FaithWorld

from India Insight:

U.N. report says real risk of Indian religious strife

It did not get great publicity but a recent U.N. report on religious freedom in India offers a stinging image of a country suffering from communal divisions and mob-inspired religious persecution.

 It argues there is a very real risk of a repeat of a tragedy like the Gujarat riots of 2002, when more than 2,000 people, mainly Muslims,were killed by Hindu mobs.

The U.S. Special Rapporteur of religion or belief Asma Jahangir, a well-respected Pakistani human rights activist, travelled to India last March to prepare the report. It catalogues violence and discrimination faced by India's religious minorities, whether Muslim or Christian or Sikh.

"Organised groups claiming roots in religious ideologies have unleashed all pervasive fear of mob violence in many parts of the country." the report, released on Jan. 26, says.

 "There is at present a real risk that similar communal violence might happen again unless political exploitation of communal distinctions is effectively prevented,"

Just before Darwin day, Pew reviews faith and evolution in U.S.

Just in time for Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday next week, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has posted an extensive research package examining the debate about evolution, Darwinism and religion in the United States. “The Debate over Evolution” is a treasure trove of information about the debate and especially useful for the lists breaking down views of the main religious groups and the political fight over Darwinism state by state. (Photo: British Darwin commemorative stamp, 29 Dec 2008/Royal Mail)

Here are the main entries:

Speaking of Darwin, we’ve done several posts about the Turkish anti-Darwin campaigner Harun Yahya and his Islamic creationst campaign against evolution. Most of the attention on this has been on his mega-book Atlas of Creation, how it’s being distributed in Europe and what the reaction to it has been.

Obama evokes church/state divide at National Prayer Breakfast

Religion’s role in U.S. politics was on full display on Thursday as President Barack Obama spoke and prayed at the annual National Prayer Breakfast.

Obama, an adult convert to Christianity, used the occasion to announce that he will be establishing a White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. This will replace or be an extension of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives established by former President George W. Bush, who was strongly supported by conservative Christians.

Some of Obama’s remarks about the new office are sure to raise eyebrows in those conservative Christian circles. For example:

African Americans top U.S. religious measures-Pew

An analysis by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life suggests that blacks are considerably more religious than the overall U.S. population. You can see the whole report here.

While the U.S. is generally considered a highly religious nation, African-Americans are markedly more religious on a variety of measures than the U.S. population as a whole, including level of affiliation with a religion, attendance at religious services, frequency of prayer and religion’s importance in life,” the report says.

Its highlights include:

- Nearly eight in 10 blacks (79 percent) say religion is very important in their lives, compared with 56 percent among all U.S. adults.

A religion board game – satire or scandal?

How much fun — really — can you make of religion?  A U.S. marketer of board games may find out with ”Playing Gods” which it calls “the world’s first satirical board game of religious warfare.” It had its European premier this week at the London Toy Fair and will make a U.S. debut at the New York Toy Fair in February.

Ben Radford, head of the company that put the game together, said in a news release it is designed for two to five players who act as “gods” and …

“Try try to take over the world and make everyone on Earth worship him or her. As a god, you can try to convert other gods’ followers, promising them things like Afterlife, Prosperity, and Miracles. Or you can kill them off with plagues, locusts, earthquakes, floods, and other Acts of Gods.

And speaking of Darwin …

A new book on Charles Darwin says a passionate hatred of slavery was fundamental to his theory of natural selection, which challenged the assumption held by many at the time that blacks and whites were separate species.

“Darwin’s Sacred Cause” is among the first of dozens of works about the 19th century scientist to appear in 2009, the bicentenary of his birth and 150th anniversary of the publication of his groundbreaking “On the Origin of Species”. You can see a report here about the book by my colleague Mike Collett-White.

I find the choice of title by the authors Adrian Desmond and James Moore to be an interesting one. Other Darwin biographers have written of his gradual loss of religious faith — and he is today a target of scorn by many religious conservatives who would regard his cause as anything but sacred.

GUESTVIEW: Obama inauguration: An interfaith invocation to answer the critics

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The author is Program Director at the Interfaith Center of New York. He is writing a book about Interfaith and Civil Society.

By Matthew Weiner

The choice of Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation, and the drama surrounding it, was President-elect Barack Obama’s latest carefully planned move to prove that he is not a far out liberal, but instead mainstream. Obama is good at the art of compromise, but also at improvisation. The liberal outcry that followed, and his addition of the openly gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson to join the party, continues to demonstrate his skill as political tai chi master. (Photo: Obama and Warren at Saddleback Church,17 Aug 2008/Mark Avery)

But Obama would be more in keeping with his own sense of diversity if he had the first ever interfaith invocation. Instead of a single speaker from a single religion, why not have many from a diversity of faiths and political positions? Instead of a liberal Christian or an evangelical Christian, he could have a conservative Christian, a liberal Jew, and a Muslim, a Buddhist  and a Hindu (or any such combination).

from India Insight:

Nothing holy in India’s temple tradition

I wonder whether news of Indian priests doing a purification ritual after a minister belonging to a lower caste visited a temple comes as a surprise in a country where religion plays a big role in politics?

Sadhus or Hindu holy men chant hymns as they carry a photograph of the Hindu god Shiva in Jammu in this July 1, 2004 file photo. REUTERS/Amit Gupta

While officials in Orissa said they will question the priests for throwing away holy offerings and washing the floors after the minister's visit to the temple this week, the incident has left the controversial minister angry.

Lourdes-based “Catholic Google” may be rebaptised

Catholic Google has a catchy name, a funny logo and a location near one of the most Catholic places on Earth, the pilgrimage town of Lourdes in southwestern France. After only three weeks on the web, it has seen its user stats grow to about 16,000 visits a day. But the site that describes itself as“the best way for good Catholics to surf the web” may be in for a rebaptism. Its webmaster has asked Google if it has any objections to the name and is waiting for a reply.

While doing research for my blog post on Catholic Google on Sunday, I found it was based in a village outside of Lourdes. In a phone call today, webmaster Paul Mulhern told me he set up the website with standard Google filters last month as a service for Catholics who want to surf the web without all the objectionable material they usually come across there. The idea came from his wife, who runs a religious goods shop in Lourdes. They’re originally from Leeds in the UK.

He said most reaction to the site had been positive, although some comments accused him of trying to create a segregated corner of the web just for Catholics. “I can see where they’re coming from but I think they have the wrong point of view,” he said.

A Catholic Google? Are Muslim, Jewish or other Googles coming?

So now there’s Catholic Google*, a search engine that calls itself  “the best way for good Catholics to surf the web”, It claims that “it produces results from all over the internet with more weighting  given to Catholic websites and eliminates the vast majority of unsavoury content, such as pornography”.

When I heard this today, my first question was whether Google was getting into the religion business. Were there Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist or other versions of the search engine out there as well? If not, would Google come up with them soon? Would it design filters that screen out cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, pro-Palestinian websites or other items that followers of certain faiths might not want to see?

It turns out the answer is “No” to all above. Catholic Google has no connection to Google itself (here’s its disclaimer).  Somebody has reserved a URL for a Muslim Google but it has no content. There’s a Jewgle out there, but it’s more about jokes than real searches.