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Religion News Report

July 31, 2000 (Vol. 4, Issue 236) - 3/3

arrow Latest: Religion News Blog
Rainbow

» Continued from Part 2/3

=== Jehovah's Witnesses
28. Religion, medicine clash

=== Hate Groups / Hate Crimes
29. SE Texas town OKs posting of sign against hate
30. Florida militia leader sentenced for terrorist plots
31. Arrests Made in Jerusalem Fires

=== Other News
32. Death by religion angers prosecutor
33. Masonry move for police
34. Search for missing Lucie 'becoming desparate', says father
35. Utes see 'spirits' in calamities

=== UFOs
36. Waiting for their first spaceship

=== Death Penalty / Human Rights Abuses
37. Clerics pragmatic in stand against death penalty
38. Amnesty group vilifies INS for asylum seeker's years of imprisonment

=== Other News
39. Life Without 'Sin' May Spell Death of Sect
40. In Russia, a fest with pagan roots comes back
41. The Bible, as History, Flunks New Archaeological Tests

=== Books
42. A bite of religion
43. Review: Is anybody out there?



=== Jehovah's Witnesses

28. Religion, medicine clash
Orange County Register, July 30, 2000
http://www.ocregister.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
ORANGE -- Their mother lay crumpled on a bed in the intensive care unit a few doors down, hooked up to a ventilator and sedated into unconsciousness. Doctors admitted Marina Ferreira to UCI Medical Center on July 12, 1999 with pneumonia, congestive heart failure, pulmonary hemorrhage and acute renal failure.<90>

Her adult children were brought into a small conference room down the hall with three doctors, a social worker and a Jehovah's Witness hospital liaison to hear what they already knew: Their mother was dying.

The two daughters sat side by side crying, but not willing to comfort each other. They were so furious they couldn't even look at each other. Marina Ferreira, 65, had been a Jehovah's Witness for 23 years, a follower of a religion that abstains from blood transfusions. Now as she lay dying her children were fighting -- two for her life, one also for her soul.

Her youngest, Carol Quiroz, 27, is also a follower of the faith. The two oldest, Rolando Ferreira and Xinia Turnbull, are Catholic. Now, in the small hospital conference room, Ferreira and Turnbull were saying their mother had told them privately that she wanted a transfusion if it could save her life. Quiroz called them liars. But UCI Medical Center Risk Manager Nance Hove believed they were telling the truth, and so would a court that ordered the transfusion.

''I'm sure you'd understand if that was your parent, and your parent said she was not ready to die,'' Turnbull said. ''What would you do?''

Now a fully recovered Marina Ferreira is suing the Univesity of California, Irvine. She says her religion dictates that what her eldest children did was tantamount to rape. She has considered suing them, too, and says she only hugs them because she has to.

''It's like they were traitors. The love a mother has for her children lasts forever, but I feel my heart is wounded by what they did,'' Ferreira said in Spanish. ''They knew there were other options, many other options. I know that science has done a lot of things in recent years, and there wasn't any reason for me to have that transfusion.''

UCI officials will not discuss the suit. But in the balance between medical care and religious convictions, officials say, a hospital takes its cues from patients.
(...)

The medical center has had a history of handling Jehovah's Witness cases, and doctors there have backed away from treatment that patients have refused, said UCI spokeswoman Kim Pine.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Hate Groups / Hate Crimes

29. SE Texas town OKs posting of sign against hate
Dallas Morning News, July 30, 2000
http://dallasnews.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
SANTA FE, Texas - The Santa Fe City Council has approved a measure to erect a sign that reads ''Santa Fe is No Place for Hate.''

The sign comes in response to the May arrests of three teens who allegedly threatened to hang a 13-year-old student because he is Jewish. The boy has been beaten up and repeatedly taunted because of his religious heritage.

Representatives of the Anti-Defamation League asked Mayor Robert Cheek to post the billboard in this town about 35 miles southeast of Houston to counter what many see as an atmosphere of intolerance, The Galveston County Daily News reported Friday.
(...)

