Religion news roundup: Virgin Mary, Witchcraft, Paganism, Macho Worship Songs, and more

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RNB Religion News Roundup: a compendium of blurbs and links to, for the most part, religion-related stories and religion research resources you may have missed.

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Pareidolia

Pareidolia: the capacity for people to recognize familiar patterns in random images, such as sailing ships in the clouds.

A Mexican restaurant in [Calexico, California] is drawing the curious and the faithful to see what some believe is a likeness of the Virgin Mary that appeared miraculously on a griddle. … The griddle has been taken off the stove and is now displayed in a room behind the kitchen that is quickly filling up with rosaries, flowers, votive candles and other offerings left by visitors from the Imperial Valley and from Mexicali across the border.


Atheism

• A group that claims to represent the rights of atheists in Ireland has launched a campaign to expel God from the Irish constitution, starting with an attempt to block plans for a new blasphemy law.

• Atheists have become the latest group to cash in on Britain’s booming summer camp industry by creating the country’s first-ever retreat for irreligious children. Billed as a “godless alternative” to traditional religious summer camps, the five-day retreat is being hosted by Camp Quest, an American organisation which uses the advertising slogan “Beyond Belief” and has a growing following in the States.


Witchcraft

Tanzania pledges to protect albinos

Authorities in Tanzania, under fire for failure to stem a tide of witchcraft-related murders of albinos, on Monday pledged more protection of people with albinism.

Rights groups have blamed the government for failing to ensure the security of lives and dignity of albinos — targetted for their body parts which are used in witchcraft and for lucky charms.

Vice President Ali Mohamed Shein said the east African country recently signed up to international laws that guarantee the protection of people with disabilities such as albinos, and is crafting similar national legislation.
[…]

– Source / Full Story: AFP, via Capital News, Kenya, May 5, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Islam

The U.S. military denied on Monday it has allowed soldiers to try to convert Afghans to Christianity, after a television network showed pictures of soldiers with bibles translated into local languages. General Order Number 1 from the U.S. military’s Central Command forbids active duty troops — including all those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan — from trying to convert people to their religion, considered a crime in many Muslim countries.

• UK: A high-security prison has been put on alert after intelligence reports that a group of Muslim extremists were plotting to escape. … The gym at HMP Wakefield, West Yorkshire, has been turned into a makeshift mosque so prison staff can keep a better eye on inmates after the chapel, usually used for group prayer, was deemed too ‘high-risk’.


Paganism

Stonehenge pagan ordered to end 10-month protest

• A pagan protester named Arthur Pendragon who believes he is an incarnation of King Arthur has defied and order to halt a 10-month sit-in close to Stonehenge.

Mr Pendragon – formerly known as John Rothwell – set up camp on the edge of the site in June 2008 and had until 4pm on Sunday to leave after the court order.

The former soldier, who changed his name by deed poll 33 years ago, is fighting for the protected world heritage to be open to all.

He wants visitors to be able to walk around and touch the stones, rather than remain in a visitor centre and confined to marked-out trails.
[…]

Mr Pendragon started protesting with consent from the Council of British Druid Orders last June following the Summer Solstice at the site.

He is opposed to the site being flanked by two busy roads – the A303 and A344 – and claims the spiritual site should be open to all.

The Government scrapped plans to remove the fences around Stonehenge, build an underpass, and grass over the A344 in 2007.
[…]

– Source / Full Story: Telegraph, May 3, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Church vs. State

• Schools in Tennessee cannot ban the phrases “In God We Trust” and “God Bless America” or other religious speech from student posters, a federal judge in Nashville ruled Friday. School officials in Mt. Juliet had censored a poster for “Meet Me at the Pole,” a student-led prayer event. Five sets of parents sued the school district. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Echols ruled in their favor. He issued a preliminary injunction, barring the school district from censoring religious speech on posters. Any future policy must be “reasonable, viewpoint-neutral, and in accordance with federal law,” he ruled.


