Reconciling or differentiating culture, faith, and the future

World Religions
This article ( ) introduces a young South African woman who is both a traditional diviner and an administrator in the banking industry. She is an example of a new generation of traditional practitioners that straddle the worlds of traditional society and modern technological society.

The common view in modern technological society is that all phenomena can be explained by science and all problems solved with engineering and medical expertise. As a result, most South Africans view traditional practices as “unsophisticated, uneducated, and backwards”. However, this article also mentions that the majority of people seek traditional practitioners for assistance in the event of illness.

Can this be evidence of the incompleteness of a technological worldview, whereby spirituality is disregarded or discounted? Although people may think that the “right” thing to say is that traditional practices are “backwards”, their spiritual beliefs are demonstrated by their response to trouble/illness. At the surface there are changing perceptions of the value placed in these traditional practices and yet there is still evidence of a strong reliance on them.

Could these new practitioners bring the traditional practices into modern society as some combination of technological and traditional beliefs? There is a drive to bring traditional healing into the administrative structures such as government regulation. This could offer protection to people that utilize these services by way of regulation and also acknowledge the value placed on these services by offering them through medical insurance.

This was done in BC many years ago whereby traditional Chinese medicine is regulated and covered by some insurance plans. This drive is also representative of a desire to preserve traditional beliefs and culture and bring them into the future, affirming the value of traditional culture within the modern context. People such as the young woman highlighted in this article that operate in both the traditional and modern settings will be key in negotiating the future of traditional practices in Africa.

Another interesting aspect of this article is that the young woman is also a professing Christian who sees her traditional spiritual practices within the context of her relationship with God. Does this mean that some traditional beliefs are adopted into an expression of Christianity? Or is it the application of Christianity onto the cultural framework of traditional African society?

This leads into bigger questions of religion and culture that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger explores in his book, Truth and Tolerance. Can we whittle down the Christian faith (or any faith) to a core set of beliefs outside of cultural influence and then add on aspects of traditional beliefs that work for the overall goal of the religion (in the Christian instance, relationship with God) later?

Does this mean that the cultural context of a new convert must first be “wiped clean” and then selectively built back up? And if so, how do we separate culture and faith? How do we contend with Romans 12:2 to “not conform to the patterns of this world”?

This article touches on interesting issues of traditional vs. modern society and culture vs. faith. I look forward to comments from others! SH

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Ultra-Orthodox Jews Protest the Draft that Threatens Their Way of Life

World Religions
Last week in Jerusalem more than 20,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews took to the streets to protest the Israeli government’s plans to make military service mandatory for their community members who have, until this point, been exempt from the national draft. (

For decades ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel have had three options when drafted. They can enlist and do the mandated three years of military service required of all Israeli citizens over 18 years of age. They can choose ‘Hesder’, an agreement to do a combination of military service and study in a ‘yeshiva’ (an orthodox Jewish school dedicated to the study of the Torah). Or they can take a government exemption that allows them not to serve as long as they are engaged in full-time studies in a yeshiva.

First introduced early in their national history this exemption was a show of respect for those who had fled to Israel after the holocaust but it’s use was expected to fade out within a generation or two. This hasn’t been the case though and now most of the growing ultra-Orthodox community in Israel elect to take the exemption, not accepting what is perceived by many Israeli’s to be their share of a national burden of service. The new government’s proposal to remove this exemption is thought by many to be a reasonable response to these changing national circumstances.

The size and passion of the protests last week show that ultra-Orthodox Jews think this response is not only unreasonable, but completely intolerable. As we have read Judaism itself is not defined by doctrinal creed “but as a way of life.” (Hexham, Kindle location 5811) And Jewish people have learned that to protect their faith they must strive to protect their way of life.

Throughout the history of Judaism when living in predominantly Christian or Muslim cultures and countries Jews have tended to “look inward to their own people for solace and protection.” (Hexham, Kindle location 5811) Now in what has become a largely secular Israel ultra-Orthodox Jews are living in this same manner, turning to dedicated study of their laws in the Torah, living in tightly-knit communities and guarding their interactions with outsiders to that community, even those who might be considered more moderate Jews.

This is the feeling behind Rabbi David Zycherman’s comments that, “The government wants to uproot (our traditions) and secularise us, they call it a melting pot, but people cannot be melted.” ( Another rabbi quoted agrees that in the issue of preserving the purity of their way of life, “there is no room for compromise.” (

For many it might seem that the Israeli government is facing a choice between either supporting the current way of life for ultra-Orthodox Jews or establishing a more just draft system by eliminating the exemptions so that the burden of protecting Israel is truly shared by all. But for those opposing the draft this ‘either/or’ doesn’t really exist. From their perspective allowing ultra-Orthodox Jews to continue as yeshiva students is the only faithful solution. It not only protects the ultra-Orthodox way of life from outside influences that would be encountered during military service but it also protects those in secular Israel who are serving in the military.

