully that he is one of the top box-office-grossing stars in Hollywood. In the last 20 years only six of his films have failed to make more than $100m. But, ever since the infamous couch-jumping incident in 2005, when he declared his love for Katie Holmes and then began extolling the virtues of Scientology… well, let’s just say that when Mission: Impossible III was released in 2006 it didn’t break box-office records. Paramount Studios (the film’s distributor) decided to sever their 14-year relationship with the actor.

Cruise admits his behaviour was over the top. He was in love, he lost his head, got caught up in the moment.

Cruise is now 46, a little older and a whole lot wiser. Ask him about Scientology these days, he’ll tell you to “go on the website, read a book“.

“I’m not a poster child for anything,” he says, heatedly. “People would ask about it and I’d answer, and then I’m accused of prophetising; then I don’t answer, and I’m not talking about it. It’s secretive. So now I’m absolutely not going to go there.”

– Source: Independent (UK), Jan. 23, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

We thank Tom Cruise for his suggestion to examine Scientology by going online or reading a book. Here are lots of books about Scientology. And here are lots of websites about Scientology.

Note to reporters: lay off the ‘Cruise control’ puns already. It’s not original, nor funny. References to ‘Cruise missiles’ are out as well, for reasons best explained by Keith Henson, one of many Scientology critics who have been on the receiving end of Scientology’s hate- and harassment campaigns.

Fears of Scientology ‘plot’ as Tom Cruise film Valkyrie takes cinemas by storm

Tom Cruise has become an overnight hero in Germany thanks to his film about the plot to kill Hitler — a story the German authorities fear could become a propaganda vehicle for Scientology.

If the film becomes a hit — and early signs are that the public like it — some police and politicians are worried that it will give Scientology, of which Cruise is a leading member, a boost in Germany.

The German equivalent of the Special Branch, the Agency for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), believes that Scientology is an antidemocratic organisation and is keeping it under close observation.

– Source: The Times (UK), Jan. 23, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Berlin District Posts Warning About Scientology — outside Scientology HQ

• Tell President Barack Obama that you want his administration to Revoke the Tax Exempt Status of the Church of Scientology

The Church Around The Corner

News about believers who are quite a bit different from us, we think.

Nigerian police detain goat over armed robbery

LAGOS (Reuters) – Police in Nigeria are holding a goat on suspicion of attempted armed robbery.

Vigilantes took the black and white beast to the police saying it was an armed robber who had used black magic to transform himself into a goat to escape arrest after trying to steal a Mazda 323.

– Source: Reuters, Jan. 23, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Iranian TV Calls Harry Potter ‘Zionist Plot’

Iranian state television has come to the conclusion that Harry Potter is a Zionist plot. The documentary, which you can watch here, features several “experts” discussing the wildly popular series of books and movies.

One of the experts quoted in the documentary says that Harry Potter is part of a “cultural crusade” and through the movies “they [Zionists] are indirectly saying: ‘join us.'”

In 2007, Iran’s ultra-conservative daily “Kayhan” called Harry Potter “a billion-dollar Zionist project” and a “destructive bomb” for children’s minds. It alleged that the author J.K. Rowling had links to Zionists and that was how she became so well known.

– Source: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Jan. 23, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Religious freedom at center of pot case

Arguing that he uses marijuana for religious reasons, a 48-year-old Mexico man has filed suit against the state and two law enforcement agencies, charging violation of his constitutional rights.

Norman Hutchinson filed the complaint against the state of Maine, the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Mexico Police Department last week in Oxford County Superior Court.

Hutchinson stated he is a member of the Religion of Jesus Church, which mandates the use of cannabis based on 12 tenets. These include the belief that cannabis “increases ability to feel the presence of God,” helps conquer addiction to tobacco and alcohol, creates peace and “is a good thought-stimulating neuro-hormone,” according to the Religion of Jesus Church Web site.

– Source: Sun Journal, Jan. 24, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog


Louisiana Pastor, Daughter Arrested On Narcotics Charges

Plaquemines Parish Sheriff Jiff Hingle announced the arrests of Pastor Martin Denesse, pastor of Grace Harbor Christian Ministries, and his daughter, India Marshall.

