Friday, January 19, 2018

Norwegian school accused of censoring Christmas songs

Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
Romans 1:21-22

Here's an old item that I just discovered, providing more evidence of a denial of anything having to do with the Christian faith in what were once known as "Christian" countries. As reported by The Local (Norway), December 15, 2016:

A primary school in Stavanger has been criticized for not allowing children to sing the hymn ‘Deilig er jorden’ at the school’s Christmas party, but the school’s principal says the media has gotten the story all wrong.

Children at Nylund School were told that they could not perform the song, which was written by Danish hymnist Bernhard Ingemann in 1850 to the tune of ‘Fairest Lord Jesus’. Instead, they were only allowed to hum the melody.

In addition, other Christmas songs were altered to remove all references to Santa Claus and elves and the party itself was renamed from ‘Christmas celebration’ to ‘December gathering’.

Stavanger Aftenblad originally reported the changes, which quickly spread throughout the national press.

The school’s principle, Frøydis Anthonsen, told Stavanger Aftenblad that the changes were made so as not to offend anyone.

“Someone who doesn’t want the Christmas message would perceive it as offensive that the word ‘Christmas’ is included, because they associate the word ‘Christmas’ with something Christian,” she said.

But Anthonsen later said that she misspoke and denied that Christmas had been systematically stripped from the Christmas party.

“In a hurry I answered questions when the reporter called earlier today and without checking the matter further they published the story as if we wanted to change the Christmas songs,” she told Dagbladet.

Anthonsen said Christmas songs had not actually been censored, but that the school’s music teachers were making examples of what would happen if religious accommodation was taken “to the extreme”.

“The music teachers wrote a proposal for how it would look if we went to the extreme [and] took away all the words. ‘Is that how we want it? What does society want? What do the parents want?’ That was the discussion,” she said.

Anthonsen said the amended Christmas songs reached one class’s weekly schedule by mistake, leading to the misunderstanding that the songs had been changed.

She did, however, admit that the school had made changes to its annual Christmas celebration.

“What is true is that we are not going to church this year but will instead gather at school. There, we will of course sing the original Christmas songs. And next year we will be in the church again, and then those who do not want to take part can opt out,” the principal said.

Italian headmaster ends school prayers, orders Catholic statues removed

This sort of thing seems to be happening everywhere; as reported by The Local (Italy), November 24, 2017 (links in original):

Nicolò La Rocca, headmaster of the Ragusa Moleti primary school in Palermo, issued a circular on Thursday morning instructing teachers that they should no longer ask children to say prayers or sing hymns before meals or at the beginning of class.

He also removed a statue of the Virgin Mary and other Catholic icons from display, including pictures of Pope Francis, reported La Repubblica.

The newspaper, which filmed a video report from the school, said that the statues were now placed on a windowsill in the toilets.

La Rocca said that he acted in response to complaints from parents that certain statues were in the way. “They were simply two very cumbersome statues,” he told La Repubblica.

“An enormous Buddha would have caused problems too, no?”

ome mothers told the paper that they would protest the head’s decision.

Yet La Rocca has Italian law on his side: as he pointed out in his circular, a 2009 opinion from the state’s lawyers ruled that religious rites should not be conducted at schools during lesson time. The same advisory states that they can be carried out on school property outside teaching hours, including during breaks.

But “having a sacred image up doesn’t hurt anyone”, Italy’s undersecretary for education, Gabriele Toccafondi, commented. “It seems to me that the headteacher’s decision has less to do with freedom and more to do with ideology.”

Politicians across the spectrum joined him in criticizing La Rocca. Giorgia Meloni, leader of the right-wing Brothers of Italy party, called his decision “shameful and offensive”, while Edoardo Patriarca, MP for the centre-left Democratic Party, said that it “denies our roots”.

Though Italy officially separates church and state, Roman Catholic traditions run deep in the country’s society and culture. Many Italians consider religion a part of public life – including in secular, state-run schools.

There was outcry ten years ago when a Finnish-Italian mother sought to have crucifixes removed from her sons’ school. She challenged the Ministry of Education’s directive that every state school should display the symbol, taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

The court initially found in her favour, but the Italian government convinced judges to reverse the ruling on appeal. In 2011 they decided that a crucifix was “an essentially passive symbol” and couldn’t therefore be considered “a process of indoctrination” (though they did indicate that “participation in religious activities” – such as saying prayers – was different).

Several politicians called on Italy’s Ministry of Education to apply pressure on La Rocca.

For the meantime, however, the headmaster remains undeterred. “I was only thinking about doing my duty,” he told local news site LiveSicilia.

The school, attended by some 800 children between three and ten years old, will still celebrate Christmas, he assured La Repubblica.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Pope Francis accuses sexual assault victims of slandering Chilean bishop--although the judge who heard the case believed the accusers

Never trust a Jesuit--in this case, Pope Francis. As reported by Nicole Winfield of The Associated Press, January 18, 2018 (link inserted by blogger):

Pope Francis accused victims of Chile’s most notorious pedophile of slander Thursday, an astonishing end to a visit meant to help heal the wounds of a sex abuse scandal that has cost the Catholic Church its credibility in the country.

Francis said that until he sees proof that Bishop Juan Barros was complicit in covering up the sex crimes of the Rev. Fernando Karadimas, such accusations against Barros are “all calumny.”

The pope’s remarks drew shock from Chileans and immediate rebuke from victims and their advocates. They noted the accusers were deemed credible enough by the Vatican that it sentenced Karadima to a lifetime of “penance and prayer” for his crimes in 2011. A Chilean judge also found the victims to be credible, saying that while she had to drop criminal charges against Karadima because too much time had passed, proof of his crimes wasn’t lacking.

“As if I could have taken a selfie or a photo while Karadima abused me and others and Juan Barros stood by watching it all,” tweeted Barros’ most vocal accuser, Juan Carlos Cruz. “These people are truly crazy, and the pontiff talks about atonement to the victims. Nothing has changed, and his plea for forgiveness is empty.”

The Karadima scandal dominated Francis’ visit to Chile and the overall issue of sex abuse and church coverup was likely to factor into his three-day trip to Peru that began late Thursday.

Karadima’s victims reported to church authorities as early as 2002 that he would kiss and fondle them in the swank Santiago parish he ran, but officials refused to believe them. Only when the victims went public with their accusations in 2010 did the Vatican launch an investigation that led to Karadima being removed from ministry.

The emeritus archbishop of Santiago subsequently apologized for having refused to believe the victims from the start.

Francis reopened the wounds of the scandal in 2015 when he named Barros, a protege of Karadima, as bishop of the southern diocese of Osorno. Karadima’s victims say Barros knew of the abuse, having seen it, but did nothing. Barros has denied the allegations.

His appointment outraged Chileans, badly divided the Osorno diocese and further undermined the church’s already shaky credibility in the country.

Francis had sought to heal the wounds by meeting this week with abuse victims and begging forgiveness for the crimes of church pastors. But on Thursday, he struck a defiant tone when asked by a Chilean journalist about Barros.

“The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I’ll speak,” Francis said. “There is not one shred of proof against him. It’s all calumny. Is that clear?”

Francis had defended the appointment before, calling the Osorno controversy “stupid” and the result of a campaign mounted by leftists. But The Associated Press reported last week that the Vatican was so worried about the fallout from the Karadima affair that it was prepared in 2014 to ask Barros and two other Karadima-trained bishops to resign and go on a yearlong sabbatical.

According to a Jan. 31, 2015, letter obtained by AP from Francis to the executive committee of the Chilean bishops’ conference, the plan fell apart and Barros was sent to Osorno.

Juan Carlos Claret, spokesman for a group of Osorno lay Catholics who have mounted a three-year campaign against Barros, questioned why Francis was now accusing the victims of slandering Barros when the Vatican was so convinced of their claims that it planned to remove him in 2014.

“Isn’t the pastoral problem that we’re living (in Osorno) enough to get rid of him?” Claret asked.

The reference was to the fact that – guilty or not – Barros has been unable to do his job because so many Osorno Catholics and priests don’t recognize him as their bishop. They staged an unprecedented protest during his 2015 installation ceremony and have protested his presence ever since.

Anne Barrett Doyle, of the online database, said it was “sad and wrong” for the pope to discredit the victims since “the burden of proof here rests with the church, not the victims – and especially not with victims whose veracity has already been affirmed.”

“He has just turned back the clock to the darkest days of this crisis,” she said in a statement. “Who knows how many victims now will decide to stay hidden, for fear they will not be believed?”