Students in the Santa Fe Independent School District have yelled ''Heil Hitler'' and greeted Phillip with a Nazi salute, his parents have said. They have pushed his head into the toilet and banged his face against lockers.

Phillip's parents have said they believe the hostility against their son is the result of tensions that arose from the battle for student-led prayer in the school district. The boy is believed to be the only Jewish student in his school.

In a case that originated in Santa Fe and drew national attention, the Supreme Court reaffirmed last month that prayer in public schools must be private. The Santa Fe school district improperly sponsored religion by allowing the majority-Baptist student body to elect someone to give an invocation before football games, violating the separation of church and state, the court ruled.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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30. Florida militia leader sentenced for terrorist plots
CNN/AP, July 28, 2000
http://www.cnn.com/2000/LAW/07/28/militia.leader.ap/index.htmlOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
TAMPA, Florida (AP) -- A Florida militia leader was sentenced Friday to five years in prison for plotting terrorist attacks on power plants and government offices.

Donald Beauregard, 32, a general in the group called the Southeastern States Alliance, had plotted to steal explosives from a National Guard armory and blow up power plants to paralyze central Florida and Atlanta with blackouts, federal agents said.
(...)

The fact that the acts were never carried out was not because the plan was abandoned, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Kunz told the judge. ''Mr. Beauregard was a general of the SSA. He was in charge,'' Kunz said.

Beauregard, a manager of a Hickory Farms store in St. Petersburg, was arrested in December and pleaded guilty March 10 to one count of conspiracy to degrade government property, destroy energy plants and provide material support for terrorists.
(...)

According to the indictment, Beauregard's militia activity dates back to 1995.

The indictment described the Southeastern States Alliance as a group created to perform violent, retaliatory acts against government facilities and personnel. Federal agents don't give locations of its groups but say meetings took place in Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky and Florida.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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31. Arrests Made in Jerusalem Fires
New York Times/AP, July 26, 2000
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli police have arrested three Orthodox Jews suspected of setting fire to a Conservative synagogue in Jerusalem and vandalizing a sanctuary of Messianic Jews, officials said Wednesday.

The suspects were arrested in the last two days, Jerusalem police spokeswoman Sigal Toledo said. One is a minor.

The suspects, secular Jews who recently became religious, are suspected in the June 24 firebombing at the Ramot Forest synagogue, affiliated with the Conservative stream of Judaism.
(...)

In addition, police suspect the three of attacking a sanctuary where Messianic Jews worship in downtown Jerusalem. That attack was two days after the firebombing at the Ramot synagogue. Torah scrolls were stolen and the assailants -- unsuccessfully -- tried to set fire to the building.

Messianic Jews accept Jesus as the messiah, while maintaining Jewish rituals and practices.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Other News

32. Death by religion angers prosecutor
Detroit News, July 30, 2000
http://www.detnews.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. -- Two children from the same church have died here in the past two years, including a 2-day-old infant this month, when their parents prayed for divine healing rather seeking medical help.

That angers Mesa County Prosecutor Frank Daniels.

Existing law in Colorado and many states across the nation gives parents too great a legal latitude to pray for healing rather than seek medical attention and should be repealed, he said.

''I strongly believe all children should be treated and protected the same, whether from one church or another church or no church,'' Daniels said.

Repealing the so-called faith-healing exception has been Daniels' ''No. 1 priority'' since last year, when 18-month-old Warren Trevette Glory died while his parents and church elders prayed for his cure.

The exception, which traces its origins back to Colorado statehood in 1876, says that a parent who practices ''treatment by spiritual means through prayer'' won't be held criminally liable for withholding medical treatment.

A 1989 amendment, sponsored by Gov. Bill Owens when he was a legislator, says the faith-healing law cannot be used to deny medical care if a child really needs it. It also requires practitioners to be members of legitimate churches.

Owens said that despite the amendment, it's difficult for authorities to intercede on behalf of a sick child because they don't learn of an incident until it's too late -- usually when a child dies.

Currently, Daniels is awaiting a coroner's report on newborn Billy Ray Reed's July 9 death before deciding whether to charge the parents with child abuse.