Both were charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana, possession of crack cocaine, possession of drug paraphernalia and traffic violations.

– Source: WDSU, Jan. 24, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Unification Church

Right Defenders Demand Release Of Missionary In Kazakhstan

International human rights organizations are expressing concern over the fate of Elizaveta Drenicheva, who was jailed in Kazakhstan on January 9 for her missionary activities.

She was found guilty of propagating harmful religious teachings and sentenced to two years in jail.

She represented the Unification Church founded by Sun Myung Moon.

– Source: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, (Czech Republic), Jan. 16, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog


Tanzania bans healers to curb albino murders

DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) – Tanzania has revoked the licences of all its traditional healers in a drive to stop killings of albinos by people who reportedly use their body parts for witchcraft, local media said on Saturday.

The move came just days after the latest murder of an albino man in the northwestern Mwanza region, a remote area bordering Lake Victoria where old superstitions run deep. That brought the national death toll to at least 40 since mid-2007.

Police and albino rights groups say the killers sell body parts including limbs, hair, skin and genitals to witch doctors for use in rituals.

– Source: Reuters, Jan. 24, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Woman branded witch, made to swallow excreta

A Dalit woman was allegedly assaulted and forced to eat human excreta after being branded a witch at a village in Bihar Purnia district.

Nandini Devi (40), a widow, was dragged out of her home at Pahartola village on Saturday by nine persons, including three co-villagers, who suspected her of practising witchcraft, Deputy Superintendent of Police (sadar) Sanjay Bharti told PTI today.

– Source: Indopia, Jan. 19, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Prosperity Gospel

Prosperity Gospel on Skid Row

Some of the high-flying icons of the prosperity gospel — the belief that God rewards signs of faith with wealth, health, and happiness—have run into financial turbulence.

Not all of their troubles can be blamed on the nation’s economic crisis, say critics of the name-it-and-claim-it theology found in some charismatic churches.

“I believe the charismatic movement, of which I am a part, is in the midst of a dramatic overhaul,” said J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma magazine. “God is shaking us.” Grady predicts the movement will look much different in a few years as it refocuses on evangelism and overcoming what he calls the distraction of “materialism, flashy self-promotion, and foolish carnality.” But Scott Thumma, a Hartford Seminary sociologist who studies megachurches, is not so certain.

“Most clergy who preach a prosperity gospel would interpret for their congregation any conflict, scrutiny, or questioning as an attack of the Devil and proof that they are following God,” he said.

– Source: Christianity Today, Feb. 2009 issue, posted Jan. 15, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Then again…

Hallelujah! The recession has come

As businesses falter and Canadians fret over whether they’re next for the unemployment line, churches across the country are enjoying a dose of good fortune. For some it’s an uptick in attendance; at others, donation plates are overflowing.

Large evangelical churches across the United States have also experienced a burst in attendance since September. The boost is reportedly generating excitement among evangelicals who believe that the big Christian revivals known as the second and third Great Awakenings were touched off by economic turmoil.

The economy is cropping up more and more frequently in interviews with his research subjects on both sides, he says. “The hypothesis among some of these participants is that as people are without material and financial things €¦ they’ll find this void in life that only God can fulfill.”

Almost all Christmas/Easter worshippers say they’re too tired and busy with work, chores and children to attend regularly, he says. While that struggle could be amplified during tough economic times as people scramble to get by, growing unemployment may also mean that people have more time for church.

“We might also see more attendance because people are seeking that source of dependency in a time of need. It’s no secret, even among Christmas and Easter attendees, that they tend to pray to God more when they are in a time of trouble.”

Which is why many religious leaders have hope that the downturn will result in widespread spiritual awakening.

– Source: The Globe and Mail (Canada), Jan. 23, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

It should be noted that Charisma Magazine is not exactly noted as a fountain of discernment.


Church vows to keep faith with its schools, despite Muslim majority

Christian families are such a rarity in some inner-city communities that two Church of England schools now cater exclusively for Muslim pupils, The Times has learnt.

In many church primary schools in English cities, more than half of the pupils are Muslim. In at least a dozen such schools, more than 80 per cent are from Islamic homes.