Indeed, Catholic officials for years accused victims of slandering and attacking the church with their claims. But up until Francis’ words Thursday, many in the church and Vatican had come to reluctantly acknowledge that victims usually told the truth and that the church for decades had wrongly sought to protect its own.

German Silva, a political scientist at Santiago’s Universidad Mayor, said the pope’s comments were a “tremendous error” that will reverberate in Chile and beyond.

Patricio Navia, political science professor at Diego Portales University in Santiago, said Francis had gone much further than Chilean bishops in acknowledging the sexual abuse scandal, which many Chileans appreciated.

“Then right before leaving, Francis turns around and says: ‘By the way, I don’t think Barros is guilty. Show me some proof,”‘ Navia said, adding that the comment will probably erase any good will the pope had won over the issue.

Navia said the Karadima scandal had radically changed how Chileans view the church.

“In the typical Chilean family, parents (now) think twice before sending their kids to Catholic school because you never know what is going to happen,” Navia said.
HT: W.M.

U.S. government moves to protect religious freedom of health care workers

As reported by Toni Clarke of Reuters, January 18, 2018 (bold in original):

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government is seeking to further protect the “conscience and religious freedom” of health workers whose beliefs prevent them from carrying out abortions and other procedures, in an effort likely to please conservative Christian activists and other supporters of President Donald Trump.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said on Thursday it will create a division within its Office of Civil Rights to give it “the focus it needs to more vigorously and effectively enforce existing laws protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom.”

Healthcare workers, hospitals with religious affiliations, and medical students among others have been “bullied” by the federal government to provide these services despite existing laws on religious and conscience rights, the top HHS official said.

“The federal government has hounded religious hospitals...forcing them to provide services that violate their consciences,” Acting HHS Secretary Eric Hargan said. “Medical students, too, have learned to do procedures that violate their consciences.”

Some of the services at issue include abortion and euthanasia, according to HHS documents. Politico reported on Wednesday that the protections would extend to care for transgender patients seeking to transition.

Democrats criticized the move as a denial of healthcare for women and others, while legal and medical ethics experts said that such exemptions have legal limits and would be challenged in court.

Democratic Senator Patty Murray said in a statement she was “deeply troubled” by reports of the new division and that “any approach that would deny or delay health care to someone and jeopardize their well being for ideological reasons is unacceptable.”


The division would enforce the legal protection and conduct compliance reviews, audits and other enforcement actions to ensure that health care providers are allowing workers with religious or moral objections to opt out.

As the division seeks to back exemptions, it is likely to face legal and ethical challenges.

“There will be challenges to any step along the way for any expansion of religious exceptions,” said Marci Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. She said such challenges would be “pretty strong.”

Hamilton said that while courts had frequently upheld religious exemptions in recent years, they have recognized limits. For example, she said, courts have rejected a church’s bid to be exempt from federal marijuana laws, and a Pennsylvania order of nun’s effort to avoid eminent domain.

Professionals take an oath to serve people who are sick, Alta Charo, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison explained. They are also the only ones licensed to provide those services and must do so without discrimination, she said.

“When the director of the office of civil rights is quoted as saying that ‘No physician should have to choose between helping a sick person or following their personal conscience,’ the director is simply wrong. That choice was made the moment they became physicians,” she said.

Charo and other medical ethicists raised concerns about patients who may be denied medically necessary, legally protected care because it might violate an individual physician’s beliefs.

“What protections exist if a doctor can choose not to take care of me because of my gender or my sexual orientation or because I have an ectopic pregnancy and don’t know it and I‘m at a Catholic hospital and it’s the only hospital in town?” said Dr. Lainie Ross of the University of Chicago’s MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics.

The American Medical Association declined to comment on the policy because it has not seen a written proposal. However, the American College of Physicians said the new policy “must not lead to discrimination” against any category or class of patients.

The HIV Medicine Association called the policy “regressive” and said it shifts the foundation for medical decisions “from sound scientific practice to healthcare providers’ personal beliefs.”

Asma Uddin, a fellow at the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations and a Muslim, spoke at an HHS press conference about the need for protection against what she said was a variety of ways Muslim women patients are forced to violate their conscience, particularly with respect to modesty.

The creation of the new HHS division is in accordance with an executive order signed by Trump last May called “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.” The order was followed by new rules aimed at removing a legal mandate that health insurance provide contraception.

Several proponents of the changes cited the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Roman Catholic nuns which runs care homes for the elderly, which had challenged a legal mandate under Obamacare, the common name for former President Barack Obama’s 2010 healthcare law.

In October, HHS introduced rules that would let businesses or non-profit organizations lodge religious or moral objections to obtain an exemption from that mandate that employers provide contraceptives coverage in health insurance with no co-payment.

Planned Parenthood said the move was the latest example of the Trump administration’s efforts to block women, transgender people and other communities from access to care.

Americans United for Life, a group that opposes abortion rights, said the HHS had taken a strong step forward to allow individuals and organization to exclude abortions or other services that violate their conscience.

Jewish day school in Massachusetts invites drag queen as shabbat guest speaker

Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. Leviticus 18:22

The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God. Deuteronomy 22:5

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

More evidence that Judaism today has nothing to do with the commands that God gave in the Old Testament. As reported by Josefin Dolsten of Jewish Telegraphic Agency, January 18, 2018 (links in original):

The Saturday evening event at a Jewish day school in western Massachusetts will in many ways look like a typical havdalah. There will be a musical ceremony marking the end of Shabbat with a braided candle, grape juice and spice bags.

But the event at the Lander Grinspoon Academy in Northampton will also feature storytelling by a less typical guest: a drag queen.

The school, together with local Jewish organizations, is hosting a Jewish version of Drag Queen Story Hour, a national program in which drag entertainers read stories to children. The goal of the program, launched in San Francisco in 2015, is to give kids “glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models.”

A local drag queen, Jenayah De Rosario, will be reading “Sparkle Boy,” a book by Jewish children’s author Leslea Newman, about a young boy who likes to wear glittery clothing. Newman will be on hand and read two of her books: “Here Is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays” and “Heather Has Two Mommies,” which when published in 1989 drew praise and controversy for portraying a family with same-sex parents.

The event will also feature plenty of glitter, including workshops to make sparkly spice bags and crowns, a photo booth with costumes and face painting.

Amy Meltzer, the school’s director of family engagement, came up with the idea for Sparkle Havdalah: A Drag Queen Story Hour after a local library hosted a drag queen story hour organized by Newman. Meltzer, who serves in the same role for event co-sponsor Congregation B’nai Israel of Northampton, said hosting the havdalah event aligned with the values of the local Jewish community.

“We live in a community that is progressive, has many LGBTQ families and really celebrates people being themselves and not being stuck with really rigid ideas of what gender needs to look like, so it felt like a really natural fit for our community,” Meltzer told JTA.

Lander Grinspoon Academy is a nondenominational day school that welcomes children “from all Jewish traditions and backgrounds.”

The area, which includes Smith College, Mount Holyoke College and the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts, has a national reputation for being LGBT-friendly. The event is co-sponsored by a range of Jewish institutions in the area, including the school and Congregation B’nai Israel of Northampton along with Gan Keshet Preschool, Abundance Farm, PJ Library of Western Massachusetts and the Upper Pioneer Valley, and the Beit Ahavah synagogue . The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, which runs PJ Library and is headquartered in nearby Agawam, is providing funding.

In 2014, PJ library, a nonprofit organization that sends free Jewish children books and CDs to families, for the first time included a book featuring LGBTQ characters, “The Purim Superhero.” However, it chose to make the book about a young boy with two fathers available by request only rather than sending it out to all who subscribe to the service. PJ Library drew both praise and criticism from the LGBTQ community and allies — praise for including the book, criticism for treating it differently than other books.

Newman said she sees the Lander event as a step forward.

“As far as I know, besides ‘Purim Superhero,’ there hasn’t been a [PJ Library] book that touches on issues of LGBTQ families,” she said. “I would like to think that they at some point might consider heading in that direction. I know they have a very broad constituency, and it’s hard to please everybody, so I am absolutely thrilled that they are sponsoring this event.”

The local PJ Library service welcomes a diverse group of families, including interfaith, interracial and LGBTQ families, said Rachel Hirsch Schneider, the coordinator for the PJ Library of Western Massachusetts and the Upper Pioneer Valley. The branch operates under the umbrella of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts.

“We have all sorts of family structures in our community, and we embrace that fully,” Hirsch Schneider told JTA, adding that she hoped to plan future events for LGBTQ families.

