Posted by Kendall Harmon

More than half of the world’s countries are now producing jihadis to fill the ranks of violent Sunni terrorist organisations in the Middle East, according to a UN report.

The al-Qaeda network and its schismatic rival, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) have seen more than 25,000 mujahideen join them in recent years, it states, creating an “unprecedented” threat to national and international security in both the “immediate and long-term” that most governments have failed to grasp the significance of so far.

The report — prepared by the UN Security Council’s special permanent committee for monitoring violent Islamism — amounts to one of the most bleak and comprehensive assessments of the global foreign fighter phenomenon compiled yet. Its findings are based on “robust and detailed” evidence from 27 intelligence and security services spread across UN member states, its authors state.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchGlobalizationReligion & CultureTeens / YouthViolenceYoung Adults* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryForeign RelationsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyAnthropologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted May 28, 2015 at 6:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The UN children's agency says there has been an "alarming" increase in the number of suicide attacks in northern Nigeria, with many of them involving women and children.

There had been 27 attacks so far this year, compared with 26 for the whole of last year, Unicef said in a statement.

Three-quarters of the attacks were carried out by female bombers, some as young as seven, it added.

Militant Islamist group Boko Haram is waging an insurgency in Nigeria.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchChildrenReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted May 26, 2015 at 5:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In 1967, as part of the Communist campaign to make Albania an “atheist state”, the 400-year-old church at Laç was destroyed with explosives. Until then it had borne an inscription recording its consecration in 1557 by “Giovanni Bruni, Archbishop of Bar”.

Bruni’s extraordinary life (and more extraordinary death) feature in a remarkable new book by Sir Noel Malcolm, the Oxford historian. With unpublished manuscript evidence, it paints a portrait of the Bruni family, before and after the battle of Lepanto in 1571. What distinguishes the book is the way it integrates their tale into the power struggle between Spain and France, Venice and Rome, and, that behemoth of the Levant, the Ottoman Empire, ruled from 1566 to 1574 by Selim II (pictured here). The soldiers, spies and clerics of the Bruni family were among the Agents of Empire of the title. I can’t tell you how good it is, a future classic. My purpose here, though, is not to review the book but to mention a single fascinating chapter.

Giovanni Bruni was an Albanian speaker, born at Ulcinj (now in Montenegro), then part of Venetian Albania. In the little city of Bar, of which he became Archbishop in 1551, there were 18 churches, with another 48 in the rural parts of the diocese, which extended into the regions beyond the coast occupied by the Turks. Among Bruni’s titles was Primate of Serbia. But, if his task was great, his income was pitiful.

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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeChurch History* Culture-WatchHistoryReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryEuropeSerbia* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam

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Posted May 26, 2015 at 12:11 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In late April, a commander for Islamic State said his forces were ready to launch an offensive to take Ramadi, and the group called for fighters to redeploy to Iraq from Syria.

Three weeks later, the jihadist group seized the capital of Anbar province after relentless waves of suicide bombings.

U.S. defense chief Ash Carter has blamed Ramadi’s fall mainly on Iraqi forces’ lack of will to fight. But Islamic State’s battlefield performance suggests the terrorist group’s tactical sophistication is growing—a development the Iraqis and the U.S.-led coalition have so far failed to counter, said Iraqi officials, former U.S. officials and military analysts studying the organization.

An examination of how Ramadi fell indicates that Islamic State commanders executed a complex battle plan that outwitted a greater force of Iraqi troops as well as the much-lauded, U.S.-trained special-operations force known as the Golden Division, which had been fighting for months to defend the city.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureScience & TechnologyViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraq* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted May 26, 2015 at 6:01 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

One morning last week, Lance Laver went to visit a dying friend. Mr. Laver is Jewish and his friend is a retired Episcopal priest, and they had formed a bond over nearly a decade of working together here on an annual interfaith walk for peace.

By the time of this year’s procession, however, the Rev. Frank Toia could not take more than a few steps. He was bound to his home with recurrent pneumonia, tethered to an oxygen tank and a feeding tube. As he turned 78, he decided to use his home as a hospice and await the end.

When Mr. Laver came over, he brought a book written by his rabbi. He and Mr. Toia turned to several verses from Psalm 25, which the rabbi had selected for that particular day. The passage began with the poet asking God, “May we be shown the paths to travel,” and those words drove straight to a fading minister’s heart.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsJudaism

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Posted May 23, 2015 at 9:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Islamic State fighters are celebrating their second major conquest in a week in Syria and Iraq as they pick through the ruins of the historic city of Palmyra.

The sudden advance of the militants into the UN heritage site in central Syria resulted in the rout of a national army, the exodus of refugees and a fresh pulse of regional alarm at the resilience of the self-styled caliphate force.

The UN said one-third of Palmyra’s 200,000-strong population had fled. And Isis militants used social media to show themselves posing amid ancient columns in Palmyra on Thursday. Other images displayed a more familiar theme: the summary slaughter of local men whose blood drenched the road.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsForeign RelationsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraqSyria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted May 22, 2015 at 7:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Southern Iraq’s long-shuttered museums are also finally reopening. The National Museum of Iraq reopened in February 2015 after a $40 million renovation. And in Nasiriya, a city famed for its step ziggurat, the director of the antiquities museum, Iqbal Ajeel, proudly displayed the museum’s exquisite Sumerian miniatures and naked figurines to her first group of high school visitors since the 1991 Gulf War forced its closure.

Few Iraqis in the south openly champion separation from the rest of the country, but the chasm is widening. It is not only a question of ISIS imposing its rules on personal behavior and punishing people only slightly out of line. While ISIS destroys museums, the south refurbishes them; while ISIS destroys shrines, the ayatollahs expand them; and while ISIS is burning relics and books, the Imam Ali shrine hosts a book fair where scripture shares space with romantic novels. On the new campus of Kufa University, a burned-down wreck under American occupation when last I saw it, three engineering professors spoke of the golden age that awaits a united Iraq, or at least its Arab provinces, once the militias defeat ISIS.

But a dissenting fourth engineer quietly questioned why the south should bother. As long as al-Sistani’s jihad was defensive he supported it, but why, he asks, shed blood against ISIS for a Sunni population that is neither welcoming nor particularly wanted? The further north the militia advances, the more lives are lost, and the returns from the battle diminish. Compared to the south’s mineral wealth, the Sunni provinces offer few natural resources. Much of their territory is desert, and their feuding tribes will only cause trouble. Better, he argued, to safeguard what the south already has. In short, he said, breaking a taboo by uttering a word he claims many privately already espouse, why not opt for taqsim, partition? A heavy silence followed.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchHistoryRural/Town LifeViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryForeign RelationsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraq* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted May 21, 2015 at 4:18 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Last year, a death penalty sentence slapped on a Sudanese doctor for refusing to renounce her Christian faith stirred international outrage and heightened calls on the government to increase religious liberty.

Meriam Yahya Ibrahim was released a month later, but now two Christian pastors have been jailed and they also face a possible death sentence.

The Rev. Michael Yat and the Rev. Peter Yein Reith, both from the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, have been charged with undermining the constitutional system and spying, offenses punishable by death or life imprisonment.

The clerics are charged with waging a war against the state and assault on religious belief.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryMinistry of the Ordained* Culture-WatchLaw & Legal IssuesReligion & Culture* Economics, PoliticsForeign RelationsPolitics in General* International News & CommentaryAfricaSudan--South Sudan* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesPresbyterianOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relations* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted May 21, 2015 at 5:15 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

It is religious persecution on a horrific scale, involving massacres, bombings, slavery, beheadings and mass rape.

So why don’t our churches protest against this slaughter of their own?

Yes, Christians are now the prime target of unbelievably barbaric attacks in the Middle East and Africa, yet Australia’s bishops, ministers, priests, church “social justice” units and Christian aid groups — usually so vocal — are now near mute.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureSexualityViolence* Economics, PoliticsForeign RelationsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeriaAustralia / NZMiddle East* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relations* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted May 20, 2015 at 8:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Speaking thirty years ago, Attorney General Meese warned that “there are ideas which have gained influence in some parts of our society, particularly in some important and sophisticated areas that are opposed to religious freedom and freedom in general. In some areas there are some people that have espoused a hostility to religion that must be recognized for what it is, and expressly countered.”

Those were prophetic words, prescient in their clarity and foresight. The ideas of which Mr. Meese warned have only gained ground in the last thirty years, and now with astounding velocity. A revolution in morality now seeks not only to subvert marriage, but also to redefine it, and thus to undermine an essential foundation of human dignity, flourishing, and freedom.

Religious liberty is under direct threat. Just days ago the Solicitor General of the United States served notice before the Supreme Court that the liberties of religious institutions will be an open and unavoidable question. Already, religious liberty is threatened by a new moral regime that exalts erotic liberty and personal autonomy and openly argues that religious liberties must give way to the new morality, its redefinition of marriage, and its demand for coercive moral, cultural, and legal sovereignty.

A new moral and legal order is ascendant in America, and this new order is only possible, in the arena of American law and jurisprudence, if the original intent and the very words of the Constitution of the United States are twisted beyond recognition.

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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeChurch History* Culture-WatchHistoryLaw & Legal IssuesPhilosophyReligion & CultureSexuality* Economics, PoliticsPolitics in General* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesEvangelicalsOther FaithsSecularismReligious Freedom / Persecution* TheologyAnthropologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted May 19, 2015 at 5:45 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Hundreds of women and girls captured by Boko Haram have been raped, many repeatedly, in what officials and relief workers describe as a deliberate strategy to dominate rural residents and possibly even create a new generation of Islamist militants in Nigeria.

In interviews, the women described being locked in houses by the dozen, at the beck and call of fighters who forced them to have sex, sometimes with the specific goal of impregnating them.

“They married me,” said Hamsatu, 25, a young woman in a black-and-purple head scarf, looking down at the ground. She said she was four months pregnant, that the father was a Boko Haram member and that she had been forced to have sex with other militants who took control of her town.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureSexualityTeens / YouthViolenceWomen* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted May 19, 2015 at 5:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Islamic State leaders in Syria have sent money, trainers and fighters to Libya in increasing numbers, raising new concerns for the U.S. that the militant group is gaining traction in its attempts to broaden its reach and expand its influence.

In recent months, U.S. military officials said, Islamic State has solidified its foothold in Libya as it searches for ways to capitalize on rising popularity among extremist groups around the world.

“ISIL now has an operational presence in Libya, and they have aspirations to make Libya their African hub,” said one U.S. military official, using an acronym for the group. “Libya is part of their terror map now.”

