Sunday, 23 June 2019

Presbyterian community service centre church in Philadelphia offers eight-week sermon series on Harry Potter

As the old saying goes, what you win people with is what you win them to; put another way, what wins them is what keeps them. If a church attracts people with worldly entertainment, that's what they're being won to, and what will keep them coming back. It's apparent that the lead goatherd of the community service centre church mentioned in the following article doesn't trust in the power of the gospel and the sufficiency of the Bible to bring people to church.

The church mentioned in the following article claims to be in the Reformed tradition, but their commitment to Biblical truth doesn't seem to be to the extent of offending non-Christians. A glance at their events page reveals a schedule that looks more like that of a community service centre than a Christian church (and yes, it includes yoga). As reported by Stephanie Farr of the Philadelphia Inquirer, June 17, 2019 (links in original):

The large banner on the lawn of Leverington Church in Roxborough has been raising eyebrows as if it were a Wingardium Leviosa spell.

"If I read 'Harry Potter meets Jesus,' I'd probably think it was cheesy, too," Pastor Langdon Palmer said. "But I didn't know how else to put it."

Palmer's unconventional eight-week sermon series at the Presbyterian church, which started May 12, has raised something else, as well: attendance. He said weekly attendance has risen 10% to 20%.

"People are literally saying, 'I came because of Harry Potter,' " he said. "It's a little bit of pressure because hard-core Harry Potter fans know everything."

Palmer, who has been pastor at Leverington Church for five years, almost didn't do the series. He was afraid religious people who are skeptical of Harry Potter would think he was trivializing the Gospel. And he was worried that Harry Potter fans who are skeptical of the Bible would believe he was distorting the books to fit his own ends.

But as a man who loves both and as a pastor who sees a generation of people more familiar with the stories of Harry Potter than those in the Bible, he decided to go for it.

"I think if we're going to be good teachers, we start with what people are familiar with to teach them about what they're not familiar with," said Palmer, 60.

In his sermons, which are available as podcasts on the church's website, Palmer uses audio and visual clips from the "Harry Potter" films to illustrate his points. He equates the unexpected and mysterious letters Harry receives to join Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to unexpected and mysterious messages people might be receiving from God.

And he likens the relationship between Harry and Professor Albus Dumbledore, the wise but often inscrutable head wizard at Hogwarts, to his own relationship with God.

"It's so parallel," he said. "God is so good and so kind, but there are times he seems arbitrary, where he leaves, where he doesn't explain himself – just like Dumbledore."

Palmer said he's encountered "both Christians and Harry Potter fans who are definitely not happy that I'm doing this," but on the whole, the reaction has been positive.

Despite his passion today, Palmer hasn't always been a fan – of Harry Potter or of God. For much of his adult life, Palmer was an electrical engineer and a self-proclaimed atheist, though looking back now he thinks he was probably "more of a hard-core agnostic, calling myself an atheist to be cool."

"I'm a born skeptic, and I've had many conversations with God about this: 'Why would you have me be a pastor? I question everything all the time,' " Palmer said. "I came to the conclusion that if this is the way that God wired me, maybe I could relate to other people who struggle with doubt."

As for Harry Potter, Palmer had heard the stories of religious leaders who denounced – and in some cases, even burned – the books because they believe the series promotes the occult and satanism.

"When it first came out, I was not impressed. I was not a fan," he said. "I assumed it was kid stories or promoting dark magic and stuff."

But when Palmer read the books with his children at their urging, he found they offered opportunities to talk with his kids about right and wrong and good and evil.

"I went from someone who was very skeptical to thinking it's really a significant piece of literature," he said.

Harry Potter isn't the only pop-culture touchstone that Palmer has invoked in his sermons. He once did a series on the science-fiction movie "The Fifth Element," and you'll hear him referencing Comic Book Guy from "The Simpsons," "Star Trek," "The Lord of the Rings," and "The Matrix" in his sermons.

He even dreams of doing a sermon series on "Nacho Libre," the Jack Black movie about a monk who follows his dream to become a Mexican wrestler.

For those who question why he mixes pop culture and religion, Palmer pointed out that even Jesus used cultural artifacts and current events to explain ideas.

"I think it can really help the church, but if you try to be hip, if you're trying to be relevant to the kids, it's all over. People can smell fake right away," Palmer said. "But if there's something that moves a pastor deeply in culture, he or she should be free to use that."

Saturday, 22 June 2019

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo rebukes China for persecution of religious minorities

As reported by Eva Fu of The Epoch Times, June 21, 2019 (updated June 22, 2019) (bold in original):

U.S. State Secretary Michael Pompeo sternly reprimanded China for “staggering religious abuses” committed in the country during his unveiling of the State Department’s annual report on global religious freedom on June 21.

He warned that governments that persecute religious believers should not be able to get away with such actions without consequences.

Pompeo especially pointed to atrocities being committed in China against religious groups of all sorts.

“The Chinese Communist Party has exhibited extreme hostility to all religious faiths since its founding,” Pompeo said during a June 21 press conference.

“In China, the intense persecution of many faiths—Falun Gong practitioners, Christians, and Tibetan Buddhism among them—is the norm,” Pompeo said, adding that the department decided to add a special subsection in the China section to document human rights abuses on Islam-practicing minority groups in the northwestern region of Xinjiang. The United Nations estimates that over one million Uyghurs and other minorities are currently being detained inside concentration camps where they are forced to renounce their faith.

Individuals there won’t be able to tell their stories otherwise.

“History will not be silent about these abuses—but only if voices of liberty like ours record it,” Pompeo said.

His comments were also a rare instance of a top U.S. official publicly calling out China for its ongoing persecution of Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline for mind and body improvement based on moral teachings of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. It has been severely persecuted since 1999, with hundreds of thousands of adherents being thrown into prison, brainwashing centers, labor camps, and other detention facilities where they are often tortured.

Sam Brownback, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, also specifically condemned the atrocity of forced organ harvesting, a state-sanctioned practice whereby hospitals amass profits by killing prisoners of conscience and selling fresh organs for transplant surgery.

A recent ruling by an independent people’s tribunal in London found substantial evidence that forced organ harvesting has taken place in China for years “on a significant scale,” and that Falun Gong practitioners were likely the principal source of organs.

The new report pointed out that although freedom of belief is enshrined in China’s constitution, the scope for the protection of such rights is not defined, giving way for the Chinese communist regime to outlaw religious activities and restrict believers’ rights when they are perceived as a threat to the Party’s control.

“The Party demands that it alone be called god,” Pompeo said.

Religious Abuses

In China, only five religious organizations have state approval to officially hold worship services under strict Party control, forcing many who refuse to conform with the Party ideology to go underground.

U.S. officials, as well as international NGOs, have repeatedly expressed their concerns over China’s crackdown on over 200 million religious believers in the country.

In Xinjiang, for example, residents are confined in concentration camps “designed to strip away the culture, identity, and faith,” said Brownback at the press conference. The Chinese regime has sought to break their faith by forcing detainees to eat pork and forbid their fasting during Ramadan.

The Chinese regime has employed a massive network of advanced surveillance cameras that tracks residents’ every movement in real time.

In Tibet, communist red flags, as well as portraits of communist leaders, are hung up prominently in Buddhist monasteries. Over the past decade, more than 150 Tibetans have set themselves on fire as a public protest against authorities’ trampling on their religious practices and culture, according to the report.

Meanwhile, members of underground Christian churches face the threat of constant arrests and forced demolition. Authorities also require Christian churches to install surveillance cameras and have forced house church members to sign papers to give up their faith.

“China has declared war on faith,” Brownback said.

Falun Gong, first introduced in China in 1992, grew to a following of 70 million to 100 million in China by 1999, according to official estimates at the time. Beijing saw its popularity as a threat and began a decades-long persecution that has seen at least thousands of adherents killed for their faith.

With regards to organ harvesting, a 2016 report by three investigators, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Ethan Gutmann, former Canada Secretary of State David Kilgour, and human rights lawyer David Matas, gave a conservative estimate based on hospital data that 60,000 to 90,000 transplant operations take place in the country each year, far exceeding the Chinese regime’s stated numbers based on its voluntary donation system.

“This [organ harvesting] should shock everyone’s conscience,” Brownback said.

Brownback and Pompeo both said that it is more pertinent right now than ever to promote and protect religious freedom.

“We will not stop until the iron curtain of religious freedom come down, until governments no longer detain and torture people for simply being of a particular faith or associated with it,” Brownback said.

Pompeo added that the U.S. administration will make promoting religious freedom a “top foreign policy agenda” and continue to be the vanguard for international religious rights.

“For all those that run roughshod over religious freedoms, I’ll say this: the United States is watching and you will be held to account,” he said.

“It’s a distinctly American responsibility to stand up for faith in every nation’s public square,” Pompeo added.

Chinese authorities tear down a church--and order the congregation to pay for the demolition

As reported by Olivia Li of The Epoch Times, June 10, 2019 (bold, link in original):

Local Chinese authorities tore down another Christian church in May, after church members refused to donate the building to the county government.

Moreover, church members were ordered to pay the demolition cost and were fined 50,000 yuan ($7,236) for “illegally using farmland to build a church.”

