U.S. General David Petraeus has criticised a company that embossed Bible citations on rifle scopes sent to forces fighting in Muslim countries. “This is of serious concern to me and to the other commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan because, indeed, it conveys a perception that is absolutely contrary to what it is that we have sought to do,” Petraeus said. Read our news story and tell us what you think in the following poll. Follow FaithWorld on Twitter at RTRFaithWorld
Mehmet Ali Agca, Pope John Paul’s would-be assassin due to be released from prison on Monday, has answered a set of questions put to him by Reuters through his lawyers. Earlier on Wednesday, his lawyers issued a hand-written letter to journalists in which he called for a new “American Empire.” Our later news story on his answers to our questions highlights his stated desire to visit the late pope’s tomb in Saint Peter’s Basilica. The statement went on to call on Pope Benedict to announce the end of the world and say he would prove he was “Agca the Messiah” and would write the “perfect Bible.” Agca’s answers are rambling and bizarre. Since we’re bound to hear more from him when he’s released, here’s the complete text of the Q&A to give a fuller view of his current thinking. The Reuters bureau in Istanbul translated it from the original Turkish.
1. How are you feeling after your many years in prison?
“For around thirty years I have been staying in cells on my own. I experienced hell on earth. But in spite of everything I am well. I feel good in myself both physically and psychologically.”
from Afghan Journal:
[CROSSPOST blog: 27 post: 4308]
Original Post Text:
In openDemocracy, Paul Rogers writes that one of the great mistakes of the media is that it tends to assume the only actors in the campaign against Islamist militants are governments, with al Qaeda and the Taliban merely passive players.
"Beyond the details of what the Taliban and its allies decide, it is important to note that most analysis of Barack Obama’s strategy published in the western media is severely constrained by its selective perspective. There is a pervasive assumption - even now, after eight years of war - that the insurgents are mere “recipients” of external policy changes: reactive but not themselves proactive," he writes.
"This is nonsense - and dangerous nonsense. It would be far wiser to assume that these militias have people who are every bit as intelligent and professional in their thinking and planning as their western counterparts. They have had three months to think through the Obama leadership’s policy-development process; and much of this thinking will be about how the US changes affect their own plans - not how they will respond to the United States. Thus they may have very clear intentions for the next three to five years that are embedded in detailed military planning; and what is now happening on their side will involve adjustment of these plans in the light of the great rethink across the Atlantic."
Covering religion is unlike other assignments in journalism, as any reporter on the “Godbeat” can tell you. Ruth Gledhill (photo at right), veteran religion correspondent of The Times in London and fellow blogger (hers is called Articles of Faith), recently gave a short, witty and insightful talk on reporting about faith.
There’s a lot there in only 11minutes and 27 seconds. How about this for an opener: “The only place the press is mentioned in the Bible is in Luke 19 when Zacchaeus the tax collector has to climb a tree to see Jesus because of the crowds. The King James Version renders this: ‘he couldn’t see because of the press’.”
Click here for the audio tape of the talk. And let us know if you sometimes feel like Zacchaeus.
The Church of England could restrict the powers of some women bishops under a plan designed to end a rift between traditionalists who want to keep the all-male senior clergy and liberals demanding equality. The proposal has reignited the long-running debate over a supposed ecclesiastical “stained-glass ceiling” that stops women from attaining the most senior roles in the church.
The Church of England body reviewing the law on women bishops, the Revision Committee, has voted to change the rules to remove certain powers from female bishops in dioceses where they face opposition from traditionalists. Specially-appointed male bishops would assume those powers and the new system would be written into British law, the committee said in a statement. (Photo: Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the U.S. Episcopal Church, 4 Nov 2006/Jonathan Ernst)
While Anglicans in the United States, Canada and Australia already have women bishops, conservatives in many other parts of the Communion strongly oppose them. They say there is nothing in the Bible or church history to support women bishops. Liberals, who argue that women should be treated equally, said the latest proposals to allow women bishops, albeit with reduced powers in some areas, risked creating a two-tier church.
The academic study of religion has come a long way from the days when knowledge of scripture, history and a few ancient languages were the main qualifications a scholar needed. Psychology, sociology and other social sciences have been applied to the field for over a century. Over the past 20 years, cognitive science has been edging into the field, especially with the explosion of neuroscience research. Some of the hottest research into religion is now being done with brain scanners searching for data on what happens inside believers’ heads when they pray or feel a special connection to God. (Photo: John Teehan at the Neuroscience Boot Camp, 6 Aug 2009/Tom Heneghan)
Among the participants at the University of Pennsylvania’s Neuroscience Boot Camp I’m attending this week and next is John Teehan, an associate professor in the religion department at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. He’s seen how cognitive science has brought new tools and insights to the study of religion and may eventually challenge the ways religions justify their beliefs. He is writing a book about how many moral teachings in the Bible fit with the moral psychology that cognitive science says evolved naturally. I asked Teehan for an overview of what’s happening in the religion studies field in the United States.
“At the end of the 19th century, there was a real interest in looking at religion from a psychological perspective,” he said. “Sigmund Freud and William James were the major figures. The Freudian paradigm was not a scientific one, even though Freud thought it was, and our understanding of the mind and the brain was primitive then compared to what we have now. What’s happening now is that the science of the mind has advanced to the point that we’re actually developing a scientific understanding of the mind. With the cognitive revolution involving cognitive science, neurological science and evolution studies, a more empirical approach to understanding the mind and morality is developing. Over the last 20 years, some of these scholars have started to look more particularly at religion. This field of the cognitive science of religion started in the early ’90s looking at religious behavior and rituals and how emotions mediate or reinforce religious experience.”