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryForeign RelationsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaLibya* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted May 19, 2015 at 5:15 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

There’s a thin line separating angry youth and the world of jihadists, one that underscores the risk European countries face from people they call their own.

It’s also one Berlin imam Mohamed Taha Sabri knows all too well. When the Arab-born mother of a 23-year-old German Muslim man noticed her son had started using the words “jihad” and “infidels,” it was Sabri she turned to.

“The difference between adopting an extremist opinion and terrorist extremism is sometimes a hair’s breadth,” Sabri, 50, said in an interview at his Dar Assalam Mosque in the German capital’s Neukoelln district.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryEuropeGermany* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam

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Posted May 18, 2015 at 5:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald W. Bibby has spent several decades surveying Canadians about their attitudes on faith.

He isn't optimistic about a Protestant turnaround anytime soon.

"The United Church, the Anglicans, the Presbyterians and the Lutherans were all being fed with these wonderful immigration pipelines for an awfully long time with people coming from Europe."

"What's happened," says Bibby, "is those pipelines have been shut down. And the reality is unless those groups do some proselytizing, they are going to continue to decline rapidly as far as numbers."

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryCanada* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsSecularism

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Posted May 17, 2015 at 11:31 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

This week marks one year since Meriam Ibrahim was sentenced to 40 lashes for adultery, and death for apostasy. The campaign for her release was joined by thousands across the globe, including David Cameron, but although Ibrahim is now free, the situation for Sudan's religious minorities continues to worsen.

When the Court of Appeal declared Ibrahim innocent of all charges and released her from prison on 25 June 2014, there was cautious hope that the campaign would lead to wider respect for freedom of religion or belief in Sudan. But just five days after her acquittal, on 30 June, the Church of Christ in Thiba Al Hamyida, North Khartoum, was demolished after being given 24 hours' verbal notice.

As 2014 came to an end, religious minorities faced further restrictions. In particular, the Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination (SEPC) has been embroiled in a legal battle to maintain ownership of its properties, which began with a court order to seize parts of the Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchLaw & Legal IssuesReligion & Culture* Economics, PoliticsForeign RelationsPolitics in General* International News & CommentaryAfricaSudan* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relations* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted May 17, 2015 at 6:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Their ideals were lofty but simple: They would live off the land, farming with Colonial-era tools, along with a band of like-minded men dressed in homespun robes wielding scythes and pickaxes. They would sleep in atmospheric log cabins and other 18th-century structures that they had rescued from the area and that they began to reconstruct, painstakingly, brick by crumbling brick and log by log.

But what if you built a commune, and no one came?

It turns out it’s not so easy to cook up a utopia from scratch. There are 1,775 so-called intentional communities listed in the Fellowship for Intentional Community’s United States directory: eco-villages, pagan co-ops, faith-based retreats and everything in between. But how do you advertise, organize and thrive? “Don’t ask us,” Johannes said. “We failed that class.”

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchHistoryPsychologyReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.* Religion News & CommentaryOther Faiths

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Posted May 16, 2015 at 10:29 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In my previous post, I detailed the sordid story by which the Episcopal Church (USA) has gotten into the debt collection business. Refugees designated to migrate to the United States are advanced travel money by an arm of the U.S. State Department. They land here, and are placed in the hands of (among other agencies) Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), which helps them relocate into specific communities, find jobs, and settle in. Then EMM sees that they repay their travel advances to the Government, and pockets one-quarter of its debt collection proceeds for its trouble.

It's a nifty racket, and ensures that annually over $300,000 comes into the Episcopal Church's coffers, to help with its bottom line. Meanwhile, the U.S. Government reimburses EMM for all of its other refugee relocation expenses, to the tune of some $14 million annually.

Now thanks to our good friend and frequent commenter El Gringo Viejo, your Curmudgeon has been pointed to this illuminating video message, which tells "the rest of the story," so to speak. It turns out that a good portion of the refugees EMM is assisting are not just any refugees, but are Muslims from some of the countries to which America has sent troops, bombs or both: Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and (soon) Syria. Listen to Ann Corcoran as she explains what she discovered...

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)* Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryEconomyThe U.S. GovernmentForeign RelationsPolitics in General* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relations* Theology

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Posted May 15, 2015 at 12:29 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The meeting includes reflections on questions such as: is there a radicalisation of Muslims in Europe? How is this issue tackled within Muslim communities? How is it possible to promote a culture of dialogue between Christians and Muslims? What is the cultural and religious vitality of the Muslims on the continent?

Speakers include Prof. Olivier Roy from the European University Institute in Florence; Dr. Omero Marongiu-Perria, an expert in the sociology of religions and member of CISMOC (Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Islam in the Contemporary World – University of Louvain, Belgium); Bishops Michel Dubost (France), Juan Antonio Martínez Camino (Spain) and Charles Morerod (Switzerland). Practical experiences in relations with Muslims are being shared by Fr. Christophe Roucou (France: dialogue between priests and imams); Helmut Wiesmann (Germany: co-operation in charitable work); and Bisho

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryEurope* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relations* Theology

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Posted May 14, 2015 at 5:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Machete-wielding assailants followed Ananta Bijoy Das on Tuesday morning when he left his house in the northeastern city of Sylhet and hacked him to death, police and friends said.

Das wrote for Mukto-Mona, the blog founded by Avijit Roy, a U.S. citizen who was killed in a similar attack outside a book fair in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, in February. Another writer who protested Roy's killing on social media, Washiqur Rahman, was struck down on a Dhaka street in March.

Activists lay blame for the killings on ultraconservative Islamists who have gained prominence recently in the overwhelmingly Muslim country. They have complained about the slow pace of investigations and have accused authorities of allowing a culture of impunity to take hold.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchBlogging & the InternetLaw & Legal IssuesReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsPolitics in General* International News & CommentaryAsiaBangladesh* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted May 13, 2015 at 8:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In India... [Tony Joseph] suggests, Christianity is doing far worse than in most parts of the world, while Hinduism is booming. Presently, he declares, around 78 percent of Indians are Hindus.

Well, yes and no. Nobody can claim that Christianity has claimed major shares of the Indian population, or that it is likely to do so in the near future. But some counter-arguments do need to be stressed, especially about the overall numbers. No sane person believes the religious content of the Indian national census, which is one of the world’s great works of creative fiction. At all levels, there is enormous pressure of all kinds – cultural, political and bureaucratic – to minimize the presence of all non-Hindu religions, including Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists. That pressure becomes overwhelming when dealing with people of low and no caste, those who are most tempted to defect to one of the alternative faiths. Bureaucrats are especially hard to convince in matters of religious conversion from Hinduism.

That matters because such low or no caste people are so very numerous. India presently has over 200 million Dalits, the so-called untouchables. If the census is failing to pick up just a few percent of those groups who have converted to other faiths, that is potentially a huge number. In consequence, the estimate of India as 78 percent Hindu represents an extreme higher-end estimate, achieved only by making that the default stance adopted and enforced by census takers and bureaucrats. I would confidently expect future estimates of Christian numbers to decline still further as the government attitudes become chillier – which has nothing whatever to do with actual numbers on the ground.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchHistoryReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryAsiaIndia* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther FaithsHinduism* Theology

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Posted May 12, 2015 at 3:40 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Most of us were trained to minister to a culture that had a Christian baseline, but we weren’t trained how to reach people who don’t accept the Bible as true or know about Christ.
In other words, we were trained to focus on Nominals but now we increasingly need to reach Seculars.

There are resources to help with that.

I’m a big fan of Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God. Many use that curriculum for reaching secular people. I also recommend the work of George Hunter, a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary. His book How to Reach Secular People is good, as is James Emery White’s book called The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated.

Do you deal more with Nominals or Seculars? Has your church made progress in reaching either group? What have you found that works in bringing these people to Christ?

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryEvangelism and Church GrowthMinistry of the LaityMinistry of the Ordained* Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsSecularism* TheologyAnthropologySoteriology

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Posted May 12, 2015 at 6:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Primate of Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), Most Revd. Nicholas Okoh, has described the late chief Imam of the national mosque, Ustaz Musa Muhammad, as a pleasant and good natured cleric who lived a life of service to humanity and made an indelible impact on all who interacted with him.

The late Chief Imam, according to him, was a friendly person, bridge builder across religious barriers and a pleasant personality. He said the Chief Imam's death has further confirmed the transient nature of life.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican ProvincesChurch of Nigeria* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relations* Theology

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Posted May 11, 2015 at 6:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

“I was very active in the progressive community in my law school, and most of my friends were politically active progressives,” he said. “But I was unprepared for their response when word started filtering out that I had enrolled in divinity school. Some of them literally disowned me; my own roommates moved out. Several folks literally stopped speaking to me and acted as if I had lost my mind.”

His own background was thrown in his face, with friends saying: “Chris, you’re a scientist, you’re a chemist, you trained as a chemist as an undergraduate, how could you possibly believe this insane stuff...?”

Coons’s message was deceptively simple: that we must find ways of “getting past some of our misunderstandings of each other.” The problem: Respecting each other on matters of faith and politics seems beyond our current capacities.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchEducationLaw & Legal IssuesReligion & Culture* Economics, PoliticsPolitics in GeneralSenate* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther FaithsSecularism* TheologyAnthropologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted May 6, 2015 at 7:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility on Tuesday for a weekend attack at a center near Dallas, Texas, that was exhibiting cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad - though it offered no evidence of a direct link to the attackers.

An audio statement on the extremist group's Al Bayan radio station said that "two soldiers of the caliphate" carried out Sunday's attack in Garland and promised the group would deliver more attacks in the future

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchLaw & Legal IssuesReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* Theology

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Posted May 5, 2015 at 3:05 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Small, winner of two national book awards for his recent novels, will discuss “East Meets West: What the Great World Religions Can Learn from Each Other.” He will attempt to weave the key themes of his suspense novels into a serious discussion of how interfaith dialogue can enlighten people’s lives.

In today’s world, Small explained, “when the headlines are too often about the animosity between the religions, I hope to help us build bridges across these conflicts.” He attempts to do this through talks, blog posts and his fiction writing, where he feels he can reach a different audience in a nonconventional way.

Specifically, the suspense/thriller author of “visionary fiction” will attempt to answer “Why do we have so many religions? What can we learn from this knowledge? Why do we need interfaith dialogue? What are the key teachings from Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism?”

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchBooksHistoryMulticulturalism, pluralismReligion & Culture* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther Faiths* Theology

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Posted May 3, 2015 at 4:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The women said several were killed in the stoning, but they did not know how many.

The survivors said that when they were initially captured, the militants had killed men and older boys in front of their families before taking women and children into the forest.

Some were forced into marriage.

