Monday, 30 May 2011

Cobourg Alliance Church cancels a Sunday service in order to support a secular charity

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; I Peter 2:9

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
Matthew 6:1-4

Cobourg is a small city in southern Ontario. As reported on the home page of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada:

The entire Cobourg Alliance Church recently attended the annual MS Walk instead of holding a traditional church service. "The decision to mobilize the church came as a way to help and serve the community", said Pastor Andre Turcotte. Five members of the church have Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Despite unfavourable weather, over 250 members of the congregation particpated in the event raising over $20,000. The reaction of the community, particularly the unchurched, was one of awe. They heard countless stories of individuals touched by such an act of service. Prior to the event, Pastor Turcotte's sermons for three weeks were about service and sharing Christ's love. This church service was just the beginning of numerous opportunities for Cobourg Alliance Church to serve the community and share the love of Christ.

Ah yes, yet another example of the Peter Drucker/Rick Warren-influenced "transformation" of evangelical churches into community social service centres. The reader will notice that there’s nothing distinctively Christian in participating in a run for a secular charity--and that the participation in the charity event took place not in addition to, but instead of the Sunday church service. What about those members of the church who preferred to support a different charity, or--perish the thought--would rather have engaged in the distinctively Christian activity of attending a church service on Sunday? Will they be encouraged to seek their Christian fellowship elsewhere? I don’t have a problem with individual Christians supporting secular charities if they so desire, but I do have a problem with Christians and churches equating "serving the community" with assembling to worship God and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As for the reaction of the community, the community loved the Lord Jesus Christ when He performed miracles for them, but they turned away or became hostile when He began teaching doctrine.

Another thing that annoys me about this: Why is it that charities that use walks and runs as fund-raising activities always hold them on Sunday mornings when church services are taking place? There was a time when these events wouldn’t have been permitted on Sundays because even the secular law regarded Sunday as a day of rest. There have been several occasions in recent years when I’ve been prevented from going to church because the roads have been blocked off because of a run or walk for some frivolous charity. Why aren’t these events held on Saturday mornings? Could it be that holding them on Saturdays might interfere with Mammon-worshipping activities such as going to shopping malls?

Saturday, 28 May 2011

New book claims that the Red Cross and the Vatican helped thousands of Nazi war criminals escape justice after World War II

As reported by Randy Boswell of Postmedia News on May 27, 2011:

A new book claims thousands of potential Nazi war criminals and collaborators escaped justice in the years after the Second World War with help from the Vatican and Red Cross, using false documents and altered identities to emigrate undetected to a host of haven countries - including Canada.

Gerald Steinacher, author of Nazis on the Run: How Hitler's Henchmen Escaped Justice, probes newly opened files from the International Committee of the Red Cross and other war-era archives to reconstruct the strategies of evasion and routes to freedom used by potential war-crimes suspects, including SS officers, National Socialist Party officials and other possible perpetrators of Holocaust-era atrocities.

As many as 8,000 ex-Nazis whose wartime activities should have been probed by Allied authorities reached Canada or Britain by questionable means, Steinacher found, though even more made their way through Italy to Spain or South America to live out their lives...

... In the case of Vatican authorities, Steinacher asserts that "many leaders of the Catholic Church - sometimes knowingly, at other times unwittingly - also were involved in large-scale Nazi smuggling. A key motive for the clergy was the need to fight against 'godless communism.' "

Steinacher added in the interview that because some ex-Nazis were "good Catholics" they were often treated sympathetically by the church and provided with letters of support or other help when they sought travel visas to emigrate overseas.

Canadian Prime Minister reportedly responsible for watering down G8 resolution on Israel

This blogger is no fan of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government, but I agree with their pro-Israel position. As reported by Peter O’Neil of Postmedia News on May 27, 2011:

DEAUVILLE, France — Prime Minister Stephen Harper praised a G8 resolution on the Middle East peace process Friday that, according to a media report, was watered down at his request to avoid a reference that has infuriated Israel...

... Reuters cited diplomatic sources saying that Harper insisted there be no reference to Israel's borders before 1967, when it seized the West Bank and Gaza from Jordan and Egypt, respectively, during the Six Day War.

U.S. President Barack Obama's recent call for negotiations with the Palestinians to be based on those prewar lines has infuriated Israel, even though the U.S. position is that negotiations will then include "land swaps."

"The Canadians were really very adamant, even though Obama expressly referred to 1967 borders in his speech last week," a European diplomat told the news agency.

Harper — seen internationally as one of Israel's most fervent supporters — neither confirmed nor denied the report when asked twice about it by Canadian reporters.

"We are pleased that the statement that came out of the G8 was a balanced statement," Harper said.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called his Canadian counterpart John Baird Friday and thanked him and Harper for their pro-Israel stance at the G8 summit. Lieberman said during the conversation that "Canada is a true friend of Israel."

The resolution expressed "strong support" for Obama's vision set out in the speech, and called for a new round of negotiations.

"We are convinced that the historic changes throughout the region make the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through negotiations more important, not less," the G8 said.

Harper said he has no problem with Obama's speech, saying it had to be considered in its "entirety." He noted that Obama supported the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state and a Jewish state, the latter of which would rule out the longstanding Palestinian demand that refugees and their families living outside Israel have the right to return.

Sarkozy, meanwhile, told reporters he strongly supported Obama's "courageous" focus on the 1967 borders.

Universe's "missing mass" discovered

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
Psalms 8:3-4

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork. Psalms 19:1

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. Revelation 4:11

As reported by Monash University on May 23, 2011:

A Monash student has made a breakthrough in the field of astrophysics, discovering what has until now been described as the Universe’s ‘missing mass’. Amelia Fraser-McKelvie, working within a team at the Monash School of Physics, conducted a targeted X-ray search for the matter and within just three months found it – or at least some of it.

What makes the discovery all the more noteworthy is the fact that Ms Fraser-McKelvie is not a career researcher, or even studying at a postgraduate level. She is a 22-year-old undergraduate Aerospace Engineering/Science student who pinpointed the missing mass during a summer scholarship, working with two astrophysicists at the School of Physics, Dr Kevin Pimbblet and Dr Jasmina Lazendic-Galloway...

... Dr Pimbblet, lecturer in the School of Physics put the magnitude of the discovery in context by explaining that scientists had been hunting for the Universe’s missing mass for decades.

“It was thought from a theoretical viewpoint that there should be about double the amount of matter in the local Universe compared to what was observed. It was predicted that the majority of this missing mass should be located in large-scale cosmic structures called filaments - a bit like thick shoelaces,” said Dr Pimbblet.

Astrophysicists also predicted that the mass would be low in density, but high in temperature - approximately one million degrees Celsius. This meant that, in theory, the matter should have been observable at X-ray wavelengths. Amelia Fraser-McKelvie’s discovery has proved that prediction correct.

Ms Fraser-McKelvie said the ‘Eureka moment’ came when Dr Lazendic-Galloway closely examined the data they had collected.

“Using her expert knowledge in the X-ray astronomy field, Jasmina reanalysed our results to find that we had in fact detected the filaments in our data, where previously we believed we had not.”

X-ray observations provide important information about physical properties of large-scale structures, which can help astrophysicists better understand their true nature. Until now, they had been making deductions based only on numerical models, so the discovery is a huge step forward in determining what amount of mass is actually contained within filaments.

Go here to see the abstract of the original article.

Friday, 27 May 2011

17 lost pyramids found in Egypt

As reported by Rob Crilly in the Daily Telegraph on May 25, 2011:

Seventeen lost pyramids and more than 1,000 tombs have been found in a new satellite survey of Egypt.

Scientists at the University of Alabama also found 3,000 ancient settlements using a new technique of infra-red imaging.

The astonishing results have been confirmed by archaeologists with picks and shovels, who have located two of the pyramids found from space...

...The team analysed images from satellites orbiting 400 miles above the Earth, equipped with cameras so powerful they can pinpoint objects less than a yard in diameter.

Infra-red imaging was then used to highlight different materials under the surface.

Because the ancient Egyptians built houses from mud brick, which is must denser than surrounding soil, they left a clear fingerprint that the researchers could identify as tombs, pyramids or homes.

The technique is so powerful that it can even be used to monitor sites for looting.

And Dr Parcak believes there are many more buildings buried deeper than those already spotted – even under the River Nile.

"These are just the sites close to the surface. There are many thousands of additional sites that the Nile has covered over with silt," she said.

