Showing posts with label Religion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Religion. Show all posts

May 23, 2020

Pastor Dies of Corona virus After laying Hands on Infected Followers and Declaring Them Healed


By Moki Edwin Kindzeka

CAMEROON - Panic has gripped several hundred people after a popular Cameroon pastor and candidate in the central African state’s last presidential election, Frankline Ndifor, died of COVID-19 following his prayers that hundreds of his supporters  cured of the coronavirus. Cameroon police used force to gain access to his residence in the economic capital city Douala, as some of his supporters blocked entrances, praying for his resurrection.
Hundreds of followers sang Sunday morning at Ndifor’s Douala residence  that the man popularly referred to as the prophet is not dead, but he is rather on a spiritual retreat with God and will return soon. Their singing and prayers were broadcast by several local radio stations.
Ndifor died and was buried in front of his residence Saturday by workers of Cameroon’s COVID-19 response team in Douala.
Doctor Gaelle Nnanga said by messaging application from Douala that Ndifor died less than a week after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
He says that some members of Ndifor’s Kingship International Ministries Church called him to come to the pastor’s aid when they found out Ndifor was in agony, and that when the medical team he leads arrived, Ndifor was having  severe respiratory difficulties. He says the pastor died less than 10 minutes after they treated him. 
Douala Cameroon
The governor of Cameroon’s coastal region, where Douala is, said in a release he deployed police to force their way to Ndifor’s residence when his followers chased medical staff away, claiming that the pastor was on a spiritual retreat with God, rather than dead, and should not be buried.
Ndifor follower Rigobert Che says the "prophet" last Wednesday prayed for him and several dozen people diagnosed with COVID-19, and some who suspected they were carriers or had symptoms. He says via a messaging application that Ndifor’s death has brought panic to the hundreds of people who have been visiting him for prayers for a divine cure. 
"This is a pastor that has been laying hands [on the sick] and claiming that he cures COVID-19," Che said. "If you, the person that claims that you are curing COVID-19, you are dead, what about the fellow people that were affected by the COVID-19? Now that he is dead, I do not know how the people that he was laying hands on will be healed."
Medical staff are asking all those who came in contact with the pastor to report to hospitals to be tested for COVID-19.
Besides praying for COVID-19 patients at his home and his church, Ndifor was also donating buckets and soap to the poor to protect themselves from the coronavirus by washing their hands. His last public outing was on April 20, when he went out into Douala’s streets to distribute facemasks. 
Ndifor had a reputation as a miracle healer, and he was a contender in Cameroon’s 2018 presidential election, emerging seventh out of nine candidates, with 23, 687 votes.

March 4, 2020

A Utah Legislator Wants No Abortions and Your Penis in The Law: "No ejaculation outside of vagina"

It always starts with the lie and when they see an opening they open up to the real reasons: "No sex unless we tell you how." Sounds crazy but this is the way is been and still is. The real evil thing is they want to make it law! As one of those "Christians", I was so guilty the first time I masturbated. I cried and promised to JC I will not do it again. I even stop using briefs because I will become arouse switched to shorts and Pj"s in bed. These people live on other people's guilt. They do as they want but they want others to do as they say is right. Why? Power. Having power over another human being is very turn on to these religious people. In procreation and sex which are the most powerful impulses on most people, why not regulate that? Why I know? Because I know them. By the way, They also want to regulate Viagra.

As the Utah state Senate advanced a law last week that could one day ban almost all abortions, one female legislator tried to slow its passage with an eleventh-hour amendment: outlawing “a male from causing an ejaculation to occur outside of a vagina.”

Under the bill, most abortions would become illegal if Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide, were ever overturned. But the amendment would also ban men from carelessly tossing away sperm during “(A) masturbation; (B) coitus interruptus; or (C) any other method used to cause an ejaculation.” 

The amendment failed. But that’s kind of the point.

Over the last few years, lawmakers who support abortion rights have adopted an off-the-wall tactic to strike back at extreme abortion restrictions: introducing bills that would limit men’s reproductive rights. By exposing the apparent absurdity of regulating masturbation — and even vasectomies and Viagra — these legislators are hoping to make the conservatives who back near-total abortion bans look like hypocrites.

“It always takes two to tango.”

In 2019, they upped their game in response to a deluge of efforts to ban abortion early in pregnancy. Seven states ultimately passed legislation to eliminate legal abortion at eight weeks of pregnancy or earlier, a trend that would have once been unthinkable even among anti-abortion activists. Alabama’s law, in particular, would outlaw nearly all abortions.

“It always takes two to tango,” said Alabama Democratic Rep. Rolanda Hollis, who recently proposed a bill to force men to have vasectomies once they hit 50 or have three children, whichever comes first. The men would be forced to pay for the vasectomies.

That bill is meant to “neutralize” Alabama’s ban, which would also prohibit abortions in the case of rape and incest, Hollis told Her bill notes, “Under existing law, there are no restrictions on the reproductive rights of men.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, noted abortion opponent, didn’t quite get the double-standard reference. 