They said the Islamists never let them out of their sight - not even when they went to the toilet.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchChildrenLaw & Legal IssuesPolice/FireMarriage & FamilyReligion & CultureTeens / YouthViolenceWomenYoung Adults* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyAnthropologyEthics / Moral TheologyPastoral Theology

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Posted May 3, 2015 at 3:20 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Malaysian Anglicans have rallied to the support of a Pentecostal church in Petaling Jaya after a Muslim mob disrupted worship services...[recently] and forced the congregation to take down a cross mounted on the church’s facade.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal* Christian Life / Church LifeLiturgy, Music, WorshipParish Ministry* Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* International News & CommentaryAsiaMalaysia* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesPentecostalOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relations

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Posted May 3, 2015 at 6:18 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Such a pattern of religious Dualism did not last into modern times, but it used to be very commonplace to find some such dichotomy. Allegedly, Judaism was the faith of the wrathful, legalistic God of the Old Testament; Christians followed Jesus, and his words of love and mercy. Only a hundred years ago, the great Bible scholar Adolf von Harnack wanted to eject the Old Testament from the Christian Bible, an act he saw as the logical conclusion of the Reformation. Von Harnack himself was not anti-Semitic, although plenty of his sympathizers in such matters were. But the stereotypical dismissal of the Old Testament is certainly anti-Judaic, in the sense of stigmatizing the Hebrew Bible that is the foundation of Jewish faith and identity.

It is hard to know what is most incorrect about this cliché of “the wrathful, Old Testament Jehovah,” or most offensive. A century of Bible scholarship has made it absolutely clear that virtually everything Jesus preached can be found in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, including many sayings and pronouncements that seem most radical and innovative. Any attempt to separate Jesus from his Jewish roots – or the New Testament from the Old – is utterly misguided, and doomed to fail. The whole vision of God as loving and forgiving derives from the Old Testament, as is clear to anyone who has ever opened its pages. If you think of the Old Testament God as merely “wrathful,” your knowledge of the text is very slight.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchHistoryReligion & Culture* Religion News & CommentaryOther Faiths* TheologyTheology: Scripture

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Posted May 2, 2015 at 2:29 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Seculars are known for what they are not — religious — more than what they are. This is part of a wider reputation problem borne out by atheists (the most visible subset of secular America) emerging as the second-least popular religion-related category on a "feeling thermometer" study by the Pew Research Center, with Muslims barely edging out atheists for the dubious honor of being last.

A wide swath of the American public continues to equate God belief with morality. A reminder of this comes courtesy of the recent speech by conservative Christian icon Phil Robertson, who graphically described an atheist family being tortured and murdered and having no legitimate basis to object, given their non-belief in God. This notion is patently unfair and unsupported by data. Research shows, in fact, that non-religious families do well at fostering ethical behavior and moral values among their offspring. Secular people can be and generally are "good without God," to cite the slogan of the American Humanist Association. Even so, the movement has a way to go in convincing the rest of the culture.

Read it all.


Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsSecularism

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Posted April 29, 2015 at 6:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The rise of extremism has left Christians without hope for a future in the birthplace of their faith, according to a new petition to David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband.

Thousands of evangelicals who attended Spring Harvest are calling on the Conservative, LibDem and Labour leaders to set aside party differences and take new steps against persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

The 4,496 Christians warn that the faith is at serious risk of extinction in the region.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsForeign RelationsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle East* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted April 28, 2015 at 11:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

One of the joys of traveling is seeing how other people worship. On vacation my daughter and I visited a shul in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands that had sand on the floor to represent either the Israelite journey through the desert or a homage to the congregants’ Murano Jewish ancestors who used sand to muffle the sounds of their secret prayer services during the Spanish Inquisition. They lived as Catholics publicly, but returned to their Judaism in their basements.

We happened to attend this Caribbean synagogue when the head of the women’s club was having an adult bat mitzvah. The highlight came during her speech, when she surveyed the crowd, appeared to do a mental calculation and announced: “Family hold back!” The lox was delicious, and the whole experience was so great—how could we not join for the off-island rate of $72 a year?

So if you are traveling to the ’burgh and looking for that special something from your synagogue experience: Ask and I’ll set you up. Just not during services. I’ll be busy talking to Finkelstein.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeLiturgy, Music, Worship* Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsJudaism

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Posted April 24, 2015 at 6:04 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Check it out.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* General InterestHumor / Trivia* Religion News & CommentaryOther Faiths* TheologySeminary / Theological Education

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Posted April 22, 2015 at 6:15 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Nigeria’s military announced last week that it was raiding the Sambisa Forest, one of the last strongholds of Islamist extremist group Boko Haram. Liberating the forest might be the hardest part of the campaign against the group.

Aided by regional troops and foreign mercenaries, Nigeria’s military has managed to take back nearly all of the towns and villages controlled by Boko Haram in Nigeria’s northeast over the past few months.

But one area remains mostly under their control: Sambisa, a massive expanse of forest that spreads thousands of square kilometers over several states.

Read it all.


Filed under: * Culture-WatchLaw & Legal IssuesPolice/FireReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted April 22, 2015 at 6:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Anglican Bishop for Ethiopia has hailed as martyrs 28 Ethiopian Christians shot or beheaded in Libya by members of the terrorist group known as ISIS or ISIL.

"I have just learned the horrifying news that as many as twenty-eight Ethiopian Christians have been shot or beheaded in Libya by members of the terrorist group known as ISIS or ISIL. This alarming act of violence against those that ISIS calls “people of the cross” comes just two months after twenty-one other Christians - twenty Egyptians and one Ghanian, were beheaded on a Libyan beach." Bishop Grant LeMarquand said in a letter to be read in Ethopian churches and distributed overseas.

Bishop LeMarquand is Anglican Area Bishop for the Horn of Africa (Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia and Ethiopia) and Assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican ProvincesThe Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East* Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaEthiopia* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relations* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted April 21, 2015 at 4:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Archbishop of Canterbury was in Cairo yesterday to show solidarity with Egyptian Christians murdered by jihadists two months ago. His visit was made more timely even as it was overshadowed by yet more murders. As he gave letters of condolence to the families of the victims of Islamic State’s last massacre of Christians, IS released sickening video footage of the next.

The latest film from the terrorist organisation holding the Middle East to ransom is as barbaric as anything it has produced. Prefaced with footage of jihadists vandalising Christian churches, the 29-minute video shows militants holding two groups of prisoners who they claim are members of an “enemy Ethiopian church”. Twelve are shown being beheaded on a beach. At least 16 more are shot in the head elsewhere. Both groups are thought to have been murdered in Libya.

Subject to verification of the footage this brings to more than 50 the number of Christians killed by IS in recent weeks. The strategy is clear. The leadership of the so-called caliphate, under pressure in Iraq, is seeking to expand its reign of terror in North Africa and in particular to sabotage efforts to bring stability to Libya.

Read it all (subscription required).

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalArchbishop of Canterbury --Justin Welby* Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsForeign RelationsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaEthiopiaLibya* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyAnthropologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted April 20, 2015 at 5:29 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The confirmation of the murder of Ethiopian Christians by Daesh (IS) in Libya has been received with deep sadness. These executions that unnecessarily and unjustifiably claim the lives of innocent people, wholly undeserving of this brutality, have unfortunately become far too familiar. Once again we see innocent Christians murdered purely for refusing to renounce their Faith.

The Christians of Egypt and Ethiopia have had a shared heritage for centuries. Being predominantly Orthodox Christian communities with a mutual understanding of life and witness, and a common origin in the Coptic Orthodox Church, they now also share an even greater connection through the blood of these contemporary martyrs.

This sad news came on the day that His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury visited His Holiness Pope Tawadros II in Egypt to personally express his condolences following the similar brutal murder of 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians in Libya by Daesh in February of this year.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryForeign RelationsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaEthiopiaLibya* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesOrthodox ChurchOther FaithsIslam* Theology

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Posted April 20, 2015 at 4:45 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

A sharp-eyed visitor to Havana and other Cuban cities will notice some odd things: the carcasses of birds strewn at intersections, insignias consisting of a single eye and dagger affixed to doorways and displayed in taxis, people dressed head to toe in white. All are emblems of Santería, a religion with roots in the culture of Yoruba slaves who came to Cuba from Nigeria from the early 18th century. After a period of suppression, it appears to be making a comeback.

Santería is a blending of the Yoruba religion, which acknowledges 401 orishas, or deities, with the Catholicism of the Spanish colonisers. Although at least 60% of Cubans today call themselves Catholics, far fewer are regular churchgoers. Many see no reason not to incorporate Santería rituals into their spiritual lives. A Catholic priest will marry a couple, but a santero might foretell their destiny and, later on, counsel them on how to revive their flagging sex life.

Read it all.


Filed under: * Culture-WatchGlobalizationHistoryReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryAfricaCaribbeanCuba* Religion News & CommentaryOther Faiths

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Posted April 19, 2015 at 5:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

1. Hinduism’s core principle is pluralism.

Hindus acknowledge the potential existence of multiple, legitimate religious and spiritual paths, and the idea that the path best suited for one person may not be the same for another. The Rig Veda, one of Hinduism’s sacred texts, states Ekam sat vipraha bahudha vadanti, or “The Truth is one, the wise call It by many names.”

As a result of this pluralistic outlook, Hinduism has never sanctioned proselytization and asserts that it is harmful to society’s well being to insist one’s own path to God is the only true way. Hindus consider the whole world as one extended family, and Hindu prayers often end with the repetition of shanti – or peace for all of existence.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsHinduism

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Posted April 19, 2015 at 3:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Early indications from [a] new project by the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) think-tank showed the number of people convicted of terrorism offences has increased in the last five years, as police make growing use of new legislation to disrupt extremist networks.

Hannah Stuart, research fellow at the HJS, said: “We are starting to see with lower level offences and those with a high degree of ideology behind them that there is a revolving door for them.

“We are seeing cases of terrorism recidivism – they serve a sentence and are released, then commit another crime and are jailed again.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchPrison/Prison MinistryReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryEngland / UK* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* Theology

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Posted April 19, 2015 at 1:45 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Days after Islamists killed 148 people at Garissa university, Kenya's president held out an olive branch to Muslims and urged them to join Nairobi in the struggle against militant Islam by informing on sympathisers.

But as Uhuru Kenyatta launches a battle for Muslim hearts and minds, his security forces must first reckon with the deep mistrust among ethnic-Somali Muslims in the country's northeast regions bordering Somalia.

Kenyatta also faces an uphill task in reforming the violent ways of troops on the ground. A day before he spoke, a soldier in Garissa was seen by a Reuters reporter lashing at a crowd of Muslim women with a long stick.

