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Hungarian politician condemned for anti-semitism

28 11 2012

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Budapest, November 27, 2012 – Hundreds of protesters wearing yellow star rallied on Tuesday outside the Parliament to condemn a far-right politician who called for the screening of Jews for national security risks, part of a wave of incendiary racist comments from a populist party.

Marton Gyongyosi, a far-right Jobbik party deputy, on Monday criticized Hungary’s foreign ministry for what he said was siding with Israel and said the Middle East conflict presented an opportunity to carry out his plans for background checks.

“I think now is the time to assess … how many people of Jewish origin there are here, and especially in the Hungarian Parliament and the Hungarian government, who represent a certain national security risk for Hungary,” Gyongyosi said.

The Jobbik party has become the second-largest opposition party in Parliament, capitalizing on anti-Semitic and anti-Roma sentiment. Still, the government’s majority has given Jobbik little legislative power and the party’s anti-Semitic statements are usually reserved for their political rallies and publications. Such direct comments are rarely heard inside the legislature.

“One of our fellow deputies stepped over a line that I thought until now could not happen in the halls of the Hungarian national assembly,” said deputy speaker Istvan Ujhelyi, who wore a yellow star while presiding over part of Tuesday’s plenary session. “As far as I know I do not have Jewish ancestry, but should Jobbik uncover that I have such roots, I will be proud of them.”

Some 550,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in the Holocaust, including around a third of the victims who died at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Hungary’s Jewish population is estimated at 100,000 today, and while physical attacks are rare, an elderly rabbi was insulted recently near his home and Jewish and Holocaust memorials have been vandalized.

Members of a Jewish organization handed over 386 yellow stars like those Jews were forced to wear by the Nazis to parliamentary officials, one for every deputy in the Hungarian legislature. Hundreds of protesters attended an anti-Jobbik rally outside Parliament promoted on social media.

Gusztav Zoltai, a Holocaust survivor and one of the leaders of Hungary’s Jewish community, said he was disappointed about the lack of immediate reaction to Gyongyosi’s statements from other politicians present at the time, but was heartened by the crowd attending the rally.

“Much of the country is made up of decent people who protest together with us against these things,” Zoltai said.

Parliamentary Speaker Laszlo Kover announced plans to change parliamentary rules and allow sanctions against deputies for statements or acts similar to Gyongyosi’s.

Gyongyosi made a qualified apology for his statements Tuesday, saying his call to screen Jews was directed only at dual Hungarian-Israeli citizens.

“Jobbik believes that the national security risk assessment … is important exclusively in the case of dual citizens,” Gyongyosi said in a note posted on Jobbik’s website. “I apologize to our Jewish compatriots for my equivocal statement.”

“Hungary should not be afraid of Jobbik but of Zionist Israel and those who are serving it from here,” Gyongyosi wrote.

International Jewish organizations also issued strong rebukes, comparing Gyongyosi’s words to those of the Nazis.

Source: Vos is Neis

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KAZAKHSTAN: Complex, arbitrary and unnecessary re-registration process for religious communities

27 11 2012

 

By Felix Corley/Forum 18

Forum 18 is a Christian web and e-mail initiative to provide original reporting and analysis on violations of the freedom of thought, conscience and belief of all people, whatever their religious affiliation, in an objective, truthful and timely manner.

Forum 18 (21.11.2012) – As the compulsory re-registration of all Kazakhstan’s religious communities nears completion, smaller religious communities appear to be the main communities forcibly closed down or merged, Forum 18 News Service has found. These include Muslim communities unaffiliated to the state-backed Hanafi Sunni Muslim Board, and Jewish communities. Religious communities including a congregation of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and a number of Protestant churches have arbitrarily been denied re-registration. This denies them the right to exist and their followers the right to exercise freedom of religion or belief, violating the country’s international human rights obligations.

Many religious communities complained to Forum 18 of what they variously describe as the “complex”, “burdensome”, “arbitrary”, “unnecessary” and “expensive” re-registration process. Few were prepared to give their names when voicing such criticisms, for fear of state reprisals.

