Convert Isolation * Cult Slugs * Burqa Ban

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From a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean, here’s a vacation edition of religion news briefs. Stories include giant snails, Chile’s notorious Colonia Dignidad cult, yet another Burqa ban, a look at religious freedom — and more.

bullet The government of Catalonia, one of Spain’s seventeen autonomous communities, has announced plans to control the wearing of burqas and other face-covering attire in public spaces “for reasons of public safety”.

In May, 2010 the Catalan city of Lleida passed similar legislation, but that ban was struck down last March by Spain’s Supreme Court on the grounds that local authorities do not have the jurisdiction to regulate fundamental rights.

bullet Chile’s Supreme Court has authorized a judge’s request to seek the extradition of Harmut Hopp, a doctor who fled to Germany in 2011 after being convicted as an accomplice in the sexual abuse of minors in the 1990s when he was a leader of Colonia Dignidad, a German cult that was raided twelve years ago.

At least 22 dissidents who disappeared under the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet were tortured and killed at the cult’s compound.

The cult was founded by former Nazi Paul Schaefer, who considered himself to be “God on Earth”. He preached that harsh discipline would draw children closer to the supreme being.

Reportedly Schaeffer followed the teachings of Willam Branham, a heretic of the Christian faith.

bullet The giant African land snail — one of Florida’s most dangerous invasive species — was introduced to the state by a follower of a religious cult based on the traditional African religion Ifa Orisha.

The woman smuggled the creatures were into Miami under her dress.

Authorities said the cult leader, Charles Stewart, persuaded his followers to drink the snails’ mucus as part of a “healing ritual.” […]

Stewart blamed the uproar over the snails on jealousy from Miami’s many occult Santeria practitioners.

bullet During the month of Ramadan Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset and at night eat a communal meal.

Ramadan is both the holiest and the most social month of the Muslim year. But, says Religion News Service, many American converts to Islam break the daily fast alone, often in front of the TV set.

The problem of ‘convert isolation’ is not limited to the United States, and some mosques are now starting to address it by organizing social meetings.

bullet Fasting during the month of Ramada is one of the five duties Muslims must perform. Do you know the other four?

bullet Contrary to expectations the Arab Spring, which erupted in parts of the Middle East and North Africa in 2010, did not lead to greater religious freedom, the Pew Research Center reports.

The organization scored scored 198 countries and territories on a Government Restrictions Index and a Social Hostilities Index, found that government restrictions on religion in the area — where, we note, Islam is the predominant religion — remained high throughout 2011, while social hostilities involving religion increased.

In addition, worldwide, the percentage of countries with high or very high restrictions on religion rose from 37% to 40% in 2011.

bullet Speaking of which, last week, the U.S. Department of State released its annual report on religious freedom, chronicling an unsettling increase in religion-related violence around the world.

Kelsey Dallas writes that “Well-intentioned interference of this kind is part of an increasingly globalized world, and it enjoys support within economic, geo-political and human rights circles.”

But she forgets that the U.S. has greatly damaged its human rights record by engaging in illegal warfare, extraordinary rendition, torture, Guantanamo Bay and other ill behavior.

The U.S. cannot violate international laws and treaties on the one hand, and expect to be taken seriously when it tries to police the world on the other.

The ethical implications of State-sponsored religious engagement were the focus of a recent summer session on Religion and Foreign Policy — which Dallas attended and reports on.

bullet Religious freedom includes the freedom to advertise your beliefs in the hope that others will buy into them: a practice known as evangelism or proselytism.

But the parents of Chinese students involved in the plane crash at San Francisco Airport last week say they were troubled to learn a Christian church was a primary host for a program they understood was for English immersion.

The school does not directly proselytize or offer an invitation for Christian salvation, but it is clear that the Christian gospel will be shared with them while they are being introduced to American culture.

The Chinese government, which pays lip-service to religious freedom, has said it will boost oversight of international summer-school programs.

bullet We still owed you this link: Sex and Death on the Road to Nirvana.

It is the story of how two educated people ended up living – and one dying – alone in a spiritual retreat in a tiny Arizona cave.

It begins and ends with a man named Michael Roach, who claimed to have achieved the highest levels of Tibetan Buddhism and had adapted the principles of that tradition into a uniquely American practice.

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This post was last updated: May. 9, 2014