FaithWorld

Indian villagers see rare sea turtle as incarnation of God

turtle (Photo: Sea turtle hatchlings make their way to sea in Orissa, 26 April 2008/Sanjib Mukherjee)

Hundreds of poor Hindu villagers in Orissa state in eastern India have refused to hand over a rare sea turtle to authorities, saying it is an incarnation of God. Villagers chanting hymns and carrying garlands, bowls of rice and fruits are pouring in from remote villages to a temple in Kendrapara, a coastal district in Orissa.

Policemen have struggled to control the gathering and have failed to persuade the villagers to give up the sea turtle. “We have asked the villagers to hand it over as it is illegal to confine a turtle, but they are refusing,” said P.K. Behera, a senior government wildlife official.

The turtle is protected in India and anyone found keeping one without permission can be jailed for a year or more and fined. The Indian Coast Guard is patrolling offshore to protect the turtles from fishing trawlers that trap turtles in their fishing nets.

But adamant villagers have refused to give up the reptile, saying the turtle bears holy symbols on its back and is an incarnation of Lord Jagannath, a popular Hindu deity. “Lord Jagannath has visited our village in the form of a turtle. We will not allow anybody to take the turtle away,” said Ramesh Mishra, a priest of the temple.

POLL: Is Goldman Sachs “doing God’s work”? Its CEO thinks so

sunday-times

Check out the headline at the bottom left of the Sunday Times front page. The man the London paper calls the most powerful banker on Earth says he is “just a banker ‘doing God’s work’” .

The report says Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein“proudly pays himself more in a year than most of us could ever dream of — $68m in 2007 alone, a record for any Wall Street CEO, to add to the more than $500m of Goldman stock he owns” .

Goldman Sachs looks set to pay about $20 billion in bonuses for its top traders this year, at a time when the fallout from last year’s financial crisis is still being felt and the United States unemployment rate has hit 10.2 percent, a 26-1/2-year high.

Did God stop CERN from discovering the “God particle”?

collider-1The great quantum physicist Niels Bohr once said a colleague’s new theory was crazy, but perhaps not crazy enough to be correct. Two scientists seem to have taken that approach to heart when they speculated that God may have shut down the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva to keep it from discovering the elusive “God particle.” (Photo: Part of the Large Hadron Collider, 22 March 2007/Denis Balibouse)

According to an essay in the New York Times, the scientists are trying to explain why the collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator turned on with great fanfare in September 2008 by the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), was closed down for major repairs just over a week later. The 3 billion-euro collider was supposed to track down the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle believed to have given mass to the universe milliseconds after the Big Bang created it some 15 billion years ago.

Physicists think this minuscule speck of matter, if ever found, could explain the mysterious code at the origin of the physical world. To know this would be to “know the mind of God”, as Einstein put it. The Nobel Prize winning physicist Leon Lederman dubbed the Higgs boson the “God particle” in a book of the same name 15 years ago.

from India Insight:

Can you outsource God?

– Saritha Rai writes for the GlobalPost, where this article first appeared. –

It is dawn in Kerala, a palm frond of a state in India's South West. As the sun's first rays hit the church steeple, a Holy Mass is being conducted in the local Malayalam language.

Only, the prayer is dedicated to a newborn by his Catholic family half a world away in the United States.

How God (or more precisely, meditation) changes your brain

how-god-changes-your-brainSome book titles are too good to pass up. “How God Changes Your Brain” is neuroscientist Andrew Newberg‘s fourth book on “neurotheology,” the study of the relationship between faith and the brain. All are pitched at a popular audience, with snappy titles like “Born to Believe” or “Why God Won’t Go Away.” Anyone reading the latest one, though, might wonder if the title shouldn’t be “How God Meditation Changes Your Brain.” As he explains in an interview with Reuters here, the benefits that Buddhist monks and contemplative Catholic nuns derive from meditation and intense prayer are also available to atheists and agnostics. The key lies in the method these high performing believers use, not in the belief itself. But that would have made for a more awkward title.

That’s not to say Newberg doesn’t have some interesting points to make in this book. His brain scans of meditating monks and praying nuns show that the frontal lobe — the area that directs the mind’s focus — is especially active while the amygdala — the area linked to fear reactions — is calmed when they go through their spiritual experiences. His studies show these brain regions can be exercised and strengthened, like building up a muscle through training. And his treatment of a mechanic with a faltering memory showed that a traditional Indian meditation method, even when stripped of its spiritual trappings, could bring about these changes in two months.

The book goes on to ascribe a list of positive results from meditation and offer advice on caring for the brain. Newberg’s “number one best way to exercise your brain” is faith. As he puts it, “faith is equivalent with hope, optimism and the belief that a positive future awaits us. Faith can also be defined as the ability to trust our beliefs, even when we have no proof that such beliefs are accurate or true.” Critics, especially clerics, would probably protest that this is not really theology, but psychology. If we’re talking about God, where’s the religion?