“Yikes!” the Texas Republican tweeted in response to the bill. “A government big enough to give you everything is big enough to take everything ... literally!”

After the Georgia state House passed a bill to ban abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, Democratic state Rep. Dar'shun Kendrick announced in March that she would be authoring a bill to ban vasectomies. She called the legislation a “testicular bill of rights.”

Under Kendrick’s proposal, having sex without a condom would be considered “aggravated assault” and men who want to purchase porn or sex toys in Georgia would be required to wait 24 hours. (Georgia requires abortion patients to wait 24 hours between receiving counseling on the procedure and actually undergoing it. Twenty-six other states have similar waiting periods, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion restrictions.)

“I’m dead serious,” Kendrick told Rolling Stone. “If you’re going to legislate our bodies, then we have every right to propose legislation to regulate yours.” 

That same week, five Georgia legislators — including Kendrick — filed a bill that also aimed to regulate men’s bodies. It had a very simple, two-line suggestion: “Any male 55 years of age or older shall immediately report to the county sheriff or local law enforcement agency when such male releases sperm from his testicles.” 

The idea of using satirical legislation to highlight government control over women’s bodies goes back at least as far as 2012, when then-state Sen. Constance Johnson, an Oklahoma Democrat, introduced a handwritten amendment to a failed bill that defined human life as beginning at conception.

“Any action in which a man ejaculates or otherwise deposits semen anywhere but in a woman's vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child,” the amendment reads.

Some of the tactic’s biggest hits also include former Texas state Rep. Jessica Farrar’s “Men’s Right to Know Act,” a riff on the “A Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet that Texas requires abortion providers to offer patients. In addition to charging men $100 per “masturbatory emission” — which Farrar, a Democrat, described as “an act against an unborn child, and failing to preserve the sanctity of life” — the 2017 bill also suggested creating a “hospital masturbatory assistance registry” to help men stay abstinent and store semen.

Under the bill, men who want vasectomies, colonoscopies, or Viagra would also have to undergo what the bill freely admitted is a “medically-unnecessary digital rectal exam.” In Texas, abortion providers are legally required to show and narrate an ultrasound of the fetus, regardless of whether a patient wants to see or listen to it. But because women often get abortions too early for “jelly on the belly” ultrasounds, doctors must use a transvaginal ultrasound — meaning, they have to stick a wand up a woman’s vagina. 

Then there’s the bill Kentucky Democratic state Rep. Mary Lou Marzian proposed in 2016, which would require a man who wants erectile dysfunction drugs to visit his doctor twice, on separate days, before getting a prescription. Today, 14 states, including Kentucky, mandate that women who want abortions visit the clinic twice, according to Guttmacher.

Under the bill, only married men could receive these drugs and their spouses would have to provide written permission for the prescription. The man would also be required to “make a sworn statement with his hand on a Bible that he will only use a prescription for a drug for erectile dysfunction when having sexual relations with his current spouse,” according to the bill.

January 14, 2020

Joel Olsteen and His Shady Sides



Joel Osteen has endured plenty of criticism throughout his career. The toothy preacher has come under fire for everything from his physical appearance to his spiritual beliefs to his lack of theological training. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the Houston, Texas-based pastor attracted a lot of heat for allegedly not doing enough to help, like so many selfless community members actually did, becoming heroes in the process. 

But this preacher had already weathered plenty of controversies prior to the waters of Buffalo Bayou rising up around the southeast Texas city. From not being quick enough to condemn some clearly objectionable behavior, to being accused of misrepresenting the basic tenets of Christianity in a variety of ways, Osteen's public image is far from that of a flawless saint.

Let's take a look at what potentially lurks beneath this holy man's bright smile. This is the shady side of Joel Osteen.
Though leaders of other mega-churches condemned white supremacists and racist attitudes after an August 2017 neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va. left one woman dead and several others injured, Osteen kept noticeably mum. His only comment on the incident, and on the topic as a whole, was a vague Facebook post: "One of the biggest challenges we all face is getting along with people because everyone is different. We have different personalities, different temperaments. We come from different backgrounds. When somebody doesn't agree with us or not doing what we like, it's easy to get in conflict with them, to argue, to try to straighten them out, to prove our point. No, you have to be the bigger person. Just because they're doing wrong doesn't mean you have to engage." 

In March 2017, Radar Online reported that Osteen and Lakewood Church were being sued by a family accusing a church staff member of body-slamming its baby girl. Court documents obtained by the site claim that in May 2014, "A representative of the church grabbed a child safety seat housing Victoria Wedderburn, a minor, and threw the seat off the church pew... [Victoria] landed face-first on the floor, while still strapped to the safety seat...[causing] serious bodily injury and extensive mental and emotional damage."