Meltzer wants to attract families who might not otherwise attend a Jewish event. She is expecting a large turnout and has bought craft materials for 100 children.

“People have certain stereotypes that a Jewish community might have a narrower approach to understanding gender, so it’s a message that we’re a welcoming community and an inclusive community,” Meltzer said.

She noted that the event might not be a hit everywhere.

“We know this is a good fit for our community,” she said. “I have no suggestion that every community ought to have a drag queen havdalah.”

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Noah called to his son on his cell phone, according to Turkish professor

And the Lord said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation...
...And Noah went in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons' wives with him, into the ark, because of the waters of the flood...
...In the selfsame day entered Noah, and Shem, and Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah's wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, into the ark;
Genesis 7:1, 7, 13

So the Ark floated with them on the waves (towering) like mountains, and Noah called out to his son, who had separated himself (from the rest): "O my son! embark with us, and be not with the unbelievers!"
The son replied: "I will betake myself to some mountain: it will save me from the water." Noah said: "This day nothing can save, from the command of Allah, any but those on whom He hath mercy! "And the waves came between them, and the son was among those overwhelmed in the Flood.
Qur'an (Abdullah Yusuf Ali translation), Surah 11:42-43

The reader will note from the passages above that the Biblical account of the flood differs considerably from the Qur'anic version. The Genesis account clearly states that all of Noah's family, including all his sons, were in the ark. The following item, submitted for your approval, sounds like the sort of idea that Southwest Radio Church might promote, but it comes from Islam. As they used to say in Get Smart, "I find that very hard to believe." As reported by Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz of Breaking Israel News, January 11, 2018:

A Turkish professor has come up with an amazing theory about Biblical Noah based on his understanding of the story as related in the Koran: during the storm, conversation was impossible due to the thunder and lightning so Noah kept in touch with his sons via cellular phone. The professor reveals even more surprising details but the story is no joke and has become the focus of religious debate between secular and Islamic Turks.

Yavuz Ornek, a lecturer at the Marine Sciences Faculty of Istanbul University, was invited to speak on Turkish state-owned TRT television channel last Saturday on the subject of the flood story, which has an entire chapter of the Koran dedicated to it. In most respects, it is identical to the story as it appears in the Bible, but Ornek’s take on the story differed greatly from both versions.

Ornek was discussing the section of the Koran’s version of the flood story in which one of Noah’s sons, who was a disbeliever, refused to come aboard the Ark. The son climbed a mountain but as the floodwaters rose, he spoke to his father and repented.

“The Koran says the waves were as high as mountains, so if Noah spoke with his son, his son must be sitting on the top of another mountain,” Ornek said in the televised interview. “The Koran says they spoke, but to talk between two mountains with hundreds of kilometers apart, they must have had mobile phones, and Noah’s son must have boarded an aerial vehicle to reach his father.”

Ornek explained his theory, saying that technologies were much more advanced 10,000 years ago than most people realize. Noah, referred to as Nûḥ ibn Lamech ibn Methuselah in the Koran, also used advanced technology to build an ark out of steel that was powered by nuclear energy. Ornek also claimed that instead of bringing live animals onto the ark, Noah stocked it with one male and one female egg from every living species.

“I am a scientist, I speak for science” Ornek added, giving his theories his academic seal of approval.

As bizarre as Professor Ornek’s claims may sound to Western ears, they were taken seriously by the Turkish public and became the focus of a fierce religious debate. Dr. Efrat Aviv, a specialist in Turkey for the Begin- Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and a lecturer in the department of Middle Eastern Studies at Bar Ilan University, was sure Ornek was serious about his theories, as were the listeners.

“To say something insulting about the Koran, even as a joke, could cost this man his life, so it is unlikely he meant it as anything other than serious commentary on the text.” Dr. Aviv told Breaking Israel News. “I watched the interview. He sounded very convincing and clearly believed in his theories. The professor went into great depth and detail, making fine distinctions in the text.”

Dr. Aviv reported fierce debates on Turkish social media over the Ornek’s comments.

“His theories were extreme by any standards, Dr. Aviv said. “Most of the Turkish people who reacted on social media had strong opinions, mostly rejecting his theories, but some people were very supportive and defended him.”

Dr. Aviv described one anti-religious Turkish twitter comment that used Ornek’s theories to strike at religion.

“If you can believe in such a story as a crazy as the flood then it should be no problem to believe that Noah spoke on a cell-phone,” the tweet read.

“There is a religious conflict going on in Turkey,” Dr. Aviv said. “Even though this professor did not intend for his statements to be anti-Islamic, the furor that is the result of the interview is becoming the expression of this conflict.”

The story of the ark is especially provocative in Turkey. The flood story is common to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but anthropologists believe it has much more ancient roots in stories like the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh Epic. Noah is considered an important prophet in Islam as one of the first sent to mankind. For Muslim Turks, this story takes on a much more important aspect since they believe the Biblical Mount Ararat, the final resting place of the ark, is actually Mount Nemrut in Turkey.

“This is a Muslim debate in Turkey but it is actually common to all religions,” Dr. Aviv said, summing up the conflict in universal terms. “This is the conflict between religion and science, and the question of what are the boundaries of belief.”

Friday, January 12, 2018

Japanese Buddhist priest charged with theft of women's lingerie

An old item that I recently discovered, as reported by Casey Baseel of SoraNews 24, August 26, 2015 (originally reported by Sankei News, August 24, 2015) (bold in original):

It stands to reason that, upon reaching the age of 60 years, a man will find himself in possession of knowledge that he wants to share with younger generations. As a matter of fact, he may even feel compelled to do so, especially if his vocation is one that involves the dissemination of important lessons.

That might have been a factor in the decisions made by Shoden Yamazaki, former head priest of the Choshoji Buddhist temple in Akita Prefecture. And, truth be told, the lesson he claims he wanted to spread, “If you’re not careful, people might steal your lingerie,” is a valuable one.

However, being a good teacher is as much about how you deliver the message as it is the message itself. While it drives the point home, warning people about underwear security by dressing up in a skirt and high heels, then stealing their bras and panties, probably isn’t the best, or even really legal, methodology, which is why Yamazaki now finds himself on trial for lingerie theft.

This isn’t the 60-year-old Yamazaki’s first time to end up on the wrong side of anti-underwear theft legislation. During the investigation, it came to light that he began stealing underwear, upper elementary school girls’ in particular, at the age of 19. He continued his activities even after getting married (unlike their Catholic counterparts, Buddhist priests in Japan are allowed to wed), although when he was caught stealing underwear at the age of 29, he took a five-year break from his criminal activities.

He started up again at the age of 34, though, but was apparently able to keep his perversions well enough on the down low that in 2006 he assumed the position of head priest at Choshoji Temple. You’d think the added responsibilities would leave him less time for grabbing strangers’ panties hanging on their balconies to dry, but according to the prosecution, Yamazaki instead added a new wrinkle, and since four years ago has been dressing as a woman while on lingerie-stealing excursions.

The prosecutors claim that on June 16 Yamazaki set out from his home in Yurihonjo City by car, stopping in Kitagami City to change into a skirt and high heels. He then proceeded to Akita City, the prefectural capital, and found an adult woman’s bra and panties drying outside a first-floor apartment at around 11:30 p.m.

Seizing the opportunity, prosecutors say Yamazaki helped himself to the woman’s underwear. And he would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling high heels. From inside the apartment, the husband of the lingerie’s owner heard the clack of the footwear on the pavement. Spotting Yamazaki’s suspicious figure, the husband called out “Hey!”, to which Yamazaki cleverly retorted “This ain't got a damn thing to do with me!” His ruse would probably have been more effective if, being dressed in women’s clothing, he’d refrained from using ore, the Japanese word for “me” that’s used almost exclusively by males, but everyone cracks under pressure sometimes.

Seeing through the disguise, the couple called the police. Yamazaki was subsequently arrested, after which he resigned from his position as head priest of Choshoji.

Yamazaki’s trial opened on August 24, during which he asserted that:

“It is dangerous to hang your underwear to dry outside in the middle of the night, so I stole the victim’s underwear to teach her that.”

The prosecutor responded with the obvious question “Isn’t that an unusual way of thinking?” because when the defendant himself is already using words like “stole” and “victim” to describe the incident, well, your job is pretty much being done for you.

Yamazaki’s wife also took the stand, stating:

“I knew my husband was into that sort of thing when he was younger, but I did not think he was still interested in it. I think stress was one of the causes.”