"We live in fear," said Barey Bare, one of a dozen veiled Somali-Kenyan women targeted by the soldier.

"The military are a threat and al Shabaab are a threat. We are in between."

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaKenya* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted April 15, 2015 at 7:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

A handful of families have taken refuge in the monastery, as Christians have done for centuries since Islamic armies first swept across the plain in the 7th Century with the Arab conquest.

Thirteen-year-old Nardine is all too aware of what IS fighters do to girls they regard as infidels. "They are very cruel, they are very harsh," Nardine whispered fearfully. "Everyone knows, they took the Yazidi girls and sold them in the market."

"Isis have no mercy for anyone. They select women to rape them," said Nardine's mother. "We were afraid for our daughters so we ran away."

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryForeign RelationsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle East* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

3 Comments
Posted April 15, 2015 at 6:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

"It is impossible to go there, and to meet especially the children, without being determined that they must have a future," the Cardinal said.

But the task ahead is vast: regaining land from Islamic State, rebuilding ruined town and cities, establishing law and order and rebuilding society.

Nichols said that in the project to rebuild Iraq, "the presence of the Christian community is essential".

"I say that not out of a nostalgic sense that this is a Christian community that's 2,000 years old. This not a cultural, historical, or an archaeological issue. This is an issue of how do you build a stable, balanced society, in that region, and I think... the Christian presence is essential to that mosaic."

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchHistoryReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryEngland / UKMiddle EastIraq* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther ChurchesRoman CatholicOther FaithsIslam* Theology

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Posted April 15, 2015 at 5:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Three decades ago, plainclothes Syrian agents went door to door in this border village seeking out young Christian men, who were abducted and killed in a notorious chapter of Lebanon’s 15-year civil war.

The village’s nearly 2,000 Christians now find themselves siding with the same Syrian regime they blame for what many call the 1978 massacre.

That is because a few miles away, hundreds of Islamist extremists tied to al Qaeda and Islamic State stalk the porous border region separating Lebanon and Syria. Standing between the militants and the village are Lebanese troops aided by the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah, whose men are also fighting for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“Yes, I prefer the Syrian regime over these terrorist groups,” a 45-year-old Al-Qaa resident said, but it is a choice “between the bitter and more bitter.”

Read it all from the WSJ.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchHistoryReligion & CultureViolence* International News & CommentaryMiddle East* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther ChurchesOther FaithsIslamJudaism* Theology

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Posted April 15, 2015 at 5:15 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Events are taking place around the world to mark one year since Boko Haram militants abducted nearly 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria, sparking global outrage.

The girls were kidnapped from their school in Chibok, in the northeast of the country, leading millions around the world to call for their return as the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag exploded on social media.

A number of girls later escaped the militants, who often force those abducted to convert to Islam and fight or work as sex slaves, but 219 remain missing.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchChildrenHistoryMarriage & FamilyReligion & CultureTeens / YouthViolenceWomen* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted April 14, 2015 at 4:40 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Islamic State has allegedly burned boxes of food aid coming from the United States that were intended for Syrian civilians.

The Independent reports that two trucks containing the food parcels were intercepted at an ISIS checkpoint manned by the group's "Hisba" police force in Syria's Aleppo province. The boxes had the markings of Koch Foods, a chicken company based in the state of Illinois in the US.

According to The Independent, the Islamic State seized and burned the boxes, which contained chicken meat, claiming that the animal products were not slaughtered according to Islamic law.

The International Business Times, however, said that the boxes had markings to show that the chicken meat was "halal," or had been slaughtered according to the dictates of Islamic Law.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchDieting/Food/NutritionPovertyReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastSyria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam

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Posted April 12, 2015 at 4:56 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In the wake of last week’s deadly attack against Christians at a college in Kenya, we talk with Father Thomas Reese, senior analyst at the National Catholic Reporter and a member of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, about growing concerns over anti-Christian violence around the world and the need for governments to protect religious communities.

Read or watch it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle East* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesOther FaithsIslam

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Posted April 12, 2015 at 2:22 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

More to the point, the Paris attack struck close to home. The victims were journalists and journalists write the news. The terrorists hit a major Western city like the ones where the political leaders and opinion-makers live. The victims were aggressively secular. In marching for the victims, the famous and powerful were marching for themselves and their own.

Which does not apply to the victims in Nairobi and northern Nigeria. They were black Africans, not white Europeans; students, not journalists; living in the developing world, not Europe; and Christian, not modern and secular. No high official is going to fly to east Africa and march for them. The Kenyan and Nigerian victims are not their people.

They are ours. If someone could measure the amount of time American Christians spent reading about the three attacks, and the depth of of our emotional reaction, he would almost certainly find our time and emotional investment nearly as tilted to Paris as the secular Americans’. The more successful in the world, say in academia and publishing, the more this will be true. As a test, ask yourself what details of the Nigerian massacre you remember, compared with how much you remember of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. I remember a lot about the Nigerian massacre, but only because I read about it while writing this. Western journalists, even anti-Christian ones, are “our” people, Africa’s Christians a little less so.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeParish Ministry* Culture-WatchGlobalizationMediaReligion & CultureViolence* International News & CommentaryAfricaKenyaNigeriaEuropeFrance* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesOther FaithsIslam* TheologyAnthropologyEcclesiologyEthics / Moral TheologyPastoral Theology

3 Comments
Posted April 11, 2015 at 11:26 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

...it is delusional for these terrorists to think that those who were killed in the line of “duty” are considered martyrs and will be rewarded with paradise. The terrorists who are killed aren’t considered martyrs according to Islamic law, even if they considered their act to be a form of jihad, had sincere intentions and were acting out of ignorance. Good intentions don’t justify illegal acts—and it is totally prohibited by Islam to kill innocent people. Thus terrorist acts like 9/11 in the U.S., 7/7 in London or any other similar horrendous attacks are sheer murder and have nothing to do with jihad.

In sum, the noble form of physical jihad—which is waged by legitimate state authorities to fend off aggression and establish justice—has nothing to do with the supposed jihad of these terrorists, who practice nothing more than the ruthless mass murder of innocents. Jihad is a war fought with honor and guided with moral codes of conduct.

Since terrorist groups have the audacity to interpret from the Quran selectively to suit their own agendas, their deviant ideology must be debunked by intellectual responses. The fight will be stronger with the help of the international media and academia in publishing and broadcasting the voices of authentic Muslim scholars who can counter the extremists’ false claims and their warped interpretation of the Quran.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastEgyptIraqSyria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted April 10, 2015 at 5:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Despite the images we’ve seen splashed across the web of Islamic State fighters driving around Syria and Iraq in American Humvees and waving U.S.-made weapons, there really isn’t all that much American military gear floating around out there.

But what equipment has been captured by the radical Islamists has the tendency to float upward toward the leadership who covet the “elite” U.S. gear, according to a group cataloging illicit arms transfers.

Speaking to a small April 7 gathering at the Stimson Center in Washington, Jonah Leff, director of operations for Conflict Armament Research said that American equipment actually “represents a small fraction” of the 40,000 pieces of gear his teams have cataloged in northern Iraq and Syria since last summer. He said that includes only about 30 U.S.-made M-16s and roughly 550 rounds American-produced ammunition.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchGlobalizationReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, Military* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.Middle EastIraqSyria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted April 8, 2015 at 4:56 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Islamist Boko Haram militants disguised as preachers killed at least 24 people and wounded several others in an attack near a mosque in northeast Nigeria's Borno state, a military source and witness said on Monday.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam

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Posted April 7, 2015 at 4:50 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Abdia Noor Abdi sat in the yard, exhausted after all the questions from the authorities. When she saw the face of her son on the front page of a daily newspaper, she pushed it aside and began to tear up.

He was not poor or marginalized, and did not seem especially angry. He strutted around in $200 suits, the son of a local chief.

But now her son, Abdirahim Abdullahi, has been identified as one of the four gunmen who killed nearly 150 people at a university in eastern Kenya last week, the authorities say.

Once a promising student himself, Mr. Abdullahi was killed along with the other gunmen as Kenyan forces stormed the campus in Garrisa. Police officers later paraded his naked, bullet-riddled body in the back of a pickup truck.

“He was a polite and obedient son,” his mother said. “We are in shock.”

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolenceYoung Adults* International News & CommentaryAfricaKenya* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* Theology

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Posted April 7, 2015 at 5:18 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

On Easter, the holiest of holy days for Christians, a historic downtown Lutheran congregation will be worshiping not in a church but in a synagogue.

At 8 a.m. and again at 11 a.m., members of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church will gather in Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim’s historic synagogue during Passover to celebrate what Christians believe is the resurrection of the long-promised Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ.

It’s not the first time the members of KKBE have loaned their sanctuary at 90 Hasell St. to Christians. And it probably won’t be the last.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeChurch Year / Liturgical SeasonsEasterParish Ministry* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther FaithsJudaism* South Carolina

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Posted April 5, 2015 at 6:25 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The evening concluded with the story of how Wendy Stovall, an assistant pastor in Utah’s Unification Church, started by Rev. Sun Myung Moon, found her way from Zimbabwe to a London park, where she met a friend from that faith.

Raised as an Anglican, Stovall found little comfort in that tradition after her divorce as a young woman. The Unification Church, she said, held many answers to the theological questions that troubled her. “God,” she said, “was taking a role in my life.”

That view was a common thread in the evening’s tapestry.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)* Culture-WatchReligion & CultureWomen* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesPresbyterianOther FaithsBuddhism

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Posted April 1, 2015 at 7:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In his fourth democratic bid for Nigeria’s presidency, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari finally claimed victory Tuesday, beating incumbent Goodluck Jonathan by more than 3 million votes, according to early counts of the polling.

Results are not yet official, but Buhari has claimed victory, and according to media reports, Jonathan has called his rival and conceded defeat.

The election marks the first time since Nigeria’s 1999 transition from military rule that the People’s Democratic Party has lost the country’s presidency and the first time an incumbent has been ousted from the office.

Read it all.


Filed under: * Culture-WatchHistoryReligion & Culture* Economics, PoliticsPolitics in General* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relations* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 31, 2015 at 3:10 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Every religious tradition has its skeletons and its saints, and sometimes they are the same people. Paul is warning his hearers not to count themselves better than their ancestors, for they all depend on the same rootstock – a root that nourishes the olive tree or the grape vine we cling to as intimate connection to God as Creator of all. That root is why we are here, and it is also why the LDS church is here.

When General Convention shows up here just over 3 months from now, many of the volunteers and dispensers of hospitality will be our sisters and brothers from that tradition. Will we recognize their welcome as a product of the same root, or will we assume that they come from a different and unrecognizable species?