Psychics

Conceived in the heady heyday of the Belle Epoque, London department store Selfridges has yet to reinvent itself for the age of austerity. But there’s one commodity on sale between the crystal decanters and bone china that perfectly reflects the preoccupations of the times. For just $70, a concession called Psychic Sisters retails peace of mind by the half-hour. […]

As markets tumble and great institutions falter, the idea that the future can be predicted — and potentially improved by that foresight — seems irresistible. The British Astrological and Psychic Society reports demand for readings rising faster than the country’s national debt. Practitioners also note a surge in first-time clients, many of them men. Ashby says her clientele used to be 80% female; “now it’s about 60/40.”

– Source / Full Story: Anxious London Professionals Flock to Psychics, TIME, Apr. 30, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Religion and Science

Helping Christians Reconcile God With Science

For many young Christians, the moment they first notice discrepancies in the Biblical tales they’ve faithfully studied is a rite of passage: e.g., if Adam and Eve were the first humans, and they had two sons — where did Cain’s wife come from? The revelation that everything in the Bible may not have happened exactly as written can be startling. And when the discovery comes along with scientific evidence of evolution and the actual age of planet Earth, it can prompt a full-blown spiritual crisis.

That’s where Francis Collins would like to step in. A renowned geneticist and former director of the Human Genome Project, Collins is also an evangelical Christian who was the keynote speaker at the 2007 National Prayer Breakfast, and he has spent years establishing the compatibility between science and religious belief. And this week he unveiled a new initiative to guide Christians through scientific questions while holding firm to their faith. (Finding God on YouTube)

After his best-selling The Language of God came out three years ago, Collins began receiving thousands of e-mails — primarily from other Evangelicals — asking questions about how to reconcile scriptural teachings with scientific evidence. “Many of these Christians have been taught that evolution is wrong,” Collins explains. “They go to college and get exposed to data, and then they’re thrust into personal crises of great intensity. If the church was wrong about the origins of life, was it wrong about everything? Some of them walk away from science or faith — or both.”
[…]

Collins, 59, who with his mustache and shock of gray hair looks like former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton’s cheerful twin, seems genuinely pained by the idea that science could be viewed as a threat to religion, or religion to science. And so he decided to gather a group of theologians and scientists to create the BioLogos Foundation in order to foster dialogue between the two sides. The name — combining bios (Greek for “life”) and logos (“the word”) — is also what Collins calls his blended theory of evolution and creation, an approach he hopes can replace intelligent design, which he derides as “not a scientific proposal” and “not good theology either.”

Through the Washington-based foundation, Collins says he and his colleagues hope to support scholarship that “takes seriously the claims of both faith and science.” Its online component, biologos.org, is designed to be a resource for skeptics and nonbelievers who are interested in religious arguments for God’s existence. But the primary audience for BioLogos is Collins’ own Evangelical community.
[…]

– Source / Full Story: Helping Christians Reconcile God With Science , Amy Sullivan, TIME, May 2, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Parents prosecuted for forcing girl to join religious group

A Czech couple is prosecuted for oppressing their 18-year-old daughter for her refusal to join the religious society of which they are members, the Zlin police told CTK Wednesday.

The parents reportedly urged the girl, a secondary school student, to join the Jehova’s Witnesses grouping. After she refused to do so, they expelled her from home.

If found guilty they face up to six months in prison.
[…]

– Source / Full Story: Prague Daily Monitor, Czech Republic, Apr. 30, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Judaism

Waiting for the magic carpet

Many of the 7,232 members of the Kuki, Mizo, Lushai and Shin tribes carefully followed the elections in Israel, in the hope that the new prime minister of Israel would bring them to the country.

