FaithWorld

Soundbites but no solutions in French “virginity lie” case

A bride waiting for her wedding, 14 Feb 2008/Shannon StapletonThe “virginity lie” case gripping France for the past two days has given French politicians the opportunity to indulge in one of their favourite pastimes — expressing indignation. There’s been much more heat than light in this story since it broke last Friday.

If you haven’t been following it, the story is about a French Muslim couple who got their marriage annulled after the husband complained the wife was not the virgin she had claimed to be. Since he could not have cited either religion or the traditional Muslim preference for virgin brides as valid reasons for annulment, the husband’s lawyer argued the wife had lied about an “essential quality” necessary for the marriage. Under French law, a marriage can be annulled if, for example, one partner found out only after the wedding that the other had lied about a previous marriage or a criminal record.

Politicians, feminists and human rights activists immediately demanded the ruling be overturned. The critics vied to issue the most ringing denunciation. “A real fatwa for women’s liberation … (like) a ruling handed down in Kandahar” was a memorable one from Fadela Amara, the state secretary for urban affairs who comes from an Algerian Muslim family. Here are many more in French. By Monday, Justice Minister Rachida Dati — another cabinet member with a North African Muslim background — was flip-flopping. After originally defending the ruling as a means of helping a woman get out of an unwanted marriage, she decided on Monday to ask a public prosecutor to launch an appeal.

French Justice Minister Rachida Dati, 1 May 2008/Jacky NaegelenThe news today was that the erstwhile husband and wife both accept the ruling and do not want an appeal that would make them a legally married couple all over again and force them to replay their separation through a longer and more costly divorce process. The woman’s lawyer said she was furious. “I have to get on with my life,” he quoted her as saying. “I don’t know who decided that they would think for me. I haven’t asked for anything. It feels like I’m hallucinating.”

Almost nobody but the couple and their lawyers want the ruling to stand. But almost nobody is actually thinking through the implications of what they’re demanding.

Muslim scholar responds to “Sharia smear” against Obama

Obama speaks at First Congregation/Carlos Barriaal United Church of Christ in Mason City, Iowa, 16 Dec 2007Two recent op-ed articles in the United States presented Barack Obama as a “Muslim apostate” according to “Muslim law as it is universally understood.” Since Muslims were bound to see him as an apostate, they argued, the potential next president could be seen as “al Qaeda’s candidate” because Islamists could whip up popular anger in the Muslim world by portraying him as a turncoat heading a Western war against Islam. He also risked assassination, one suggested, because Muslim law considers apostasy a crime worthy of the death sentence and bars punishment for any Muslim who kills an apostate.

There were many generalisations about Islam in these two articles, one by Edward Luttwak in the New York Times and the other by Shireen K. Burki in the Christian Science Monitor. There is no one code of Muslim law, as Luttwak (who is a strategic analyst not previously known for his mastery of Islamic jurisprudence) or Burki (who we’re told “studied Islam at school” in Pakistan) want unsuspecting readers to believe. Few Muslim countries have death for apostates on their books, and even fewer actually carry it out. This is not meant to defend any law about apostasy, which is an individual right, but just to state a few facts.

Most important of all, Obama never tires of saying that he is a committed Christian and has never practiced the religion that his father (who left his son when he was 2 years old) no longer practiced either. The fact these articles appeared amid an “Obama-is-a-Muslim” whispering campaign in an election year makes a good case for suspecting they may have been motivated more by political strategy than legal scholarship. A lot of the 368 comments on Luttwak’s article assume that’s the case. Call it the “Sharia smear.”

Blair – religion to be as important as 20th century ideologies

Tony Blair with a model of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, 11 Dec 2007/pool“Religious faith will be of the same significance to the 21st Century as political ideology was to the 20th Century,” Tony Blair said on Thursday in a statement before Friday’s launch in New York of his new Faith Foundation to improve understanding between different religions and fight global poverty by mobilizing people through faith.

Blair is not the first person to talk about how important religion is and will be in the 21st century. Decades ago, the late French writer André Malraux reportedly went so far as to issue a wonderfully Gallic sweeping statement: “The 21st century will be religious or it will not be.”

Even if British understatement isn’t what it used to be, Blair’s comment is really quite bold. The main political ideologies of the 20th century were communism, Nazism and fascism. They rallied huge masses of people, justified totalitarian regimes and imposed skewed views of the world on whole populations. When communism collapsed across Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union following the fall of the Berlin Wall, millions of people felt that they had been liberated.

British Muslim TV channel to air inter-faith game show

Islam Channel logoThis could be very interesting … or maybe a flop. Islam Channel, a British Muslim TV channel broadcast on satellite and webcasts, plans to host a weekly religion quiz show called “Faith Off” from mid-June. It’s meant to promote better understanding among religions by pitting teams from different faiths against each other. As the Guardian‘s religion correspondent Riazat Butt put it, the show will pit “Jews against Muslims, Sikhs against Christians and Hindus against Buddhists, with contestants competing for cash prizes.” Sounds like an interesting idea, but I don’t know if it will make great TV.

Like all quiz shows, its success will depend on how well it’s presented, how interesting the questions are and how knowledgable the contestants are. But one of the recurring religion stories you see is the survey about how little many people know about their own religion. In fact, they’re hardly news anymore.