The prosecution is seeking one year in prison for Yamazaki, while the defense is asking for a suspended sentence, based on the fact that the defendant has been undergoing psychological treatment as a sex offender.
I've been unable to find anything more current on this case, but I suspect that Mr. Yamazaki was convicted.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

U.S. State Department calls for Israel to strengthen ban on Jewish prayer at Jerusalem's Temple Mount

As reported by Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz of Breaking Israel News, January 9, 2018 (links in original):

The US State Department’s annual report on religious freedoms, released on Thursday, focused much attention on Jerusalem, calling for the Israeli government to strengthen the ban on Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount.

“The U.S. Ambassador and embassy officers spoke with government officials and Knesset leaders about the importance of maintaining the status quo at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif and not escalating tensions through provocative actions or statements,” the report read, referring to the Temple Mount by its Arabic name.

The “status quo” is an understanding among religious communities with respect to religious sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem and was first established by the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century. Under the Muslim Ottomans, Jerusalem was divided into four quarters and the Temple Mount became a Muslim holy place, ignoring the Jewish connection to the site. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre as well as other various Christian sites were recognized as belonging to the Christian world.

“Despite the Israeli government’s policy prohibiting non-Muslim worship at the site, some Jewish groups escorted by Israeli police at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount performed religious acts such as prayers and prostration,” the report stated.

Though Israeli law mandates religious equality, the Israeli police cite security concerns and the possibility of a violent Muslim reaction to justify preventing non-Muslim prayer on the Temple Mount.

Though also relevant to Christians, the ban on prayer focuses on Jews. Hours for Jewish visitation to the site are limited and Jews may only enter the site in small groups. Visitors undergo rigorous security checks and religious items are prohibited. Jewish groups are accompanied by both Israeli police and Waqf (Muslim authority) guards who ensure that visitors do not pray or show any signs of devotion.

Muslims normally have unrestricted access to the site, though during outbreaks of violence, the Israeli police will restrict entry to women and older men. Muslims do not undergo any security checks at the site.

“Incidents of attempted Jewish prayer at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount increased from previous years, according to local NGOs, media, and Jewish Temple Mount movement groups, and occurred on a near-weekly basis. During Jewish holidays, such as Passover, Tisha B’Av, and Sukkot, tens of Jewish Temple Mount activists engaged in prayer on the site. In most cases, Israeli police acted to prevent them from praying and removed them, but in other cases, some of which were documented on social media in photos and videos, the police appeared not to notice the acts of prayer.”

The report referred to Judea, Samaria, and east Jerusalem as “occupied territories”. These areas are part of Biblical Israel but are considered disputed territories under some interpretations of international law.

The report described Palestinian terrorist attacks as possible violations of religious freedoms.

“Because religion and ethnicity were often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize much of this violence as being solely based on religious identity,” the report explained.

While calling for a total Muslim monopoly on the Temple Mount, the report reproached Israel for not allowing non-Orthodox prayer in the Orthodox prayer section of the Western Wall.

“In meetings with government officials, embassy officers stressed the importance of religious pluralism and respect for non-Orthodox streams of Judaism. The Israeli government did not implement a cabinet agreement reached in January to establish a Reform, Conservative, and mixed gender prayer platform along a separate portion of the Western Wall,” the report said. “Reform, Conservative, and women’s Jewish groups including some Orthodox Jewish women’s groups lobbied for the proposal, whereas ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious leaders and political figures continued to oppose the plan.”

The report also praised the efforts of US Ambassador David Friedman to promote interfaith understanding.

“Embassy-hosted events, including an interfaith Ramadan iftar and an interfaith Thanksgiving dinner, promoted the reduction of tensions between religious communities and an increase in interreligious communication and partnership within society by bringing together representatives of many faith communities to advance shared goals and exchange knowledge and experience,” the report said.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

50 years ago: Newspaper religion page reveals recent trends and future directions

The following items that appeared on the religion page of the Calgary Albertan on January 6, 1968 not only report current and recent events, but indicate the direction of things to come (bold in original):

Science brought pressure to bear on church in '67

WINNIPEG (Special)--The resignation of Cardinal Leger was listed as one of [the] top 10 religious news stories of 1967.

Scientific and medical developments that came later in the year topped the list.

The Lutheran Church in America's Commission on Press, Radio and Television reported their top 10 choices on a newscast carried by 300 stations in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean.

The test tube creation of chemical material that creates one form of life by Stanford University scientists "sets in motion some chain reactions in human psychology and theology to be argued for years," the summary said.

A second and equally significant news story with heavy religious over-tones occurred in South Africa with the first human heart transplant in history.

The No. 3 story was the "display of ecclesiastical courage of a Milwaukee Roman Catholic priest, Father James Groppi in leading a dozen parades of protesting Negroes in a fight for open housing in their city."

Here are the 10 selections for top religious news stories of 1967:

1. Scientists create life in test tube.

2. Human heart transplanted.

3. Father Groppi leads housing marches in Milwaukee.

4. Pope Paul, Patriarch Athenagoras exchange visits.

5. Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. adopts Confession of 1967.

6. "Modern Priest Looks at His Outdated Church."

7. Bishop Pike communicates with dead son.

8. President Johnson gets asked question in church.

9. First Synod of Bishops meets in Rome.

10. Canadian cardinal resigns to aid lepers.

The exchange of visits in Istanbul and Rome by Pope Paul the Sixth and and Patriarch Athenagoras, head of the Orthodox branch of Christendom, symbolized growing rapprochement between Christians."

The adoption of a new confession by the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S. was "the first such document in three centuries."

And the criticisms in the book by Father James Kavanaugh, "A Modern Priest Looks at His Outdated Church," added weight and momentum to the growing debate and discussion inside the institutional church of the stresses and strains on the contemporary church.
Politically active clergymen such as Father James Groppi became so familiar that Paul Simon made reference to them in his song Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard (1972), with the line, "Now when the radical priest comes to get me released..."

Carl McIntire, President of the International Council of Christian Churches, host of the 20th Century Reformation Hour radio broadcast, and a veteran of the battles between fundamentalists and modernists within the Presbyterian Church in the 1920s and '30s, wrote the book The Death of a Church (1967) about the Confession of 1967, and referred to the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. as "officially, judicially apostate."

James A. Pike, Episcopal Church Bishop of California from 1958-1966, was a notorious heretic and Social Justice Warrior who was a subject of frequent media coverage in his time, but is forgotten today. His son Jim committed suicide in 1966, and in September 1967, Bishop Pike appeared in a seance with medium Arthur Ford on the CTV news program W5 in an attempt to contact his son. Bishop Pike died in the Judean Desert under mysterious circumstances in September 1969 at the age of 56.
Should churches aid homosexuals

No, say psychiatrists

United Press International

Homosexuals are waging a militant campaign for acceptance of their way of life as a normal condition, like being left-handed.

Their hopes for changing public attitudes would be greatly enhanced if they could get churches on their side. Recently, they seem to have made substantial progress in that direction.

A group of 90 Episcopalian priests met in New York for a symposium on the church's approach to homosexuality. The majority agreed that the church should classify homosexual relations between consenting adults as "morally neutral," and said that in some cases they may even be a good thing.

This month, thousands of congregations of the United Presbyterian Church and the United Church of Christ are receiving booklets, prepared by the social action departments of the two denominations, asserting that the church has a special responsibility for helping to change society's attitude toward homosexuality, because in the past it has been "the institution most vehement in its opposition to the homosexual."

The booklets are intended for study and discussion by local church groups.

Over the protests of several "homophile" organizations, most psychiatrists insist that homosexuality is an illness. They say it can be treated if the patient is strongly motivated, but that a majority of homosexuals appear satisfied to remain as they are.

Dr. Samuel Hadden, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania medical school, is quoted in one of the new booklets as saying that recognition of homosexuality as "socially acceptable behavior" would be a dangerous relaxation of cultural constraints.

Dr. Hadden goes on to say that he is "most certainly opposed to harassment of homosexuals." But there is a vast difference, he points out, between humanizing essentially unenforceable laws, and accepting homosexuality as "a totally desirable state."

Canon Kenneth Sharp of Washington, D.C. expressed a similar view in a sermon:

"Let us not forget that by and large this is an acquired trait," he said.

"In the atmosphere of social acceptance, individuals were directed into the practice of homosexuality who otherwise would have led normal lives. There are strong indications that this was a factor in the deterioration of some civilizations."

Canon Sharp said the church should treat homosexuals as it has lately learned to treat alcoholics--neither condemning their plight as a moral collapse, nor condoning it as a normal way of life, but looking on them with compassion as sick people who need help and understanding.