Infamous for indecency, a Rome monastery is shut down by Pope Benedict XVI

As reported by Nick Squires in the Daily Telegraph, May 26, 2011:

The Pope has shut down a 500-year-old Rome monastery and kicked out its monks after it gained notoriety for hosting a performance by a lap dancer-turned-nun and welcomed celebrities such as Madonna.

Benedict XVI ordered the closure of the monastery of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem (Santa Croce in Gerusalemmme), which holds some of the Roman Catholic Church's most prized relics, because of "financial and liturgical irregularities", a Vatican spokesman told The Daily Telegraph.

Around 20 Cistercian monks will be transferred to other monasteries around Italy, after it was found that their "lifestyles" were "not in keeping" with Church doctrine, bringing to an end a monastic presence on the site that dates back five centuries.

They reportedly demonstrated "questionable behaviour and a lack of moral discipline" – a possible allusion to homosexual relations, which the Church regards as a sin...

...Madonna visited the church when she was in Rome in 2008 to perform a concert, meditating in front of its ornate relics – two thorns purportedly taken from Christ's crown, fragments of the cross on which he was crucified, a nail used in the crucifixion and a bone from the finger of St Thomas, which the doubting apostle is said to have poked into Jesus's wounds.

In 2009 Anna Nobili, who spent years working as an exotic dancer and striptease artist in night clubs before becoming a nun, performed a religious dance in front of an audience of cardinals and bishops, twirling around a wooden crucifix.

Calling herself a "ballerina for God", she swapped her thongs and high heels for a nun's habit after being "reborn" by her new-found faith in God and based her unusual form of choreography on stories from the Bible.

The monastery also earned the ire of the Vatican by straying from orthodox liturgical practices and by allegedly getting into financial difficulties with a gift shop which sold honey, jams and organic fruit and vegetables produced by the monks.

The Pope ordered an official investigation, known as an Apostolic Visit, into the monastery in central Rome...

...Father Ciro Benedettini, a Vatican spokesman, said the monks had been guilty of "financial irregularities and liturgical abuses".

"Their lifestyles were not in keeping with what one would expect of monks," he said. It was very rare for the Pope to order the closure of a monastery, he added.

The Vatican also took a dim view of the fact that the church had become a favoured meeting place for a group of aristocrats, the Friends of the Holy Cross, which was led by an Italian marquis who is descended from Charlemagne.

According to Tom Kington of The Guardian on May 25, 2011:

The monks' days have been numbered since 2009, when the Vatican sacked their flamboyant abbot, Father Simone Fioraso, a former fashion designer who built up a cult following among Rome's fashionable aristocratic crowd as well as show business worshippers such as Madonna, who prayed at the church in 2008...

...The monks living there now had opened a shop selling organic produce from their kitchen garden, but this was shut down in 2009 amid accusations of their having secretly stocked the shelves from a neighbourhood grocery.

The Italian newspaper La Stampa said that VIP guests were also encouraged to stay at a hotel opened at the Santa Croce monastery which offered a 24-hour limousine airport service.

In 2008 Fioraso hosted a week-long, televised, reading of the bible with religious figures, politicians and celebrities reading tracts, starting with Pope Benedict himself. But a year later Fioraso was ousted, despite protests from parishioners who defended his "patience, dedication, sacrifice and passion".

The Vatican's removal of the monks to other monasteries, ending their 500-year presence at the basilica, follows Benedict's hard line with other wayward orders, including the Legionaries of Christ, run by the Mexican priest Marcial Maciel Degollado, who fathered numerous children, was disciplined over sexual abuse allegations and was banished to a life of penitence.

The basilica was supported by the Friends of Santa Croce, a who's who of Roman society run by a Italian claiming descent from Charlemagne.

Italian press reports have speculated that the inspectors from the Vatican suspected homosexual relations between monks at the monastery.

Sexual immorality in monasteries is a tradition going back centuries, as Peter De Rosa showed in his book Vicars of Christ (1988).

Thursday, 26 May 2011

30 years ago: Italian cabinet resigns over scandal involving secret Masonic lodge

Om May 26, 1981, Italian Prime Minister Arnaldo Forlani and his coalition cabinet resigned following identification of many prominent people as members of the illegal Masonic lodge P2 (Propaganda Due). For more on P2 and its involvement with the Vatican, see David Yallop's book In God's Name (1984).

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

490 years ago: Edict of Worms condemns Martin Luther as a heretic

On May 25, 1521, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V issued the Edict of Worms, declaring:

For this reason we forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favor the said Martin Luther. On the contrary, we want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic, as he deserves, to be brought personally before us, or to be securely guarded until those who have captured him inform us, whereupon we will order the appropriate manner of proceeding against the said Luther. Those who will help in his capture will be rewarded generously for their good work.

Which is to say, the Edict of Worms not only condemned Mr. Luther as a heretic, but also banned the reading or possession of his writings.

The Edict marked the conclusion of the Diet of Worms, which had begun on January 28, 1521. One might think that "Diet of Worms" was the punishment forced on Martin Luther by the Roman Catholic leaders, but the Diet was an assembly held in the city of Worms in what is now Germany. It was on April 18 that Mr. Luther was said to have concluded his defense with the words, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”

The Edict of Worms marked a key point in the Reformation. As the word implies, the Reformation was an attempt by Roman Catholics to call their church to reform in both doctrine and practice. As with the Council of Constance's condemnation of Jan Hus more than a century earlier, the Edict of Worms was a clear statement that the Roman Catholic Church wasn't open to reform. As a result, an increasing number of people began to follow the command of scripture:

Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.
And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
II Corinthians 6:17-18

It's worth noting that almost 500 years later, the Roman Catholic Church has yet to reform its positions on the main issues that Mr. Luther was concerned about: justification by faith (see Habakkuk 2:4, cited in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11; Romans 3:28) and the selling of indulgences.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

No sympathy here for Camping followers

But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.
And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken?
When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.
Deuteronomy 18:20-22

Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone. Hosea 4:17

Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. Matthew 15:14

And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. Matthew 24:11

With yet another "prophecy" of pseudo-Christian false prophet and blasphemer Harold Camping having not come to pass, some Christian bloggers (especially female ones) are expressing sympathy for those who have been deceived by Mr. Camping, saying words along the lines that we must continue to reach out to them with love and truth. However, this isn’t the attitude that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself expressed.

The words cited above from Matthew 15:14 are the very words of Jesus Himself. He had just criticized the Pharisees for practicing the traditions of men while claiming to obey the laws of God. When told by His disciples that the Pharisees had been offended by His rebuke, He didn’t pursue the Pharisees and their followers or tell his disciples to reach out to them in love with the truth; rather, He told his disciples to leave them alone. The context is that of people who claimed to be obeying the God of the Bible while actually denying Him.

Similarly, Harold Camping is supposedly a believer in Jesus Christ. However, the Lord said that no man knows the day or the hour of His return (see Matthew 24:44, 50; Mark 13:32-35). Harold Camping, in claiming that he knows something that Jesus said that no man knew, is calling Jesus a liar--to quote the words of renowned cultural observer James Stolee (out of context), "What utter blasphemy!" Deuteronomy 18:20-22 prescribes the death penalty for false prophets, and also provides instructions for testing if someone is a true prophet of God or a false prophet. Anything less than 100% accuracy marks the "prophet" as false (and according to Deuteronomy 13:1-5, even if a prophecy comes true, the prophet is a false prophet if the prophecy has the effect of leading people away from the true God). God takes the matter of falsely prophesying in His name so seriously that the punishment for this sin was death by stoning. Mr. Camping is fortunate that he doesn’t live under Old Testament law, or he would have suffered this punishment at least as far back as 1994, when he made a similar false prophecy of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.

There was some concern expressed by some Christians prior to May 21, 2011 that there might be suicides similar to those of Heaven’s Gate or Jonestown when the rapture didn’t occur as scheduled. It comes as no surprise to this blogger that no such events have occurred. Sociological studies over the years have found that unfulfilled prophecies, oddly, tend to have the effect of reinforcing the cult members in the belief that the cult’s basic beliefs are correct. What will likely happen (and which, so far, seems to be the case with many of the Camping followers), is that there will be momentary bewilderment until Mr. Camping comes up with his next rationalization, after which his followers will go right back to him, fulfilling the words of Proverbs 26:11: As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly. It will be interesting to see how much money and possessions the Camping cultists are willing to fork over to promote Mr. Camping’s latest prediction, for an October 21, 2011 rapture--if they have anything left after the latest debacle, of course.