Local government officials in Tanghe County, Henan Province, had initially demanded that the church building be donated to the county, a church member surnamed Zhou told Radio Free Asia on June 7. When the demand was rejected, the local court issued a mandatory demolition notice, and the roughly 2,700-square-foot church was torn down overnight on May 16.

Forced demolitions of Christian churches is widespread in China. In addition, since 2018, crosses on thousands of churches have been dismantled by local authorities in Henan, Anhui, and Shandong provinces, and Christian believers have been forbidden from attending meetings.

Zhou also revealed that the priest, Zhang Yongcheng, had to leave the county so that local authorities couldn’t target him to pay the fine. Meanwhile, Zhang’s son, a student, was intimidated at school.

Other Churches Confiscated

After that incident, several other churches were “donated” to the Tanghe county government, and the donations were notarized, according to Zhou.

“If they refuse to donate, officials will come and tear down their church just like what they did to our church,” Zhou said.

Another church member who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the county government accused the church of using overseas funds for construction; in fact, all the money came from member donations and the church members still owe more than 400,000 yuan ($57,889) in loans.

According to a religious affairs ordinance, effective Feb. 1, 2018, religious groups aren’t allowed to accept conditional donations from overseas organizations or individuals. Furthermore, any donation from overseas that exceeds 100,000 yuan ($14,472) must be reported to a department of religious affairs at the county level or above for approval.

Liu Yi, the founder of Chinese Christian Fellowship of Righteousness in the United States, told Taiwanese journalist Yang Hsien-hung in September 2018 that in Henan Province alone, crosses in nearly 7,000 churches were forcibly removed in 2018.

A priest surnamed Feng from Guangdong Province told Radio Free Asia that he was outraged when he heard about the recent incident in Tanghe County.

“Christian believers were even forced to pay the demolition cost. It tells us the suppression of Christians is getting worse. We’ve heard of similar incidents in Beijing, in Anhui Province and Jiangxi Province, as well as in northeastern China,” he said. “We are facing a harsh environment. We pray to the Lord to protect us and give us courage.”

The Chinese regime has recently intensified its suppression of house Christians, with reports since February that local authorities were dismantling underground churches, taking down crosses, and ramping up efforts to “sinicize” religious faith—in other words, forcing worshippers to recognize the Chinese Communist Party’s control over religion.

Friday, 21 June 2019

50 years ago: Canadian Anglican traditionalists oppose union with United Church of Canada

As reported in The Edmonton Journal, June 19, 1969, p. 5:

The Council for the Faith feels union of the Anglican and United churches should be opposed to safeguard vital Anglican interests.

The council, composed of members of the Anglican Church of Canada, will host its co-chairmen at a reception in St. Stephen's Anglican Church, 106th Avenue and 96th Street, at 8 P.M. Saturday.

Rev. C.J. de Catanzaro, parish priest of Peterborough, Ont., and Donald Masters, a history professor at the University of Guelph, will detail reasons for the council's rejection of the proposed terms of union.

Edmonton council president Dr. Arthur Greenidge feels "it is a matter of intention. The doctrine of intention is of supreme importance."

The words of union are the same, but the language is different, says the president. This leads to misinterpretation in discussing the terms of Anglican and United Church union.

The council also registers a tactical objection to union.

"It is imposed upon us from the top in Toronto. The ordinary Anglican has not realized what is happening," said Dr. Greenidge.

There is no sense of hostility between the two churches, but Dr. Greenidge hopes the Council for the Faith can "waken up ordinary Anglicans to what they've almost lost."

Rev. de Catanzaro will preach at 7:30 P.M. Sunday at All Saints Cathedral.

Following Evensong, both co-chairmen will attend an open meeting in the cathedral parish hall to discuss the proposed terms of union between the churches and the crucial questions which remain unanswered.
Thanks largely to the efforts of the Council for the Faith, the union of the Anglican Church of Canada and the United Church of Canada didn't come to pass. The Anglican Church of Canada became increasingly liberal in succeeding years, prompting Rev. Carmino de Catanzaro to resign from the church in 1978, soon to serve as the first bishop of a breakaway Canadian traditional Anglican communion. He died of a stroke on June 23, 1983 at the age of 67.

Although the Anglican Church of Canada and United Church of Canada still haven't achieved organizational unity 50 years after a serious attempt at union, the two are united in increasing apostasy; any differences are matters of degree.

Friday, 31 May 2019

First openly sodomite Orthodox Jewish rabbi ordained in Jerusalem

Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
Romans 1:24-32

It's not just Christianity--even Orthodox Judaism is showing signs of apostasy. As reported by Sam Sokol of Jewish Telegraphic Agency, May 27, 2019 (links in original):

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A gay rabbinical student denied ordination by a liberal seminary in New York was welcomed into the rabbinate in Jerusalem, breaking a longstanding taboo against homosexuality in the Orthodox community.

Daniel Landes, a prominent American-Israeli rabbi, granted semichah, Hebrew for ordination, to Daniel Atwood alongside a mixed group of men and women at the Jerusalem Theater on Sunday evening during a ceremony attended by more than 200 guests.

Atwood was informed earlier this year that he would not be ordained after completing his studies at New York’s Yeshivat Chovevei Torah despite the school previously saying it would ordain him.

While there has been a significant increase in empathy for LGBT Jews in recent years within the Orthodox community, inclusion has rarely reached the level of communal leadership, and same-sex marriage is universally prohibited. Atwood became engaged to another man last fall.

“I was told three years ago that my giving woman semichah would create chaos and damage them and their families and dumb-down Torah learning. The opposite has been the case,” Landes, who until recently was the longtime head of the co-ed, nondenominational Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, told attendees at the ordination ceremony.

“Here’s the real question. Is our Torah and halachic system so weak and devoid of resources that it cannot be challenged by a new situation?” Citing the verse “The Torah is perfect, restoring the soul,” Landes thundered that “it is a perfect Torah only when and if it restores the soul. That’s what we need to work for.”

In 2016, Landes ordained eight Orthodox women as rabbis in a ceremony here. The ordination program is part of Yashrut, an organization he heads that aims to build “civil discourse through a theology of integrity, justice, and tolerance.”

Atwood — a 27-year- old graduate of Yeshiva University, Modern Orthodoxy’s flagship institution — smiled throughout the ceremony, dancing with Landes and his fellow ordainees.

“I feel very excited to be receiving semicha and very grateful to Rabbi Landes and Yashrut for taking me on,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, adding that his joy was tempered by “a little sadness to not be with the cohort and teachers that I learned with for many years at YCT.”

Asked how he felt to be a representative of the LGBT community within American Orthodoxy, Atwood replied that he felt “that responsibility very strongly” and that while he had not set out to be a symbol, he hoped that he could become “a rabbinic presence for LGBT [Jews] and Jews of all sorts, whatever their orientation, who feel left out.”

Many young gay Orthodox Jews who would have previously left the fold are staying “and it’s almost unimaginable for them to not have a place,” he continued. “They are demanding a place and I think that having spiritual leadership guide that along is important.” He also downplayed any conflict between his LGBT and Orthodox identities, saying that he was not “looking for labels that are going to get in the way of the good work that needs to be done.”

Orthodox Judaism had traditionally firmly opposed same-sex relationships, although there is a growing movement toward inclusion among more liberal elements of the community. However, Atwood’s case shows that even this tolerance has limits.

While Chovevei Torah initially welcomed Atwood with full knowledge of his orientation, the yeshiva’s dean told JTA that a recent, unspecified event caused a reevaluation of the decision to grant him ordination. Six months ago, Atwood and his partner got engaged on the stage of a concert in New York City.

“He came out to us in the end of his first year and we were fully prepared to give him semichah until certain circumstances arose over a few months ago,” Linzer told JTA last month. “Because this is such a sensitive issue, it took us a few months to come to the decision that I came to. I was trying to figure out if there was a possible way forward. I came to the conclusion there was not.” He acknowledged that the process of denying Atwood ordination “was not handled well.”

The Reconstructionist and Reform movements began ordaining gay rabbis in the 1980s, with the Conservative movement following in 2006.

Atwood’s fiancé, Judah Gavant, told JTA that he is very proud of both his partner and “our whole community” and that Atwood’s ordination was part of a process of “moving things forward and making a Jewish world that is available to more people that want to be a part of it.”

Late last year several dozen Israeli and American Orthodox rabbis co-signed an open letter in support of the LGBTQ community in response to a letter from some 200 other Orthodox rabbis in Israel that called its members “perverts” and an “organization of abominations.”

For his part, Landes does not believe that the Biblical prohibition of same-sex relations applies to people for whom homosexuality is “not an act of volition” and thinks that there is room for LGBT Jews in the wider community.

Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo, another prominent rabbi who has occasionally come into conflict with the Orthodox mainstream, agreed with Landes, telling JTA that while he didn’t have a rabbinic source to back it up, he believes that “the prohibition [on homosexual acts] only applies to those who are purely heterosexual.”

“I think that people really trying to serve the Jewish people should be looked after and that I have a small role in that,” Landes told JTA. “And when they are totally outstanding I want to be helpful.”

