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‘No Religion’ is world’s third-largest religious group after Christians, Muslims

31 12 2012

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REUTERS – People with no religious affiliation make up the third-largest global group in a new study of the size of the world’s faiths, placing after Christians and Muslims and just before Hindus.

The study, based on extensive data for the year 2010, also showed Islam and Hinduism are the faiths mostly likely to expand in the future while Jews have the weakest growth prospects.

It showed Christianity is the most evenly spread religion, present in all regions of the world, while Hinduism is the least global with 94 percent of its population in one country, India.

Overall, 84 percent of the world’s inhabitants, which it estimated at 6.9 billion, identify with a religion, according to the study entitled “The Global Religious Landscape” issued by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life on Tuesday.

The “unaffiliated” category covers all those who profess no religion, from atheists and agnostics to people with spiritual beliefs but no link to any established faith.

“Many of the religiously unaffiliated do hold religious or spiritual beliefs,” the study stressed.

“Belief in God or a higher power is shared by 7 percent of unaffiliated Chinese adults, 30 percent of unaffiliated French adults and 68 percent of unaffiliated U.S. adults,” it said.

ISLAM EXPANDS

Exact numbers for religious populations are impossible to obtain and estimates for the size of the larger faiths can vary by hundreds of millions. This study by the Washington-based Pew Forum appears to be one of the most extensive to date.

Pew Forum demographer Conrad Hackett said the 2,500 censuses, surveys and population registers used to compile the report did not allow a further breakdown to estimate the world population of atheists and agnostics.

“It’s not the kind of data that’s available for every country,” he said. “A census will typically ask what your religion is and you can identify a number of particular affiliations or no religion.

An age breakdown showed Muslims had the lowest median age at 23 years, compared to 28 for the whole world population. The median age highlights the population bulge at the point where half the population is above and half below that number.

“Muslims are going to grow as a share of the world’s population and an important part of that is this young age structure,” Hackett said.

By contrast, Judaism, which has 14 million adherents or 0.2 percent of the world population, has the highest median age at 36, meaning its growth prospects are weakest.

Hackett noted that Israel, which has 40.5 percent of the world Jewish population, had a younger age structure than the United States, where 41.1 percent of the world’s Jews live.

Global Christianity’s median age is 30 and Hinduism’s 26. With a median age of 34, the growth prospects for religiously unaffiliated people are weak, the study showed.

WORLDWIDE BREAKDOWN

The study estimated Christianity was the largest faith at 2.2 billion adherents or 31.5 percent of the world’s population.

The Roman Catholic Church makes up 50 percent of that total, with Protestants — including Anglicans and non-denominational churches — at 37 percent and Orthodox at 12 percent.

There are about 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, or 23 percent of the global population. “The overwhelming majority (87-90 percent) are Sunnis, about 10-13 percent are Shia Muslims,” the study said.

Among the 1.1 billion unaffiliated people around the world, over 700 million, or 62 percent of them, live in China alone, where they make up 52.2 percent of the Chinese population.

Japan comes next with the second largest unaffiliated population in the world with 72 million, or 57 percent of the national population. After that comes the United States, 51 million people — 16.4 percent of all Americans — said they have no link to an established faith.

The world’s Hindu population is concentrated mostly in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Half of the world’s Buddhists live in China, followed far behind by Thailand at 13.2 percent of the world Buddhist population and Japan with 9.4 percent.

The study found that about 405 million people, or about 6 percent of the world population, followed folk religions such as those found in Africa and China or among Native American and Australian aboriginal peoples.

Another 58 million, or nearly 1 percent of the world population, belonged to “other religions” including Baha’i, Taoism, Jainism, Shintoism, Sikhism, Tenrikyo, Wicca and Zoroastrianism. Most were in the Asia-Pacific region.

The study said that 97 percent of the world’s Hindus, 87 percent of its Christians and 73 percent of its Muslims lived in countries where they were a large to overwhelming majority.

Christians make up the majority in 157 countries and Muslims in 49, including 19 of the 20 states in the Middle East and North Africa, with the exception of Israel.

By contrast, Hindus are in the majority only in India, Nepal and Mauritius.

(Reporting By Tom Heneghan, editing by Paul Casciato)

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Pope Benedict delivers Christmas message and blessing

25 12 2012

Pope Benedict

Pope Benedict XVI has delivered his traditional Urbi et Orbi Christmas message and blessing in Vatican City. In his speech he appealed for peace in Syria and other war-torn nations.

Pope Benedict XVI wished Christmas peace to the world on Tuesday, in his traditional Urbi et Orbi (to the city and to the world) speech on Christmas Day.

