Happiness is Living in the Moment

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IN 1963, American inventor Harvey Ball was hired by an insurance company to come up with a symbol to help improve company morale.

In about 10 minutes Bell came up with the now-famous yellow circle with dots for eyes and a big curvy grin.

Soon his little face was emblazoned on bumper stickers, coffee mugs, and, most famously, boxer shorts.

The symbol for happiness even ended up on a postage stamp.

Bell never copyrighted the symbol and sold it for $45 to the insurance company, so he didn’t make another cent, but that never bothered him.

He said: “Hey, I can only eat one steak at a time.”

Now there’s a wise man who understood that  money cannot buy real happiness.

The great psychologist Carl Jung talked about the instinctive hunger of humans to live as they are meant to live, to know they have used their time on Earth well and not wasted it.

To know the world will be different for their having passed through it.

We will always have unfulfilled dreams, hungers that will never be satisfied and frustrations at our own inadequacies.

If wealth cannot bring happiness, what can? Intelligence?

“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know,” said the ultimately sad author Ernest Hemingway.

And several studies confirm that.

Author and priest Ron Rolheiser said we often ask ourselves the wrong question in our quest to find happiness.

The question should not be: Am I happy? Rather the questions should be: Is my life meaningful? Is there meaning in my life?

“We need to ask the deep questions about our lives in terms of meaning rather than in terms of happiness because, for the most part, we have a false, over-idealised, and unrealistic concept of happiness,” he said.

C.S. Lewis said that happiness and unhappiness colour backwards: If our lives end up happy, we realise that we have always been happy even through the difficult times.

And if our lives end up unhappy we realise that we have always been unhappy, even during the pleasurable periods.

Where we end up ultimately in terms of meaning will determine whether our lives have been happy or unhappy.

Jesus told men and women how to be happy by giving, not in getting.

In compassion rather than acquisition.

“The kingdom of God is within you,” he said.

Understand that and you find the joy that passes all human understanding.

Rabbi Harold Kushner said it was not dying that frightened people, it was the fear of dying with the sense we were never really alive. He said the secret was realising happiness did not derive from wealth, power, learning, indulgence or even religiosity, but from living fully in the moment, and risking the pain of giving ourselves to what really matters – understanding that we are loved creations.

Rabbi Kushner wrote that too many people believed in Murphy’s Law that anything that could go wrong would.

“At the divine level there is another opposite law: anything that should be set right sooner or later will,” he said.

Rebels with a cause

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If you think you’re too much of a rebel for God to love, think again….

” I have come to know a God who has a soft spot for rebels, who recruits people like the adulterer David, the whiner Jeremiah, the traitor Peter, and the human-rights abuser Saul of Tarsus. I have come to know a God whose Son made prodigals the heroes of his stories and the trophies of his ministry. ”

Philip Yancey

The black doll/white doll experiment

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IN the 1940s, psychologists asked a group of black American children which of two almost identical dolls they liked most. The only difference was colour.

One was white and the other black. The black children invariably picked the white doll.
Asked which doll was good, most children again picked the white one. And most described the black doll, the one that looked more like them, as “bad” or “ugly”.

The psychologists concluded this was proof of internalised racism. Perhaps a sign of the times.

But a more recent study came up with the same results. Filmmaker Kiri Davis recreated the experiment with 21 black children in New York.
In her powerful seven-minute documentary, A Girl Like Me, Kiri presented the children, 4 and 5, with two almost identical dolls — a black and white one.
Their conclusion was the same as the children in the 1940s.

“These children, even though they are four and five years old, they’re kind of like a mirror and they show exactly what they’ve been exposed to by society,” Ms Davis said.
We are bombarded with messages about what it means to be beautiful, good and likeable. We see ourselves through the perception of others.
And often we are not happy about the verdict. We often want to appear different.

C.J. Walker, the first African-American millionaire, hawked skin lighteners and hair straighteners to blacks at the turn of the 20th century.

One of the most popular products in contemporary India claims to make black skins look whiter.

Nothing is so commonplace as the wish to be considered attractive.

Millions of men and women, uncomfortable with their body images, turn to plastic surgery and hair implants.

The pharmaceutical companies make millions selling drugs to numb self-doubters while motivational speakers work hard to convince us we are OK.

It is an endless and futile struggle to think well of ourselves by pretending to be what we are not.

The well-worn messages of the self-help industry seek to elevate our ordinary narcissistic impulses into a religion.

Finding our true selves is realising we are made in God’s image.

God sees each of us as a precious treasure: beautiful beyond our imaginations.
Understanding that, we can begin to change.

God loves us the way we are, but too much to leave us that way.. We can come to know that beauty isn’t always pretty.

It can be revealed in the perfection of a Michelangelo sculpture, but also in the wrinkles of an old woman or old man on the street; in the smile of a homeless person or in the people the world sees as plain and ordinary.

 

Breathe!

You say: It’s impossible. God says: All things are possible (Luke 18:27[\

You say: “I’m too tired.” God says: I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28-30)

You say: “Nobody really loves me.” God says: I love you. (John 3:16 & John 13:34)

You say: “I can’t go on.” God says: My grace is sufficient. (2 Corinthians 12:9 & Psalm 91:15)

You say: “I can’t figure things out.” God says: I will direct your steps. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

You say: “I can’t do it.” God says: You can do all things. (Philippians 4:13)

You say: “I’m not able.” God says: I am able. (2 Corinthians 9:8)

You say: “It’s not worth it.” God says: It will be worth it. (Romans 8:28)

You say: “I can’t forgive myself.” God says: I FORGIVE YOU. (1 John 1:9 & Romans 8:1)

You say: “I can’t manage.” God says: I will supply all your needs.(Philippians 4:19)

You say: “I’m afraid.” God says: I have not given you a spirit of fear.(2 Timothy 1:7)

You say: “I’m always worried and frustrated.” God says: Cast all your cares on ME. (1 Peter 5:7)

You say: “I don’t have enough faith.” God says: I’ve given everyone a measure of faith.(Romans 12:3)

You say: “I’m not smart enough.” God says: I give you wisdom. (1 Corinthians 1:30)

You say: “I feel all alone.” God says: I will never leave you or forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5)

Australian churches offer sanctuary to asylum seekers facing deportation

TEN Churches and cathedrals in Australia are offering sanctuary to asylum seekers who have suffered trauma and abuse to prevent their return to Nauru.