The parents of Billy Reed and Warren Glory are members of the General Assembly Church of the First Born, a Grand Junction church that, instead of calling doctors, calls church elders to pray over their sick.

The Reed infant died following apparent congestive heart failure. The Glory boy's parents were sentenced to 16 years probation for their son's death earlier this year.
(...)

Since 1982, authorities along Colorado's Western Slope have investigated three other child deaths involving the Church of the First Born. One case involved a breech birth at home -- church members favor midwives -- and the other two were appendicitis cases in which each of the children died. One of those cases resulted in a three-year deferred sentence; the other cases were not prosecuted.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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33. Masonry move for police
The Times (England), July 30, 2000
http://www.the-times.co.uk/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Police officers face being forced to declare whether they are Freemasons after two thirds of them refused to co-operate with a voluntary system of recording membership.
(...)

The Government had hoped that a voluntary system of recording membership would allay public fears that Masonic networks exist in the criminal justice system.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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34. Search for missing Lucie 'becoming desparate', says father
News Wire (England), July 28, 2000
http://www.lineone.net/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
The father of a young British woman missing in Tokyo for almost a month has said that the search for her had become ''desperate'' but vowed to remain in Japan until she was found.

Tim Blackman said he had no significant leads to report in the investigation into the disappearance of his 21-year-old daughter Lucie, whose plight has attracted intense media attention in Japan.
(...)

He said that Lucie is probably being held by ''an individual or a small group of people rather than actually being taken to a cult or something like that,'' but didn't speculate on their identity or motives.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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35. Utes see 'spirits' in calamities
Denver Post, July 28, 2000
http://www.denverpost.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
July 28, 2000 - TOWAOC - Away from the coin clatter and flashing lights of the Ute Mountain Casino, there are still some native people here who watch and listen for signs from the natural world, signals from another dimension.

These traditional Ute Mountain Ute Indians have taken to heart the stories of their fathers, grandmothers and great-grandfathers that explain events in their world. And when they look east from Sleeping Ute Mountain on their reservation at the columns of smoke standing in the hazy sky over Mesa Verde National Park, they see bad signs.

Off beyond the Notah-Dineh trading posts, the Anasazi motels and the Kachina Kitchen eateries, they see spirits that are mad - blazing mad.

''The old spirits that are there are not at rest. Their energy is off balance, and this causes things to happen in the metaphysical world,'' said Terry Knight, the spiritual leader of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe.

Knight said elders have told him the spirits of the ancient ones who inhabited the area from 500 to 1300 A.D. are tired of being excavated, analyzed and legislated.

''There is something happening with that tribe within the ground. These spirits are getting back at people for doing this and doing that.''

This and that includes, at the top of the list, President Clinton's recent signing of a bill creating the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument on 164,000 acres of ruin-rich land in southwest Colorado.

Knight said many modern Indians in the southwestern corner of the state look at that bill as an encroachment on their culture and on their land, which is adjacent to the new monument. He said Utes who follow traditional ways believe the designation will only bring more public attention and more scientific study to ruins that should be left respectfully alone.

If modern Indians feel that way, Knight said, Clinton's action surely has also caused ire for the spirits of ancient peoples - enough to send eerie flames roaring 200 feet into the air at Mesa Verde, to twist the wind into frantic dust devils over the burned out pinons, to turn the sun blood red behind the evening smoke film, and to call down the bolts of dry lightning that initially started the fire, which has burned almost half the park.

All bad signs. All foretold by ancestors, they say.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== UFOs

36. Waiting for their first spaceship
San Diego Union-Tribune, July 29, 2000
http://www.uniontrib.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
E Appel, a recreation supervisor for the city of Escondido, said she had lived a past life in ancient Roman times. In that life, she worked for a Roman leader who had been the Unarius Academy's previous director, Charles Spiegel, in one of his past lives.

Spiegel -- known as ''Antares'' to the students at Unarius -- ''is no longer here in the physical,'' Appel noted.

He died last December at his Mount Helix home at the age of 78. He had served as the director of Unarius since 1993.