Complexity defines human beings and their relationships, which just might convince us of the otherness of God. Difference is part of God’s creativity, from the riotous diversity of the species of creation to the inner chaos of most human beings. Paul names it when he says he wants to do the right thing, but he does something else instead.[8] Nevertheless, when people stay connected to that one rootstock, God can usually be found to bring something new and holy out of the mess.

Branches that seem radically different grow on the same tree and the same vine, even though we love to hate the ones who are not like us. We often in the church focus our attention on differences in reproductive customs and norms – yet both the grape vine and the olive tree has multiple ways to be generative. Flowers can be fertilized by pollen from the same plant or another one. The fruit and seeds that result are eaten by birds and animals and left to grow far from the original plant, yet they are still related. The vine also generates new branches from its rootstock or from distant parts of its branches. But all those kinds of vines and branches are related, however they come about.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori* Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryMinistry of the OrdainedPreaching / Homiletics* Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsMormons* Theology

5 Comments
Posted March 31, 2015 at 8:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Scientology’s power over its followers is coming under new scrutiny because of the HBO documentary “Going Clear,” which premieres March 29 and is based on Lawrence Wright’s 2013 book of the same name. As Wright reported, Scientology has long relied on an arcane lingo that helps induct adherents into founder L. Ron Hubbard’s complex mythology while also isolating them from the outside world. “I’ve had a lot of former Scientologists tell me,” Wright said to me, “that it took quite a while for them to sort out what was a real word and what was a Scientology term.”

Hubbard began his superlatively prolific writing career in the 1930s as a sci-fi author for pulp magazines like Astounding Science-Fiction. At the time he started work on “Dianetics,” the ur-text of Scientology, he was corresponding with a group of prominent sci-fi writers who were all influenced by the ideas of Polish-American philosopher Alfred Korzybski. Korzybski believed that semantic training — correcting the flaws in abstract language that block one’s understanding of concrete things — could help cure various emotional and physical disorders. In part inspired by Korzybski, “Dianetics,” published in 1950, introduced a wide array of neologisms, jargon, and acronyms designed specifically for Hubbard’s new program.

Hubbard liked putting quirky twists on existing words: “Enturbulate,” using the Latin root from “disturb,” means “to upset”; to “hat,” as a verb, is to train for something; “havingness,” “beingness,” and “as-ising” (making something vanish) also pop up frequently. Many of his terms describe the central practice of Scientology: the “audit,” a space-age twist on Freudian psychoanalytic therapy. An “auditor” questions the subject, called the “preclear” — who is held back from spiritual progress by the “engrams,” or recordings of traumatic memories, in his “reactive mind,” a negative unconscious contrasted with the “analytic mind.” The goal is to discover the “basic-basic,” the subject’s original harmful memory, which sometimes dates back to before birth.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.* Religion News & CommentaryOther Faiths

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Posted March 30, 2015 at 11:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

A few years later, Thomas Jefferson resolved these difficulties quite simply in his “harmonized” account of the life of Jesus. The Jefferson Bible ends with the crucifixion and burial: “There laid they Jesus: and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.” The End. No Resurrection.

So, yes, Jefferson stood exactly in that century-old Deist tradition.

And you will see why I am very skeptical when I read that nineteenth or early twentieth century critics were so daring in their criticism of Biblical orthodoxy – for example, in the US during the years of the Briggs controversy of the 1890s and the rise of Fundamentalism. Those ideas were already very familiar indeed before Jefferson was born in 1743.

Here’s a thought. Maybe the most important theme to highlight in any history of Biblical criticism is that of serial amnesia.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchBooksHistoryReligion & Culture* Religion News & CommentaryOther Faiths* TheologyApologeticsTheology: Scripture

2 Comments
Posted March 30, 2015 at 5:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Thousands of supporters of Nigeria's main opposition party on Sunday demonstrated in the oil-rich state of Rivers, calling for the cancellation of elections locally because of alleged irregularities.

The demonstrators from the All Progressives Congress (APC) converged on the local offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the state capital, Port Harcourt.

"We are here to register our protest that there was no election in Rivers state yesterday (Saturday)," Rivers state governorship candidate Dakuku Peterside told the crowd.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relations* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 30, 2015 at 4:40 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In an act of extraordinary heroism, a parish warden stopped an Islamist terrorist from detonating a bomb during Sunday worship at Christ Church Youhanabad near Lahore, Pakistan. Fifteen people were murdered during twin attacks on Christ Church and the neighboring St John’s Catholic Church on 15 March 2015, but the heroism of Zahid Yousaf Goga (pictured with his wife, Akash and three children) prevented further bloodshed.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal* Christian Life / Church LifeLiturgy, Music, Worship* Culture-WatchChildrenMarriage & FamilyReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAsiaPakistan* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relations

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Posted March 29, 2015 at 4:40 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Under the shadow of Boko Haram violence, Nigerians head to the polls Saturday (March 28) to elect a president and a deputy in a vote observers say is critical for the country’s stability and economic progress.

In a twist that might have been difficult to predict, many Christians in Nigeria’s north are backing a Muslim candidate to lead their country away from the brink of violence and chaos.

Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim from the north and the leader of the All Progressives Congress party, is challenging the leadership of incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south who heads the ruling People’s Democratic Party.

Some Nigerians fear that another term for Jonathan would mean institutionalization of corruption and emergence of more Muslim extremist groups in addition to Boko Haram. And they are willing to pin their hopes on a Muslim candidate.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* Economics, PoliticsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relations* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 28, 2015 at 10:14 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In the past six years, Boko Haram has terrorized the northeast region and burned down entire communities, killing thousands of people and abducting many more, including more than 200 missing schoolgirls.

The people driven from their homes are posing a challenge for Nigeria's electoral commission. The U.N. Secretary General's special representative for West Africa and high representative for Nigeria, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, says displaced people must be allowed to vote.

"These elections must be inclusive," Chambas says. "I got the assurance of the electoral commissioner that all efforts would be made to ensure that Nigerians internally displaced, as a result of Boko Haram terrorist activity, are not denied their franchise."

Nigeria is also grappling with a new biometric, voter ID card-reading system, which had hiccups during dry runs ahead of Saturday's vote.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Economics, PoliticsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 27, 2015 at 4:10 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Philip Jenkins's contribution to The Globalization of Christianity (edited by Gordon Heath and Steven Studebaker) offers sobering and exciting news by turns.

On the sobering side, he describes the statistical stagnation of Christianity, and compares it to the spread of Islam. For the past century, Christianity has held steady at 1/3 of the human population. It's grown, of course, but it has not grown as a proportion of the world's population.

Islam has. “In 1900, the 200 to 220 million Muslims then living comprised some 12 or 13 percent of humanity, compared to 22.5 percent today, and a projected figure of 27.3 percent by 2050. Put another way, Christians in 1900 outnumbered Muslims by 2.8 to 1. Today that figure is 1.3 to 1, and by 2050 it should be 1.3 to 1. Put another way, there are four times as many Christians alive as there were in 1900; but over the same period, Muslims have grown at least seven-fold” (21).

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalGlobal South Churches & Primates* Christian Life / Church LifeChurch HistoryMissions* Culture-WatchGlobalizationHistoryReligion & Culture* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* Theology

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Posted March 27, 2015 at 3:40 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Last month I visited the Syrian refugee camp in Jordan known as Za’atari. With 80,000 occupants, the camp would be the fourth-largest city in Jordan. It occupies a vast desert plain, filled with endless rows of tents that are gradually being replaced with rows of metal-sided caravans. Za’atari is a dreary place, but it is teeming with resilient people.

Residents of camps like Za’atari make up only 20% of the nearly four million refugees who have fled Syria. The rest live in cities, where they are often unregistered and therefore ineligible for services. These refugees tend to live in squalor and are vulnerable to exploitation. Nearly 80% of the refugees are women and children. These figures don’t include the 12.2 million within Syria who are either internally displaced or in urgent need of help.

About 200,000 people have been killed in Syria, many after torture. A photographer, who documented these horrors for the regime but defected, smuggled his photos out of Syria; they were passed on to me by a Syrian non-governmental organization. These emaciated, disfigured corpses could be skeletal Jewish inmates photographed during the liberation of Dachau, but they aren’t. They are Syrian Muslims and Christians—and this is happening now.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchPovertyReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryForeign RelationsPolitics in General* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastSyria* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther ChurchesRoman CatholicOther FaithsIslamJudaism* TheologyEthics / Moral TheologyPastoral Theology

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Posted March 27, 2015 at 8:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Much has been written about extremist groups such as IS and al-Qaeda, which directly threaten Westerners at home or abroad. But little is understood about Boko Haram, its leaders and its beliefs. This is partly because it has made little effort to explain itself to the wider world, unlike jihadists such as IS who reach out to potential recruits using social media, and partly because journalists are unable to enter territory it controls safely. Moreover, its limited regional focus means that most Western intelligence agencies have viewed it as posing little international threat.

This book by Mike Smith, a journalist, sheds light both on its crackpot ideas—Yusuf insisted that the world was flat and that rain was made by God—and on the deep contradictions faced by people who propose to return to a sixth-century lifestyle. When asked why he had computer equipment and hospital facilities at his home, Yusuf replied, “These are technological products. Western education is different. Western education is westernisation.”

Yusuf’s successor, Abubakar Shekau, is a particularly enigmatic figure who is known largely through the brief videos his group has released. In one he justifies selling into slavery the schoolgirls kidnapped in Chibok: “Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell.” Each time Nigerian forces claim to have killed him, new videos emerge, though security officials question whether the same person appears in all the grainy images.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchBooksReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 27, 2015 at 5:15 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Anti-IS Sunnis think they should be armed again, as they were when the Americans fought al-Qaeda in Iraq, IS’s predecessor. But nobody is willing to give them weapons. “We wanted a national army,” says Ghazi Faisal al-Kuaud, a tribesman fighting alongside the government in Ramadi. “Instead they formed the Shia equivalent of IS.”

And Shia distrust of the Sunnis grows at a pace that matches that of the losses from its militias. Overlooking Najaf’s sprawling tombs, gravediggers talk of the brisk business they are doing burying militiamen. “I’ve never had it so busy,” says one. “Not even after 2003 or 2006 [the height of Iraq’s civil war].” The Sunnis “never accepted losing power from the time of Imam Ali, so why would they now?” asks Haider, a Shia shop owner. “Wherever you find Sunnis and you give them weapons, you will find IS,” says Bashar, a militiaman. Many Shias feel that the fight against IS justifies them in excluding Sunnis from government and the security apparatus.