Osteen's attorneys claimed the "incident [that] made the basis of this suit was caused by the actions of third parties over whom the [Osteens] had no control." Osteen also claimed the 

church and its employees he had no liability for the incident, based on the "Charitable Immunity Act." The church reportedly settled with the Wedderburn family for $15,000, despite asserting it had no wrongdoing and that the claims were entirely made up.

 In February 2010, a Lakewood Church volunteer in the church's special needs children's ministry, the Champions Club, was accused of "inappropriate" sexual conduct with a special needs child, leading to a Child Protective Services investigation into the organization, Radar Online reported. Court documents obtained by Radar revealed that a female volunteer "allegedly witnessed [Alvaro Daniel Guzman] touching the child assigned to [him] in an inappropriate fashion." The female volunteer reportedly told higher-ups, who "advised her that she should contact Child Protective Services and report to them what she had witnessed." Guzman was subsequently dismissed from his volunteer position.

By May 2011, Guzman was arrested and charged with "the offense of indecency on a child," though the charges were dismissed after a grand jury failed to indict him, reported Radar Online. In February 2012, Guzman sued Lakewood Church for "lost wages, damage to [his] reputation," and "anxiety, pain, and illness." He accused the church of negligence in its investigation of the indecent and claimed it "failed to properly secure video" that may have exonerated him. Guzman's lawsuit ended with "summary judgment in favor of Lakewood" in December 2012; a judge claimed Guzman presented "no evidence.

When talk show host Larry King asked Osteen about abortion and same-sex marriage in his 2005 interview, Osteen replied, "You know what, Larry? I don't go there." But he did go there in January 2011, telling Piers Morgan Tonight, "I've always believed, Piers — the scripture shows that it's a sin, but I'm not one of those that are out there to bash homosexuals and tell them they're terrible people and all that."

During another interview in October 2011, Morgan asked Osteen if his views on same-sex marriage and homosexuality had evolved. The preacher said his belief "really never changes" and that he's "not against anything," but it's "based out of the scripture. ... Homosexuality is a sin." He added, "Again, I would just reiterate what I said, I'm not after — I'm not mad at anybody. I don't dislike anybody." 

CNN's Soledad O'Brien asked Osteen how he could call himself an "uplifting" pastor if he declares homosexuality a sin. "I don't necessarily focus on that," Osteen said. "I only talk about that in interviews. It seems like in Christianity we categorize sin ... I don't think [homosexuality] is God's best."

CNN's Soledad O'Brien asked Osteen how he could call himself an "uplifting" pastor if he declares homosexuality a sin. "I don't necessarily focus on that," Osteen said. "I only talk about that in interviews. It seems like in Christianity we categorize sin ... I don't think [homosexuality] is God's best."

In August 2017, Joel Osteen faced enormous criticism for not opening his Lakewood Church, which can house 16,800 people, to serve as a shelter after Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, Texas. However, Osteen's camp insisted the controversy was a misunderstanding. Claiming the church "never closed [its] doors," and that it would be "value to the community in the aftermath of this storm," a Lakewood spokesman told CNN in a statement, "We will continue to be a distribution center ... We are prepared to house people once shelters reach capacity." 

Osteen's reps told the press that Lakewood temporarily closed due to flooding, but first-hand reports of dry conditions in the area were picked up by TMZ and other outlets. In his defense, Osteen told Today that Lakewood was dealing with "safety issues" during the initial impact of the storm. He also said the church waited until the city asked it to operate as a shelter to start doing so. "I think some somehow social media can be very powerful and they can create this false narrative," Osteen told the morning show.

March 9, 2019

One Student With Measles in A Brooklyn NY Yeshiva Got 21 Others Sick


The measles outbreak at Yeshiva Kehilath Yakov in Brooklyn occurred after an unvaccinated child went to school. The student was not showing symptoms.CreditCreditDemetrius Freeman for The New York Times

Public officials and health experts had given several warnings: Do not allow a student in the school if they had not been vaccinated against measles. 

Still, during New York City’s largest measles outbreak in a decade, a school in Brooklyn ignored that advice, resulting in one student infecting at least 21 other people with the virus.

The outbreak, at Yeshiva Kehilath Yakov in Williamsburg, is reigniting concerns that too many people in New York’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities are unvaccinated, as well as worries that measles would continue to spread after travelers arrived last fall from parts of Israel and Europe, where the virus was spreading.

City officials said they have struggled to increase vaccination rates in certain communities because of the popularity of the widely debunked anti-vaccination movement, with parents declining vaccines for their children in fear that they increase the risk of autism. 

In December, the city’s Health Department issued an emergency health measure, ordering that schools in selected ZIP codes prohibit unvaccinated students from attending classes. The outbreak at Yeshiva Kehilath Yakov occurred in late January.

The Health Department said last week that the yeshiva student — who, along with the other victims, has not been identified — was not vaccinated. The child did not show symptoms while in class. 

Measles is one of the most contagious infections and can live for up to two hours in the airspace where an infected person breathed, coughed or sneezed.