On Wednesday the high court ruled Australia’s offshore detention regime on Nauru had been lawfully established.

The decision means that up to 267 asylum seekers on the mainland could be sent back to the island nation, where a large number of serious sexual assaults have been reported. A Senate inquiry also raised serious concerns about conditions on Nauru, where infant children are being held.

The right to sanctuary, while not now recognised under common law in Australia or other jurisdictions, is a biblical concept that had legal basis during the middle ages.

The Anglican Dean of Brisbane, the Very Reverend Dr Peter Catt, said he was prepared to be charged with an offence for obstruction by trying to prevent federal authorities from entering the cathedral grounds.

“We offer this refuge because there is irrefutable evidence from health and legal experts that the circumstances asylum seekers, especially children, would face if sent back to Nauru are tantamount to state-sanctioned abuse,” he told ABC Radio National on Thursday.

There is an offence under Australian law for “concealing and harbouring non-citizens”, which could potentially be used against the heads of churches seeking to prevent asylum seekers from being deported.

Other Anglican churches and affiliated chapels offering sanctuary are:

  • St Cuthbert’s Anglican church, Darlington, Western Australia
  • Wesley Uniting church, Perth
  • Gosford Anglican church, Sydney
  • Pilgrim Uniting church, Adelaide
  • St John’s Uniting church, Essendon
  • Paddington Anglican church, Sydney
  • Pitt Street Uniting church, Sydney
  • Wayside Chapel, Sydney

Scientists On The Possibility Of God

The astronomer and scientist Galileo Galilei was famously convicted of heresy by the Roman Catholic Church for supporting the theory that the planets revolved around the sun. In private letters, he confirmed that his beliefs hadn’t changed.

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Known as the founder of the scientific method, Sir Francis Bacon believed that gathering and analyzing data in an organized way was essential to scientific progress. An Anglican, Bacon believed in the existence of God.

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Charles Darwin is best known for his theory of evolution. On the question of God, Darwin admitted in letters to friends that his feelings often fluctuated. He had a hard time believing that an omnipotent God would have created a world filled with so much suffering. But at the same time, he wasn’t content to conclude that this “wonderful universe” was the result of “brute force.”

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Maria Mitchell was America’s first female astronomer and the first woman to be named to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She was born into a Quaker family, but began to question her denomination’s teachings in her twenties. She was eventually disowned from membership and for the rest of her life, didn’t put much importance on church doctrines or attendance. Instead she said she was a seeker,

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Marie Curie, a physicist, was brought up in the Catholic faith, but reportedly became agnostic in her teens. She went on to become the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. Both Marie and her husband Pierre Curie did not follow any specific religion.

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Albert Einstein, one of the most well-known physicists of the 20th century, was born into a secular Jewish family. As an adult, he tried to avoid religious labels, rejecting the idea of a “personal God,” but at the same time, separating himself from “fanatical atheists” whom he believed were unable to hear “the music of the spheres.” 

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Astronomer Carl Sagan is best known for hosting the TV series “Cosmos.” He rejected the label of “atheist” because he was open to the possibility that science would perhaps one day find compelling evidence to prove God.

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Francis Collins is the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In a 2007 book about the intersection between science and faith, Collins described how he converted from atheism to Christianity and attempts to argue that the idea of a Christian God is compatible with Darwin’s theory of evolution.

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Martin Luther King Predicted the Decline of the Mainline Church

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FIFTY years ago this April, Martin Luther King, Jr. sat in a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama and wrote a letter to moderate clergymen in white mainline churches. In it he expressed his disappointment in the church’s inability to be a people formed more by a vision of Jesus than by fear of cultural rejection.

Luther King wrote:

 If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning..

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/derek-penwell/disgusted-young-people-ho_b_9008848.html?utm_hp_ref=religion

Musing on the mystery

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THE Greek philosopher Xenophanes, writing 2500 years ago, said if horses had hands, they would surely paint God in their own image.
Xenophanes noted that Ethiopians of his time painted their gods black, while some northern Europeans painted their divine images with red hair and blue eyes.
“Mortals deem that the gods are begotten as they are, and have clothes, face and form like theirs,” he said.
Early 20th-century historian Wilhelm Schmidt suggested the belief in one God — the Sky God — was a primitive notion long before men and women began worshipping a number of gods.
The Sky God, believed to govern human affairs from afar, became so distant and exalted that he disappeared, says Schmidt. He was replaced by lesser but more accessible and more easily depicted gods.
History reveals that when one perception of God has ceased to have relevance, it is discarded and quietly replaced.
Most of our descriptive notions of God are, and have always been, man-made.
The major world religions have agreed it is impossible to describe God in normal conceptual language.
Jews have always been forbidden from pronouncing the sacred name of God, and Muslims are banned from depicting the divine in paintings.
French philosopher Rene Descartes said it was natural for humans to have “more admiration for the things above us than for those on our level and below”.
He railed against painters depicting clouds as God’s throne and depicting God Himself as sprinkling dew on the clouds or hurling lightning against the rocks.
Descartes said clouds, wind, dew and lightning were mere physical events and no cause of marvel or belief in God.
He was more interested in his God of the philosophers.
The three monotheistic faiths — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — claim God is the supreme reality; a personal being, bodiless, omnipresent, creator and sustainer of the universe.
The theory is that if the physical universe had a beginning, as most religions believe, God caused the beginning. But if not, God kept the universe in being for all past time.
The argument of God’s omnipotence supposes He can do whatever He chooses.
But could He change the rules of logic to make two and two equal five for instance? Or change the past, or make something exist and not exist at the same time?
Descartes considered these possibilities and concluded that although God could probably do such things, he would not.
Thomas Aquinas wrote a pamphlet entitled How the omnipotent God is said to be incapable of certain things, and listed around 20 such things.
Other unanswerable questions that have occupied great minds through history include: does God have a body? If not, then how can you have a “personal” relationship with a God who seems invisible and silent?
THE great Arabic philosopher Averroes (1126-1198) searched for a comprehensive definition of the divine.
He said simple-minded believers would say God was in heaven. A man “of trained mind”, knowing God could not be represented as a physical entity in space, would say God was everywhere.
But Averroes said that formula, too, was likely to be wrong.
“The philosopher more adequately expresses the purely spiritual nature of God when he asserts that God is nowhere but in Himself; in fact, rather than saying God is in space, he might more justly say that space and matter are in God.”
Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet, said: “Think of a heart that contains all your hearts, a love that encompasses all your loves, a spirit that encompasses all your spirits, and a silence deeper than all your silences, and timeless.
“It is wiser to speak less of God, whom we can not understand, and more of each other, whom we may understand. Yet I would have you know we are the breadth and fragrance of God.
“We are God in leaf, in flower, and oftentimes in fruit.”