Asserting that Orthodox views of homosexuality have been slowly changing, he said that there is a new awareness that “they’re not pedophiles, they’re not people of falsehood or whatever, they’re good people.”

Landes said that the genesis of his transformation from the mainstream Orthodox position, which views homosexuality as a grave sin, came several decades ago after he explained to members of his own congregation in the United States why he had declined to attend a conference organized by the Central Conference of American Rabbis after the Reform-affiliated group passed a resolution on LGBT inclusion. A young man with whom he was close walked out of the explanation with a hurt look on his face.

“I saw his eyes the look of betrayal,” Landes said. “I never suspected. What did I do wrong? I knew I did something terribly wrong. So that has haunted me. And did I ever find him? I found him. He didn’t want to speak to me. So there is no happy ending to the story.”

And while the rabbi initially couldn’t imagine gay Jews wanting to remain in the Orthodox community, let alone become Jewish scholars under its auspices, he now has a different view. “I think we will start within the gay community itself and if there is the ability to create a real community on the religious level it will lead to acceptance or maybe it will be limited for a long period,” he said. “Things happen when you have some openings.”

Asked for comment, Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman of the Orthodox Agudath Israel organization, told JTA that “if ‘Orthodox’ retains any meaningful meaning, the adjective is merited neither by the institution that declined Mr. Atwood nor the individual who is ordaining him.”

Germany's Jews advised not to wear skullcaps in public for fear of attacks

The title of this post is the same as one from six years ago, with just the first word changed. As reported by Justin Huggler of the London Daily Telegraph, May 26, 2019:

Berlin--A German government watchdog has issued a warning to Jews not to wear skullcaps for their own safety, amid growing concern over a rise in anti-Semitic attacks.

Felix Klein, the German government’s official anti-Semitism commissioner, warned at the weekend that it is not safe to wear traditional yarmulke or kippah skullcaps in public.

“I cannot recommend Jews to wear the kippah at any time, anywhere in Germany,” Mr Klein said in an interview with several local newspapers. “Sadly I have to say this. My evaluation of the situation has changed.”

Mr Klein’s warning comes a year after similar advice from Germany’s largest Jewish organisation, and follows a disturbing increase in anti-Semitic attacks.

According to official figures, 1,799 hate crimes were committed against Jewish people in Germany last year, an increase of more than 10 per cent compared to 2017. They included 62 cases of violence against Jews, up from 37 in 2017.
There has been concern in recent years that Muslim immigration could be fuelling the rise in violence against Jews, but an official report published earlier this month found that 90 per cent of 2017’s anti-Semitic attacks came from the far-Right scene.

Mr Klein blamed “increasing social disinhibition and brutalization” for the rise. “The Internet and social media have contributed greatly to this, as well as the continued attacks on our culture of remembrance,” he said, referring to German attitudes to the Holocaust.

Björn Höcke, a senior politician from the Alternative for Germany party (AfD), called in 2017 for a “180-degree turn” in the German culture of atonement for the crimes of the Second World War and described the national Holocaust memorial as a “shameful monument”.

The head of Germany’s largest Jewish organisation backed Mr Klein’s warning. “It has long been the case that Jews are at risk in some major cities if they are recognizable as Jews,” Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews, told Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

“It is therefore to be welcomed if this situation gets more attention at the highest political level.”

See my previous post Finland's Jews advised not to wear skullcaps in public for fear of attacks (January 15, 2013)

Good riddance to the leader of the "Death of God" movement

I missed this item when it occurred several months ago; as reported by Jim Haught of the Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette, March 23, 2019:

A once-notorious Charlestonian — a Stonewall Jackson descendant who caused a national religious storm in the 1960s — has died with little notice.

Theologian Thomas Jonathan Jackson Altizer was so controversial in his heyday that he received numerous death threats and hate letters. When he appeared on “The Merv Griffin Show,” the audience erupted in such anger that a curtain was lowered, the band played loudly to drown out shouts, and Dr. Altizer was smuggled out a back door to safety.

The West Virginian led the radical “Death of God” movement after World War II. He contended — oddly, I think — that God created the universe, then poured himself totally into Jesus and died at the Crucifixion. God’s spirit diffused throughout humanity, and He no longer existed as a deity.

“Every man today who is open to experience knows that God is absent,” Altizer wrote in one of his books, “The Gospel of Christian Atheism.” In another, he said: “We must recognize that the death of God is a historical event: God has died in our time, in our history, in our existence.”

Son of a Charleston lawyer, Altizer graduated in 1944 from Stonewall Jackson High School — named for his celebrated ancestor who fought for slavery in the Civil War. He earned a doctorate in the history of religions at the University of Chicago, then became a professor at Emory University at Atlanta.

While at Emory, his lectures, writings and books triggered such hostility that demands flared for his dismissal. But Emory refused, saying he had academic freedom to express his conclusions.

Time magazine wrote a cover issue about him, emblazoned “Is God Dead?” Altizer was called “the bad boy of theology.” He advocated “godless Christianity” and wrote: “The Christian today is called upon to say no to God because God himself has ceased to be present in history.”

During that period, Dr. Robert Emery was chairman of religion and philosophy at the University of Charleston (then Morris Harvey College). In a Gazette interview, he agreed with some controversial ideas then advocated in what was called “the new theology” — partly overlapping Altizer views. The professor expressed doubts about the Virgin Birth, Resurrection, heaven, hell and other supernatural dogmas.

Public uproar and angry letters to the editor followed the interview. Baptists held a statewide meeting to denounce Dr. Emery. The Charleston college — which then pledged to help students “attain Christian maturity” with “a firm faith in God” — ousted the professor. Charleston Unitarians formed a committee seeking his reinstatement, to no avail.

Dr. Altizer later went to the State University of New York. After retirement, he lived at Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, where he died Nov. 28 of a stroke at age 91.

Upon his death, fellow theologian Jordan Miller commented: “By some accounts, he was the most hated man in America for a year or so.” Dr. Miller said Altizer “believed that God became a human being and died.”

In the 1960s, I was the Gazette’s religion reporter, covering such upheavals. Those were stormy times.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

40 years ago: Indian guru receives prison sentence in Switzerland for ordering followers to commit crimes against opponents

As reported by United Press International, May 23, 1979:

Lausanne, Switzerland--Self-styled Indian guru Swami Okmarananda [reported in some newspapers as Ommarananda--blogger] was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment Tuesday for ordering members of his bizarre Divine Light Centre to kill and intimidate opponents of his sect.

Okmarananda, 49, whose sect practised sexual and black-magic rites, promptly appealed the verdict by the Swiss Federal Criminal Court.

He was arrested in 1976 after Divine Light members blew up the house of Zurich state police chief Jakob Stucki.

Stucki and his family escaped unhurt.

Sentenced along with Okmarananda was his right-hand man Joseph Meichtry, a Swiss, who was sentenced to seven years.

A German woman, Verena Plein, received a four-year sentence and was ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment.

A 24-year-old Australian nurse, Katherine Bingham, was sentenced to 27 months.

Verena Plein told the court during the two-week trial that she had been forced to serve as a human altar. She was raped and a chicken was slaughtered over her body.

Katherine Bingham told the court that Okmarananda had sect members inject poison into chocolates and tomatoes and try to give them to the families of authorities opposing the Divine Light Centre, which had its headquarters in Wintethur, north of Zurich.

Two youths, Johannes Schaeben and Theo Diem, received suspended terms of one year and six months respectively.

Miss Bingham's sentence was also suspended. She will be expelled immediately from Switzerland because the court also handed down a sentence of three years expulsion from the country.


According to the Wikibin entry on Swami Okmarananda:

The evidence against the Swami himself is disputed, however, and in a later series of articles published in the Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger an investigative journalist presented certain materials which supposedly had been suppressed at the time of the trial, such as involvement of Belgian and Zurich police. One of the Zurich police officers - who led the investigation and the one who is accused of signing a letter ordering the suppression of material - was later accused of corruption.

Swami Okmarananda died on January 4, 2000, six days after his 70th birthday.




Saturday, 18 May 2019

100 years ago: The death of Austrian occultist Guido von List

On May 17, 1919, Austrian journalist and occultist Guido von List died at the age of 70. Mr. List was born into a Roman Catholic family in Vienna, but early in life he developed an interest in pre-Christian paganism. He began his journalistic career in 1877, and used his writings to promote Wotanism, a pan-Germanic völkisch movement worshipping pre-Christian pagan deities. He was influenced by the Theosophical Society and became increasingly interested in occultism, including the study of Runic alphabets.

Mr. List eventually promoted a belief that the modern world was degenerate, and claimed to have received a vision in 1917 that victory of the Central Powers over the Allies in World War I would be the apocalyptic cleansing event that would usher in a new Pan-German Empire based on Wotanism. Mr. List's alleged vision was proved erroneous by the November 1918 armistice and subsequent events. His health declined, exacerbated by food shortages resulting from the non-fulfillment of his vision. Mr. List died while on a visit to Berlin.