Those who chose to believe in Harold Camping’s prophecy that the rapture would occur on May 21, 2011 have chosen to follow someone who already has a record of false prophecy on the very same subject (for those with short memories or who are too young to remember, Mr. Camping predicted that Jesus would return on September 6, 1994), giving the enemies of Christ occasion to ridicule Him and to dismiss true Bible prophecy. In this part of the world, Bibles are easily available, yet the Camping followers are too stupid and lazy to look up the truth for themselves, and some of them may have to pay a hefty price. As far as I’m concerned, these silly fools deserve whatever they get. Let them alone.

20 years ago: Thousands of Ethiopian Jews are airlifted to Israel

That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee.
If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the LORD thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee:
And the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers.
Deuteronomy 30:3-5

On May 24-25 1991, three days after Ethiopian president Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam had resigned as rebel forces were closing in on Addis Ababa, 14,087 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Tel Aviv in a 22-hour operation called Operation Solomon. 35 planes made a total of 40 flights, and the Israeli government paid the Ethiopian government--now under acting President Lt. Gen. Tesfaye Gebre-Kidan--US$35 million to free the Jews.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Dutch Roman Catholic priest--with the full knowledge of his boss--promoted legalization of sex between adults and children

As reported by Toby Sterling of Associated Press on May 21, 2011:

AMSTERDAM (AP) - The Dutch Catholic Church and the Salesian order are investigating revelations that a Salesian priest served on the board of a group that promotes pedophilia with the full knowledge of his boss.

The order's top official in the Netherlands, Delegate Herman Spronck, confirmed in a statement that the priest - identified by RTL Nieuws as 73-year-old "Father Van B." - served on the board of "Martijn," a group that campaigns to end the Dutch ban on adult-child sex.

The group is widely reviled but not outlawed.

"Of course we reject this and distance ourselves from this personal initiative" on the part of the priest, Spronck said in a statement. "Membership in such organizations does not fit with the ethos of the Salesian order."

However, Spronck's own superior in Belgium said he will investigate both Spronck and Van B., after both men were quoted by RTL Nieuws as saying such relationships aren't always harmful.

Superior Jos Claes told Belgian television on Saturday he "couldn't imagine" that both men would not be disciplined, but said he must make sure of the facts first.

"Society thinks these relationships are harmful. I disagree," RTL quoted Van B. as saying. He served on Martijn's board from 2008 until 2010, when its founder was arrested for alleged possession of child pornography, a case that is ongoing.

Van B. told RTL he remains a member of Martijn and now lives in a retirement home in eastern Netherlands.

In a second interview, RTL quoted Spronck as saying he was aware of Van B.'s pedophilia and membership in Martijn, and even of two instances where the priest had been fined by police for exposing himself in public. But he said he didn't think that was sufficient reason to ban him from the order.

"Removing someone from the order is something you would only do in the case of grave moral transgression, such as rape. There was never any question of that," Spronck was quoted as saying.

Spronck added that adult-child sexual relations do not necessarily have to be damaging, including with children as young as 12...

...Dutch Catholic Church spokesman Pieter Kohnen said Saturday that, even with sex abuse scandals rocking the church worldwide, this particular case was "unbelievable" and the church utterly rejects pedophilia. He said if Superior Claes did not act quickly to reform the Dutch Salesian order's leadership, the matter would be referred to Rome.

RTL's report detailed Van B.'s movements over two decades, through three dioceses and six parishes in the Netherlands where the priest often departed under a cloud of suspicion...

...Thousands of past cases of alleged sexual abuse by Dutch priests are under investigation by an independent but church-funded commission in the Netherlands.

HT: Vox Popoli, May 22, 2011

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Billions of planets are drifting around the Milky Way

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
Psalms 8:3-4

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork. Psalms 19:1

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. Revelation 4:11

As reported by Dennis Overbye in The New York Times, May 19, 2011:

Is the galaxy full of orphans?
Astronomers said Wednesday that space was littered with hundreds of billions of planets that had been ejected from the planetary systems that gave them birth and either were going their own lonely ways or were only distantly bound to stars at least 10 times as far away as the Sun is from the Earth.

There are two Jupiter-mass planets floating around for each of the 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, according to measurements and calculations by an international group of astronomers led by Takahiro Sumi, of Osaka University in Japan, and reported in the journal Nature.

"It’s a bit of a surprise," said David Bennett, a Notre Dame astronomer who was part of the team. Before this research, it was thought that only about 10 or 20 percent of stars harbored Jupiter-mass planets. Now it seems as if the planets outnumber the stars.

"The implications of this discovery are profound," wrote Joachim Wambsganss, of Heidelberg University in Germany, in an accompanying commentary in Nature.

Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution in Washington said, "It means there are a lot more gas giants out there than previous estimates." This, he added, has important consequences for theories of how such planets form.

Planetary astronomers say the results will allow them to tap into a whole new unsuspected realm of exoplanets — as planets outside our own solar system are called — causing scientists to re-evaluate how many there are, where they are and how they are created, even as astronomers immediately begin to ponder whether the new planets in question are in fact floating free or are just far from their stars, at distances comparable to those of Uranus and Neptune in our own solar system.

"Either there is a large population of Jupiter-mass planets far from their star, or, yes, there are a lot of lonely planets out there," said Sara Seager, a planetary theorist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In the past two decades, astronomers have identified some 500 planets that are circling other stars, and this year scientists using NASA’s Kepler satellite announced 1,235 more candidates. But these were found using methods that favored the detection of planets close to their stars.

The new work was done using a method known as gravitational microlensing, which is more sensitive to planets farther out. It relies on the ability of the gravitational field of a massive object — in this case a planet and its star — to bend light and act as a magnifying lens, as predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Zurich voters reject proposed bans on assisted suicide, opt to continue making money from "death tourism"

I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: Deuteronomy 30:19

For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord.
But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death.
Proverbs 8:35-36

There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. Proverbs 14:12 (also Proverbs 16:25)

Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people. Proverbs 14:34

Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; Jeremiah 22:13a

Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,...
...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;
Romans 1:22,28

The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. I Corinthians 15:26

Surely some future historian, surveying our times, will note sardonically that it took no more than three decades to transform a war crime into an act of compassion, thereby enabling the victors in the war against Nazism to mount their own humane holocaust, which in its range and in the number of its victims, may soon far surpass the Nazi one. It is significant that, whereas the Nazi holocaust has received lavish TV and film coverage, the humane one goes rolling along largely unnoticed by the media. Malcolm Muggeridge, Sanctity of Life, Chatelaine, December 1979, p. 138

As reported by Zach Zagger in The Jurist, May 15, 2011 (links included in original article):

Voters in the Swiss city of Zurich on Sunday rejected proposed bans on assisted suicide for foreigners seeking an end to their lives. The ban was aimed at stopping a phenomenon known as "death tourism" or "suicide tourism" where people travel to Switzerland from abroad to take advantage of its legal assisted suicide. Voters rejected two referenda: one to ban assisted suicide, and the other to limit it only to residents of Zurich. The city had become a popular destination for travelers from countries where assisted suicide remains illegal, including from the neighboring countries of Germany and France. The local organization Dignitas has helped more than 1,000 people take their own lives. Two conservative parties, the Evangelical People's Party and the Federal Democratic Union supported a one-year residency requirement in Zurich before being allowed to use assisted suicide services. Still, the major left and right parties urged voters to strike both referenda. Assisted suicide has been legal in Switzerland since 1941 and permits a non physician with no vested interest in death to provide passive assistance such as providing the necessary drugs.

Last year, Switzerland's Federal Council and Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP) introduced legislation to establish stricter rules on assisted suicide after a consultation with local governments, government agencies and other organizations found that 75 percent of respondents favored such a bill. In 2007, the Swiss Supreme Court ruled that people with serious mental illnesses may be permitted to commit physician assisted suicide under certain conditions.

The perceptive reader will note that the Evangelical People's Party supported a one-year residency requirement, but didn't favour the proposed bans on assisted suicide, which indicates that the word "evangelical" means about as much in Switzerland as it does anywhere else. I find it very interesting--and very suspicious--that assisted suicide has been legal in Switzerland since 1941, when Nazi Germany's euthanasia program was well under way--just before the genocide of the Jews got into full swing.