The deadline for religious communities to lodge re-registration applications under the harsh 2011 Religion Law expired on 25 October, the first anniversary of the Law’s entry into legal force. Some applications lodged before the deadline have not yet been processed. Justice Departments have already filed court applications to liquidate communities which did not apply for re-registration or which were refused re-registration, Forum 18 has found.

Svetlana Penkova, spokesperson for the government’s Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) in the capital Astana, refused to explain what religious communities which failed to get re-registration should do now to ensure that when they next meet together for worship they do not encounter problems from the police or other state agencies.

“Such communities can still meet until they have been liquidated through the courts,” Penkova told Forum 18 on 19 November. “This hasn’t happened yet. We can speak on this again after the courts have ruled.” Told that many such communities are likely to continue to meet for worship even if they are liquidated and that Kazakhstan’s international human rights commitments allow people to meet for religious purposes without registration, she responded: “We will seek consensus with them.” However, she insisted that unregistered religious activity is illegal.

Baptist communities who refuse to apply for state registration have been threatened with penalties up to confiscation of homes if they continue to meet, and raids continue against registered and unregistered communities.

Penkova of the ARA claimed to Forum 18 – wrongly – that all such punishments had happened before the new Law came into force. She then said she did not have time to discuss any other issues with Forum 18. Forum 18 was thus unable to ask why Kazakhstan is not abiding by its international human rights commitments.

All Muslim communities – who must all be both Hanafi Sunni Muslim and belong to the Muslim Board – and Catholic communities are both being given different treatment from all other religious communities in state decisions on whether they are allowed to exist.

Self-censorship

Forum 18 notes that very few religious community leaders – even those whose communities had been unable to apply for re-registration because of the new requirements – were prepared to discuss the re-registration process either on the record or privately.

By contrast, in what appears to have been a co-ordinated move, leaders of at least six different religious communities wrote to President Nursultan Nazarbaev praising him for ensuring what they claim is “religious tolerance” in Kazakhstan, of which they regarded re-registration of their communities as a part. The presidential website reported on 7 November the letters from Metropolitan Aleksandr (Mogilev) of the Russian Orthodox, Fr Markos Sargsyan of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and Larisa Palagina of the Won Buddhist Association.

The following day the presidential website noted similar letters from the five Catholic bishops of Kazakhstan, Frants Tissen of the Baptist Union, and Pentecostal Pastor Sergei Serov from Karaganda. Catholics, unlike other communities, were registered under an Agreement with the Vatican.

The government-backed press, such as the state-owned Kazinform news agency, quoted comments by Lutheran, Russian Orthodox and other religious figures praising the re-registration process as “successful” and “necessary”.

What benefit to Kazakhstan?

Asked how the re-registration process with its violations of human rights has benefited Kazakhstan, Penkova of the ARA told Forum 18: “Well, it has helped us to gain an accurate picture of the religious situation in the country and prepare a database.” She did not explain what other “benefits” the re-registration process has brought Kazakhstan.

All religious communities were required to bring their statutes into line with the provisions of the harsh new Religion Law which entered into force on 25 October 2011. Such changes to their statutes meant that they also had to re-register with the Justice Ministry.

Under the complex new registration system, organisations could apply to register in one of three forms: local, regional or national. Local registration was in the hands of Regional branches of the Justice Ministry. Registration of regional or national organisations was in the hands of the Justice Ministry’s Registration Service and Provision of Legal Assistance Committee in Astana.

In every case – including for the nationally-registered Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox Church’s Metropolitan Region of Kazakhstan – an “expert opinion” was required from the ARA, Kanat Myktybaev of the Justice Ministry’s Committee told Forum 18 from Astana on 19 November. No other nationally registered organisations yet exist.

Local registration

Under Religion Law Article 12, Part 2, local religious organisations need 50 adult citizen members within one region of the country or main town, and register with the local Justice Department. The ARA is required to give its “expert opinion” on each local application, as well as those of regional and national organisations.

