Tags: religious tolerance

goddess and god

"Three Cups of Tea"

I just finished reading "Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time" by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

The subtitle is pretty accurate. This book is about Greg Mortenson's mission to build schools and alleviate poverty in the poorest parts of Pakistan. He has written a follow up book, "Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan", about his work in Afghanistan.

The thing that appalls me most right now is that Christian Americans are trying to stop Muslim Americans from building a community center in Lower Manhattan, in violation of the Constitution and the principles of freedom that this country was founded on. While in Pakistan the Sharia courts have twice upheld the right of an American Christian to build secular schools for Muslim children. The Supreme Council of Ayatollahs in Qom, Iran's leading clerics, the ultimate authority to the world's Shia Muslims decided:
"Our Holy Koran tells us all children should receive education, including our daughters and sisters. Your noble work follows the highest principles of Islam, to tend the poor and sick. In the Holy Koran there is no law to prohibit an infidel from providing assistance to our Muslim brothers and sisters. Therefor, we direct all clerics in Pakistan to not interfere with your noble intentions. You have our permission, blessings, and prayers."

Gus diZerega has written in support of banning the Burqa. On the grounds that the Burqa represents a form of speech too dangerous to be allowed. I disagree with him. Banning the Burqa is "a terrible assault on the ideal of religious liberty". Even as Claire Berlinski supports the ban she admits:
"These bans are outrages against religious freedom and freedom of expression. They stigmatize Muslims. No modern state should be in the business of dictating what women should wear. The security arguments are spurious; there are a million ways to hide a bomb, and one hardly need wear a burqa to do so. It is not necessarily the case that the burqa is imposed upon women against their will; when it is the case, there are already laws on the books against physical coercion."
Reading "Three Cups of Tea" gave me confidence that the right way to fight terrorism and the oppression of women was not to become oppressors or hypocrites ourselves but to educate and empower woman to stand up for themselves.

Meanwhile the poor of Pakistan are running out of food and need new bridges to get supplies to remote villages. "Pakistan floods: residents brace for a second wave of problems"

Greg Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute have experience working with local people to build bridges and a history of helping refuges in Pakistan. If you want to fight terrorism and help the poor I recommend sending a donation to the Central Asia Institute and read the book "Three Cups of Tea".
goddess and god

Letters about Wiccan Altar in Shop Class, Equal Rights for All, Spiritual Lesbians, Abortion Tweeter

Two letters to the Des Moines Register
Wicca religion scares some at school
by Melissa Antunez, Guthrie Center, DesMoinesRegister.com, March 10, 2010
"In regard to accepting a Wiccan altar being built in the Guthrie Center High School shop class: My daughter attends this high school. Every day she doesn't want to go to school due to the fear it has created.

A school should be a place where our kids feel safe and secure. Wicca is not just about magical things, it is a religion.

If a religion is not worshipping God, then it is not God but the dark side. Taking God out of our schools was the biggest mistake Americans have made. It allowed the door of devastation to open and cause havoc in our school systems."

Let people have their religious views
by Jamie Henson, Ames, DesMoinesRegister.com, March 10, 2010
"Being of the Wiccan faith, I was offended when I read a teacher would not allow a student to build a Wiccan altar in shop class - especially since Wicca is a recognized religion in the United States.

It's a simple matter of fear of the unknown. Wicca is not devil worship. The devil is an entirely Christian concept. We believe in balance in things: the light and dark sides, male and female, life and death. It's a different belief, not a wrong one.

I doubt the student was asking his teacher to share in his belief system. Was the teacher wrong to forbid the building of the altar? Yes. Since it was for something that didn't fit into the teacher's scope of thinking, it was denied.

Is the whole battle over religious views and who's right or wrong overrated? Yes. How about live and let live?"
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LETTER: Nation was founded on equal rights for all
by Susan Humphreys, Journal Gazette and Times-Courier, Oakland IL, March 9, 2010
"This nation is not a Christian nation nor has it ever been one. The intent of the founding fathers was to protect religion from government interference as well as to protect individuals rights to freely practice their religion.
[...]
Personally I think that religion should be taught in public schools. Children need to learn about all the world’s religions.

I think that the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be posted in all public buildings. Lawyers and judges and law makers as well as the common man need to be reminded that respect for and acknowledgement of equal human rights for all people (whatever their race, ethnicity, country of origin, military status-combatant or enemy non-combatant, age, gender, wealth, social status, citizenship, sexual orientation, religion or no religion) is the principle this nation was founded upon. It is the base for all concepts of moral and ethical behavior.