So I wonder how well contestants will do even with questions about their own faith, let alone anything dealing with another religion. And what about issues where there are differences of opinion within one religion? If the producers weed out all the difficult and contentious questions, is there enough left to make a lively and challenging show?

Lambeth Conference: News or Not?

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, 22 Feb 2008/Darren StaplesIt has been spoken of as a setting for schism. But could the Lambeth Conference — the worldwide Anglican Communion‘s once-a-decade global meeting beginning July 16 in England — be a bust when it comes to headline-making news?

That’s the way leaders of the U.S. Episcopal Church see it. There will be no grand pronouncements made or resolutions voted on, they say. The traditional Western parliamentary idea that produces winners and losers on debated issues has been scrapped for face-to-face meetings. Some of them have been baptized ”Indaba groups,” which Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has described as a Zulu term denoting “a meeting for purposeful discussion among equals.”

The Rev. Ian Douglas, a professor of World Christianity at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts who helped plan the meeting, recently told reporters at a briefing:

China’s Religious Character May Be Deeper Than Thought

china-2.jpgThe light being cast on China by the coming Summer Games is far brighter than the flickering Olympic flame now wending its way across that vast country. Politics, society, human rights, the status of Tibet and even the environment have been widely discussed.

china1.jpg 

Now a window has been opened on faith and religion in a country where six decades of Communist philosophy and rule might seem to have pushed those subjects into obscurity.

In a recent report the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has analyzed available surveys, some a few years old, and concluded that 31 percent of the Chinese population considers religion to be very or somewhat important in their lives, with only 11 percent rating it as meaningless. Even the exact starting time of the Summer Olympics is rooted in Confucianism and Chinese folk religions,  the report adds, where the numeral 8 is revered for its luck and power. The games will start on the 8th day of the 8th month of ’08 at precisely 8 minutes and 8 seonds past 8 o’clock.

Is there a “religionome” and can it be mapped?

An undated image of the human brain taken through scanning technology, /Sage Center for the Study of the Mind, University of California, Santa Barbara/HandoutNeuroscientist Andrew Newberg has an intriguing idea: is there a “religionome” similar to the human genome and can scientists map it? He raised this idea at a recent Pew Forum conference on religion and public life in Key West, Florida, where he discussed the topic of why belief in God persists.

Newberg’s work focuses, among other things, on his view that we are biologically driven to find meaning in our lives. He argues that our brains have the capacity to create and perpetuate systems of belief that take us beyond our basic survival needs. These beliefs are biologically rooted in the brain, he thinks, but are also given form by our peers, parents and society.

Newberg is an Associate Professor in the Department of Radiology and Psychiatry, Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies and director and co-founder of the Center for Spirituality and the Neurosciences, all at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He talked with Reuters on the sidelines of the conference, organized by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, to flesh out his vision.

Polar opposites Bush and Clinton share Methodist faith

Bush the Methodist, May 1 2008What do George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton have in common, besides a shared address in Washington? (With dates that did not overlap of course).

They actually have a shared faith: The United Methodist Church.

This may surprise many people, given the fact that their politics are polar opposites. The anti-abortion rights Bush strikes many as a Southern Baptist in everything but name; the pro-choice Clinton is seldom associated with religion though she has been actively courting the faith vote as of late.

As its general conference in Fort Worth discussed issues such as its take on humanhillary.jpg sexuality, Scott Jones, the resident bishop for the Kansas area, said differences of opinion were in the church’s “DNA” but “We are united in our mission to transform the world.”

Can China and the Vatican make beautiful music together?

World Team Table Tennis Championships in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, 2 March 2008/Bobby YipRemember ping-pong diplomacy, the exchange of ping-pong players between the United States and communist China in the 1970s that was one of the first steps that led to a thaw in relations between the two countries? If the Vatican had a ping-pong team, perhaps China would have considered sending their squad to the walled city in Rome for a match.

But the Vatican does not have a ping-pong team, as far as we know. So, the next best thing appears to be music. This week, Vatican Radio made a surprise announcement on its daily 2 p.m. bulletin. The China Philharmonic Orchestra of Beijing and the Shanghai Opera House Chorus will perform Mozart’s Requiem for Pope Benedict on May 7 in the Vatican’s audience hall, adding a stop to its already scheduled European tour.

Pope Benedict at a recent concert in his honor in the Vatian audience hallAs one diplomat said, “this could not have happened without the Beijing government approving it.” Given the fact that relations between the Vatican and Beijing have been scratchy to say the least, one can only wonder if this is the start of a mating game. It could lead to diplomatic relations and China’s recognition of the pope as leader of all Catholics in the world, including Chinese Catholics, many of whom have been forced to join the state-backed Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

Tiger Woods talks about Buddhism and being a dad

If all you know of Tiger Woods comes from watching him on television whacking out a super-long drive or sinking an impossible putt, you might be surprised to know he is a Buddhist. It’s not what journalists usually ask about when they want to know the secrets of his success. Our Miami-based sports correspondent Simon Evans interviewed him this week and went beyond the usual questions about tournaments and courses and clubs to find out more about him. Here’s his story and a short video from the interview.