That, however, is not what homosexuals want from the church. They want homosexuality to be on a moral and legal par with normal heterosexual relationships between males and females.

To accept this view, the church would have to make a sharp break with Jewish and Christian tradition. That tradition is reflected in such Biblical passages as Leviticus 18:22, which describes homosexual practices as "an abomination," and in Romans 1:26-27, which says that homosexual relationships are a sin "against nature."
The above article indicates that the attempt of sodomites to infiltrate and subvert churches is nothing new. The Board of Trustees of the American Psychiatric Association, under pressure from sodomite activists, voted in 1973 to remove homosexuality from the category of disorder in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual--which shows how scientific the DSM is.
'Bible ethics unreliable'

TORONTO (CP) -- Why is the tempter in the story of Adam and Eve a serpent?

Because it's a phallic symbol, says Rev. J. Edgar Bruns, chairman of the theology department at St. Michael's College, and it illustrates the anti-sex and anti-woman element of the Old Testament.

Father Bruns, who analyzes the Christian sexual heritage in a book entitled "The New Morality", says the Old Testament is filled with anit-sexual and anti-feminist taboos and he lists a number of "thoroughly evil women" who figure in the biblical narratives.

There was Potiphar's wife, who tried to seduce Joseph; Delilah, who was Samson's barber and his undoing; and Jezebel, who has become a synonym for the thoroughly hateful woman.

Father Bruns rejects the Bible as a reliable ethical guide because of the contrast of moral precepts--some of which are "only valid at a particular period because of the historical circumstances which created them" and others which "remain valid independently of time and place."

He suggests that the original sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was not homosexuality, but "inhospitality", which all Eastern peoples regarded as a serious offence, and was later changed by rabbis who were alarmed by the Greek propensity toward homosexuality.
St. Michael's College is a Roman Catholic institution affiliated with the University of Toronto. My reaction to idiocy such as that spouted by Father Bruns is to follow the advice of Proverbs 14:7:

Go from the presence of a foolish man, when thou perceivest not in him the lips of knowledge.
Ontario merger beginning

TORONTO (CP) -- The United Church of Canada and the 10,000-member Evangelical United Brethren will merge this month.

Some local mergers have already taken place in Ontario. A London congregation of Evangelical United Brethren merged with a United church in 1958 and last June the congregation of an EUB church in Chelsey joined a United church.

In the South Cayuga area, two United churches have closed so that their congregations might worship with the Evangelical United Brethren.

The move toward union came after the American Evangelical United Brethren began negotiating union with Methodists in the U.S. The Canadian EUB then had to decide whether it should become an extension of the American Methodist Church or join with the United Church of Canada.

Union was approved by 73 per cent last May in Hamilton at a meeting of the Canadian Conference of the EUB. It was approved in 1966 by the general council of the United Church.
Membership in the United Church of Canada peaked in 1965, so by January 1968, the UCC was in the early stages of a decline that continues to this day.
The following ads from local Calgary churches pretty much speak for themselves.

First Spiritualist S.N.U.
402--7th Ave. East
7:30 Evening Service
Guest Speaker
Mrs. C. Whitehead

Unitarian Church of Calgary
Dr. Charles Costello
Dept. Psychology, U of C
"The Present Status of LSD and Marijuana"
10:30 a.m.
Mount Royal College
Adult Service, Church School and Nursery

Central United Church
First Street and Seventh Avenue S.W.
11:00 A.M.
7:30 P.M.
"This New Year offers an opportunity to begin restoring a positive kind of social philosophy"
Editorial, "The Calgary Herald"

Knox United Church
Corner Sixth Avenue and Fourth Street West
7:00 p.m. "CHURCH A GO-GO" (The Prophetic View)

See my posts

A secular columnist accurately assesses Canada's declining liberal churches (July 30, 2012)

United Church of Canada elects its first openly sodomite moderator (August 16, 2012)

50 years ago: United Church of Canada unveils Sunday School curriculum denying the truth of the Bible (August 1, 2014)

80 years ago: United Church of Canada ordains Canada's first female minister (November 7, 2016)

Amalgamation of congregations in Edmonton provides more evidence of the continuing decline of the United Church of Canada (January 31, 2017)

Friday, January 5, 2018

125 years ago: The birth of New Age pioneer Paramahansa Yogananda

And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
Genesis 3:4-5

On January 5, 1893, Paramahansa Yogananda, one of the major early figures of the New Age Movement, was born Mukunda Lal Ghosh in Uttar Pradesh, India. He began his career in his native India, founding a school in 1917 that became the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India. He moved to the United States in 1920, initially as India's delegate to an International Congress of Religious Liberals in Boston, where his address The Science of Religion was warmly received.

Swami Yogananda founded the Self-Realization Fellowship later in 1920, which is what he's best remembered for. With the exception of a long trip abroad in 1935-1936, Swami Yogananda spent the rest of his life in the United States, advocating the breaking of spiritual barriers between East and West. His Autobiography of a Yogi (1946) became a bestseller and remains an influential work of the New Age Movement. Swami Yogananda died on March 7, 1952 at the age of 57 as he concluded a speech at a dinner for Indian Ambassador to the United States Binay Ranjan Sen, and his wife at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.

Self-Realization Fellowship's Aims and Ideals "As put forth by Paramahansa Yoganada" will look familiar to anyone with any knowledge of the New Age Movement:

To disseminate among the nations a knowledge of definite scientific techniques for attaining direct personal experience of God.

To teach that the purpose of life is the evolution, through self-effort, of man’s limited mortal consciousness into God Consciousness; and to this end to establish Self-Realization Fellowship temples for God-communion throughout the world, and to encourage the establishment of individual temples of God in the homes and in the hearts of men.

To reveal the complete harmony and basic oneness of original Christianity as taught by Jesus Christ and original Yoga as taught by Bhagavan Krishna; and to show that these principles of truth are the common scientific foundation of all true religions.

To point out the one divine highway to which all paths of true religious beliefs eventually lead: the highway of daily, scientific, devotional meditation on God.

To liberate man from his threefold suffering: physical disease, mental inharmonies, and spiritual ignorance.

To encourage “plain living and high thinking”; and to spread a spirit of brotherhood among all peoples by teaching the eternal basis of their unity: kinship with God.

To demonstrate the superiority of mind over body, of soul over mind.

To overcome evil by good, sorrow by joy, cruelty by kindness, ignorance by wisdom.

To unite science and religion through realization of the unity of their underlying principles.

To advocate cultural and spiritual understanding between East and West, and the exchange of their finest distinctive features.

To serve mankind as one’s larger Self.
When it comes to self-realization, it's hard to top this:

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
Isaiah 14:12-14

As Hindu guru-turned Christian apologist Rabi Maharaj (whose autobiography Death of a Guru (1977)--aka Escape Into the Light--is must and fascinating reading) put it, the Devil was the first one who was into self-realization.

The reader will notice that "original Christianity" is equated with Hinduism. On the contrary, Jesus never encouraged "self-realization" among his followers, but focused their attention on who He was and is:

When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.
He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Matthew 16:13-16

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Jews angered by Russian Orthodox Church commission investigation into 1918 murders of Royal Family

As reported by Evan Gershkovich of the Moscow Times, November 30, 2017 (bold, links in original):

Jewish groups in Russia are on edge this week after a prominent Russian bishop gave life to a conspiracy theory that Tsar Nicholas II and his family were murdered in a “ritual killing.”

The uproar came after a conference in Moscow on Monday, summarizing the findings of two separate investigations into the execution of the Romanov family — one led by the Russian Orthodox Church, and the other by Russia’s Investigative Committee.

Several theories were under consideration, Father Tikhon Shevkunov — a priest widely rumored to be President Vladimir Putin’s spiritual advisor — said at Moscow’s Sretensky Monastery. But “a significant part of the Church commission has no doubt that this was a ritual murder.”

The comment hit a nerve among Jewish groups, who say the conspiracy theory has anti-Semitic roots. Even more concerning, they say, is that an Investigative Committee representative said that it too would be examining the validity of the claim.

What happened?

In July 2018, Russia will mark the centenary of the murders of Tsar Nicholas II and his wife and their five children, who were executed by Bolshevik revolutionaries in Yekaterinburg.

After canonizing Tsar Nicholas II and his family in 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church pushed for a fresh investigation into their deaths in 2015. With the centenary of the deaths approaching, their significance in Russia has again taken on meaning.

