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Religion News Report

December 6, 2000 (Vol. 4, Issue 293) - 3/3

arrow Latest: Religion News Blog
Rainbow


» Continued from Part 2

=== Other News
24. Indian astrologer killed by annoyed clients over wrong predictions
25. Red tape may force Salvation Army to retreat from Moscow
26. Battle of Prayers / With Philippine president fighting impeachment, faith emerges as political weapon
27. 1,000 minds aim to think alike in a telepathy test
28. Papua New Guinea/USA: US religious TV station to begin broadcasting

=== Death Penalty / Human Rights Violations
29. Activists urge Clinton to suspend federal executions
30. 17 Americans executed for crimes committed as juveniles since 1973

=== Noted
31. Fears media controls are a stalking-horse
32. Scholars question media treatment of `other' religions
33. Rasta Homeland
34. Innovators. Time 100: The Next Wave

=== Books
35. Unofficial aid adds to Harry Potter cult


=== Other News

24. Indian astrologer killed by annoyed clients over wrong predictions
AFP, Dec. 4, 2000
http://sg.dailynews.yahoo.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
An astrologer was murdered by three disgruntled clients in southern India because he refused to reimburse their fees after making wrong predictions, the United News of India reported Monday.
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25. Red tape may force Salvation Army to retreat from Moscow
The Daily Telegraph, Dec. 4, 2000
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
The Salvation Army may have to retreat from Moscow after falling foul of Russian red tape and growing hostility to foreign Christian organisations.

Its Moscow corps has been told by a court that, as a ''militarised'' body taking orders from abroad, it has no right to register with the local authorities.

Its lack of official status threatens to force the closure of its Moscow mission after Dec 31, the deadline imposed by a controversial Russian law for religious organisations to re-register with the Justice Ministry.
(...)

It now operates in 14 Russian cities, delivering meals-on-wheels, running soup kitchens, visiting hospitals, prisons and orphanages, and holding Bible studies.
(...)

The Salvation Army's efforts to re-register in compliance with the law have already taken two years and cost more than pounds 10,000 in legal fees. After this week's setback, it must now decide whether to take its case to the Supreme Court.

''The most troubling aspect of all this is that we want to preach our ministry to ordinary people,'' said Colonel Kenneth Baillie, the Salvation Army's commander in Russia. ''Instead, we are spending time and money in paperchases and law suits. It is like a black hole in which officials take no responsibility for their actions.'' It is unclear what will happen to the Salvation Army in Moscow in the New Year if its status is not clarified before the deadline expires. But, unregistered, it will be vulnerable to pressure from any bureaucrat who wants to make trouble.

''We will pull out at whatever stage we decide that the Moscow city authorities are resolute in trying to liquidate us,'' said Col Baillie.

Founded by the British preacher William Booth in the 19th century, the Salvation Army, with its record of fighting poverty in big cities, would seem ideally suited to help the needy and distressed in post-communist Russia. However, after lobbying from the Orthodox Church, Russia has enacted draconian legislation restricting the activities of foreign missionaries and protecting ''native'' faiths such as Orthodoxy and Islam.

Only a successful appeal to the Supreme Court or a ruling that the Salvation Army can be registered nationally, rather than in individual cities, can now save its Moscow operations.
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26. Battle of Prayers / With Philippine president fighting impeachment, faith emerges as political weapon
The San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 5, 2000
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
(...) As the country waits for Estrada's impeachment trial to begin Thursday in the Senate, the fight over the future of his presidency has turned into a battle of prayers -- underscoring the power of faith and religion as political weapons in Asia's only predominantly Christian nation.

The crisis began several weeks ago when one of Estrada's close friends accused him of receiving millions of dollars in illegal gambling payoffs and tobacco taxes. This was followed by allegations in newspapers and television reports that Estrada had purchased million-dollar mansions for mistresses.

''The whole crisis has been cast as a moral question,'' said political analyst Alex Magno. ''The churches are still the only nationwide network apart from government. They can bring millions to the streets.''