Five church schools, in Blackburn, Birmingham, Bradford, Oldham and London, have become 99 per cent Muslim and in two — another school in Blackburn and one in Dewsbury — every pupil is Muslim.

The Church has defended its continuing educational role in such areas and is putting ?750,000 towards the construction of a new primary school in Blackburn whose intake will be almost 100 per cent Muslim. The Times has been told that some parishes in the town — where eight of the 24 church primary schools have a majority of Muslim pupils — have questioned the justification for the investment.

It is also understood that at least one Church school no longer observes the requirement to have an act of daily collective worship that is “consistently and recognisably Christian”.

– Source: The Times (UK), Jan. 24, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Scouts adopt Islamic pledge

Boy Scouts in Dundee will be able to pledge allegiance to ‘Allah’ and drop the traditional oath to God and Queen, says the Scout Association in Scotland.

The Association has given its backing to starting Dundee’s 45th troop which will specifically target Muslim boys.

In the oath Muslim recruits will be able to replace the name ‘God’ with “Allah, the Most Beneficent and the Most Merciful”, and pledge to honour “the country in which I am now living” instead of the Queen.

The Scout Association is already open to all faiths and Muslim boys are currently part of existing troops, but according to the Association they are aware of some who might be opposed to the traditional pledge.

– Source: The Christian Institute, Jan. 20, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Ex-Christian sets up project to help those new to Muslim faith

There was a time when Richard Fairclough would kneel to pray in Church.

But today when the 57-year-old prays it is at the mosque, because he is one of scores of people in South Wales who have given up Christianity to become a Muslim.

Having taken the name Abdur Rahman he now helps others to make the same transition to Islam — whether it is coping with the negative reactions of others or simply finding shops selling halal food.

Together with fellow “reverts” as they are called, he has set up the New Muslim Project Wales (NMPW), based on the UK-wide New Muslim Project, and is in the process of compiling a register of new Muslims across the country.

So far he has found 78 in South Wales and believes there are many more out there in West, Mid and North Wales, who may be isolated and in need of guidance on everything from finding their nearest mosque to coping with possible hostility from their family and friends.

– Source: Western Mail (UK), Jan. 26, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

The Boston Globe has published an important, insightful article by Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University and the author of many books on Christianity, religious movements and other subjects.

Why Sufi Muslims, for centuries the most ferocious soldiers of Islam, could be our most valuable allies in the fight against extremism

Thirty years ago this month, the collapse of the Shah’s government marked the launch of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, and since that point the topic of Islam has rarely been out of the headlines. All too often, we hear about Islam in the context of intolerance and, often, violence — of Al Qaeda savagery, of Taliban misogyny, of nuclear weapons in Pakistan and perhaps in Iran itself. Even in Europe, many fear the growth of a radical Islamic presence. For three decades, Western observers have worked fervently to comprehend Islam’s global power and appeal, its ability to inspire the poor and to topple governments. But in all that intense attention, most observers have missed a crucial part of the story: a global web of devout religious brotherhoods that by all logic should be a critical ally against extremism.

Sufis are the power that has made Islam the world’s second-largest religion, with perhaps 1.2 billion adherents. Not a sect of Islam, but rather heirs of an ancient mystical tradition within both the Sunni and Shia branches of the faith, Sufis have through the centuries combined their inward quest with the defense and expansion of Islam worldwide. At once mystics and elite soldiers, dervishes and preachers, charismatic wonder-workers and power-brokers, ascetic Sufis have always been in the vanguard of Islam. While pushing forward the physical borders of Islam, they have been essential to the spiritual and cultural fullness of the faith. Today, the Sufi tradition is deeply threaded through the power structures of many Muslim countries, and the orders are enjoying a worldwide renaissance.

To look at Islam without seeing the Sufis is to miss the heart of the matter. Without taking account of the Sufis, we cannot understand the origins of most contemporary political currents in the Middle East and Muslim South Asia, and of many influential political parties. We can’t comprehend the huge popular appeal of Islam for women, who so often seem excluded from Muslim life. Sufis are central to the ability of Muslim communities to survive savage persecutions — in Chechnya, in Kosovo — and then launch devastating insurgencies. They are the muscle and sinew of the faith.