Since Spiegel's death, no one person has stepped in to fill his role. Instead, the students of Unarius have formed a 16-member board to run the non-profit educational organization.

The Unarius Academy building, known by its students as ''Star Center number 1,'' has been located at Main Street and Magnolia Avenue in downtown El Cajon since 1975. It's easily recognizable by the murals of spaceships and an ancient civilization depicted on its walls.

The Unarius theories are unconventional, to say the least, but students say they're usually met with tolerance when they talk about spaceships and past lives.
(...)

It's a thrilling time for the Unarius students. They're making plans for their 17th annual ''conclave of light,'' a celebration to be held Oct. 13-15 in anticipation of the 33 spaceships they say will land on Earth one day.

And the conclave promises to be particularly exciting this year. Unarius students believe that the first spaceship -- coming from the planet Myton with 1,000 Muons on board -- will set down next year on a landform that will rise in the Caribbean.
(...)

Appel said it isn't known exactly when the spaceship will land.

''We had mental contact last year,'' she said. ''The space brother who was speaking said they're not giving the exact date because that could be misused.''

If Earth's population is receptive to the scout spaceship, Unarius students say, an even bigger event will occur sometime on 66 acres of property that the Unarius Academy owns in the hills of Jamul. Thirty-three spaceships will land there, one on top of the other, to form an inter-galactic university.
(...)

Kennedy said the most moving part of the annual conclave is a procession in which students carry a banner representing one of the 33 planets that will send spaceships to Earth.
(...)

Unarius members insist that their discipline is not a cult. Students have jobs and families and live in their own homes, they said.

''We all lead normal lives,'' Kennedy said.

Still, the Unarius teachings have had a strong pull for many of the students.

Nanette Breault moved to El Cajon from Canada 16 years ago so she could be near the Unarius Academy world headquarters. Breault said she realized through Unarius teachings that a low-grade fever she'd had for years was the result of being burned at the stake during a past life in the 16th century.

Ruth Norman, noticeable because of the heavy eye makeup and tiara that she often wore, can still be seen on 27 cable channels around the country, including San Diego County.

In addition to the El Cajon headquarters, Unarius also has seven other centers, located in North Carolina, Florida, Australia, New Zealand, Africa and at two places in Canada. Its members say that more than 500,000 people through the years have attended Unarius classes, requested books or brochures about Unarius, or say they benefited from Unarius teachings.
(...)

Calvert said her faith in Unarius teachings won't be shaken if the spaceship from Myton doesn't land on Earth next year.

''The science is there,'' she said. ''I'm not going to throw that away because a spaceship doesn't land.''
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Death Penalty / Human Rights Abuses

37. Clerics pragmatic in stand against death penalty
Chicago Tribune, July 28, 2000
http://chicagotribune.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
If you knew you could save the lives of several hostages by shooting their kidnapper to death, would you be morally justified in pulling the trigger?

What if the only way you could remove the threat was to shoot the hostage-taker and one of the hostages at the same time: Would it be worth it, in order to save two other innocent lives? Five? Fifty?

What if the criminal in question were a genocidal dictator, a la Adolf Hitler? Would it be right to sacrifice innocent lives to remove that kind of threat? If so, how many?

That was how a professor of mine once began an introductory course in ethics. For an hour, he peppered wide-eyed undergraduates with perplexing scenarios, then pursued our wandering logic relentlessly. Why did we choose the answers we did? What if the scenario were tweaked just that much more?

By the time he was done, the students were excited, hopping mad, thoroughly stumped and dying to get a solid answer.

The professor's answer was this: Those are hard cases, and hard cases make bad ethics.

In other words, as we came to understand over the course of the semester, sound ethical decision-making begins not with controversy and intellectual pyrotechnics but with common sense and the consensus of reasonable people.

It is in that spirit that the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago called this week for an indefinite suspension of the death penalty, in Illinois and across the nation.

The council, which represents 40 Jewish, Orthodox Christian, Protestant and Catholic jurisdictions in the Chicago area, was unambiguous in its conclusion: Government should not execute criminals, now or for the foreseeable future.

