FaithWorld

from Global News Journal:

Interview with North Korea border crosser Robert Park

KOREA-NORTH/CROSSING

 (Photographs by Lee Jae-won)

North Korea said on Tuesday it had  detained a U.S. citizen who entered its territory, apparently confirming a report that an American activist crossed into the
state to raise awareness about Pyongyang's human rights abuses.   Robert Park, 28, walked over the frozen Tumen river from
China and into the North last Friday, other activists said. The Korean-American told Reuters ahead of the crossing that it was his duty as a
Christian to make the journey and that he was carrying a letter calling on North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to step down.

Park had an exclusive interview with Reuters last week before starting on his journey. The following are excerpts from the conversation. He requested that the comments be held until he was in North Korea.  

Reuters: Why are you planning to go into North Korea?

Robert Park: The North Korean human rights crisis by murder rate is the worst in the world. An estimated 1,000 people a day die by starvation and starvation is a murder case. North Korea has been sent more food aid than any nation in the world but the food has not gone to the people who need it. So this is murder.

But not only that, there are concentration camps in North Korea that are of the same brutality as in Nazi Germany.

Responsible governments are completely silent about the issue. The United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea have a huge responsibility to speak out about this because all these nations played a role the arbitrary division of the Koreas, where not a single Korean was consulted. Yet the lives of these people are of no issue to these governments. That is a crime. It is a huge crime

As Darwin Year ends, some seek to go “beyond Darwin”

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Pigeon bones display at Darwin's former home, 12 Feb 2009/Tal Cohen

As this Darwin Year 2009 draws to a close, I have to say a lot of the public debate it prompted came down to the sterile old clash between evolution and creationism.  The issue of religion always hung in the air, with the loudest arguments coming from the creationist side defending it or the neo-atheists like the Darwinian biologist Richard Dawkins denouncing it. In the end, the squabbling seemed to be more about ideology than science and told us little we didn’t already know. staune

Jean Staune, 25 Nov 2009/Tom Heneghan

So I was intrigued by a conference held at UNESCO here in Paris recently about scientists who believe in evolution but want to go “beyond Darwin.” Organised by French philosopher of science Jean Staune, its speakers argued that Darwin could not explain underlying order and patterns found in nature.  “We have to differentiate between evolution and Darwinism,” said Jean Staune, author of the new book “Au-dela de Darwin” (Beyond Darwin). “Of course there is adaptation. But like physics and chemistry, biology is also subject to its own laws.”

Michael Denton, a geneticist with New Zealand’s University of Otago, said Darwinian “functionalists” believed life forms simply adapted to the outside world while his “structuralist” view also saw an internal logic driving this evolution down certain paths.  His view, which he called “extraordinarily foreign to modern biology,” explained why many animals developed “camera eyes” like human ones and why proteins, one of the building blocks of life, fold into structures unchanged for three billion years.

Egypt Christian group seeks to change Muslim status

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Egyptian Copts pray in a Cairo church , 21 April 2006/Goran Tomasevic

Ayman Raafa, an Egyptian born a Christian, was nine months old when the father he never knew converted to Islam. Now 23, Raafa is fighting to get the Christian faith he professes recognised by the state and registered on his identity documents vital to daily life.

Raafa was raised a Christian but the state says children automatically become Muslim on a father’s conversion, a policy that places dozens of people in limbo in a society that does not — in practice — recognise conversion away from Islam.  He is one of a group of 40 facing the same identity conundrum and now filing a lawsuit to have their Christian faith recognised, touching a raw spot in relations between Muslims and 10 percent of Egypt’s 77 million people who are Christian.

“I graduated last year and I cannot get a job because I do not have a national ID,” Raafa said at his lawyer’s office, near a well-known Coptic Christian church and hospital in Cairo.

Thoughts on Obama’s Nobel Theology Prize speech

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President Barack Obama in Oslo, 10 Dec 2009/John McConnico

If there were a Nobel Prize for Theology, large parts of President Barack Obama’s Oslo speech could be cut and pasted into an acceptance speech for it. The Peace Prize speech dealt with war and he made a clear case from the start for the use of force when necessary. While he began with political arguments for this position, his rationale took on an increasingly religious tone as the speech echoed faith leaders and theologians going back to the origins of Christianity.