Guido von List achieved enough popularity in his own time to inspire the creation of societies promoting his ideas, the first of which was founded in 1908. His ideas influenced the creation of the Thule Society, occultist predecessor to the Nazi Party. While Mr. List's name is largely unknown today, his influence remains, and writers such as historian Joscelyn Godwin have noticed the similarities between the ideas promoted by Guido von List and the beliefs of New Agers and Green Party supporters today. For an example of a pro-Nazi organization that promotes ancient European paganism and is critical of Christianity, see the website of National Vanguard.




Wednesday, 3 April 2019

World's longest salt cave mapped in Israel

As reported by Judy Siegel-Itzkovich of Breaking Israel News, March 28, 2019:

An international expedition led by Hebrew University cave researchers have, after 38 years of exploration, mapped Malham Cave – a salt cave in the Dead Sea region – as the longest in the world.

Since Lot’s Wife looked back at the destruction of the evil city of Sodom (today, Sdom in modern Israel), there hasn’t been such big news about salt.

It thus takes the title from what was for the last 13 years the longest salt cave – Iran’s Cave of the Three Nudes (3N) on Qeshm Island.

Now, the Israeli-led expedition, which included cavers from the Hebrew University’s Jerusalem Cave Research Center (CRC), Israel Cave Explorers Club, and Bulgaria’s Sofia Speleo Club, along with 80 cavers from nine countries, has successfully mapped the Malham salt cave in the Dead Sea’s Mount Sodom.

Malham is the world’s first salt cave to reach a double-digit kilometer length. By comparison, Iran’s Qeshm Island salt cave, now the world’s second longest, measures only 6,580 meters in length. The cave is notable also because it contains a stunning array of salt stalactites and salt crystals within its chambers. These salt “icicles” hang from the cave’s ceiling and grow longer and fatter as each drop of water rolls down before evaporating into the salty air.

The cave was initially discovered by the CRC, which is the only cave research center in Israel, back in the 1980’s. Later, dozens of CRC expeditions surveyed the area and found more than 100 different salt caves inside, the longest of which measured 5,685 meters. Subsequent carbon-14 tests dated the cave as about 7,000 years old, and successive rainstorms created new passages for the cavers to explore.

When the international expeditions returned to Malham in 2018 and 2019, their surveys discovered the cave’s record-breaking, double-digit kilometer length. “Thirty years ago, when we surveyed Malham, we used tape measures and compasses. Now we have laser technology that beams measurements right to our iPhones,” Frumkin recalled.

Currently, the survey team is processing final data from the new Malham Cave surveys to create an electronic map of the cave and to publish its findings.

The international cave expeditions that worked together to map Malham Cave include Israel’s Cave Explorers Club, HU’s Cave Research Center, and Bulgaria’s Sofia Caving Club & Speleo School. The survey team included cavers from Israel, Bulgaria, France, United Kingdom, Croatia, Romania, Germany and the Czech Republic.

Boaz Langford, a member of of the CRC and head of the 2019 Malham Cave Mapping Expedition explained: “Israel’s salt caves are a global phenomenon. My colleagues around the world are always amazed at what we find here. Returning to survey Malham Cave allowed us to reveal its full dimensions and rank Israel as first among the world’s longest salt caves.

“This entire project began with a call to Antoniya Vlaykova at Bulgaria’s Sofia Caving Club and Speleo School. From the very beginning they showed real interest in collaborating with us and in taking on a central role in the project,” said Yoav Negev, chairman of the Israel Cave Explorers Club and project leader of the Malham Cave Mapping Expedition: “Soon we had a 50-member delegation – half international, half Israeli. The Malham Cave is a one of kind expedition that demonstrated the power of international caving delegations coming together to achieve something remarkable. The fact that we came away with a new world record is icing on the cake.”

Efraim Cohen, another CRC member, added: “Mapping the cave was hard work. We worked 10-hour days underground, crawling through icy salt channels, narrowly avoiding salt stalactites and draw-dropping salt crystals. Down there it felt like another planet. Our next and final step is to map the tightest spots and the most difficult ones to reach. When we’re all done, it’s likely we’ll add a few hundred meters to Malham’s impressive 10-kilometer length.”

Geologically speaking, salt caves are living things. They form mostly in desert regions with salt outcrops, such as Chile’s Atacama Desert, Iran’s Qeshm Island and Israel’s Dead Sea. It is water that helps them form; even arid climates like those have an occasional rainstorm. When it does rain, water rushes down cracks in the surface, dissolving salt and creating semi-horizontal channels along the way. After the rainwater drains out, these dried out “river beds” remain and salt caves are formed.

This occurred at Mount Sodom, an 11-kilometer-long mountain that sits 170 meters below sea level at the southwestern tip of the Dead Sea. Underneath a thin layer of cap rock, this mountain is made entirely of salt.

Two factors protect this mountain from dissolving away – the sturdy cap rock that covers its salt, and the dry, hot climate of the Negev Desert. Mount Sodom gets roughly 50 millimeters of rain annually, mostly in short but dramatic rain bursts. As Prof. Amos Frumkin, director of the CRC at HU’s Institute of Earth Sciences, explained, “The Malham Salt Cave is a river cave. Water from a surface stream flowed underground and dissolved the salt, creating caves – a process that is still going on when there is strong rain over Mount Sodom about once a year.” In this way, the Malham Salt Cave is “alive” and continues to grow.

2,000-year-old village discovered in Arab suburb of Jerusalem

As reported by Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz of Breaking Israel News, March 27, 2019:

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced an impressive discovery: a 2,000-year-old village containing the remains of a wine press and storage jars, a dovecote cut into the walls of a cave, an olive press, a water cistern, burial caves, and mikveh (ritual bath). Archaeologists estimate the village stood during the times of the Hasmoneans who ruled Judea from 140-116 BCE and are the featured as the heroes in the story of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

The ruins were discovered in the Arab village of Sharafat, a suburb of Jerusalem, during the construction of an elementary school.

The most significant feature of the excavation is a burial estate archaeologists described as “extravagant.” The burial estate is composed of a corridor leading to a large courtyard chiseled into the bedrock. The cave includes several chambers with oblong burial niches chiseled into the walls. The IAIA sealed the cave in order to conform with Jewish law that prohibits disturbing graves

Ya’akov Billig, Director of the excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, stated that the size and care taken in its construction indicate that the estate was used by a wealthy family.

“It seems that this burial estate served a wealthy or prominent family during the Hasmonean period,” Billig said in a statement. “The estate was in use for a few generations as was common in that era”.

The earth which covered the courtyard of the burial estate contained some large building stones, some of which are elaborate architectural elements common during the Second Temple period. Most interesting is a Doric capital of a heart-shaped pillar. A few cornice fragments were also found. Such quality craftsmanship of architectural elements is very rare, found mostly in monumental buildings or burial estates in the Jerusalem area, such as the burial estate of the priestly family of Benei Hazir in the Kidron valley and several tombs in the Sanhedriah neighborhood.

The current excavation has only exposed just a small part of a larger village that existed to its south. The finds seem to indicate that the village was of agricultural nature, and among other things produced wine and olive oil, as well as breeding doves. Doves were an important commodity during the time of the Second Temple and in other periods as well, as meat and eggs were consumed by the people and also used for sacrificial offerings at the Temple. The doves’ droppings were used as fertilizer for agriculture. Columbarium caves, designated installations used for breeding the doves, are a known feature in the Jerusalem area.


Saturday, 23 March 2019

Fragment of clay jar from Persian period discovered in Jerusalem's City of David

As reported by the City of David, March 20, 2019:

(photograph)

In honor of Purim, a fragment of a clay jar decorated with a human face of which two wide open eyes, a nose, one ear and a small section of the corner of the mouth survived. The shard, dated to the Persian period (4th – 5th century BCE) was revealed to the public, after being discovered in archaeological excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University in the Givati ​​Parking Lot excavation in the City of David in a large refuse pit that contained numerous other pottery fragments that dated to the Persian period.

According to Prof. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University and Dr. Yiftah Shalev of the Israel Antiquities Authority, "Pottery from this period was exposed in the past in the City of David, but this is the first time that such a vessel has been found in archaeological excavations in Jerusalem or anywhere in the Judean highlands.”

These jars are called "Bes-Vessels" and they were very common during the Persian period., In Egyptian mythology, Bes is the protector deity of households, especially mothers, women in childbirth, and children. Over time, he became regarded as the defender of everything good. He also became associated with music and dancing. His figure adorned the walls of houses and various vessels (pottery and various everyday objects, such as mirrors), or worn as an amulet around the neck. Bes usually appears as a kind of bearded dwarf with a large face, protruding eyes and tongue sticking out when he is wearing a feather hat. This grotesque figure is apparently intended to evoke joy and laughter and drive away the evil spirits.

The figure of Bes as a protector was apparently adopted by the Phoenicians, and many such amulets and Bes vessels have been found in numerous Persian Period settlements along the coast. Such vessels and amulets were also found in Persia itself, in Shushan, Persepolis and other cities, reaching there by Egyptian craftsmen who operated there as part of the international trade economy of the period.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Gigantic statue of Jesus to be erected in Vladivostok--on a site originally intended for a statue of Lenin

As idolatrous as a statue of Jesus is, it's amusing to think that Vladimir Lenin must be spinning in his tomb at the thought that Jesus is once again an object of veneration in Russia, while Mr. Lenin is passe. As reported by Marc Bennetts of Religion News Service, March 15, 2019 (link in original):

An artistic rendering of the statue of Christ planned for Vladivostok in eastern Russia.