The Pope addressed the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City where he decried the slaughter of the “defenseless” in Syria.

“May peace spring up for the people of Syria, deeply wounded and divided by a conflict which does not spare even the defenceless and reaps innocent victims,” the 85-year-old pontiff said in his message.

He called once again for reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, as he had done on the previous day at Christmas Eve mass.

Referring to Egypt as the land “blessed by the childhood of Jesus,” he urged countries of the Arab Spring to “work together to build societies founded on justice and respect for the freedom and dignity of every person.”

The pope also delivered peace appeals for Mali, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya, and called on Jesus to support rulers in Latin America “in their commitment to development and fighting crime.”

Pope Benedict also singled out China where Catholics are split between a government-administered church and an underground one loyal to the Vatican.

“May the King of Peace turn his gaze to the new leaders of the People’s Republic of China for the high task which awaits them,” Benedict said.

The pope is the spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

Source: Deutsche Welle

The full text of the Pope Benedict’s message is available at the website of Vatican News Agency.

 





CHRISTMAS: Commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ

24 12 2012

May your world be filled with warmth and good cheer this Holy season, and throughout the year.

Wish your Christmas be filled with peace and love.

Jura Nanuk, President

Tibor Krebsz, Executive Director


*****

History of Christmas

By Sarah Dowdey

It would be easy enough to imagine Christmas as a simple continuum of tradition dating from the birth of Christ. You’d begin with the nativity story, apply the December 25th date to Jesus’ birth, establish the gift-giving precedent of the magi and work from there. Over the centuries, classic Christmas traditions would accumulate: perhaps beginning with the yule log, followed by the Christmas tree and finally winding up in the present day with giant inflatable snowmen and icicle lights.

The history of Christmas, however, is hardly a continuum. It is a varied and riotous story, one that actually predates the birth of Christ. Early Europeans marked the year’s longest night — the winter solstice — as the beginning of longer days and the rebirth of the sun. They slaughtered livestock that could not be kept through the winter and feasted from late December through January. German pagans honored Oden, a frightening god who flew over settlements at night, blessing some people and cursing others. The Norse in Scandinavia celebrated yuletide, and each family burnt a giant log and feasted until it turned to ash.

In Rome, people celebrated the raucous festival of Saturnalia from Dec. 17 to Dec. 24 in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. The celebration consisted of a carnival-like period of feasting, carousing, gambling, gift-giving and upended social positions. Slaves could don their masters’ clothes and refuse orders and children had command over adults. Two other Roman festivals, Juvenalia, a feast in honor of Rome’s children, and Mithras, a celebration in honor of the infant god Mithra, also fell near the solstice.

By the fourth century, the church decided that Christians needed a December holiday to rival solstice celebrations. Church leaders selected Dec. 25 for the Feast of the Nativity. Christmas gained ground over the next several hundred years, becoming a full-fledged holiday by the ninth century, although it was still less important than Good Friday and Easter.

Early Christmas, however, was not the peaceful, albeit busy family holiday we know today. Christmas’ proximity to Saturnalia resulted in it its absorbing some of the Roman festival’s excesses. Christmas in the middle ages featured feasting, drinking, riotous behavior and caroling for money. Religious puritans disapproved of such excess in the name of Christ and considered the holiday blasphemous. Oliver Cromwell went so far as to cancel Christmas when he seized control of England in 1645. Decorations were forbidden and soldiers patrolled the street in search of celebrants cooking meat. Puritans in the American colonies took a similarly dour view of Christmas: Yuletide festivities were outlawed in Boston from 1659 though 1681.

But by the late 18th century and throughout the 19th century, Christmas began to take on the tame associations it has today. New Yorker Washington Irving wrote popular stories about Christmas that invented and appropriated old traditions, presenting them as the customs of the English gentry. Queen Victoria’s German husband, Prince Albert, introduced a Christmas tree to Windsor Castle in 1846. An engraving of the couple with their children in front of the tree popularized the custom throughout England and the United States.

In the 20th century, the focus of Christmas became increasingly commercial.

Christmas presents

For many people–whether they care to admit it or not–Christmas is about presents. Children nearly burst in anticipation of Christmas morning. Far-sighted adults start stockpiling on-sale gifts early in the summer. The procrastinating multitudes flock to the mall in the week preceding the holiday.

Christmas’s gift-giving tradition has its roots in the Three Kings’ offerings to the infant Jesus. The magi traveled to Bethlehem to present Christ gifts. Some Eastern Orthodox Churches and European countries still celebrate the traditional date of the Magi’s arrival — January 6 or Three Kings’ Day — with a Christmas-like gift exchange.

