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.

 

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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.”

Christmas can make you miserable (unless you’re Christian), study claims

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 Scientists from Germany found that the Christmas period decreases the quality of life for many Europeans, with the only exception being those who described themselves as devoutly Christian.

According to new research published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, the study interviewed respondents in the pre-Christmas period (16th – 26th of December) and then compared it to their levels of happiness and contentment in the post-Christmas period (27th – 31st of December).

It found that the period around Christmas gave people significantly less satisfaction and more negative emotions when compared to the rest of the year – unless you were Christian.

Other outliers in the study who appeared to take the festive stress in their stride were those with a higher level of education or with children at home.

Michael Mutz, the lead author of the study, suggests that the lower levels of life satisfaction around the festive period come from trying to fulfil social obligations in time, like buying gifts and attending tedious parties.

Mutz found that Christians are less likely to feel stressed by the consumer culture of the festive season, leading to greater happiness.

“People with Christian affiliation and a strong sense of religiousness celebrate Christmas differently than the majority of non-Christians,” says Mutz.

“It can be assumed that these individuals are less prone to becoming absorbed by the consumerism that precedes the holidays.”

The woman who changed history 60 years ago

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ROSA  Parks changed history 60 years ago this week  when she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. The courageous act propelled her to the front of the civil rights movement, and she remains a symbol of the struggle to this day

It all began in December 1955, when Parks was arrested for civil disobedience: She had refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a crowded bus in the racially segregated town of Montgomery, Alabama. Her defiance sparked the push for racial equality, which brought civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. into the public eye and changed the world forever.

She said she never planned to be arrested for breaking a racist law in 1955, but realised at the time that she had to make a stand.

Great occasions do not make heroes or cowards; they simply unveil them.

Parks was in the right place at the right time and she had the courage to act.
Parks’s civil disobedience kicked off a massive boycott and Supreme Court decision that affirmed that Alabama’s segregation laws were unconstitutional.

Rosa Parks once said: “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day… No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

Parks died in October of 2005, and was given memorial services to reflect her heroic legacy in Detroit, Montgomery, and Washington, D.C. She was the first woman in history to lie in state in the capitol rotunda, as well as the first American who was not a government official and the second African-American to do so.

Rosa Parks’ impact on history is undeniable.

 

Richard Dawkins says UK cinemas should screen the Lord’s Prayer

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Richard Dawkins, the vociferous critic of religion, says anyone thin-skinned enough to be offended by a church advert deserves to be offended.

The controversial atheist writer has become an unexpected backer of showing the 60-second advert featuring the Lord’s Prayer in cinemas ahead of Christmas after three major cinema chains refused to screen it before Star Wars: the Force Awakens, due for release on 18 December.

The advert he was defending is to promote a new Church of England website, JustPray.uk, which encourages people to pray. The film shows Christians, beginning with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, saying one line of the Lord’s Prayer. The following lines are said by a diverse range of people including weightlifters, a police officer, a commuter, refugees in a support centre, schoolchildren, a mourner at a graveside and a festivalgoer.

“I still strongly object to suppressing the ads on the grounds that they might ‘offend’ people. If anybody is ‘offended’ by something so trivial as a prayer, they deserve to be offended,” said Dawkins, who has described himself as “a cultural Anglican”.

 

Russians close down Scientology

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A Russian court has ruled that the Moscow branch of the Church of Scientology should be dissolved.

The Moscow city court accepted the arguments of Russia’s justice ministry that as the term “Scientology” is a registered US trademark, the Church cannot be considered a religious organisation.

The organisation plans to appeal, reports said.

The court set a six-month timescale for the Church to close, the ministry said.

The Church of Scientology, founded in 1954 by science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, has run into legal trouble in several countries around the world. Critics describe the organisation as a worrisome cult, but it is formally recognised as a religion in some countries.
Critics say that it is a cult and that it scams its members, while supporters maintain that it provides spiritual support to its followers.

Meanwhile in Brussels, a Belgian prosecutor has asked a court  for the dissolution of the country’s branch of the Church of Scientology, in a trial relating to allegations of fraud, criminal organisation and illegal medical activities, Belga news agency reported.

The Belgian trial draws on evidence gathered over the course of 20 years.

The European and Belgian offices of Scientology, and 11 of its members, stand accused of activities including the use of potentially harmful substances during initiation rituals, the publication of false job openings and the violation of privacy laws, Belga reported.

The hearings are expected to continue into December

Lord’s Prayer commercial banned

BRITAIN  woke up this morning to the news that the Lord’s Prayer has been banned from cinemas.

The Church of England has produced a sixty second commercial.  The only words are the words of the Lord’s Prayer, said by children, the bereaved, people at work and so on.  It’s a beautiful film, Certificate U. The ad is to promote a new website, Just Pray.uk.  The plan was (and is) to show the film before Christmas at screenings of the new Star Wars film to help everyone think about prayer and to pray.  What could be more simple?

The distributors have declared the Lord’s Prayer unsuitable for screening.  They believe it carries the risk of upsetting or offending audiences.

This is the banned ad.

 

 

 

The anger game

Anybody can become angry.

But, as Aristotle said, to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right reason, and in the right way is not that easy.

Experiments by psychologists indicate we typically have a well-developed sense of fairness and often co-operate with others rather than competing with them — until repressed anger gets in the way.

We sometimes desperately crave revenge against those who have offended us, and live as prisoners of our pain, obsessed with getting even.

We all choose to get angry and no matter what happens in our lives, no one else is to blame for our anger.

Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius asked: “How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it?”

Using hatred against hatred is a nonsense. But if we use compassion to embrace those who have harmed us, it can diffuse the bomb in our hearts and in theirs.

Sometimes, when we allow grace to work, we forgive our tormentors and our hearts are freed to move beyond their hardened boundaries.

We are able to walk in the shoes of the other person.

Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, once nominated for a Nobel Peace prize, was asked what he would say if he could have spoken  to Osama Bin Laden.

The monk said the first thing he would do was to listen.

“I would try to understand why he had acted in that cruel way,” he said.

“I would try to understand all of the suffering that had led him to violence. It might not be easy to listen in that way, so I would have to remain calm and lucid.”

The monk said he would consider bin Laden’s words and then respond gently, but firmly in such a way to help bin Laden discover his “misunderstandings” about violence.

The ancient sages knew what they were doing when they ranked anger among the seven deadly sins and urged people to beware the temptation. Anger blocks blessings.

Without forgiveness and understanding, there is no hope and no future. Our destinies are, in fact, lost in our anger.

Dare to believe what you often might not see

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THOMAS Edison was a great inventor, but he could not predict airline travel.
“It is apparent to me that the possibilities of the aeroplane have been exhausted and that we must turn elsewhere,” he said in 1895.
In the same year, Lord Kelvin, president of Britain’s Royal Society, declared: “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.”
How could they get it so wrong?
“Space travel is bunk,” said Sir Harold Spencer Jones, Astronomer Royal of Britain, in 1957, two weeks before the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik started the space age.
The Spanish Commission, rejecting Christopher Columbus’s proposal to sail west, argued: “So many centuries after the Creation, it is unlikely that anyone could find hitherto unknown lands of any value.”
It’s amazing how often theories that seem solid are found to be in error.
There’s a commonly held theory that the Bible stories, particularly the ones about Noah and his Ark, Moses and the Red Sea and the Tower of Babel cannot be scientifically proven.
But there is some evidence that, although the Bible is not a book about science and is sometimes more about analogies, it is also often scientifically and historically accurate.
The Ark story, with its logistical problems of how Noah and his family managed to get at least two of each species on board, is generally accepted as at least partly mythical. But in 1609 at Hoorn, in Holland, Pieter Jansen produced a vessel after the pattern of the ark, only smaller, and said he proved it was well adapted for floating, and would carry a cargo greater by one-third than any other form of ship.
Lloyd’s Register of Shipping has commented that the Ark’s design revolutionised shipping up until 1900 when every large vessel on the high seas was inclined toward the proportions of Noah’s boat.
Shipbuilders during World War II, using the same ratios as the Ark, built a boat that came to be known as the ugly duckling, a barge-like boat built to carry tremendous amounts of cargo.The Bible writers somehow portrayed astonishing scientific truths far ahead of their time.
At a time when it was commonly thought the Earth was perched on giant spokes, the Old Testament spoke of the planet free floating in space. There was no scientific proof of that until the 17th Century.
The Book of Isaiah, written about 28 centuries ago, spoke of the Earth being spherical about three centuries before Aristotle suggested the same thing and 2000 years before Columbus proved it.
In another astonishing piece of foreknowledge, the Bible talked of cycles of air currents around the Earth a couple of millennia before scientists discovered them.
The Bible says the universe began in an instant. Science once theorised the universe and all life forms evolved over time. Now scientists believe the universe began in an instant — a Big Bang.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said the religion that was afraid of science dishonoured God.
Writer Gary Zukav said acceptance without proof was the fundamental characteristic of Western religion; and rejection without proof was the fundamental characteristic of Western science.
The Bible is all about real things, the real origin, history and destiny of man and the universe.
It’s also about love and, as Albert Einstein said, gravitation cannot be responsible for people falling in love.
Einstein also said religion, arts and sciences were branches of the same tree.
“All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom,” he said.
The Bible has always proclaimed that among God’s gifts are human minds capable of critical thought.

 

Muslims around the world condemn Paris attacks

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Muslim leaders the world over are condemning the horrific terror attacks that struck Paris Friday night, expressing outrage and shock at an onslaught of shootings and bombings that left at least 120 dead and hundreds wounded.

The outpouring of support for the victims and and disgust for the attacks began even before ISIS, the militant terrorist group current terrorizing entire sections of Iraq and Syria, claimed responsibility for the carnage. Muslim imams, scholars, commentators, and average Muslims expressed grief and horror using social media. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, an Islamic movement founded in British India in the 19th century, released a statement rebuking the “barbaric attacks.”

In Ireland, the Imam of the Al-Mustafa Islamic Centre and Chair of the Irish Muslim Peace & Integration Council, offered prayers for the victims and dismissed terrorist’s claims to Islam.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Paris and every other place on earth plagued by sick men with weapons and bombs,” Imam Umar Al-Qadri said. “Terrorists have no religion whatsoever. Their religion is intolerance, hatred for Peace.”
Shuja Shafi, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, repeated Al-Qadri’s rejection of ISIS.

“This attack is being claimed by the group calling themselves ‘Islamic State’,” he said. “There is nothing Islamic about such people and their actions are evil, and outside the boundaries set by our faith.”

The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University, the thousand-year-old, highly influential center for Sunni Muslim scholarship, called the attacks “odious” and called on the world to “unite to face this monster,” according to French magazine Jeunea Frique.

There is nothing Islamic about such people and their actions are evil, and outside the boundaries set by our faith.

Leaders of several Muslim-majority nations also spoke out. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani called the attacks a “crime against humanity,” Qatari foreign minister Khaled al-Attiyah described them as “heinous,” and Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister declared they were “in violation and contravention of all ethics, morals and religions.” Saudi Arabia’s highest religious body also spoke out, saying “terrorists are not sanctioned by Islam and these acts are contrary to values of mercy it brought to the world.”

Joko Widodo, president of Indonesia — the largest Muslim nation population-wise — said “Indonesia condemns the violence that took place in Paris.”

In the United States, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim social justice group, quickly issued a press release rejecting terrorism — something they do regularly in response to such incidents. Their statement also made mention of a bombing in Beirut, Lebanon on Thursday that wounded 200 and killed 45. Three residents of Dearborn, Michigan lost their lives in that attack attack, which ISIS also claimed responsibility for.

“These savage and despicable attacks on civilians, whether they occur in Paris, Beirut or any other city, are outrageous and without justification,” CAIR’s statement read. “We condemn these horrific crimes in the strongest terms possible. Our thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of those killed and injured and with all of France. The perpetrators of these heinous attacks must be apprehended and brought to justice.”

Pope Francis appeared to echo their rejection of ISIS’s religious claims in a phone interview with the Italian Bishops’ Conference television network on Friday. Explaining that he sees the violence as part of a “piecemeal Third World War,” he said “there is no religious or human justification” for the attacks

Pray for Paris

Heartbreaking news from Paris. Praying for the country and its people.
Be with us in our prayer.
Help us to truly believe,
not only in Your abiding presence,
but also in the power of prayer
to move mountains.

Pull us from the grasp of violence.
Guide our steps in Your way of peace.
Amen.

Bark The Herald Angels!

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JESUS  may have been born in a stable surrounded by animals but He  is in danger of being overshadowed by dogs, cats, guinea pigs and hamsters this Christmas, it has been claimed.

Advent calendars are now two and a half times as likely to feature festive treats for pampered pets as pictures of the Baby Jesus, according to the maker of one of Britain’s only explicitly Christian versions.

David Marshall, founder of the Meaningful Chocolate Company, which makes charity fair-trade Christmas and Easter products, estimates that only 400,000 advent calendars on sale in British shops this year will feature a Christian theme.

By contrast, he estimates that more than a million advent calendars specifically for pets will be on retailers’ shelves, based on informal industry figures.

One chain of pet shops alone said it had sold 135,000 animal advent calendars by mid-December last year. Calendars containing treats for pets are also sold in major supermarkets.

“Based on conversations with people who make components for advent calendars it is clear that there are now about one million of these being produced in the UK each year,” said Mr Marshall.

““Stores are happy to cater for pet owners but don’t think Christians want to give children a quality advent calendar which connects with the Christmas story – it’s barking.

“Parents or grandparents looking for a calendar with religious or ethical content usually find nothing but superhero-themed calendars and £1 cheap chocolate versions on offer.

“Virtually no religious chocolate advent calendars are on the market.”.

Last week some Christians voiced anger over a Christmas advertisement for Mulberry featuring a handbag at the centre of a nativity scene instead of the baby Jesus.

And Starbucks has also faced a chorus of outrage in some quarters over a new Christmas cup design, which is now a plain red instead of featuring festive imagery..

Meanwhile the Archbishop of York has launched his own drive to restore the spirit of Christmas by bringing back the custom of sending personal hand-written Christmas cards instead of digital greetings.

Dr John Sentamu, who personally signs around 1,600 cards each year, is backing a campaign by Traidcraft, the fair trade organisation, to persuade people to buy charity Christmas greetings,

A survey by Traidcraft found that 77 per cent of people polled said they prefer a handwritten Christmas card over any other kind of communication.

But only three per cent said they would be happy with a Christmas message sent through a social media accounts.

“I love using social media but I think something has been lost in our increasing reliance on it to connect with people,” he said.

“A ‘like’ on Facebook or a retweet will never satiate the most basic of human needs, to feel connected, loved and belonging to a tangible community.

“So why not reach out to someone with a handwritten Christmas card, expressing a genuine, heartfelt sentiment.

“Making the effort and showing someone that you’ve taken the time to think of them is priceless and will really show them that you care this festive season.”

Kevin Rudd slams George Pell

Former PM Kevin Rudd has mounted a scathing attack on Cardinal George Pell for being a “radical climate change sceptic” who is “muddying the ethical waters” ahead of the critical Paris climate change conference, in direct contradiction to the views of Pope Francis.

Rudd says the ethical imperatives of strong climate action and the fact that Pell is now a “global figure”, means it is time to confront “head on” the views of the cleric, who was a strident critic of the Labor government’s climate policies as archbishop of Sydney and who is now a senior Vatican cardinal.

“It is, therefore, no small matter, at this most critical of times, for the ethical waters, at least in the community of faith, to be so deeply muddied, by such radical climate change sceptics as Cardinal Pell, and for his commentary to go without challenge. Of course he is free to contribute to the public policy debate in any manner he wishes. But it is equally important, particularly now that Cardinal Pell has become a global figure, to have his … statements on climate change challenged by others in the public space. It is high time his views were confronted head on. The stakes are now far too high for us all,” Rudd says in the Rowan Williams lecture.

The prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said recently no energy source could have a “moral characteristic” and Australia just needed to make rational choices between the various abundant energy sources it had available.

But Rudd insists that “anyone who claims in making policy judgments they are doing so oblivious to ethical considerations, and instead are simply acting on a simple ‘value free’ premise of ‘common sense’, is engaged in deep self-delusion”.

And he strongly defends the right, and even obligation, of churches to engage in public debate as one of a number of “ethical voices”.

“Unless there is at least one institution seeking to construct, maintain and argue the continuing ethical parameters within which the stated purposes and unintended consequences of government action should be considered, then there is a greater risk that public policy simply becomes ‘interest group politics’ or, even worse, retail politics by another name,” he says.

Who we are depends on who you ask

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LIFE is a messy, confusing business. And as for reality, it sometimes seems to be nothing more than a collective hunch.

It is said that each of us is at least four different people — the person we think we are, the person others think we are, the person we think others think we are. And the person we really are.

Author Kurt Vonnegut said we are what we pretend to be, so we must be very careful about what we pretend. Stephen King observed we lie best when we lie to ourselves.
So, if reality is relative, who are we really?

A father, a son, a single mother, a depression sufferer, company chairman, bricklayer, Christian, Buddhist, atheist? What might happen if those labels were removed?
We might suffer an identity crisis, a common problem in societies where roles and relationships are in flux.

To know the true reality of ourselves, we need to be aware not only of conscious thoughts, but also of our unconscious prejudices, bias and habits that can lead to self-deception.

A  study found that many people choose pure-bred dogs that resemble themselves physically. But there is obviously more to it.
British writer Aldous Huxley observed that to his dog, every man is Napoleon; hence the constant popularity of dogs.

Mark Twain said it was lucky that Heaven went by favour. If it went by merit, “you would stay out and your dog would go in”.

Well, he has a point. To dogs, every monotonous day is an absolute adventure. And dogs seem to love unconditionally and forgive us instantly. They don’t seem to care how we vote, how famous we are or how thin. They don’t seem to judge us.

George Harrison once remarked that his dog did not know, or care, that he was once a Beatle.
“And I am not really Beatle George,” he said.
“Beatle George is like a suit or shirt that I once wore on occasion and until the end of

my life people may see that shirt and mistake it for me.”
Cary Grant noted at the height of his screen fame that almost everyone he met wanted to be Cary Grant.
`

`Even I want to be Cary Grant,” he said, nicely summing up the delineation between film fantasy and the real man.

We may instinctively wish to be someone we are not. As Blaise Pascal said almost four centuries ago: “We are not satisfied with real life; we want to live some imaginary life in the eyes of other people, and to seem different to what we really are.”

The apostle John, describing a heavenly revelation given to him, wrote of a New World in which God has prepared a white stone for each of us with a new name on it
The name on the stone, known only to those who receive it, reveals something very personal about the receiver.
That means we are all somewhere on the journey to become the names that God wrote down even before our births.

Theologian George MacDonald described the white stone name as “the man’s own symbol — his soul’s picture, in a word — the sign which belongs to him and to no one else. Who can give a man this, his own name? God alone. For no one but God sees what the man is.

“It is only when the man has become his name that God gives him the stone with the name upon it, for then, for the first time, he can understand what his name signifies.”

The dead letter office

A  US company offers to deliver messages to the dead for about $20 a word — with a five-word minimum.

The company sends the messages via terminally ill patients who promise, for a fee, to deliver the messages to “the other world”.

The fine print of the agreement, however, warns customers that the company cannot guarantee the message will get through.

“The truth is,” the company warns, “no one knows what happens when someone dies.”

Maybe not. But there is plenty of speculation.

Heaven, in most religions, is the ultimate destiny of the blessed. It is, according to most accounts in literature, a safe and beautiful place — the opposite of earthly squalor.

It is not the venue of never-ending boredom, but the centre of high human aspirations; the most fragrant and splendid of places.

Philosopher and author Arthur Roberts, in his new book Exploring Heaven, lays out historical evidence that people will retain their identities and personalities in heaven.

“We’ll be more than information bytes downloaded on to an eternal supercomputer,” he writes.

“We will do things like caring for our bodies, working, playing, socialising, sharing affection, and worshipping.”

Roberts even talks of the possibility of animals in heaven, although he admits he is not sure and has no evidence.

Medieval Pope Gregory the Great recorded his vision of heaven — pleasant meadows with white-clad people, sweetly smelling air, bright light and houses made of golden bricks.

Islamic scholars wrote of a heavenly oasis with great feasts and virgins attending the faithful.

Huckleberry Finn said heaven was the place where a person would “go round all day long with a harp and sing . . . forever and ever”.

Karl Marx said the whole concept of heaven was merely “pie in the sky”.

Early Christians and ancient Jews had a different concept of the afterlife. They saw not so much pie in the sky, but pie served on earth.

They talked of an earthly alternative for humanity — the New Jerusalem built on this planet after the return of the Messiah. Only God could live in heaven, they said.

Most people seem to have a vague concept of heaven; perhaps a grand reunion of a loved one or a final escape from pain. Our instincts suggest that the real story of heaven is about how we might transform after death on this planet.

Those who believe in this new realm — and it seems logical to do so — feel it will be unlike anything any of us have so far known or experienced.

Who knows what heaven will be like? Will there be music, for example?

The religious experts seem to agree that music will be part of the new system. After all, music was, according to many traditions, the language God spoke to create the universe.

What age will we be in heaven? The medieval philosophers generally agreed that we would be about 33, the recognised age of “earthly maturity” and also the age of Jesus when He physically left the planet.

Will we somehow retain our present bodies? The Jews think so and that is why they reject cremation.

Christians talk of new bodies, fashioned like the body of Jesus when He returns the second time.
Buddhists and Hindus believe we will become pure spirits.

It’s all slightly uncomfortable to discuss. Death, no matter what the destination, seems a violent act; an enemy of life.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who worked with the dying, noted that none of the encounter groups of dying people she chaired wanted to talk about heaven.
It seemed embarrassing, even cowardly.

“What convulsion of values can have us holding up the prospect of annihilation as brave and that of blissful eternity as cowardly?” she said.

And what has happened to the old bedrock gospel concept of heaven as a “home” beyond this one.

In that vision, heaven is a destiny, a place where some things — such as love — will never come to an end.

The most amazing thing may be that the lessons we learn in this world will serve us well in the next. And the concentric circles of love we recognise in this world will be expanded in the future.

Nothing will be lost. It will simply be transformed.

Losing our souls in cyberspace

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A PUBLISHED study of the IQ ratings of US presidents received wide coverage on the Internet.

 According to the study by a US “think tank”, the smartest president in recent times was Bill Clinton, followed by John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter. At the bottom of the list were George W. Bush and his father.

All very interesting, but is it true? Well no, it is not. The whole thing was a hoax perpetrated by a group of US college students who wanted to see how far they could push a rumour.

That they succeeded so well is worrying. But amid the roar of information technology, no one bothered to check the authenticity of the supposed study until it had received wide currency.

The information revolution offers wonders in a world of unbounded curiosity. We can connect to oceans of data on the World Wide Web, explore virtual realities and theoretically connect with millions of people. It also has led to an increase in our freedom to choose information sources and has become an engine of the postmodern economy.

But we could be in danger of losing our souls in cyberspace.

The world has greatly changed since 1943 when Thomas J. Watson, then chairman of IBM, said: “I think there is a world market for about five computers.”

Years ago, the book Virtual Gods quoted social critic Jacques Ellul as saying technological progress “has its price,” because it raises more and greater problems than it solves. Ellul said technology’s benefits were inseparable from its destructive effects, and that every major technological innovation led to many unforeseen consequences.

Philosopher Albert Borgmann has cautioned against demonising new technology, but noted that information could illuminate, transform or displace reality.

We wake to news on radio, read the news on the phone  and fire up our computers at work. Back home, the television and internet waves of information wash over us.

We live in a world devoid of quiet, where every surface shouts and every silence is filled. You can get lost in the digital cosmos.

Borgmann points to the void we feel when a power strike deprives us of information. The world closes in; it becomes dark and oppressive.

Borgmann wonders if we are in danger of drowning in the information flood we have loosed. He questions whether information technology is creating a new division between the haves and the have-nots.

And are those of us fortunate enough to use a PC sometimes losing sight of reality?

E-mail  and texting makes distant friends seem closer, but the communication is disembodied. It is easy to feel connected to people around the globe via the Internet, while neglecting neighbours.

By removing the “real life” element from spiritual experiences, we may be losing something that is vital to mysticism.

Borgmann and others say there is a connection between technology’s progress and a decline in faith. We are embracing virtual realities that have little to do with genuine reality.

The assault of self-promotional verbiage, porno, gossip and untruths drift untethered through cyberspace. It is a jumbled culture.

Some leading postmodernists aspire to a future in which the Internet would function as a godlike force: omnipresent and omnipotent.

Butt there is more to learning than information acquisition.
People learn best in supportive communities, not sitting alone before a computer screen.

As Kahlil Gibran said: Progress is not merely improving the past; it is moving forward towards the future.


Study: More Americans reject religion, but believers firm in faith

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AMERICANS as a whole are becoming less religious, but those who still practice a faith are just as committed as they were in the past — in certain respects even more so.

The 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study provides some solace to those who bemoan the undeniable rise of the “nones” — people who claim no religious affiliation. “People who say they have a religion — which is still the vast majority of the population — show no discernible dip in levels of observance,” said Alan Cooperman, director of religion research at Pew.

“They report attending religious services as often as they did a few years ago. They pray as often as they did before, and they are just as likely to say that religion plays a very important role in their lives,” he added. “On some measures there are even small increases in their levels of religious practice.”

More religiously affiliated adults, for example, read scripture regularly and participate in small religious groups compared to seven years ago, according to the survey. And 88% of religiously affiliated adults say they pray daily, weekly or monthly — the same percentage that reported regular prayer in the first landscape study in 2007.

“We should remember that the United States remains a nation of believers with nearly 9 in 10 adults saying they believe in God,” said Gregory Smith, Pew’s associate director of research.

That said, religious affiliation overall has ticked down by about 3 percentage points in recent years, driven mainly by growth in the share of “nones” who say they don’t believe in God. Even among Christians — 98% of whom say they believe in God — fewer believe with absolute certainty: 76% today compared with 80% in 2007.

About 77% of adults surveyed describe themselves as religiously affiliated, a decline from 83% in 2007.

Pew researchers attribute these drops to the dying off of older believers, and a growing number of Millennials — those born from 1982 through early 2000s — who claim no religious affiliation.

The researchers also found that as religiosity in America wanes, a more general spirituality is on the rise, with 6 in 10 adults saying they regularly feel a “deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being,” up 7 percentage points since 2007. Also increasing: the number of people who experienced a “deep sense of wonder” about the universe, which also jumped 7 percentage points.

More striking numbers in the study describe changing Christian attitudes toward gay Americans. Though the new survey is not the first to document such change, it shows in detail how dramatically members of a broad swath of denominations — even those that officially oppose homosexuality — have shifted in their views.

The number of evangelical Protestants, for example, who said they agreed that “homosexuality should be accepted by society” jumped 10 percentage points between the 2007 and 2014 studies — from 26% to 36%. The increase for Catholics was even steeper, from 58% to 70%. For historically black Protestant churches, acceptance jumped from 39% to 51%.

Other findings from the study include:

• A minority of Jews — 40% — and the vast majority of Muslims — 90% — say they do not eat pork, the consumption of which is forbidden by Jewish and Islamic law. Hinduism does not allow beef to be eaten, and nearly 7 in 10 Hindus (67%) say they abide by that rule.

• Nearly 9 in 10 Americans say religious institutions bring people together and strengthen community bonds, and 87% say they play an important role in helping the poor and needy.

• Women are more prayerful than men: 64% say they pray every day, compared with 46% of men.

• On evolution, more than 62% of Americans say humans have evolved over time, while about a third (34%) say humans always existed in their present form.

• Six in 10 adults, and three-quarters of Christians, believe the Bible or other holy scripture is the word of God. About 31% overall — and 39% of Christians — believe it should be interpreted literally.

 

Life in the past lane

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AS someone once said: Nostalgia is not what it used to be. In fact, it never  was.

That  insidious emotion, nostalgia, seems to be as much a part of the modern world as new technology.

The more rapidly we are propelled into an uncertain future, the more we seem to yearn for life in the past lane; for the imagined safe world of yesterday.

We want to believe that yesterday was simpler and more secure — even though we should know that life has always been on a razor’s edge.
Charles Leadbeater, in his book Up the Down Escalator, wrote of booming housing estates in the United States where everything is freshly minted to look old.

“From films to music, cars to architecture, we are using new technology to return us to the past, to deliver better versions of old experiences,” he wrote.

Leadbeater said the globalisation and immersion in computerised and virtual worlds had made us nostalgic for a time when we imagined we lived in real communities, with a sense of shared social and moral commitment.

He said we could mix and match from the al a carte menu of memories. But in the end, we were deceiving and paralysing ourselves.

Nostalgia was first recognised — as an affliction or mania — in the 17th century. Swiss doctor Johannes Hofer documented cases of war-weary soldiers who hallucinated about the homelands they had left behind.

Centuries later, wallowing in the past is no longer generally viewed as an affliction. Instead, it is a somewhat romantic notion.

Nostalgia in reality is a cheap emotion, or as Leadbeater puts it, “a lazy wallow in a warm bath of false history”.

In another century, Samuel Johnson wrote: “Every old man complains of the growing depravity of the world, of the petulance and insolence of the rising generation. He recounts the decency and regularity of former times, and celebrates the discipline and sobriety of the age in which his youth was passed; a happy age which is now no more to be expected, since confusion has broken in upon the world, and thrown down all the boundaries of civility and reverence.”

We do not do much better with our visions of the future.

Wonder and worry about life seem to mix loosely in all of us. We clearly need more wonder and less worry.

As Christian author C.S. Lewis puts it, we are called to attend to “eternity itself, and to that point of time which we call the present”.

German theologian Deitrich Bonheoffer, who railed against the Nazis and was executed, complained about the “sentimentality” of religions.

He said churches often dealt too much with past and future visions and not enough with today’s realities.

“Christianity meets humans at the centre of their lives, both in their joys and sufferings,” he said.

“God must be recognised at the centre of life, not when we are at the end of our resources; it is his will to be recognised in life, and not only when death comes; in health and vigour, and not only in suffering; in all our activities, and not only in sin.”

It’s too early to quit

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BASKETBALL legend Michael Jordan said he had missed more than 9000 shots in his pro career.
“I’ve lost more than 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Albert Einstein admitted he was not all that smart. “It’s just that I stay with problems longer,” he said.

“I think and think for months and years. Ninety-nine times, the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.”

Thomas Edison invented the incandescent light bulb, but only after more than 10,000 unsuccessful attempts. A reporter once asked Edison how it felt to have failed so many times. How was he able to go on? Edison replied: “I haven’t failed 10,000 times, I’ve discovered 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Writer Tom Robbins said there was nothing wrong with failing as long as it did not stopus from trying again.

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.

The truth is that perseverance is the key to spiritual success.
It is a gateway to holiness.

The Book of Hebrews defines faith as the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

The word used for faith in Hebrew is usually emunah. The root of the word means craft.

That is because in Jewish thought, belief in God is like a craft — a skill or set of techniques that are studied and perfected. It’s not something that you are born with.

Belief is a process, anchored in hope. Perseverance demonstrates the underlying hope, an inner belief that God is good and rules the world.

Therefore, ultimately things must turn out for the best.

We were not born accidentally or by mistake. God told the prophet Isaiah: “You were in my care even before you were born.”
To another prophet, He said: “I determined the exact time of your birth and where you would live.”

God created each of us for a reason.

Our lives have profound meaning that perhaps can only be unveiled by persevering.
Determination will get us up to where we need to be.

Sometimes it is enough to just trust in God.

“After you have done everything to stand, stand firm then,” the Apostle Paul told the early Christians.

We will face times when we suspect everything is finished.

Instead, we could be facing new beginnings.

Believe it or not

TO say “I don’t know” is often to express a profound truth.

Doubt is an integral component of scientific, social and even theological discovery.

Intelligent, educated and sincere people often doubt the supernatural. It’s not surprising to find religious sceptics among our best thinkers, scientists, writers and social reformers.

But sometimes what feels like doubt and atheism is the beginning of real belief.

The perceptive 19th century writer Charles Caleb Colton said doubt was the vestibule through which all must pass before they can enter into the temple of wisdom. That sounds right.

Writer C. S. Lewis was, for many years, an apologist for atheism. In his 30s, he found himself doubting his doubts and became profoundly Christian.

“I had maintained that God did not exist,” he said. “I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with Him for creating a world.”

He described his conversion, in a book he titled Surprised By Joy, as “waking from a long sleep”.

The disciple Thomas, the one who would not believe in Jesus’ resurrection until he saw the crucifixion wounds, is forever known by the epithet Doubting Thomas.

It seems like an all-defining attribute, yet Thomas’ doubt, although worldly and real, was momentary. He apparently ended his life as a martyr for Christianity in India.

The doubt that Thomas honestly expressed is famous, at least partly, because it is the sort of doubt we all share.
If we believed without doubt in the Christmas story and the Easter story, our way of living and dying would be dramatically different.

We hope for miracles, we want to believe in them, but there is a mental reservation that often keeps us from believing completely.

Thomas was a true sceptic. He doubted so that his belief might be based on something more than wishful thinking. He doubted as a step towards establishing belief.

Doubt, at its best, is not denial, but an essential questioning pathway to the truth. At its worst, it can turn corrosive and lead to a permanent state of “unless I see it, I will not believe it”.

Everybody has faith in something. Those who doubt the miracles of Jesus, but promote scientific, political or social theories also base their lives on faith.

And when it comes to the question of believing or not believing in God, there is hardly indifference. It is a faith either way.

Often the problem in seeing God in our lives is a fear of commitment to something we are not quite sure about.
That’s why people prefer the non-committal position.

They have been sold the myth that in order to commit to an idea they have to be absolutely certain it is right — and absolutely certain that everything else is wrong.

In fact, certainty is not something we choose. It is possible to go to Heaven with doubts; and surely possible to enter Hell with what seems to be certainty.

Keep the mind alive

Vietnamese Buddhist monk and prolific writer Thich Nhat Hanh listed 14 practices that would promote humility and keep the mind alive to present experience and reality.

DO not be bound to any doctrine, theory or ideology, he said. All systems of thought are guiding means; they are not the absolute truth.

Do not think the knowledge you presently possess is changeless. Truth is found in life and not in concepts.

Do not force others, including children, to adopt your views by authority, threat, money, or propaganda.

Do not avoid contact with suffering. Awaken yourself and others to the suffering in the world.

Do not accumulate wealth while millions are hungry. Live simply and share resources with those in need.

Do not use the religious community for personal gain, or transform your community into a political party.

Do not live with a job that is harmful to humans or nature.

Do not kill. There is no excuse or reason for killing.

Possess nothing that should belong to others. But prevent others from enriching themselves from human suffering.

Do not mistreat your body. Sexual expression should not happen without love and commitment. Be fully aware of the responsibility of bringing new lives into the world.

Do not maintain anger or hatred. Transform them while still seeds in the consciousness.

Do not lose yourself in your surroundings. Be aware of what is happening in the present.

Do not utter words that can create discord. Reconcile all conflicts.

Do not say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress. Have the courage to speak the truth.

The truth is quite simple

Really great and true things are always simple and humble Leo Tolstoy

FOR most of his extraordinary life, Albert Einstein hung portraits on his wall of two scientists, Newton and Maxwell, as role models to inspire him.
Near the end of his life, Einstein replaced them with portraits of Albert Schweitzer and Mahatma Gandhi.
Einstein said he realised he needed role models, not of success, but of humility.
Humility is one of those words — like grace, sacred and holy — that seem to be archaic and somewhat embarrassing in this market-driven age. The meek might inherit the earth — eventually — but not right now.
Many of the thousands flocking to New Age faiths to channel their goddess, their inner child, personal angel or the shaman chief they were in a previous life are searching for consumable spirituality — a quick guru fix.
They are merely trying to elevate their ordinary narcissistic impulses into a religion when they really need to discover their own insignificance in the universe, and be humbled.
The poet William Stafford said successful people do not write poems. The poet has to kneel down for them, he said.
Writer Louise Rafkin went further. She wrote of indulging in the Japanese practice of cleaning communal toilets as a way to self-knowledge and discovering that the best writing, like the best music and art, is grounded in ordinary experience.
We do well to repeat Galileo’s modest “I do not know”.
The 19th century Christian William Temple counselled his congregations to avoid the sort of obsessive religious humility that “consists in being a great deal occupied about yourselves”.
“Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people. It means freedom from thinking about yourself, one way or the other, at all,” he said.
For Temple, there was no greater example of humility than Jesus Christ who “although born rich, became poor”.
Born amid the dung in a stable, a humble carpenter for most of his life, homeless during his ministry and dying naked on a cross, he placed himself on a very human level.
He expressed, in human terms, the stress he faced via his temptation in the wilderness, and his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The lesson is that sometimes one must go as low as possible to find God.

Israeli Cafe Offers 50 Percent Off To Arabs And Jews Who Eat Together

THE owner of a cafe in central Israel is attempting to bring people together in the conflict-laden region over hummus.

 Kobi Tzafrir is providing a 50 percent discount to Jewish and Arab customers who eat at the same table at the Humus Bar, his restaurant in the town of Kfar Vitkin, Al Jazeera reports.
 The offer first appeared on the business’s Facebook page on Oct. 12, but started seeing international media attention this week. The post, translated from Hebrew by HuffPost, reads:

Scared of Arabs? Scared of Jews? With us there are no Arabs! But also no Jews … With us there are only human beings! And real, wonderful Arab hummus! And great Jewish falafel! And free refills on all hummus dishes if you’re Arab, Jewish, Christian, Indian, et cetera … Special discount: 50% off on hummus dishes for a table where Jews and Arabs are sitting together! *Valid Sundays through Thursdays.

Christianity is not a religion

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

Andrew Farley tried to do that and ended up nearly crazy.

As a young man Andrew Farley was consumed by the thought that God was disappointed in him. ,

He became addicted to evangelising on the street. He sometimes stood outside convenience stores until 4am, trying desperately to save someone.

“I’d stand up on the subway and preach to the entire train car, I was still empty inside,’’ he says.

He tried to keep the Ten Commandments and failed miserably.

He ended up losing his friends and hitting rock bottom, exhausted and burnt out. Doctors recommended pills or therapy.

Decades on, Farley has realized that he was a Christian legalist, He was trying to impress God by jumping through hoops.

Farley believes that’s a common problem for Christians. In his book Naked Gospel: The Truth You May Never Hear In Church, Farley writes that Christianity is more than a behavior-improvement program dressed up in religious clothing.

It requires as much unlearning as learning, and a willingness to peel away the layers of religiosity.

Farley believes his faith is now more about love and freedom rather than rules.

He controversially suggests that Christians don’t need a moral code to instruct them how to live righteous lives.

“Christians do not need the Ten Commandments as a moral guide, and in fact, Christians need to get over their fixation with what is actually about 600 Old Testament regulations,’’ Farley says.

“Loving your God and loving your neighbour as Jesus asked us to do covers all that. You’re not going to murder someone or cheat on your spouse if you love your neighbour. And if you love God, you’re going to live an upright life.

“As a believer, there is nothing you can do to make God love you more; and there is nothing you can do to make God love you less. God just loves you.  There is only one response to this kind of Love walking in it.’’

It’s a challenging thought. One that will not sit comfortably with the churches that push rules. Or those that argue that God will reward you if you just give enough money in the collection plates.

The gospel of prosperity is one of the fastest growing religions in the world. Guilt about materialism has gone the way of belief in a literal hell. Pragmatism has replaced passion, and the Holy One has been homogenised.

Sociologist Robert Wuthnow, of Princeton University, wrote:  “At one point theologians argued that the chief purpose of humankind was to glorify God. Now it would seem the logic has been reversed. The chief purpose of God is to glorify humankind. “

Did Archaeologists Discover The Biblical City Of Sodom?

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THE fiery fate of the doomed cities of Sodom and Gomorrah has captured the imaginations of artists, theologians and archaeologists for years. The book of Genesis describes how God “rained down burning sulfur” to punish those cities for their wickedness, destroying all living things inside of them.

 But is there any proof that these cities really existed and that they were destroyed by a sudden calamity?
  
The answer, for Dr. Steven Collins, a professor of Biblical studies and apologetics at Trinity Southwest University, is yes. He claims he may have located Sodom.

Since 2005, Collins and his team have been studying an archaeological site in the southern Jordan Valley known as Tall el-Hammam. After wrapping up the tenth season of excavations, he believes they’ve found a “goldmine of ancient monumental structures and artifacts” that suggests the site was a powerful city-state during the Early and Middle Bronze Ages (between 3,500 and 1540 B.C.)

 Over the years, his research team has found evidence of a massive defensive wall, a palatial structure and a gateway complex that dates back to the Middle Bronze Age. During the 2015 season, the archaeologists found a few more towers and gates.
For Collins, all of this points to the fact that Tall el-Hammam was likely one of the largest cities east of the “Kikkar,” a Hebrew word that describes the plains near the Jordan River. He also claims that Tall el-Hamman is strategically located near ancient water resources and trade routes.

The professor says there’s a good chance that the Biblical text is referring to Tall el-Hammam when it describes Sodom.

“Tall el-Hammam seemed to match every Sodom criterion demanded by the [Bible],” he told Popular Archaeology. “When we explored the area, the choice of Tall el-Hammam as the site of Sodom was virtually a no-brainer since it was at least five to ten times larger than all the other Bronze Age sites in the entire region, even beyond the Kikkar of the Jordan.”

His team also unearthed evidence that suggests the booming city came to a sudden end near the end of the Middle Bronze Age, which is close to the time that Collins believes the Biblical leaders Abraham and Lot walked the earth. It’s unclear what caused the city’s change in fortune, but one possibility is that it was destroyed by fire. The site reportedly remained a wasteland for about 700 years after this event.

 Collins isn’t alone in his quest to find Sodom. Other scholars have suggested that Sodom and Gomorrah rose to prominence in the early Bronze Age and that they were located in different regions near the Dead Sea. 

Former Chief Rabbi Explains Why God Invented Atheists

While Jonathan Sacks is a top religious leader and even served as the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth for more than two decades, he has a profound “respect” for the non-religious.

He calls atheists “his majesty’s loyal opposition”.

Sacks, whose new book Not In God’s Name just hit bookshelves in the U.S., sat down with HuffPost Live and discussed the important role that atheists play in countering religious believers.

“I love them. I call them his majesty’s loyal opposition. I don’t know if that phrase translates into America, but you get the point,” he chuckled.

Sacks explained that atheists can pose questions that push followers of any religion, even himself.

“Why did God invent atheists? To stop religious leaders [from] getting too big-headed, to challenge us,” he told host Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani. “[They may ask], ‘If God exists, how come there’s so much suffering in the world?’ An atheist tells me that and I can’t sleep at night, because it’s a good and valid point. But the truth is, you don’t have to be an atheist to say that, because Abraham and Moses also said it.”

See his full interview here.
http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/segment/rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks-live/560c3ec25a743c6f0a0001e6