FaithWorld

from India Insight:

Is caste behind the killing in Vienna and riots in Punjab?

Why did the murder of a preacher in a Sikh temple in Vienna spark riots in the faraway Indian state of Punjab, in which thousands took to the streets to torch cars, trains and battle security forces?

The root cause may lie in India's caste system that Sikhism officially rejects, but that still grips swathes of India's billion-plus people, including in Sikh-dominated Punjab state in northwestern India.

"Via Vienna, Sikh caste war returns, sets Punjab aflame" ran the headline of the Hindustan Times.

The preacher, Guru Sant Rama Nand, 57, was killed in a gurdwara in the Austrian capital in an attack by six men armed with knives and a gun.

He was from the Dera Sach Khand, a religious sect separate from mainstream Sikhism that has a large support base of Indian Dalits, or "untouchables", and other lower castes.

from Global News Journal:

Austrian far-right leader isolated over Israel stance

Senior figures from across Austria's political spectrum have condemned the head of the far-right Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache, over his party's European election campaign directed against Israel and Turkey.

In an advertisement in the newspaper Kronen Zeitung, Freedom opposes the accession of Turkey and Israel to the European Union. Although Turkey is in EU accession talks, Israel is not.

Heinz-Christian Strache prepares for a TV discussion in Vienna, Sept. 17, 2008. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader (AUSTRIA)

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.

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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.

Pew Forum report details changing U.S. religious affilations

The folks at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life have come up with a new bit of intriguing number crunching. This time round they have taken a more detailed look at how Americans change religious affiliations in a new report entitled “Faith in Flux.” You can see the report here. It is a follow-up to Pew’s huge U.S. Religious Landscape Survey which was conducted in 2007.

archbp-dolanAmong the highlights which underscore the fluid nature of American faith:

* It finds that 44 percent of the U.S. adults do not belong to their childhood faith.

* Among the 56 percent who belong to their childhood faith, one in six say there was a point in their life when their religion differed.

Holding back the “religion card” in India’s election campaign

india-election-ayodhyaHindu nationalism, Muslim “vote banks”, anti-Christian violence, caste rivalry — Indian politics has more than enough interfaith tension to offer populist orators all kinds of “religion cards” to play. Coming only months after Islamist militants killed 166 people in a three-day rampage in Mumbai, the campaign for the general election now being held in stages between April 16 and May 13 could have been over- shadowed by communal demagoguery. (Photo:Voters show IDs at a polling station in Ayodhya, 23 April 2009/Pawan Kumar)

But in this election, the “religion card” doesn’t seem to be the trump card it once was. It’s still being used in some ways, of course, but the main opposition group, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has played down its trademark Hindu nationalism in its drive to oust the secular Congress Party from power in New Delhi. A BJP candidate who lashed out at the Muslim minority saw the tactic backfire. During a recent three-week stay in India, I found religious issues being discussed freely and frequently in the boisterous election campaign. But they were usually not the main issues under debate and not isolated from the pocketbook issues that really concern voters. Click here for the rest of my report quoted above. advani-waves(Photo: BJP leader L.K. Advani, 8 April 2009/Amit Dave)

This is one of those stories where context is king. Thanks to the internet and India’s lively English-language media, anyone around the globe can find Indian reports highlighting the religion angle. One of the news magazines, The Week, ran an interesting cover story about the “high priests of hate.” On balance, I think it looks a bit overdone — it was written at the height of the Varun Gandhi controversy — but it had this classic anecdote:

White U.S. evangelicals most skeptical on climate change

Among U.S. religious groups, white evangelical Protestants are the least likely to believe that human activities are contributing to climate change, according to a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. You can see the numbers, based on a broader 2008 poll, here.

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Overall the Pew Forum found that a plurality, or 47 percent, of the adult U.S. population accepts that there is solid evidence that the earth is warming because of human activities. Most scientists have reached the conclusion that the planet’s climate is changing because of human-induced factors, notably the emissions from burning of the fossil fuels that drive the global economy.

Among religious groups Pew found that those who said they were unaffiliated with any faith tradition were the most likely to accept that humanity was warming the planet, with 58 percent of them taking that view.

The pope’s whirlwind tour of the Holy Land

The Holy Land is scrambling in its preparations for the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI, pouring millions of dollars into infrastructure and security. It comes just nine years after his predecessor, John Paul II, made his historical visit. He will be travelling from May 8-15.

More than 1 million Christian pilgrims passed through Israel last year, and the tourism ministry is preparing for a spike in that number around the time of the pope’s visit. The pontiff will travel with heavy security, sometimes on new roads built specifically for him.

You can scroll down and read about the key stops, in chronological order, on his whirlwind tour.

Have culture war issues returned to America?

America’s seemingly dormant culture wars reignited this week as the issue of gay marriage competed with the sour economy and volatile markets for media attention.

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The emotive issue was thrust back onto center stage by Vermont lawmakers on Tuesday, who overode a veto from the governor by a wafer-thin margin, making the New England state the fourth in the United States where gays can wed. You can see some of our coverage from earlier this week here and here.

Known for picturesque foliage, quaint dairy farms and socially liberal politics, Vermont joins New England neighbors Connecticut and Massachusetts in allowing gay marriage. Iowa legalized gay marriage last week. 

Bolivian exhibit sheds light on ancient hallucinogenic rituals

boliviaboardA new Bolivian exhibit showcasing a collection of ritual artifacts provides insight into ancient indigenous ceremonies during which shamans took psychedelic substances.

The objects exhibited in a gallery in downtown La Paz belong to the ancient Tiwanaku culture, which spread over the Andean highlands between 2000 BC and 1500 AD.

The spear tips, polished stones with llama wool wrapped around them and colorful hand-woven fabrics were kept in bags made with puma or jaguar skin and used in rituals to invoke indigenous deities.

Biggest U.S. Lutheran group advances gay questions

The largest U.S. Lutheran church group is about to begin a detailed discussion at the grass roots level on a policy change that would enable people in same-sex relationships to become clergy. Between now and June the debate will spread over some 65 synods covering the 5-million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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These meetings will produce comminiques which will be sent to the church’s convention in August where a final decision will be made on issues that have nagged the church and other denominations for years.

The ELCA’s current policies allow gays to serve in the ministry but not engage in sexual relations outside marriage — and the church defines marriage as being only between a man and a woman.