Historically, churches and the clergy have played a big role in Philippine politics. Under Spanish rule, Filipino priests joined the anticolonial movement. And during the regime of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, priests and nuns joined opposition groups, including the underground left.

The moral issues raised in the debacle over Estrada have prompted even conservative evangelical movements to take a stand.

Most of the Philippine Christian sects preach complete obedience to God based on the teachings of the Bible. They claim to be apolitical, although they often accommodate politicians who attend their services to rally support for secular causes.

In sharp contrast to the formality of the mainstream Catholic Church, these movements use joyful singing and praying at rallies to attract mostly low-income citizens.

Still, the official church remains an influential force.

Among the first public figures to call for Estrada's resignation was Manila's influential Cardinal Jaime Sin, who together with Aquino and Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo led a big anti-Estrada demonstration near the monument to the People Power Revolution in Manila on Oct. 11.

Sin declared that Estrada had lost the moral authority to lead and should step down.
(...)

At Luneta Park in Manila, Brother Eddie Villanueva, leader of the Jesus is Lord Movement, led a prayer rally attended by about 20,000 followers and opposition leaders, including Arroyo.

Like most other evangelical leaders, Villanueva preaches Scripture- based piety and personal integrity.
(...)

Estrada has tried to counter the opposition's attacks by stressing Christian themes of forgiveness and reconciliation. He also has sought to portray himself as a victim of the country's elite being punished for his efforts to help the poor.

At a rally of about 20,000 followers of the Jesus Miracle Crusade, religious leaders called Estrada their 'beloved president.''
(...)

For many El Shaddai members, Estrada is a man who may have committed mistakes but is still a leader to be respected.

The president got his biggest boost at a huge demonstration last month by hundreds of thousands of El Shaddai members in Manila.
(...)

El Shaddai claims a membership of about 7 million devotees. Its leader, Brother Mike Velarde, routinely asks his followers to raise their wallets so he can bless them and bring good financial fortune. Sometimes, they raise their passports to be blessed so they can get the visa they need to travel and work abroad.

Velarde has been Estrada's spiritual adviser since he took office two years ago. But Velarde is reportedly being pressured by the Catholic Church to join the call for Estrada's resignation.
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27. 1,000 minds aim to think alike in a telepathy test
The Daily Telegraph (England), Dec. 4, 2000
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Scientists are putting the paranormal to the test this week in Britain's biggest telepathy experiment.

Around 1,000 people will try to transmit an image projected on to a building into the mind of a volunteer in a sealed room. The experiment, designed by Dr Richard Wiseman, a psychologist, is an attempt to discover whether extra sensory perception, or ESP, can be boosted by a large number of people.

Despite decades of scientific research, the evidence for telepathy remains weak. Just a handful of studies around the world claim to have found evidence of psychic phenomena. The most famous was carried out at Edinburgh University a couple of years ago, but has been impossible to repeat.

The new attempt, which takes place in London on Thursday, is the largest ESP experiment since a series of six concerts by the rock group the Grateful Dead in New York in 1971. Then, 2,000 people attempted to transmit an image to two sleeping volunteers who claimed to have telepathic abilities. The results were inconclusive.

Dr Wiseman, of Hertfordshire University, will repeat the experiment on Thursday by projecting images to a crowd.
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28. Papua New Guinea/USA: US religious TV station to begin broadcasting
BBC Monitoring, Dec. 5, 2000
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Text of report from 'Papua New Guinea Post-Courier' web site on 5th December
The government has given approval to an American religious television station to begin broadcasting in the country in six months' time. The Papua New Guinea Telecommunication Authority (Pangtel) yesterday granted a nationwide noncommercial television broadcast licence to Danny Shelton, president of the 3ABN (3 Angels Broadcasting Network), in Port Moresby.
(...)

