Reuters blog archive
(Photo: Pope Benedict XVI blesses a nativity scene at the Vatican December 15, 2010/Tony Gentile)
Pope Benedict voiced the Catholic Church's deep concern over "hostility and prejudice" against Christianity in Europe on Thursday, saying creeping secularism was just as bad as religious fanaticism. In the message for the Roman Catholic Church's World Day of Peace, marked on Jan. 1, he also reiterated recent condemnations of lack of religious freedom in countries in the Middle East where Christians are a minority, such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
He said Christians were the most persecuted religious group in the world and that it was "unacceptable" that in some places they had to risk their lives to practise their faith. But he reserved his strongest words for Europe, where the Church says it is under assault by some national governments and European institutions over issues such as gay marriage, abortion and the use of Christian religious symbols in public places.
"I also express my hope that in the West, and especially in Europe, there will be an end to hostility and prejudice against Christians because they are resolved to orient their lives in a way consistent with the values and principles expressed in the Gospel," he said in the message. "May Europe rather be reconciled to its own Christian roots, which are fundamental for understanding its past, present and future role in history."
The Pope put what the Vatican has termed "aggressive secularism", such as gay marriage and restrictions on religious symbols such as crucifixes, nativity scenes and other traditions, on the same level as religious fanaticism: "It should be clear that religious fundamentalism and secularism are alike in that both represent extreme forms of a rejection of legitimate pluralism and the principle of secularity."
A U.N. General Assembly committee has once again voted to condemn the "vilification of religion" but support narrowed for a measure that Western powers say is a threat to freedom of expression. The non-binding resolution, championed by Islamic states and opposed by Western countries, passed by only 12 votes on Tuesday in the General Assembly's Third Committee, which focuses on human rights, 76-64 with 42 abstentions. (Photo: United Nations General Assembly in New York September 24, 2010/Keith Bedford)
Opponents noted that support had fallen and opposition increased since last year, when the Third Committee vote was 81-55 with 43 abstentions. The 192-nation General Assembly is expected to formally adopt the measure next month.
How much fun -- really -- can you make of religion? A U.S. marketer of board games may find out with "Playing Gods" which it calls "the world's first satirical board game of religious warfare." It had its European premier this week at the London Toy Fair and will make a U.S. debut at the New York Toy Fair in February.
Ben Radford, head of the company that put the game together, said in a news release it is designed for two to five players who act as "gods" and ...
Cardinal Renato Martino, the papal aide who angered Israel and Jews by comparing Gaza to a "big concentration camp" is no novice at being outspoken or controversial. The southern Italian cardinal speaks his mind, loves to talk and sometimes has had to pay the price. Martino, head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (effectively its justice minister), has a laundry list of people and governments with whom he has clashed. But that hasn't stopped him. (Photo: Cardinal Martino at the Vatican, 12 April 2005/Tony Gentile)
Perhaps his most famous remark came in December, 2003 when, shortly after U.S. troops captured former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Martino told a news conference at the Vatican that U.S. military were wrong to show video footage of Saddam. "I felt pity to see this man destroyed, (the military) looking at his teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures," he said at the time.
Today is Reformation Day, the anniversary of the day in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg in eastern Germany and set off the Protestant Reformation. It is a public holiday in the five eastern German states, in Slovenia and -- this year for the first time -- in Chile.
Chile? Isn't that traditionally a Catholic country? Even the Catholic parts of Germany don't celebrate Reformation Day.
Does Sony need a full-time religious affairs adviser? Someone who says "that's OK" or "whoa, don't go there!" It looks like they could use one, judging by its decision to recall and remaster its Playstation 3 video game LittleBigPlanet because it might offend Muslims. LittleBigPlanet was supposed to be one of the biggest releases of the season. And then Sony found out some background music had a few phrases from the Koran in it and they decided to replace the disks with different music. An in-house religion maven who does some "content debugging" would cost much less than this embarrassing exercise.
Sony isn't the only company to trip over religious sensitivities. Microsoft had to withdraw its Xbox fighter game Kakuto Chojin; Back Alley Brutal in 2003 because of Koran verses chanted in the background. Back in 1998, Muslims accused Nike of sacrilege for selling sneakers bearing a logo showing the word "air" written in fiery letters that looked like the Arabic word "Allah." Nike ended up withdrawing the shoes, giving sensitivity training to employees and building playgrounds at several mosques in Virginia.
Raphael Cheenath, the Roman Catholic archbishop in the eastern Indian state of Orissa, calls the religious violence there "ethnic cleansing of Christians." Pope Benedict, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Italian government have all called for an end to the killings in the eastern state. The death toll is now 13 and possibly up to 10,000 people -- mostly Christians -- have sought shelter in makeshift refugee camps. More than a dozen churches have been burned. Catholic schools across India closed in protest on Friday. Local officials say the week-long violence may be waning, but this remains to be seen.
The criticism from outside the state hinted the critics believed authorities in the state had not done enough to halt the violence. No names are named, but anyone who knows Indian politics can connect the dots. The violence by Hindu mobs broke out after a Hindu leader in Orissa, Swami Laxmananda Saraswati, was killed. The state is run by a coalition which includes the main Hindu nationalist opposition party the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), so suspicions immediately fall on a party that has also been already accused of turning a blind eye to the deaths of about 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. The BJP's Lal Krishna Advani, head of the opposition in the Indian parliament, has said Maoists were suspected of the killings.
What a difference a day makes. A post here yesterday noted that British media had all but ignored today's debate about Christianophobia in parliament and asked whether that term was an appropriate one to use. Well, today several newspapers have taken up the issue, with different angles.
Andrew Brown in the Guardian says "Civilisation is safe" and sees influences from across the Atlantic for the debate: "The American nationalist right - and now an obscure Tory MP - would have us believe that Christian traditions are under threat. I don't think so." He also says that a BBC story about the debate was the second most emailed story on the BBC's website. His post sparked a long list of comments.
Parliament in Britain has scheduled a debate on Christianophobia for Wednesday and interest in it seems to be almost zero. It's on the parliamentary agenda and the BBC has done a story on it. But the usual Google searches find no other articles about it and few blog entries (for example here, here, here or here).
OK, it's not the hottest topic right now and there's a much bigger religion story out there today -- the return of "teddy row teacher" Gillian Gibbons from Sudan. But that's not all.