Marina Molodtsova, a spokesperson for the committee, said at the conference that the investigators would conduct a "psychological-historical examination" of the claim that they were killed in a ritual killing.

What is the conspiracy?

On Tuesday, Father Tikhon Shevkunov elaborated on the theory in an interview with the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.

“Quite a few people involved in the execution,” he was cited as saying, “saw the killing of the deposed Russian emperor as a special ritual of revenge.”

He added that Yakov Yurovsky, a Jew who participated in the executions, later boasted about his “sacral historic mission.”

The purpose was to “ritually and symbolically end the 300-year Romanov dynasty,” Shevkunov added.

Vladimir Solovyov, who for 14 years investigated the murders for the Investigative Committee, spoke about the conspiracy with Ekho Moskvy editor-in-chief Alexei Venediktov in early October.

Supporters of the theory, Solovyov said, believe a local Jewish sect “burned the bodies [of the Romanovs] and drank the ashes with tea.”

During the conversation, Solovyov tried to put the matter to bed. “There are no grounds for believing that it was a ritual murder,” he said.

The conspiracy’s roots

The head of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia Alexander Boroda denounced the theory immediately after it resurfaced on Monday. “The accusation of Jews in the ritual murder is one of the most ancient anti-Semitic slanders,” he said.

Speaking to The Moscow Times, Oleg Budnitsky, a historian focused on World War II at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics agreed, saying that the theory is “total nonsense.”

“It comes from an old myth that Jews used the blood of Christians in ritual killings,” he said.

On top of that, some of the leading Bolsheviks of the revolution, including Yurovsky — one of the Romanov family’s executioners — were Jewish, which has helped the conspiracy theory flourish.

Theories of a Jewish conspiracy have circled among fringe anti-Semitic groups for a century, but many are surprised to see them given credence in official circles.

While Shevkunov and Molodtsova — the bishop and investigator — did not explicitly connect the “ritual killing” with Jews on Monday, Budnitsky, the historian, said “everyone” knows that the theory has anti-Semitic roots.

What to read into it?

It is unclear why the conspiracy was brought up in official circles a century after the murders, the spokesperson of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, Boruch Gorin, told The Moscow Times on Wednesday.

Noting that anti-Semitism has long been a running undercurrent in Russia, Gorin said that the re-emergence of the theory was “shocking.”

But, he said, it signals a strong anti-Semitic current in the Orthodox Church and at the highest levels of government, unless the Kremlin denounces it.

“If the government doesn’t strongly denounce this, then it shows that at any moment anti-Semitic propaganda can come back into full force like during the late 1970s in the Soviet Union,” he said. “This can blow up anti-Semitism very forcefully.”

But on Wednesday, the Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov was cited by state media brushing the controversy aside.

“This is not a matter of our agenda,” he said.
As reported by Olga Lipich of RIA Novosti, November 28, 2017 (translated from Russian by Google Translate):

...According to him, "the Bolsheviks and their associates of all stripes were by no means alien to the most unexpected and varied ritual symbolism."

Bishop Tikhon noted that "many people involved in the shooting were in Moscow or in Yekaterinburg, they saw in the murder of the defeated Russian autocrat a special ritual of retribution, their heart ripened with a high meaning, quite individual, depending on personal cultural, political, class, national and any positions. "

"In the days of the preparation and execution of the murder of the royal family, entire groups of various personalities flocked around this event - from sadistic criminals like Ermakov and his bandits, who are eager to personally torment the tsar, his wife, daughters and son, and to Yurovsky, who later bragged about his special participation in the murder of the emperor and seriously felt himself neither more nor less as a person who performed a sacred historical mission, "the spokesman said.

Not only the head of the shooting, Yakov Yurovsky, he added, but all the participants in the murder of eleven defenseless people in Ipatievsky Home were aware of "an important symbolic component of this main event in their lives personally for them."

He is convinced that one can not ignore this component of the crime while restoring the full picture of what happened a hundred years ago in Yekaterinburg events.

Marina Molodtsova, senior investigator for especially important cases of the Russian SC, told a conference on the murder of the royal family on the eve of the conference that the investigation plans to assign a psycho-historical examination.

The conference "The Case of the Murder of the Tsar's Family: New Examinations and Materials", dedicated to the results of research of the remains found at Ekaterinburg, was held in the Sretensky Monastery under the chairmanship of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill and lasted more than nine hours. According to the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, the discussion took place in a benevolent atmosphere, as it should be, when "answers to crucial questions" are being sought...

Mormon-run Brigham Young University now permits caffeinated sodas; ban on beards may be next taboo to fall

With everything else that happened in 2017, somehow I didn't find out about this major development until today. The following items provide examples of how man-made religion "progresses": suggestions become guidelines, and eventually become laws. As reported by Bob Mims of the Salt Lake Tribune, September 21, 2017 (links in original):

Don’t cue the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and no, Brigham Young University is not on a slippery slope to tapping kegs of light beer in its cafeteria.

But, yes, the LDS Church-owned school has decided to end its more than half-century ”caffeine-free” policy on the Provo campus, at least when it comes to soda.

Linked sometimes to a long-running interpretation — or misinterpretation — of Mormonism’s “Word of Wisdom,” BYU had banned caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea and other than caffeine-free soft drinks) since the mid-1950s.

That health code, which appears in the faith’s scriptures (Doctrine and Covenants Section 89), prohibits “hot drinks” — defined by top LDS leaders as tea and coffee — as well as alcohol and tobacco, but does not specifically bar caffeine, church leaders reaffirmed in 2012.

It, however, took BYU, the flagship school of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at least five years to acquiesce. On Thursday, Dining Services Director Dean Wright indicated increased requests for caffeinated soft drinks had prompted the policy change.

“We have already started adding caffeinated soft drinks to the inventory of beverages we sell on campus,” he stated. “Although we are now offering canned and bottled caffeinated soft drinks, it will take longer to change out our fountain equipment.”

BYU, however, will not offer supercaffeinated “energy drinks,” and it will still offer caffeine-free versions of soda products on campus, Wright added.

Those soda products will, under a longstanding contract, continue to be provided by the Coca-Cola Co.

As for coffee or tea, hot or cold, forget it. This is just about the sodas, says BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins.
Now that the ban on caffeinated sodas has been lifted at BYU, pressure is building to lift the ban on beards, which is part of the Church Educational System Honor Code. As reported by Peggy Fletcher Stack of the Salt Lake Tribune, December 8, 2017 (links in original):

If that jolly red-suited fellow who hands out toys and goodies to children every December wanted to enroll at Brigham Young University, he’d have to shave that lovely white beard.

So would the school’s namesake, Mormonism’s second prophet.

Beards on BYU students and faculty have been barred since the 1960s, when they were seen as a symbol of anti-authoritarian rebellion.

Five decades later, beards are in again. Nowadays, though, they are worn by establishment figures: Wall Street bankers, fashion icons, superstar athletes and suave pop singers as well as run-of-the-mill lawyers, doctors, ad executives, teachers and all manner of other professionals. They’re more hip than hippie.

Even so, the LDS Church’s flagship school remains steadfast against all facial hair, save for neatly trimmed mustaches (though the faith’s temple workers and missionaries don’t get that allowance).

Still, some say, attitudes about whiskers at the Provo university may be changing — slowly, subtly.

In 2015, BYU approved beards on campus for Muslims, Sikhs and other students to honor their non-LDS faith (admittedly a tiny group).

The school further has deemed that “full-time or part-time non-LDS faculty who are employed at BYU for one year or less may wear a beard, unless it is intended that they continue their employment with BYU for longer than one year.”

Since affiliate faculty, visiting scholars and cooperating professionals “are not university employees,” the rule says, “they are encouraged, but not required, to be clean shaven.”

That means students are seeing more and more bearded men on campus.

“The only place that enforces beards is the testing center,” says John, a commenter on the Mormon blog By Common Consent, and the only sticklers are “religion professors.”

“No one in my department,” he writes, “actually cares.”

There are “certainly more bearded fellows here now than there were four years ago,” says BYU sophomore Kelsey Canizales. Students who hold administrative jobs on campus and are required to monitor grooming “have also become more relaxed about the beard policy.”

Canizales does not have a full beard — or a beard card, which allows exempted students to sport whiskers — but his facial hair grows noticeably in only a few days.

“I have gone to both the student ID center and the testing center with more facial hair than I have before and not been turned away,” he says. “The students are just like me; they realize that it’s not a big deal. I think they have felt pressured in the past to enforce the policy pretty strictly.”...