The television company is an independent one, supporting the ministry of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, based in Illinois, United States of America. When thanking the government and Pangtel for granting the licence, Mr Shelton said the occasion signified a reality for 3ABN to begin 24-hour broadcast in the country, presenting a great message of the three angels found in the Book of Revelations to the world.

The station is the second largest owner of LPT TV station in America, which has 88 TV stations all over America. The station is also established in more than 100 cities with facilities also in Russia. Since June this year 3ABN had established a stabilized system which enables it to shoot satellite signals to all five continents.
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=== Death Penalty / Human Rights Violations

29. Activists urge Clinton to suspend federal executions
CNN/AP, Dec. 5, 2000
http://www.cnn.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Civil rights activists on Tuesday urged President Bill Clinton to put a moratorium on federal executions while officials try to resolve ''nagging questions'' about racial and ethnic disparities in capital punishment.

The White House said Clinton is carefully weighing his response to a flurry of letters asking that he halt the Dec. 12 execution of Juan Raul Garza, a marijuana-ring boss convicted in Texas of three murders in 1990 and 1991. Garza could be the first federal death row inmate to be executed in 37 years.
(...)

In a letter dated December 1, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights said Garza is ''emblematic of the inequities'' in the way the federal death sentence is issued. They noted that before 1995, all capital defendants in Texas were Hispanic.
(...)

Besides those from the civil rights community, Clinton also received letters, dated Monday, from 500 law professors and more than 70 religious leaders.

''There is strong evidence that Americans are troubled that capital punishment is not administered equitably,'' the clergy wrote. ''To execute Mr. Garza at a time of such ferment and debate is to act precipitously.''
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30. 17 Americans executed for crimes committed as juveniles since 1973
AP, Dec. 4, 2000
http://www.cnn.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
NEW YORK (AP) -- Since 1973, 17 men have been executed in the United States for crimes committed as juveniles, including four this year, according to the Justice Department.
(...)

Of the 38 states that have the death penalty, 23 permit the execution of offenders who committed capital crimes before turning 18. Such policies were upheld in a 1988 Supreme Court ruling.

The United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child states that crimes committed by a juvenile should not result in execution or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

President Clinton signed the convention in 1995, but the U.S. Senate has not ratified it. According to the Justice Department, the United States and Somalia are the only U.N. members who have not ratified the accord.
(...)

Amnesty International says the United States is one of six countries that has executed prisoners since 1990 who were under 18 at the time of their crime. The other countries, according to the human rights group, are Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
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=== Noted

31. Fears media controls are a stalking-horse
South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), Dec. 6, 2000
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
In 1994, sarin nerve gas was released near a court building in Matsumoto in Nagano prefecture. This was nearly a year before the sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system and at first police had no suspects and no leads.

Looking for someone to arrest, police settled on the man who first alerted them to the noxious gas and who lived nearby. They found ''chemicals'' in his garden shed. Experts scoffed at the idea that a sophisticated nerve agent like sarin could be mixed in a garden outhouse with just a few household chemicals.

But police told the media they had their man, Yoshiyuki Kono, and the press fell on him with a vengeance. He was labelled a poisoner, his family and friends were investigated and even his ancestors were blamed for a genetic imperfection that caused him to poison the neighbourhood.

When the religious cult Aum Shinri Kyo launched its nerve gas attack in Tokyo the following year, Mr Kono was finally vindicated. He was angry with Aum Shinri Kyo, he was angry with the police, but most of all he was angry with the media, which had found him guilty before he had a chance to prove his innocence.

That case more than any other has highlighted the Japanese media's abuse of human rights. But while many journalists admit to imperfections in the system, they are now worried that the pendulum is about to swing too far the other way. The Government plans to introduce a bill next month that would protect privacy and human rights. The effect could be the biggest muzzle on the Japanese media since the end of the US occupation 46 years ago.

