Pope Francis Says Athiests are O.K.


It’s not about being right, it’s about being loving, the unusually tolerant Pontiff tells his flock.

Photo Credit: Emipress/Shutterstock.com

May 23, 2013  |

 

It likely doesn’t matter much to the atheists of the world that — of all people — Pope Francis is on their side. But he is. And that’s a cool thing for all of us.

In a message delivered Wednesday via Vatican Radio, the new pontiff distinguished himself with a call for tolerance and a message of support – and even admiration – toward nonbelievers.

Naturally, a guy whose job it is to lead the world’s largest Christian faith is still going to come at his flock with a Jesus-centric message. But he’s taking it in an encouraging new direction. In his message, Francis dissed the apostles for being “a little intolerant” and said, “All of us have this commandment at heart: Do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not (a) Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must.”

And the pope spoke of the need to meet each other somewhere on our on common ground. “This commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: We need that so much. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.” It was a deeper affirmation of his comments back in March, when he declared that the faithful and atheists can be “precious allies… to defend the dignity of man, in the building of a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in the careful protection of creation.”

That’s a message that’s vastly different from Catholicism’s traditional “We’re number one!” dogma. Six years ago, the Vatican reasserted the church’s stance that while there may be“elements of sanctification and truth” in other faiths, “that fullness of grace and of truth… has been entrusted to the Catholic Church.” In other words, close but no cigar, everybody else.

The pope was not, of course, addressing the non-believers of the world in his Wednesday sermon, or trying to win them over. Instead, he was telling his Catholics about the importance of cutting outsiders slack. And it’s a hugely important message for Christians to hear. It’s not about being right. It’s about being loving. And it’s a necessary concept, one that needs to be expressed again and again, in a world in which the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor  in Virginia is justifying his repulsive hate speech against gays and lesbians because “I’m a Christian, not because I hate anybody, but because I have religious values that matter to me.” Coming within a week when atheists have been stepping into the spotlighthere in America with their own messages of live-and-let-live tolerance, it’s downright refreshing to get a similar message from the biggest Christian in the world.

There are plenty of atheists out there who will no doubt take the pope’s message with a grain of salt or even flat-out disdain. The last thing somebody who doesn’t believe in heaven could possibly need is some guy in a funny hat telling them that they’re okay in God’s eyes anyway. But maybe, whatever we believe or don’t believe, we can consider that the man is on to something when he speaks about “the culture of encounter.”

Francis notes that the apostles were “closed off by the idea of possessing the truth,” an arrogant certainty that no one group currently has a monopoly on. Where we find each other is in practicing tolerance for our differences, and in finding the commonality of our values. “Doing good,” Francis says, “is not a matter of faith.”

It’s not that faith, for the faithful, doesn’t matter. It’s that belonging to a church isn’t what saves us. It’s belonging to each other.

 

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of “Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream.” Follow her on Twitter:@embeedub.

 

Maharashtra tribal Christians face Boycott


John Dayal

PALGHAR, Maharashtra,  Jan 12, 2013 — For over 10 days, a torn Bible and a damaged harmonium have been lying in a makeshift prayer hall which villagers now take turn to guard—just the way the attackers had left them on December 30 (2012). Although the anger has subsided, the tribals are unable to muster courage to resume their Sunday prayer service.

The tribal Christians of Tamsai village in Palghar claim that the makeshift prayer hall was attacked after the gram panchayat threatened them to stop the prayer service or else “face the consequences”. They allege that the villagers who attacked them were “angered” by the spread of Christianity.

While the Palghar Superintendent of Police claimed it was an internal fight among villagers without any communal motive, the sarpanch of the gram panchayat denied having made any threat of a social boycott.

According to the victims, the attackers were from their own village and from neighbouring villages. “Most of them are known to us,” claimed Raju Bhoir. The victims said they were carrying out their regular Sunday worship service when a few village men came and stopped the prayers. The tribals, who insist that they have not converted into Christianity but merely follow the path of Jesus, have been carrying out prayer services for the last three years.