Only with this recognition will this world ever find peace and prosperity. Far too many have forgotten or simply choose to ignore that simple though vital concept, “equal rights for ALL, includes those that are different from me.”"
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Does Being a Lesbian Make Me Less Spiritual?
by Kaylee Larson, Lez Get Real, Wednesday 10th March 2010
"Being a lesbian will not make you any less spiritual, but you may feel like it will, depending on your personal beliefs. If you were raised in a particular belief system, whether it be Christian, Hindu, pagan or whatever, chances are that these are the beliefs you are going to hold as true for the rest of your life.

A great example of spirituality in lesbians can be found in the Wiccan tradition. This is a religion that doesn’t discriminate based on sexuality, race or creed; and many women, lesbians included, find themselves drawn to these spiritual practices that involve a goddess figure."
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The Bizarre Religious Roots of the Abortion Tweeter: From home birth to home abortion.
By Kathryn Joyce, Slate, March 10, 2010
"Jackson, whose special-needs son was born after a grueling 98-hour delivery, says her motivation is to counter the stories of regret the anti-abortion movement has cultivated in recent years. As the controversy continues, one of the most interesting—and motivating—parts of her narrative has been largely overlooked: her intimate connection with a religious movement—one she now calls a cult—that glorified fertility and childbirth and demonized medical intervention even when mothers' labors were going very wrong.
[...]
Balizet's teachings on home birth came from extreme origins, notably the Pentecostal Word Faith movement, and as part of her teaching she said Christians must avoid the "seven systems of Satan," which included banking, public education, government, and formal religion. Jackson says Balizet herself was firm only about shunning institutional medicine. She considered it a pagan religion, with doctors serving as high priests or "sorcerers," making sacrifices through surgical incisions and offerings to Caesar and to the spirit of secular humanism through Caesarean-section births. Four of Balizet's own five daughters were delivered by C-section. Adherents were taught that medical problems in labor were of their own spiritual making, based on causes such as insufficient faith in God or disputes between the parents. It was an uncompromising conviction that has been condemned by many conservative Christians who embrace other high-commitment lifestyles—like having extremely large families or living off the grid—but it also appealed to some of that number.
[...]
"I like to say I'm allergic to secrets," says Jackson. "I grew up in an abusive and fundamentalist childhood, so secrets and lies were par for the course. I've made the conscious decision in the last two years to be open about that. So it flowed for me; I write about everything."

Kate Cosby Cockrill, program director of the social and emotional aspects of abortion program at the University of California-San Francisco, says the costs associated with coming out about abortion often outweigh the benefits on an individual level. The condemnation Jackson has drawn can testify to that. "The process of stigma is to label someone with something and then to stereotype them and separate them from the norm," says Cosby Cockrill. "You can do that with 500 women, 100,000 women, with 2 million women." "
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goddess and god

Milo the Witch vs Ralphs Fresh Fare Grocery, Wiccan Altar in Shop Class

Milo the Witch Finds Toil and Trouble at Ralphs
By SPENCER KORNHABER, OC Weekly,Orange County CA, Thursday, Feb 25 2010
"He told them from the start they were hiring a witch.

Milo Shiff had to tell them. He had to make sure they wouldn’t require him to cut his curly, gray-white hair. He had to tell them he couldn’t mutilate the flesh of mammals or birds—which didn’t turn out to be a problem, since they weren’t hiring him for the deli counter. He had to let them know he couldn’t use Microsoft computers—Bill Gates’ ethics conflict with those of Shiff’s deities—and he needed to warn them he used cannabis regularly for religious purposes.

That all was fine—Shiff even passed the drug test—and so six days a week for the past two years, you could shop at Ralphs Fresh Fare grocery store on Irvine Avenue in Newport Beach and hear, overhead, the cheerful, breathy, slightly muffled voice of a real, live witch reciting the day’s specials: Blueberries . . . red-velvet cake . . . whole-body rotisserie chicken, barbecue or herb.

Shiff was happy, and the customers liked the greeter in the big glasses who was paid $8.60 per hour to straighten shopping carts, read specials and, most important, blurt salutations at everyone entering the store through the automatic doors.

But things were less fine in October 2008, when there appeared a wrinkled, green-faced woman—a fake woman—in a pointy black hat, her knobby hands grasping a broom. She greeted customers at the front of the store; most of them didn’t realize they were passing two witches on their way to buy eggs, toilet paper, and whatever orange-and-black items they’d need for their Halloween parties. Moms and dads with little children would stop by the fake witch, at which point Shiff, the real witch, would have to press a button and bring it to life: The head would turn, the eyes would flash, and the thing would begin to cackle.
[...]
“I try to get along with other people, and I realize I’m a member of a minority religion,” Shiff says. “But the idea that I, as a witch, am having to not just have this played in my workplace, but to actually be called over and told to make it play its little speech, to train children to be distrustful and afraid of witches . . . It’s like, you’ve got to be kidding me.”