God on the brain at Penn’s Neuroscience Boot Camp

bootcampheaderNeurotheology – the study of the link between belief and the brain – is a topic I’ve hesitated to write about for several years. There are all kinds of theories out there about how progress in neuroscience is changing our understanding of religion, spirituality and mystical experience. Some say the research proves religion is a natural product of the way the brain works, others that God made the brain that way to help us believe. I knew so little about the science behind these ideas that I felt I had to learn more about the brain first before I could comment.

If that was an excuse for procrastination, I don’t have it anymore. For all this week and half the next, I’m attending a “Neuroscience Boot Camp” at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. This innovative program, run by Penn’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience Director Martha Farah (photo below), aims to explain the latest research in neuroscience to 34 non-experts from fields such as law, business, philosophy and religious studies (as well as to a few journalists). The focus is not only on religion, but faith and issues related to it are certainly part of the discussion.

martha-head-shot1After only two of 8-1/2 days of lectures, one takeaway message is already clear. You can forget about the “God spot” that headline writers love to highlight (as in “‘God spot’ is found in Brain” or “Scientists Locate ‘God Spot’ in Human Brain”). There is no one place in the brain responsible for religion, just as there is no single location in the brain for love or language or identity. Most popular articles these days actually say that, but the headline writers continue to speak of a single spot.

Catholic regular at Shinto shrines to visit pope at the Vatican

yasukuniPope Benedict has been criticised for his handling of relationships with the world’s other religions. On Monday Tuesday, he is due to receive at the Vatican Japan’s Prime Minister Taro Aso, who has little difficulty with mixing and matching various faiths.

Though an avowed member of Japan’s tiny Roman Catholic minority, Aso regularly pays respects and offers gifts at Shinto shrines. Japan’s indigenous religion of Shinto is polytheistic — its doctrine says the world is crowded with divinities, mostly in natural phenomena such as the sun, moon, wind and mountains. Combining this with Christianity’s monotheism may sound like a contradiction, but it is something many Japanese Catholics take in their stride. (Photo: Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, 31 May 2007/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

Aso’s visits have in the past included trips to Tokyo’s Yasukuni shrine, which is dedicated to war dead and to 14 people judged by an Allied tribunal to be Class A war criminals. Many in Asia see it as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism. But Aso has stayed away since becoming prime minister last year, probably more to avoid offending China than for religious reasons. For more on Aso and his faith, see our post about him when he took office.

Religion crowded out in “cloud” of Ayatollah Khamenei’s sermon

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivered a major address today on the election there. It was in the form of a khutbah, an Islamic Friday sermon that is often the platform for the most important public pronouncements in the Islamic Republic. So one might assume it would be couched in Islamic terminology and religious themes.

But a rough-and-ready indicator, a web “cloud” that indicates the frequency of certain words, tells us otherwise. Aziz Poonawalla over at the City of Brass blog generated a Khamenei khutbah cloud on Wordle on the basis of a quick translation of the ayatollah’s speech. I had some trouble reading all the terms, so I went to that site and generated one myself. Here is the result:

khamenei-1

To be absolutely clear — this cloud is only a rough computer analysis. I generated it in Paris hours after the speech, without consulting any other Reuters bureau, so it played no part in our Tehran reporting of Khamenei’s comments or other coverage on our wire from Beirut and from London. Nothing can replace on-the-spot reporting by Persian-speaking correspondents who understand all the nuances in a political sermon like this.

Pope Benedict on “haj” in Jordan

haj-1Sitting through a media briefing in Amman on Pope Benedict’s visit to Jordan starting on Friday, I whiled away the news-free parts trying to decipher the Arabic writing on the official logo (photo at right). I never fully mastered the Arabic alphabet or the Urdu language (which uses it) during my time in Pakistan over 20 years ago. But some hard-won bits of linguistic trivia remain stuck in the brain and come in handy at the most unexpected moments.

With some effort on my part, that arc of Arabic calligraphy up top revealed itself as saying al-haj al-babawi. The haj of baba … hmmm… Arabic has no “p,” so that could be the haj of papa. The Italians call him papa, so it must be talking about the pope and saying the pope’s haj. Huh? The pope’s haj?

Of course, the word haj simply means “pilgrimage” in Arabic. Western languages have taken it over as the specific term for the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. But the pope has a snowball’s chance in you-know-where to get there. Haj means pilgrimage, no more and no less, and it describes the pope’s visit just the same way as he does in the words of the many western languages he speaks.

Flu fears impact worship services

Flu fears are already changing the face of some religious services, from Mexico where church gatherings are discouraged to the United States where wine shared from a common cup has been suspended in some parishes. We’ve already blogged about this but offer more detail from other places here.

FLU/

U.S. Catholic bishops have issued general guidelines saying clergy and lay ministers who distribute communion wafers “should be encouraged to wash their hands before Mass begins,  or even to use an alcohol based anti-bacterial solution before and after distributing Holy Communion.”

“They should instruct people who feel ill not to receive from the cup,” containing wine which Catholics believe becomes the blood of Jesus Christ during Mass.