Bharat Patil, 22, who has “dedicated” himself to religious work says that the panchayat has unanimously decided to boycott those who accepted Christianity. “They have decided to deny us water and firewood if we stay converted. We have been trying to convince them that our documents still remain the same. We have just chosen a newer way of life without undergoing any sort of conversion,” he said.

Superintendent of Police (Palghar) Anil Kumbhare said: “The village has seen several outsiders regularly visiting them and preaching Christianity. On that day, too, some people had come and it led to an internal fight.”

According to the tribal Christians, the gram panchayat has denied them access to village wells and firewood. “We were thrashed. They walked in while the prayer was on. Many women were also attacked,” said Sainath Amboravate whose family embraced Christianity a decade ago and who now works as a preacher.

Disruption caused during the Sunday morning prayers on December 30 has shaken the villagers in Tamsai and Pochade.

“When those men came, we called the local police immediately. Police arrived, too. But no one helped. We are afraid that these people might strike back,” said Patil.

“Around 300 people come to our village every Sunday for prayers. We had just gathered when these men barged in and began damaging the musical instruments. A copy of the Bible was torn. About 25 of the worshippers sustained injuries and had to be treated,” Patil claimed. “We have given the names of those who attacked us but the police have not taken any action,” said Bhoir.

“It was an internal fight and was resolved on the same day. We have recorded their statements,” said Senior Police Inspector of Manor Vijay Pawar.

Village sarpanch Kailash Andher claimed that it was a “petty quarrel” among a few villagers and was not communal in nature. “It was a small fracas and was resolved immediately,” he said.

A group of villagers on Thursday met former president of the Indian Christian Voice Dr. Abraham Mathai. “The tribal Christians from Mokhada, Wada, Vikramgarg and now Palghar have continued to suffer from a spate of attacks perpetrated by extremist elements because of the communal bias of the police. It is most shocking when these poor tribals are attacked in the presence of the police,” Mathai said.

 

India’s god laws fail the test of reason #Rationalist #FOE #Miracle


 

6 May 2012 , By Praveen Swami , The Hindu

Police investigation of Sanal Edamaraku for debunking a “miracle” at a church is a crime against the Constitution.

Early in March, little drops of water began to drip from the feet of the statue of Jesus nailed to the cross on the church of Our Lady of Velankanni, down on to Mumbai‘s unlovely Irla Road. Hundreds began to flock to the church to collect the holy water in little plastic bottles, hoping the tears of the son of god would sanctify their homes and heal their beloved.

Sanal Edamaruku, the eminent rationalist thinker, arrived at the church a fortnight after the miracle began drawing crowds. It took him less than half an hour to discover the source of the divine tears: a filthy puddle formed by a blocked drain, from where water was being pushed up through a phenomenon all high-school physics students are familiar with, called capillary action.

For his discovery, Mr. Edamaruku now faces the prospect of three years in prison — and the absolute certainty that he will spend several more years hopping between lawyers’ offices and courtrooms. In the wake of Mr. Edamaruku’s miracle-busting Mumbai visit, three police stations in the capital received complaints against him for inciting religious hatred. First information reports were filed, and investigations initiated with exemplary — if unusual — alacrity.

Real courage

Mr. Edamaruku isn’t the kind to be frightened. It takes real courage, in a piety-obsessed society, to expose the chicanery of Satya Sai Baba and packs of lesser miracle-peddlers who prey on the insecurities of the desperate and gullible. These actions have brought threats in their wake — but never from the state.

India‘s Constitution obliges all citizens to develop “scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”. India’s laws, though, are being used to persecute a man who has devoted his life to doing precisely that.

Like dozens of other intellectuals and artists, Mr. Edamaraku is a victim of India’s god laws — colonial-era legislation obliging the state to punish those who offend the faith of others. Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code criminalises the actions of “whoever destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons”. Its sibling, Section 295A, outlaws “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class”. Section 153B goes further, proscribing “any act which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities”. Alarmingly, given the sweeping generalities in which these laws are written, truth is not an admissible defence.

In the decades since independence, these laws have been regularly used to hound intellectuals and artists who questioned religious beliefs. In 1993, the New Delhi-based progressive cultural organisation, Sahmat, organised an exhibition demonstrating that there were multiple versions of the Ramayana in Indian culture. Panels in the exhibition recorded that in one Buddhist tradition, Sita was Ram’s sister; in a Jain version, she was the daughter of Ravan. Even though the exhibits drew on historian Romila Thapar’s authoritative work, criminal cases were filed against Sahmat for offending the sentiments of traditionalist Hindus.

Punjab has seen a rash of god-related cases, mainly involving Dalit-led heterodoxies challenging the high traditions of the Akal Takht. In 2007, police filed cases against Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the head of the syncretic Saccha Sauda sect, for his purportedly blasphemous use of Sikh iconography. Earlier, in 2001, similar charges were brought against Piara Singh Bhaniarawala, after he released the Bhavsagar Granth, a religious text suffused with miracle stories.

Islamic chauvinists have shown the same enthusiasm for the secular state’s god laws as their Sikh and Hindu counterparts. Earlier this year, FIRs were filed against four writers who read out passages from Salman Rushdie‘s The Satanic Verses — a book that is wholly legal in India. Fear of Islamic neo-fundamentalists is pervasive, shaping cultural discourse even when its outcomes are not as dramatic as Mr. Rushdie’s case. In 1995, writer Khalid Alvi reissued Angaarey — a path-breaking collection of Urdu short works banned in 1933 for its attacks on god. The collection’s most-incendiary passages were censored out. India’s feisty media didn’t even murmur in protest after the magazine India Today was proscribed by Jammu and Kashmir in 2006 for carrying a cartoon with an image of the Kaaba as one among a metaphorical pack of political cards.

Even religious belief, ironically enough, can invite prosecution by the pious. Last year, the Kannada movie actress, Jayamala, was summoned before a Kerala court, along with astrologer P. Unnikrishna and his assistant Reghupathy, to face police charges that she had violated a taboo against women in the menstruating age from entering the Sabrimala temple.

For the most part, judges have shied away from condoning criticism of the pious, perhaps fearful of being held responsible for public disorder. In 1958, the Supreme Court heard litigation that grew out of the radical politician, E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker’s decision to break a clay idol of Ganesha. Lower courts had held, in essence, that the idol was not a sanctified object. The Supreme Court differed, urging the lower judiciary “to pay due regard to the feelings and religious emotions of different classes of persons with different beliefs, irrespective … of whether they are rational or otherwise”.

‘Insult to religion’

Earlier, in 1957, the Supreme Court placed some limits on 295A saying it “does not penalise any and every act of insult to or attempt to insult the religion”. Instead, it “only punishes the aggravated form of insult to religion perpetrated with deliberate and malicious intention” (emphasis added). The court shied away, though, from the key question, of what an insult to religion actually was.

Hearing an appeal against the Uttar Pradesh government’s decision to confiscate Naicker’s contentious Ramayana, the Supreme Court again ducked this issue. In 1976, it simply said “the law fixes the mind of the Administration to the obligation to reflect on the need to restrict and to state the grounds which ignite its action”. “That is about all”, the judges concluded.

That hasn’t, however, been all. In 1998, the Supreme Court upheld Karnataka’s decision to ban P.V. Narayanna’s Dharmakaarana, an award-winning re-reading of the Hindu saint, Basaveshwara. In 2007, the Bombay High Court similarly allowed Maharashtra to ban R.L. Bhasin’s Islam, an aggressive attack on the faith. There have been several other similar cases. In some, the works involved were scurrilous, even inflammatory — but the principles established by courts have allowed State governments to stamp out critical works of scholarship and art.

Dangers ahead

Indians have grappled with these issues since at least 1924, when Arya Samaj activist Mahashe Rajpal published the pamphlet that led the state to enact several of the god laws. Rangila Rasul — in Urdu, ‘the colourful prophet’ —was a frank, anti-Islam polemic. Lower courts condemned Rajpal to prison. In the Lahore High Court, though, Justice Dalip Singh argued that public outrage could not be the basis for legal proscription: “if the fact that Musalmans resent attacks on the Prophet was to be the measure [of legal sanction]”, he reasoned, “then an historical work in which the life of the prophet was considered and judgment passed on his character by a serious historian might [also] come within the definition”.

In 1927, when pre-independence India’s central legislative assembly debated the Rangila Rasul affair, some endorsed Justice Singh’s message. M.R. Jayakar likened religious fanaticism to a form of mental illness, and suggested that those who suffer from it be segregated “from the rest of the community”. This eminently sane suggestion wasn’t, however, the consensus: the god laws were expanded to expressly punish works like Rangila Rasul.

Perhaps Indians can congratulate themselves that the god laws have not been used to persecute and kill religious dissenters, as the ever-expanding blasphemy laws which sprang up in Pakistan. Mr. Edamaruku’s case ought to make clear, though, just where things are inexorably headed. If Indians wish to avoid the fate of the dystopia to the country’s west, its citizens desperately need to accept the right of critics to attack, even insult, what they hold dear.

In 864 CE, the great physician, Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn Zakaria al-Razi, wrote: “The miracles of the prophets are imposters or belong to the domain of pious legend. The teachings of religions are contrary to the one truth: the proof of this is that they contradict one another. It is tradition and lazy custom that have led men to trust their religious leaders. Religions are the sole cause of the wars which ravage humanity; they are hostile to philosophical speculation and to scientific research. The alleged holy scriptures are books without values”.

Following a rich scholarly life, and a tenure as director of the hospital in Baghdad patronised by the caliph Abu al-Qasim Abd ‘Allah, al-Razi died quietly at his home in Rey, surrounded by his students. In modern India, his thoughts would have led him to a somewhat less pleasant end.

Where converts do not find a place at Dalit graveyard


P. V. SRIVIDYA, Naggapatinam May 6, 2012, The  Hindu

On Saturday, as 105-year-old Nagammal journeyed to her grave, her right to a decent burial in a yard meant for Dalits was scuttled, after caste Hindus opposed her burial as she was a convert to Christianity. Finally, her body was made to travel over 45 km to Velankanni for burial.

Two years ago, in February 2010, the body of another Dalit convert was subject to two sets of rites, one as per Christianity and was finally cremated under Hindu mores following opposition to burial from caste Hindus.

The three-cent plot of a graveyard, marked out solely for the use of Dalits of Kovilkuthagai in Katripulam village here in Vedaranyam, is the bone of contention — not among Dalits, but by caste Hindus.

The space marked out for Dalits was meant to cater to 12 families, and seven of these families had converted to Christianity over a decade ago. However, with the first of the deaths in 2010, the issue of burial came to fore, with the caste Hindus opposing the practice of burying bodies with a crucifix. They, however, do not have any objection to cremation under Hindu rites.

According to Veeramani, ex-president, and spouse of the President of Katripulam Panchayat (who spoke on her behalf), the concern was just about maintaining ‘social calm’. “We have nothing against Dalits, but if they start burying their dead, then it might pose problems for other Dalits. We prefer not to encourage new practices in the village.”

Also, the family’s request to have the burial in their own patta land was also rejected on the premise that the owners of neighbouring sites would oppose the burial. The issue was more of trying to retain ‘samudaya kattupaadu’ (social control) over these people, and religion was their sole umbilical connection to retain this control, says Birla Thangadurai, member, district monitoring committee for bonded labour. “There is evidence of burial even among us Hindu Dalits, and in the vicinity of houses,” says Thangadurai. According to him, “this is to sustain the bondedness by birth sanctified by religion.”

The bereaved family said they would not want to seek out trouble. In February of 2010, the Dalits concerned had petitioned the former Collector, and it was promised that alternative arrangements would be made. However, two years on, the issue remains unresolved.

 

URGENT: Villagers Protest Against vedanta Red Mud Pond


Activist Satyabadi Naik’s shocking video of police crackdown on a peaceful protest by women of Rengopalli and other villages against Vedanta’s toxic Red Mud Pond in Lanjigarh. This video was recorded on 23 Jan 2012.

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