An unidentified speaker at the rally argued that maintaining the exemptions that allow for yeshiva study is in fact in the best interests of everyone, saying that, “soldiers know that we are the ones protecting them with our studies and prayers.”(


Hexham, Irving. Understanding World Religions: An Interdisciplinary Approach. Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2011.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem protest to preserve their way of life and vow to defy proposed draft


World Religions
At the mere typing of the title to this blog post, I can feel the imminent backlash winding up, readying itself to strike with all the ferocity of Paul’s words in Romans, “me genoito!” “Can a religion change its mind? Certainly not! How can Truth be changed?” And on it goes. The issue is, it appears, to consider one’s religion “changeable” is to run the risk of striking at the very core of one’s identity, rooted in the religion in question (

The author’s use of examples from various religions provides very little in the way of making the thought more palpable. One who considers himself “orthodox” according to any tradition might be at peace with the thought of “other” religions adapting to cultural, societal, and scientific pressures. But to have one’s own convictions challenged is difficult to accept. If he is a Christian, he might ask, “What bearing does it have on my faith if the Mormons changed their policy on polygamy? Mormonism isn’t the True faith, so of course they need to change! What I believe, however, is true. Therefore, it must not change.

Since I write from a Christian point of view, I am also concerned that even offering Biblical examples might not help in settling disputes like this. There is a deep conviction in Christianity that Christ indeed did not “come to abolish [the Law or the Prophets] . . . but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17-19). Under this conviction, then, the church is comfortable with the decision made at the Council of Jerusalem, when the church concluded that circumcision would not be required of Gentile converts (Acts 15). Again, this is fine for a Christian because–I presume–modern Christian convictions are not the ones being challenged. Instead, it is the practice of the old establishment that is threatened. However, this kind of reasoning, I imagine, does not sit well with our Jewish friends.

So how can a religion change its mind? I suppose it is up to each faith community to decide if, and under what conditions, change is possible. This idea is not not foreign to the Jews. “Although Christians often talk about Judaism and the five books of Moses as ‘the Law,’ it is far more than law to Jewish believers. It is a guide to life. . . . Seen in this way, the Torah is a dynamic source of life and legislation that speaks to each generation anew.” This is the task of hermeneutics; the interpretation of Scripture and application of its teaching in practice. Christians in Africa participate in this kind of interpretation. As some African communities accept the Gospel, Christian practices do not necessarily replace their traditional practices. In these cases, a member of the community can consider herself a Christian, yet seek the help of a diviner for healing. These ideas may be difficult for many to swallow. But as the article suggests, “The key . . . is to distinguish ‘principles’ that are immutable and ‘models’ that are a product of the time and place the stories were told.” This difficult task, as mentioned, is a task that must be reserved for each faith community to decide.

Can a religion change its mind? #uwreligions

Retired Priest found guilty of 36 separate sex offences

World Religions
On Monday May 20, 2013 a jury found Gordon Rideout, a retired Anglican Priest, guilty of 34 counts of indecent assault and two counts of attempted rape on 16 children in the southeastern English counties of Hampshire and Sussex between 1962 and 1973 ( The victims, which included both boys and girls, were visited by Rideout at St. Mary’s Church in Crawley in his role as an assistant curate. These acts are both appalling and vile, but what makes it worse is that the person responsible is in a position of trust and authority – a priest of all people. Sadly this is not the first time something like this has happened and even worse, I am sure it will not be the last.

Rideout’s case and others like it tend to receive a lot of publicity and create a lot of damage against the church, its leaders, and even Christians in general. The world around us, to whom we are called to be witnesses, watches our church leaders fall from grace and abuse the ones we are called to protect. Our credibility is permanently marred and many refuse to have anything to do with a church or religion whose leaders engage in such activity and in some cases, even attempt to sweep it under the rug.

As a youth pastor I have a great responsibility to live out the gospel in every area of life and to adhere to the requirements set forth in Scripture for those in positions of leadership, including living a life above reproach (1 Tim 3:2). I personally go to great lengths to remain accountable and to be completely transparent with my involvement with my youth. Things like never meeting alone with a youth, never driving a youth alone, having a female volunteer leader with me if counselling a female youth, watching my text/Facebook messages, maintaining appropriate touch (IE side hugs, high fives, etc), and much more. It is incredibly important for me to be a person of integrity and to be a person above reproach. I do not want to leave room for even a hint of indecency or question about my actions with my students and I also extend the same policy to all of my volunteer leaders. Every week parents place their trust in me that I will take care of their youth and protect them and I vow to never break that trust.

