FaithWorld

GUESTVIEW: Faiths meet at Parliament of World Religions

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The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Paul Knitter is the Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions and Culture at Union Theological Seminary in New York.Matthew Weiner is Program Director at the Interfaith Center of New York.

By Paul Knitter and Matthew Weiner

In 1893, the Chicago Parliament of World Religions was convened to gather the world’s faiths together for the first time. The organizers had a subversive message they kept hidden from invited speakers from non-Christian traditions: Christianity is the one true faith. They assumed that if all the faiths had a chance to speak publicly to the world, it would be obvious that Christianity was superior. But things didn’t go as planned. As it turned out, the Hindu representative Swami Vivikananda from India stole the show, convincing everyone that Hinduism was as valid a way to worship and experience the divine as any other. The state of the world’s religions was changed forever and the interfaith era had its symbolic beginning.

pwr-buddhistsOver 100 years later, things have certainly changed. The Parliament of World Religions is again under way here in Melbourne, with over 6,000 participants from 200 countries representing every major faith in the world. Now, it is assumed that every faith is valid. Here, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who will speak on Wednesday, is by far the most popular speaker, followed by Aboriginal and Native American speakers and others. (Photos courtesy of Graeme Sharrock, NPPA)

The Parliament as an organization was revived in 1993 in Chicago, with the same name and the same ideal of representing all faiths, but with a different message — everyone is welcome to the table for open and honest conversations. The goal is different as well — to mobilize public opinion about the value of religious traditions and the critical importance of religions communicating with one another.

Even in the 16 years since the first new parliament, there have been real shifts in the public’s view of religion, in large part because of the work of this organization. In 1993, there was great media attention but little interest from secular constituancies. This parliament is co-hosted by the Melbourne city government. Representatives of UNICEF and other major UN agencies are here to present and learn about faiths. The Obama administration is sending a team from their Faith Based Initiatives office. All of this movement is taking place against the backdrop of 9/11. The significance of the different ways religion can be understood are not lost on anyone here.

How many Anglicans will switch to the Roman Catholic Church?

levadaDisaffected Anglican Dioceses in Papua New Guinea, the United States and Australia might consider switching to Roman Catholicism under a new constitution offered by Pope Benedict, according to Forward in Faith (FiF), a worldwide association of Anglicans opposed to the ordination of women priests or bishops. About a dozen bishops from the Church of England, the Anglican mother church, are also likely to convert, it says. (Photo: Vatican Cardinal William Levada announces offer to Anglicans, 20 Oct 2009/Tony Gentile)

The Church of England could not comment on numbers likely to convert, with one source adding: “It’s all guesswork.” But Stephen Parkinson, director of FiF, said a figure of 1,000 Church of England priests, reported in the media, was “credible.” Read our news story on this here.

Estimates of laity are “much harder,” Parkinson said.  “Inevitably if you say 1,000 priests you are then talking about several thousand laity.”

GUESTVIEW: Out of our hair and away from our pants!

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. Sarah Sayeed is a Program Associate at the Interfaith Center of New York and a board member of Women In Islam, Inc.burkiniBy Sarah SayeedAs an American Muslim woman who adheres to religious guidelines on modest dress, I find it ironic that such remarkably different nations as Sudan and France seem similarly preoccupied with legislating Muslim women’s dress.   The Sudanese government recently arrested and whipped women, including Christian women, for wearing trousers.  The French banned a woman wearing a head-to-toe Muslim bathing suit (a “burkini”) from entering a town pool.
(Photo: Australian lifeguard Mecca Laalaa in her burkini, 13 Jan 2007/Tim Wimborne)