...BYU chemistry professor Matthew Asplund would like to see the Mormon school scrap the beard ban.

A few years ago, the administration wanted a job candidate who was Pacific Islander and had longish hair in a braid to recognize that he had Honor Code issues.

“I countered that he didn’t have an Honor Code problem but a dress and grooming problem,” Asplund explains. “It is so ironic that we have fully reached the pharisaical position that we think the way a person wears his hair can somehow make him dishonorable.”

The professor sees reasons to believe such views will change.

After all, the campus now sells caffeinated colas and nearly 5,000 people have signed a petition to end the beard ban as well.

“I sense from conversations that many at BYU are looking for an out, but don’t see how to do it without seeming to be weakening our ‘moral sense,’” Asplund says. The school “is afraid that the larger Mormon community will accuse it of going secular if they do.”

Indeed, some may be thinking exactly that.

Political science professor Kelly Patterson defends the school’s Honor Code, including the no-beard policy, as a tool to guide students in their quest for “beauty and meaning.”

The code contains within itself “an idea of what students can and should become,” Patterson writes in an email. “Even the dress and grooming standards, which some consider trivial, are a reminder of the acceptance of responsibility and a bulwark against the strong predilection expressed in modern society that institutions no longer have any say in or responsibility for the development of individuals.”

It is this stance that “makes BYU unique,” he says, “and why even the dress and grooming standards should not be treated blithely.”

In 1971, Dallin H. Oaks, then BYU’s president and now a senior Mormon apostle, told students that “rules against beards and long hair are contemporary and pragmatic.”

They are “responsive to conditions and attitudes in our own society at this particular point in time … [and] are subject to change,” Oaks added. “I would be surprised if they were not changed at some time in the future.”

Some 46 years later, a groundswell is building against the rule but BYU isn’t budging.

School spokeswoman Carri Jenkins says, “Nothing has changed.”

There are three categories for beard exemptions: medical, theatrical or religious.

Students with scarring or sensitive skin must get a note from a campus doctor. Non-LDS students who wear beards as part of their faith must secure the blessing of the university’s chaplain. Student actors in film or theater roles (including movies for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) requiring facial hair must get a note from the theater department.

“The procedure is different for each reason,” Jenkins says. Once those hurdles are cleared, “final permission comes from the Honor Code Office.”

She declined to say how many such exemptions are granted, but says the number “has remained stable for many years.”

It is not hard to find out how many have waivers, though, since a photograph of every approved bearded man is posted on the school’s website, which is open to all students and faculty.

There are a little more than 200 right now.

Jenkins explains that the online photo gallery allows teachers, administrators and students to know who has been approved, without the men having to carry around an exemption card every day.

But one of the men was not pleased to see his image there.

“Since the reason almost everyone has a beard waiver is for medical conditions,” he writes, “it feels like the school is opening a part of your medical record to the public.”

Nonstudents at BYU-approved housing must bypass beards, too...
I could be mistaken, but I think that's a beard that the man in this photo is sporting on the campus of Brigham Young University--and I doubt if he has a beard card.

Welcome to 2018: Madrid's Epiphany parade to feature drag queen

You can't go anywhere these days without having tradition--biblical or not--subverted, and perversion shoved in your face. The parade climaxing the traditional Roman Catholic celebration of Epiphany in Madrid can now hardly be described as having even an outer resemblance to anything Christian, as reported by BBC News, January 3, 2018 (link in original):

Conservative politicians in Madrid have condemned the decision to cast two women and a celebrated drag queen as an alternative "Three Wise Men" in a local Epiphany parade.

The trio will star on one of 16 floats at the event in the Puente de Vallecas district on 5 January.

Drag queen La Prohibida will be joined by cabaret dancer Roma Calderón and hip hop singer Dnoé Lamiss.

The three will be dressed as stuffed animals in pyjamas.

The annual Three Kings parades, held the night before Epiphany on 5 January, are a much-loved feature of Spanish Christmas celebrations, popular with children.

Traditionally, three local men dress up as the Magi from the Christmas story and process through their town or village, handing out sweets.

This year's alternative version was proposed by the Orgullo Vallekano association, a Gay Pride collective in Madrid's Vallecas neighbourhood.

"We planned to do a parallel parade but when we proposed it in the municipal council, they told us to join the main one," a representative told El Mundo (in Spanish).

"It's yet another example of the diversity of Madrid," said supporter Carla Antonelli, a gay rights activist and Socialist Party politician.

However, critics have argued that Madrid City Council should respect the parades' traditional form.

"We support Gay Pride and the rest of the celebrations, but we believe the Kings' Day should be respected as a religious holiday," said Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida, the Popular Party's spokesman for Madrid council.

"Sometimes, a Cavalcade of Kings must simply be what the children expect it to be - a Cavalcade of Kings," tweeted Begoña Villacís, a Madrid councillor for the centre-right Ciudadanos party.

Singer La Prohibida - also known as Amapola López - says that is not a problem, and that she hopes to enrich the traditional festivities.

"The parade is for children and it will be a party for the children. There will be no glitter, no crowns, no different dresses... It is a festive thing, but it is neither the Carnival of the Canary Islands nor Gay Pride," the drag queen told El Mundo.

In her view, all traditions evolve - and it is the ones that adapt for modern times that endure.

People could equally ask why "SpongeBob Squarepants or the Star Wars characters" take part in a religious parade, she noted.

Quoted in Spanish paper El Pais, hip hop singer Dnoé Lamiss said it was odd to object to female kings, when even very recently councillors had "blacked up" to play Balthazar (by tradition the name of one of the Magi).

"Why can a white man paint himself black to play Balthazar, while I who am black cannot make Balthazar a magical queen or a page?" she asked.

The "Three Queens" float will carry the gay pride flag, and a flag aimed at children with the words, "Participate, dream and imagine."

"It will be a giant chariot with mothers, fathers, children - and super diverse," Lamiss said.

It is not the first time the Vallecas district has tried something a little different for Twelfth Night.

Two years ago, it chose a woman to represent one of Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar as a gesture of equality.
The reader might notice that "diversity" never seems to include the right to keep traditions traditional, and that secularists and perverts can't invent their own rituals, but have to sabotage or counterfeit those from the traditions that they reject.

Madrid's City Council didn't show any respect for diversity of opinion last year when it came to transgenderism, as reported by BBC News, March 1, 2017 (link in original):

A bright orange bus emblazoned with an anti-transgender message has been forced off the roads in Spain, after activists, trade unions, and Madrid City Council united against it.

The slogan on the bus read: "Boys have penises, girls have vulvas. Do not be fooled."

A Catholic group, Hazte Oir, had planned to take it on a nationwide tour of Spanish cities.

The group said the ban was illegal and that it planned to acquire a new bus.

One message on the side of the banned bus states: "If you are born a man, you are a man. If you are a woman, you will continue to be one."
It is believed to be a response to posters put up in northern Spain by a transgender rights group, which read: "There are girls with penises and boys with vulvas. It's as simple as that."

An outcry arose in various quarters when the bus was spotted in Madrid on Monday.

The Equality spokeswoman for the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, Angeles Alvarez, branded the bus tour "a hate campaign based on intolerance", according to Spain's El Pais newspaper.

A spokeswoman for socialists on Madrid City Council, Purificacion Causapie, called it "contrary to the dignity and rights of transsexual children".

She urged the mayor's office to ensure Madrid remains "a city free of discrimination, violence and attacks on minors". Madrid City Council said the vehicle could incite hatred.

Though the outrage centres on its message, the bus has technically been ordered off the roads for breaching municipal rules on outdoor advertising.

Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena said the City Council wants the vehicle out of the city "as soon as possible".

The Councilman for Security, Javier Barbero, said on Tuesday that police had contained "the bus of shame".

The president of Hazte Oir, which translates as "Make yourself heard" has argued that the group has a right to protest against "laws of sexual indoctrination" and the right to freedom of speech.

Ignacio Arsuaga claimed the slogan on the bus states only "a fact of biology that is studied in schools".

The group told the BBC it was not expecting to meet so much opposition.

"The Madrid City Council kidnapped the bus this morning, with no legal order from any court. This is illegal, and our lawyers are preparing a complaint so that our right to freedom of expression is restored," Mr Arsuaga said.

"We are going to appeal this unjust decision and file a criminal case against the extreme-left Madrid mayor."

Hazte Oir intends to visit nine Spanish cities over two or three weeks, and is looking at getting a second bus.