That’s because they consider themselves Bnei Menashe, residents of northeastern India, along the border with Burma and Bangladesh, who claim descent from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, who were sent into exile by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago.
[…]

Since the Bnei Menashe first made contact with Israel in the 1950s, about 1,500 of them have moved here. Israel’s Asheknazi chief rabbi, Yona Metzger, recognized them in 2005 as the descendants of one of the lost tribes. After formally converting to Judaism in the Indian state of Mizoram, a group of 219 Bnei Menashe came to Israel, as full Jews and new immigrants. But the gates have recently clanged shut, and even indirect immigration – in which Bnei Menashe who come to Israel as tourists convert here and become citizens once they are already in the country – has ceased.

In addition to doubts regarding the historical connection of the Bnei Menashe to the lost tribes – some say Christian missionaries were the ones who convinced the tribes that they were descendants of Menashe – Israel’s main fear is that the moment the Bnei Menashe are allowed entry, Indians will convert to Judaism en masse and stream into Israel.
[…]

– Source / Full Story: Waiting for the magic carpet, Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz, Israel, May 4, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Ever So Briefly…

Men who go to church regularly prefer “proper macho songs” and feel uncomfortable with hugging and sitting in circles discussing their feelings, a survey for Christian men’s magazine “Sorted” has found. The survey of some 400 UK readers of the magazine, launched as an alternative to racy men’s titles “Nuts” and “Loaded,” found that 75 percent go to church to be intellectually and spiritually challenged.Reuters

• CAMERA, the Committed for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America says that in gearing up for the papal visit to Israel, AFP kicks off with flawed coverage.

• How did Christianity become so commercial? Is religious punk rock an oxymoron? The author of a new book on suburban evangelicalism and Christian heavy metal shows how Christian youth culture has been commodified and sold to secular audiences: Witnessing Suburbia: Conservatives and Christian Youth Culture

[I]f we can’t pass legislation that gives us new tools to determine who should be eligible for debt forgiveness, we need to look elsewhere for written instruction, Ron Lieber writes in his Your Money column for the New York Times. “Given that large numbers of Americans take many of their moral cues from their spiritual beliefs, I decided to turn to the good books of some of the world’s great religions for guidance on the subject.”

• A high-profile ‘religious landscape’ survey is said to show that America is rapidly losing its faith in Christianity. One problem: It’s not so.

• A referendum in Germany has failed to give children a choice between classes in secular ethics or religion. The outcome maintains the status quo of compulsory lessons in secular ethics and voluntary religious studies.

• The makers of the new Dan Brown film, Angels and Demons, digitally recreated the Vatican by posing as tourists and taking thousands of photographs of St Peter’s Square after being banned from filming there by the Catholic Church.

• More than 170,000 Arab-Christians live in Israel and the Palestinian territories, divided into 13 denominations.


What RNB Twittered

Follow Religion News Blog on Twitter. You’ll be alerted not just to stories posted on RNB, but also to religion stories from around the net, as spotted by our editors.

Here are some of the items they posted recently:

• Evangelist Don Stewart promises wealth and health in exchange for money: http://cli.gs/gNs5qm See also: greed-theology http://cli.gs/S8mRSd

• Hindu sect’s temple request causes a stir in Pennsylvania township: http://cli.gs/z4vAW0

• Dalai Lama’s visit to France will have an impact on bilateral relations with China: http://cli.gs/YRRBJJ

• Priest: Parents of children held by LRA should pray instead of resorting to witchcraft: http://cli.gs/tParm5

• No Holds Barred: Atheists gain strength from religious intolerance (Opinion): http://cli.gs/WSUzDn

• Gearing up for papal visit to Israel, AFP kicks off with flawed coverage: http://cli.gs/8qmtHZ

• Modern-day pagans trying to revive Wiccan May Day festivities: http://cli.gs/1TzGsZ

• Many foreigners who move to Denmark are unaware of the ‘church tax’: http://cli.gs/7t1ujA