Even if we were to give credence to an argument that pants are immodest for women, there is no injunction in the Quran or any example from Prophet Muhammad which demands corporeal punishment for “inappropriate” dress. Such a harsh practice completely contradicts the justice and compassion that Islam mandates.Likewise, the French ban on burkinis is outrageous.  Wearing the burkini has given me the freedom to enjoy water sports with my son; it has not limited me, but rather enhanced the quality of my life.  But now, I worry that other public pools will follow suit.  In recent years, France banned religious symbols in public schools, including the headscarf, and denied citizenship to a Muslim woman who wears a face veil.  Will this disturbing trend spread across other democratic nations?France and Sudan are miles apart geographically, politically, and culturally.   Yet both countries have imposed on the personal freedom of Muslim women to dress as they choose, and ultimately, to participate in the public sphere.  Sudan’s choice to impose corporeal punishment is far more egregious, relative to banning a woman from entering a pool.  For the average person, Sudan’s actions seem barbaric, but in a way, unsurprising because they conform to a prevailing stereotype about Islamic law as harsh and oppressive to women.But because French laws are enacted in a context which purports more openness, plurality and freedom, they could be more harmful to the cause of global freedom and democracy.  France perceives itself as a free country that allows its citizens to practice the religion of their choice.  France, like other Western European countries or the United States, would want Muslim nations to “look up to it,” to learn from its example how to separate religion and state.  However, the French ban on head covers, face covers, and now on pool attire suggests that religious freedom is bounded, even within a democratic context.volleyballIt is true that the ban on headscarves emerged out of a debate among French Muslims.  Specifically, one group of Muslims felt that their freedom of choice and conscience were imposed upon when other Muslims insulted and physically harassed girls who were not wearing a scarf.  The former turned to the government for assistance.  Out of its sense of responsibility to maintain public order, the government banned all religious symbols in public schools.  But preserving the freedom of conscience of one party need not come at the expense of freedom of religious practice of another.  There are other methods of resolving such conflicts, including prosecuting harassment and attacks as hate crimes, imposing strict penalties on perpetrators, and even community mediation.
(Photo: Palestinian girls play beach volleyball at Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, 20 \june 2009/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

French authorities also voiced a concern that loose fitting swim gear that “can be worn in public may carry molecules and viruses that can be transmitted to other bathers.”  Even though most Muslim women are unlikely to wear the burkini anywhere else, surely a shower before entering the water and the chlorine of a public pool can be counted upon to take care of these dangerous “molecules and viruses!”  A deeper mistrust of Muslims emerges in Mayor Kelyor’s statement that to permit the burkini is to “go back in civilization.”  Muslim women’s practice of modesty poses a threat to French notions of progress just as Sudanese Muslim women’s choice to wear pants was also deemed threatening.Ultimately, authorities in Sudan and France conveyed a parallel message.  To democracy’s nay-sayers in the Muslim world, France communicated that those who practice Islam will be marginalized.  To Islam’s nay-sayers Sudan confirmed the interpretation that Islamic law is an oppressive and restrictive.  Both have infringed upon the rights of minority groups within their respective contexts.Governments and political movements worldwide, from Turkey to Afghanistan, from France to the U.K, from Sudan to Saudi Arabia, all are inappropriately focused on controlling Muslim women’s dress. It is surprising that even within nations that uphold individual freedom, democracy and the separation of religion and state, governments seem to be anxious about Muslim women’s attire. Would governments ever legislate that men who wear beards may not become citizens and those who wear fitted pants should be whipped?  I say to these governments: get out of our hair, and stay away from our pants! Instead, what government must do is to protect the freedom of Muslim women to choose our dress.  Protecting choice guarantees human dignity and maintains fairness.  Ultimately, the preservation of democracy as well as the practice of Islam depends on it.———————The burkini (aka “burqini”), which first appeared in Australia, has also been banned in at least one Dutch swimming pool.Following is a Reuters video report on the recent “burkini ban” in France –

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Wine and faith link shows on new Reuters wine page

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Reuters.com now has a new page called World of Wine dedicated to our articles about the fruit of the vine. Although the page has no link to religion, wine does to some faiths — and it shows here.