I think that all Christians, especially those in any type of leadership position need to place safeguards like these in place. Once trust is broken it is not easily repaired and for those in the church, it can even cost you your entire ministry. While we might not be able to do anything about those few who break that trust or abuse their position, we can make a difference in our settings and be a light to those around us. We can live above reproach in our personal lives and ministry, showing the world Christ living in us.

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Witch Hunting and Torture in Papua New Guinea

World Religions
Witch torture in Papua New Guinea b/c of scapegoating. Fear of sorcery leads to innocents maimed/killed. #uwreligions

Warning: Graphic images and disturbing content in original article

It is difficult to believe that witch hunts comparable to those that took place in medieval Europe would still occur today, but this is a reality that continues in Papua New Guinea. Belief in sorcery is common in this country, and is even enshrined in law thanks to the Sorcery Act of 1971. It is a commonly held belief that if someone is sick or someone dies early, sanguma, which means dark magic, is to blame. Natural causes are often ignored. A blood-thirsty mob concocts a mock trial – often with police helplessly watching – then tortures and possibly kills its selected victim. It does not matter if the person is innocent or not.

In fact, the selection process of such victims is so random that it is all but guaranteed that they are innocent of what they are accused of. Philip Gibbs, a man who has collected testimonies of victims of this violence says this: “When a family, believing that death comes through human agency, looks for a scapegoat to accuse, fingers will very often point at a woman without influential brothers or strong sons.” In other words, a vulnerable and defenseless person is chosen and absorbs the wrath of a grieving family.

Rene Girard speaks of violence and scapegoating being an element that has maintained human society. Violence is caused by mimetic desires, and if these desires are left unchecked, they will destroy society. When society selects a victim and takes their violent passions out on that person, the crowd is appeased and calmed. Scapegoating in Papua New Guinea is clearly in play, but what lies behind this violence? What is making the people so angry?

90% unemployment among young people who have no hope for a future is a beginning. Primal religious beliefs gone awry are also a factor. Mix in some drugs and alcohol, an impotent police force, and a culture conditioned by fear of sanguma, and you have a recipe for a major problem. So is it actually a religious problem, or is it a deeper societal issue? The lines of blame are blurry, and injustice takes many forms. Who is wise enough to discern the root cause?
There are those within Papua New Guinea who are trying to stem the tide and bring about change in subtle ways, often at great risk to themselves. There are doctors who will clearly elucidate the medical reasons for a person’s death, thus mitigating the possibility that sanguma will be blamed.

There are nuns and priests who stand up to violent mobs at great personal risk in order to rescue a victim. There are people who take these broken and battered women to safe places to recover. There are people who speak up for justice, and who wish to eliminate the Sorcery Act. This act, though it condemns the practice of sorcery and those who would seek to use vigilante justice to combat it, also legitimizes sorcery by acknowledging that it is real and active.

There are no simple solutions to this type of problem, for the causes run deep and are not easily rooted out. But as long as there are those who will speak up for the innocent and defend the cause of the oppressed, hope still endures.

For Hasidism Jewish, inward and outward are connected in a mysterious way.

World Religions
The recent Times News told us the Hasidic Jews tries to use beards of the young hip as a way to reach out to them. ( In the story, Hasidism (a Jewish branch inclined to the mysticism direction) Rabbi Manis Friedman said, “the facial hair actually grows from the head towards the heart” according to him, the facial hair is “a flow of energy that connects the mind and heart.” By doing this, the Hasidism seems to identify with those hips who often have beards.

Judaism is “a way of life” through liturgical practice and communal involvement as well as family life . The religious aspect of the main stream Judaism is focused on scholarship study of the law in order to carry on the teaching of law in the daily life. However, the Hasidism Judaism emphasized the “need to cling to God in prayer” . For them, true religion consists not primarily of Talmudic scholarship, but of “a sincere love of God combined with warm faith and belief in the efficacy of prayer”. It is fair to say that Hasidism is a more personal and psychological approach of Judaism.

For Hasidism Jewish, the facial hair issue is not a cultural issue but a theological issue. However, unlike the main stream Judaism, which takes a more legal approach to understanding the facial hair issue, Hasidism Jews takes a mythical approach to understand the issue. For them, the omnipresence of God is the key to understand their dress code and facial hair.

The material thing connect with the image of Deity in this world. The facial hair is a small matter, however, it is a way to serve God. And this is no small matter. The outer practice is thus has a metaphorical relation to God. In such a way of thinking, we could understand why Rabbi Friedman said that. Their hair style, as well as clothing style, has a mystical intent. They are not about law but about a heartfelt way to follow God’s instruction in life.