And, however startling this may seem, these very Sufis — these dedicated defenders and evangelists of mystical Islam — are potentially vital allies for the nations of the West.

– Source: Boston Globe, Jan. 22, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Philip Jenkins’ latest book is “The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia — and How It Died” (HarperOne, 2008).

Moroccan organizations in Holland agree to attend Auschwitz memorial

Representatives of Moroccan organizations in the Netherlands were due to attend the annual Auschwitz memorial scheduled for late Sunday morning after receiving requests from the government.

Their decision to attend – a first for the groups – comes amid heightened tensions between Jewish and Arab groups.

During several pro-Palestinian rallies earlier in January, protesters against Israel’s military action in the Gaza Strip shouted a well-known anti-Semitic slogan “Hamas, Hamas, put the Jews to the gas”.

The Moroccan groups decided to attend the ceremony after a direct invitation from Dutch Integration Minister Eberhard van der Laan called on Thursday.

Van der Laan emphasized the need for Jews and Muslims to “come together by understanding each other’s pain and suffering.”

– Source: DPA via Ha’aretz, Jan. 25, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Disappointing Headlines

Yes, we clicked on these headlines in the hopes of finding some juicy religion news items — only to be disappointed:

Angels call for witches’ pardons — not about angels, nor witches.

Tesco store for Cults — Sure, it’s a supermarket for cults, but not the ones we’re interested in.

Mormon Church

Gay students at BYU still struggle for acceptance

Last fall, [Dan] Embree was one of several gay BYU students who posed for portraits shot by photography student Michael Wiltbank. The portraits were hung as part of a class show, but after a week college administrators ordered the portraits taken down.

The move disturbed some BYU arts faculty, as well as critics who lit up the blogosphere with renewed allegations that BYU does not tolerate a free exchange of ideas. Within days, officials declared the portraits acceptable for public display and invited Wiltbank to rehang them.

The incident illustrates how sensitive the subject of homosexuality is on the BYU campus, particularly at a time when its owner, the Mormon Church, was playing a pivotal role in the divisive fight over California’s Proposition 8, defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

That BYU allowed the gay-portrait exhibit shows how far the school has come since the student days of its most famous gay alumnus, Bruce Bastian, who happens to be Embree’s granduncle. Bastian, the Utah County software developer behind WordPerfect, attended BYU in the late 1960s when gay colleagues did not venture from the closet and many hid their struggle with same-sex attractions.

“It wasn’t an issue because you wouldn’t dare talk about it,” says Bastian, who contributed $1 million to defeat Proposition 8. “If people let gay people be gay, there would be a lot less pain surrounding it all. Gay men shouldn’t marry straight women and try to become straight.”

Recent studies show that gays rejected by their families have a far higher incidence of suicide, while mainstream psychology flatly rejects therapies intended to “cure” same-sex attraction.

Administrators say the exhibit did not violate the university’s Honor Code, which obligates students to abide by strict moral standards.

Last year, BYU sharpened its position on homosexuality to make it clear that same-sex attraction does not run afoul of the code, although acting on it does. Homosexual behavior and advocacy therefore constitute violations, according to university spokeswoman Carri Jenkins.

“However, the Honor Code requires all members of the university community to manifest a strict commitment to the law of chastity,” Jenkins wrote in response to e-mail queries. “Homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings. Advocacy includes seeking to influence others to engage in homosexual behavior or promoting homosexual relations as being morally acceptable.”

– Source: The Salt Lake Tribune, Jan. 23, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

LDS Church indicates it is open to liquor law change

The effort to do away with Utah’s private club law received a major boost Wednesday, as LDS Church officials told Republican leaders they would be amenable to an alternative put forward by Utah’s hospitality industry.

The pitch from Utah’s bar owners would entail electronically scanning patrons’ driver licenses to prevent underage individuals from entering bars or clubs and eliminating Utah’s unusual private club law.