The state that IS wanted to build looks more unlikely than ever to become a lasting reality, and that is good. The ruined territory on which it hoped to build, though, may end up even more damaged than it was at the outset.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchGlobalizationReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryForeign RelationsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaMiddle East* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 26, 2015 at 8:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

“Each week that passes we learn of more brutal Boko Haram abuses against civilians,” Mausi Segun, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement. “The Nigerian government needs to make protecting civilians a priority in military operations against Boko Haram.”

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 26, 2015 at 7:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Councillors are to discuss how best to manage large-scale funerals after one for a traveller from Cheshire attracted hundreds of mourners.

Holy Trinity Church in Blacon and Chester Crematorium were packed for the service marking 54-year-old Elton man "Pudgie" Evans's life on 30 January.

Cheshire West and Chester Council and Cheshire Constabulary worked together to manage the funeral.

Local residents were advised beforehand and roads shut for the funeral cortege....

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican ProvincesChurch of England (CoE)* Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryDeath / Burial / Funerals* Culture-WatchPsychologyReligion & Culture* Economics, PoliticsPolitics in General* International News & CommentaryEngland / UK* Religion News & CommentaryOther Faiths* Theology

2 Comments
Posted March 25, 2015 at 8:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

For reporting purposes at Barna, we often combine atheists and agnostics into one group, which we call skeptics....

[There]..are five demographic shifts among skeptics in the past two decades.

They are younger. Skeptics today are, on average, younger than in the past. Twenty years ago, 18 percent of skeptics were under 30 years old. Today that proportion has nearly doubled to 34 percent—nearly one-quarter of the total U.S. population (23%, compared to 17% in 1991). By the same token, the proportion of skeptics who are 65 or older has been cut in half, down to just 7 percent of the segment.

They are more educated. Today’s skeptics tend to be better educated than in the past. Two decades ago, one-third of skeptics were college graduates, but today half of the group has a college degree.

More of them are women....

Read it all.



Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureSociology* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsAtheism

1 Comments
Posted March 25, 2015 at 6:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The film,Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, is based on Lawrence Wright’s similarly titled book-length exposé and will premiere on March 29.

Since news emerged of the documentary, Scientologists have been trying to counter the film’s arguments which isn’t at all surprising considering Scientology’s notorious methods for dealing with its critics in the past.

The film, itself, covers one such stoush the Church had with the US Internal Revenue Service who was ready to rule that Scientology should pay tax because it isn’t a religion.

David Miscavige, the leader of the Church of Scientology, retaliated by persuading thousands of Scientologists to sue individual officials of the agency.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchHistoryMovies & TelevisionReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.* Religion News & CommentaryOther Faiths

3 Comments
Posted March 24, 2015 at 7:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The road from St. Matthew's brings you to the front line, just six miles from the outskirts of Mosul. Every town and village between here and the occupied city is in the hands of the Islamic State. And now, we're told, for the first time in nearly 2,000 years, there are no Christians left inside Mosul.

Archbishop Nicodemus Sharaf: They take everything from us, but they cannot take the God from our hearts, they cannot.

Nicodemus Sharaf is the Archbishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Mosul, one of about 10,000 Christians who fled the city. We found him living as a refugee in the Kurdish capital, Erbil. He said ISIS fighters were already inside Mosul when he escaped.

Archbishop Nicodemus Sharaf: I didn't have any time to take anything. I was told I had five minutes to go. Just I took five books that are very old.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeChurch History* Culture-WatchBooksHistoryReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraq* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 24, 2015 at 5:15 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

It was midnight when Babagana crept out of the Boko Haram hideout that had been his home for three days. Once he made his escape, he walked through the forest for hours before he found help. Like the other boys conscripted by the militants, he had been told that he would be hunted down and killed if he deserted.

“I didn’t leave with anything,” Babagana told me. “When the chance came to escape, I only had my pants on. I ran almost naked.”

Babagana was just 16 when militants invaded his town in northeastern Nigeria last May, butchering his parents as he watched, burning down his home, and forcing him to become one of thousands of Boko Haram soldiers.

Babagana still vividly recalls his involuntary induction into a world of misery. Boko Haram militants invaded the rural town of Gamboru in Borno State, burnt down houses and demanded that the local children be handed over to them. Parents who objected were killed, and a couple of children were forcefully taken.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryDeath / Burial / Funerals* Culture-WatchChildrenMarriage & FamilyReligion & CultureTeens / YouthViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam

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Posted March 23, 2015 at 4:30 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Radical Islamic groups are using high-quality videos to recruit young Muslims in the US and Europe to join their fight. Now, a Somali Muslim immigrant in Minnesota is fighting back with his own videos—an animated series called “Average Mohamed” that counters extremist ideas about Islam.

Read or watch it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchMediaReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* Theology

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Posted March 23, 2015 at 6:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

At the beginning of December [2014] I went on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury, for a few days to the north of Iraq, to Kurdistan, first to Erbil, the Kurdish capital, and then a three-hour journey to Dohuk. I went to see and know at firsthand the situation of the many thousands displaced by the forces of the Islamic State, which in August last year over-ran Mosul, Iraq’s second city, and then swept across the Nineveh plain, with its many Christian villages.

In one camp, in the grounds of Mar Elias Church, they were putting up their Christmas crib. It was in a tent, a tent like those which had been the shelter for families who had had to flee from their homes, their culture, their churches. As they put up the tent, and placed the nativity figures in it, of Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child, with the shepherds and the angels, it was a indeed a reminder of the reality of the Incarnation: God chose to come down into our midst – he pitched his tent among us.

The advance of ISIS forces, with their distorted fanatical interpretation of Islam, and appalling associated brutality, echoes the invasion of the Mongols centuries earlier, which likewise had devastating consequences for the Christian population of what is now Iraq. Christians and Christianity in the Middle East are under threat as never before. They find themselves ground so often between upper and nether millstones – between the conflict between Sunni and Shia, or between Israel and Palestine.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalArchbishop of Canterbury Anglican ProvincesChurch of England (CoE)CoE Bishops* Christian Life / Church LifeSpirituality/Prayer* Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle East* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesOther FaithsIslam* Theology

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Posted March 23, 2015 at 5:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

For all its brutality, ISIS is often praised for its social media savvy and a passion among its members akin to that of a very famous Silicon Valley start-up, says one Muslim social media entrepreneur. The way to defeat the group’s extremism is by harnessing the creativity of entrepreneurs, he says.

Listen to it all (about 4 minutes).

Filed under: * Culture-WatchGlobalizationMediaReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsEconomyConsumer/consumer spendingCorporations/Corporate LifeTerrorism* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* Theology

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Posted March 22, 2015 at 5:05 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

To understand where this cyber-libertarian ideology came from, you have to understand the influence of “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” one of the strangest artifacts of the ’90s, and its singular author, John Perry Barlow. Perhaps more than any other, it’s his philosophy — which melded countercultural utopianism, a rancher’s skepticism toward government and a futurist’s faith in the virtual world — that shaped the industry.

The problem is, we’ve reaped what he sowed.

Generally the province of fascists, artists or fascist artists, manifestos are a dying form. It takes gall to have published one anytime after, say, 1938. But “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” was an utterly serious document for a deliriously optimistic era that Wired, on one of its many valedictory covers, promised was a “long boom”: “25 years of prosperity, freedom, and a better environment for the whole world.” Techno-skeptics need not apply.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchGlobalizationHistoryPhilosophyPsychologyScience & Technology* Economics, PoliticsEconomyConsumer/consumer spendingCorporations/Corporate LifePolitics in General* Religion News & CommentaryOther Faiths* TheologyAnthropologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 22, 2015 at 4:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Religious practice can certainly be targeted as a pursuit of the hopeful, the faith-based and the uncertain. But they badly overreach when they attack the intellectual underpinnings of Judeo-Christianity, from the ancient Judaic scholars and the Apostles to Augustine to Aquinas to Newman; deny the existence of any spiritual phenomena at all; debunk the good works and cultural creativity and conservation of the major religion; and deny that the general religious message of trying conscientiously to distinguish right from wrong as a matter of duty and social desirability is the supreme criterion of civilization. The theists defend their basic position fairly easily and only get into heavy weather when they over-invest in the literal truth of all the scriptures — though the evidence for veracity of the New Testament is stronger than the skeptics admit, including of Christ’s citations of God himself: “And God said …”

It is in the nature of the world that we don’t know, but the decline of Christianity is much more of a delusion than God is and even more wishful, and the serious defenders of a divine intelligence such as the delightful John Lennox almost always win the argument, as he did with Dawkins and the rest. There is a long way between these two poles, and agnosticism is a much more rigorous position than the belligerence of the proselytizing atheists, but that is not a stance that stirs serious people to militancy. They have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther FaithsAtheism

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Posted March 22, 2015 at 3:08 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

...the trickle of volunteers has come from across the country. On Tuesday, a 47-year-old Air Force veteran with a checkered work history was charged in Brooklyn with trying to join the Islamic State. Two weeks earlier, a computer-savvy 17-year-old boy in Virginia was charged with helping a man a few years older make contact with the terrorist group and get to Syria.

The cases raise a pressing question: Is the slick online propaganda that ISIS has mastered enough to lure recruits, or is face-to-face persuasion needed? A federal grand jury in Minneapolis is investigating whether an Islamic State recruiter gave Mr. Nur and Mr. Yusuf cash to buy plane tickets.

“No young person gets up one day and says, ‘I’m going to join ISIS,’ ” said Abdirizak Bihi, 50, a Somali activist who has worked against radicalization since his nephew left Minnesota in 2008 and was killed fighting for the Shabab.

“There has to be someone on the ground to listen to your problems and channel your anger,” Mr. Bihi said. “Online is like graduate studies.”

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchBlogging & the Internet--Social NetworkingGlobalizationReligion & CultureViolenceYoung Adults* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle East* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 22, 2015 at 12:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Boko Haram forcibly married scores of women in Bama after seizing it in September. Nigeria's military announced the recapture of the town on Monday.

Witnesses who were taken under military protection this week to Borno's capital, Maiduguri, 73 kilometres (45 miles) away, said the killing of women began 10 days before Bama was liberated.

The Islamists said if they kill their wives, "they would remain pious until both of them meet again in heaven, where they would re-unite," said Salma Mahmud, another witness.

"He informed them of the situation and the consequence of the takeover of the town by the advancing troops. He warned them that when soldiers killed them, they would take their wives back to the society where they would be forced to marry and live with infidels. The commander said it would be better for them to kill their wives and send them to heaven," the mother-of-seven said.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 22, 2015 at 11:02 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Right now, in Syria and Iraq, militant Islamists are taking over churches by force and turning them in to mosques. In the Church of England, apparently, all that’s needed is an ask. On March 6, in the heart of London, St. John’s Waterloo hosted a Muslim prayer service or “Jummah” in the sanctuary, on consecrated ground. Apparently the “Inclusive Jummah” was exclusive of anything Christian—hence what appears to be the covering up of all Christian imagery so as not to offend the worshippers.