One community which was denied the possibility of re-registration was the Kostanai congregation of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. “ARA officials told us that as we don’t have a place of worship there to meet in we couldn’t apply for re-registration for the community,” Fr Gennadi Subbotin told Forum 18 on 14 November from the nearby village of Oktyabrsky. He maintains that not having re-registration for the Kostanai community is not a great burden as parishioners can travel on the half-hour bus ride to the re-registered community in the village. However, he notes that had it been possible the community would have liked to have been re-registered.

Other Russian Orthodox Church Abroad communities in southern Kazakhstan are still awaiting re-registration decisions, Bishop Irinei Klippenstein told Forum 18 from Jambul Region on 14 November.

Other religious communities told Forum 18 that the lack of a place of worship has not prevented them from gaining re-registration.

Forum 18 tried to find out from Nurikan Nugurbekov, head of Kostanai regional ARA Department, why the ARA had denied the Kostanai community the opportunity to apply for re-registration. The official who answered the phone on 21 November told Forum 18 Nugurbekov was not there and put the phone down.

The ARA claimed that as of 25 October, the deadline for re-registration applications to be lodged, a total of 3,088 religious communities of all sorts and their branches had state registration. This they claimed compared to 4,551 on 1 January 2011. However, the January 2011 figure included 579 small groups which were recognised by local administrations but which did not have legal status.

ARA Chair Kairat Lama Sharif has made repeated claims that the total number of registered religious communities has significantly fallen in the re-registration process. More recently, he has claimed a cut of one third, but it has been suggested within Kazakhstan that this is an exaggeration which includes branches of communities without their own legal status. If these small communities are recognised as branches, the number may rise.

ARA figures claim large falls for many communities. The number of Jewish communities fell from 26 to four, New Apostolic Church communities from 47 to eight, Presbyterian communities from 229 to 55, Hare Krishna communities from 14 to eight, Baha’is from 20 to six, and Mennonite communities from six to one. Many of these communities were too small to apply for re-registration, and they may seek status as branches of other registered communities.

Despite such falls, religious leaders claim that they are satisfied with the process. “We received support from the state,” Boris Manoilenko, an aide to Kazakhstan’s Chief Rabbi, told Forum 18 on 19 November. “All four of our communities got re-registration.” He said a fifth, in Oskemen, which never had registration before, lodged an application in late October.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints (commonly known as Mormons), Baha’is, the Armenian Apostolic community and others told Forum 18 that they managed to gain re-registration for the communities they submitted applications for.

Re-registration process

Members of numerous religious communities have complained to Forum 18 about the time, money and effort of the re-registration process. Few were prepared to be identified, out of fear of state reprisals against their communities.

“We gained re-registration after great trouble from the ARA,” a member of one community told Forum 18. “ARA and Akimat [local administration] officials spoke to us as if we were in kindergarten.”

Many communities complained that the ARA and local Justice Departments kept asking them to change their charters on arbitrary grounds. “They wanted us to write in more detail in our statutes what our doctrine is,” Jehovah’s Witnesses told Forum 18. “What we believe about army service and blood transfusions. We talked this through with them in a normal dialogue.”

Such attempts to control beliefs and “expert analyses” are obstructing communities gaining state registration and so permission to exercise freedom of religion or belief. They break Kazakhstan’s international human rights obligations.

Once applications were lodged, Justice Departments and Regional ARA branches checked the full details of each founder of many organisations, religious leaders told Forum 18. In one case the street number of one founder was given incorrectly, requiring a correction and the whole application to be resubmitted.

In some cases, individual founders were questioned about their religious affiliation and why they had signed a registration application. “Many of our founders were summoned by Regional ARA offices,” Jehovah’s Witnesses told Forum 18. “Although no pressure was put on them to remove their names, they were asked: why do you belong to this particular faith?”

This has happened throughout Kazakhstan. For example, officials pressured nearly a quarter of the signatories on the re-registration application of Grace Protestant Church in Karaturyk to remove their names.

In another case, a religious leader who asked not to be identified told Forum 18 that by relentless examination of people on the list of founders, the authorities had been able to remove enough to bring the number down to 49, making the community ineligible to apply. The community had to resubmit the application, and they made sure they had more than 70 founders on the list the second time. The Justice Department has still not responded to the application.