Who is really successful?

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IN an age of great freedoms and affluence, the most common psychiatric problems have shifted from guilt to depression.

Secular societies judge only by results and those who fail by societal standards, who are not productive and successful, or athletic enough, are often deemed failures.

But success often seems to contain the seeds of its own failure. The rich are not any happier than the poor. Nor the famous and powerful any more self-assured than the unknown.

And the truth is that God of the Christians, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists and Muslims does not care who wins a football game or an Olympic gold medal.

The Lord’s Prayer says nothing about “winning the game”, and winning at Who Wants To Be A Millionaire will not make life worthwhile.

True spirituality is concerned with filling a natural hunger in the soul for meaning.

English philosopher Jeremy Bentham said the identification of what makes us happy was easy. An action’s tendency to promote happiness could be determined simply by adding up the amount of pleasure it produced and subtracting the pain.

John Stuart Mill thought this crude and recognised that happiness depended not only on the quantity but also the quality of pleasures, including the higher pleasures of the intellect and “moral sentiments”.

Aristotle linked happiness with ideas of fulfilment and self-realisation. They all still judged happiness by human standards.

Jewish author Rabbi Harold Kushner has a different outlook on success and failure.
“If people only see what is measurable and visible, God sees into the heart. He sees successes where no one else does, not even ourselves.

“Only God can give credit for the angry words we did not speak, the temptations we resisted and the patience and kindness long forgotten by those around us.

“God redeems us from the sense of failure and fear of failure because He sees us as no human eyes can.”

Thomas Merton wrote 30 years ago that life was one great unity, brimming with meaning for those who allowed themselves to co-create with God.

He recognised the coming age of the New Age “be yourself” cults that would encourage followers to achieve individual success without offering any spiritual substance.

“It seems to me that when one is too intent on being himself, he runs the risk of impersonating a shadow,” he said.

“In any case, there is little chance of us being anyone else. We all live somehow or other and that’s that.”

Say hello to your cousins, Donald Trump

interworld

MATHEMATICAL studies of genealogy suggest everyone alive probably is related to Mohammed and Henry VIII.
And all of us are 40th cousins, at least, say computer scientists at Dublin City University and statisticians working independently at Yale University in the US.
If the theory is right, Donald Trump and the Muslim refugees are all related. So were Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon. So were Hermann Goering and Mother Teresa, Hitler and Gandhi.
The researchers suppose that the most recent common ancestor of every living person was someone in Europe about 600 years ago.
The theory is that 80 per cent of the population in 1400 were direct ancestors of all of us.
Such is the dense interconnectedness of the human family.
Scientists also believe that particles of air breathed by Cleopatra, Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha still circulate.
Albert Einstein once said a human was part of the whole “called by us universe, a part limited in time and space”.
Martin Luther King Jr said injustice anywhere was a threat to justice everywhere.
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality — tied to a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one, directly affects all indirectly,” he said.
“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat.”
He’s right, but that does not mean we all believe in the same ways.
The difficulty in interconnectedness is establishing some kind of genuine and lasting brotherhood in a world of religious and cultural pluralism.
In a few decades, Brazil, Nigeria, the Philippines, the Congo and the US are tipped to have 100 million Christians or more. The leading centre of Christianity will be Africa and Latin America..
By 2050, almost 20 of the 25 largest nations will be predominantly or entirely Christian or Muslim. The rest of the world is likely to be a smorgasbord of religions, or devoted to secularism.
And what of Australia? Surely it will be a land where Buddhist and Islamic temples will increasingly share streets with Christian churches. Living in religious isolation will be impossible.
We probably will be encouraged to express non-judgmental attitudes towards other faiths.
The official line may be that all religions are true. But it is more accurate to say most religions contain some elements of truth.
It is not true that God is revealed more or less equally through all religions. There are vastly contrary views of the universe and God in the Koran and the Bible, for instance. Hinduism has a plethora of gods and most branches of Buddhism ignore God.
Former US vice-president Al Gore expressed the problems of plurality when he said the roots of the global environmental crisis reflected the world’s inner spiritual confusion.
“We must heed the lessons of the past to build a better future,” said former Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
“We must speak the truth always, not compromise to spare another’s feelings. But we must also remember always to enhance the humanity of the other.”
Eastern philosopher Ram Das expressed hope amid pluralism.
“Remember, we are all affecting the world every moment, whether we mean to or not,” he said. “Our actions and states of mind matter, because we’re so deeply interconnected.”

World marks Holocaust Remembrance Day

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JANUARY 27  is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the date the United Nations has chosen to commemorate victims of the Holocaust during World War II. Six million Jews were murdered by Germany’s Nazi regime, along with 5 million non-Jews who were killed.

The anniversary, marked each year since 2005, falls on the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland by the Russian army in 1945. One million people died there.

The president of the European Parliament has warned of rising anti-Semitism as Holocaust Memorial Day is marked around the world.