But in addressing an issue that often seems to float in the ether of abstraction, the clerics took a measured approach. They spoke not from on high but from the solid ground of experience--most pointedly, the common experience of Illinois, where as many condemned prisoners have had their convictions overturned in recent years as were put to death.

''We acknowledge that our diverse religious traditions and teachings are not of one mind as to whether capital punishment is, by its very nature, wrong and never justified,'' the statement notes.

''We are nevertheless united in the conviction that there is now overwhelming and persuasive evidence that in practice the administration of the death penalty in our society is often flawed and unjust,'' it continues.
(...)

Moreover, the religious leaders' statement is directed not only at the policymakers but also quite explicitly at the people in the pews--the very members of the religious communities represented by the council.

''We challenge the members of our faith communities to study carefully the witness and teachings of their own traditions regarding this matter, many of which call for the elimination of capital punishment, and all of which challenge their adherents to join in seeking a society where justice is administered fairly and mercy prevails,'' the statement urges.

On the surface, it seems strange for religious leaders to address their own followers through a blanket public statement.

But experience has taught those leaders another hard lesson: On the subject of capital punishment, many otherwise observant worshipers not only disagree with the official stances of their leaders but disregard their teaching altogether. To make a difference in the public arena, the clerics must first sway the people in their churches and synagogues.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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* The publisher of Religion News Report is a member of Amnesty InternationalOff-site Link
and opposes the death penalty.


38. Amnesty group vilifies INS for asylum seeker's years of imprisonment
Dallas Morning News, July 29, 2000
http://dallasnews.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Amnesty InternationalOff-site Link USA on Friday denounced as abusive the continued incarceration of an asylum seeker who - although he has committed no crime - has been imprisoned for almost six years.

Jimmy Johnson, a 36-year-old Liberian, is one of the longest, if not the longest, held foreigners in the custody of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. He has been in custody since arriving in the United States on Sept. 4, 1994.

His claim for asylum was approved by an immigration judge last year, and Mr. Johnson was ordered released.

But the INS contested the judge's rulings, and Mr. Johnson remains incarcerated in the York County Prison in Pennsylvania. His case was first reported in The Dallas Morning News on June 18.
(...)

''The continued imprisonment of a man declared to be a refugee by an immigration court seems abusive and is of grave concern to our organization,'' Amnesty executive director William F. Schulz and refugee office director Nicholas Rizza wrote in an April 30 letter released Friday.

Immigration officials have defended the prolonged incarceration of Mr. Johnson, claiming that he lied about his identity. It would be dangerous, they say, to release someone without an established identity.

Mr. Johnson entered this country on a bogus passport, an action necessary, he said, because all his identity papers had been confiscated by the Liberian government.

Amnesty also asked INS to stop housing its inmates in the York County Prison unless conditions there improve. The organization said asylum seekers are housed with criminals in the facility.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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* Amnesty International's Campaign on the United States of AmericaOff-site Link

=== Other News

39. Life Without 'Sin' May Spell Death of Sect
Los Angeles Times, July 30, 2000
http://www.latimes.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
TISHANKA, Russia--The fresh-faced Shestopalov sisters of Tishanka are keeping their lives simple. No makeup or miniskirts, no alcohol or cigarettes, no complications like romance that could lead to the sin of marriage.
(...)

They are members of the Fyodorovtsy sect, which believes that Christ returned to Earth early this century as a Russian peasant named Fyodor Rybalkin. The Fyodorovtsy have another belief: that after the Second Coming, marriage is prohibited by God.

Through a lifetime of celibacy, the siblings must suffer for their faith. Suffering, the Fyodorovtsy believe, purifies the soul. Yet because of its very beliefs--that both marriage and proselytizing are sins--the sect seems destined to die out.

A similarly self-denying sect, the Shakers, arrived in America in the 1770s and practiced celibacy, but the group augmented its population by converting people and taking in orphans. For about 60 Fyodorovtsy in Tishanka, it seems that only an outbreak of sin or a miracle can save their population.

Without a new generation on the way, these believers hope only to care for one another in life and bury one another simply in death.

