FaithWorld

Religion versus ethics in Berlin

Koran studiesBerlin’s referendum on religion lessons in schools poses fundamental questions about how to foster inter-faith tolerance and the relationship between church and state in Germany, as Reuters reported.

The Pro Reli campaign wants to change the capital’s law to allow pupils to choose between faith-based religion lessons and an ethics course. Berlin, with its long secular tradition, is one of the only German states not to have compulsory religion lessons but a wider ethics course instead.

The main argument is whether children who spend hours at school learning about their own faith have a stronger moral foundation and end up being more tolerant of other religions than children who have a broader education in ethics.

The Pro Ethik campaign says it is wrong to split people up according to their faith at school as it can breed divisions. They say ethics classes should instil children with a strong set of values and a good understanding of other religions. Some people also warn that religion lessons in Berlin’s schools would result in a predominantly Christian agenda.

However, one professor of religion, Harmut Zinser, argues that by learning about several beliefs, pupils can get confused as they are not presented with a single, coherent set of norms.

from India Insight:

Will Mayawati’s Brahmin card work this time?

Much has been written about Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati's inventive politics that saw her forging an unlikely alliance between Dalits and Brahmins -- from the two ends of the Hindu caste spectrum -- to win an election in Uttar Pradesh in 2007.

She did this with a promise to widen the appeal of her party beyond her traditional Dalit voters and bring Brahmins and other upper castes into her programme of all-round development.

As proof, she gave tickets to scores of Brahmins in 2007 and appointed a Brahmin (Satish Misra) as her chief adviser and strategist.

from India Insight:

Lalu Prasad’s roller: courting the Muslim vote in Bihar

Muslims are seen as a crucial vote bank in several possible swing states in India's general election and many politicians are making the right noises to court the community.

In the state of Bihar, which I recently visited, its chief minister Nitish Kumar told me his campaign focused on caste-blind development but also communal harmony:

"Now everybody is happy. There is complete communal harmony," he said as we sat at night on the veranda at his residence.

Most influential U.S. rabbis listed

The third annual list of “America’s Most Influential Rabbis” is out, with the top spot going to David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reformed Judaism and co-chair of the Coalition to Preserve Religious liberty.

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Saperstein, described in the announcement as a ”Washington insider and political powerbroker,” took the No. 1 ranking away from Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who held that position on last year’s list.

The rankings were made by Jay Sanderson, chief executive officer of JTN Productions (the Jewish Television Network), Michael Lynton, chairman and head of Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Gary Ginsberg, executive vice president of News Corp.

U.S. High Court lets city block religious monument

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that a Utah city can refuse to put a religious group’s monument in a public park near a similar Ten Commandments display. You can see our story here.

The justices unanimously sided with the city of Pleasant Grove, which had said a ruling for the religious group would mean public parks across the country would have to allow privately donated monuments that express different views from those already on display.

The Summum religious group, founded in Salt Lake City in 1975, sought in 2003 to erect a monument to the tenets of its faith, called the “Seven Aphorisms,” in a park where there are other monuments, including a Ten Commandments display.

Religion or vote? Iraq Shi’ites wrestle with choice

Thousands of Shi’ite Muslims in southern Iraq are wrestling with a choice of religion or democracy before a pilgrimage which may prevent them from voting in elections to provincial councils on Saturday.

Pilgrims from the southern city of Basra are setting out on an arduous walk hundreds of km (miles) long to the holy Shi’ite city of Kerbala, far from the election centres where they are registered to vote. The pilgrimage for Arbain, or 40 days of mourning for the Prophet Mohammad’s grandson Imam Hussein slain in battle at Kerbala in the 7th century, culminates in mid-February. (Photo: Pilgrims in Kerbala for Arbain, 27 Feb 2008/Mohammed Ameen)

“Kerbala is more important than voting, and so far I haven’t seen any candidate that deserves my confidence. I still have no job after the last election,” said Mohammed Ali, one of a group of pilgrims at a roadside tent.

Iraq religious parties may face election backlash

Missy Ryan in our Baghdad bureau sees a possible drop in support for religious parties in Iraq:

BAGHDAD – When Iraqis last voted in 2005, some in Washington feared the mainly Muslim nation would veer in the direction of Iran, an Islamic theocracy, instead of becoming the moderate democracy they envisioned for post-Saddam Iraq.

The question when Iraqis elect new provincial leaders on January 31 will be whether the religious parties that have dominated politics since then can hang on to power despite a bitterness felt by voters starved of services and security.

A list of Top 10 lists – “it was the election, stupid”

“Top 10 Stories” lists are a perennial feature,  especially in the United States (which explains a lot of the picks below). Now that they’re all out there, I took a quick look at the “Top 10 Religion Stories 2008″ lists to see if any pattern emerged. Of course one did: “It was the election, stupid.” Even a website dedicated to pagan news found a “pagans and politics” angle to top its list.

The Religion Newswriters Association, which polls member religion reporters, has been drawing up such lists for about 30 years. Election-related stories swept the top three slots last year. They did the same in 2004 as well, but the election shared the top spot back then with Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ movie. The election-dominated lists show some divergences, but the most interesting compilations were the more specialised ones down in the second list below.

Here’s a quick list of the Top 10 lists, first those dominated by the U.S. election and then others I actually found more interesting:

The irrelevant and the interesting in Obama’s religious views

There’s been a lot of discussion over the past few months on this and other blogs about Barack Obama and religion. Looking back at it now that the campaign is over and he is starting to shape his administration, it’s interesting to see how many of those discussions shed little light on what he would actually do. There were comments about him being a hidden Muslim, for example, or not a real Christian. That speculation seemed based on thin evidence and the assumption he was running for preacher and cleric-in-chief rather than president and commander-in-chief. As a journalist covering religion in public life, after learning whether a candidate professes a certain faith, I want to know how that faith will really influence his or her decisions in office. This is not necessarily the same as listing the soundbite positions used on the campaign trail. (Photo: Barack Obama at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, 15 June 2008/John Gress)

Seen from this point of view, probably the most interesting fact about Barack Obama’s religious views is one that rarely gets mentioned. It’s that he’s an admirer of the late American Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971). The President-elect has clearly named “America’s leading public theologian” as a major influence on his thinking. It comes out less in specific positions than in the way he looks at problems and discusses policies in terms with a ”Niebuhrian” ring about them.

In April 2007, Obama told David Brooks of the New York Times that Niebuhr was one of his favourite thinkers.  So I asked, What do you take away from him? Brooks asked:

Exercised over yoga in Malaysia

Of all the things to get exercised about, yoga would seem to be an unlikely candidate for controversy. But such has been the case in Malaysia this week.

Malaysia’s prime minister declared on Wednesday that Muslims can after all practice the Indian exercise regime, so long as they avoid the meditation and chantings that reflect Hindu philosophy. This came after Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council told Muslims to roll up their exercise mats and stop contorting their limbs because yoga could destroy the faith of Muslims.

It has been a tough month for the fatwa council chairman, Abdul Shukor Husin, who in late October issued an edict against young women wearing trousers, saying that was a slippery path to
lesbianism. Gay sex is outlawed in Malaysia.