FaithWorld

from The Great Debate:

Human Rights Day: Still pursuing religious freedom

December 10 marks Human Rights Day, the 65th anniversary of the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), signed by 48 nations -- with just eight abstentions.

Sixty-five years ago, naysayers insisted it was nobody else’s business how governments behaved within their borders. The declaration confronted this cynical view -- and continues to do so today. Human rights abuses and their consequences spill beyond national borders, darkening prospects for harmony and stability across the globe. Freedom of religion or belief, as well as other human rights, are essential to peace and security. They are everyone’s business.

Each signatory nation pledged to honor and protect these rights. For example, the declaration provides the foundation for much of the agenda of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, on which we serve.

Yet 75 percent of the world’s population now lives in countries in which this freedom is highly restricted, according to a recent Pew study.

These include countries like Saudi Arabia, which abstained, as well as many that signed the declaration, including China, Iran and Nigeria.

from John Lloyd:

The coming clash of civilizations over gay rights

Supporters of gay rights have been protesting in Western cities this past week, picketing in front of Russian embassies and consulates. They’re protesting the passing of a law in the Russian parliament that bans "homosexual propaganda" directed at under 18-year olds -- which if interpreted strictly, bans all public demonstrations and much public and private discussion on the issue.

Not so long ago how a country’s administration handled its ‘homosexual problem’ would be thought of as its business. Many still think that way. But most Western democracies don’t. They haven’t just adopted legislation that enjoins equality of treatment for all, irrespective of sexuality. They have taken seriously, for the most part, the claims made by gay organizations for many years: that discrimination against gay men and women is an affront to civil liberties, and that when some states pursue discriminatory policies, those who do not should make their disapproval clear. Gay rights are now part of the world’s clash of cultures.

This is presently true most clearly in the United States and the U.K., not because they have been ahead of the pack in equality -- they have lagged a bit behind Canada and the Scandinavian states, ever the pioneers in such matters -- but because they have had, and still have, the most contentious relations with Russia.

from Photographers' Blog:

Coffin therapy

By Sheng Li

After many days trying to set-up an interview at the Ruoshui Mental Health Clinic, which resides within a commercial apartment building in Shenyang, China, I finally received a call from the owner on December 12 who granted me the access and opportunity to photograph one of their “death experience therapy” patients.

An hour later, I found myself in the so-called “death experience room”, a 10-square-metre room with nothing but a coffin on the floor. On the wall there was a poster of Jesus holding a newborn baby illuminated with gloomy blue lights. My first impression? Quite intimidating.

According to 50-year-old therapist Mr. Tang Yulong, the clinic opened in 2009 and since then there have been more than a thousand people who have done the death experience therapy. The therapy costs 2000 yuan ($320) and usually lasts 4 to 5 hours, during the duration of which the patient is required to lie in a coffin while his/her relatives read “epitaphs” or give speeches nearby. The patient also needs to write down his/her feelings and share with therapists and family. Mr. Tang said that many of them burst into tears when they are “resurrected.” He believes it is an extreme but efficient method to make people realize the value of their lives.

from John Lloyd:

After the U.S. fades, whither human rights?

The shrinking of U.S. power, now pretty much taken for granted and in some quarters relished, may hurt news coverage of human rights and the uncovering of abuses to them. But not necessarily. Journalism is showing itself to be resilient in adversity, and its core tasks – to illuminate the workings of power and to be diverse in its opinions – could prove to be more than “Western” impositions.

When the British Empire withdrew from its global reach after the World War Two, the space was occupied, rapidly and at times eagerly, by the resurgent United States, at the very peak of its relative wealth and influence in the immediate postwar years. What it brought with it was a culture of journalism that was increasingly self-confident in its global mission: not just to describe the world, but to improve it. Some European journalism had that ambition too, but these were nations exhausted by war. The Americans, at the peak of their influence in the postwar years, had the power, wealth, standing and cocksureness to project their vision of what the world should be.

Now, American power too will shrink, and the end of U.S. hegemony (it was never an empire in the classic sense) will mean that there will be a jostling for power, influence, and above all resources by getting-rich-quick mega-states like China, India and Brazil. They will project their view of what the world should be -- they have already begun, some (China) more confidently than others (India, Brazil).

China criticizes Vatican for excommunicating bishops

China said on Monday the Vatican’s recent excommunication of two Chinese bishops who were ordained without papal approval was “unreasonable” and “rude,” in a sign of escalating tensions between the Vatican and Beijing.

In the government’s first response to the Vatican’s recent denunciations of the ordinations by China’s state-sanctioned Catholic church, the State Bureau of Religious Affairs said it was “greatly concerned” about the excommunication of Joseph Huang Bingzhang and Lei Shiyin.