• Survey: Male worshippers in the UK prefer macho hymns: http://cli.gs/QXAgWn

• American in the Netherlands discovers: Dutch socialism developed not after Karl Marx, but after Martin Luther and … http://cli.gs/gDtY23

• UK: Catholic church could face many claims over child abuse after man wins right to sue for £5m: http://cli.gs/z9NEhq

• US shock-jock, Jewish extremist and Hamas MP on list of 16 banned from UK: http://twurl.nl/wh22c7

• Calexico restaurant says griddle has likeness of the Virgin Mary – Los Angeles Times: http://cli.gs/PUvap3

• U.S. denies letting troops convert Afghans – Reuters: http://cli.gs/qV9NjZ

• Islam roundup: Arab televangelists; Being photographed, video taped is un-Islamic; Death of Islam? http://cli.gs/bnDJyZ

• Poll: Majority of Jewish Israelis worry that Obama’s outreach to Muslim world will come at their expense: http://cli.gs/yeW0yG

• Buddhism news roundup: Dalai Lama; Dharma Punx; Buddhism and Psychology: http://cli.gs/WuLXDW

• Atheists fight to keep God out of Irish law: http://cli.gs/Xavg8B

• Da Vinci Code sequel criticised by Catholics: http://cli.gs/deZWyS • Brown did not get much right in 1st book: http://cli.gs/eZXzDp

• UK: top-security jail on high alert over intelligence reports of an escape plot by Muslim extremists. http://cli.gs/LVDD0m

• Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) accuses Coldplay of copying his song: http://cli.gs/pQuN9Z

• Pakistan’s Islamic Schools Fill Void, but Fuel Militancy: http://cli.gs/p1PS69

• Stakes High for Christians in India’s Elections: http://cli.gs/9g6DR6

• Family members on trial for drowning woman during exorcism ritual: http://cli.gs/jDETqp

• Indians who claim they descent from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel not allowed to immigrate: http://cli.gs/067SEV Also: http://cli.gs/mv7p5R

• Being photographed, video taped is un-Islamic – Daily Times (Pakistan): http://cli.gs/9rHAWZ

• Dalai Lama inspires reverent silence, cheers at stadium: http://cli.gs/vBbgU1

• Young Egyptians Put Faith In Televangelists – NPR (Audio) http://cli.gs/ZSd7DJ

• Court rejects argument of Muslim man who claimed his marriage was invalid because it was potentially polygamous: http://cli.gs/NTVZgT

• Unique incarnation of Buddhism infused with punk rock’s anti-establishment ethos: http://cli.gs/UHp19P

• Two followers of jailed evangelist Tony Alamo refuse to say where children are: http://cli.gs/jaDXBS

• Catholicism makes a comeback – UPI: http://cli.gs/LvPmbU

• Walking in the Messiah’s Footsteps: Israel Opens Jesus Trail: http://cli.gs/HNVWD3

• Christian supporters of Israel gather in Washington: http://cli.gs/ZUTy06

• Czech Romanies cancel rally due to neo-Nazi attacks: http://cli.gs/E6gyWG

• Twittering in Church, With the Pastor’s Encouragement: http://cli.gs/gZEjZ4

• Murder Trial Puts Focus on French Anti-Semitism: http://cli.gs/DuBSq1

• Teacher guilty of insulting Christians; called Creationism “religious, superstitious nonsense” http://cli.gs/YDmnuX

• Pakistan rejects Indian concern over welfare of Sikh minorities: http://cli.gs/Wz2V3Z #islam #sikhism #religion

• How do you follow The Da Vinci Code? With a trans-European media blitz | The Times: http://cli.gs/JXT6Tp

• Richard Dawkins is more persuasive when he refrains from god-bashing | Guardian: http://cli.gs/vM3XJM

• Strong City cult stands by its jailed spiritual leader and waits for deliverance: http://cli.gs/vAjEbz

• Souter Announces Retirement From Supreme Court; Here Are His Religion Decisions: http://cli.gs/WXSUWp