And the fake witch’s line about “little victims”: Shiff says you can trace that one back 700 years to the lies spread about witches and other non-Christians during the Inquisition. Jews call it “the blood libel,” and so does Shiff.

“I pointed out to pretty much every manager at the time, if you change that animatronic so it were a rabbi, with the same ugly face and short stature and so on, big nose, with the exact same speech in a male voice rather than a female voice,” Shiff says, “every Jewish-rights group in the area would be all over Ralphs on it.”
[...]
The thing stayed up, though, until after Halloween, when it went upstairs to be stored for another year. For Halloween 2009, it came down again, but one of the managers—remembering Shiff’s protestations the year before—placed it in a more obscure part of the store and didn’t plug it in.

Still, it was there. Shiff saw it, and he knew the customers did, too. And he knew the same witch was set up at Ralphs stores across California. Everyone realized the creature was supposed to be a witch. But Shiff is a witch. He has been for decades. And he doesn’t know any witches who look like that. He certainly didn’t know any who talked like that.

And so Shiff began looking into whether to file a complaint against Ralphs with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. In December 2009, after some wrangling with department employees, he made his grievance official. Ralphs, he wrote in the paperwork, had created a “hostile, intimidating and offensive work environment.”

To many, his accusations likely sound ridiculous. You can almost imagine him suing Warner Bros. over The Wizard of Oz next. But to Shiff, the offense committed against his religion is very real.

“This is not an isolated incident,” says the Reverend Selena Fox, head of the Lady Liberty League, a national group lobbying for wider acceptance of witchcraft and related religions. “We are tired of being stereotyped.”
[...]
“Kemetic Witchcraft,” he says, is a tiny sect derived from the religion of ancient Egypt. He casts spells while “sky-clad” (also known as “naked”) in his rented room, lighting candles, speaking incantations and manipulating symbols to effect some change in the world or his life. The Egyptians were known for their love spells—but Shiff’s website, teenwitch.com, bears a disclaimer that he doesn’t oblige people who come “spell” begging. He primarily worships Bast, the cat goddess. As Shiff matter-of-factly explains, he knows her on a personal level.
[...]
He’s the kind of guy who whenever you see him, it makes you happy,” says Din Dalebout, a regular customer. “If he’s a witch, then we need more witches in the world.”
[...]
Shiff admits it isn’t always easy adhering to a religion—and a reading of history—that puts him at odds with the society around him. But Kemetic Witchcraft isn’t the only religion that’s inconvenient. Courts have upheld the rights of religious parishioners to observe their holidays, dress codes and morals in the workplace, as long as it’s to a reasonable extent. But few other groups, Shiff points out, still must contend with anything like the green-faced, child-eating witch—a depiction of their religion that’s both ugly and so ingrained into modern culture that almost no one thinks twice about it.

Even so, a few of his witch friends have rolled their eyes at his quest. That’s one slight Shiff doesn’t much mind.

“Most of them [fellow witches] think I’m kind of wasting my time, that I’m not going to get anywhere,” he says. “They may be right. I may be ahead of my time. But eventually, society’s going to have to deal with this.”
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Guest opinion: Wiccan altar an opportunity to enlighten
by Kat Fatland, a student at Drake University in Des Moines, desmoinesregister.com, March 5, 2010
"I am neither Wiccan nor Christian, but the knowledge of both has provided me with a much richer education than I would have received if I had only learned of one of the two, or worse, neither one. School is a place where children can grow, learn and explore new views and perspectives. It is a place where children are first exposed to the beautiful diversity that exists on this planet.