Enforced restructuring

A number of religious communities have been forced to restructure themselves to meet the registration requirements of the new Law. Most drastic has been the requirement that local religious communities have at least 50 adult citizen founders. This means that many local communities defined as “small religious groups” – particularly of Protestants and Hare Krishna devotees – are having to turn themselves into branches of other registered communities.

Some of these small communities have been forced to “voluntarily” close, such as a Methodist Church which was threatened with a fine state officials have admitted is unlawful.

The Lutheran Church – with declining membership as ethnic Germans and others leave Kazakhstan – had 32 registered communities at the beginning of 2011, according to ARA figures. The Church chose to restructure with one main organisation in each Region, its leader Bishop Yuri Novgorodov told Forum 18 on 19 November. “It’s certainly a little easier for us.” He said registration then followed “surprisingly quickly – the state helped us”. Lutherans now have 13 registered communities.

An independent mosque has been threatened with demolition with a bulldozer if it does not join the state-backed Muslim Board, Imam Kinayat Ismailov noting to Forum 18 that he thinks criminal allegations against him are to “create the grounds for his firing or closing the Mosque”. Other independent mosques are also being pressured into joining the Muslim Board.

Since the beginning of 2012, Kazakhstan has cancelled the registration of hundreds of “small religious groups” across the country, so depriving them of the right to exist. Local ARA officials and other state officials then summoned the leaders of such communities and demanded that they stop their activity.

How much does re-registration cost?

Each religious community applying for re-registration at whatever level had to pay the standard fee for registering almost any legal entity of 6.5 Monthly Financial Indicators. At the 2012 level, this has meant each religious community has had to pay a fee for re-registration of 10,517 Tenge (400 Norwegian Kroner, 55 Euros or 70 US Dollars).

Members of a wide range of religious communities pointed out to Forum 18 that even for small communities in poor villages, such a sum is affordable, even if some believe the whole re-registration process was an unnecessary burden.

Penkova insisted that the re-registration process did not entail any extra expense for the taxpayer-funded ARA though, unlike religious communities. “This is our normal work, so no extra funds were needed,” she told Forum 18.

Figures on the website of the Finance Ministry reveal that the ARA spent 367 million Tenge (14 million Norwegian Kroner, 2 million Euros or 2.5 million US Dollars) between January and September 2012, the latest figures available. It remains unclear if this spending includes that of the regional ARA Departments, which were established earlier in 2012.

“This is an enormous sum,” one member of a religious community told Forum 18 from Almaty. “It must have been spent on all those unnecessary ‘expert analyses’, ‘agitational groups’, seminars and international conferences.” The religious believer referred to ARA “agitational groups” of officials running high-profile seminars around the country praising the government’s violations of freedom of religion or belief and religious policy generally. The believer also identified ARA activity for foreigners, including so-called “Congresses of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions”.

Asked whether this was a good use of tax-payers’ money, the religious believer responded with a laugh. “There’s nothing I can do about it.”

An example of ARA spending is that the Aktobe regional ARA Department has stated, on its website that, in the first half of 2012 it gave out “agitational materials” at various events amounting to 21,000 books, leaflets and DVDs. However, Penkova of the Agency defended the ARA’s total spending, including on the re-registration process. “I speak as a tax-payer when I speak up in support of the re-registration process.”

Similarly, Myktybaev of the Justice Ministry’s Registration Service and Provision of Legal Assistance Committee insisted that the re-registration process had not cost the Ministry any extra expenditure. “We’re registering legal entities of all sorts all the time,” he told Forum 18.

Whether the re-registration process has cost regional Justice Ministry Departments extra expenditure remains unknown.

“Not involved”?

Several regional ARA departments refused to tell Forum 18 which local religious communities they had given negative “expert opinions” on and why, referring all enquiries to regional Justice Departments. The official who answered the telephone at the North Kazakhstan regional ARA Department in Petropavl claimed to Forum 18 that it “is not involved” in the re-registration process.