The Parliament held its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day with the European Jewish Congress on the 71st anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

It came as Auschwitz survivors travelled to the camp in modern day Poland to lay flowers and remember those who were murdered by the Nazis.

Speaking at the memorial day event in Brussels, Mr Schulz warned that many Jews across Europe still do not feel safe.

He said: ‘Jewish life is part of our culture and our identity. Without the Jews, Europe would not be Europe. Therefore it hurts that in today’s Europe, Jews again live in fear.

He added: ‘Our collective memory of the Holocaust is fading fast, but if we allow the horrors of the past to fade into history, we are doomed to make the same mistakes again.

‘We need more that just ceremony and commemoration. When anti-Semitism is on the rise, when Jews are once again fleeing Europe.

‘When a murderous Islamic extremist ideology is threatening our existence, we need action as well as words.

‘It is time for our leaders to commit to a robust, unified and coordinated approach to tackling anti-Semitism and Islamic extremism.

‘We must all stand against hate refuse to allow history to repeat itself, making ‘never again’ a reality.’

 

 

Now that’s grace

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YOU’D think God would care most for those who acknowledge him and follow the rules. You’d expect him to give the greatest sinners a swift clip over the ears every now and then.
But what does God do? He blesses even those who break the rules, as well as the uncouth, people who don’t bother to attend church and those who don’t seem very nice at all.
It seems so unfair. But God has always acted that way. He makes friends with some odd people.
The movie Amadeus makes the point pretty well.
It tells of a pious and righteous 17th century composer, Antonio Salieri, who desperately prays God will give him the gift to create immortal music.
Instead, the gift is given to Salieri’s contemporary — the brattish, arrogant and ungrateful Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
God blessed Moses, a murderer, who led his people to freedom. And King David, an adulterer, whose liaison with another man’s wife resulted in the birth of the wise Solomon.
It’s because God’s grace is a gift that falls on all who will accept it. No one can earn God’s love or blessings. We don’t get to heaven by being good.
Grace is when God gives us what we don’t deserve and mercy is when God doesn’t give us what we deserve.
Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing About Grace, says grace contains the essence of the gospel as a drop of water can contain the image of the sun.
“It is Christianity’s best gift to the world, a spiritual nova in our midst exerting a force stronger than vengeance, stronger than racism and stronger than hate,” he said.
Grace, when it happens, usually takes us by surprise.
Yancey said we lived in an atmosphere chocked with the fumes of ungrace.
Yet grace is everywhere, like the lenses that go unnoticed because you are looking through them.
He tells the tale of a young and innocent teenage girl who leaves home on a whim and ends up as a prostitute and drug addict.
After a year, the child decides to go home, but worries her parents will reject her.
She leaves a message on their answering machine and jumps a bus to home.
On the way she prepares a little speech to her father: “Dad, can you forgive me. I’m sorry. It’s not your fault. It’s mine.”
Finally the bus arrives and she gets off, wondering whether anyone will be there to greet her.
And there stand 40 people aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters, grandparents, friends; all wearing goofy hats and blowing noise makers.
Out of the crowd comes her father. Through the tears, she begins her speech: “Dad, I’m sorry . . .”
He interrupts her as he takes her in his arms.
“Hush child,” he says, “We’ve got no time for that. No time for apologies. You’ll be late for the party. A banquet’s waiting for you at home.”
Now that’s grace.

Sixty-two people have the same amount of wealth as half the world, says Oxfam

Poorest-Countries-In-2015

JUST 62 people own as much wealth as the poorer half of the global population, a new report reveals, as the widening of the gap between the rich and poor accelerates.

As the business elite converge on Davos for the World Economic Forum, an Oxfam report shows wealth is becoming further concentrated, with the number of people owning the same amount as the bottom half of humanity falling from 388 to 62 in five years.

It says a “broken” economic model underpinned by deregulation, privatisation and financial secrecy has seen the wealth of the richest 62 people jump by 44 per cent in five years to $1.76 trillion.

In that time, the wealth of the poorest 3.6 billion people plunged by 41 per cent
“The big winners in our global economy are those at the top. Our economic system is heavily skewed in their favour. Far from trickling down, income and wealth are instead being sucked upwards at an alarming rate,” the report said.

Oxfam acknowledged that efforts to tackle inequality had seen the halving of the number of people living below the extreme poverty line between 1990 and 2010

“Yet had inequality within countries not grown during that period, an extra 200 million people would have escaped poverty. That could have risen to 700 million had poor people benefited more than the rich from economic growth,” it said.

Oxfam said the growing problem of tax avoidance and use of tax havens was a prime example of how the economic system was “rigged” in the rich’s favour and must be stopped.

It is also calling for workers to be paid a living wage rather than the minimum, for the end of the gender pay gap, for the influence of the powerful with vested interests to be kept in check, and for the tax burden to be shifted away from labour and consumption and towards wealth and capital.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/business/the-economy/sixtytwo-people-have-the-same-amount-of-wealth-as-half-the-world-says-oxfam-20160116-gm7h6y.html#ixzz3xZTFr3y3

Behind the death of David Bowie

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A thoughtful and interesting take on all those tributes for the Starman.

So those who were happily singing “Imagine there’s no heaven” a few months ago are now telling everyone that David Bowie is in this heaven that they imagine does not exist? And those who want to say something nice and believe that everyone goes to heaven, think that Bowie is up there along with Lemmy, Hendrix and of course Stalin, Hitler and Jack the Ripper. That is, after all, the logic of their position. And again I have not looked, but I am sure that in the bloggersphere somewhere, there are some ‘Christians’ who are taking the opportunity to tell everyone he is in hell and how as a bisexual rock star drug addict he is a warning to us all. And there will be those who are writing about how he was converted on his deathbed and they can tell this because of a) something Bowie said, b) a dream they had or c) a very reliable source, a friend of a friend, who is ‘in the know’.

Read more here:

http://www.christiantoday.com/article/david.bowies.death.grief.and.the.frustration.of.a.society.that.has.nothing.to.offer.the.lonely/76368.htm

Breaking the rules

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Christianity is not a matter of rules and regulations. Or jumping through the right hoops to please God.

Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11)—without a liquor license or a park permit, and that wine was most likely served to people under the age of 21. Modern day politicians would have thrown Jesus into jail for making alcohol without a license, distributing alcohol without a permit, and serving to under-aged children

Richard Dawkins praises Christianity (sort of)

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In a text that is coursing about on social media, professional atheist Richard Dawkins begrudgingly admitted that Christianity may actually be our best defense against aberrant forms of religion that threaten the world.

“There are no Christians, as far as I know, blowing up buildings,” Dawkins said. “I am not aware of any Christian suicide bombers. I am not aware of any major Christian denomination that believes the penalty for apostasy is death.”

In a rare moment of candor, Dawkins reluctantly accepted that the teachings of Jesus Christ do not lead to a world of terror, whereas followers of radical Islam perpetrate the very atrocities that he laments.

Because of this realization, Dawkins wondered aloud whether Christianity might indeed offer an antidote to protect western civilization against jihad.

“I have mixed feelings about the decline of Christianity, in so far as Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse,” he said.

Although the text originated in 2010, it has taken on a second life, being sent to and fro on Facebook and Twitter and providing fodder for discussions, even among atheists, of the benefits of Christianity for modern society.

Church bells ring out Space Oddity in David Bowie tribute

David Bowie’s death has  sparked a multitude of tributes, including this unique one.

Bells at a 634-year-old church tower in the Netherlands rang out the tune of his 1969 classic “Space Oddity” .

The Gothic-style Dom Tower is the Netherlands’ tallest church tower, standing at 368 feet. It was built between 1321 and 1382,and its 13 bells weigh 800 to 18,000 pounds.

Living in the middle of a riddle

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IT’S  hard to let go of our preconceptions. It’s unsettling. But we have to experiment with letting go because life is all about paradox.

Sometimes we look at ourselves and think we are worthless. Yet somehow we are precious in God’s eyes.

We know we are from this planet, but we don’t really belong here.

Poet and storyteller Steven James describes us as “skin covered spirits with hungry souls”.

We are both Hitler and Gandhi, Genghis Khan and Martin Luther King, nurse and terrorist, lover and liar.

Humility is another paradox. The moment you think you’ve finally found it, you’ve lost it.
Anyway, humility seems risky.

It’s not always clear in this world who’s on our side and who isn’t.
We don’t know the plan.

It’s humbling and exhilarating to live in the middle of a riddle.

God can seem illogical, unreasonable and yet somehow unmistakenly true.

The sooner we understand “the uncommon sense” of belief in God, the better.

Defending our faith doesn’t always mean providing people with answers.

Jesus didn’t bring answers. He brought mystery wrapped in love.

When we accept ourselves just as we are, then we can change for the better.

Christianity isn’t about becoming better than anyone else, or about looking good to others, or getting your act together. No one’s act is together. That’s one of the core teachings.

It’s about entering the story of God and realising that even when we fail and fall, God still cares about us. Still loves us.

Vatican newspaper denounces ‘woeful’ Charlie Hebdo cover

A man takes a copy of the latest edition of French weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo with the title "One year on, The assassin still on the run" displayed at a kiosk in Nice, France, January 6, 2016. France this week commemorates the victims of last year's Islamist militant attacks on satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket with eulogies, memorial plaques and another cartoon lampooning religion.      REUTERS/Eric Gaillard  - RTX218G7

The Vatican’s newspaper has criticized French weekly Charlie Hebdo for manipulating faith in the magazine’s latest front page, which depicts a blood-soaked God armed with a Kalashnikov.

The controversial cover commemorates a year since the terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo’s Paris headquarters, which left 12 people dead and led to a global debate on religious extremism and freedom of speech.

“One year later, the assassin is still on the run,” reads the black and white front page, with a cartoon depicting a violent God.

The Vatican turned to its daily newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, to blast Charlie Hebdo’s decision with an  editorial titled “Manipulated faith.”



 

“The French weekly once again forgets what religious leaders of every affinity have been repeating for some time, to reject violence in the name of religion,” it said, describing the move as blasphemous.

“The choice of Charlie Hebdo shows the sad paradox of a world increasingly more careful of being ‘politically correct,’ to the point of being almost ridiculous … But that doesn’t want to recognize and respect the faith in God of every believer, whichever religion they practice,” L’Osservatore Romano added.

The latest issue of Charlie Hebdo stands in stark contrast to the edition published in the aftermath of the attack, featuring a crying Muhammad under a headline reading “All is fogiven.”



 

Two gunmen stormed the magazine’s offices on Jan. 7, 2015, shooting staff in an attack that was later claimed by Yemen’s al-Qaida branch.

After that attack, Pope Francis said freedom of expression was a “fundamental human right” and stressed that killing in the name of God was an unacceptable “aberration.”

But he also took issue with Charlie Hebdo’s anti-religious stance.

“You can’t provoke, you can’t insult the faith of others, you can’t make fun of faith,” he told reporters during an Asian tour.

 

Travel Lightly into The New Year

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ENTERING a new year is like taking a holiday to some place foreign and uncharted. You never know what to expect.

It’s like turning up in a distant city without pre-arranged accommodation. It sharpens the senses.

There’s a joy in jumping into the unknown, where we can delve into the more essential parts of ourselves.

As Oliver Cromwell once said: “A man never goes so far as when he does not know where he is going.”

A travel writer friend said the great joy of travelling to unknown parts was leaving all his beliefs and certainties behind.

He said the clear difference between a tourist and a traveller was that the latter left assumptions at home, and the former did not.

Life is always a trip and it helps if you travel light and with a little trust in your heart.

There are fewer distractions; more time to consider the bigger picture.

Facing the new year, pursuing true love or searching for spirituality have something of the feel of journeying to foreign lands where the language is at first unknown and the terrain unfamiliar.

Our fears are often baseless. After all, more people are said to be killed annually by donkeys than by planes falling out of the sky.

And more people are killed each year by falling coconuts than sharks.