1941 was the year that the pro-euthanasia movie Ich Klage An (I Accuse) was released in Germany. According to Ich Klage An's director, Wolfgang Liebeneiner, "The film's purpose was to test whether public opinion would approve of a law sanctioning death on demand within certain medical and legal safeguards. The test proved negative, the law was never passed..." (Erwin Leiser, Nazi Cinema, 1974, p. 150). I don't know if the film was released in Switzerland (it was shown in France, Sweden, Finland, and Greece), but I suspect it would have been regarded favourably there. For more details on Ich Klage An, see Nazi Cinema, pp. 90-94, 143-151.

Friday, 13 May 2011

50 years ago: Pope John XXIII urges worldwide war against poverty and hunger

On May 14, 1961 Pope John XXIII, speaking at a celebration of the 70th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum, urged a worldwide war against hunger and poverty, saying, "The principle of solidarity between all human beings must be emphasized and exalted. It is necessary to recall and preach duty for communities and individuals and have an abundance of means of subsistence to aid those who are in difficult conditions." Rerum Novarum has been called the Magna Carta of Roman Catholic social principles.

30 years ago: Pope John Paul II is shot

On May 13, 1981 Pope John Paul II was shot four times by Mehmet Ali Agca as he rode in the "popemobile" through a crowd of 20,000 people in St. Peter’s Square in Rome. It was the 64th anniversary of the alleged appearance of the Virgin Mary at Fatima, Portugal, and the pope saw a little girl in the audience with a small picture of Mary pinned to her blouse. He bent down to take a closer look at the picture, and at that instant, the first two bullets from the would-be assassin’s gun whizzed past, right where John Paul’s head would have been if he hadn’t bent down. John Paul II believed that Mary saved his life on that day, and he became increasingly devoted to her. During his convalescence he received a vision, supposedly of future events. For more detail on this, see Malachi Martin’s book The Keys of This Blood (1990), pp. 625-634.

The shooting of the pope occurred just six weeks after the assassination attempt on U.S. President Ronald Reagan and four months after the murder of ex-Beatle John Lennon. In Edmonton, CFRN news director Bruce Hogle said in his television editorial that night, "The obvious question is, what can be done to prevent these things from happening? The answer is: nothing."

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Dalai Lama calls for closer ties among Christian churches

The Dalai Lama recently visited Ireland for the first time in 20 years, speaking at sold-out venues in Kildare on April 13 and Limerick on April 14, 2011. As reported in Citizen's Free Press Ireland: News Line:

[Kildare, April 13]--In his first visit to Ireland in 20 years, the exiled Nobel peace laureate spoke to a sold-out conference of 2,000 people on the first leg of a two-day trip.

In a country reeling from its worst recession and facing the costliest banking crisis in history, the 76-year-old said money would not make people happy.

"The ultimate source of happiness, peace of mind, cannot be produced by money," he said. "Billionaires, they are, I notice, very unhappy people. Very powerful, but deep inside, too much anxiety, too much stress.

"So where I go, I always say … the ultimate source of happiness and successful life is within ourselves."...

...The Tibetan religious leader, the Dalai Lama, has called for closer ties between Christian churches in Ireland.

On a visit to Kildare town this afternoon, the exiled Buddhist leader said it would be wrong to generalise about Catholic clergy following recent sex abuse scandals.

In Kildare, he was presented with a St Brigid’s Cross and a St Brigid’s Flame – the symbols of Kildare’s spiritual heritage and of justice and peace.

Well-known uilleann piper Liam O’Flynn performed ‘Tabhair Dom do Lámh’ as the Dalai Lama walked the short distance to St Brigid’s Cathedral where is saying private prayers...

...[Limerick, April 14]--During his address the Dalai Lama (75), who insisted on standing "so he could see more faces", spoke about the power of compassion, love and forgiveness, and described religious harmony as his life-long commitment...

...During his 90-minute address the Dalai Lama said the ultimate source of happiness was inner peace. Describing religious harmony as one of his life-long commitments, he said all religions were dedicated to the same principles of love, contentment and compassion.

"I’m a Buddhist but I shouldn’t develop too much of an attachment to Buddhism because if you have too much attachment to your own faith then your mind becomes biased. You should be faithful to your own tradition but you must have an open mind to others," he said.

"The ultimate source of a peaceful mind is not money, power or status," he warned.

"One of my friends may be a millionaire but as a person he is a very unhappy person. Money fails to bring inner peace . . . Stress will not bring real inner joyfulness or peace. The heart really brings inner strength. Trust brings friendship. We are a social animal," he continued.

He received several rounds of applause and a standing ovation from the audience after he urged them never to give up hope. He described mental experiences as "far superior" to physical ones and said society placed too much emphasis on sensory experiences.

Belgian Roman Catholic Archbishop shocked by ex-bishop's televised confession of sexual abuse of nephews

As reported by Stephen Brown and Ben Deighton of Reuters on April 23, 2010:

A Belgian Catholic bishop resigned on Friday after admitting he had sexually abused a boy when in charge of the diocese of Bruges.

"When I was still a simple priest, and for a while when I began as a bishop, I sexually abused a boy in my close entourage," the bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, said in a statement issued at a news conference in Brussels.

"I profoundly regret what I have done and I present my sincerest apology to the victim, his family, the Catholic community and society in general," said the 73-year-old.

The abuse took place more than 20 years ago. It was not clear how old the boy was when the abuse began or how long it lasted.

Vangheluwe stepped down after a person close to the victim complained to the church. His is the first such case in Belgium, although a church commission said it was investigating about 20 other cases involving sex abuse allegations.

A year later--as reported by Agence France-Presse on April 24, 2011:
The head of the Catholic Church in Belgium, Andre-Joseph Leonard, described as "shocking" Sunday an ex-bishop's televised confession that he had sexually abused two of his nephews.

"It is inappropriate and shocking," Leonard told Belgium television RTBF of Roger Vangheluwe's "detached and vacant tone" during the interview, in which he had described "a kind of game" with one of the youngsters.

Leonard said Vangheluwe "should not have spoken".

Vangheluwe, 74, resigned as Bishop of Bruges last year after admitting to having had sex with his underage nephew, but could not be prosecuted as the statute of limitations, the legal period within which a crime can be punished, had expired.

Last week, he again caused outraged when he gave a television interview in which he also admitted to molesting a second nephew but insisted he did not consider himself a paedophile nor a threat to children.

After the first scandal, the Vatican ordered him to seek "spiritual and psychological treatment" at a church community at La Ferte-Imbault in France, and to stay out of the public eye.

Following the interview, which outraged many in Belgium and drew a sharp denunciation from the Council of Bishops, there have been calls for him to be prosecuted.

He then disappeared from his French religious community.

Asked about calls for tough penalties against Vangheluwe, Leonard said "he has already been punished" in 2010, but did not exclude the possibility of his being excommunicated.

This was "a possible choice, but not the only one," Leonard said, adding that Vangheluwe would then become a "free agent over whom we can longer exercise any control".

The case has plunged the Belgian Catholic Church into new turmoil, with several bishops asking the Vatican to act quickly to punish Vangheluwe.

In September 2010, the church was rocked by nearly 500 cases of abuse by priests since the 1950s, including 13 victims who committed suicide.

New book claims that thousands of Roman Catholic priests are in illicit sexual relationships

As reported by Nick Squires of the Daily Telegraph on April 20, 2011:

Thousands of Catholic priests are in illicit relationships with both men and women in contravention of the Vatican's teachings on celibacy and homosexuality, a new book by an investigative journalist has claimed...

...Carmelo Abbate spent months undercover documenting a "hidden world" in which heterosexual priests have children with women who can never be their wives, and gay priests of many different nationalities visit nightclubs in Rome and pay for sex with escorts.

His book, "Sex and the Vatican: a secret journey in the reign of the chaste", was published in Italian yesterday...

..."The purpose of the book is not to shame Catholic clergy, it is to expose the hypocrisy and double standards of the Church," Mr Abbate, an award-winning investigative reporter, told The Daily Telegraph...

...The book developed from an investigation conducted by Mr Abbate last year in which he used hidden cameras to film three priests attending gay nightspots in Rome and having casual sex, before donning their cassocks the next day and holding church services.

"At the time the Church said that these were just isolated incidents. I wanted to explore whether that was true and what I was found was that the phenomenon is much, much wider," he said.

He cited research which suggests that as many as a third of Catholic priests in the United States are gay and a quarter are in heterosexual relationships with women. Similar statistics have been reported in Germany and Austria.

Women made pregnant by priests told him of being forced to have abortions, or having to put their children up for adoption in a desperate attempt to keep their relationships secret.