– Source: The Salt Lake Tribune, Jan. 22, 2008 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

The Mormon Index is a rising sign of troubled economy

BRIDGETON — It’s an obscure gauge of the economy’s direction, tied to food assistance and stockpiling by members the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s been called the Mormon Index, and it’s rising.

It’s rising at a nondescript church-owned warehouse situated among other nondescript warehouses (Dynamic Fastener, Southwest Stainless, Meridian Waste Services) in an industrial park here, not far from the airport.

The warehouse, called the Bishop’s Storehouse, is a food cannery and distribution center that serves two practical purposes. It allows the church to help feed members who are struggling financially, and it allows all church members to can dry goods for long-term storage in their homes in case of disaster.

For Mormons, heeding their church leaders’ call to stockpile food fills a psychological need to be prepared for calamities. And when Mormons build up those stockpiles, some economists prick up their ears.

Likewise, when activity at the country’s 109 Bishop’s Storehouses increases, some economists see a growing anxiety about safety and sustenance across the broader American population.

– Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 22, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

• Listen as Bill McKeever, of the Mormonism Research Ministry, explains why Mormons stockpile food (mp3). From Issues, Etc.

Catholic Church

Vatican launches Pope YouTube channel

AP Report

The Vatican said that with the YouTube channel, it hoped to broaden and unite the pontiff’s audience — an estimated 1.4 billion people are online worldwide — while giving the Holy See better control over the pope’s Internet image. … Monsignor Claudio Maria Celli, who heads the Vatican’s social communications office, said the pope fully approved of the YouTube channel, saying Benedict was “a man of dialogue” who wanted to engage with people wherever they were.

– Source: AP via the Chigoco Sun-Times, Jan. 23, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

But then there’s this: Pope warns against too much Facebook

Vatican tells Jews to stop complaining

The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano has complained about “excessive” Jewish complaints about the Good Friday prayers in the traditional Latin Missal, which pray for the conversion of the Jews. “Enough, already!” is the message from Rome. And quite right, too.

The prayers in the 1962 pre-Vatican II Latin Missal (whose wider use is being encouraged by Pope Benedict XVI) contain a prayer for the conversion of the Jewish people that was rewritten by Blessed John XXIII to remove an offensive reference to “perfidious Jews”.

But if you ban all prayers for the conversion of the chosen people, then you end up misrepresenting the founder of Christianity. It’s an inconvenient fact that Jesus of Nazareth called loudly for the conversion of the Jews. Indeed, according to many biblical scholars, his message was primarily directed at his own people.

These are murky waters. Of course there are still anti-Semitic traditionalist Catholics, but they are concentrated to a remarkable degree in the Society of St Pius X, a not terribly pleasant organisation whose founder was excommunicated by Pope John Paul II.

Meanwhile, let’s not forget the Catholic liberals, who are absolutely loving this controversy, because they’ll use any tactic, however cheap, to discredit Summorum Pontificum and the 1962 Missal. When it comes to this particular argument, they suddenly become terribly anxious about Jewish sensibilities. Call me a cynic, but I find that a bit suspicious, given that as soon as Israel comes under threat they start whining about “Zionist aggression”.

– Source: Damian Thompson, Telegraph, (Opinion) Damian Thompson, Jan. 19, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Damian Thompson is an opinion writer for the UK daily Telegraph. Follow his Holy Smoke column via Twitter.

Thompson is the editor-in-chief for The Catholic Herald. He also is the co-founder of Counterknowledge.com, a website dedicated to “Exposing conspiracy theories, cults, quack medicine, bogus science and fake history.” See his book, Counterknowledge: How We Surrendered to Conspiracy Theories, Quack Medicine, Bogus Science and Fake History (Amazon UK)

Meanwhile, Jews are understandably upset at the rehabilitation by the Vatican of a Holocaust denier:

Pope lifts excommunications of 4 bishops

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI has lifted the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops, including that of a Holocaust denier whose rehabilitation sparked outrage among Jewish groups.

The four bishops were excommunicated 20 years ago after they were consecrated by the late ultraconservative Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre without papal consent — a move the Vatican said at the time was an act of schism.

The Vatican said Saturday that Benedict rehabilitated the four as part of his efforts to bring Lefebvre’s Society of St. Pius X back into the Vatican’s fold.