The size of the sect at its peak in the 1920s is unclear, but according to Russian news reports, about 2,000 Fyodorovtsy were sent to a gulag in 1929.

The Fyodorovtsy saw Soviet power as embodying the antichrist, and they vilified the Russian Orthodox Church for cooperating with the authorities. They refused to sign any Soviet documents, serve in the army or work on their religious holidays. In prison, they stubbornly resisted the authorities. Some closed their eyes when they were photographed or gave their patronymic name as ''Christ'' during interrogations.
(...)

The Fyodorovtsy willingly endure their hardships, all for the peasant named Fyodor Rybalkin.

To the Soviet authorities, Rybalkin was a counterrevolutionary from the village of Novy Liman, near Voronezh, who faked miracles and stirred up trouble. In 1929, 16 of his followers were given sentences that afforded ''the highest level of social protection'': They were shot.

To the Russian Orthodox Church, Rybalkin was a false god whose followers allowed themselves to be led astray.
(...)

To the Fyodorovtsy, however, Rybalkin was Christ who walked barefoot in the snow and performed miracles. They say he was jailed by Soviet authorities and disappeared, but they believe that he will return to Earth soon, to resume his Second Coming and conduct the Day of Judgment.
(...)

The Fyodorovtsy see themselves as true Orthodox faithful but believe that all the true priests died in the early years of Soviet rule--another reason there can be no legal marriage ceremonies.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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40. In Russia, a fest with pagan roots comes back
Chicago Tribune, July 26, 2000
http://chicagotribune.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
(...) Based on a legend centuries old, the Ivan Kupala holiday as celebrated July 6 in the central Russian town of Vladimirskoye is making a comeback. Organizers are trying not only to revive a holiday that suffered during Soviet times, they are trying to build a new Russian tradition.

Unlike many holidays in today's Russia, Ivan Kupala is not a Soviet leftover. Its religious aspect is optional and adherents say it is a day that unites rather than divides Russians.

At Svetloyar Lake, everyone is welcome. This year's holiday drew leftists and rightists, rich and poor, old and young, pagans, Orthodox Christians, yogis, Old Believers, Hare Krishnas and atheists. And while organizers pay homage to the legend of a lost city at Svetloyar Lake, they do not make faith in the myth the price of admission.

''Of course I do not believe that the city is there on the bottom of the lake,'' said Svetlana Arakelova, 50, who since 1992 has been working to recharge and reinvent the holiday. ''But I believe in it as a symbol. I believe in the spirit of it.''

A local expert counts eight versions of the legend, including one that the Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov used for an opera. All have this basic story line:

An ancient Russian town called Kitezh came under attack by Mongol invaders around 1240. Despite a heroic Russian defense, the Mongols (or Tatars, as the Russians call them) carried the day. But just as Kitezh was to fall, it disappeared into Svetloyar Lake.

According to legend, the people of Kitezh remain there today, living and worshiping as before. And each year on the night of July 6, Kitezh becomes visible. The town's church bells sound, too, ever so faintly.
(...)

Ivan Kupala, a mixture of the feast day of St. John the Baptist and the pagan holiday Kupala, is celebrated throughout the former Soviet Union. But elsewhere it usually coincides with the summer solstice, about two weeks earlier.
(...)

Some believers come early, crawling on their knees three times around the mile-wide lake as they pray. At the top of a hill sits a still-unfinished wooden Russian Orthodox church, built during the past couple of years. For some Old Believers and Russian Orthodox, Svetloyar is sacred. Even many who dismiss Kitezh as a myth see important symbolism in its perseverance.

Alexander Ogorodnikov, a Soviet-era dissident who was persecuted for his religious beliefs, said he and others would use Kitezh as a kind of code when they traveled around the Soviet Union.

''To 'search for Kitezh' is a way of speaking in metaphors about the search for holiness,'' Ogorodnikov said.

Last year Russian Orthodox Church officials visited on Ivan Kupala. Some people welcomed this recognition. Others are concerned that the church might try to assert control over the holiday.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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41. The Bible, as History, Flunks New Archaeological Tests
By Gustav Niebuhr
New York Times, July 29, 2000
http://www.nytimes.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
The Bible's account of King David is so well known that even people who rarely crack the Good Book probably have an idea of his greatness.