Some priests pay ex-lovers hush money so as not to be found out while others covertly support their illegitimate children through school, the book claims.

Mormonism and Transhumanism

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

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

Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation

1. We seek the spiritual and physical exaltation of individuals and their anatomies, as well as communities and their environments, according to their wills, desires and laws, to the extent they are not oppressive.
2. We believe that scientific knowledge and technological power are among the means ordained of God to enable such exaltation, including realization of diverse prophetic visions of transfiguration, immortality, resurrection, renewal of this world, and the discovery and creation of worlds without end.
3. We feel a duty to use science and technology according to wisdom and inspiration, to identify and prepare for risks and responsibilities associated with future advances, and to persuade others to do likewise.

Mormon Transhumanism: "Eternal Progression towards becoming like God" is the title of an interview between Hank Hyena of H+ Magazine and Lincoln Cannon, co-founder, director, and president of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, published August 22, 2010. According to Mr. Cannon,

Today, the Mormon Transhumanist Association consists of 116 members, with approximately 41% living in Utah and 90% living in the United States. The purpose of the Mormon Transhumanist Association is to promote the Transhumanist Declaration and the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation.

Interesting excerpts from the interview include the following:

H+: Is the Mormons religion compatible with transhumanism?

LC: Most Mormon Transhumanists consider our religion to be remarkably compatible with transhumanism. We consider Mormonism to be a religious transhumanism. Eternal progression is a central doctrine of Mormonism. Basically, the idea is that we have all existed in some form or another into the indefinite past, that we have been and are progressing toward becoming like God in a creative and benevolent capacity, and that we should each help others do the same into the indefinite future. Mormon scripture asserts the work of God to be that of bringing about immortality and eternal life, and invites us all to participate in that work...

... H+: Are their passages in the Book of Mormon that are ‘transhumanist’?

LC: Sure. Here are a few of my favorites:
2 Nephi 9: 10-13 teaches that death is an "awful monster"
Alma 11: 44-45 teaches that immortals are embodied
Alma 60: 20-23 teaches that God will not deliver us from death unless we use the means provided
3 Nephi 28: 1-12 teaches that, all else being equal, those who desire not to die are "more blessed" than those who desire to die

Other Mormon scripture, particularly the "Doctrine and Covenants," is more heavily transhumanist. And there are speeches from prominent Mormon authorities, such as Joseph Smith, that are also more heavily transhumanist.

H+: If you could create a Mormon futuristic transhuman utopia, what would it look like?

LC: Mormon cosmology, as articulated in Mormon scripture, includes the idea that God, in whom we should all participate, creates worlds without end, heavens and glories without end, each according to the desires of its inhabitants, according to that which they are willing to receive. While I do not subscribe to mere moral relativism, I do value this idea of an indefinitely broad and deep cosmos, organized and reorganized in a perpetual work to fulfill desires, wills and laws, overcome conflicts and tensions, and provide time and space enough to explore ourselves and each other, and experience a full measure of our creative capacities. Something like that, in my estimation, is godhood, so far as I can imagine it.

In a not so distant time and place, and more importantly for now, we have actual lives, communities and environments to improve. We need more and better food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, education and healthcare; and it must come in sustainable ways. Technology is our power to do this, if we’ll use it wisely, ethically, charitably. I hope Mormon Transhumanism will help motivate such behavior.

H+: Do Mormon Transhumanists have different ethics than other transhumanists? What is your position on stem cell research? Gay marriage? Smart Drugs? In-vitro babies? Euthanasia?

LC: The ethic of Mormon Transhumanism is best described in the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation which may be compatible with the ethics of many forms of secular transhumanism. The MTA has no position on stem cell research. The LDS Church likewise explicitly has no position on stem cell research. Mormon politicians tend to support legislation on behalf of stem cell research. The MTA has no position on gay marriage. While most Mormons are antagonistic to gay marriage, Mormon Transhumanists tend to have more favorable perspectives toward homosexuals. For example, 50% of the members of the MTA strongly or somewhat disagree with the statement that "marriage should only be between a man and a woman." 56% of MTA members strongly or somewhat disagree with the statement that "Mormon doctrine cannot accommodate homosexuality". The MTA has no position on smart drugs. Mormons tend to embrace the ethical use of traditional non-recreational drugs — and medical science generally. Because of Mormon interest in education and personal improvement, I imagine smart drugs will be used by many Mormons if and when they become commonplace.

The MTA has no position on in-vitro babies. 98% of Mormon Transhumanists somewhat or strongly agree that "people should have a right to use technology to extend their . . . reproductive . . . capacities . . ." I personally know many Mormons that have benefitted from in vitro fertilization and other reproductive technologies. Mormons like to make babies, and most of us seem to have nothing against using technology to help out. The MTA has no position on euthanasia. Personally, I agree with the notion that life is sacred, and that we should be doing all we can ethically to extend and enhance life; however, I acknowledge there are horrible situations that may justify assisted suicide.

H+'s Ben Goertzel interviewed Mr. Cannon, published May 9, 2011 under the title Mormonism: The Most Transhumanist Religion?. Among the more interesting comments (all by Mr. Cannon unless indicated otherwise):

From some perspectives, aspects of Mormonism are indeed absurd. To paraphrase one prominent atheist, Mormonism is just Christianity plus some other crazy stuff. However, these perspectives overlook or ignore how the other crazy stuff modifies the Christianity! It does so to such an extent that characterizing Mormonism as a mere extension of other modern Christian ideologies is inaccurate. Mormonism is to modern Christianity as ancient Christianity was to Judaism. It is a different religion.

The virgin birth is an interesting case in point. On the one hand, because Mormonism rejects the mainstream Christian notion of original sin, the virgin birth has somewhat less theological significance. All children are sinless, and none sins until capable of moral reasoning, so Mormons have no need of explaining how Jesus could be born sinless. On the other hand, the virgin birth still has some theological significance for Mormons that use it to explain how Jesus could continue to live sinlessly even after maturing to an age capable of moral reasoning. From their perspective, Jesus gained a special moral capacity because of his unique conception. Personally, I esteem Jesus as a principal model of morality simply by definition, rather than because of any special conception that enabled him to measure up to an external model of morality. As I see it, the virgin birth is primarily a reflection of ancient symbolism that would direct our human idealizations to and beyond the resolution of moral conflict.

What of the literality of the virgin birth? Is it compatible with modern science? Mormons are philosophical materialists, with scriptures teaching that all spirit is matter, and God has a material body. Accordingly, some prominent early Mormons (notably Brigham Young) speculated that God and Mary conceived Jesus through natural means. That idea bothers some people, including many modern Mormons, some of whom prefer mainstream Christian perspectives on mechanisms for the virgin birth. Others have speculated that God could have used artificial insemination. Personally, while I find the question of the literality of the virgin birth interesting, I also consider it trivial, particularly as a factor in my esteem for Jesus. Perhaps the virgin birth is exclusively symbolic; perhaps the matrix architect, so to speak, intervened. Emotionally, I’m indifferent, except that I recognize moral and practical reasons to embrace symbols while also rejecting supernatural (empirically inaccessible) explanations in all matters.

How about the varying degrees of heavenly glory described in Mormon scripture and ritual? Are they, literally interpreted, compatible with modern science? That depends on how one understands their literal interpretation, which is complicated by their overtly symbolic and esoteric descriptions. Here’s an interpretation that I consider both literal and symbolic. Presently, we live in one of innumerable telestial heavens. Eventually, if all goes well, our heaven will become a terrestrial heaven (also described as a millenial world), wherein present notions of death and poverty will no longer apply. Subsequently, again if all goes well, our terrestrial heaven will become a celestial heaven, whose inhabitants become capable of creating new heavens, repeating the cycle. Each transition depends both on the context of opportunity provided by the grace of God, and on our own work to learn of and adhere to principles whose contextual consequences are increased flourishing and eventual deification, both individually and communally, as well as environmentally. Some Mormons hold that these changes are inevitable at the communal and environmental levels, whereas there is real risk only for individuals. Others, such as I, interpret scriptures that suggest inevitability as psychological motivators rather than absolute foretellings, and recognize real communal and environmental risks. All of this should sound vaguely familiar to transhumanists, most of whom hold to notions of human flourishing through various stages (perhaps articulated in terms of the Kardeshev scale), many of whom imagine we’ll eventually prove capable of computing new worlds as detailed as our own (thereby implying we are almost certainly living in a computed world ourselves), and some of whom engage in disagreement over how best to consider and articulate the evitability of these changes...