Dinara Sarsebekova of Kostanai regional Justice Department claimed that 25 communities which previously had legal status failed to apply for re-registration. “I don’t know if these communities still exist or not,” she told Forum 18 on 13 November. She said that at the end of October the Justice Department had lodged individual suits to liquidate all 25 at the Regional Economic Court.

Sarsebekova said 57 communities in Kostanai Region gained re-registration, none of them Muslim: 26 Russian Orthodox, one Hare Krishna and Jehovah’s Witness community each, as well as Seventh-day Adventists and other Protestants. She said two Jewish communities who enquired about registration were told they were too small. Asked what will happen if those Jewish communities seek to continue meeting for worship, Sarsebekova responded: “It is not in our competence.”

An official of Almaty Regional Justice Department claimed on 13 November that 110 religious communities had gained re-registration: 63 Protestant of various jurisdictions, 45 Russian Orthodox, one Hare Krishna and one Baha’i community. The official added that Muslim and Catholic communities had their own procedures. A total of 37 communities – six Muslim and 31 Protestant – did not lodge re-registration applications. In late October, suits were lodged in the Economic Court for them to be liquidated.

Natalya Sharipova of Aktobe Regional Justice Department and her colleague Farida Bikhanova told Forum 18 on 13 November that of the 23 communities which applied for re-registration, 17 were approved: 9 Protestant, 7 Russian Orthodox and 1 Hare Krishna.

They said suits had been lodged in court to liquidate seven religious communities. Three were Muslim, all based in Aktobe itself – the Nurdaulet mosque, the Fatikha mosque and the Kosym Ishan community. They did not identify the other four. “Very many issues led the expert analyses to reject these communities,” Bikhanova told Forum 18. “Their statutes contradicted the law.” However, she refused to specify what these contradictions were.





On Thanksgiving, Jews And Muslims Volunteer Together Despite Middle East Violence

22 11 2012

Muslim and Jewish volunteers feed the homeless at the Greater New York Muslim-Jewish Feeding the Hungry event at St. Mary’s Eipsocopal Church in New York City. RNS photo courtesy Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.

By Lauren Markoe/Religion News Service

WASHINGTON, USA – It’s an idea that feels particularly touching this Thanksgiving: American Jews and Muslims banding together to help the homeless and other needy people.

The interfaith collaboration has been going on for five years, but the recent exchange of rockets between Gaza and Israel is weighing especially hard on both communities this week. That’s why a joint session of sandwich making or a group visit to a nursing home has taken on added significance.

“In this time of warfare it was a beautiful experience to see the two come together,” said Haider Dost, a Muslim student at Virginia’s George Mason University who worked with Jewish students to feed the homeless Sunday (Nov. 18) in Franklin Park, just blocks from the White House.

The Franklin Park event is one of more than 17 Jewish-Muslim “twinning” volunteer projects across the nation in the days surrounding Thanksgiving fostered by the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.

One of those projects forged a new partnership in Northern Virginia between the McLean Islamic Center and Temple Rodef Shalom that saw, on the weekend before Thanksgiving, children from both the mosque and synagogue together cleaning up a Maryland park. That night, members of the two congregations dined together, with the Muslim host and the temple’s rabbi both offering up prayers for peace in the Middle East.

Both the Muslims and Jews in the room tacitly understood that the dinner conversation should not veer into the violence between Jews and Muslims now dominating the news from the Middle East.

“If we were fast friends who had known each other for years already, maybe we could get together in the midst of the conflict and share our feelings,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Saxe of Rodef Shalom. “While there are bombs falling, maybe it’s not the time to start that discussion. But the political situation made it all the more crucial that we get together.”





A Christian Faith Enriched by Buddhism

19 11 2012

Susan J. Stabile is the author of “Growing in Love and Wisdom: Tibetan Buddhist Sources for Christian Mediation,” just published by Oxford University Press. A spiritual director and retreat leader, she is also the Robert and Marion Short Distinguished Chair in Law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

I gave up Catholicism when I was 17. No great trauma or explosive event. I simply realized one day I didn’t believe any more. Not in Catholicism. Not in God. So I went through college and a good chunk of law school with no faith or spiritual life.