Officially, the bill comes in response to a United Nations request that Japan fall into line with other countries in protecting personal data. But by including the media in this clampdown, the law will go far beyond that.
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32. Scholars question media treatment of `other' religions
Religion News Service, Dec. 4, 2000
[URL removed because it currently refers to inappropriate content]/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- American media have misconstrued the impact of Eastern religions in global politics and conflicts since the days of Vietnam, scholars told the recent annual meeting here of the American Academy of Religion.

As faiths, including Buddhism, have grown in America, the media also have misappropriated images from Eastern religions, academicians said during a seminar titled ''Framing the Other.''

The session was one of 400 drawing thousands of scholars to Nashville's Opryland Hotel for the joint meeting of the academy and the Society of Biblical Literature.
(...)

At the latter, academicians explored how Asian religions have fared in the United States, examining present and historical media attention to Buddhism and Hinduism. They concluded that such faiths' significance too often is ignored or underestimated.

In the 1960s, when Vietnamese monks immolated themselves to protest the Vietnam War, American reporters -- with only a couple of exceptions -- ignored Buddhism's long history in the region. Instead of examining the religion's role in Vietnam's life, Western media usually allowed its coverage to be shaped by a ''skewed portrait'' of Buddhism as a rationalist philosophy, said Diane Winston of the Pew Charitable Trusts in Philadelphia.

''Religion is marginalized because it is considered anathema in the political arena,'' Winston said. The same misinterpretations held sway 15 years later when Shiite Muslims toppled Iran's goverment and once again in 1993 during the Branch Davidian stand-off with federal agents in Waco, Texas, she said.

Religion seems to get short shrift in television and print reporting unless the context is easy to define, said Christopher Parr of Webster University in St. Louis.
(...)

Media fads tend to disappear almost as quickly as they make headlines, Parr said. Despite a splash of media attention to everything from the Dalai Lama to Hollywood movies about Buddhism, that faith may have resisted media exploitation, Parr said. Another faith of Eastern origin, Hinduism, has not fared as well.

Buddhism may be treated with more seriousness because, like Catholic priests, its saffron-robed monks are readily identified, he said.

The crux of the matter may be America's tendency to define itself as a ''culture of images,'' said Stewart M. Hoover of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Because they still seem exotic in a nation dominated by Christians and Jews, Asian religions tend to still be characterized as ancient and tribal, Hoover said.

An American shift from conspicuous consumption to simplicity feeds national interest in faiths such as Buddhism that stress self-denial and meditation, said Stephen Prothero of Boston University, another panelist at the session.
(...)

The news media still often view religion as too controversial to tackle, but part of the problem confronted by Asian religions may explain their lack of organized opposition to less-than-serious portrayals. As American religion becomes more pluralistic, newer faith arrivals may prove less willing to suffer such treatment, the scholars suggested.
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33. Rasta Homeland
San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 4, 2000
http://www.sfgate.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
The voluminous plumes of marijuana smoke that stream from Isaiah Kelly's mouth obscure the creases and wrinkles of a face aged prematurely by hardship.

Two years ago, the 69-year-old furniture maker fulfilled a lifetime dream and doctrine of his Rastafarian faith -- to leave the modern culture sect members call ''Babylon'' and return to Ethiopia, or the ''Holy Land.''
(...)

There are growing signs, however, that the enthusiasm of a ''Back to Africa'' movement that enticed Kelly to leave his Jamaica home for a town of 250,000 called Shashemene is waning.

Two years ago, 200 Rastafarians were in Shashemene, which is located 150 miles south of Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa. Today, fewer than 40 remain.

The expatriates are struggling to make a livelihood in one of the world's poorest nations.
(...)

''I won't pretend that life here is easy,'' Kelly said. ''But show me a place anywhere in the world where life is easy. We choose to live here because here we are close to God.''

Rastafarians are members of a Christian Orthodox sect that considers former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie to be a black Messiah. Selassie, who was a Christian, ruled from 1930 to 1974. When he visited Jamaica in 1966, he was said to be puzzled by Rastafarians who tried to worship him. He died in 1975 at age 83 while under house arrest following the military coup that ushered in the repressive rule of Mengistu Haile Mariam.