Whether religious or not, we travel a spiritual path. Every day we make choices that affect the direction in which we are headed.

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus spoke of the two ways open to all of us, each with its own beginning, and each with its own end. He said one way was heavily populated; the other travelled by few.

He sent his disciples out to proclaim the kingdom of God, and told them: “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.”

The message was clear. Don’t load up the donkey with tons of stuff, tons of preconceptions and angst. Just let go and let God do His job. Travel light.

 

A Religious Forecast For 2050: Atheism Is Down, Islam Is Rising

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By the end of the century, Muslims could outnumber Christians for the first time in history, according to a report released by the Pew Research Center.

“Another way of thinking about it is Christianity had a seven-century head-start on Islam, and Islam is finally catching up,” says Alan Cooperman, the director of religion research at Pew.

Christianity is currently the world’s largest religion, making up a third of the world’s population with 2.2 billion adherents. Pew research shows that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. The religious group will make up 30 percent of the world’s population by 2050, compared to just 23 percent of the population in 2010. That means the number of Muslims in the world will nearly equal the number of Christians by 2050.

If Islam’s growth spurt continues, Pew data shows, Muslims could outnumber Christians soon after the year 2070.

That’s not to say that the total number of Christians is decreasing; Christianity’s growth rate is just not as fast as Islam’s. While the number of Christians will increase from about 2.1 billion to 2.9 billion by 2050, Muslims will jump from 1.6 billion to 2.8 billion.

This growth has to do with the relatively young age of the Muslim population as well as high fertility rates. Other religious groups have aging populations. Among Buddhists, for example, half of adherents are older than 30 and​ the average birth rate is 1.6 children. By contrast, in 2010, a third of the Muslim population was under 15. What’s more, each Muslim woman has an average of 3.1 children, while the average for Christian women is 2.7.

The Pew research revealed two other interesting shifts in world religious perspectives, Cooperman says.

Atheists, agnostics and those who do not affiliate with religion will make up a smaller percentage of the world’s total population by 2050 — even though the group is growing in the U.S. and Europe. The decline is primarily because those who are unaffiliated religiously have low fertility rates, with women bearing an average of 1.7 children in their lifetime.

Between now and 2050, the hub of Christianity will also shift — from Europe to sub-Saharan Africa. As of 2010, the majority of the Christian population — 25.5 percent — lived in Europe, but sub-Saharan Africa will become home to nearly 40 percent of the world’s Christians by 2050. Fertility rates are also behind this change. Christians living in sub-Saharan African have the highest fertility rates among Christians worldwide: Each woman has, on average, 4.4 children.

Cooperman emphasizes that a lot could change between now and 2050.

“We’re not saying that this will happen; it’s if current patterns and trends continue,” Cooperman says. “We do not know what’s going to happen in the future. There could be war, revolution, famine, disease. These are things no one can predict and that could change the numbers.”

http://www.pewforum.org/2015/04/02/religious-projections-2010-2050/

Merry Christmas

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History reveals Jesus from Nazareth was a historical reality. Born during the Roman occupation, he stood at the crossroads of an empire.
He could have become an underground terrorist with the Zealots, a monk with the Essenes or a collaborator with the Jewish priests.
Instead, He chose a strange road and claimed to bear all human burdens for past, present and future.
Celebrate Christmas however you want.
But this year, consider the real reason for all the celebration. Sometimes reality lies in what is not instantly obvious.

Thoughts at Christmas

all i want

If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep … You are richer than 75% of this world.

If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace …
You are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.

If you woke up this morning with more health than illness …
You are more blessed than a million who will not survive this week.

If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation …
You are ahead of 500 million people in the world.

If you can attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death … You are more blessed than three billion people in the world.

If you can read this message, you are more blessed than …
Over two billion people in the world who cannot read at all.

If we eat out at a restaurant, this Christmas we probably will spend more than the average monthly income in Nicaragua or India without thinking.

If we buy a soft drink and a Tattslotto ticket, we probably spend what is a day’s wages for many humans.

 

 

 

You won’t find Christmas under the tree

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You won’t find any mention of Christmas in the Bible. The early Christians did not celebrate Christmas because the   primary focus was on His life, crucifixion, and particularly His resurrection. It wasn’t until around 200AD that a day was set aside to mark the birthday of Christ.

For some reason, the Christmas celebrations grew from a day of fasting and praying to a season of banqueting and celebration of pagan rituals in some parts of the world.

That dour Puritan Oliver Cromwell, horrified by the debauchery and moral decay, banned the celebration of Christmas in Britain for 22 years.  An Act of Parliament in 1644 banned mince pies, the hanging of holly and all merrymaking during the Christmas period.

Around the same time, Puritans in America also enacted laws against Christmas. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that Christmas became an official holiday in the US. Scotland took even longer, officially ending a 400-year-old ban on Christmas celebrations only in 1958.

Of course, December 25 is probably not the real date of Christ’s birth anyway. Celebrations of Jesus’ Nativity are not mentioned in the Gospels or Acts; the date is not given, not even the time of year.

Church father Clement of Alexandria somehow calculated that the actual date of the birth could be August 28, May 20, March 21, or April 21.

Whatever, Christmas Day is now December 25 – and January 7 for orthodox faiths that follow the old Julian calendar.

Rome’s Christians co-opted the December 25 date to celebrate the birth of their Son of God. For better or worse, there was also absorption of the pagans’ zest for merriment and abandon, as well as their penchant for decorating with evergreens.

The Puritans have been outnumbered and overwhelmed by a multicultural society that discovered the value of a holiday devoted to the consumption of food and loot.

But Christmas was not invented to satisfy the retailers. Nor to force a public holiday. It was not invented to make sure little children were good for a few weeks so that they could receive oodles of gifts.

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once described Christmas as “a vile interruption of routine”. But he was a cynic.

Christmas, after all, is the celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. To Christians, it is the celebration of the Incarnation of the Word.

Christianity is unique in this .Most religions allow for a distant deity, not a god who enters human history to be a part of the human situation.

The birth of Christ was a historical event in which the past and future became somehow merged in the present.