If Halferty thinks that learning about any valid religion is "terrible," he is thus prohibiting entire fields of knowledge from being accessed. If one reflects on reasons why anything should not be talked about in school, the only reason Halferty has is fear - and nothing is more degrading to knowledge than fear of it."
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goddess and god

Air Force Circle, Occult Specialist on Animal Planet, Haitian Voodoo, The Faith Instinct

A Shrine Of Our Times: The Air Force Academy Goes Pagan
Opinion: Editorial, Harrisonburg Daily News Record, February 3, 2010
"Apparently, Fox News reports, the USAFA has quite the contingent of tree and rock worshippers, and they needed a spot to mumble their mumbo-jumbo
[...]
No word on whether the Academy will provide goats for the animal sacrifice, although several herds of cloven-footed beasts are said to have fled the area. The “neo-pagans” will dedicate their stony shrine on March 10.
[...]
Far be it for mere mortals to doubt this coven’s spiritual sincerity. No one wants to get hexed or vexed, or whatever happens when Wiccans and Druids don their robes, serenade the owls and prance around their rocks among the Ponderosa Pines. Colorado, by the way, is also home to the Quaking Aspen, so the very thought of berobed witches and warlocks gamboling about the woods and warbling at the Moon may explain why the aspens are quaking.

No, a far more compelling interrogatory observation is why anyone, much less the academy, would take the “neo-pagans” seriously. The academy is, after all, a very serious place.

Or at least it used to be."


Respect Freedom Of Religion
by Eugene C. Buie, Harrisonburg Daily News Record, February 19, 2010
"It is unseemly to make fun of things we may not understand, particularly religions chosen and valued by others. That is not a strange thing to say in America where it used to be customary to honor and respect everyone’s “freedom of choice,” especially where religious beliefs and practices are concerned.
[...]
We steadfastly defend our freedom of expression. Additionally, we are offended by attempts to take this expression away from us. Do we now publicly ridicule this same freedom where others are concerned when they choose to worship gods that Christians or other religions do not accept?
[...]
This transcendent revelation of the “One True God” has competed with the Nature gods from earliest recorded history. Nevertheless, the Christian commission is to simply present the Gospel of Christ to be accepted or rejected. In the end, we all must decide whether to be a child of God or a Pagan or a godless secularist. But for now, we all are entitled to worship as we choose without ridicule."
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OU adviser hunts ghosts on Animal Planet
Gregory Maus, Oklahoma Daily, February 19, 2010
"Students in the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication know Chris Borthick as an academic adviser, but he also works an an occult specialist for an organization whose exploits will be featured today on cable television.

Oklahoma Paranormal Research and Investigations will be featured in an episode of the Animal Planet paranormal anthology series, “The Haunted,” 9 p.m. Friday.
[...]
Borthick said his contribution to the group is to provide information on spiritual beliefs, in case the team encounters anything related to religions, such as Wicca or traditional American Indian beliefs."
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Myths Obscure Voodoo, Source of Comfort in Haiti
by Samuel G. Freedman, New York Times, February 19, 2010
"Consider a few facts. Voodoo is one of the official religions of Haiti, and its designation in 2003 merely granted official acknowledgment to a longstanding reality. The slave revolt that brought Haiti independence indeed relied on voodoo, the New World version of ancestral African faiths. To this day, by various scholarly estimates, between 50 and 95 percent of Haitians practice at least elements of voodoo, often in conjunction with Catholicism.
[...]
But Catholicism in Haiti, as too few journalists seemed to realize, is not more or less like Catholicism in a Polish parish in Chicago or an Irish one in Boston. It is a Catholicism in symbiosis with voodoo, a Catholicism in which saints are conflated with African deities and dead ancestors serve as interlocutors between God and humanity.

Prof. Patrick Bellegarde-Smith of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, an expert in voodoo as well as a voodoo priest, likens the religious texture of Haiti to that of Japan. The same Japanese person, he said, will observe the Shinto faith for certain rituals, Buddhism for others, and will see no contradiction or mutual exclusivity.

“I’d tell reporters to go into the shanties and find the local voodoo priest,” said Amy Wilentz, the author of an acclaimed book on contemporary Haiti, “The Rainy Season.” “Voodoo is very close to the ground. It’s a neighborhood to neighborhood, courtyard kind of religion. And one where you support each other in time of need.”"
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The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures by Nicholas Wade.

Book Review: Tracing the genesis of the world's religions
by Anne Grant, Providence Journal, February 19, 2010
"Pagan agricultural festivals morphed into monotheists’ most sacred observances celebrating, for example, the exodus of Jews from slavery and the resurrection of Jesus. Wade explains how “this sense of emotional familiarity . . . makes one’s own religion feel so natural, whereas most other religions feel far-fetched or deluded.”

He reaches around the world, forward and back: cultures reinvent their religions to unify groups for survival of the fittest. He shows how sacred texts rewrote history with uplifting themes to achieve political and theological unification.
[...]
Wade concludes this landmark work by proposing that humanity’s faith instinct needs to escape rigid religious canons and “choose a sustainable balance between warfare and conciliation” to fit us for survival in a secular, global age."
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