It started with a hat-tip to Rev. Martin Luther King when he said “our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice” – echoes of King’s 25 March 1965 Montgomery speech saying “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Obama then went into the “just war” theory that says war is justified only if it is a last resort or self-defense, if force is proportional to the threat and civilians are spared if possible. This is a classic Christian doctrine elaborated by Saint Augustine in the fifth century and then by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th. In 2003, Pope John Paul II used this doctrine to justify his opposition to the invasion of Iraq. Obama noted that this doctrine was “rarely observed” but called for new ways of thinking “about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace … Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct.”

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.

POLL:U.S. court to hear faith group vs gays case — what should it decide?

supreme courtThe U.S. Supreme Court said on Monday that it would decide whether a university can deny recognition to a Christian student group because its members must agree with its religious views and it has barred gays and lesbians. Read the whole story here.  What do you think? poll by twiigs.com

Hezbollah cuts Islamist rhetoric in new manifesto

nasrallahLebanon’s Hezbollah group has announced a new political strategy that tones down Islamist rhetoric but maintains a tough line against Israel and the United States.

The new manifesto drops reference to an Islamic republic in Lebanon, which has a substantial Christian population, confirming changes to Hezbollah thinking about the need to respect Lebanon’s diversity.

Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who read the new “political document” at a news conference on Monday, said it was time the group introduced pragmatic changes without dropping its commitment to an Islamist ideology tied to the clerical establishment in Iran.

IAEA’s ElBaradei bows out with prayer of St. Francis

elbaradei (Photo: ElBaradei addresses IAEA board of governors, 27 Nov 2009/Herwig Prammer)

Mohamed ElBaradei, a Muslim from Egypt, has finished his 12-year term as director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) quoting one of Christianity’s most popular prayers. In a short meeting at IAEA headquarters in Vienna on Friday, the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize laureate said that “the moment of departure is an opportunity to reflect upon a journey of joy, challenges, pleasure and fulfilment.” At the end of his career at the IAEA, which began in 1984 as a legal adviser, the world was “finally returning to its senses. People are speaking of a world free of nuclear weapons, of one human family and of a world that lifts people out of poverty.”

He ended his final remarks to the Board of Governors by reading out a short version of the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:

Lord make me an instrument of your peace:
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is error let me sow truth
Where there is discord let me sow unity
Where there is despair let me sow hope
For it is in giving that we receive.

Swiss vote to ban new minarets too close for comfort

minarets-cow (Photo: Poster to vote ”yes” to minaret ban in a Swiss meadow, 13 Nov 2009/Dario Bianchi)

A threatening image dominates Switzerland’s streets in the form of a dark woman dressed in a Muslim niqab veil, looming over a Swiss flag covered with missile-like minarets with a call to vote “yes” in a referendum on Sunday to ban minarets on mosques here. The posters clearly seek to tap into the concerns of the country’s traditionally Christian majority about increased immigration from Muslim countries.

“I find the nature of these posters very provocative against the Islamic world. The presentation and the way the minarets are presented like rockets is unbelievable. Also the colours — with all the black — look very threatening,” says 34-year-old air traffic controller Judith Baumer.  “I assume that it’s supposed to trigger strong emotions or fear in the population.”

minarets-trainThe poster, described by the Swiss race commission as demonising Muslims and provoking religious tensions, has been banned in some cities but seems omnipresent in others.

Does Europe’s new prez really think it’s a Christian club?

rompuy1Europe’s new president, Herman Van Rompuy, is little known outside his native Belgium. One of the few background facts about him circulating since his election is his opposition to Turkish membership in the European Union.  The operative quote, expressed in a 2004 speech when he was an opposition deputy in the Belgian parliament, is:

“Turkey is not a part of Europe and will never be part of Europe. An expansion of the EU to include Turkey cannot be considered as just another expansion as in the past . . . The universal values which are in force in Europe, and which are fundamental values of Christianity, will lose vigour with the entry of a large Islamic country such as Turkey.” (Photo: Herman Van Pompuy, 19 Nov 2009/Sebastien Pirlet)

The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, said something quite similar In an interview with Le Figaro, also in 2004: “Turkey always represented another continent throughout history, in permanent contrast with Europe,” he said, and joining it to Europe would be a mistake. Europe is united by its “culture which gives it a common identity. The roots which formed … this continent are those of Christianity.”