Romans traded gifts during Saturnalia, and 13th century French nuns distributed presents to the poor on St. Nicholas’ Eve. However, gift-giving did not become the central Christmas tradition it is today until the late 18th century.

Gifts were ostensibly meant to remind people of the magi’s offerings to Jesus and of God’s gift of Christ to humankind. But despite the rationalized Christian roots of gift-giving, the practice ultimately steered Christmas closer to the secularized holiday it is today. Stores began placing Christmas-themed ads in newspapers in 1820. Santa Claus, the increasingly popular bearer of gifts, started popping up in ads and stores 20 years later. By 1867, the Macy’s department store in New York City stayed open until midnight on Christmas Eve, allowing last-minute shoppers to make their purchases.

Today, Christmas is a bonafide gift-giving bonanza. Desperate parents scrabble over the under-stocked toy of the season. Stores bring out the tinsel and greenery in early October. And sale-enthusiasts queue up before dawn the day after Thanksgiving. Most retailers rely on the holidays to make up for the summer doldrums and prepare for the slow sales of the New Year. This dependence has made Christmas, a single day in late December, swell into a three month holiday season. “The holidays” — with their sales, decorations and mall Santas — now reign through nearly a quarter of the year.

Some shoppers appreciate the early bird merchants. They make their purchases over the summer or in the early fall to avoid stress or save money. But for many consumers, October allusions to Christmas only serve as an annoyance, or, in some cases, even a deterrent from shopping at all. In response to consumer complaints, many stores have adopted subtler holiday tactics. They still begin their sales and ad campaigns in early October but hold back the overt holiday images and greetings until closer to November.

Christmas Traditions

Christmas traditions have a way of feeling timeless — you may have seen the same ornaments, sung the same songs and eaten the same foods for your whole life. Some Christmas traditions are, in fact, ancient. They have pre-Christian roots and originate from pagan winter-solstice celebrations or Roman festivals. Other traditions are relatively modern–either rescued from oblivion or conjured up in the surprisingly recent past. Some significant holiday traditions include decorations, activities and food.

Christmas decorations

With Americans spending about $8 billion annually on Christmas decorations, it’s clear that tinsel, green trimmings and electric lights are an important part of most peoples’ holiday.

Evergreen trees and garlands were used as decorative symbols of eternal life by ancient Egyptians, Chinese and Hebrews; European pagans sometimes worshiped evergreen trees. By medieval times, western Germans used fir trees to represent the Tree of Paradise in mystery plays about Adam and Eve. They decorated the trees with apples and later with wafers to symbolize the host. The trees grew increasing popular in Germany and settlers introduced them to North America in the 17th century. Many people also decorate with holly, mistletoe and ivy. Decorators started lighting up their trees with electric bulbs in the 1890s. Since then, lights have become an integral part of Christmas decorating.

Christmas activities

Outdoor light displays and other decorating traditions have created Christmas activities of their own. Decorators sometimes compete over the most ornate lighting displays and spectators walk or drive through neighborhoods to marvel at the exhibits. Schools and churches often stage Christmas pageants that reenact the Nativity. Saint Francis of Assisi started this custom in 1223, believing a life-size staging of the Crèche would make Jesus’ story clear and accessible. Christmas pageants might also include traditional carols which are still sometimes sung door to door by groups of friends or neighbors.

Christmas food

Traditional Christmas food often gets a bad rap — there’s green beans soaked in mushroom soup, potentially primordial fruitcake and blob-like figgy pudding that, for some reason, made carolers sing “we won’t leave until we get some.” But Christmas fare is also a delicious combination of harvest feast foods, like turkey, squashes and potatoes; winter festival foods like roasted meats and an array of baked goods that outdoes any other time of year. Many novelty treats mimic other Christmas traditions: the Bûche de Nöel imitates the Yule log, gingerbread houses copy well-trimmed colorful chalets and cookie cutters turn out legions of trees, stars and Santas.





Scientology case in UK to be reconsidered

20 12 2012

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Belfast Telegraph, December 19, 2012 – Leading UK judges may decide whether services organised by the Church of Scientology involve “acts of worship”. Scientologist Louisa Hodkin lost a High Court fight for the right to marry fiance Alessandro Calcioli in a Church of Scientology chapel in central London.

A High Court judge concluded that the couple could not marry in the London Church Chapel, in Queen Victoria Street, because it was not legally a “place of meeting for religious worship”.

But Mr Justice Ouseley said Supreme Court justices – the most senior judges in the UK – should consider the question of whether Scientologists worshiped and decide whether they wanted to rule on the issue.

Miss Hodkin, 24, who, like her fiance, is a volunteer at the London Church Chapel, said she was pleased that the Supreme Court had been asked to consider the case.