Moscow • Authorities in Vladivostok, the largest city in far eastern Russia, plan to erect a gigantic statue of Jesus Christ on a site once designated for a monument of Vladimir Lenin.

The statue, which has not yet been approved by the Russian Orthodox Church, is to be 125 feet high — the same height as the Christ the Redeemer monument in Rio de Janeiro, according to blueprints made public by Vyatsky Posad, a Russian Orthodox Christian center. The statue will stand on top of a hill looking east over the Pacific Ocean.

Soviet authorities issued orders for the construction of a 98-foot-high bronze statue of Lenin at the site in 1972. Another statue, of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, was planned to be built on a neighboring hill. But construction hitches meant the plans repeatedly were postponed, before eventually being scrapped altogether in 1990.

Supporters of the Jesus statue are enthusiastic, despite the lack of details about the project. Descriptions of the statue as a “symbol of the unity of the Russian people” that would “bless” ships leaving and arriving in the port city were later deleted from the Vyatsky Posad’s website, for reasons that remain unclear. Attempts by Religion News Service to contact the Vyatsky Center for comment were unsuccessful.

Other Russian media outlets, however, have published blueprints for the project, and plans for the statue were discussed openly at a meeting at the proposed site in late February attended by Oleg Kozhemyako, the regional governor; Ali Uzdenov, a vice president of the Russian business conglomerate Sistema; and Gennady Tsurkov, the head of the Vyatsky Posad center, which is connected to Iliy, an influential monk who is spiritual adviser to Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Tsurkov, in an interview with Russia’s Govorit Moskva radio station, said the statue project had been inspired by Iliy.

“He really wants to put up a statue of Jesus Christ as a protector of our Russia from the east,” Tsurkov said. “He says, ‘we need to make it higher [than the statue in Rio].’” Tsurkov clarified that while the statue itself would be the same height as the Christ the Redeemer monument, it would also stand atop a 98-foot-high pedestal. “Altogether, it will be 68 meters [223 feet].”

Tsurkov said that private investors would fund the construction of the statue but that total costs had yet to be finalized.

Kozhemyako said a small chapel that could hold up to 30 people would also be built close to the statue. “Delegations will just arrive, go in, and light a candle,” the regional governor said, according to online footage of the on-site discussion.

Online opinion has been almost entirely negative. “Is there nothing else for us to spend our money on?” wrote Svetlana, on a forum for residents of Vladivostok. “We’d be better off spending the money on hospitals, schools, roads … ”

Others on the same forum suggested the project could be part of “a money-laundering scheme.”

Roman Lunkin, a religion analyst at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, told RNS that it was not certain that the Russian Orthodox Church would approve the project, because the proposed design was more in keeping with Roman Catholic statues and monuments. “There is a tradition in Orthodoxy of putting up crosses,” he said, “but not statues.”

With the Russian Orthodox Church closely aligned with the Kremlin, Lunkin explained, the project contained a “political-patriotic” element that apparently underlines what President Vladimir Putin has described as the religious values that bind modern Russia.

“This huge statue of Christ is proposed to act as a kind of border post in Russia’s far east to guard our motherland,” Lunkin said. He also criticized comments attributed to Ilya, the patriarch’s spiritual adviser, about making the statue larger than its counterpart in Brazil as an ill-considered attempt to “demonstrate Russian greatness” to the entire world.

The construction of a massive statue of Christ in Vladivostok would also neatly symbolize Russia’s startling transformation from an officially atheist state in the Soviet era, which ended in 1991, to today’s Christian-majority country. Around 80 percent of Russians currently identify as Orthodox Christians, including Putin, a former KGB agent. Few, however, attend church services or observe religious fasts.

The Vladivostok statue wouldn’t be the first time that a Christian structure has been built on the site of a monument to Lenin. In 2000, Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral was consecrated at a location within sight of the Kremlin towers, replacing a previous cathedral building that was demolished on Stalin’s orders in 1931 to make way for a planned 1,000-foot-high Palace of Soviets.

The palace, which would have been the world’s tallest building at the time, was to have been topped by a colossal statue of Lenin. Construction was postponed and then later scrapped with the outbreak of World War II.

It’s not only in grandiose architecture that Lenin and Jesus compete in today’s Russia. Gennady Zyuganov, the leader of the modern-day Communist Party, frequently compares Lenin to Jesus Christ and has claimed the Soviet Union was an attempt to establish “God’s kingdom on earth.”

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Jerusalem Bible Lands Museum exhibition highlights discoveries about 7th century B.C. Judah

As reported by David Brummer of Breaking Israel News, March 7, 2019:

A new Jerusalem Bible Lands Museum exhibition on the rescue excavation taking place at Tel Beit Shemesh will highlight the pivotal historical evidence being revealed. The finds uncovered will be on display for the first time and there will also be a discussion on the need to balance preservation and modernization.

The exhibition, entitled Highway through History, is the result of extensive excavations undertaken by Y. G. Archaeology under the auspices of Hebrew Union College. The goal of the excavation was to ensure that nothing of unique historical importance lay beneath the highway extension – Route 38 – being constructed abutting the town of Beit Shemesh. Workers were preparing to begin construction, when excavators uncovered remains of a Judean settlement from the end of the First Temple period.

Such a finding, helps to rewrite previously held assumptions about the ancient town of Beit Shemesh and the Kingdom of Judah under Assyrian rule in the 7th century BCE. Scholars had believed that the ancient city of Beit Shemesh was totally destroyed by King Sennacherib of Assyria, but these new discoveries reveal that the city was reestablished following its destruction and became an important economic hub in the kingdom of Judah.

Discoveries include a large industrial zone for olive oil production, hundreds of jar handles with stamp seal impressions characteristic of First Temple period administration in the Kingdom of Judah, and clay figurine fragments in the shape of women and animals.

One of the most fascinating finds was a stone statue of the Egyptian goddess, Bes – the only example found in Israel to-date. Many of the figurines were found smashed, which may point to the extensiveness of Kings Hezekiah and Josiah’s religious reforms – in which idolatry was outlawed – and described in the Book of Kings.

The importance of this site cannot be overstated; as it relates to the return of the Ark of the Covenant from the Philistines to the Israelites. The Ark had been captured in the battle between the Israelites and Philistines, thought to have taken place between Eben-ezer and Aphek.

The discovery of an archaeological site of such import also raises questions about the balance between preservation and modernization. As Israel is replete with ancient historical artifacts, left by successive invading empires, it is common for excavations to be performed before any construction can begin. One well-known example is at the Givati Parking Lot – part of Jerusalem’s City of David, just south of the Old City walls.

“The Bible Lands Museum works tirelessly to preserve and protect the heritage of this region for visitors of all ages and faiths,” said the museum’s director Amanda Weiss. “ Your story – the story of each individual – is rooted in the events and cultures that ultimately shaped the development of human history in this region.”

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

U.S. political cult leader Lyndon LaRouche dies at 96

I missed this when it occurred a month ago: Lyndon LaRouche, economic theorist, conspiracy theorist, perennial U.S. presidential candidate, and cult leader, died on February 12, 2019 at the age of 96, as reported in a laudatory obituary published in his Executive Intelligence Review.

Mr. LaRouche's cult--the International Caucus of Labor Committees--revolved around himself rather than around fixed dogma, which enabled him, over a period of 40 years, to retain much of his following while migrating from Marxism to a position on the political spectrum that could be described, in the words of a former professor of mine, as "slightly to the right of Nero."

Mr. LaRouche achieved some success at infiltrating the Democratic Party in the 1980s, but his tentacles reached beyond the United States. This blogger has seen LaRouche cultists at the Lester B. Pearson International Airport in Toronto, while the Schiller Institute, which was founded by his second wife Helga Zepp-LaRouche, had, and perhaps still has, a base in Sherwood Park, Alberta. In the mid-1980s, an obscure critical article about Mr. LaRouche by Alberta cultwatcher Chris Milner in Alberta Report magazine prompted a handwritten rebuttal to Mr. Milner from a well-known American admirer of Mr. LaRouche.

For more on Lyndon LaRouche, see the following articles:

Lyndon LaRouche, Cult Figure Who Ran for President 8 Times, Dies at 96 by Richard Severo, The New York Times, February 13, 2019

Lyndon LaRouche Jr., conspiracy theorist and presidential candidate, dies at 96 by Timothy R. Smith, The Washington Post, February 13, 2019

Ideological Odyssey: From Old Left to Far Right by John Mintz, The Washington Post, January 14, 1985

Political Theater of the Absurd by Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed, February 19, 2019

Saturday, 9 March 2019

First meeting between a Roman Catholic Pope and a Mormon President takes place in Rome

Neither the Roman Catholic Church nor the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a true Christian church, but antichrists of a feather flock together. As reported by Peggy Fletcher Stack and David Noyce of the Salt Lake Tribune, March 9, 2019 (bold, links in original):

For the first time, a Catholic pope and a Latter-day Saint prophet met — faith to faith and face to face.