The Mayor of Barcelona made clear the controversial coach would not be welcome there, writing on Twitter: "In Barcelona there is no place for LGBT-phobic buses. We want our children to grow in freedom and without hatred."

Barcelona's City Council has warned the group it could face a fine of up to €3,000 (£2,560; $3,160) for breaching advertising laws if the bus takes to the streets.
It's indicative of the times that stating a simple biological fact is now regarded as promoting hatred. It's useful to keep in mind Vox Day's three laws of Social Justice Warriors (SJWs): 1/ They always lie. 2/ They always double down. 3/They always project.

HT: Dracul Van Helsing

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Largest Mennonite conference in United States leaves Mennonite Church USA

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

Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, II Corinthians 6:17

As reported by Earle Cornelius of Lancaster Online, January 1, 2018 (bold in original, links inserted by blogger):

Monday will bring changes to the structure of the Mennonite Church in this country. That’s when Lancaster Mennonite Conference — the largest of the 25 Mennonite conferences in the United States with 179 congregations — officially separates from Mennonite Church USA.

The decision to withdraw from MC USA was announced in November 2015 when congregations within Lancaster Conference formally voted to withdraw from the umbrella organization.

Although Lancaster Mennonite Conference’s opposition to same-sex marriage has been cited as the principal cause for the separation, conference moderator L. Keith Weaver said vision, church polity and governance within MC USA also played a role.

The 2015 decision to withdraw from MC USA gave congregations in the Lancaster conference the option of making an individual determination of what path their church would take, and they had two years to make that decision. Of the 17 congregations within Lancaster Mennonite Conference that sought to discern their own future, nine remained with the conference and eight shifted to the Atlantic Coast Conference of MC USA, based in Leola.

Difficult decision

Merv Stoltzfus, executive conference minister for the Atlantic Coast Conference, said the eight congregations that changed membership “were immensely loyal to Lancaster Conference and for many of them it was difficult processing (the change), but they wanted to stay with Mennonite Church USA.”

Those congregations include the James Street Mennonite, Rossmere Mennonite, Laurel Street Mennonite and East Chestnut Street Mennonite churches from Lancaster city and Landisville Mennonite, New Holland Mennonite and Pilgrim Mennonite, which meets at the Welcoming Center at Mennonite Central Committee in Akron. The eighth congregation is based in New York City.

Citing the divide over same-sex relationships, Stoltzfus said most people within MC USA still hold a traditional view of marriage as between a man and a woman “but there’s more room and space within MC USA in our polity for this diversity or disagreement.”

He added there is a strong belief among the 36 congregations in the Atlantic Coast Conference that “we need to engage and invite this marginalized group of people into an opportunity to worship with us and others are not comfortable with that.”

Independent conference

Lancaster Mennonite Conference has a long history of independence. Formed in 1711, Lancaster Mennonite Conference joined the Old Mennonite Church in 1971. In 2002, MC USA was formed from a merger of the Old Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church. Lancaster Mennonite Conference initially joined as a provisional member and became a full member in 2006.

Since 2015, when the conference announced its intention to leave MC USA, 13 new congregations have joined Lancaster Mennonite Conference, including those from Franklin Mennonite Conference, which is based in southcentral Pennsylvania and western Maryland. An additional 17 congregations will become part of Lancaster Conference in March.

The new congregations, Weaver stated in an email, will create four new districts within Lancaster Mennonite Conference: Eastern Ohio, Franklin, Western Maryland and Western Pennsylvania.

He added that 14 congregations in the Dominican Republic will soon become members, and the conference also has expanded its Hispanic network of churches through its affiliation with the Shalom Council of Churches.

Church identity

Weaver acknowledged that withdrawing from the national organization raises questions about Lancaster Mennonite Conference’s identity.

“The answers,” he wrote, “will need to be discovered going forward.

“Rather than an inward focus of self-preservation,” he stated, “congregations are cultivating an outward focus in which attending to the material and spiritual needs of the neighborhood becomes the mission.”

He said the conference will focus on three things:

— The theological center “that keeps the lordship of Jesus Christ in focus,” which is summarized in the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, published in 1995.

— Adherence to the church’s core values to aspire to “radical allegiance to God’s Kingdom and authentic obedience to Jesus Christ.”

— The missional vision “in which Jesus ... will reign over the Earth through a new order in which swords will be beat into plowshares, lions and lambs will lie together in peace and the Shalom of God will finally be realized.”

Lancaster Mennonite Conference’s withdrawal comes at a time when Christian denominations are in decline.

Weaver suggested that churches are “in a hinge of history” akin to the changes that occurred during the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, and that “maps and coordinates have not yet been created for this terrain.”

A possible path forward, he explained, could involve the creation of a network of congregations that share similar values as opposed to conferences that are grouped geographically.

Although Lancaster Mennonite Conference’s withdrawal is significant — according to published reports, it will reduce the size of MC USA by 14 percent — both Weaver and Stoltzfus said the split has been amicable.

Stoltzfus said he anticipates congregations from both local conferences will continue to work on projects in which they have a shared interest.

Calls to MC USA offices were not returned.

Evolutionist biologist retracts paper because of improper conclusions, problem with theory remains

Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, Romans 1:22

As reported by Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz of Breaking Israel News, December 29, 2017 (link in original):

“Hashem said, “Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature: cattle, creeping things, and wild beasts of every kind.” And it was so.” Genesis 1:24 (The Israel Bible™)

A Harvard biologist published a paper three weeks ago recanting a previous article and admitting that his preconceived beliefs led him to faulty conclusions, leaving him with a gaping hole in his findings that current evolutionary theories simply cannot explain.

In a 2016 paper published in Nature Chemistry, Jack Szostak, a Nobel Prize laureate and Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, made a discovery he labeled a “synthetic tour de force”. He claimed that he had discovered a way for ribonucleic acid (RNA) to replicate itself. His discovery was a powerful proof for the evolutionary model of the beginning of life.

Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is necessary for the production of enzymes so it is an essential element for all forms of life. Evolutionary theory states that RNA was among the first molecules to develop and that RNA had to exist for life to exist. RNA, as it is found in cells today, is a complex and unstable molecule requiring its own enzymes to reproduce. For the first RNA to develop at a pre-biotic stage in world history, it would need to be self-reproducing, existing without these enzymes already in place.

Solving this RNA puzzle, identical to the riddle of the chicken and the egg, is so essential to the evolutionary model that researchers have been working on it for over 50 years.

Szostak claimed to have facilitated RNA self-replication in his lab without these enzymes, proving that RNA could fit into the evolutionary model and did not spontaneously appear. His experiment involved combining elements believed to have existed in the primal earth environment, including heating, water and phosphates, and irradiating the result. These laboratory conditions are intended to resemble those of the life-originating “warm little pond” hypothesized by Charles Darwin, who theorized that the pond “evaporated, got heated, and then it rained and the sun shone.”

“Ribonucleotides are simply an expression of the fundamental principles of organic chemistry,” said organic chemist John Sutherland of the University of Manchester, co-author of the original study. “They’re doing it unwittingly. The instructions for them to do it are inherent in the structure of the precursor materials. And if they can self-assemble so easily, perhaps they shouldn’t be viewed as complicated.”

It appears that the origins of life on earth are a bit more complicated than the researchers believed. Earlier this month, Tivoli Olsen, a colleague, tried to replicate Szostak’s results but could not. Szostak admitted that his results were inconclusive.

“In retrospect, we were totally blinded by our belief [in our findings] … we were not as careful or rigorous as we should have been (and as Tivoli was) in interpreting these experiments,” Szostak told Retraction Watch.

Without being able to produce RNA in the laboratory in the absence of the necessary enzymes, the ‘warm little pond’ theory of the origin of life does not work. The chemical processes produced in the lab did not, in fact, produce the building blocks necessary for life.

Szostak said that he plans to continue working to unravel “the problem of chemically replicating RNA:”

“Although we are disappointed that that approach does not work, we are going back to the drawing board and looking into other ways of overcoming this roadblock,” Szotak said.

Dr. Gerald Schroeder, an Orthodox Jewish physicist, explained the difficulties presented by the RNA puzzle for the evolutionary theory of the origins of life.

“RNA is phenomenally unstable and it would not last long enough for the myriad of possible chance interactions of molecules to produce similar to life and cells,” Dr. Schroeder told Breaking Israel News. “The RNA would be long gone. DNA is the genetic library but RNA is the workhorse that makes life possible.”

“Evolutionary science has not proven anything about the origins of life,” Dr. Schroeder said. “For sustaining life, the earth is the perfect platform. The origin is an entirely different question.”