Can you think of anything more bewildering, more offensive to Anglican followers of Jesus Christ and others who are suffering persecution at the hands of radical Muslims—watching their children beheaded by ISIS in places like Mosul, Iraq because they would not deny Jesus Christ? Watching their loved ones burned alive in hundreds of Anglican churches in Northern Nigeria by members of Boko Haram? Watching their relatives and friends be blown up during Sunday worship services by Islamic extremists in Pakistan?

Would it seem to them simply “a strange and erroneous opinion”?

And what sense could they possibly make of the relative silence and inaction of the bishops in the Church of England who are overseers of this church—the Bishop of Southwark, the area bishop who directly oversees this congregation, as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury who is, apparently, the patron of St. John’s?

Well, there has been an “apology” by the Vicar of St. John’s, in a joint statement from the Bishop of Southwark. But in fact it isn’t an apology at all. The apology is only for the “offence” that it caused, for the “infringement” of the “guidelines and framework” of the Church of England. There is no acknowledgement that this service denied a core doctrine of the Christian faith. No acknowledgement that it was simply wrong to cover up Christian symbols and to permit a prayer service that begins with the assertion that only Allah is God and Muhammed his prophet.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalArchbishop of Canterbury Anglican ProvincesChurch of England (CoE)CoE Bishops* Christian Life / Church LifeLiturgy, Music, WorshipParish MinistryMinistry of the OrdainedSpirituality/Prayer* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral TheologyPastoral TheologyThe Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit

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Posted March 21, 2015 at 3:07 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

On New Year’s Day, President al-Sisi of Egypt made a remarkable speech. How, he asked, could belief in Islam make Muslim nations a “source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction”?

“Is it possible”, he added, “that 1.6 billion people should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants — that is seven billion — so that they themselves may live?” He was asking where the mechanism of restraining Islamic violence lay.

But this heroic intervention has not sparked a worldwide theological debate among Muslims. The only perceivable response was the slaughter of 21 Egyptian Copts by Isis in Libya.

To understand the lack of protest by moderate Muslims, we need to look at Islam on its own terms and not try to see it through “Christianised” spectacles....

Read it all (requires subscription)

Filed under: * Culture-WatchBooksHistoryReligion & CultureViolence* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 21, 2015 at 1:01 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

For example, I believe that:

Religion is a human construct
The symbols of faith are products of human cultural evolution
Jesus may have been an historical figure, but most of what we know about him is in the form of legend
God is a symbol of myth-making and not credible as a supernatural being or force
The Bible is a human product as opposed to special revelation from a divine being
Human consciousness is the result of natural selection, so there’s no afterlife

In short, I regard the symbols of Christianity from a non-supernatural point of view.

And yet, even though I hold those beliefs, I am still a proud minister. But I don’t appreciate being told that I’m not truly a Christian.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryMinistry of the Ordained* Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesPresbyterianOther Faiths* Theology

3 Comments
Posted March 20, 2015 at 2:01 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Jihadists from the Islamic State (IS) group may have committed genocide and war crimes against the minority Yazidi community in Iraq, the UN says.

In a new report, it says IS had "the intent... to destroy the Yazidi as a group."

Tens of thousands of Yazidis fled villages in northern Iraq amid IS advances last summer. Many were killed, captured and enslaved.

Yazidis follow an ancient faith that jihadists regard as devil worship.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraq* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 19, 2015 at 4:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe is not—or should not be—a surprise. One of the least surprising phenomena in the history of civilization, in fact, is the persistence of anti-Semitism in Europe, which has been the wellspring of Judeophobia for 1,000 years. The Church itself functioned as the centrifuge of anti-Semitism from the time it rebelled against its mother religion until the middle of the 20th century. As Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Great Britain, has observed, Europe has added to the global lexicon of bigotry such terms as Inquisition, blood libel, auto‑da‑fé, ghetto, pogrom, and Holocaust. Europe has blamed the Jews for an encyclopedia of sins. The Church blamed the Jews for killing Jesus; Voltaire blamed the Jews for inventing Christianity. In the febrile minds of anti-Semites, Jews were usurers and well-poisoners and spreaders of disease. Jews were the creators of both communism and capitalism; they were clannish but also cosmopolitan; cowardly and warmongering; self-righteous moralists and defilers of culture. Ideologues and demagogues of many permutations have understood the Jews to be a singularly malevolent force standing between the world and its perfection....

The Anne Frank House has never had a Jewish director (though Hinterleitner pointed out that at least two members of the board must have a “Jewish background”), and I would learn later that it is widely understood in Amsterdam’s Jewish community that Jews should not bother applying for the job. Hinterleitner said that the museum addresses anti-Semitism in the context of larger societal ills, but also that it recently issued a strong press statement condemning anti-Semitic acts in the Netherlands and elsewhere. He said the museum has made an intensive study of anti-Semitism in the Netherlands, and has learned that most verbal expressions of anti-Semitism in secondary schools come from boys and are related to soccer.

The Anne Frank House is merely a simulacrum of a Jewish institution in part because, as its head of communications told me, Anne’s father said that her diary “wasn’t about being Jewish,” but also, Hinterleitner suggested, because a museum devoted too obsessively to the details of a particular genocide might not draw visitors in sufficient numbers. “We want people to be interested in this issue, people from all walks of life. So we talk about the universal components of Anne Frank’s story as well. Our work is about tolerance and understanding.”

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchHistoryReligion & CultureViolence* International News & CommentaryEurope* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsJudaism* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 19, 2015 at 1:32 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

A priest in the diocese of Southwark who opened us his church for Muslim prayers has apologised after being told that this was not permitted within a consecrated building.

The Vicar of St John's, Waterloo, the Canon Giles Goddard, said on Tuesday that the event had caused "great consternation", and he apologised for "the offence caused and any infringement of Church of England's framework and guidelines".

The prayers were held on 6 March as part of the Inclusive Mosque Initiative, in the run-up to International Women's Day. They were led by Dr Amina Wadud who campaigns for gender justice in Islam. Men and women sat alongside one another in the church.

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Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican ProvincesChurch of England (CoE)* Christian Life / Church LifeLiturgy, Music, WorshipParish MinistryMinistry of the Ordained* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relations* Theology

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Posted March 18, 2015 at 11:45 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Complaints about the service prompted a meeting on 10 March 2015 between Canon Goddard and the Bishop of Kingston-on-Thames, the Rt. Rev. Richard Cheetham -- who also services as Anglican president of the Christian Muslim Forum. After the meeting Canon Goddard gave an interview to Ruth Gledhill of Christian Today stating everything his church did was legal and within bishops' guidelines.

He added: ‘It is very much about St John’s being a place of welcome. We understand God as a generous God, a God who celebrates love and celebrates life.”

‘We try and make sure we live that out. In that sense we feel very properly Anglican.’

However, Dr. Gerald Bray, director of research at the Latimer Trust at Oak Hill Theological College in London questioned Canon Goddard’s views about Islam and Christianity. Writing on Facebook he said: “The simple truth is that Islam is the only major world religion that is explicitly anti-Christian. The Buddha, for example, could not have known anything about Jesus and did not develop his ideas in contrast to Christ. Muhammad, on the other hand, knew about Christians and Jews and could easily have become one or the other himself. Instead, he concocted his own religion based on elements of Judaism and Christianity and regarded it is the culmination (perfection) of both. You could say that Islam is related to Christianity in much the same way as Mormonism is, but this does not constitute 'a common tradition’.”

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Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican ProvincesChurch of England (CoE)* Christian Life / Church LifeLiturgy, Music, WorshipParish MinistryMinistry of the Ordained* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther FaithsIslam* Theology

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Posted March 18, 2015 at 11:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Nigerian army said on Tuesday it had repelled Boko Haram from all but three local government districts in the northeast, claiming victory for its offensive against the Islamist insurgents less than two weeks before a presidential election.

At the start of this year, Boko Haram controlled around 20 local government areas, a territory the size of Belgium, in its bloody six-year-old campaign to carve out an Islamic state in religiously mixed Nigeria.

But a concerted push by Nigeria's military and neighbors Chad, Cameroon and Niger has regained considerable ground. At the weekend, Nigerian government forces recaptured the city of Bama, the second biggest in northeasterly Borno state.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 17, 2015 at 5:04 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

If religions are natural for humans and give value to their lives, why spend your life trying to persuade others to give them up?

The answer that will be given is that religion is implicated in many human evils. Of course this is true. Among other things, Christianity brought with it a type of sexual repression unknown in pagan times. Other religions have their own distinctive flaws. But the fault is not with religion, any more than science is to blame for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or medicine and psychology for the refinement of techniques of torture. The fault is in the intractable human animal. Like religion at its worst, contemporary atheism feeds the fantasy that human life can be remade by a conversion experience – in this case, conversion to unbelief.

Evangelical atheists at the present time are missionaries for their own values. If an earlier generation promoted the racial prejudices of their time as scientific truths, ours aims to give the illusions of contemporary liberalism a similar basis in science. It’s possible to envision different varieties of atheism developing – atheisms more like those of Freud, which didn’t replace God with a flattering image of humanity. But atheisms of this kind are unlikely to be popular. More than anything else, our unbelievers seek relief from the panic that grips them when they realise their values are rejected by much of humankind. What today’s freethinkers want is freedom from doubt, and the prevailing version of atheism is well suited to give it to them.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchHistoryPhilosophyPsychologyReligion & CultureScience & Technology* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesOther FaithsAtheism* TheologyAnthropologyApologetics

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Posted March 16, 2015 at 4:40 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

On a damp and dreary Saturday two months ago, several hundred mourners gathered outside City Hall here for a memorial service honoring Dr. Maher Hathout. Born in Egypt and trained as a cardiologist, Dr. Hathout, 79, had devoted decades to espousing a moderate version of Islam and reaching across denominational lines to other faiths.

So there was nothing surprising about the presence of rabbis and priests, Sikhs and Episcopalians at the service. The unexpected moment came when a man in a different sort of vestment, the dark blue uniform of the Los Angeles Police Department, knelt before Dr. Hathout’s widow and presented her with the carefully folded triangle of an American flag.