Shashemene's Rastafarians live simply, spending their days farming their plots, attending daily church services and smoking considerable amounts of marijuana. Rastafarians consider ''herb'' to be holy. According to Kelly, God commands them to smoke as a way to achieve closeness to him.

''If you are meditating and doing good, the herb will develop that goodness within you. It will help you develop your relationship with God,'' he said.

Although marijuana smoking is associated with criminality throughout Ethiopia, many town residents are used to Rasta culture and are uncritical of the foreigners.

''We Ethiopians don't believe that Haile Selassie was a God,'' said Sammy Tadesse, ''but we are proud that black people in the West look at Ethiopia as an important country.''
(...)

There are no records of how many actually came to Ethiopia, but no great migration followed. In fact, most Rastafarians today say they are more interested in African spirituality than in actually living in Africa.

Kelly, however, says poverty and red tape are the major reasons Rastafarians have not migrated en masse to Ethiopia.

''We were taken from Africa without money, passports or visas,'' he said as he took a deep drag from an enormous joint that clung to his bottom lip. ''Why should we need these things to come back again?''
[...]

[Sidebar: Religious Roots]
(...)

Today, Rastafarianism has split into several factions, but the deification of Selassie remains central to the religion. It is a worldwide religious movement, whose worshipers mainly live on Caribbean islands, Western Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia and some African nations. The membership of what has been called the most dynamic religious movement in Jamaica may be as large as 100,000.
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34. Innovators. Time 100: The Next Wave
TIME Canada, Dec. 11, 2000
http://www.canoe.ca/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
''Your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions,'' wrote the prophet Joel. That may seem the definition of the spiritual enterprise, but in the past few years it has not described mainstream religion in America or the rest of the West. Catholicism and the Protestant mainline have occupied themselves with the less glamorous task of figuring out how changing social norms on issues like homosexuality fit into visions seemingly codified long ago.

Even America's evangelical community, usually at the nation's vital and visionary edge, has been uncharacteristically subdued as it ponders a retreat from the political activism of the 1980s and '90s.

That leaves the dreaming to the folks on their country's cultural margins or, more specifically, to those intent on sharing the margins' insights with the mainstream. A gifted preacher has pulled African-American Pentecostalism onto center stage--and attracted the attention of white presidential candidates. A priest-academic has taken the stigma of Hispanic otherness and transformed it into a triumphant Catholic theology of mestizaje. A university professor, using her own life as an illustration, is opening Tibetan Buddhism to a large audience of African Americans.

The prophet Joel certainly didn't have Tibetan Buddhism in mind when he addressed his Jewish audience in the 5th century B.C. But that's the beauty of the dreams and visions of religion: you never know who may have them next.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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* Includes segments on Catholicism, Pentecostalism (T.D. Jakes), Falun Gong, New Age, Islam, and Buddhism.


=== Books

35. Unofficial aid adds to Harry Potter cult
The Guardian (England), Dec. 4, 2000
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Four Harry Potter books, an imminent eight-hour Harry Potter radio broadcast and a Harry Potter movie in production. Now, as if by magic, Harry Potter - the study aid.

Exploring Harry Potter by Elizabeth D Schafer is billed as many things - part literary criticism, part guide, part compendium of the children's publishing sensation - and is aimed at parents, teachers, student readers, librarians and researchers.

But it is also, as the publishers Ebury Press acknowledge on the cover, ''NOT approved by JK Rowling'', who created the boy magician.
(...)

The book also offers a biography of JK Rowling, a guide to mythology, biblical references, science, magic and witchcraft. There is a chapter by chapter guide to the books, divided into synopsis, themes, symbols, myths and legends and vocabulary development.

Ms Schafer, who has a doctorate in the history of science and technology from Auburn University in Alabama, said Harry Potter represented nothing less than the essence of being human. ''He shows that anything is possible if you work hard enough and believe in yourself.''
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