Then I found Buddhism. What began as a flirtation turned into 20 years of life as a Buddhist, two of them living in Buddhist monasteries in Nepal and India, one as a Tibetan Buddhist nun.

In the 11 years since I returned to the Catholicism into which I was born and baptized, I’ve been asked many times if I consider myself a “Buddhist Catholic” or “Christian Buddhist.” Although the answer is no (and I discuss why in the opening chapter of “Growing in Love and Wisdom”), my Buddhist years were not only essential to my ability to return to Catholicism, they greatly inform my Christian spirituality.

But for Buddhism, I could not be Catholic today. When I left Catholicism my sense of independence and self-sufficiency was too strong to accommodate a personal relationship with, or recognition of my dependence on, God. Buddhism’s individuality was much more consonant with my self-image, and Buddhism offered me a means of developing a spirituality that facilitated my eventual return to God.

I bring back much from those Buddhist years that inform who I am as a Christian. Paramount is an emphasis on experiential knowledge. What had first attracted me to Buddhism was the Buddha’s view that there was nothing one must — or should — believe merely because the Buddha said it. Rather, everything is to be tested by one’s own experience. More importantly, it is through that direct experience that enlightenment is attained.

This emphasis on experiential knowledge has affected me in several ways. The first is recognizing the importance of a regular prayer practice, by which I mean not only attending Mass or other communal liturgies, but daily time in solitude with God. I’ve become convinced that this time with God is essential and something we need to make time for no matter how busy we are.

A focus on experiential knowledge has also given me a greater appreciation of the value of ritual. When I was young I viewed many rituals of Catholicism as meaningless. I have grown to understand, through my Buddhism experience, the power of ritual to transform our hearts.

The emphasis on experiential knowledge has also convinced me of the primacy of relationship with God over rules as a vehicle for personal transformation. If I am convinced to the depth of my being that I am the beloved of God and if I am deeply in love with that God, that will be manifest in the person I am in the world. Adhering to God’s law flows naturally out of relationship, resulting not from forced obedience to externally imposed rules but as a consequence of our recognition of our essential nature as the beloved of God.

In addition all that flows from an emphasis on experiential knowledge, Buddhism has helped me understand in a richer way some of the truths of Christianity. Although expressed in different terms, many of the truths of Buddhism have resonance in Christianity (another subject I explore in some detail in “Growing in Love and Wisdom”). The Buddhist teachings on cherishing others over the self helped me embrace Christian humility. The Buddhist concept of emptiness gave me a way of understanding Christian notion on dying to self and rising in Christ. The Buddhist understanding of impermanence helps me deal with difficult mental states and feelings.

Perhaps the greatest influences Buddhism has had on my Catholicism is my openness to different ways of being Catholic. Some Catholics are more “traditional” than others. Some want the Mass in Latin, others in the vernacular. Some pray the rosary daily, others view the rosary as old-fashioned. Many feel the need to say one way is better than the other. I don’t. Buddhism has helped me appreciate that we have different temperaments, inclinations, experiences and needs, and that all of that has an influence on what our Catholicism (and our prayer life) looks like.

Obviously, a journey through Buddhism is not a necessary part of everyone’s path. We all grow in our faith — and struggle with it — in different ways. Some people grow in one faith tradition for their entire lives. The spiritual path of others seems to require a sojourn in a faith different from the one in which they were raised before they either return to the faith of their birth or find a new spiritual home. Buddhism was an integral part of my spiritual path.

 

Source: Huffington Post





DIWALI: Hindu festival of lights

12 11 2012

Diwali, also transliterated Deepavali (Sanskrit Dīpãvali – “row of lights”), is a Hindu festival of lights lasting five days. For many Hindus, Diwali is also New Year’s Eve.

While Diwali is popularly known as the “festival of lights”, the most significant spiritual meaning is “the awareness of the inner light”. Central to Hindu philosophy is the assertion that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called the Atman. The celebration of Diwali as the “victory of good over evil”, refers to the light of higher knowledge dispelling all ignorance, the ignorance that masks one’s true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality. With this awakening comes compassion and the awareness of the oneness of all things (higher knowledge). This brings anand (joy or peace). Just as we celebrate the birth of our physical being, Diwali is the celebration of this Inner Light.