Does it matter that Jesus was unlikely to have been born on December 25?

Christmas celebrations will always cross fluid boundaries between sacred, secular and profane realms.

In some ways, the modern Christmas celebrations seem at odds with the mission of the man from Nazareth.

The commercial Christmas philosophy is often about greed and indulgence. The Christ message is about learning to give of ourselves.

But what matters most to believers is that the Christ child was born, probably in a stable or a cave in the poorest of conditions one night about 2000 years ago in the Middle East. And that changed the world.

That is the real point of any celebration this week.

 

Happy birthday Beethoven

HIS father had syphilis and his mother tuberculosis. One of his siblings was born blind, another deaf.
With that genetic profile, it’s a wonder that Ludwig van Beethoven survived his birth, much less inspired the world with his music of liberation.

Beethoven, born on this day in 1770, was a maverick. He took orchestral music out of the aristocratic salons into packed concert halls. He proclaimed artistic freedom, political freedom and personal freedom of art and of faith.

He became a political symbol after his death. For almost everyone.

As a result, every age and ideology has claimed Beethoven for its own.

His spirit seemingly supported both sides during World War II.

The Nazis adopted Beethoven’s music as an example of the superior Teutonic spirit. It was played for Hitler’s birthday in 1938.

Then the Allies used the opening rhythms of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony as a code to launch the D-Day invasion.

Marxists, pointing to Beethoven’s renowned scoldings of the aristocracy, made him a posthumous Communist Party member.

Joseph Stalin, after a performance of the finale at a Soviet Congress in Moscow, declared that “this is the right music for the masses, and it can’t be performed often enough”.

But when the Iron Curtain collapsed in 1989, Beethoven’s glorious Ninth Symphony with its Ode To Joy was played to symbolise the death of Communism.

It was also defiantly blared from loudspeakers in China’s Tianenman Square during student demonstrations before the tanks rolled in.

The same symphony was also a national anthem for Rhodesia, and is now the European anthem.

Even the Freemasons have adopted Beethoven, claiming his music contains repeated references to Masonic imagery, although there is no evidence the man was ever a Mason.

Why the contradictory allegiances?

Perhaps because so many people misunderstand the motivation of his music.

It is actually free of political dogma. So free that the music could plumb the depths of our despair and express heroic struggles and reach astonishing peaks of joy.

At its best, it expressed a love of liberty for all.

The great contradiction is Beethoven’s personality. He was tormented, rude and had a messy personal life. He had a volatile temper, even with his friends.

Yet, in the end, there is the music that affirms the glory of human life.

Incidentally, the standard capacity of a CD is approximately 74 minutes — chosen because it was long enough for his entire Ninth Symphony.
You want to find where the ecstasy lies in Beethoven’s music? Don’t try to find political meanings. Listen. Get lost in the beauty.

Believe it or not

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SOMETIMES jaw-dropping, sublime miracles come in twos and threes. And sometimes they come to those who least expect them.
This is a story worth retelling.

Miles Toulmin, associate vicar at Holy Trinity Brompton Church in London,  told the miracle story of a small English boy who grew up in Kenya in the early 1960s.
At the age of two, the boy had been sexually abused. His life was crippled by fear and anxiety.
The one good thing in his life were his next door neighbours, a middle-aged missionary couple whom the young boy loved. They would regularly pray with him.
The boy became a teenager and was sent to a boarding school where, tragically again, he was raped at the age of 17.
By his early 20, he was diagnosed as being HIV positive.
Despite his background he became a successful company director. But he was not a happy man.
In his mad moments, he visited male prostitutes. His life began to spiral out of control and he eventually lost everything – his partner, his house and his business.
A few years ago, this shattered man walked into a recovery course run by Holy Trinity church for those struggling with addictions. The pastor who ran the course said he looked like “a dead man walking”.
The pastor didn’t know what to do. He was advised by a parishioner to phone a prayerful old couple in their eighties who lived in the north of England and ask them to pray for the man to be healed and set free. So they faithfully started praying.
Six weeks later, the pastor reported, the man had “the most intense filling of the holy spirit accompanied by the most bloodcurdling wails of anguish and pain that seemed to emanate from the depth of his soul.”
“He was set free from his addiction,” said the pastor, “and in its place is a passion for Jesus that is as fervent as that found anywhere.”
At his last appointment at a hospital, the man was told the symptoms of the HIV virus had suddenly disappeared after 30 years.
Even more recently, just by chance, the pastor discovered that the old couple in the north of England who had prayed so passionately for that anonymous man were the same missionary couple that once lived next door to the boy in Kenya.
“How did that happen?” said the pastor. “A couple pray for a small boy in a different country and continent 45 years ago and then through a chance encounter end up participating in a glorious resurrection after a period of several decades during which that small boy traveled to the gates of hell. What a great and utterly mysterious God we have.”
Now, some might try to explain all this away logically. Perhaps it’s all just coincidence that the elderly praying couple were the same ones who knew the man when he was a boy and maybe the HIV disappeared for some yet unknown medical reason. But how do we logically account for the sudden and extraordinary changes in the man’s life? Explaining away the number of miracles in a seemingly impossible situation in such a short time is even harder.
A serious of extraordinary coincidences are maybe small miracles where God has chosen to remain anonymous
Saying the miracles didn’t occur is perhaps more implausible than believing in the miracles themselves.
Can the tools of reason demonstrate the existence of the transcendent?
Miracles have no logical, natural explanation. Like Jesus feeding more than 5000 people dinner al fresco from a few fish and pieces of bread.
Like turning water into wine. Like healing a blind man. Like calming the wind and waves of the sea. Like raising the dead. Miracles are merely the supernatural everyday workings of God
A miracle is an event which creates faith. C.S Lewis said miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see – the miracle of our very existence.
Do we have empirical scientific proof? No. But God is either nothing or perfectly real. Faith cannot be seen, heard, or explained away by sceptics. Miracles, it has been said, are experienced most through eyes of faith.
As someone said, for the faithful, no miracle is necessary. For those who doubt, no miracle is sufficient.

A war against Christmas?

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A war against Christmas?

Yep it happens at this time of year. No wonder they call it the “silly season”

Example 1

A church that has erected a Nativity at the Florida Capitol building for the last two years says this year it will not display a manger — in the interest of harmony.

“My hope is that the Christ in Christmas is louder than a wood display and some figurines,’’ Pam Olsen, a spokesperson for the International House of Prayer in Tallahassee, told the Miami Herald. “The racial tensions and mass murders, the shootings at the Planned Parenthood and in California — something is very wrong in our country. We need to step back and say we need to stop. Let the sound of the Christ Child bring hope, joy and peace instead of dissension.”

The church’s Nativity prompted other groups to apply for December displays and resulted in a “Seinfeld”-inspired Festivus Pole (courtesy of American Atheists), a winter solstice banner (from the Freedom From Religion Foundation) and a diorama featuring the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a noodle-y character who wears a colander on his meatball head and is beloved of some skeptics and other nonbelievers.

Example 2

 

New billboards featuring a smiling Santa suggesting people “skip church” appeared this week, courtesy of American Atheists.

The smiling Santa suggests people “be good for goodness’ sake” and then really throws out the red meat with a big “Happy Holidays!”

American Atheists' annual holiday billboard. Photo courtesy of American Atheists

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American Atheists’ annual holiday billboard. Photo courtesy of American Atheists

The billboards went up in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs is often referred to as the “evangelical Vatican” for the number of Christian ministries and churches based there. It was also the site of a Planned Parenthood shooting, in which the shooter many have had religious motivations; police are still investigating.

Last year, American Atheists’ billboards featured a little girl writing a letter to Santa that said, “All I want for Christmas is to skip church.”

“This year, Santa wrote back,” Silverman said.

Example 3

Michigan Satanists  have announced their intention to stage their own “live nativity” — with snakes.

Their slithering display is intended as a counterpoint to another live nativity — this one with homo sapiens — sponsored by Republican presidential candidate (and evangelical Christian) Ted Cruz. Both will be staged on the lawn in front of the Michigan state Capitol in Lansing.

The point? Not to proselytize for Satan, but for religious liberty, the Satanists say. “We refuse to allow one religious perspective (to) dominate the discourse,” a leader of the Satanists said in a press release.

There seems to be a run on alternative nativities this far ahead of Christmas. A pair of young Arizonans — an atheist and a Catholic — are launching a “Zombie Nativity” toy.

Example 4

A Marlboro, N.H. man was told he had to remove the word ‘Christmas’ from fliers he was sending home with local schoolchildren to remind them and their parents of the town’s annual tree lighting ceremony.

John F. Fletcher, an American Legion member who also plays Santa at the ceremony, said he used Wite-Out to cover ‘Christmas’ on each of 250 fliers, which the school district then sent home with students.

“Our School District celebrates the religious freedom that our students enjoy,” a press release issued by the local school district says. “However, the Establishment Clause of our Constitution forbids a public school district from aiding, promoting or endorsing a particular religion or religious activity.”

But Charles Haynes, vice-president of the Newseum Institute and its Religious Freedom Center, says the school district has erred too far on the side of caution. Using the word “Christmas” is not an establishment of religion, he says, but just a description.

“This is an example of how poorly some school leaders are educated about the First Amendment,” he wrote to RNS in an email. “Absurd overreactions like this give ‘separation of church and state’ a bad name. I expect to see this on many fundraising letters in the coming months!”

Fletcher isn’t backing down. “It’s easier to offend the majority, so you don’t offend the minority,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to.”

Honour thy neighbours, and enemies

You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do –  Anne Lamott

ABOUT the time Jesus was born, the head rabbi of Jerusalem was a wise man named Hillel.

According to one story, a Greek philosopher, who considered Hillel to be a religious enemy, made a bet that he could make the great rabbi lose his temper.

He found out what time Hillel had his bath, and then stormed into his house at that time every week demanding to see the rabbi because of a great emergency.

When Hillel emerged, cold and wet, he would ask him a foolish question, such as, “Why do so many Babylonians have bald heads?” or “Why do Africans have such wide feet?”.

Hillel refused to get angry. He simply said, “You ask an important question”, thought for a moment or two and then answered.

Finally the Greek philosopher lost his cool and cursed Hillel, saying, “You made me lose my bet that I could make you lose your temper”.

Hillel replied: “Better that you should lose your bet than that I should lose my temper.”

Then and there the Greek offered to convert to Judaism — but only if Hillel taught him the whole law while standing on one foot.

Hillel lifted one foot and said: “Do not do to others what is hateful to you. That is the whole of the law — the rest is just commentary”.

The Greek, expecting something more philosophical, went away in disgust. He missed the point. The golden rule proclaimed by Hillel and, a little later, by Jesus — to treat others as you would want to be treated — is essential wisdom.

Jesus knew how the spiritual principle worked. He knew that whatever we put out — love, tolerance or hatred — we get back.

But tolerance for others, especially for those with different opinions, is a rare beast. Religious persecution against men and women of all manner of religions is increasing throughout the world.

In India, Hindu extremists are attacking Muslims and Christians. In Sri Lanka, radical armed Buddhists have stopped prayer meetings of Christians and Muslims.

Both Christians and Muslims are under violent attack by militant Buddhists.in Myanmar.

China’s government has been more evenhanded. It discriminates against most religious communities.
Often, the worst persecutors are religious fundamentalists.

Salman Rushdie once observed that fundamentalism was not about religion. It was about power.

Jesus’s challenge to love our neighbours is only fully understood when we realise our neighbours are probably the people we like least in all the world, the ones whose religious opinions offend us, and whose political opinions make us angry.

It follows that we must give our neighbours and enemies the same honour and respect we give to those we hold most dear.

German pastor Martin Niemoller, who fought against the Nazi regime, warned against being indifferent to persecution in a poem: “First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
“Then they came for the communists and I did not speak out because I was not a communist.
“Then they came for the Catholics and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
“Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”