The surviving parts of the world’s oldest Christian Bible were reunited online on Monday, generating excitement among biblical scholars still striving to unlock its mysteries. The Codex Sinaiticus was hand written by four scribes in Greek on animal hide, known as vellum, in the mid-fourth century around the time of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great who embraced Christianity.
Not all of it has withstood the ravages of time, but the pages that have include the whole of the New Testament and the earliest surviving copy of the Gospels written at different times after Christ’s death by the Four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Bible’s remaining 800 pages and fragments — it was originally some 1400 pages long — also contain half of a copy of the Old Testament. The other half has been lost.
It started with “assalaamu alaykum” and ended with “may God’s peace be upon you.” Inbetween, President Barack Obama dotted his speech to the Muslim world with Islamic terms and references meant to resonate with his audience. The real substance in the speech were his policy statements and his call for a “new beginning” in U.S. relations with Muslims, as outlined in our trunk news story. But the new tone was also important and it struck a chord with many Muslims who heard the speech, as our Middle East Special Correspondent Alistair Lyon found. Not all, of course — you can find positive and negative reactions here. (Photo: Iraqi in Baghdad watches Obama’s speech, 4 June 2009/Mohammed Ameen)
Among Obama’s Islamic touches were four references to the Koran (which he always called the Holy Koran), his approving mention of the scientific, mathematical and philosophical achievements of the medieval Islamic world and his citing of multi-faith life in Andalusia. These are standard elements that many Islam experts — Muslims and non-Muslims — mention in speeches at learned conferences, but it’s not often that you hear an American president talking about them.
Two religious references particularly caught my attention because they weren’t the usual conference circuit clichés. One was his comment about being in “the region where (Islam) was first revealed” – a choice of past participle showing respect for the religion.
Pope Benedict’s long-awaited address to Muslims at the King Hussein bin Talal Mosque topped the day’s list of speeches. It dominated our news coverage today. He also spoke at Mount Nebo, where the Bible says Moses glimpsed the Promised Land before dying, and at a ceremony to bless the cornerstone of a Catholic university being built in Madaba. The mosque and Madaba speeches were classic Ratzinger, with some of his trademark theological and philosophical arguments. If he had delivered the mosque speech at Regensburg, there might never have been a “Regensburg.” Benedict ended the day with a short sermon at vespers in the Greek-Melkite Cathedral of Saint George. (Photo: Pope Benedict and Prince Ghazi tour the mosque, 9 May 2009/Tony Gentile)
Here are excerpts from today’s speeches.
THE MOSQUE SPEECH
UNITE TO DEFEND RELIGION: “We cannot fail to be concerned that today, with increasing insistency, some maintain that religion fails in its claim to be, by nature, a builder of unity and harmony, an expression of communion between persons and with God. Indeed some assert that religion is necessarily a cause of division in our world; and so they argue that the less attention given to religion in the public sphere the better. Certainly, the contradiction of tensions and divisions between the followers of different religious traditions, sadly, cannot be denied. However, is it not also the case that often it is the ideological manipulation of religion, sometimes for political ends, that is the real catalyst for tension and division, and at times even violence in society? In the face of this situation, where the opponents of religion seek not simply to silence its voice but to replace it with their own, the need for believers to be true to their principles and beliefs is felt all the more keenly. Muslims and Christians, precisely because of the burden of our common history so often marked by misunderstanding, must today strive to be known and recognized as worshippers of God faithful to prayer, eager to uphold and live by the Almighty’s decrees, merciful and compassionate, consistent in bearing witness to all that is true and good, and ever mindful of the common origin and dignity of all human persons, who remain at the apex of God’s creative design for the world and for history.”
(Photo: Bethany baptismal pool with ruins of ancient basilicas in rear, a staircase to the water and, at right, two of the four massive pillars that used to hold a church above the baptism site, 6 May 2009/Tom Heneghan)
In John’s Gospel, verse 1:28, it says that John the Baptist used to baptise people in “Bethany beyond the Jordan” and Jesus went there for his own baptism. Seen from the perspective of Jerusalem, “beyond the Jordan” means on the river’s east bank, in present-day Jordan. Those words were added to distinguish that Bethany from the village near Jerusalem where Jesus was said to have raised Lazarus from the dead. Despite that, pilgrims have long visited a spot on the river’s west bank, now in an Israeli military zone in the Palestinian territories, and considered it the true site where Jesus was baptised.
For about a decade or so, Jordan has been contesting that claim with excavations at a site on the river’s east bank that it argues must be the real place. Following John’s Gospel (the others only speak of the river itself) and descriptions from pilgrims dating back to the fourth to twelfth centuries, Jordanian archeologists have uncovered ruins of five ancient churches and a wide array of other remains and artifacts pointing to the area’s use as a pilgrimage site. (Photo: Israeli flag on west bank across Jordan River and Greek Orthodox church on the east bank Bethany site, 6 May 2009//Jamal Saidi)
Pope John Paul’s visit to Bethany in 2000 was a coup for Jordan, which is keen to establish its site as a major centre for Christian pilgrims. But he also slipped in a quick visit to Qasr al Yahud, the west bank site across the river, to avoid any impression of partiality. Pope Benedict doesn’t seem to have the same concern — he’s coming to Bethany only and not planning any stop at the rival site. See our news story on this here.