Pope Francis and Russell M. Nelson, top leaders of separate global Christian religions, sat down together Saturday at the Vatican for a 33-minute exchange a day before the American-born faith dedicates its first temple in Rome, the cradle of Catholicism.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced the meeting between the 82-year-old Francis and the 94-year-old Nelson, early Saturday morning. M. Russell Ballard, the 90-year-old acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, attended as well.

While the historic encounter may not be as significant for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics — popes frequently give audiences to foremost religious figures — the spiritual calculus adds up to watershed recognition for the globe’s 16 million Latter-day Saints.

After their private meeting with the pope, Nelson and Ballard emerged, arms linked, at the Vatican.

“We had a most cordial, unforgettable experience with His Holiness," Nelson said in a news release. "He was most gracious and warm and welcoming to President Ballard and me.

“What a sweet, wonderful man he is,” the Latter-day Saint president added, "and how fortunate the Catholic people are to have such a gracious, concerned, loving and capable leader.”

So what did the religious leaders discuss? Global relief, for starters, and the two religions’ mutual efforts to relieve human suffering.

“We explained to His Holiness that we work side by side, that we have projects with Catholic Relief Services all over the world, in over 43 countries," Ballard said in the release. "[We’ve] been shoulder to shoulder as partners in trying to relieve suffering. He was very interested in that.”

Nelson said they also talked about the "importance of religious liberty, the importance of the family, our mutual concern for the youth of the church, for the secularization of the world, and the need for people to come to God, and worship him, pray to him and have the stability that faith in Jesus Christ will bring in their lives.”

And they chatted about the new Rome Temple, with its role in connecting families eternally in Mormon theology.

The visiting Latter-day Saint delegation presented the pontiff with a Christus figurine and a framed copy of the faith’s family proclamation in Italian. In return, Francis gave his guests a copy of his apostolic exhortation on the family.

Francis and Nelson concluded their meeting with a hug.

The Vatican offered no details of Francis’ Saturday audience with the Latter-day Saint delegation, The Associated Press reported.

The importance of the weekend events for Mormonism is evident in the fact that, for the first time in Latter-day Saint history, all 15 top male Latter-day Saint leaders (though none of its high-ranking female officers) will be present in the same location on foreign soil. It represents another marker that the Utah-based faith is ready to take its place in a spot where many biblical events occurred.

“Rome is Rome,” said Latter-day Saint historian Matthew Bowman, “a symbol of political authority and religious authority, a city that symbolizes the heart of Christianity.”

The Francis-Nelson meeting “indicates the relatively ecumenical nature of modern Roman Catholicism (and particularly this pope’s instincts toward public magnanimity),” Bowman said. “It also signals something about the politics of modern temple building — that they are as much a sign of material legitimacy as they are intended for ritual use.”

The existence of temples in key locations “shows the church’s intentions to be a serious global religion,” said Bowman, author of “The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith," “one whose presence on the landscape is to be noted.”

The church is “still growing up in a lot of ways,” the historian said. “It’s trying to assert that it is a global faith with global aspirations and global ambitions.”

Ugo A. Perego, director of the LDS Institute of Religion in Rome, was at the temple there when the meeting of the leaders took place.

He was thrilled by the high-powered conversation.

“It is an exciting and historical time for everyone,” Perego wrote in an email. “I was born Catholic, and I can see a lot of good from a meeting like this one. Private closed-door meetings with the pope are not very common and not just anyone can ask for one.”

The institute director speculated that Francis might be more familiar with the American church than most would think.

“Being from Argentina and with a large membership in that country [of more than 450,000 Latter-day Saints], he surely knows about us,” Perego said. “Now we are definitely on his radar..."

Theological gap

...Both churches — the largest on the planet and a much smaller one — claim to be the true church of Jesus Christ.

They have deep theological differences, so great that the Vatican does not recognize Mormonism as Christian, citing the Latter-day Saint rejection of the Trinity as one of the reasons. Neither recognizes the other church’s baptism, requiring converts to be rebaptized into their respective new faith.

The conflict between the two even extends beyond theology to the question of divine authority, Bowman noted. “Each side claims ‘we have priesthood authority that nobody else has.’ That makes them rivals on multiple levels.”

In the 19th century and much of the 20th, many Latter-day Saints viewed the Roman Catholic Church as “the great and abominable” church described in Mormon scripture.

Recently, though, the two have collaborated on social issues (opposing same-sex marriage and defending religious freedom) and on humanitarian efforts (feeding the hungry, offering disaster relief, and building up resources for a sustainable living).

In 2014, two Latter-day Saint officials — Henry B. Eyring of the governing First Presidency and the late apostle L. Tom Perry — joined religious leaders and scholars from 14 faiths and 23 countries in Rome for a three-day Vatican-sponsored "colloquium" titled "An International Interreligious Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman."

At that time, the pontiff shook Eyring’s hand, a gesture believed to be the first such exchange between a pope and a leading Latter-day Saint authority.

Other high-ranking Latter-day Saints previously have met or greeted a pope, but not in any official religious capacity.

Jon Huntsman Sr., who died last year, visited Pope John Paul II and counted the late pontiff and the late Latter-day Saint President Gordon B. Hinckley as two men he most admired.

Such connections might have seemed unthinkable when Joseph Smith Jr. launched his little church in upstate New York in 1830 — or to the Latter-day Saints who trekked across the continent to set up their own Beehive State.

Warming trend

At first, those hardy Mormon pioneers who settled the Salt Lake Valley and the Catholics who began joining them in the 1860s generally had a live-and-let-live relationship, Catholic historian Gary Topping told The Salt Lake Tribune in 2009 during the centennial celebration for the downtown landmark Cathedral of the Madeleine.

"Catholics and Mormons were operating on two separate tracks pretty much," Topping, archivist for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, explained.

Still, he added, “there was always a little sniping going on."

The state’s predominant church was building what they hoped would be Zion, while the Catholics planted parishes, schools and Holy Cross Hospital.

Salt Lake City’s first Catholic bishop, Lawrence Scanlan, had hoped the schools he started would lead to conversions among Latter-day Saint children, Topping said. "He was disabused of that pretty quickly."

There continued to be some cooperation but also barbs between the two churches in Utah.

The low point for relations came in 1958. when Latter-day Saint general authority Bruce R. McConkie wrote an encyclopedic volume, “Mormon Doctrine,” which identified the Catholic Church as the “church of the devil” and the “most abominable above all other churches.”

Then-Catholic Bishop Duane Hunt apparently took the matter to Latter-day Saint President David O. McKay, and McConkie's book was revised in the next edition.

"He never said it directly, but I think McKay was so upset by the negative impact of McConkie’s book that it jolted him into believing he had been part of the problem,” McKay biographer Gregory Prince said in a 2009 interview. "He quietly reversed field. After that, he never again was negative to Catholics, privately or publicly."

Building a partnership

In the past few decades, Utah’s Catholic bishops and Latter-day Saint leaders have formed strong bonds over common values and visions.

Catholics run homeless shelters; Latter-day Saints fund meals and volunteer to help.

In 2008, former Utah Catholic Bishop George H. Niederauer had moved to San Francisco as archbishop and asked his Latter-day Saint buddy, then-President Thomas S. Monson, to help drum up support for California’s Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

Monson enlisted his church members and statewide volunteers in the effort, ultimately taking the lead against same-sex marriage.

Latter-day Saint presidents and apostles grew to respect and value their association with Catholic bishops and priests. They worshipped together, sang together, dined together, golfed together, laughed together and wept together.

“Over the years we have collaborated with the Latter-day Saints for the common good,” Monsignor Terrence Fitzgerald said. “We support common values, we share the common conviction that we are all children of God and deserve respect.”

From time to time, Utah Catholic bishops have aided LDS efforts “to obtain permits to build their temples, as in the case with Bishop [John] Wester and the LDS temple in Paris,” Fitzgerald said, just as Monson encouraged Latter-day Saints in Draper “to support our efforts to build the Skaggs Catholic Center.”

Two churches buttressing each other helps “build decency in the community. … [It’s] collaborating in the best way possible,” the monsignor said. “That is what is expected of Christians and others of good faith.”

A testament to these multifaith ties was on display in June 2015 at a reception honoring Wester before his departure to head up the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

Ballard, the Latter-day Saint apostle, expressed his sadness at seeing Wester leave Utah.

"You are losing your wonderful bishop," he told the crowd gathered in a Salt Lake City hotel ballroom, "and I am losing one of my very dear friends."

Wester and Ballard, along with Ivory Homes founder Ellis Ivory, had become regular golfing buddies.

Besides sharing a few jokes and laughs, “we talked about community issues and concerns over values,” Ballard said. “It was a marvelous experience for me..."

...Utah’s current Catholic bishop, Oscar A. Solis, congratulated the Latter-day Saints on building a temple in Rome.

“We are pleased that the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a religious facility convenient for their members in Rome,” Solis wrote in an email. “We all benefit when people of every faith have the ability to worship as they wish and can receive the support they need for meaningful lives...”