Among the first few articles listed on the page is a recent feature on wine and Judaism — “Kosher wines pouring out of the religious niche.” The photo with the feature (seen above) shows Rabbi Yair Didi, who supervises production of kosher wines at the ‘Cantina di Pitigliano’ winery, sampling a glass in the Italian town of Pitigliano in Tuscany (26 March 2007/Daniele La Monaca).

And the top picture on the page shows Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd presenting a six-bottle case of white wine from Down Under to Pope Benedict. Wine plays a central part in the Catholic Mass, but Rudd suggested the pontiff might drink this dessert wine “here in the Vatican on a warm summer’s night.” The photo is copied below (9 July 2009/Pier Paolo Cito).

A selection of religion reports: week of March 8

manila-moonReuters publishes many more reports on religion, faith and ethics than we can mention on the FaithWorld blog. We sometimes highlight a story here, but often leave an issue unmentioned because it was already covered on the wire, or we have neither the time nor any extra information for a blog post. Here’s a sample of some of the stories we’ve published over the past week:

Philippines says open to amending Muslim autonomy law 13 Mar 2009

China says willing to meet Dalai Lama’s envoys 13 Mar 2009

Jews ask pope for Holocaust studies in schools 12 Mar 2009tibet

Turkey denies firing editor over Darwin article 12 Mar 2009

Pope says pained over “hate, hostility” against him 12 Mar 12 2009

China says it must approve Dalai Lama reincarnation 12 Mar 2009

U.S. says some states curb free speech in name of religion 12 Mar 2009

Australia says may quit UN racism conference 12 Mar 2009

Pope admits Holocaust denier affair was mishandled 12 Mar 2009

Pope to visit Rome synagogue in autumn 12 Mar 2009pope-rabbi

Malaysia Christians battle with Muslims over Allah 11 Mar 2009

“Big Love” network apologizes to Mormons 11 Mar 2009

Catholics protest Connecticut church finance bill 11 Mar 2009

Russia church offers to help Kremlin weather crisis 11 Mar 2009

Pope admits Holocaust denier affair was mishandled 11 Mar 2009

Cardinal says bad bankers must ask God’s pardon 11 Mar 2009

US fertility patients want final say on embryos 11 Mar 2009

Dalai Lama slams China over Tibet “suffering” 10 Mar 2009obama

Cameroon demolishes street stalls for Pope’s visit 10 Mar 2009

Stem cell go-ahead puts Obama at odds with pope 10 Mar 2009

Somali cabinet votes to implement sharia law 10 Mar 2009

FACTBOX: Embryonic stem cells, the ultimate master cell 10 Mar 2009

Stem cell advocates finally get their Obama moment 09 Mar 2009

French filmmaker slammed for likening illegals to WWII Jews 09 Mar 2009

jp2-yad-vashem1Vatican paper: Washing machine liberated women most 09 Mar 2009

Chechnya wants newborns to be named after Mohammad 09 Mar 2009

Obama to let health institute decide on stem cells 08 Mar 2009

US stem cell announcement only a first step 08 Mar 2009

Pope to visit Holocaust memorial during Israel trip 08 Mar 2009

Turkish Mosque Holds First Official Kurdish Sermon 08 Mar 2009

(Photo credits from top: Romeo Ranoco, Philippe Wojazer, Alessia Pierdomenico, Larry Downing, stringer)

Australian Surfers Church spreads the word on the waves



(Photo: A surfer reads a ‘Surfers Bible’ at Cronulla beach in south Sydney, 31 Oct 2008/Daniel Munoz)


From Australia, home of the water-proof Surfer’s Bible, comes news of the Maroubra Surfers Church, an Anglican mission launched on a Sydney beach by Rev. Steve Bligh a little over a year ago.

“It’s really unstructured, we don’t have a physical building. We meet on Sunday mornings and teach the men, women and children of our congregation how to surf, then afterwards we have brunch,” Bligh told Reuters. “But I want us to talk God talk as part of our conversations when we are out there on the waves.”

Read Pauline Askin’s feature here.

Steve Bligh talks about Surfers Church: