Imagine John Lennon now


JOHN Lennon would have turned 75 this week. We can only imagine what this wonderful musician and humanist would have been like.

And talking of “Imagine” John Lennon dreamt of another utopia in his song of that name. It was successfully marketed as a song of hope. Yet if you read the lyrics of Lennon’s hit, they are anything but hopeful.

Is there any real hope in imagining a world without heaven; without redemption? Or in pretending all men and women are going to be treated equally?

“Imagine all the people living life as one,” wrote Lennon.

You only have to consider Syria, Lebanon, Zimbabwe, Iraq, Burma and the rape of Vietnam, Cambodia and Bosnia to realise Lennon’s imagined human world has never been, and never will be.

Theologians might claim we are all equal in the sight of God. But we are certainly not equal in the sight of each other.

Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin this week wrote a thoughtful piece on Lennon and Imagine.

He wrote: “I loved John Lennon. I loved his sardonic sense of humor. I loved his literary flair. I loved his musicianship. He was my favorite Beatle.

“But, I am not a “Lennonist.” I don’t imagine that “there’s no heaven,” and that above us is “only sky.” I don’t long for a world in which people “live for today,” and only today.

Consider the words of the late writer, David Foster Wallace:

“In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

“If you worship money and things, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. Worship power, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.”

Even the non-religious see a creator’s hand

YOU don’t have to identify with any religion to see a creator’s hand in human life and morality, suggests a new survey.

LifeWay Research’s overall finding — that most Americans believe there is a creator who designed the universe and defines human morality — is not surprising. After all, 3 in 4 US adults identify with a religious denomination.

The surprise is that so many people who don’t identify with a religion — the so-called nones — agree.

The survey of 1000 US adults found that most Americans — 72 percent overall and 46 percent of nones — agree that: “Since the universe has organization, I think there is a creator who designed it.” This view is most strongly held by evangelicals and by older adults.

And most Americans — 79 percent overall, and 43 percent of nones — say they agree that “The fact that we exist means someone created us.”

Religion satisfies 16 basic human desires, says psychologist

THROUGHOUT history, scholars and researchers have tried to identify the one key reason that people are attracted to religion.

Some have said people seek religion to cope with a fear of death, others call it the basis for morality, and various other theories abound.

But in a new book, a psychologist who has studied human motivation for more than 20 years suggests that all these theories are too narrow. Religion, he says, attracts followers because it satisfies all of the 16 basic desires that humans share.

“It’s not just about fear of death. Religion couldn’t achieve mass acceptance if it only fulfilled one or two basic desires,” said Steven Reiss, a professor emeritus of psychology at The Ohio State University and author of The 16 Strivings for God.

“People are attracted to religion because it provides believers the opportunity to satisfy all their basic desires over and over again. You can’t boil religion down to one essence.”

Reiss’s theory of what attracts people to religion is based on his research in the 1990s on motivation. He and his colleagues surveyed thousands of people and asked them to rate the degree to which they embraced hundreds of different possible goals.

In the end, the researchers identified 16 basic desires that we all share: acceptance, curiosity, eating, family, honor, idealism, independence, order, physical activity, power, romance, saving, social contact, status, tranquility and vengeance.

Reiss then developed a questionnaire, called the Reiss Motivation Profile, that measures how much people value each of these 16 goals. More than 100,000 people have now completed the questionnaire.
“We all share the same 16 goals, but what makes us different is how much we value each one,” Reiss said.

“How much an individual values each of those 16 desires corresponds closely to what he or she likes and dislikes about religion.”

A key point is that each of the 16 desires motivates personality opposites and those opposites all have to find a home in a successful religion, Reiss said.

For example, there is the desire for social contact. “Religion has to appeal to both introverts and extroverts,” Reiss said. For extroverts, religion offers festivals and teaches that God blesses fellowship. For introverts, religion encourages meditation and private retreats and teaches that God blesses solitude.

Religion even finds ways to deal with the desire for vengeance, Reiss said. While some religions preach of a God of peace and encourage followers to “turn the other cheek,” there is also the other side: the wrath of God and holy wars.

While the theory can tell us a lot about the types of people who are attracted to religion and different religious experiences, it cannot say anything about the truth of religious beliefs, Reiss said.

“I’m not trying to answer theological questions about the existence or nature of God,” Reiss said. “What I’m trying to answer is the nature of why people embrace religion and God.”

Read more:

A vision of the future painted in 1930

a visioniof the future painted in 1930

Above is a vision for the future painted in 1930.

These days, half the world seems to be semi-permanently connected to Facebook and iPhones and many walk the streets adrift in their little worlds of playlists, shuffled songs and noisy desperation.

Today’s digital technology is unparalleled in history as a means of communicating with others and as a means of sharing information.

It is ironic that many find themselves increasingly isolated from the presence of other people.

Six easy ways to tell if that viral story is a hoax

NEWS in the digital age spreads faster than ever, and so do lies and hoaxes. Just like retractions and corrections in newspapers, online rebuttals often make rather less of a splash than the original misinformation.

One recent image in question (below) purported to show a group of Syrian refugees holding ISIS flags and attacking German police officers.

For those resistant to accepting refugees into Europe, this story was a godsend. The photo quickly spread across social media, propelled by far-right groups such as the English Defence League and Pegida UK. At the time of writing, the page claims to have been shared over 300,000 times.

The problem is, the photo is three years old, and has precious little to do with the refugee crisis. In fact, it seems to be from a confrontation between members of the far-right Pro NRW party and muslim counter-protesters, which took place in Bonn, back in 2012. A number of news outlets tried to highlight the hoax, including Vice, the Independent and the Mirror, as did numerous Twitter users.

This article gives ways to authenticate which news we are getting is genuine and which is not.


Why we have to share


THERE was a farmer who grew excellent quality corn. Every year he won the award for the best grown corn. One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned something interesting about how he grew it. The reporter discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors. “How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?” the reporter asked.

“Why sir,” said the farmer, “Didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”

So is with our lives… Those who want to live meaningfully and well must help enrich the lives of others, for the value of a life is measured by the lives it touches. And those who choose to be happy must help others find happiness, for the welfare of each is bound up with the welfare of all…

A different way of looking at newspapers

THE news media are, for the most part, the bringers of bad news… and it’s not entirely the media’s fault, bad news gets higher ratings and sells more papers than good news.

At least that’s the theory.

More than a century ago in Kansas, a publisher of a newspaper was arguing with his friend, a pastor named Dr Charles Sheldon. The publisher said he felt no newspaper could be edited as Christ might have edited it and still be readable.

Dr Sheldon disagreed and the publisher, God bless him, said ok you can edit the paper for a week and we;ll see,

So for one week in March 1900, Dr Sheldon took over the editor’s chair and tried to imagine how Christ would have acted in the role.

Under Dr. Sheldon’s editorial guidance, all stories of scandal, vice, and crime were played down. Not omitted, but reduced to what the minister felt was their proper length. Society-page news, gossip news, was condensed to almost nothing. Theatrical news was dropped. For the 1st time, perhaps, in newspaper history, virtue and goodwill became hot news. Editorials were moved to the front page, and each was fully signed.

Sheldon wouldn’t allow advertisments for products whose claims he couldnt personally verify.

A great famine in India, ignored or treated casually by the competition press, was headlined by Dr. Sheldon–not only headlined but followed up by an appeal for the distant sufferers. As a result over $1 million in food and other relief supplies was sent to Bombay.

On the final day of his editorship, Dr Sheldon took news of the day off the front page and instead printed the sermon on the mount.

Amazingly, the experiment was a success. Circulation for that week rose dramatically.

But in the end the publisher said a newspaper selling good news or spiritual news could not succeed in the long term.

I wonder.

An act of senseless kindness

HUMAN relations professor Charles Wall was listening to the radio news about a decade ago when the announcer said: “And in another random act of senseless violence . . .”
Wall thought to himself: “If they could take out the word violence and insert the word kindness, you would turn a negative into a positive.”

He gave his students an assignment to each perform a “senseless” and random act of kindness and report on it.

One student handed out blankets to the homeless. Another backed out of a hard-to-find parking space and gave it to another driver. One paid his mother’s power bill; another took her nine-year-old daughter to visit the sick at a hospital.

The students turned the assignment into a bumper sticker campaign.

Now the phrase “Perform an act of senseless kindness today” is regularly seen in US cities.

It may be seen as a New Age fad, but Wall believes the campaign is a tool to heal a sick society.

He said: “People are just so sick of all the hate and violence in the world that they’re looking for anything that would make life just a little bit better.”

T HE kindness movement has been around for a while.

Jesus said: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

Jewish philosopher Hillel, a contemporary of Jesus, said: “What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbour. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary.”

In his book The Purpose-Driven Life, Rick Warren asks: “What on Earth am I here for?”

He wastes no time giving an answer. Chapter one begins: “It’s not about you.”

Warren, pastor of one of America’s biggest churches, criticises “worldly Christians” who are “saved, but self-centred”.
“God wants to make you holy more than he wants to make you happy,” he says
“In heaven, God is going to openly reward some of his most obscure and unknown servants — people we have never heard of on Earth, who taught emotionally disturbed children, cleaned up after incontinent elderly, nursed AIDS patients and served in thousands of other unnoticed ways.”

Careful, you might be happy!

A MESSAGE sent to this site warned all readers to be alert for symptoms of inner hope, peace and joy that can occur.

Symptoms include:
A TENDENCY to think and act spontaneously rather than on fears based on past experiences.

AN UNMISTAKABLE ability to enjoy the moment.

A LOSS of interest in judging others.

A LOSS of the ability to worry. (Very serious)

FREQUENT, overwhelming episodes of gratitude and peace.

CONTENTED feelings of connection with others.

AN INCREASING tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.

AN INCREASED susceptibility to the love extended by others as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it.

BELIEF in the Christmas angels’ message that we should be unafraid, whatever happens.

There is no antidote.

You gotta laugh!

ONE of the great Jewish jokes is about a grandmother who takes her beloved grandson, aged five, to the beach.

She watches the kid, decked out in his new hat, building sand castles near the water.

When the grandmother dozes, the grandson wanders into the water, is suddenly caught in an undertow and starts to drown.

The frantic woman calls for help, but there is no one else on the beach. Figuring she had nothing to lose, she falls to the ground, raises her arms to heaven and prays, “God, if you are there, please save my grandson. I promise I’ll make it up to you. I’ll donate to the hospital; I’ll join the synagogue and work with the poor. Whatever makes you happy.”

Suddenly a huge wave tosses the grandson on to the beach at her feet. The grandmother notices colour in his cheeks, his eyes opening, but she appears upset. Bringing herself to full height, she wags her finger at the sky and yells: “He had a hat, you know!”

There’s something about Jewish humour that cuts to the core. In Jewish terms, humour is not the opposite of seriousness. It is the opposite of despair.

Christians seem, by comparison, more restrained about humour. In fact, Christians are often portrayed as stodgy, self-righteous and serious. If they are being funny, it’s unintentional.

For example, writer Quentin Crisp said that when he told a meeting in Northern Ireland that he was an atheist, a woman in the audience stood up and said, “Yes, but is it the God of the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you don’t believe?”

But Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish theologian, said that the Christian faith was the most humorous point of view a person could take. Why? Because once you’ve seen this world as the creation of God, once you know that life at its root is joy and not fear, then you can laugh freely.

In other words, humour acknowledges that God takes our tragedies and adds a punch line.

G. K. Chesterton wrote: “Laughing has something in common with the ancient words of faith and inspiration; it unfreezes pride and unwinds secrecy; it makes men forget themselves in the presence of something greater.”

Humour touches upon the most important topics — politics and science, sex and religion, life and death, good and evil. Good comics, like good ministers, wrestle with elementary questions.

Life is full of embarrassing reminders that, while we might be only a little lower than angels, we are also only a little higher than worms. Now that’s funny.

That’s why the Italian poet Dante titled his great poem of the Christian life, The Divine Comedy. In the best humour we learn to laugh at ourselves.

The big question is whether God has a sense of humour.

It seems so. Elton Trueblood wrote a book called The Humour of Christ in which he said Jesus was a first century stand-up comedian, a master of the one-liner.
Intentional exaggeration was big at the time. So, Jesus was using sacred humour with his comments about looking for a “speck of sawdust in a brother’s eye” while having a “plank” in our own. And surely there were laughs when he told the Pharisees they were so misguided that they would “strain out a gnat (from their glasses of wine) but swallow a camel”.

Unfortunately, a literal translation of Christ’s words doesn’t quite capture the cultural comedy.
For centuries, in Orthodox traditions, Easter Monday was observed in jokes, joy and laughter to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

The custom was rooted in the thought that Easter was God’s supreme joke played on Satan.

In that light, it can be just as sacred to laugh as it is to pray.

The happiness thing

HAPPINESS is perhaps a way of life, rather than a destination. An overriding outlook composed of qualities such as optimism, courage, love, and fulfilment.
It’s not dependant on money or circumstance.
According to the Mahatma, Mohandas Gandhi, happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.
South African theologian Sir Thomas Taylor said you could not read the Gospels without seeing that Jesus did not tell men how to be good in the manner of moralists of every age, He told them how to be happy. In giving, not in getting.
French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal put it like this: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God the Creator.”
And, as Vicor Hugo said, the supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather in spite of ourselves.
Poet William Blake said if we were truly content, we would be able to see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower.
We could hold infinity in the palm of our hands.

Forgiveness is bliss

THERE is an Eastern tale of two monks about to cross a river when confronted by an arrogant noblewoman who demands to be carried across.

The younger monk refuses so the older silently takes the woman on his shoulders and crosses the water with her.

Later, the younger monk admonishes his colleague for allowing himself to be used as a beast of burden.

The older monk listens for a while and then says: “I rid myself of the burden at the edge of the river. But you are still carrying it.”

The moral of the tale is that resentment over injustice is often understandable but in the end counter productive.

The great religious thinker, Thomas Aquinas, wrote that the first effect of love was to melt anger, grief and fear.
He understood grief began with anger and rage. But to maintain it was to be stuck in a “servile relationship” with the object of our anger, he said.

One native American ritual to deal with resentment involves taking a rock, pouring your anger into it and then burying it deeply in the earth.

The symbolic act is about letting the cosmos absorb your grief. And your anger.

Mystic Anthony de Mello once said: “Don’t carry over experiences — good or bad — from the past.
“Do you know what causes unhappiness?
“You will probably say loneliness or oppression or war or hatred. And you will be wrong.
“There is only one cause of unhappiness. The false beliefs you have in your head.
“Your programming is so strong that you are literally trapped into perceiving the world in a distorted way.
“Drop your attachments to resentments and you will be free.”

Why are you here?

Essayist Jim Holt in his  book Why Does the World Exist? criss-crossed the planet talking to cosmologists, physicists, philosophers, eastern sages and theologians about reasons for our existence.
Holt described one meeting with a priest, a physicist and a Buddhist monk. The priest said the universe must be created by God, the physicist invoked quantum mechanics and the monk believed that the universe just always existed.
Holt said that for religious believers, there was no mystery to the existence of the universe. It exists because God made it.

‘But suppose you ask nonbelievers to explain why there is a world rather than nothing at all,” he wrote. “Chances are they will not give you a satisfactory answer.”
Hall asked what options we had for resolving the mystery of existence once we let go of the God hypothesis. Science, he said, might be expected to someday explain how the universe came about. By any attempted scientific explanation of why hits a brick wall.
“The problem with the science option would nseem to be this. The universe comprises everything that physically exists. A scientific explanation must involve some sort of physical cause.But any physical cause is by definition part of the universe to be explained..Thus any scientific explanation of the existence of the universe is doomed to be circular.”

Albert Einstein once observed that “there are two ways to live: one is as if nothing is a miracle; the other as if everything is.

Jean-Paul Sartre, not a believer in miracles, once said “I exist, that is ll, and I find it nauseating.” But Christian author A.W.Tozer countered that with the thought that if you think God away, man has no ground of existence.
If this existence is a cosmic fluke, then our being is an exercise in futility. It has no purpose.
There will come a time when no one will be alive to remember that we even existed. All that mankind thought and did will be for nothing.

The alternative view is that we are here to attain eternal union with our brothers and sisters, and with the Divine. We are here to love and to be loved. We are here to complete ourselves
Writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said our obligation was to give meaning to life and in doing so to overcome the passive, indifferent life. “Life is a gift and meaning is its reward,” he said. “The meaning of life is to be found in every encounter. Every moment is a moment of grace.”
Humorist Garrison Keillor said we are all here to know and serve God. “It’s clear truth that, like the nose on your face, is near at hand and easily discernible but can make you dizzy if you try to focus on it hard.
But a little faith will see you through.”

Our lives are governed by our attitudes

Our lives are governed by our attitudes.
U2 singer Bono once wrote that explaining belief would always be difficult. How could you explain love and logic at the heart of the universe when the world was so out of whack? How could you explain the concept of vision over visibility? Of instinct over intellect?
Bono said he found the answer to that in the writings of another musician, the giant-slayer David. In the biblical psalms, some of which are believed to have been written by David, Bono found an element of the blues.
“It’s man shouting at God `My God, why have you forsaken me? Why do you seem so far from helping me?’
“Abandonment and displacement is the stuff of my favourite psalms,” said Bono.
“It’s in the despair that the writers of the psalms really reveal their nature of their special relationships with God.”
It’s all there in the most famous of the psalms, the 23rd; the one beginning with “The Lord is my shepherd” and telling of green pastures, still waters and that valley of the shadow of death.
It is only 15 lines long, 57 words in Hebrew, yet it has a power to comfort even the non-religious in grief and fear.
Rabbi Harold Kushner, the prolific American writer, examines the psalm in his book The Lord Is My Shepherd and concludes that it tackles serious questions about the world we live in and the people around us.
It destroys the illusion that this planet is a safe place at the same time as maintaining we can live here courageously without fear.
“Why do we love this psalm so much, more than any of the other 149 psalms? Why do we reach out for it at moments of personal distress?” asked Kushner.
“It is a beautiful literary creation, but the anthologies are full of beautiful writings, and they don’t capture our hearts in the same way.”
Kushner believes the psalm offers a realistic way of seeing the world that renders it less frightening. It has the power to teach us to think differently and, as a result, to act differently.
It’s not really the fear of death that scares us. It is the anticipation, the sense that our time is limited.
We are afraid of coming to the end of our lives without having the impact on the world we once dreamed of.
The psalm does not deny the reality of death, or minimise how painful loss can be. It confirms the awful truth — that much of the time, we cannot control what happens to us.
The psalm never asks us to pretend, as some religious teachings do, that death does not change things, that moving from life to death is no different than moving from Hobart to Melbourne.
But it introduces us to a God who is with us in the pain, and who leads us from the dark valley back to light.
The psalm is a reminder that although our physical beings will die, everything about us that is not physical — our memories, values, sense of humour and identity — cannot die.
The psalm reminds us that God’s promise was never that life would be fair. The psalmist does not say God will save us from death; merely that God will be with us when we walk through the shadow of the valley of death. The message is that we will not be abandoned.
Our world may not be perfect, but it is God’s world and that makes all the difference.

Pope Francis asks priests to forgive abortion

Pope Francis has told priests to forgive repentant women who have had an abortion.

In a letter to the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, the pontiff urges priests to express “words of genuine welcome” to repentant women who have undergone abortions, “combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed.” He tied his decision to the yearlong jubilee celebration of Catholic faith, which begins in December.

“I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it,” the pope said in a letter addressed to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council.

The Catholic Church deems abortion a “moral evil” and “gravely contrary to the moral law.” A person who cooperates in an abortion should be excommunicated under canon law, although that person can be welcomed back into the church if the person is truly repentant and asks for forgiveness.

While the papal letter does not change church doctrine, it brings to the fore an issue Francis has talked little about during his papacy. In writing to Fisichella, the pope addressed “the tragedy of abortion” and said some people do not realize the “extreme harm” caused by terminating a pregnancy.

Francis also turned at length to women who believe they have no other option but to go through with an abortion.

“I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal,” the pope wrote. “I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision.”

Post-traumatic church syndrome?

IN her raw memoir, “Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome,” Reba Riley describes her struggle to heal from wounds inflicted by institutional Christianity.

The book claims to remind readers that “sometimes we have to get lost to get found.” .

She says her book “reminds people that their religious past does not have to shackle them, and that it can become the bedrock of transformation. That’s why there is a peacock on the cover: it is the physical equivalent of the mythical phoenix rising from the ashes, a symbol of healing, transformation, and personal resurrection. “Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome” may be my story of physical and spiritual change, but it is also the story of everyone who has witnessed the way God can transform brokenness into beauty.

See more at:

Italian Catholic Church scrambles to explain its role in lavish Mafia boss funeral

ROME (RNS) Italy reacted with disgust to the lavish funeral procession held for alleged Mafia boss Vittorio Casamonica, including a gilded horse-drawn carriage procession, rose petals dropped from a helicopter, and the “Godfather” movie soundtrack.

Now the Roman Catholic Church is grappling with its role in the extravagant funeral as it wrestles with how it might continue to offer the sacraments to members of crime syndicates without appearing to condone their lifestyles.

During the funeral, the walls of Rome’s San Giovanni Bosco Catholic Church were adorned with posters, reading “King of Rome” and “You have conquered Rome, now you will conquer heaven.”

In the days following the funeral, the church tried to distance itself from the elaborately orchestrated spectacle, with Auxiliary Bishop Giuseppe Mariante stating church officials did not know the ceremony would be accompanied by “Mafia propaganda.”

“Of course, if we had had the suspicion of a show of this type, we would have taken precautions,” Mariante was quoted as saying in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s semiofficial newspaper. “We absolutely would not have accepted conducting that funeral.”

The church does not deny last rites, including Communion, to Mafia members or other criminals if requested by relatives, said Bishop Vincenzo Bertolone of Catanzaro-Squillace in Italy’s southern Calabria region, the heartland of the powerful ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate.

“But the directions for the ceremony ask that it is done in a simple way, without pomp, nor flowers, nor music, nor songs, nor beatifying commemorations,” Bertolone added.

Giancarlo Maria Bregantini, who for 13 years was bishop of Calabria’s Locri-Gerace Diocese, said that in his experience in southern Italy, Mafia bosses use funerals and processions to assert themselves and impose their power.

“In this sense the Church in Calabria has suffered and now has a lot to teach other churches,” he said.

Pope Francis has taken a strong line against the Mafia. During a visit to Calabria last year, he lambasted the Mafia for its “adoration of evil” and said mobsters had excommunicated themselves.

Defining God in one word

Huffington Post Religion decided to conduct a little experiment. They asked readers to define God in just one word.

It was a challenge that gained more than 2,200 responses on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Huff Post has been combing through these answers for the most popular words, and came up with a list that represents a few different perspectives — everything from God is “fiction” to God is “faith.”

Despite their diverse religious backgrounds, it was pretty clear what word came to mind most often when readers thought about God: See the rest here


Want ‘sustained happiness’? Get religion, study suggests

A NEW study suggests that joining a religious group could do more for someone’s “sustained happiness” than other forms of social participation, such as volunteering, playing sports or taking a class.

A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology by researchers at the London School of Economics and Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands found that the secret to sustained happiness lies in participation in religion.

“The church appears to play a very important social role in keeping depression at bay and also as a coping mechanism during periods of illness in later life,” Mauricio Avendano, an epidemiologist at LSE and an author of the study, said in a statement. “It is not clear to us how much this is about religion per se, or whether it may be about the sense of belonging and not being socially isolated.”

Researchers looked at four areas: 1) volunteering or working with a charity; 2) taking educational courses; 3) participating in religious organizations; 4) participating in a political or community organization. Of the four, participating in a religious organization was the only social activity associated with sustained happiness, researchers found.

The study analysed 9,000 Europeans who were older than 50. The report that studied older Europeans also found that joining political or community organizations lost their benefits over time. In fact, the short-term benefits from those social connections often lead to depressive symptoms later on, researchers say.

Although healthier people are more likely to volunteer, the researchers found no evidence that volunteering actually leads to better mental health. Benefits could be outweighed by other negative impacts of volunteering, such as stress, Avendano said.

The researchers noted that it is unclear whether the benefits of participating in a religious organization are connected to being in the religious community, or to the faith itself.

Sister Monica’s secret ministry to transgender people

(RNS) Sister Monica lives alone in a small house at the edge of a Roman Catholic college run by a community of nuns.

She doesn’t want to reveal the name of the town where she lives, the name of her Catholic order or her real name.

Sister Monica lives in hiding, so that others may live in plain sight.

Now in her early 70s and semiretired because of health problems, she remains committed to her singular calling for the past 16 years: ministering to transgender people and helping them come out of the shadows.

“Many transgender people have been told there’s something wrong with them,” she said. “They have come to believe that they cannot be true to themselves and be true to God. But there is no way we can pray, or be in communion with God, except in the truth of who we are.”

She spends her days shuttling between email and Skype, phone calls and visits. Since 1999, she has ministered to more than 200 people, many of whom have come to rely on her unflinching love and support.

Although the Catholic Church has issued no clear teaching on transgender people, church teaching that homosexual relations are a sin suggests a similar view of transgender people. A Vatican document in 2000 said gender reassignment surgery does not change a person’s gender in the eyes of the church. In 2008, Pope Benedict urged Catholics to defend “the nature of man against its manipulation.”

“The church speaks of the human being as man and woman, and asks that this order is respected,” Benedict said.

Though Pope Francis is credited with a more compassionate and pastoral tone to gays, Sister Monica fears that the Catholic hierarchy would punish her or her community if her work with transgender people became public.

Despite this, she is as committed to her calling as when she gave her life to Jesus straight out of high school.

“I have great love and fidelity for my community, my call to religious life and obedience to my prioress,” she said.

That calling, as she defines it, is working with people on the margins. To her, transgender people are a part of that margin, and therefore part and parcel of her calling.

Sister Monica began working with gay, lesbian and bisexual people in 1998 after finishing a term as her congregation’s vocations director.

She had long been pained at how her gay friends and relatives had been treated, she said. The call to minister to them came from God, she said.

Early in her ministry, she met a transgender woman, and her work shifted to helping people find peace with bodies that do not match how they see themselves.
Here’s what they heard from priests: ‘Look between your legs. What you see is who you are. God will tell you who you are. Do you want to be damned to eternal hell?’” she said, her voice rising.

That attitude only reinforces the scorn and rejection many transgender people experience in the church, she said.

Early on, she fought this emerging calling.

“I told God so many times: You gave this ministry to the wrong person. I’m not the right person to swim upstream and carry the banner for the cause.”
But these days, she is much clearer about her focus.
Over the years, Sister Monica says she has received “quiet support” from two bishops and several priests. The end of two Vatican investigations that questioned American nuns’ loyalty to church teaching has also relieved some pressure on her ministry secret.

Still, experience tells her she cannot be completely open about what she does.

She has a quick answer to people who say “God made them man and woman,” quoting the Book of Genesis.

“God made day and night. There was also dusk and dawn and twilight. There’s no light switch,” she said. “There are 2,000 kinds of ants and there can’t be more than two kinds of people?”

“We cannot have a relationship with God if we are hiding from ourselves or God,” said the nun.

Melancholy and the art of emptiness

MEDICOS of the Renaissance and Middle Ages referred to depression as the state of “being in Saturn”.
Those obsessed with the saturnine side of life were said to have been temporarily and literally affected by the weight of the ringed planet.
This could induce withdrawal, solitude, profound sadness, weariness and emptiness.
Yet the influence of Saturn was not always considered negative. It was also claimed to make some people contemplative and inspire “cool consideration”.
Today, depression is still a mystery. Its causes are largely unknown.
Respected American writer, psychotherapist and theologian Thomas Moore acknowledged the seriousness of clinical depression in his book Original Self. But he claimed it could not be reduced to a purely physical malady, treatable only with drugs.
Moore attributed a soul element to melancholy.
He also said the presence of profound sadness — the feeling of an emptiness in personal lives — almost always had a positive side.
“People often say there is no imagination in depression. It is a void, a dark pit, a cave with no exit.
“But our problem may be that we are not used to appreciating the particular kind of imagery proper to depression.”
“It feels vague and therefore without meaning,” he said.
“But if we could become better at articulating the imagery of despair and sadness, we might be that much closer to the meaning that would make it bearable. We need a depressive aesthetics; an art of emptiness.”
Moore’s philosophy is that depression, although painful, takes our thoughts “deep and far”. Our thoughts are so heavy because they bear so much meaning, even if at the same time they may feel empty.
“Paradoxically, emptiness is one of the heaviest ideas in religion and philosophy.”
Moore said we have a choice when faced by deep sadness — to respond to its causes, or to maintain a pretence that “this is the way it is, always was, and always will be”.
Han De Wit, an author who specialises in Buddhist-Christian dialogue, contrasted “contemplative psychology” with conventional Western psychology.
He argued that followers of contemplative traditions assumed a freedom to shape their own minds, while mainstream psychology assumed that our minds shape us. The spiritual traditions were more creative because they allowed us to mature.
St Augustine said we understand everything in relation to what we have remembered.
Memory gave us not only personal remembrances of events but also archetypal images. Augustine said everyone had suffered hurt. But the guiding principle of hope was that many had survived the pain and prospered emotionally.
Perhaps no more graphic example of this was the powerful message scrawled on a filthy bathroom wall in the death camp of Auschwitz by a 14-year-old Jewish boy soon to die. He wrote: “I know the sun exists even when I can not see it. I know love exists even when I can not feel it.”
Somehow, the boy had looked beyond his insane world.
T HOMAS Moore has complained of the modern penchant to worship at the altar of good health.
“We look forward to the day when we will be fully balanced and adjusted. We believe we will all have arrived the day when our troubles fade and we feel chronically carefree,” he said.
Moore said this was a “salvational fantasy” based on the hope to be saved from aspects of life that seemed unpleasant.
“I don’t mean to criticise the desire for happiness, but only to point out that it has a companion — the necessity of suffering. Put these two together and we have a complete view of life, one carved out of blissful desires and painful failures.”
Humans seem to have a preference for straight lines. Progress always moves forward, and regression or deviancy are not cherished notions.
Yet writer Rainer Maria Rilke once said: “I live my life in widening rings.”
She said we should relax into the circumambulations of life that turn us over and over, polishing the same arcane stone of our most essential selves.

WE see in life what we want to see

WE see in life what we want to see. If we search for evil we’ll find plenty of it.
But the opposite is also true. If we look for the extraordinary in the ordinary, we will see it.
Hope is described in the book The Science of Optimism And Hope as a conscious choice rather than a random feeling
Martin Seligman, Professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote that we all learn to feel either hopeful or helpless.
He said pessimists could be taught to have “skills of optimism”. People taught the skills were less prone to depression and there was evidence that optimism might delay the ageing process.
He also quoted studies that indicate the immune systems of pessimists function less well than those of optimists, that optimists have greater life expectancy than pessimists and people like optimists more than pessimists.
Optimistic HIV patients show slower immunity decline and symptom onset.
Prof Seligman and his team studied the “optimism levels” of US presidents and found 27 out of 29 winners of the presidential race were graded as more optimistic than their unsuccessful opponents.
HOPE is possibly different to optimism. Optimism can be shallow, naive, complacent and inherited.
Optimistic parents are more likely to have optimistic children. But faith, not something we are born with but can choose, is both vulnerable and trusting.
Those who hope can see something positive beyond the world’s suffering.
Helen Keller, the deaf, sightless mute who inspired the world, said: “When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”
It is practical to hope. We should, as Pearl Buck said, be able to accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

What is a family?

THERE are those who see techniques such as in vitro fertilisation as the first step on a slippery slope to the Brave New World.
Some believe the issue of IVF treatment for anyone outside the traditional family throws the whole nature of family into doubt.
The family, according to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Is the natural and fundamental unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State”.
But does the definition preclude a homosexual couple or a single person raising a child created through reproductive technology?
The nuclear family is far from a recent western European invention. The unit of intimate partners, often with children, has been the core of virtually all societies. But same-sex couples, and single women who want children are also social realities.
Homosexuality was condemned by both Christianity and the ancient Greek philosophers.
Although the philosopher Plato was supposedly homosexual, he argued that, since neither animals nor birds indulge in it, nor should humans.
But he also regarded monogamous marriage, with parental responsibilities, as a threat to social solidarity. He recommended instead that wives and children be shared in common.
According to Plato’s philosophy, the basic laws of the universe were timeless and simple. Parenting was a community matter, not confined to parents.
Science has made parenting possible, in theory, for everyone.
But what is the authority of science? Is it the best type of knowledge we possess, or just the most influential?
Jean-Paul Sartre said: “Man is condemned to be free”. On the other hand, our freedom obliges us to make something of ourselves; to live authentically or truely. Life is not a technical or mechanical process. There is a far deeper reality to existence.
The vital ingredient — the essence of us — seems to be that mysterious element called soul. It distinguishes us from all other beings on the planet.
Benedict De Spinoza argued that, with our souls, we should see everything from the perspective of eternity. He influenced John Locke, who in turn argued that subjugation of people on sexual grounds was invalid.
Many of those who philosophically followed — including Voltaire, David Hume, Immanuel Kant and Soren Kierkegaard — questioned the standard definitions of family.
The Moral Majorities of the 19th and early to mid 20th centuries were pretty clear that families entailed a male and female parent and at least a couple of kids. Child-rearing was considered tough but necessary and rewarding work.
The Techno Age radically altered our lives, allowed us to die more slowly, possibly surrounded by machines rather than family and friends, and threw up great ethical dilemmas.
N OW we have the age of ethical debate. Some scientists claim human cloning is achievable with relative ease. The spiritual and ethical implications are challenging.
So are the questions surrounding IVF availability outside traditional relationships.
First we have to define what family really means.
Single parent families are prevalent, divorce is common, many parents avoid marriage, a significant number of marriages have no children, and many lesbians and gay men establish long-term and committed relationships.
We know the traditional family is not always a haven from the perils of the world, but is sometimes a site of violence, exploitation and danger, especially for women and children.
American minister Mark Kowalewski and religious scholar Elizabeth Say examined the up and down sides of homosexual relationships in the book Gay,Lesbians and Family Values.
They concluded that many couples had constructed pluralistic family values filled with love, care and humor despite “virulent bigotry and ignorance of extremists who claimed restrictive values of family”.

Fear is an unworthy belief system

WHAT are you really afraid of?

The Roman philosopher Petronius concluded 2000 years ago that “fear created the gods”.

Petronius said fear of unknown powers, mysterious events, hunger and especially eventual death were natural horrors to man.

God was created, he said, to overcome the environmental and psychological obstacles over which man felt he had no control.

Science has managed to some extent to narrow the circle of unexplained phenomena. But fear still governs many lives.

There is much fear of random violence, nuclear war and road rage. And psychologists have coined a new word – AtmosFear – to describe the widely held belief the world’s supply of good food, water and air is about to run out.

Collectively, we are afraid of almost everything. Instead of natural harmony, we see disorder, chaos and extinction.

Social researcher Faith Popcorn, according to the Los Angeles Times, that companies should take advantage of social fears.

She advised airlines, for instance, to list the training and experience of their flight crews in transit lounges. Reassurance would lead to
greater sales, she said.

Religion has often not been the antidote to fear. Indeed, too many churches have consciously and unconsciously, verbally and non-verbally, taught fear of damnation, fear of nature (particularly our own), fear of our bodies, fear of others and fear of the world.

Religions built on fear must keep preaching their fears to survive. They do injustice to the mystery of faith.
Because of this many people believe that traditional Western religions are inadequate to adult spiritual needs.

It has driven many to seek solace in ridiculous pseudo-sciences. Nervously clutching crystals and consulting horoscopes, they slide back into superstition and, sadly, greater fear.

It is hard to learn wisdom when you lack a basic trust in a loving creator.

It should not be this way.

We learn to trust as children. But bad parenting, or bad experiences, can destroy the concept.
Then it is a matter of being healed to regain faith. This reconciliation ought to be a function of religion. It probably once was.

Pisteuin, the original Greek word most often used by Jesus in the New Testament to convey “faith”, also means “trust”.

He said faith, or trust, had the power to heal the sick; even to move mountains.

Augustine later understood faith as “intellectual assent”. Trust in one’s own existence, he said, was the basic meaning of faith.

The early Hebrews had a passion and reverence for the process of change. They believed the natural changes that embrace us all – including the birth to death process – should be embraced, not feared.

Death was seen, not as the natural consequence of Original Sin, but as the final expansive explosion of our being on the planet.
“We are of God and that is enough to know for us to live in peace,” is an old Jewish saying that sums up the philosophy.

Release from the fears is seen by most psychologists as the key to better relationships.

The great German writer Goethe saw the value of self-trust and other-trust.
He wrote: “If you treat a person as she appears to be, you make her worse than she is. But if you treat a person as if she already were what she potentially could be, you make her what she should be.”

The message is that trust, or faith, in the miracle of existence and the goodness of change can eradicate fears that have bound us.

As Albert Einstein wrote: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.
“He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead.”

Sudan detains 10 women for wearing miniskirts and trousers to church

Sudanese authorities have detained 10 Christian students on a charge of indecent dressing, a criminal offense, after they wore miniskirts and trousers to church.

The young women were arrested last month in front of the Evangelical Baptist Church in the war-torn Nuba Mountains region in South Kordofan.

The girls, ages 17 to 23, had attended a ceremony at the church.

Police charged 12 women under Sudan’s 1991 Criminal Act, but two were released. The rest are to appear in court in coming days. If convicted, each will face 40 lashes.

“Sudan must drop the charges and release these women immediately,” Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s East Africa Deputy Director said on Sunday (July 12). “A hem-line is not a crime.”

Jackson said authorities imposed the charges in a discriminatory and inappropriate way and violated the women’s rights.

The 17-year-old student’s case has been transferred to the juvenile court. The rest of the women have court dates this week.

The Sudanese government is now trying two Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church pastors. The pastors face a possible death penalty conviction on charges of spying.

Yat Michael Rout was arrested last December after he delivered a sermon in a church in Omdurman area, while Peter Yein Reith was arrested weeks later after he raised the arrest issue with Sudan authorities.

Islamic law is strictly imposed in Sudan, and its government has increased persecution of Christians.

Darlene Zschech Leads Worship For The Pope

Australia’s iconic Christian singer Darlene Zschech led worship for Pope Francis at an ecumenical prayer gathering of more than 30,000 people at the Vatican this week.

The event, was a prayer and worship gathering for the persecuted church called Voices In Prayer led by Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square.

It was part of the 38th Annual Convocation of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, a Holy-Spirit centred movement within the Catholic Church also known as Renewal In The Holy Spirit (Rinnovamento nello Spirito Santo).

Darlene sang alongside the world-renowned tenor and devout Catholic Andrea Bocelli, US worship leader Don Moen, and Israeli singer-songwriter Noa (Anchinoam Nini).

Together they led the gathering of believers in singing Amazing Grace.

The event brought together Protestants, Catholics and Jews together to pray for believers around the world who are being martyred and persecuted.

It was the first ever ecumenical event held in St Peter’s Square