FaithWorld

Report from Tibet: “We believe in Buddhism, Chinese believe in nothing”

lhasaTibet is richer and more developed than it has ever been, its people healthier, more literate, and better dressed and fed.  But the bulging supermarkets, snappy new airports and gleaming restored temples of this remote and mountainous region cannot hide broad contradictions and a deep sense of unhappiness among many Tibetans that China is sweeping away their culture. (Photo: A Tibetan woman spins her praying wheel as she walks around the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, March 10, 2010/China Daily)

Beijing has spent freely to bring development to restless Tibet, part of a grand strategy to win over the proudly Buddhist people by improving their standard of living.  Lhasa is starting to look like any other middle-tier Chinese city, with the same fast food outlets and mobile phone stores, and the same unimaginative architecture.

Large sums have also gone into restoring monasteries and temples, the centre of life for devoutly Buddhist Tibetans, bolstering government claims that China respects religious rights.

What China has failed to do is address the alienation many Tibetans feel in the face of breakneck economic progress.

“Tibet is a special country and its people are special,” said one middle-aged teacher, speaking quietly in a back room behind a shop in Lhasa’s old quarter, centre of the 2008 riots.  “We don’t think about money like Chinese people. We believe in Buddhism, but the Chinese people believe in nothing.”

Austrian priests critical of Rome, want marriage allowed

The Catholic Church is stuck in the past and has handled the recent sexual abuse scandal poorly, according to a rare survey of 500 priests in Austria, which also showed a majority in favour of allowing them to marry and for women to become priests.

Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn was rebuked by the Vatican on Monday for accusing a top official of covering up sexual abuse, but it appears he is not the only Austrian to question how Rome has handled the issue.

Only 21 percent of Austrian priests think that the Vatican has done a good job in terms of dealing with the problem, the survey by researcher GFK Austria showed. Around half said they were at odds with many aspects of the Catholic leadership, and 48 percent agreed with a statement that the church leadership was “helpless” and “lacking vision.”

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Giving no quarter, Jerusalem’s Armenians keep flame alive

armenianThe rare sense of space and calm that marks out the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City is both its blessing and its curse. The acquisition of the land, and construction of the beautiful St. James Cathedral at its heart, speaks volumes for the abilities of this small ethnic diaspora from the Caucasus to secure favour from the Ottoman sultans who partitioned the walled holy city in the hope of a bit of peace from religious rivalries.

But the limited, and shrinking population of the Armenians has made their Quarter an object of envy and desire for other groups, not least the fast-expanding Jewish Quarter next door, which has been massively rebuilt during 43 years of Israeli control after being ravaged during the period of Jordanian rule from 1948 to 1967.

For a look at the issues, you can read our story and the accompanying factbox.

The Church itself, proud of a tradition that it was an Armenian king in 301 who first adopted Christianity as a state religion (some years before the Roman Empire), is  a solid fixture of Christian Jerusalem. The small ethnic Armenian lay community around it feels less sure of its future.

from Fan Fare:

Hollywood and religion. Double standards, or fair game for satire?

Should all religions be taboo when it comes to comedy and satire?

Comedy Central -- the same TV network that managed to both anger and bow to Muslim sensibilities in April by airing and later censoring a "South Park" episode portraying the  Prophet Mohammad -- is now at the center of a pre-ejesus funmptive storm over plans to develop a comedy show about Jesus.

A new coalition of family and religious groups Citizens Against Religious Bigotry has called on Comedy Central not to air the animated series "JC" and asked advertisers to refuse to sponsor it.

The  show,  billed as being about Jesus trying to live as a regular guy in New York City,  is still in the development stage,  is not on the air yet, and has not yet been given a green light by the network.

Western aid groups deny religious agenda in Afghanistan

convertTwo Western aid organisations have denied allegations they were engaged in Christian proselytising in Afghanistan after the government suspended their activities following a television report.  Church World Service and Norwegian Church Aid said they had been operating in Afghanistan for decades and their work was entirely humanitarian.

“Norwegian Church Aid has no mandate to influence people’s religious beliefs in any part of the world — neither in Afghanistan,” the organisation said on its website.

“We have never and will never engage in any religious proselytism. Such activities are contrary to our mandate as a humanitarian organization, and we fully respect the religion of the communities we serve,” Maurice A. Bloem, Church World Service”s deputy director and head of programs, said in a statement.

from India Insight:

Of sex swamis, lies and videotape

The recent scandals over two spiritual gurus have shaken the collective faith of their followers in India.

A sadhu holds a trident in New Delhi August 2, 2006. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/FilesThe sanctity of religions or the people's faith is not being questioned but these controversies put the spotlight on the uniquely Indian phenomenon of mortals given the status of gods.

Cities across the country teem with astrologers, tarot card readers or some self-proclaimed guru. Saffron silk robes, turban cloth and rosaries are available off the shelves in plenty.

from Tales from the Trail:

Obama sits down with Rev. Billy Graham

President Barack Obama had his first face-to-face talks on Sunday with one of America's top spiritual leaders, the Reverend Billy Graham.

Graham, 91, who is ailing with Parkinson's disease, has  prayed with U.S. presidents over the course of the past 50 years or so.BILLY GRAHAM

Obama visited his Montreat log cabin home at the end of a weekend trip to western North Carolina.

In Indonesia, keeping the religious status quo

indonesia muslim

Youths read the Koran in Indonesia's South Sulawesi province September 5, 2008/Yusuf Ahmad

 Even though Indonesia is officially secular, belonging to a religious group is part of your national identity — to the point of being listed on your identity card.

But don’t try to spread a religion that isn’t one of six recognised by the constitution or you could be accused of blasphemy.

Chanting Haitian voodoo celebrants honor quake dead

haiti refugees

Tents for earthquake survivors in the national stadium in Port-au-Prince March 21, 2010/Eduardo Munoz

Dressed in white, shaking decorated gourd rattles and singing praises to “Olorum Papa” (God the Father), several hundred practitioners of Haiti’s voodoo religion held a public ceremony on Sunday to honor those killed in the January 12 earthquake.

While several Christian ceremonies have been held to mourn the hundreds of thousands of quake dead, this was the first national commemoration by Haiti’s voodoo religion, which has had to defend itself against accusations by some Evangelical preachers that it somehow caused the deadly natural disaster.

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