“I knew I would have to be strong and patient given the current law,” she said after today’s High Court hearing in London. “I am delighted that the court has granted me the opportunity to ask the Supreme Court to hear my case. I hope that the court allows me to marry in my own church, surrounded by my family and friends, which means everything to me.”

Her solicitor, Paul Hewitt, who works for law firm Withers, said: “It has always felt wrong that, simply because she is a member of the Church of Scientology, Louisa has been denied the right given to Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jains and other faiths to have a legal marriage ceremony in accordance with her own religious beliefs and in her own church.” He added: “Louisa is determined to see the process through to achieve this basic right.”

Mr Justice Ouseley ruled after hearing legal argument at a High Court hearing in London in October. He was told that Miss Hodkin launched a challenge after the registrar general of births, deaths and marriages refused to register the London Church Chapel for the solemnization of marriages under the 1855 Places of Worship Registration Act – because it was not a place for “religious worship”. The judge said the issue had been considered by the Court of Appeal in 1970. He said appeal judges had decided that Scientology services “did not involve acts of worship” – and he said he was bound by that decision. He said he therefore had to dismiss Miss Hodkin’s challenge.

“In my judgment there has been no significant change in the beliefs of Scientologists or in their services since (that) decision,” said Mr Justice Ouseley in a written ruling handed down at a hearing in London today. “(That ruling), in the absence of a significant change in the way Scientologists worship, still binds me to hold that they do not worship.”

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170 children under the age of five, dies every hour of every day

13 12 2012

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If 170 children would die in an airplane crash it would be a tragedy. President would send telegrams of condolences to parents of crash victims, TV crews would be all the crash site, pictures of those children would be on cover pages of all big newspapers.

One hundred seventy children dies every hour of every day of every month due to lack of access to clean drinking water. Every year. 1.5 million children under the age of 5,  dies from diarrhea caused by drinking dirty water. They are dying slowly, in pain. Nobody writes about them. No presidents sending telegrams, no pictures on the cover pages.

Sorry if I ruined your day with this post, but this is reality of the planet we all live on. Can we do something about? I’m skeptical about starting some online petition, but buying those UNICEF greeting cards might help at least a bit. If all of us would buy those greeting cards maybe we could save a life or two. Maybe 10 or hundred.

Every year hundreds of millions of dollars are spent for buying Christmas’ and New Year’s greeting cards. This year please buy the UNICEF ones and do a good deed that really counts. Those post cards can be found in many bookstores in your city.

If you have a better idea on what to do about this situation, please write it below in the comments.

Sincerely yours,

Jura Nanuk, President

To download UNICEF’s report click on the picture below.

UNICEF





The seven countries where the state can execute you for being atheist

13 12 2012

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By Max Fisher, Washington Post’s Foreign Affairs blogger

The annual “freedom of thought” report from the International Humanist and Ethical Union, an advocacy umbrella group that represents and seeks to protect non-religious people, details laws and practices around the world that punish or restrict atheism. The group presented the report to the United Nations today.

The report tracks, among other things, which countries have laws explicitly targeting atheists. There are not many, but the states that forbid non-religiousness – typically as part of “anti-blasphemy” legislation – include seven nations where atheism is punishable by death. All seven establish Islam as the state religion. Though that list includes some dictatorships, the country that appears to most frequently condemn atheists to death for their beliefs is actually a democracy, if a frail one: Pakistan. Others include Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Sudan, the West African state of Mauritania, and the Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean. These countries are colored red on the above map.

Earlier this year, a 23-year-old Saudi man named Hamza Kashgari tweeted in commemoration of the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday that, while he found the Islamic holy man inspirational, he did not believe in his divinity. When Kashgari was accused of blasphemy, he attempted to flee the country for his life, it turns out rightly. He was arrested while changing flights in Malaysia, deported back to Saudi Arabia, and is now awaiting charges that could include his execution for blasphemy and atheism.

Though atheists are rarely handed death sentences in these countries, the threat of punishment can stifle religious freedom. As this interview with an atheist in Saudi Arabia showed, the laws have a chilling effect, enforcing cultural taboos against atheism and pushing non-religious citizens to keep their beliefs secret out of fear of retaliation.

Some countries, according to the report, also codify possible prison sentences for atheists (these countries are indicated in orange on the map). These laws, however, can be difficult to distinguish from restrictions against “religious incitement,” which are common in much of the world, including in atheist-friendly Western Europe. But the report indicates that, in countries such as Egypt or Indonesia, the laws appear to be used to specifically target citizens who, for example, publicly profess their own atheism.