... Mormonism has many parallels with traditional Transhumanism. In Mormonism, natural humanity is something to overcome as we learn to become more like God. God graciously provides means (technological and otherwise) for us to progress, and we must use these means instead of merely supposing God will save us without any effort on our part. As we become more like God, we will change both spiritually and physically, taking on the virtues and attributes of God, including both creative and benevolent capacities. As described in Mormon scripture, future physical changes will include transfiguration of the living and resurrection of the dead to immortality in material bodies, varying in glory according to the desires and works of each individual. The mainstream Christian notion of a simple dichotomy between heaven and hell is not part of Mormonism. Instead, heaven and hell are states of being, categorized into degrees of glory, such as the terrestrial and celestial glories discussed previously...

... Mormon interpretations of scripture range broadly from the highly literal to the highly symbolic; however, most Mormons do not strictly subscribe to scriptural inerrancy, infallibility or literalism. Personally, I am most concerned with interpreting scripture non-dogmatically and pragmatically, in ways that are inspiring and helpful to the best of my ability to judge rationally and emotionally.

Accordingly, I don’t insist on literal interpretations of scriptural descriptions of the heavens. Indeed, Mormon prophets and the scriptures themselves encourage loose interpretations. For example, one of the more lengthy scriptural descriptions of the heavens includes this revelatory question, "Unto what shall I liken these kingdoms, that ye may understand?" Implicit in this question is the indication that we would not understand a more literal description. Similarly, Joseph Smith once commented that a person would learn more about heaven by observing it for five minutes than by reading everything ever written on the subject.

One of the more interesting and radical ideas to emerge from the transhumanist perspective is the "simulation argument" (as articulated for example by Nick Bostrom), which argues that it’s fairly likely our universe is actually part of a simulation purposefully created by alien intelligences in a civilization evolved previously to ours. What’s your reaction to this? Does it contradict Mormon teachings or can it somehow be made consistent with them? If so, how?

Mormon theology, as articulated by persons that Mormons typically recognize as prophets, resonates strongly with the Simulation Argument. Joseph Smith proclaimed that God was once as we are now, became exalted, and instituted laws whereby others could learn how to be gods, the same as all gods have done before. Wilford Woodruff taught that God is progressing in knowledge and power without end, and it is just so with us. Lorenzo Snow prophesied that children now at play making mud worlds will progress in knowledge and power over nature to organize worlds as gods. Accordingly, many Mormons, such as I, have faith in a natural God that became God through natural means, suggesting how we might do the same.

The New God Argument, which I formulated with Joseph West, leverages a generalization of the Simulation Argument, as well as the Great Filter argument and some other observations stemming from contemporary science and technological trends, to prove that if we trust in our own posthuman potential then we should also trust that posthumans more benevolent than us created our world. Because such posthumans may qualify as God in Mormonism, the argument suggests that trust in our posthuman potential should lead to faith in a particular kind of God.

It’s worth noting that Mormonism, because of its relatively unique theology of a progressing posthuman God, is often the target of hubris charges similar to those aimed at Transhumanism by adherents of religions with mainstream theologies. They consider Mormonism, like Transhumanism, to be committing the sin of Babel, as portrayed in the Bible. Some Mormon authorities have responded that the sin of Babel is not merely in the desire or attempt to become like God, but rather the sin is in allowing our technical achievements to outpace moral achievements, pursuing the desire foolishly or egotistically...

... I’d like to summarize for you some of the more significant parallels between Mormonism and Transhumanism. Perhaps this will help better communicate why I consider Mormonism be the strongest example of religious Transhumanism among major contemporary religions.

Mormonism posits that we are living in the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times, when the work of God is hastening, inspiring and endowing us with unprecedented knowledge and power. This parallels the common Transhumanist position that we are experiencing accelerating technological change. So far as I know, no other major religion has a strong parallel to Transhumanism in this area. This is probably because of how recently Mormonism was founded compared to other major religions.

Mormonism expects the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times will culminate in the Return of Christ, along with attending risks and opportunities. This parallels the apocalyptic and millenarian expectations that Transhumanists commonly associate with the Technological Singularity. This parallel between Mormonism and Transhumanism is shared with other major Western religions.

Mormonism prophecies that the Return of Christ will transform the Earth into paradise during the Millennium, when there will be no poverty or death, the living will be transfigured, and the dead will be resurrected. This parallels the common Transhumanist position that the Technological Singularity may facilitate radical life extension, super abundance, and potentially even an engineered omega point. So far as I know, this parallel between Mormonism and Transhumanism is shared only to lesser extents with other major religions, which interpret transfiguration and resurrection in only spiritual terms rather than including the physical as does Mormonism.

Mormon vision culminates in a plurality of Gods, eternally progressing and creating worlds without end, both spiritually and physically. This parallels Transhumanists’ common expectation that we will prove capable of engineering intelligence and worlds, and reflects the logical ramifications of the Simulation Argument. It appears to me that most other major religions don’t share this parallel with Transhumanism at all, and Buddhism does only in a more abstract manner.

Mormon metaphysics shares the basic assumptions of science, including consistency, causality, uniformity, empiricism and materialism, such that even miracles, although marvelous in our eyes, do not contravene law. Likewise, Transhumanists hold to the basic metaphysical assumptions of science, while anticipating engineering marvels. I know of no other major religion that shares this parallel, particularly in the area of materialism.

Mormonism aims at nearly universal salvation, in physical and spiritual immortality and eternal life, enabled in part through genealogical and proxy work for the dead. Similarly, a relatively unique Transhumanist perspective is that we might re-engineer the dead by copying them to the future, perhaps via quantum archeology. I don’t think there is another major religion that shares the expectation that proxied information work can contribute to human salvation.

Mormon scripture champions glorified physical life in this world, denigrating death as an "awful monster" and declaring "more blessed" those who wish serve God in this world indefinitely without dying. In parallel, Transhumanists commonly promote radical life extension and the conquest of death in this world. Mormonism and Transhumanism together contrast with the relatively escapist advocations of other major religions that explain immortality and heaven in dualist other-worldly terms.

The comments of Mr. Cannon will come as a surprise to those who think that Mormonism is Christian. I appreciate the fact that he states--accurately--that Mormonism and Christianity are different religions. Cris Putnam of Logos Apologia conducted an online interview with Mr. Cannon on March 2, 2011, which is worth reading.

HT: Dracul Van Helsing

Monday, 9 May 2011

English study finds positive correlation between increase in life expectancy and decrease in interest in the afterlife

And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
Luke 12:19-20

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment: Hebrews 9:27

The findings reported in the following article make sense for early 21st century western society, for a number of reasons. Death is less immediate to us than it was to earlier generations; most of us may go through our entire lives without seeing a dead body, and people are more likely to die in hospital rather than at home. As recently as 1910, half of the families in the United States had suffered the death of at least one child--a figure that has diminished considerably in the last 100 years.

As people live longer, death and eternity seem further away. Sam Nadler, former president of Chosen People Ministries, told an anecdote that nicely illustrates this. I don’t have the exact words, but it goes something like this: Satan called his demons together to try to come up with arguments to prevent people coming to come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. One demon said, "Tell them there’s no God." Satan said, "No, people inherently believe that God exists." Another demon said, "Tell them there’s no hell." Satan replied, "No, people believe that there will be a judgment after death." The demon whose suggestion was adopted was the one who said, "Tell them there’s no hurry."

Go here to see the abstract of the original article from International Journal of Social Economics.

As reported by Derek Abma of Postmedia News on April 11, 2011:

Not only are longer life expectancies allowing people to postpone retirement, they feel less rushed to make peace with God, a new study suggests.

Research out of the United Kingdom links the decline in religious participation in developed countries, where life expectancies are high, and the idea that time isn't running out as fast on people's chances to secure a place in heaven.

"Many religions and societies link to some degree the cumulative amount of religious effort to benefits in the afterlife," said Elissaios Papyrakis, an economist at the University of East Anglia and one of the study's authors. "We show that higher life expectancy discounts expected benefits in the afterlife and is therefore likely to lead to postponement of religiosity, without necessarily jeopardizing benefits in the afterlife."

In Canada, the percentage of people aged 15 or older reporting no religious affiliation whatsoever had grown to 16 per cent by 2001 compared to four per cent in 1971, according to Statistics Canada. Data also shows the proportion of people attending religious activities weekly had shrunk to 21 per cent by 2005 from 30 per cent in 1985.