For the man in the uniform, Deputy Chief Michael Downing, that moment distilled the uncommon role he has within the department. While his full title aptly describes his investigative mission — commanding officer of the counterterrorism and special operations bureau — it omits what has become the signature element of his 33-year career. In a city with a history of traumatic, adversarial relations between the police force and various minority groups, Muslims among them, Chief Downing has forged bonds that are both durable and contentious.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchLaw & Legal IssuesPolice/FireReligion & Culture* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam

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Posted March 14, 2015 at 11:28 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

For his sane and timely books, like 2010’s “Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All,” the pediatrician Paul A. Offit takes much abuse from anti-vaccine activists. He has been called a liar, a profiteer and — in the words of one activist group — a “millionaire vaccine industrialist.”

In “What Would Jesus Do About Measles?,” his New York Times Op-Ed last month, Dr. Offit addressed the false conflict that some perceive between medicine and religious faith, writing that if religion “teaches us anything, it’s to care about our children, to keep them safe.” His new book, “Bad Faith,” offers a history of episodes in which fringe groups abjured modern medicine, with deadly consequences. And he continues his argument that religion, properly understood, should welcome vaccines, as well as other medical interventions.

Unfortunately, Dr. Offit’s book is more a fervent attack job than an earnest attempt to understand people with different, if misguided views. His book is thinly sourced and poorly researched, seeming at times as if he began with a conclusion and then went in search of evidence.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchBooksHealth & MedicineReligion & CultureScience & Technology* Religion News & CommentaryOther Faiths* TheologyAnthropologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 13, 2015 at 5:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Saudi Arabia defended its human rights record on Saturday in its first public reaction to international criticism over last year's sentencing of liberal Saudi blogger Raif Badawi to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for "insulting Islam".

The first 50 of Badawi's lashes were carried out in January, prompting strong criticism of the kingdom's rights record in Western countries, including its laws on political and religious expression and the status of Saudi women.

"Saudi Arabia expresses its intense surprise and dismay at what is being reported by some media about the case of citizen Raif Badawi and his sentence," said a statement carried on state media and attributed to an unnamed "foreign ministry official".

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchBlogging & the InternetGlobalizationLaw & Legal IssuesMediaReligion & Culture* Economics, PoliticsForeign RelationsPolitics in General* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyAnthropologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 11, 2015 at 6:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Memories of Boko Haram's murderous spree in his Nigerian hometown haunt Tom Gowon, 9, as he sits on a patch of grass at a refugee camp, sipping steaming porridge from a plastic mug.

"I was lucky because I was not killed," said Gowon, recalling the assault on Baga, Nigeria, in early January. "But they shot and killed my father. My mother was kidnapped by the militants."

Children such as Gowon bear the brunt of Boko Haram's rampage since its fighters kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls last year and conquered enough territory to declare a caliphate that covers one-fifth of Nigeria.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchChildrenReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaChadNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 11, 2015 at 5:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Nigerian militant group Boko Haram’s vow of allegiance to Islamic State shows it’s being weakened by a military offensive by government forces and neighboring countries, according to analysts including Martin Roberts at IHS Country Risk.

Boko Haram made the pledge of unity with Islamic State as forces from neighboring Chad and Niger joined Nigerian soldiers in strikes against the group. In fighting over the weekend, the armies took control of Damasak, about 700 kilometers (435 miles) north of the capital, Abuja, from rebels who had held the territory for five months. Nigerian soldiers on Monday killed “a number” of insurgents in northeastern Adamawa state and seized anti-aircraft guns and ammunition, military spokesman Colonel Sani Usman said in an e-mail on Tuesday.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeriaMiddle East* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 10, 2015 at 7:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Through most of their history, Christian churches de­manded that converts forsake traditional religious ideas and “pagan practices,” and modern-day Pentecostals are especially strict in these matters. In recent times, though, Christian thinkers have struggled to rethink the relationship between the new faith and its ancient counterpart, seeking to root Christianity in the land and the Dreaming. The most quoted such work is Rainbow Spirit Theology, produced in 1997 by a multidenominational group of Aboriginal Christians from Queensland. The whole text is a heroic attempt to reconcile the Euro-American North with the Aboriginal South.

Aboriginal thinkers present their traditional faiths as a kind of Old Testament precursor to the Christian message, one of the many and various ways in which God spoke to our ancestors. The name “Rainbow Spirit” refers to the common myth of the serpent that acted as a creative force in the Dreamtime. Christians generally dismissed this story as a crude Creator myth, with uncomfortably satanic connotations. Actually, these traditional peoples respond, the Rain­bow Serpent is a critical symbol of life and fertility, more comparable to the Holy Spirit, whose actions transcend time. Moreover, indigenous peoples acknowledge Christ as one who takes their own form.

In 2020 Australia will celebrate a quarter millennium of European contact. That commemoration provides a wonderful opportunity for churches to proclaim a wholly transformed attitude to­ward indi­genous traditions. Call it a dream.

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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeChurch HistoryMissions* Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryAustralia / NZ* Religion News & CommentaryOther Faiths* Theology

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Posted March 10, 2015 at 7:15 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Events surrounding the apparent suicide of Tom Schweich, Missouri’s Republican state auditor and a contender for the governor’s office, have left some grappling with the connection between anti-Semitism and state politics.

Kenneth Warren, a professor of political science at St. Louis University, said he has no doubt that Jewish candidates face greater obstacles when running for statewide office in Missouri.

“All other things being equal, if you’re running statewide it would be better to be non Jewish,” Warren said. “It’s certainly not going to be a help.”

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* Economics, PoliticsPolitics in General* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsJudaism

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Posted March 9, 2015 at 11:06 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Forces from the group calling itself Islamic State launched a fresh offensive to overrun a string of Christian towns in northeastern Syria on Saturday, setting off violent clashes with local fighters mobilized against the militants.

A mixture of Assyrian Christians and Kurds fought off the Islamic State assault, activist groups said, just a week after extremists took about 250 people in the area—many women, children and elderly men.

The contested towns are along the Khabur river in al-Hasaka province, a strategic gateway that would help Islamic State consolidate territory it holds in Iraq and Syria. The population of the area is predominately Christian, while the Kurds are a minority.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraqSyria* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relations* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 8, 2015 at 12:30 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

CORNISH: Sitting next to Ala is Magdy Khaleel. He's 46 and Egyptian. He teaches architecture at the Technical University of Dresden. He says the fear of the protesters was very real.

MAGDY KHALEEL: We have families here and some people have been attacked, so we are a little bit worried. When you are sitting, you don't know who is with you in the metro or in the tram. You don't know he's with PEGIDA or against PEGIDA, so this has increased the feeling among people - so I should be careful, maybe he stab me. This is not comfortable life, you know? But we found some solidarity from different communities here in Dresden as well.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchHistoryReligion & Culture* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, Military* International News & CommentaryEuropeGermany* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam

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Posted March 8, 2015 at 12:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS), according to an audio statement.

The message, which was not verified, was posted on Boko Haram's Twitter account and appeared to be by the group's leader, Abubakar Shekau.

Boko Haram began a military campaign to impose Islamic rule in northern Nigeria in 2009. The conflict has since spread to neighbouring states.

It would be the latest in a series of groups to swear allegiance to IS.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeriaMiddle East* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 7, 2015 at 5:16 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

“We’re moving on Salahaddin,” said Badr Organization spokesman and military commander Karim al-Nouri. “And there are three names that strike fear in the heart of daesh: Hajj Qassem Suleimani, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and Hadi al-Amiri.”

These three figures might not be household names in Indiana, but in Iraq they are the biggest stars within the constellation of Shiite militias that are now trying to drive the Islamic State out of Tikrit, the capital of Salahaddin province. Suleimani, who is the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, regularly travels around the Middle East to lend support to Tehran’s allies; Muhandis, who is the leader of the Kataib Hezbollah militia, was convicted for the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait; and Amiri is the commander of the Badr Organization, one of Iraq’s largest and most prominent Shiite militias. Together, they form the backbone of Iranian influence in Iraq, which is at its highest point in almost four centuries.

Iraq’s Shiite militias have seen their influence skyrocket since last summer, as they have played a central role in beating back the Islamic State’s advance in Baghdad and the surrounding area. Tikrit, however, presents them with new challenges: It is the largest predominantly Sunni city that they have sought to reclaim, and U.S. officials have warned of a sectarian bloodbath if the militias launch an offensive there.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryForeign RelationsPolitics in General* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.Middle EastIranIraq* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 7, 2015 at 11:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

As a convoy of trucks carrying smoked fish cruised along the border of Niger and Nigeria last week, a Nigerien Air Force plane swooped low and opened fire, destroying the trucks and forcing the drivers to flee into Nigeria on foot.

The ill-fated fishmongers, Nigerien officials said, were collaborating with Boko Haram to sell their goods in Nigeria, despite Niger’s recent ban on cross-border fish trades. (Residents of Niger are called Nigerien; those from Nigeria are known as Nigerian). According to the Nigerien government, Boko Haram taxes goods transported through the territory the group controls to add to its cash reserves and finance terrorism, and the recent ban is intended to choke the Islamist group’s resources.

This alleged collaboration between rural fish traders and members of Boko Haram sheds some light on the group’s murky funding tactics, which differ sharply from those of other terrorist groups. In Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State has profited from illicit oil sales and bank lootings. Al Qaeda weaved an intricate financial web of sympathetic mosques, fake charities, and drug sales. In Afghanistan, the Taliban taxes opium and raisins. But in the largely impoverished Lake Chad basin, Boko Haram is now raising money by ignoring the rich and targeting the poor, an unusually cruel tactic that takes struggling innocents and pushes them over the financial cliff.

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Filed under: * Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 6, 2015 at 6:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Purim approaches. Its narrative concerns an ancient Jew-hater, the Haman whose name we traditionally make noise at when the Megilla, or Book of Esther, is read in synagogue.

The narrative is a virtual parade of ironies: Haman turns up at just the wrong place at just the wrong time, and ends up being tasked with arranging honors for his nemesis Mordechai. All his careful planning ends up upended, and the gallows he prepared for Mordechai become his hanging-place. In the words of the Megilla, v’nahafoch hu, “and it was turned inside out.”

Such “chance” happenings are the hallmark of the defeat of Amalek, the irredeemable and sworn enemy of the Jews and Haman’s ancestor. Amalek, the Torah recounts, “chanced” upon the Jews (“karcha baderech,” literally, “happened upon you on the road”), a phrase that has been stressed in Jewish texts as reflecting that enemy nation’s belief that all is mere chance, and nothing is meaningful. That “chance-iness” is reflected as well in Haman’s “casting of lots,” or purim, from which the holiday takes its name. But chance, the message of Purim teaches, is an illusion; God is in charge. Amalek may fight with iron, but he is defeated with irony.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchHistoryReligion & Culture* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsJudaism* TheologyTheology: Scripture

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Posted March 5, 2015 at 4:30 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]




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