Other countries, colored yellow on the map, restrict rights for atheists, for example by limiting marriage rights or public service.

The United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Heiner Bielefeldt accepted the report, according to Reuters, noting that there is little global awareness that atheism is protected by international human rights law.





Hanukkah, Jewish festival of lights

10 12 2012

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By Ariela Pelaia

Ariela Pelaia is a professional Jewish Educator with masters degrees in Jewish Studies and Jewish Education.

Hanukkah (sometimes transliterated Chanukkah) is a Jewish holiday celebrated for eight days and nights. It starts on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev, which coincides with late November-late December on the secular calendar.

In Hebrew, the word “hanukkah” means “dedication.” The name reminds us that this holiday commemorates the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem following the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 B.C.E.

The Hanukkah Story

In 168 B.C.E. the Jewish Temple was seized by Syrian-Greek soldiers and dedicated to the worship of the god Zeus. This upset the Jewish people, but many were afraid to fight back for fear of reprisals. Then in 167 B.C.E. the Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus made the observance of Judaism an offense punishable by death. He also ordered all Jews to worship Greek gods.

Jewish resistance began in the village of Modiin, near Jerusalem. Greek soldiers forcibly gathered the Jewish villages and told them to bow down to an idol, then eat the flesh of a pig – both practices that are forbidden to Jews. A Greek officer ordered Mattathias, a High Priest, to acquiesce to their demands, but Mattathias refused. When another villager stepped forward and offered to cooperate on Mattathias’ behalf, the High Priest became outraged. He drew his sword and killed the villager, then turned on the Greek officer and killed him too. His five sons and the other villagers then attacked the remaining soldiers, killing all of them.

Mattathias and his family went into hiding in the mountains, where other Jews wishing to fight against the Greeks joined them. Eventually they succeeded in retaking their land from the Greeks. These rebels became known as the Maccabees, or Hasmoneans.

Once the Maccabees had regained control they returned to the Temple in Jerusalem. By this time it had been spiritually defiled by being used for the worship of foreign gods and also by practices such as sacrificing swine. Jewish troops were determined to purify the Temple by burning ritual oil in the Temple’s menorah for eight days. But to their dismay, they discovered that there was only one day’s worth of oil left in the Temple. They lit the menorah anyway and to their surprise the small amount of oil lasted the full eight days.

This is the miracle of the Hanukkah oil that is celebrated every year when Jews light a special menorah known as a hanukkiyah for eight days. One candle is lit on the first night of Hanukkah, two on the second, and so on, until eight candles are lit. You can learn more about the hanukkiyah in the article: What Is a Hanukkiyah?

Significance of Hanukkah

According to Jewish law, Hanukkah is one of the less important Jewish holidays. However, Hanukkah has become much more popular in modern practice because of its proximity to Christmas.

Hanukkah falls on the twenty-fifth day of the Jewish month of Kislev. Since the Jewish calendar is lunar based, every year the first day of Hanukkah falls on a different day – usually sometime between late November and late December. Because many Jews live in predominately Christian societies, over time Hanukkah has become much more festive and Christmas-like. Jewish children receive gifts for Hanukkah – often one gift for each of the eight nights of the holiday. Many parents hope that by making Hanukkah extra special their children won’t feel left out of all the Christmas festivities going on around them.

Hanukkah Traditions

Every community has its unique Hanukkah traditions, but there are some traditions that are almost universally practiced. They are: lighting the hanukkiyah, spinning the dreidel and eating fried foods.

  • Lighting the hanukkiyah: Every year it is customary to commemorate the miracle of the Hanukkah oil by lighting candles on a hanukkiyah. The hanukkiyah is lit every night for eight nights. Learn more about the hanukkiyah in: What Is a Hanukkiyah? | How to Light the Hanukkah Menorah | Hanukkah Candle Lighting Blessings.
  • dreidelSpinning the dreidel: A popular Hanukkah game is spinning the dreidel, which is a four-sided top with Hebrew letters written on each side. Read The Hanukkah Dreidel to learn more about the dreidel, the meaning of the letters and how to play the game. Gelt, which are chocolate coins covered with tin foil, are part of this game.
  • sufganiyotEating fried foods: Because Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of oil, it is traditional to eat fried foods such as latkes and sufganiyot during the holiday. Latkes are pancakes made out of potatoes and onions, which are fried in oil and then served with applesauce. Sufganiyot (singular: sufganiyah) are jelly-filled donuts that are fried and sometimes dusted with confectioners’ sugar before eating.

*****

In the name of Central-European Religious Freedom Institute, we wish you happy Hannukah.

Jura Nanuk, President

Tibor Krebsz, Executive Director








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