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Portland, Oregon bans discrimination against atheists and other non-believers

"Discrimination" doesn't seem very well-defined here; this blogger wonders how long it will be before its turned on its head, and discrimination against Christians in Portland is not only permitted, but mandated. As reported by Tracy Simmons of Religion News Service, March 4, 2019:

Nonbelievers in Portland, Ore., are feeling affirmed this week after the City Council amended the city’s civil rights code to extend protection from discrimination to atheists, agnostics and other people who claim no religion.

“What it is is validating because my city thinks I am of the same value as any other individual, and it isn’t OK for somebody to discriminate against me or anybody like me,” said Cheryl Kolbe, president of the Portland-area chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The Portland city code had already prohibited discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation on the basis of race, religion, gender and national origin. However, Kolbe said religion wasn’t clearly defined, so one year ago she began advocating for a revision.

The idea, she said, was prompted by the Madison, Wisc., City Council, which, in 2015, became the first city to vote to ban discrimination against atheism. Now Portland is the second city with such an ordinance.

“I always thought Portland would be a good place to try it, too,” Kolbe said, “because we’re one of the least religiously affiliated cities in the country.”

Portland’s protections against discrimination will now include “nonreligion, such as atheism, agnosticism, and nonbelief in God or gods as has been recognized by the courts,” according to published reports.

Thirty-one percent of Oregonians identify as religiously unaffiliated, according to the Pew Research Center.

“Portland has a large percentage of residents who identify as religiously unaffiliated,” City Council Commissioner Amanda Fritz said in the Portland Tribune. “We need to make these changes to our civil rights code to remove discriminatory barriers, so they may participate equally in employment, housing, and public accommodations in the city.”

Kolbe said that although the policy is restricted to Portland city limits, it impacts people of nonfaith throughout Oregon because they feel acknowledged by government leaders. She hopes it will inspire other cities to extend their protections.

“Discrimination against atheists, agnostics and nonbelievers really does exist,” she said. “We’re not asking for special privileges, we just want to be validated and accepted in the city just like everybody else.”

The amendment passed unanimously and will take effect March 29.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Jeremiah 29:11 is becoming more popular on social media than John 3:16

As reported by Laura FitzPatrick of the London Daily Telegraph, February 25, 2019 (links in original):

In the beginning - and for centuries that followed - God’s sacrifice of Jesus to express his love on Earth was the most-adored Bible passage for many Christians.

But that is changing, thanks to messages of hope and prosperity being favoured on social media.

“Whereas once John 3:16 was the ‘poster-boy’ text of the 20th century, the latest star is Jeremiah 29:11”, said Rev Dr Peter Phillips, Director of CODEC Research Centre for Digital Theology of St John's College at Durham University.

“In print culture, John 3:16 has been the most popular Bible verse ever, but it has been knocked of its pedestal by the social age. People don’t want to put a verse about Jesus’ death upon the cross on social media, it’s a bit heavy,” he added.

The Bible is made up of more than 30,000 verses and one has historically captured the popularity of Christians above all others, appearing on fast-food and clothes brand packaging.

John 3:16 is famous for being the Bible’s most popular verse, according to Rev Dr Phillips and the Bible Society, and it was famously the late prominent evangelical Christian Billy Graham’s favourite.

Gotta channel my inner Helen Keller, and one of my favourite bible verses. #positivity #jeremiah2911 pic.twitter.com/muV4lbY1lx

— Ashley (@laviebella8) February 21, 2019

But the verse, which reads: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life,” has now been overtaken in popularity by an offer of hope and prosperity, in Jeremiah 29:11.

Instead, Jeremiah 29:11, is the UK’s favourite passage, according to digital Bible provider YouVersion, who’s platform has 350 million users.

It reads: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

It also tops the charts in nine other countries, including Canada and Australia, where religious individuals pick verses concerning personal feelings, rather than the glory of God.

According to experts, the switch is a product of social media and young people’s social performance of the Bible, in line with the trend of displaying wellness and spirituality online.

With apps like Bible Lens - which allows users to create new images using their own photos overlayed with quotes from the Bible - and YouVersion’s search-by-emoji function soaring in popularity, millennials have drastically changed how they approach the Bible’s teachings.

Rev Dr Phillips, who’s book titled Bible, Digital Culture and Social Media is published later this year, said: “We find that millennials tend to share therapeutic messages - it’s far more about their own identity and how faith can help them in their future.

“The result is a shift in public display of the Bible.”

He claims that it fits the general notion that digital-savvy people tend to cherry pick what they share online.

He added: “Users engage in social media to present something about themselves to the audience they themselves curate.

“Social media engagement with the Bible is itself part of the so-called photoshopped self - a form as front staging a person’s Bible engagement.”

But the popularity of Jeremiah 29:11 also comes down to the context of social media, according to the Bible Society, who claim the brevity of social media posts causes problems for passages like John 3:16.

“Passages like John 3:16 concern an eternal perspective and hope beyond death,” Rachel Rounds of the Bible Society told The Telegraph.

“These are not easy concepts to convey on social media which doesn’t really do context or nuance and that’s a challenge for politicians, scientists and the church alike.”

But YouVersion bosses pertain that John 3:16 is an important verse and “remains extremely popular”, as it usually falls in the top 20 verses globally each year, according to their data.
The above article illustrates why we always need to read scripture in context. Jeremiah 29:11 is not a message from God to humanity in general, and especially not to the unsaved, upon whom His wrath abides (John 3:36). This verse isn't even a message to the church, although I've often heard it used as such.

In Jeremiah 27, God is telling the people of Judah to submit to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and go into exile in Babylon. However, the Jews are receiving mixed messages about what's to happen. In Jeremiah 28, Hananiah, claiming to be a prophet of God, tells the people of Judah that within two years, the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar will be broken, and they'll be brought back from exile. Jeremiah has a public dispute with Hananiah, and then the LORD, through Jeremiah, denounces Hananiah as a false prophet, and prophesies that he will die within the year. Hananiah dies two months later, providing evidence that Jeremiah was a true prophet of God--and Jeremiah has been prophesying that the people of Judah will be sent into exile in Babylon as punishment for disobeying God.

In Jeremiah 29, the LORD inspires Jeremiah to write a letter to the Jews in exile, which includes the following (verses 4-14):

Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon;
Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them;
Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished.
And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.
For thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Let not your prophets and your diviners, that be in the midst of you, deceive you, neither hearken to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed.
For they prophesy falsely unto you in my name: I have not sent them, saith the Lord.
For thus saith the Lord, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.
And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
And I will be found of you, saith the Lord: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the Lord; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive.


The Jews, who've been told by false prophets that they will soon be delivered, are now being told by a true prophet that they're going to be in Babylon for 70 years. They're not the vanguard of a liberating army, but most of them are going to be there for the rest of their lives, so they may as well make the best of it.

Those who prefer Jeremiah 29:11 to John 3:16 seem to like the thought that God loves them, but are unwilling to accept His terms. God demonstrated His love for us in sending the Lord Jesus Christ to die for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8); to have peace with God (Romans 5:1-2) is possible only through belief in the work done by Christ in shedding His blood for our sins on the cross. The cross is, however, an offense to the natural man (Romans 9:33, Galatians 5:11, I Peter 2:8), and that's just as true in the 21st century as it was in the 1st century.

Church of England abolishes law requiring churches to hold services every Sunday

More evidence of the decline of the once-mighty Church of England; as reported by Izzy Lyons of the London Daily Telegraph, February 23, 2019 (links in original):

Churches will no longer be legally required to conduct a service every Sunday after the General Synod has voted to end a law that has existed since the 17th century.

Canon laws, first passed in 1603 and updated most recently in 1964, stipulate that weekly Sunday services must take place in every church.

However vicars in rural parts of the country, who have been increasingly responsible for “up to 20 churches” in their area due to the decline in clergy, say they are unable to abide by the law and left with little choice but to break it.

In recent years growing numbers of parishes have held one combined Sunday worship where previously each church would have held separate services.

Whilst no vicar has been punished for breaking the canon, Thursday's changes mean that they can now conduct a single Sunday service for several congregations without having to seek written permission.

The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Rev Pete Broadbent, who first suggested the changes three years ago, said it “clears the way for people to be honest.”

Admitting that weekly service “is a centuries old tradition”, Rev Broadbent said: “What we have been saying is that this canon does not work, it is out of date and we are operating differently in the countryside now.

“It cuts out the bureaucracy.

“This change merely reflects what has been practised for the past 20 years.”

The two laws that were amended include Canon B11, which requires morning and evening prayer to be “said or sung audibly in every parish church every Sunday”. This has now been amended to “in at least one church” in every group.

The second clause, known as Canon B14, previously required Holy Communion to be celebrated “in every parish church”. However, this has been substituted for “in at least one church in each benefice”.

The number of multi parish benefices - defined as a group of churches that are looked after by one priest - have grown significantly in the UK in the past 50 years.

According to figures from the Church of England’s Growth Research Programme, only 17 per cent of their parishes were in multi parish benefices in 1960.