David, Scripture says, was such a superb military leader that he not only captured Jerusalem but also went on to make it the seat of an empire, uniting the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. Thus began a glorious era, later amplified by his son, King Solomon, whose influence extended from the borders of Egypt to the Euphrates River. Afterward, decline set in.

Yet what if the Bible's account doesn't fit the evidence in the ground? What if David's Jerusalem was really a rural backwater -- and the greatness of Israel and Judah lay far in the future?

Lately, such assertions are coming from some authorities on Israel's archaeology, who speak from the perspective of recent finds from excavations into the ancient past. ''The way I understand the finds, there is no evidence whatsoever for a great, united monarchy which ruled from Jerusalem over large territories,'' said Israel Finkelstein, the director of the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University. King David's Jerusalem, he added, ''was no more than a poor village at the time.''

Statements like these have earned Finkelstein -- who is leading excavations at Megiddo, a vitally important site for biblical archaeology in northern Israel -- a reputation as a fascinating but controversial scholar. His reports from Megiddo that some structures attributed to Solomon were actually built after his reign have touched off fierce debate in Israel.

Within a larger context, what he says reflects a striking shift now under way in how a number of archaeologists understand Israel's past. Their interpretations challenge some of the Bible's best-known stories, like Joshua's conquest of Canaan. Other finds have turned up new information that supplements Scripture, like what happened to Jerusalem after it was captured by the Babylonians 2,600 years ago.

In an interview by e-mail from the Megiddo site, Finkelstein said that not long ago, ''biblical history dictated the course of research and archaeology was used in order to 'prove' the biblical narrative.'' In that way, he said, archaeology took a back seat as a discipline.

''I think that it is time to put archaeology in the front line,'' said Finkelstein, the co-author with Neil Asher Silberman of ''The Bible Unearthed,'' to be published in January by The Free Press.
(...)

Asked how such conclusions have been received in Israel, Finkelstein replied that they have been producing a ''quite strong and negative'' reaction. But the anger, he said, was coming not from strictly Orthodox Jews (''who simply ignore us,'' he said) but from more secular Jews who prize the biblical stories for their symbolic value to modern Israel. ''I think that the young generation -- at least on the liberal side -- will be more open and willing to listen,'' he said.

Still, considerable disagreement exists among archaeologists on how to interpret many recent finds. And the new theories about ancient Israel are emerging against the backdrop of a raging dispute over the biblical ''minimalists,'' a group of scholars who argue that biblical accounts of early Israel, including the stories of David and Solomon, have little, if any, basis in history.

(This debate was recently fought out in a lively issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review, a bimonthly magazine published in Washington, in which one of the minimalists, the British scholar Philip Davies, wrote that biblical accounts of early Israel were purely theological, not historical. In response, a major critic of the minimalists, the American archaeologist William Dever, wrote that ample physical evidence pointed to early Israelites living in the region's highlands 3,200 years ago, two centuries before the time of David and Solomon.)
(...)

Marcus said that such discoveries illustrate how archaeology can restore information ''left on the cutting room floor,'' as it were, by those who compiled the biblical narrative. ''Archaeology is giving you back all this history,'' she said. ''So archaeology doesn't just deconstruct the Bible, but reconstructs it.''
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Books

42. A bite of religion
Source: Belfast News Letter
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link
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A group of Christian believers in the United States, who literally take St Mark, chapter 16, verses 17-18 as a central tenet of their faith, describe themselves as Signs Followers.

Various accounts of this peculiar southern Appalachian sect have centred on the more sensational aspects of their religion: picking up poisonous snakes, drinking strychnine, handling fire, speaking in tongues, healing the sick and casting out devils.

But when closely examined, they come across as a sincere if somewhat misunderstood group of people, with a deep faith and unshakable convictions. Tennessee husband and wife authors Fred Brown and Jeanne McDonald found this when extensively researchingfor their latest book The Serpent HandlersOff-site Link.