But the move came just days after one of the four, British Bishop Richard Williamson, was shown in a Swedish state TV interview saying that historical evidence “is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed.”

Jewish groups denounced the Vatican for having embraced a Holocaust denier and warned that the pope’s decision would have serious implications for Catholic-Jewish relations as well as the pontiff’s planned visit to the Holy Land later this year.

– Source: AP via Google News, Jan. 24, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Sweden: Church furor over ‘racist’ religious group

The Church of Sweden on Thursday cited lax internal oversight for why a conservative religious group that wants to convert Sweden to Catholicism and has leaders who deny the Holocaust was given permission to hold meetings in Swedish churches.

The move comes on the heels of a report by Sveriges Television (SVT) investigative news programme Uppdrag Granskning which revealed that the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), an ultra-conservative breakaway faction of the Catholic Church, had been holding meetings in Swedish churches.

– Source: The Local (Sweden), Jan. 22, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Ruth Gledhill, in Articles of Faith — her excellent religion blog for The Times — notes:

Church of England clergy host Holocaust denial Bishop

Besides lifting the lid on Williamson’s Holocaust denial, the Swedish TV programme showed how the SSPX in Sweden, which has been robustly opposed by leaders of the local Roman Catholic Church, has for years found safe haven in Anglican churches instead. The Diocese in Europe, one of the dioceses of the Church of England and led by Bishop of Gibralter Geoffrey Rowell, has church sharing agreements with a number of groups, and SSPX has been one of them.

– Source: The Times, Jan. 23, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Mysterious cancer treatment ‘backed by the Virgin Mary’ is plugged by major Catholic news agency

Zenit, the Rome-based Catholic news agency, has a reputation for accurate and careful reporting.

So what on earth is it doing effectively advertising CellAdam, a “natural” cancer cure whose manufacturers claim to be working under the special protection of the Virgin Mary and believe it will earn a billion dollars?

The report, by the English Catholic journalist Edward Pentin, conspicuously fails to explain precisely how this tumour-reducing drug works, and repeats utterly meaningless “research findings”.

Counterknowledge.com has my full fisking of this appallingly credulous piece of journalism …

– Source: Telegraph (Opinion, Damian Thompson), Jan. 24, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Outrage at busty Virgin Mary models

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – A prominent fashion designer has sparked outrage in Chile by dressing up models like the Virgin Mary — in some cases with ample, near-naked breasts.

Modelos inspiradas en la Virgen Mari’a

The Roman Catholic Church condemned Ricardo Oyarzun’s plans for a show featuring the models, and a conservative group tried unsuccessfully to block it in court.

He said his designs — which include halos, look as though they come from a nativity scene and include religious icons — were inspired by the Virgin Mary but not intended to represent her.

The show is more evidence that Chile, heavily influenced by the church for decades, is shaking off its reputation as one of the most socially conservative countries in Latin America.

– Source: Reuters, Jan. 16, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Church and State

Illinois moment of silence ruled unconstitutional

The ruling came in a lawsuit designed to bar schools from enforcing the Illinois Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act. It was filed by talk show host Rob Sherman, an outspoken atheist, and his daughter, Dawn, a high school student. Gettleman’s ruling was not a surprise. He had already ruled in favor of Sherman in two previous decisions.

– Source: AP via the Chicago Sun-Times, Jan. 22, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog


Applying Meaning to Management With Ancient Hindu Mythology

NEW DELHI — Fifteen young managers with a top Indian retail company met in their office basement recently to sip coffee and listen to a talk about their specialty: brand building. The speaker, renowned mythology expert Devdutt Pattanaik, is also the company’s “chief belief officer.”

Cupping his chin in his hand, Pattanaik launched into a story: “Once upon a time, there was a conference of the gods to discuss the affairs of human beings.”
The ancient Hindu tales that Pattanaik, 38, tells his corporate audiences are full of fallible kings, stoically suffering queens, demons enticing the gods into lawless jungles, gods with rivers sprouting from their dreadlocks, and goddesses riding elephants.