“It’s so important for schools to exclude children who have not been vaccinated during outbreaks,” Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the commissioner of the Health Department.

The outbreak in New York began in the fall. Within months, the state had recorded nearly 200 cases. Dr. Barbot said that in New York City 133 cases have been recorded for people ages 6 months to 59 years and that several people, including children, have been hospitalized. There have been no known fatalities. 

Yeshiva Kehilath Yakov did not respond to a request for comment, but the Health Department said that it has followed up with the school and that it is now abiding by the emergency measure.

The department also said that since fall, about 10,000 people across the city had been vaccinated, noting that more than 7,000 live in the most-affected areas, Williamsburg and Borough Park.

But Dr. Barbot said there were still hurdles in ultra-Orthodox communities. “What we have to work against is the proliferation of inaccurate information on the internet,” she said. “So, lots of our time is spent on providing education to dispel any myths and make it easy for people to get vaccinated.”

The vaccine, which is usually given in two doses between ages 1 and 5, is highly effective; the virus was declared eliminated as a major public health threat nearly 20 years ago.

“It says in the Torah ‘V’nishmartem Meod L’nafshoseichem,’ that a person must guard their health,” Rabbi David Niederman, the president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, said in a statement. “It is abundantly clear on the necessity for parents to ensure that their children are vaccinated.”

City officials are also continuing to warn residents about risks to the larger community.

“Parents who oppose vaccinations for measles and all other illnesses not only put their own children at risk but endanger other children and families as well,” Councilman Mark Levine, the chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Health, said in a statement. “I strongly urge all parents across the city to ensure their children are up-to-date on all American Medical Association recommended vaccinations.” 

                        New York Times

October 24, 2018

"Dead Sea Scrolls" Bible Museum Admits Some Are Found to be Fakes

Image result for Bible Museum says five of its Dead Sea Scrolls are fake
Five of the dead sea scrolls are fake
During my years at the seminary, I remember one of the younger teachers telling me about the find of the dead sea scrolls (discovered from the late 1940s to 1956). He was so excited like if he believed the Bible had been authenticated by the scrolls. Taking the elevated train in Brooklyn headed towards Manhattan with one of the older teachers on a Saturday afternoon, I remember discussing how did the bible came to be and how most people in churches don't know. "They think God put the Bible in a matchbox and sent it down to earth." I laughed but I knew his point.

With the dead sea scrolls, it was like God had done something like that. I thought the way they were found like it was the way this teacher (Rev Ruppert) was telling me. It was just like magic that appeared in an unbroken vase.  That along with so many other things put the seed of wanting truthful explanations when I asked questions but many times it was you can interpret it your way. And people do just anything they want to do whatever where is sleeping with their offsprings to killing someone who is sinned in a particular way.

 A US Bible museum has removed fragments of what it believed were part of the Dead Sea Scrolls from the display after tests suggested they were forgeries.
The Museum of the Bible, in Washington DC, sent five of its 16 fragments for analysis in Germany.
But results showed "characteristics inconsistent with ancient origin", the museum said.
Costing $500m (£386m), the museum was opened by Evangelical Christian and billionaire Steve Green in 2017.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a set of ancient manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible.
The first of the scrolls were found in caves in Qumran on the western shore of the Dead Sea in 1947. They were reportedly first discovered by a young Bedouin shepherd searching for lost sheep.

'Commitment to transparency'  Image result for Bible Museum says five of its Dead Sea Scrolls are fake

The tests were ordered after biblical scholars who examined 13 of the museum's previously unstudied fragments said there was a "high probability" that a number of them were modern forgeries.
However, he added: "This is an opportunity to educate the public on the importance of verifying the authenticity of rare biblical artifacts, the elaborate testing process undertaken and our commitment to transparency,"

Image result for Bible Museum says five of its Dead Sea Scrolls are fake
 What are they going to do with all the monument they've built to the scrolls?
It is not the first time the museum's owners have faced controversy.
Last year, Mr. Green's company the Hobby Lobby paid a $3m fine (£2.3m) and returned thousands of items after the US Department of Justice accused it of smuggling artifacts from Iraq.


More from NPR
One of those researchers, Kipp Davis of Trinity Western University, examined the fragments' scribal quality, writing techniques and manuscript state. He wrote in October 2017 that his studies confirm "the high probability" that at least seven fragments in the museum's Dead Sea Scrolls collection were forgeries, "but conclusions on the status of the remaining fragments are still forthcoming."
In April 2017, the museum sent five fragments to the German-based Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und-prüfung (BAM) for an array of tests, including 3D digital microscopy, scanning X-ray fluorescence and energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy material analysis of ink, sediment layers and chemical makeup.
BAM's report raised further suspicions about the authenticity of all five fragments that were tested, the museum said.
The museum will replace the five fragments' in the display with three other fragments that will receive further study.
"Exhibit labels will continue to inform guests that there have been questions raised about the authenticity of these fragments and that further research will be conducted," the museum said.
Much of the Museum of the Bible was funded by the Green family, which owns the Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores. In a religious freedom lawsuit that reached the Supreme Court in 2014, Hobby Lobby won an exemption in its employee health plans from having to cover the cost of contraceptives.
Through Hobby Lobby, billionaire Steve Green and his family amassed a private collection of about 40,000 biblical artifacts and manuscript. Much of the Greens' collection is now at the museum.
Hobby Lobby was found to have violated federal law when it purchased 5,500 objects from dealers in the United Arab Emirates and Israel in 2010. Those artifacts, originally from Iraq, were smuggled into the U.S. In a 2017 settlement with the Justice Department, Hobby Lobby agreed to forfeit the objects and paid a $3 million fine.