The “row of lights” for which the festival is named are lit on the new-moon night to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. But in Bengal, it is the goddess Kali who is so honored, and in North India the festival also celebrates the return of Gods and Godesses Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, and Hanuman to the city of Ayodhya, where Rama’s rule of righteousness was inaugurated. Diwali is celebrated with a variety of rituals, which depend in large part on one’s location, but they center on the lighting of candles, electric lights and fireworks. Throughout the five-day festival, small earthenware lamps filled with oil are lighted and placed in rows along the tops of temples and houses and set adrift on rivers and streams.

The Diwali season is also significant to Sikhs. During the festival time in 1620, the sixth Guru, Hargobind Singh, gained the release of 52 Hindu princes who had been falsely imprisoned in Gwallior Fort by the rulers of the area, the Mughals. The Golden Temple of Amritsar was lit with many lights to welcome the release of Guru Hargobind; Sikhs have continued the tradition.

Jains also celebrate Diwali, as a celebration of the establishment of the dharma by Lord Mahavira. The festival’s lights symbolizes the light of holy knowledge that was extinguished with Mahavira’s passing.

In the name of the Central-European Religious Freedom Institute, I wish to all Hindu, Sikh and Jain believers a very happy Diwali.

Jura Nanuk,
Founder & President





Why Read the Bible?

9 11 2012


By Ronald Hendel, Professor of Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies, University of California, Berkeley


Bill Nye, the Science Guy, is right to say that the Bible is not a science textbook. It is a collection of religious writings from a small ancient Middle Eastern country called Israel. The Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible) consists of many different texts, written between roughly 1000 and 100 B.C., by a variety of authors, who often disagree with each other on issues of religion, philosophy and politics. The stories of creation in Genesis are derived from older oral traditions, some of which have roots in Canaanite and Mesopotamian traditions. The cosmology of the Bible is a product of the Iron Age, not the Computer Age.

Why, then, should we still read this book, if many of its ideas about the world are outmoded? Well, lots of people believe that we shouldn’t read this book anymore, since many of the things in it are old-fashioned or didn’t really happen. But I think that the test of historical or scientific accuracy is overrated. Even if some of the stories in it didn’t happen, the Bible itself — as a central influence in western culture — did happen. This book has long been a central icon in western culture, and continues to be a source of controversy, belief and honest searching today.

If we think about the book of Genesis (which I enjoy doing), it is worth remembering that many aspects of our laws and culture are rooted, directly or indirectly, in debates about the meaning of Genesis. The Civil War, for instance, has been described as the result of a crisis in biblical interpretation, in which the biblical position on slavery — for or against — was settled at the cost of massive bloodshed and trauma. Slave owners used a (mis)interpretation of the story of Noah’s curse of Ham to justify slavery.

But the last and best word was spoken by Abraham Lincoln, who referred to the Garden of Eden story in his Second Inaugural Address: “It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces.” In Genesis 3, God says to Adam: “You shall eat bread by the sweat of your face.” Lincoln relied on Genesis to say that slavery violates this rule of the human condition. Lincoln was thinking with and through Genesis, consulting it as a register of cultural and religious values. And by invoking Genesis, Lincoln sounded the mystic chords of religious memory, which bring a larger vista onto daily reality.

This is why we should still read the Bible. It’s not a newspaper or a history book or a science book. But it is a book that lies at the heart of western culture, and it still has a claim on us, whether we believe in it or not. We still define ourselves and our world in relation to it. Even if we reject it, we are taking a stand and acknowledging its presence. It’s like the 800 pound gorilla in the middle of the room. You can try to ignore it, but you still have to walk around it.

In recent times, religious conservatives have claimed that their interpretation of the Bible is the only valid one. This is incorrect. The idea of biblical inerrancy is a relatively recent idea, an anti-modern reaction against the rise of science and biblical scholarship. It’s time to reclaim this book as a cultural icon that belongs to all of us. It is still our root and branch, a book of magical realism in whose shadow we still dwell.

 

Source: Huffington Post








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