By 2011 this figure had risen to 71 per cent - meaning 8,400 of the Church’s 12,500 parishes are now amalgamated.

"As the number of church attendees and stipendiary clergy has decreased over recent decades, parishes have been amalgamated to form multi-parish benefices,” the report stated in 2011.

In 2017, it was reported that the Church is increasingly turning to “self supporting priests” with weekday jobs such as doctors, writers, teachers, plumbers or farmers. Accounting for one in six clergy, the number of self-supporting priests increased from 2,091 in 2002 to 3,230 in 2016.

According to members of the Synod, the traditional canon law stipulating that weekly services must take place has been regularly broken by priests over the past several decades.

If a member of the clergy is believed to have deliberately broken the protocol, they would be made to face a disciplinary panel under the Clergy Discipline Measure that was passed in 2003. However, the Church is not aware of this ever happening.

Thursday's amendments were voted through almost unanimously by 20 Bishops, 92 Clergy and 118 Laity, with only two voting against the motion.

The Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam, who governs a very rural patch, said: “Morning and Evening Prayer are the heartbeat of a church’s life.

“This change is a sensible step which matches resources to reality and gives encouragement to clergy and laity to hold services in one of the churches in a benefice each day.

“This will be much appreciated in rural areas where multi-parish benefices are a reality.”

A Church of England Spokesperson said: “Sunday worship continues to be central to the Church of England’s ministry. The recent adaptation is designed to make it easier for multi-church parishes who rotate services between a group of churches.

“This is often already the case in rural parishes where it is impractical to hold weekly services in every church. This reflects the movement over the past two hundred years of people from the country to cities.

“The Church of England now has a great variety of services throughout the week, with midweek services increasing in popularity.”

British pagans approve of Royal Mail stamp of Thor

People who had accomplished things of note used to be honoured on postage stamps; now postage stamps, like movies, are mainly about comic book characters rather than people. As reported by Patrick Sawer and Olivia Rudgard of the London Daily Telegraph, February 23, 2019 (links in original):

Thor superhero stamp

There cannot be that many things in national life to celebrate for those who still worship the Norse gods.

Pagan druids and their followers might gather at Stonehenge every solstice, but there is no special national holiday to celebrate either Odin and those who live with him in Asgard, the home of the gods.

But now, after years of being ignored, the Odinists and those who still look to Norse mythology for inspiration and guidance, have finally got something to smile about.

The Royal Mail is to issue a ‘pagan’ stamp next month, depicting the Norse god Thor, the hammer wielding god of thunder and protector of mankind.

Admittedly it forms part of a set of stamps commemorating Marvel Comics superheroes - of whom Thor is one, enjoying his own comic series and film spin offs - rather than the original figure of Germanic mythology.

But the Odinist Fellowship are pretty pleased all the same.

They are a registered charity that exists to "promote the original old religion of the English people and the native faith of the northern lands", so they naturally welcome any celebration of Norse mythology.

Ralph Harrison, the director of the Odinist Fellowship, said: "Considering how the Christian church tried so hard to eliminate the images of the Gods, it is with some satisfaction that we will be seeing people of all religions and none, who use this stamp, acknowledging, in a small way, the God Thor's continued presence in our nation's cultural life."

The Odinists - who worship at a Grade II listed former almshouse in Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire, dating back to the Tudor period - are so pleased they aren’t even complaining that the Thor shown in the stamps is the one created by an American comic publisher rather than the traditional depiction of him.

He’s still their man (or god), they say.

Mr Harrison said: "We recognise that the Marvel Comic depiction of Thor differs somewhat in its iconography from descriptions given in ancient sources, such as the Eddas; but Marvel seem to have based their image on that of Marten Eskil Winge's famous painting, ‘Thor Fights the Giants’, now on display in the Swedish National Museum in Stockholm.”

The fellowship points out that under the terms of the Postal Services Act 2011 the design of all British postage stamps must be approved by the Queen, and this is the first time that the Monarch has approved a design depicting one of the Gods of pre-Christian northern Europe on a stamp.

The Royal Mail has been previously criticised its choice of imagery for stamps.

It was attacked by Boris Johnson last year for not issuing a commemorative set of stamps to mark Brexit and in 2008 its decision to include the family planning pioneer Marie Stopes in a set commemorating women’s achievement was criticised by those who accuse of her being a eugenicist and Nazi sympathiser.

But on this occasion even the Church of England, of whom the Queen is the head and Supreme Governor, appears to have no complaint about the choice of a pagan god for a set of stamps carrying her mail.

Asked to comment the Church of England declined.

The Royal Mail said the series depicting Thor and other Marvel superheroes, including Spiderman and Black Panther, celebrated the impact of the comics in Britain and the contribution made to their distinctive look by British artists and designers.

A Royal Mail spokeswoman said: “The Marvel Comics stories have been enjoyed for decades by generations of UK fans, and in the 1970s Marvel launched a UK imprint of its comics.

“The 1980s, in particular, saw US comic publishers heavily recruiting British writers and illustrators, who increasingly worked on the American publications and began to inject darker storylines and widened the appeal of the characters. One such artist is Alan Davis, who designed the new Special Stamps, and has worked with Marvel since the early 1980s and first illustrated Captain Britain in 1985.”

Membership in Swiss churches continues to decline

Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? Luke 18:8b

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; I Timothy 4:1

As reported by The Local (Switzerland), January 31, 2019 (links in original):

The Swiss Federal Statistics Office has just published new figures on the religion in the country. Here are seven key takeaways.

1) Catholics are the largest religious group in Switzerland

Members of the Catholic Church (35.9 percent) made up the largest religious community in Switzerland in 2017, followed by members of the Swiss Reformed Church (25 percent).

A total of 5.4 percent of people belonged to Islamic communities while members of Jewish communities comprised 0.3 percent of the population.

2) More and more people are leaving the big churches

The number of people who belong to the Catholic and Swiss Reformed churches is continuing to fall in Switzerland.

In 1990, 46.2 percent of people in Switzerland belonged to the Catholic Church but by 2017 that figure had dropped to 35.9 percent. For the Reformed Church the decline is even greater: 39.6 percent in 1990 against 23.8 percent in 2017.
3) The number of people who don't belong to a religious community has risen dramatically

With so many people leaving the large Catholic and Reformed churches, it makes sense that the number of ‘unaffiliated’ people has also risen – from just 3.4 percent in 1990 to 26 percent in 2017.

This figure is highest among people aged 25 to 44: 32.5 percent. The percentage of people aged 65 and over who don’t belong to a church is 16.1 percent.

4) People are (probably) not just leaving the church for financial reasons

Relations between church and state are a cantonal matter in Switzerland and in most cantons church members pay a direct ‘church tax’ on their income. The amount of tax varies from canton to canton and even from commune to commune and often runs to hundreds of francs a year.

But while the FSO statistics do not reveal why people are leaving the church, it appears money may not be not the main reason.

The authors of another newly published study on religion in Zurich found that older city residents often left the church because they no longer agreed with its position on issues while young people tended to leave because they had never believed.

In both cases, however, money was not one of the main reasons cited.

Meanwhile, religion researcher Stefan Huber from the University of Bern told the Der Bund newspaper that Switzerland was becoming increasingly secular.

“In contrast to how it used to be, it is no longer necessary to belong to a church to be a good Swiss,” he said.

5) Not everyone who leaves the church is a non-believer

According to the FSO figures, only a third of people who are unaffiliated with a church describe themselves as atheists. One quarter say they are agnostic, one in ten say they believe there is just one god, and around one in three express a belief in a higher power.

The new figures also reveal religion or spirituality plays a major role for 56 percent of people in difficult moments in their lives. In addition, nearly half of all people (47 percent of all people) said spiritual or religious considerations were important when it came to raising children, and 16 percent said these considerations influenced their political views.

6) Over half of all women believe in ‘guardian angels’

Women in Switzerland are more likely to belong to a church than men (just) and are more likely to pray on a daily basis (35 percent against 20 percent).

They are also far more likely to think there are “probably” or “definitely” guardian angels or supernatural beings that watch over them (58 percent for women versus 37 percent for men).

Finally, 46 percent of women believe there are people with healing or clairvoyant powers. For men, the figure is 42 percent.

7) There are huge regional differences in church membership

The percentage of people who are not members of a church varies wildly – from a high of 49.6 percent in the canton of Basel-Stadt to just 9.4 percent in the canton of Uri. In Zurich, the figure is 29.2 percent, in Geneva it’s 41.3 percent and in Bern it’s 20.5 percent.

In general, there are more church members in predominantly Catholic cantons than in predominantly Reformed cantons.

Again, the FSO figures don’t reveal why this is the case, but Huber gave Der Bund two possible reasons. Firstly, in the Catholic Church, the church itself is seen as an essential intermediary between God and the people whereas members of the Reformed Church do not need the church to have contact with God.

Secondly, Huber noted the Swiss Reformed Church is much more closely connected with Swiss culture, which means it struggles to attract immigrants.

The FSO statistics show one in four members of the Catholic Church in Switzerland has a foreign passport. For the Reformed Church, that number is just one in twenty.