October 1, 2018

Jehovah Witnesses Must pay $35 Million to a Woman Whose Child a Member Raped

                                            Image result for watch tower

HELENA, Mont. — The Jehovah's Witnesses must pay $35 million to a woman who says the church's national organization ordered Montana clergy members not to report her sexual abuse as a child at the hands of a congregation member, a jury ruled in a verdict.
A judge must review the penalty, and the Jehovah's Witnesses' national organization — Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York — plans to appeal.
Still, the 21-year-old woman's attorneys said Wednesday's verdict sends a message to the church to report child abuse to outside authorities.
"Hopefully that message is loud enough that this will cause the organization to change its priorities in a way that they will begin prioritizing the safety of children so that other children aren't abused in the future," said attorney Neil Smith Thursday. The Office of Public Information at the World Headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses responded to the verdict with an unsigned statement.
"Jehovah's Witnesses abhor child abuse and strive to protect children from such acts. Watchtower is pursuing an appellate review," it said.
The Montana case is one of the dozens that have been filed nationwide over the past decade alleging Jehovah's Witnesses mismanaged or covered up the sexual abuse of children.
The case that prompted Wednesday's ruling involved two women, now 32 and 21, who allege a family member sexually abused them and a third family member in Thompson Falls in the 1990s and 2000s.
The women say they reported the abuse to church elders, who handled the matter internally after consulting with the national organization.
The elders expelled the abuser from the congregation in 2004 then reinstated him the next year, the lawsuit states, and the abuse of the girl who is now 21 continued.
The lawsuit claimed the local and national Jehovah's Witnesses organizations were negligent and violated a Montana law that requires them to report abuse to outside authorities. "Their national headquarters, called Watchtower, they control when and if anyone within their organization reports child abuse," Smith said. "Watchtower instructed everyone involved that they were not to report the matter to authorities."
Attorneys for the Jehovah's Witnesses said in court filings that Montana law exempts elders from reporting "internal ecclesiastical proceedings on a congregation member's serious sin."
The church also contended that the national organization isn't liable for the actions by Thompson Falls elders and that too much time has passed for the women to sue.
The jury awarded the 21-year-old woman $4 million for her injuries, plus $30 million in punitive damages against Watchtower and $1 million in punitive damages against the Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, another Jehovah's Witness corporation that communicates with congregations across the U.S.
The monetary award must be reviewed by the trial judge and could be reduced. A Montana law caps punitive damage awards at 3 percent of a company's net worth or $10 million, whichever is less. A legal challenge to that law is pending before the Montana Supreme Court.
The jury dismissed claims that the church should have reported the second woman's abuse by the same congregation member. Jurors concluded church elders did not receive notice of the 32-year-old woman's abuse in 1998 as she said they did and therefore did not have a duty to tell authorities.
The third family member who claimed abuse was not a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
(The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they are a victim of a sex crime).

September 8, 2018

As Older People No Longer Turn to God There are Fears For The Church of England

 The Archbishop of York John Sentamu take Mass at York Minster on Christmas Day
The Archbishop of York John Sentamu take Mass at York Minster on Christmas Day CREDIT: CHARLOTTE GRAHAM 
FFears have been raised for the Church of England's future as researchers warn people will no longer become religious in old age.
Figures released by the National Centre for Social Research show that the number of over-55s who say they are in the Church of England has fallen from almost half to just over one in four in 15 years.
The sharpest drop was among 45 to 54 year-olds, from 35 per cent in 2002 to 11 per cent in 2017. Among young people, aged 18-24, the proportion fell to just two per cent. 
More than half of the population now say they have no religion, an increase from 41 per cent in 2002. 
The researchers said the figures suggested that young people were no longer finding faith as they got older.  
Roger Harding, head of public attitudes at the National Centre for Social Research, said: "We've got every reason to suspect that by and large the young people with no religion today in their twenties and thirties will become, in time, people in their fifties and sixties with no religion. 
"It suggests that particularly for the Church of England and Church of Scotland, their decreasing numbers aren't going to be corrected with people getting older. It's likely that as people get older they'll continue to have no religion."
The Church of England insisted that young people were still open to faith, and said its "work goes on whatever the figures may say". 
Dave Male, the Church of England's director of evangelism and discipleship, said: "The headline figure here only gives us part of the picture.  
"It has been clear for some time that we have moved from an era of people automatically, and perhaps unthinkingly classifying themselves as Church of England or Anglican to one in which identifying with a faith is an active choice.
"We also know from research that people, particularly younger people, are less aware of denominations.
“Yet research, especially amongst young people, shows an increase in willingness to engage in faith. 
“Our experience is that people – of all ages - haven’t stopped searching for meaning and answers in their life."
Stephen Evans, chief executive of the National Secular Society, said: "These figures are part of a long-term pattern. The Church of England’s teachings and attitudes have been diverging from the interests and values of ordinary people in Britain for many decades now. 