Based on data from between 2005 and 2007, Statistics Canada said the average life expectancy in Canada is 80.7 years of age, up from 78.4 a decade earlier.

The study, published in the online edition of International Journal of Social Economics, noted that religious participation is high in less developed countries where life expectancies are low. For example, it said that 95 per cent of people in Nigeria attend church at least monthly, and that rate is 91 per cent in Pakistan. It said this kind of religious participation is at just 15 per cent in Britain.

From a leader in the apostate United Church of Canada comes a predictable comment:
Rev. Robert Dalgleish, executive director of ministry development for the United Church of Canada, said for him personally, religion has always been more about how to live currently rather than a preoccupation with heaven or hell.

"But I think the Church has not always made that clear to people, so I would agree with the (study) authors' claim...that the Church does need to make the case that religion is about life -it's about this life," Dalgleish said.

Rick Warren PEACE Plan graffiti

Renowned Alberta cultwatcher Christopher Milner has given his permission--in fact, encouraged me--to post this email that he sent me on April 2, 2011 in order to find out if anyone else has noticed this:

A couple of weeks ago, I started watching a TV show called V at a free-online TV and movie network (it was a 2009 remake of a show originally done in the '80s). The original I never watched although [name withheld] who did watch it told me the aliens in the show came across as being Fascist in their ideology.
Anyhow the aliens in this 2009 remake strike me as being quite demonic- although admittedly I've only watched 2 episodes on-line.
But the interesting thing is the aliens are recruiting teen-age earthlings and naming them Peace Ambassadors to promote the alien message.
Now I'm not sure of this but hasn't Rick Warren done the same thing? Hasn't he referred to the promoters of his peace plan as Peace Ambassadors?
The reason I ask is because these teen-aged Peace Ambassadors on the TV show are spraypainting the letter V on back alleys and subway walls and people's fences as a way to promote the alien agenda.
About 4 or 5 years ago, I noticed in Sherwood Park that someone had spraypainted the word P.E.A.C.E. spelled that exact same way on various fences and outside school ways and back alleys in Sherwood Park.
That was about the same time I had first heard of Rick Warren and his P.E.A.C.E plan. I really didn't know what to make of it because I hadn't really researched Warren and his beliefs back then.
But I remembered wondering at the time whether the P.E.A.C.E. graffiti that some youths were spraypainting and vandalizing public and private property with had anything to to do with the aforesaid Warren's P.E.A.C.E plan.
Then one day my dad and I were driving to the Eastgate Sherwood Park Mall and we happened to pass a building that had the following graffiti spraypainted on it, RICK WARREN'S P.E.A.C.E. PLAN NOW!
That resolved any doubts I had on the matter and that was when I first started wondering about this Rick Warren. Was he a cult leader I wondered who was getting his youthful supporters to vandalize public and private property to promote his message?
Anyways that's why I'm wondering if Warren has anything like Peace Ambassadors among his youthful supporters.
Because maybe the writers of this 2009 remake of V are modelling the demonic aliens on Rick Warren's Saddleback Church.

I'm well-acquainted with Rick Warren's PEACE plan; I first became aware of it from Berit Kjos around 2005, and my immediate impression was that this looked like something that the Antichrist might come up with. It's the graffiti I'm asking about--I haven't seen any, and i wonder if anyone else has.

HT: Dracul Van Helsing

"Second verse, same as the first:" More Social Gospel at a Christian and Missionary Alliance assembly

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
Matthew 6:1-4

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Matthew 7:21-23

Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?
Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.
John 6:28-29

One of the most insidious trends in evangelicalism in recent years has been the increasing emphasis on Christianity being defined in terms of actions rather than doctrine. In 1980 the World Council of Churches, already hopelessly apostate, defined the Kingdom of God as a social and political kingdom brought in by human effort. Fundamentalist and evangelical churches, if they were paying attention, rejected this view of the Kingdom of God, but three decades later, the evangelical churches are in about the same position that the mainline churches were earlier, and the idea that man will bring in the Kingdom of God is rapidly increasing in popularity in so-called evangelical churches.

Two years ago I posted about the assembly of the Canadian Pacific District of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Langley, British Columbia, where Erwin McManus was the guest speaker and the social gospel and postmodernism was promoted. I don’t care to repeat what I said in my previous post (because it’s easier to provide a link), but it’s as relevant today as it was then. Two years later, it’s time for the next assembly of the C&MA’s Canadian Pacific District, and nothing has changed except for the guest speaker.

From the site of the Christian & Missionary Alliance Canadian Pacific District:

"Empowering and Multiplying Missional Communities"
The biennial District Conference and AGM is coming up on May 17-19, 2011!
Registration is starting for your church to send delegates!

The conference will be held in the Lower Mainland at the Langley Events Centre and at Mountainview Alliance Church.

Cost: $175/delegate
This price includes lunch and dinner on Wednesday, all sessions with our speaker and materials, as well as lunch following the AGM.

Our Guest Speaker: Hugh Halter

This year, Hugh Halter, co-author of The Tangible Kingdom will be speaking to us. His newest book "AND" speaks about what it looks like to be the Church gathered and the Church scattered. Along with being a speaker and author, Hugh is a pastor in Denver to a community called Adullam. We are looking forward to having him join us during our District Conference!

As for Hugh Halter, I don't know who he is, but I do know this...I found the following on the home page of Adullam Communities:

Adullam communities are about the transformation of individual lives, local neighborhoods, and ultimately the world. What do we mean by transformation? We believe God exists as the primary protagonist in the unfolding story of creation. Transformation is simply what describes the journey of changing our roles in the story, going from antagonists-driven mostly by personal gain- toward joining a collaborative mission of redemption as God’s fellow protagonists. In doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly together in community we believe that what’s been broken in our lives, our communities…our world, has a chance at redemption.

While we are unashamedly a community of Jesus followers we believe that transformation isn’t about going to church. Actually, in most of our experiences simply "doing church" has often been a major distraction for people, both saint and sojourner, who want to relate to God and live out the Kingdom life. When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom we believe it was an invitation to not only dream of a better world to come, but an invitation to start leaning into and living out of that new world in the here and now.

The Emergingese jargon in this passage may prompt the reader to search for an online translator, but I’ll try to render it in English in one sentence: The Kingdom of God is brought in by human effort. Check out Mr. Halter’s blog, and you’ll find scarcely a mention of the cross of Jesus Christ, and I didn’t see any mention there of His return. The true gospel is a message about what God has done, i.e., sending His only begotten Son to die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. As the passage in John 6 cited above says, the work of God is just to believe on the One whom He has sent. The "social gospel," which is not really a gospel at all (see Galatians 1:6-7), emphasizes what man does and must do rather than what God has done for us. Go here for more on The Tangible Kingdom and the movement behind it.

As for the idea that man can usher in the Kingdom of God, I can’t top the words of Malcolm Muggeridge:

To proclaim a kingdom of heaven on earth, on the other hand, is both deceptive and intrinsically absurd. The maintenance of such a notion requires mental gymnastics so extreme and so strenuous that they usually produce dementia.

--from Backward, Christian soldiers!, an essay from Mr. Muggeridge's book Tread Softly, for You Tread on My Jokes, 1966

Sunday, 8 May 2011

50 years ago: Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visit the pope

On May 5, 1961 Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, at the close of a state visit to Italy, had a private audience at the Vatican with Pope John XXIII. It was the first meeting of a pope and a British monarch in 38 years, although the queen had been received by Pope Pius XII when she was Princess Elizabeth.

During their cordial 25-minute meeting, the pontiff and the queen exchanged gifts, and the pope, addressing her in French, said that British-Vatican relations had been "rich with comforting promises for development of good understanding and reciprocal friendship."

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Oblate priest worked in Ottawa Roman Catholic Archdiocese for years after serving prison time for molesting girls

And now for something completely different: a Roman Catholic priest who molested girls instead of boys. As reported by Kristy Nease of the Ottawa Citizen on May 7, 2011:

An 82-year-old Roman Catholic priest who served jail time for sexually molesting two British Columbia girls in the 1970s--both under 16 when the incidents began--has been quietly assisting at least one Ottawa parish for more than a decade, and the pastor at the east-end church where he has been working had no idea about his colleague's past.

Rev. John "Jack" McCann, whose permission to perform occasional ministry in Ottawa was revoked by the Archdiocese of Ottawa on April 29, after the Citizen began inquiring about him, is a member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), which has a residence on Main Street.

At Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish on St. Laurent Boulevard, McCann had been filling in for Rev. Stephen Liang while he was away, performing occasional masses and interacting with parishioners at socials.