• Victim of escaped paedophile cult leader petrified: http://cli.gs/jG8V0Y

• There is Nothing New About the New Atheism: http://cli.gs/A4e8WZ

• Does God Want You to Be Bankrupt? http://cli.gs/Tyh2v7

• Ex-Spy Sits Down With Islamists and the West: http://cli.gs/Zuh7Q9

• Ancient Buddhism and modern psychology: http://cli.gs/qLS00N

• Buddhist monk hangs himself for mukti: http://cli.gs/dVYSUA About mukti: http://cli.gs/TjdTgy

• Canada: DVD spreads positive Islamic image; Newspaper ad insert sidesteps controversy: http://cli.gs/VQH2d6

• Judge Bars Divorced Man from Taking His Kids to Mormon Services: http://twurl.nl/1z0oji

• Christian Punk Meets American Pop; Evangelicals in the ’Burbs : http://twurl.nl/fn4y1k

• Anxious London Professionals Flock to Psychics – TIME: http://twurl.nl/kt4oas

• It’s no accident that Mormon steeples, temples and necks are free of Christian crosses: http://twurl.nl/tjm8p7

• Vatican’s P.R. strategy against ‘Angels and Demons’ is to not have one – Salt Lake Tribune: http://twurl.nl/64zwkq

• Woman claimed leaders stole part of her fortune; Sect may have to pay more money in lawsuit: http://twurl.nl/g0w3yo

• Glossy Internet Magazine Targets Americans for Jihad Training: http://twurl.nl/nl4cc5

• US civil liberties union asks court to allow Muslim women to wear veils | The Guardian: http://cli.gs/M4GQj9about

• Australian archbishop may remove rebel priest’s authority: http://cli.gs/bBTBEt

• In the end, it may be legal bills that sink the polygamists – Vancouver Sun: http://cli.gs/460Srr

• Hindu extremists in India lash out against symbols of change – Washington Post: http://cli.gs/Z7RR3W

• US panel: Religious freedoms ebbing in Russia: http://cli.gs/eLXN0811:04

• In survey, people unaffiliated with any religious group were least likely to back torture – CNN: http://cli.gs/Hg65rR

• Swedish court calls church’s name unacceptable, offensive: http://cli.gs/622mpm10:08 P

• Court in Saudi Arabia finally grants 8-year-old girl a divorce from her 47-year-old husband: http://cli.gs/3ur5Yp

• Some fear eviction in polygamous sect’s land fight: http://cli.gs/Qp20b7

• Family of a Jewish man tortured and killed walked out of trial over comments by the man accused of murdering him: http://cli.gs/Vtgyba9:39

• Muslim cleric blames British mosques for the 7/7 bombings; says throw Islamic fanatics out of UK: http://cli.gs/XGRYJ3

• Is That a Bible in Your Pocket? New ways to download the Good Book | Newsweek: http://cli.gs/UY3G38

• Czech parents prosecuted for forcing girl to join Jehovah’s Witnesses: http://cli.gs/ENv7Rh8:27

• Pakistan: Taliban destroys homes of Sikhs after they failed to pay a tax levied on non-Muslims: http://cli.gs/51sh038:25

• Egyptian Christians riot after ill-advised swine flu cull: http://cli.gs/WXvdDv8:22

• Court lets private religious schools expel lesbians: http://cli.gs/Um2Vzm8:17

• Yusuf Bey IV sometimes claims to be God. He says recent world crises and disasters happened because he is in jail: http://cli.gs/P9pA9Q7:52

• Moslem Youssouf Fofana defies court over torture and murder of Jew – The Times: http://cli.gs/3b0QAR1:32

• Bakery leader indicted in journalist’s slaying: http://cli.gs/5TAQQn

• Pint-size preacher Terry Durham might be some kind of prophet. The question is: Who profits? http://cli.gs/8WPbqy9:58

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This post was last updated: May. 5, 2009