July 17, 2017

"In The Days of Rain" Growing Up in The Mist of a Cult}}Your Own Family

In the Days of Rain
In the Days of Rain
A Daughter, a Father, a Cult

It can be hard to grow up in an ultra-religious household. I was raised in a strict Pentecostal family, and I remember not being allowed to go trick-or-treating or have any sign of Santa Claus because both were deemed to be inspired by Satan. When you're a little kid, you don't question it — that's just how it is. It takes getting older to realize you're different from everyone else.

That was the experience of Rebecca Stott. She grew up in England as part of the Exclusive Brethren, a fundamentalist Christian cult that was closed off to the rest of the world. Her family had been part of the group, or one of its earlier iterations, for four generations, but they left the Exclusive Brethren when Stott was a young girl.

"They were extremely controlling," Stott says of the community. "So they believe in the rapture; they believe that they alone will be taken off the planet, and unless they stick to Brethren rules and have no contact with the outside world that they'll be left behind in the rapture. So that's essentially them. They're very conservative, very secretive, very separatist."

In her new book, In the Days of Rain, Stott writes about her childhood both in and out of the Exclusive Brethren.

... everything was Brethren-centered. ... Everyone was being watched by everyone else. There's a lot of mass confessions; there were a lot of punishments for non-compliant behavior.
Interview Highlights
On the Exclusive Brethren's rules

If you were living in a house with, say, an elderly parent who was no longer a member of the Brethren, or an elderly parent who'd been brought in because they were sick or whatever, you couldn't eat with that person. If you had a teenager in your house who had been raised in the Brethren but was not yet "breaking bread," i.e. fully compliant, you couldn't eat with them. You couldn't eat with non-Brethren outside; you couldn't have wristwatches, pets; you couldn't go to the cinema or have radios or television or newspapers. So everything was Brethren-centered. ... Everyone was being watched by everyone else. There's a lot of mass confessions; there were a lot of punishments for non-compliant behavior.

On how the group enforced its rules

If anyone was not toeing the party line, they'd be visited by a couple of priests or ministering brothers, and my father would do those. And that person would be interrogated for hours about, you know, whatever sinful act or thought they were supposed to have committed. And if they weren't compliant after that, they'd be shut up, which meant that they'd be expected to stay in isolation in a room in their house for as long as it took until the priest — people like my father, my grandfather — deemed them right with the Lord again. And that could go on for weeks, and sometimes people went mad or, indeed, in some terrible cases committed suicide. And in one particular case, a man who had been in isolation for weeks and weeks and weeks horribly axed his wife and young children to death and then hanged himself and left a note saying, "Satan is in the house. You'll have to bulldoze it."

I was full of rage. ... We had to be subject; we had to be silent; women weren't allowed to speak in the meeting. You know, it was extremely conservative in terms of its gender roles.
On what it was like to grow up in the Brethren

I was full of rage. I remember I couldn't show it. I was very good at not showing it because as a Brethren girl, you know, we had to keep our heads covered, we had to grow our hair long, we weren't allowed to wear trousers. We had to be subject; we had to be silent; women weren't allowed to speak in the meeting. You know, it was extremely conservative in terms of its gender roles. So as a Brethren girl I had to be quiet and good. ...

I was very curious and very angry at the double standards that I saw around me all the time. And the women could see some of these double standards, too, and yet no one was speaking out because everyone was too frightened. 

In 1970 there was a huge scandal. Jim Taylor Jr., the big leader, was found in bed with one of the younger sisters. She was married. He said nothing impure was going on. He was very drunk — he was completely incoherent. He was in his 70s, she was in her 30s. And a lot of people had witnessed it, you know, the fact they hadn't got any clothes on and so on.

And there was a big split — 8,000 people came out, including my father, my grandfather and most of my immediate family. Some of my cousins and uncles stayed inside and are still inside and will never be able to speak to us ever again. So we came out in the early '70s — we were in a splinter group for a while. My father and grandfather were very high up in that splinter group. And then my father decided it was time for us to come out completely. So we came into the big wide world. 