The “threats of excommunication” are “extremely unreasonable and rude, which has severely hurt the feelings of Chinese Catholics and made its members feel sad,” state news agency Xinhua quoted a spokesman for the bureau as saying.

Vatican excommunicates pro-govt Chinese Catholic bishop, criticizes Beijing

(Christmas mass at a Catholic church in Beijing December 24, 2009./David Gray)

A Chinese bishop ordained without papal approval has been excommunicated from the Catholic Church, the Vatican has said, bringing relations between the Vatican and Beijing to a new low. In a statement branding Thursday’s ordination illegitimate, the Vatican said Pope Benedict “deplores” the way communist authorities are treating Chinese Catholics who want to remain faithful to Rome instead of to the state-backed Church.

China’s state-sanctioned Catholic Church ordained Joseph Huang Bingzhang as bishop in Shantou city in southern Guangdong province on Thursday despite warnings he would not be recognized because the city has a Vatican-approved bishop.

“Consequently, the Holy See does not recognize him … and he lacks authority to govern the Catholic community of diocese,” the Vatican said on Saturday.

Obama meets Dalai Lama at White House, China sees U.S. interference

(The Dalai Lama arrives to deliver A Talk for World Peace on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington July 9, 2011/Yuri Gripas)

China accused the United States on Sunday of “grossly” interfering in its internal affairs and seriously damaging relations after President Barack Obama met exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama at the White House. Obama met the Nobel Prize laureate for 45 minutes, praising him for embracing non-violence while reiterating that the United States did not support independence for Tibet.

China, which accuses the Dalai Lama of being a separatist who supports the use of violence to set up an independent Tibet, reacted swiftly, saying Obama’s meeting had had a “baneful” impact, and summoning a senior U.S. diplomat in Beijing.

China plans to help Nepal develop Buddha’s birthplace at Lumbini

(A reclining Buddha at Wat Po temple in Bangkok April 8,2008/Sukree Sukplang)

 

A Chinese-backed foundation and Nepal’s government plan to transform Lord Buddha’s birthplace in southern Nepal into a magnet for Buddhists in the same way as Mecca is to Muslims and the Vatican for Catholics. The Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation plans to raise $3 billion at home and abroad to build temples, an airport, a highway, hotels, convention centres and a Buddhist university in the town of Lumbini, about 171 km (107 miles) southwest of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu.

The foundation, blessed by the Chinese government, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Nepalese government last month to jointly develop and operate Lumbini, where Buddha was born Prince Gautama Siddhartha about 2,600 years ago. The foundation also pledged to bring communications, water and electricity to Lumbini.

Buddhism was virtually wiped out in China during the chaotic 1966-76 Cultural Revolution when temples were shut, Buddhist statues smashed, scriptures burned, and monks and nuns forced to return to secular life and marry. In recent years, China has become more tolerant of Buddhism, which is considered “traditional culture” alongside Taoism and Confucianism.

China rejects U.N. claim on Tibetan monks’ disapperance

(Tibetan monks walk at Drepung Monastery in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, July 19, 2009/Grace Liang )

China on Thursday defended its treatment of Tibetan monks it says are undergoing re-education, responding to a U.N. inquiry about what exiled Tibetans have called the forced disappearance of hundreds of monks.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the monks had not been detained illegally, and urged U.N. human rights investigators to act without prejudice. “It is legal to supervise religious affairs, and protect normal religious order. This issue of forced disappearance fundamentally does not exist,” Hong told reporters at a regular press briefing.

Chinese forces detain 300 Tibetan Buddhist monks for a month – sources


(A young Tibetan monk walks around the courtyard at the Namo Monastery on the outskirts of Kangding in Sichuan province February 23, 2009/David Gray)

Security forces have detained about 300 Tibetan monks from a monastery in southwestern China for a month amid a crackdown sparked by a monk’s self-immolation, two exiled Tibetans and a prominent writer said, citing sources there. Tension in Aba prefecture, a heavily ethnic Tibetan part of Sichuan province, have risen to their highest levels since protests turned violent in March 2008, ahead of the Beijing Olympics, and were put down by police and paramilitary units.

The monks from Aba’s Kirti monastery, home to about 2,500 monks, were taken into custody on April 21 on military trucks, according to two exiled monks and a writer, who said their information was based on separate accounts from witnesses who live in Aba.

Kirti Rinpoche, the head of the Kirti monastery, told Reuters by telephone that it was the first time that Chinese security forces had seized such a large number of monks at a time, and that he had no information on their whereabouts.