Liang, who has been with the parish for about four years, said McCann was there when he arrived. Msgr. Kevin Beach, the archdiocese's vicar general, confirmed Mc-Cann had been in Ottawa for at least 10 years, but he didn't know if McCann had worked at any other Ottawa parish.

McCann's religious career is primarily overseen not by the Archdiocese of Ottawa, according to Liang and Beach, but by his religious superior at OMI, Rev. John Malazdrewich, who was not available for comment on Friday...

...In 1992, McCann pleaded guilty to molesting two girls and was sentenced to 10 months in jail. The offences occurred while he was a priest at St. Augustine's parish in Vancouver and St. Peter's parish in New Westminster.

One victim, Leona Munnalall, told the Vancouver Sun in 1994 that Mc-Cann lured her into near-daily sex, starting when she was 13. The last incident occurred when she was nearly 20.

Munnalall went public because she believed it would help the Catholic Church face up to sex abuse by priests. She went to police with her complaints against McCann after hearing he had been transferred to a Catholic parish on Saltspring Island, where she feared someone else might be victimized.

At the time of his conviction, McCann was reportedly terminated from parish ministry. He had served as parish priest in Nootka from 1959 to 1963, in Lethbridge from 1963 to 1970, in Fort St. John from 1981 to 1983, in Edmonton from 1984 to 1990, and on Saltspring Island from August 1990 until October 1990.

Liang said Friday he had no idea about McCann's past.

"The archdiocese was just informed themselves on Friday, the 29th of April," Liang said. "It was news to them, too. They had no idea, as far as I can tell, of his back-ground, of his previous criminal conviction of sexual assault in the 1990s, so they were just as surprised as myself."

Liang said McCann's work at Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish -made up of mainly elderly parishioners -did not include contact with children...

..."It comes to me as a really big shock. . Why wasn't I made aware of his background, because I'm responsible as a pastor, the parish priest here, for this parish's welfare and of my parishioners. It certainly would have been extremely helpful if I knew of his background. He wouldn't even have been able to officiate as a priest in any ministry in the Archdiocese of Ottawa if my superiors knew about it."

McCann's whereabouts were revealed by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a U.S.-based support and advocacy group that investigated after getting a tip from "a concerned Canadian."

10 years ago: John Paul II becomes the first pope to enter a mosque

On May 7, 2001, Pope John Paul II, while on a visit to Syria, Greece, and Malta, arrived in Damascus, was greeted by Syria's top Muslim cleric, and entered the Umayyad Mosque, becoming the first pontiff to enter a mosque. As reported by BBC News:

Thousands of people have turned out to greet Pope John Paul II on his historic visit to Syria.

The pontiff drove in his popemobile through the narrow streets and was greeted by Syria's top Muslim cleric Sheik Ahmad Kuftaro.

Sheik Kuftaro said: "This is an occasion that goes beyond history and will begin the process of putting peace to work in the world."

The pontiff replied: "For me, too, it is a very important day. I am very happy."

Vatican and Syrian flags decorated the Umayyad Mosque in the old walled city of Damascus...

...The Pope, who called on Muslims, Christians and Jews to work together to bring peace to the Middle East, became the first pontiff to enter a mosque.

As required by Muslim custom, John Paul II removed his shoes and put on white slippers before entering the mosque...

...John Paul II asked for a joint act of contrition, saying: "For all the times that Muslims and Christians have offended one another...we need to seek forgiveness from the Almighty and offer each other forgiveness."

At the tomb of St John the Baptist the Pope paused for a minute's silent meditation. He spent 95 minutes in the mosque, which was built in AD 705 on the site of a Christian church.

The pontiff also met Agnatios Hazim IV, the Syrian-Greek Orthodox archbishop, at the Church of St Paul on the Wall in the Syrian capital.

Earlier in the day, the Pope attended a four-hour Mass in a Damascus stadium.

In Context

The Pope's visit to Damascus was overshadowed by a furious row between Syria and Israel.

On his arrival, Syrian president Bashar Assad accused Israel of trying to "kill the principles of all religions with the same mentality in which they betrayed Jesus Christ and...the Prophet Mohammed".

This sparked a stern response from Israel, who urged world leaders to "condemn" such statements.
Israel called on Roman Catholic leaders to reject such statements "with revulsion" but a papal spokesman said: "The Pope will absolutely not intervene. We are guests of this president and he has expressed his opinion."

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Parliamentarians in Kyrgyzstan slaughter rams to banish "evil spirits"

As Paul Harvey used to say, "It is not one world." Then again, since Canadian MPs don't seem interested in following the God of the Bible, they might want to try this in Ottawa when the new parliament meets later in 2011. As reported by Olga Dzyubenko of Reuters on April 21, 2011:

BISHKEK - Members of Kyrgyzstan's divided parliament slaughtered seven rams before their morning session on Thursday, in a sacrifice they hope will banish "evil spirits" disrupting their work.

Kyrgyzstan elected a new legislature in October in a bid to build the first parliamentary democracy in former Soviet Central Asia, a region otherwise run by authoritarian presidents.

But the fragile governing coalition has come under threat after weeks of bitter recriminations and disputes in parliament, leading a senior government member to resign temporarily...

..."We decided to resort to popular customs, in order for this building not to see bloodshed anymore," member of parliament Myktybek Abdyldayev told Reuters after the rams were sacrificed on a green lawn in front of the government headquarters...

..."We acted like those who light candles or fumigate their homes in order to banish an evil spirit from their conscience," Abdyldayev said.

The ritual of making a sacrifice is widespread in the impoverished, predominantly Muslim nation of 5.4 million. It is practised mainly during funeral repasts and at solemn ceremonies of reconciliation.

"This is a popular ancient tradition, carried out in order to avoid a repeat of last year's tragic events and for peace and harmony to triumph," said parliamentarian Kurmanbek Osmonov.

But Ondorush Toktonasyrov, one of those who led last year's protests that toppled President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, scoffed at the ritual as "a sign of backward mentality."

"Deputies have no idea about parliamentary culture," he told Reuters. "This is an official building where the president works, and the parliament slaughters rams!"

Sunday, 1 May 2011

India's former Chief Justice is rumoured to be Sai Baba's successor

Prafullachandra Natwarlal Bhagwati, 90, India's former Chief Justice, is widely rumoured to become chairman of Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust (SSSCT) of Puttaparthi, succeeding the recently-deceased Sathya Sai Baba. The retired judge has been a devotee of Sai Baba for almost 43 years. Bella Jaisinghani of the Times of India recently got hold of Mr. Bhagwati for an interview, which was published on May 1, 2011, which included (questions in bold):

The trustees seem divided between Sai Baba's nephew, J Ratnakar and his caregiver, Satyajit. But your election will not be opposed by anyone will it, given that you are one of the best legal brains in India and don't have enemies?

That is true. No one will oppose my name. I have cultivated a reputation as the foremost legal luminary across the Commonwealth. Ratnakar is a relative of Bhagwan (Sathya Sai) and Satyajit is a staunch devotee. That is all. Be that as it may, there is no row over succession. How can anybody succeed God? Who succeeded Lord Krishna?...

...Did his persona rub off on you professionally, in any way?

Every single one of my judgments has been guided and inspired by a divine hand (weeps). I believe in two entities, Krishna and Sathya Sai. I am not a devotee but a lover of Krishna. People may call me mad, and yes, this is madness. The madness of love. At the age of 11, I would run outside the house and weep for Krishna.

As a professional, each time I would sit down to write a judgment at 5 'o'clock in the morning, I was only writing what my god dictated. Bhagwan held my hand as I put pen to paper.

Everything that I have achieved in respect of the law, and people say I have achieved a lot, is owing to the guidance and inspiration of Sathya Sai Baba. There is no doubt on that score...

...Inmates of the ashram, particularly young boys, have levied charges of sexual abuse against the godman.

(Agitated) These are all baseless allegations. Bhagwan is a divine person, divinity personified. All these allegations come from interested quarters.

Several alleged offences committed by Sai Baba were never investigated.

What is the point of investigation? (Agitated) Bhagwan is divinity personified, he radiates joy; millions worship him. He is a teacher of mankind...

...You may not answer all these questions but are you avoiding uttering a falsehood?

I have never uttered a lie in my entire life. I may not answer a certain question but I will not give you a false answer.

It's obvious from his answers that Prafullachandra Natwarlal Bhagwati isn't suffering from low self-esteem.