It was astonishing. Nobody explained anything. I think the parents and grown-ups around us were much too confused themselves to be able to sort of sit down and tell us that, you know, when they said that television sets belong to Satan, maybe they hadn't been right. So suddenly we've got a television set in our house, suddenly we've got a radio in our house and suddenly we're being taken to go and see Gone With the Wind in the cinema. So for me, I just remember this incredible sense of vertigo and glancing at my mother constantly: "Is this OK?" or, "Are we allowed to do this?" ...

People said about my father, he was like Rip van Winkle. He was tall, he was charismatic, he was handsome and he just couldn't get enough music, theater, dancing, gambling. ... He hadn't heard of the Beatles. I mean we were living in Brighton, this hippie town in the south of England, and yet we'd never heard the Beatles.

I still cannot open the Bible without hearing the sound of those men using scriptures almost like rapiers ...
On what her faith looks like now

I still cannot open the Bible without hearing the sound of those men using scriptures almost like rapiers with each other, you know, or trump cards. They knew the Bible so inside out, so they would use one scripture to trump another and it was all men locking horns, you know, or antlers. And so it's hard for me having had so many hours of that not to see the Bible as a place, you know, full of words that have been used for warfare, if you like, or disagreement ...

I've been surprised at the ... many, many people who have written to me — ex-Brethren, literally I would say 70 or 80 by now letters — beautiful letters from elderly people writing to me to say, "The Brethren was a terrible thing. We all lived through it," and telling me their stories. But saying, "I came to find a kinder God and kinder Christians outside." And I've been really moved by that. I've been really moved by how much people have wanted me to know about their kinder God.

Malika Gumpangkum and Jordana Hochman produced and edited the audio of this interview. Nicole Cohen adapted it for the Web.


June 23, 2017

American Gods Gives You Food For Thought About Religion

The first season of American Gods ends with an image that compacts the many themes of the series into one odd moment. It's an aerial shot, slowly revealing a line of cars, buggies, and other vehicles crowding the tiny road to a neglected Wisconsin tourist trap called The House on the Rock. Without giving you any spoilers, I can say that this scene captures American Gods' perspective on religious faith in America.
And now, with a generous dose of spoilers, I will tell you what I mean by that.
Though we were left on a cliffhanger, the season's final episode, "Come to Jesus," did resolve one major plot arc. We now know why gods still have power in what Media calls "an atheist world." She's not technically correct about that—surveys show that 89 percent of Americans believe in God(s). But this series, based on Neil Gaiman's 2001 novel, has managed to create a spellbinding story about how true belief rests on healthy skepticism.

From old gods to new

In this series, skepticism basically means understanding how the god sausage is made. That's why it's so satisfying when Mr. Nancy tells the complete tale of Bilquis in the season finale. Though we've seen pieces of many gods' biographies, we finally see a god's life cycle from birth to death to rebirth. It's the ultimate demystification of a mystical being.
Bilquis is known by many names: Queen of Sheba, Bar'an, moon goddess, etc. We meet her earliest worshippers at the Temple of Bar'an (near Ma'rib in modern-day Yemen) in 864 BCE, during what looks like a lunar eclipse. The ancient queen/goddess absorbs dozens of people in a ritual orgy version of what we saw in earlier episodes, where she pulls her sexual partners into the cosmos through her vagina.
But over time, politics and culture change the way she's worshiped. She's a sexually liberated disco queen in Tehran in the 1970s until forces from the Iranian Revolution raid a club where she's seducing a woman. That woman is Bilquis' bridge to America, and when the woman dies of AIDS in the 1980s, Bilquis is bereft. Her once-glorious visage appears only in menus for Middle Eastern restaurants, and she hears about her ancient temple in television reports of fighting in Yemen that has damaged her altar. By 2013, she's living on the street, nearly dead.
That's when the change happens. Technical Boy facilitates the rebirth of Bilquis by offering her a mobile phone, installed with a Tinder-like app called "Sheba." Here we're seeing a deal similar to what Vulcan took, and what Mr. World and Media offered Wednesday earlier in the season. Her ancient worshipers will return, delivered via a modern device. She's no longer worshiped for herself, but as one part of a much bigger system that delivers what Wednesday sneeringly calls "existential crisis aversion." Still, she gets her sacrifices. As Mr. Nancy points out, she survives.
At first, it appears that Bilquis lives only at the pleasure of Technical Boy, Media, and the other new gods. That's what seems to be the case with Vulcan, too. But the real message of this series is quite the opposite.