They focused on families in the sect from Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and Georgia, interestingly all of whom derive an 18th century Ulster-Scots family background.

Those two verses in St Mark state: ''And these signs shall follow them that believe: in My name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; theyshall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.''

No country has greater religious diversity than the United States and it is ironic that what is likely America's most unique sect, the serpent-handling religion, is so poorly understood and its followers so often maligned.

Serpent handling in religious services has been outlawed by several American states, but the sect continues to flourish in the Appalachian region, related as it is to the three great strands of American Protestantism: Holiness, Fundamentalism andPentecostalism.

Every weekend in the Appalachian states, preachers and elders arrive at serpent-handling churches with a Bible in one hand and a serpent box in the other. The serpent boxes are set near the front of the church and often the preacher begins by statingwhat all believers of the sect know: ''There is death in that box.''

However, it is not death that is of concern to the serpent handlers, it is eternal life.
(...)

Charles Prince was a serpent handler Fred Brown got to know intimately, but in 1985 Charles paid with his life after being bitten by a snake in the Apostolic Church at Greeneville in East Tennessee. Prince's trademark was to grab armfuls of serpents andhold them in a kind of embrace close to his chest.

On the fateful night he had his usual armload of deadly serpents, but this time several hit him on the shoulders and hands. Undaunted, he grabbed his Mason jar of strychnine from the pulpit and slugged it down.

''It's the feathers of strychnine!'' he proclaimed. After the first swallow, Charles shouted : ''He's a good God. He don't put out the flames. He just takes away the pain.''

Two days later, Charles Prince died. His pain was excruciating, but he refused to be taken to hospital. At the end, blood spouted from his pores as the venom destroyed nerves, bone, and tissue. A coroner said later that it was as if a bomb had detonated inside his body.
(...)

Personal comments from the snake handlers provide the real insight into their psyche:

''We are not trying to prove our faith when we take up serpents. It is not for a blessing. It is not to prove your faith, but it is to confirm the Word of God'' - John Brown, Parrotsville, Tennessee.
(...)

Fred Brown says that in Galatians, Paul wrote: ''The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace long-suffering gentleness, goodness and faith.''

He observes: ''All these words define the character of the serpent handlers, who deserve respect for their bravery in following their heartfelt convictions.''
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43. Review: Is anybody out there?
CNN. July 28, 2000
http://www.cnn.com/Off-site Link
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''Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the UniverseOff-site Link''
By Peter D. Ward and David Brownlee
Copernicus Books
Nonfiction/Science
333 pages

(CNN) -- The notion that life existed anywhere in the universe besides Earth was once laughable in the scientific community. Over the past thirty years or so, the laughter has died away. As the vast scale of the Universe has become clearer, the notion that life could have arisen only on Earth seems increasingly unlikely. The law of averages alone would suggest that there must be many places in the cosmos that harbor life.

''Not so fast,'' say Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee. The two professors at the University of Washington argue that the recent trend in scientific thought has gone too far. They suggest that even if the universe is teeming with life, complex organisms are not likely to appear on many -- if any -- planets besides our own. They make their case in ''Rare Earth.''

The authors draw on a wide variety of scientific disciplines, from geology to paleontology to astrophysics, as they lay out the evidence that Earth may be a singular habitat for animal life. Indeed, they call this compendium of sciences ''astrobiology,'' the study of life throughout the universe. They also admit that all of their conjectures about how life might evolve on other planets are based entirely on one example -- how life evolved on Earth. But they argue that example is rich enough in detail to provide clues about how the process might work everywhere.
(...)

''Rare Earth'' poses many thought-provoking questions. Ward and Brownlee make their case forcefully. And yet, there's something not quite convincing about it. Perhaps it's because all of their conjectures about life on other planets are based on the only example available to examine -- life on Earth. Even an example as rich in diversity as terrestrial life certainly cannot encompass all of the possible ways evolution can work.

Still, as radio telescopes sweep the skies and earthbound researchers strain to pick up anything that might be a signal from extraterrestrial beings, ''Rare Earth'' may offer an explanation for why we haven't heard anything yet.
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