But the round-faced, bespectacled author, who graduated from medical school and has worked as a business strategist for the consulting firm Ernst & Young, says he is not like the wise old grandmother who sits under a banyan tree telling stories. Instead, he says, he is helping to create a set of management principles that are steeped in Indian culture.

He calls it the “3-B” model: belief, behavior and business.

– Source: Washington Post, Jan. 26, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog


What Christians Watch

Trailer: Fireproof

Through a purely Hollywood lens, “Fireproof” is the most unlikely film success since “Rocky.” It was written by novice screenwriters, cast nearly entirely with amateurs, staffed largely by volunteers, and shot almost all on location. It wrapped for a total outlay of only $500,000.

But that’s where God provides a different prism. The movie, about a Christian fire captain who recommits to his marriage, collected more than $33 million — and was the biggest-grossing indie movie of 2008 — precisely because it was produced by a church in Albany, Ga., which then networked with other evangelicals and with Roman Catholics to create enormous grass-roots demand.

Yet “Fireproof” also provides a sharp reminder of the film industry’s spotty record with church-going audiences since the resounding success of “The Passion of the Christ” in 2004. Mel Gibson stunned the world by garnering $370 million in receipts for his crucifixion drama, told in Aramaic with no A-list stars. And Hollywood began buzzing about how to tap into “the ‘Passion’ money.”

“Fireproof” has succeeded because it is an on-screen equivalent of an altar call. “It is authentic because it is coming from the community; it’s not just geared to the community,” said Robert Rubin, executive vice president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, which plans to release “Fireproof” on DVD late this month.

– Source: Wall Street Journal, Jan. 21, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Also Noted

  • Tom Hanks apologises for calling Mormons ‘un-American’ for supporting gay marriage ban
  • Multiple religious groups are celebrating President Obama’s signing today of an executive order barring torture.
  • Nothing gets past real-life human lie detector
    “While writing under the pseudonym Eyes for Lies for the self-managed deception-detection site of the same name, this blogger works with many of the same tools used by Tim Roth’s “Lie to Me” character, Dr. Cal Lightman. She is not a psychic, nor a homicide detective, nor a kook. Rather, she is a certified Truth Wizard, and she knows when you’re lying.

    The blog, eyesforlies.blogspot.com, features material on many of the high-profile criminal cases of the last decade, from Drew Peterson (deemed dishonest) to John and Patsy Ramsey (suspicious) to the students suspected in the Duke University rape case (sincere). In the last four years, Eyes for Lies has never been wrong about a case that was ultimately solved.

    In a classic example, the case of Mary Winkler — arrested in the killing her husband — a microexpression displayed on an ABC News special gave Eyes for Lies all the information she needed to conclude that the defendant was lying.

    The blogger points out that Winkler’s face lights up with a smile for an incredibly brief moment, precisely when the prosecution asks her if she intentionally shot her husband.

    “Mary Winkler makes what some call Duper’s Delight, an expression of joy, a delight out of being deceptive,” Eyes for Lies said. “Why is she feeling joy or glee in a moment when she should be devastated? If I didn’t kill my husband, there is going to be deep pain there.”

    Winkler was convicted of manslaughter in 2007.”

  • Prisoners have finally won the right to have alarm clocks in their cells. The privilege was previously given only to Muslim lags who had to wake up for pre-dawn prayers during Ramadan.
  • Islam stripped bare: Middle Eastern art is the hot new draw around the world. Is it pushing the boundaries of tolerance? And will it enrage the fundamentalists? Bryan Appleyard gets an exclusive preview of Charles Saatchi’s new show.


  • Online Discernment Ministries

    Some Christian organizations involved in apologetics and countercult work describe themselves as discernment ministries. Discernment is the act or process of exhibiting keen insight and good judgment. The Bible teaches that Christians should grow in spiritual discernment.

    There are a good many websites and blogs devoted to discernment-related topics. Staying on top of them is just like staying on top of everything else — time consuming. Along comes Online Discernment Ministries with OD Today — an almost daily roundup of links, with short blurbs and brief comments, to blog and web posts of interest.

About RNB’s Religion News Roundup

RNB Religion Shorts: a compendium of blurbs and links to religion-related stories you may have missed.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday January 26, 2009.
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