Religious Darwinism

When we meet all the Jesuses (Jesusi?) at Ostera's Easter celebration, we learn the secret that the new gods are trying to hide: no god, no matter how popular, can ever monopolize human faith.
What's brilliant about the Easter scene, with its multi-ethnic, multi-sect Jesus meetup, is that it manages to respect Christianity while at the same time suggesting that it isn't quite the monolithic faith that you might expect from the world's most popular religion. When we see all those Jesuses, it becomes clear that Christianity is many things to many people. There is no single Christian faith, and therefore the idea of "one God" is impossible. I called this a respectful (though playful) representation because the holiness of Jesus is never called into question. We are simply reminded that America is a land of many gods, and several dozen of them happen to be different flavors of Jesus.
 More to the point, Jesus himself depends upon Ostera to provide context and significance for his holiest day. Though Media insists that Easter is only relevant because it's a Christian holiday, we already know that all the trappings of Easter come from the worship of the pagan goddess of the harvest. The egg hunt, the candies, the imagery of animals and flowers—all these things belong to Ostera. It is a perfect hybrid of two kinds of worship, one old and one relatively new.
To return to my earlier comments about Bilquis, this is clearly the case with many rituals of worship in American Gods. Bilquis gains her power from ancient beliefs in what Mr. Nancy calls "the power of rebirth and creation," combined with the desire for connection and sex that fuel our worship of Technical Boy's Internet. Vulcan combines the Bronze Age worship of forge and sword with modern fealty to guns and state power. Ostera's power encompasses Neolithic prayers for a good harvest and modern Christian ritual.
Showrunner Bryan Fuller posted this picture on Twitter of several Jesuses included in the season finale, called "Come to Jesus." Media calls it "religious Darwinism," where old gods adapt to the new world. And as that world keeps changing, Media warns, one-day humans could "all decide that God doesn't exist." That's why the old gods need "the platform and delivery mechanism" of television, movies, the Internet, and whatever it is that Mr. World embodies.
And yet, as for Wednesday retorts, humans still desperately need to be inspired by gods. Partly that's because they "wonder why things happen," and partly it's because they want someone to blame when things go wrong. But more than that, it's because gods offer humans a simple, appealing bargain. As Wednesday puts it, "You want to know how to make good things happen? You are good to your gods." None of the new gods can offer this bargain because they are just a delivery mechanism, an amplifier.
The new gods depend on the old gods for what Technical Boy would probably call "content." And that, ultimately, is the message of the first season of American Gods. Beneath the glamor, guns, and vape smoke, there's a raw need for the primal bargain that ancient humans struck with the very first gods. We offer them a good sacrifice, and they make good things happen.

(De)constructing faith

In America, where many cultures flow together, faith is as diverse and hybridized as humanity itself. Though American Gods have sometimes stumbled in its effort to represent a full range of religions, cults, and superstitions—and appears to have entirely forgotten that Native Americans exist—it has still crammed an astonishing diversity into eight episodes. What has emerged is an arc that tracks how a nation of immigrants wove a mystical firmament of immigrant gods.
Immigration is, in fact, fuel for faith. America's new gods depend on imported forms of awe, like Bilquis' cosmic eroticism, to lure in new believers. Plus, new-ish gods like Jesus gain power entirely because they are designed for export, nationally and culturally. While Odin is one god with many names, Jesus is many gods with one. He represents hundreds of localized instances of faith that can easily be snuffed out. Indeed, one episode begins with the death of a Mexican Jesus, who is shot down when Vulcan worshipers murder a group of illegal immigrants at the US border.
American Gods revel in the beauty and power of faith, but this show isn't afraid to admit that gods are created by humans. It's a difficult line to walk, and we've watched Shadow try to walk it throughout the season. He begins as someone with no belief in anything other than Laura, the (secular) love of his life. But by the final episode, after Odin reveals himself, Shadow professes belief in "everything." This is what American Gods asks of its audience, too. We must believe everything and nothing. We must assume that gods are real, but also know that they are our creations.
That's why the series' final scenes are such incredibly complicated moments. We watch as Ostera, a queen who has deep roots in ancient and modern faiths, reveals her true power. "I feel misrepresented by the media," she tells Media. And then, a few beats later, she uses her power to steal spring from the world in a kind of magical eco apocalypse. This is a feat far beyond anything we've seen even from Odin, and it comes with a demand for worship.
"Tell the believers and non-believers we’ve taken the spring," Wednesday announces to Media. "They can have it back when they pray for it." As those words sink in, our perspective pulls back to reveal that Laura has arrived. Now the lure of Earthly love is in the mix, tugging at Shadow's loyalties. And finally, we pull all the way back to see the gods are arriving for some kind of showdown at House on the Rock.
House on the Rock is the perfect location for a meeting of the gods as we have come to know them. It combines an ancient need for sacred natural places with a modern-day hunger for cheesy distractions. The fact that it can be both of these things reveals why a war between old gods and the new gods would be catastrophic. These gods don't just need each other; they are each other. They cannot be unbound.
The many unfinished plot threads will continue to unwind next season, but this season ended with a satisfying reveal. We discovered that gods are a cultural construct, but nevertheless, they still have the power to destroy the world. In American Gods, there is no contradiction between knowing something is imaginary and having faith in it.
Listing image by Starz 

Featured Posts

The Government in Egypt Arresting Doctors and Critics Over The Virus Outbreak

There is someone is Washington that would love those powers but thank goodness we have a different type of government and Consti...