As a Christian, I see how important for a believer to have the fervent to know God personally. The key of faith is to experience the psychological change as well as change in our acts. Faith is about integrity which unite our practice and our belief. In the Hasidism effort, we see such a fervent.

To whom to you pledge allegiance?

World Religions
I used to be a Brownie (not the edible kind…the mini version of a full-fledged Girl Guide…..small, cute, and determined to “do right” by the “Girl Guide code”). I pledged allegiance to God, to others and to myself and I liked being a Brownie. So when I saw a picture of the Boy Scouts in the Huffington Post ( my mind was flooded with pleasant memories. But the reason the Boy Scouts were in the news today would not have crossed my naïve little mind as a Brownie as the article centered on an upcoming Boy Scouts America (BSA) vote whether gay Scouts will be accepted into the organization.

Scouts Canada (SC) is long past this issue (stating “all” are welcome at all levels of the organization) however, they are not out of the woods of controversy. For although they state “all” are welcome they do require that their members have a basic spiritual belief. The vision of the international scouting movement ( is to educate youth: “through a value system based on the Scout Promise and Scout Law” equipping scouts to make a “meaningful contribution to creating a better world” ( To do so, they believe, requires Scouts to revere a spiritual being greater than oneself. At the core is the belief that morality and spirituality are interdependent. With this, I agree.

But the SC’s commitment to the interdependence differs significantly from the BSA. Under the guise of pledging allegiance or “duty to God”, SC professes that members are required to adhere to some (any) form of “spiritual practice…that expresses oneself”. By contrast the BSA strictly prohibits individuals who do not claim a faith in a higher power from becoming a member. Is SC to be applauded for their inclusive policy? Or does it throw into question their stated foundation on the interdependence of morality and spirituality?

To explore this further I started with the question: “what does morality really mean”? I discovered that at its core, it refers simply to one’s “adherence to group norms”( I find this an interesting starting point because we can follow “group norms” without ever believing in the underlying tenets of where the norms came from. This, of course, is futile (and likely why the Scouts purport the need for some form of spiritual practice). Nevertheless, considering “any spiritual practice” as suitable to underpin the SC moral code does seem suspect. Does this not assume that any spiritual practice can be boiled down to some universal moral code? Does it not dilute the meaning and power of beliefs themselves? And does it not also place morality as pre-eminent over spiritual beliefs?

Central to the SC message is the notion that encouraging individuals to aspire to group norm/principles will lead to members becoming more equipped to “build a better world”, become more “self-fulfilled as individuals”, and “play a constructive role in society” ( I am challenged by this as it seems to suggest morality is responsible for the outcome more so than one’s beliefs (in which the morality is surely rooted). Admittedly I’m influenced by my Christian perspective, but it seems to me that what guides someone in “living well” involves more than one’s ability to follow a set of principles. But perhaps it isn’t the inclusiveness of SC that needs to be challenged, rather, a recommitment to the discovering and navigating of the link between belief and morality. For what seems central to one’s obedience to a moral code is his or her understanding and acceptance of its rational. And this, inevitably, involves facing the tough questions of the nature of being, the purpose of life, and the very origin of “right” and “wrong. Admittedly I haven’t “steeped into” the lived reality of SC enough to know the active practices to make any informed judgment, however from their stated policies and programming template seems to infer SC is more committed to the ascribing to principles than to the understanding of their rationale.

So returning to my original question I do think SC is to be applauded for their inclusiveness however without a dedicated exploration of the interdependence of morality and spirituality their foundation does seem somewhat suspect. But perhaps there is some brilliance yet to be discovered here. Could it be that with renewed diversity in beliefs among group members that the norm themselves will be more naturally subject to scrutiny? Perhaps even becoming a fertile ground for spiritual discovery?….Curious….

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A Buddhist Crusade?

World Religions
The violence attack this time in Myanmar reminds me the Crusades which took place in Asia Minor and the Levant between 1095 and 1291. The target was also against Muslims, but this time the attacking force is Buddhists. (

The incident began since late March when Buddhist-led violence swept the town of Meikthila, further north, killing at least 43 people. And this time (Apr 30) they hurled bricks overran mosques and set hundreds of homes ablaze in central Myanmar, injuring at least 10 people. The key word for me is “Buddhist-led”. In a word, they are Buddhist Crusaders. I was a Buddhist before I converted but I never heard that Buddhist has holy war.

Muslims said that they have Jihad (to struggle in the way of Allah). Jihad can be interpreted as the exerting of one’s power in repelling the enemy or in contending with an object of disapprobation (Hexam, p.432), or simply as inner spiritual struggle and outer physical struggle (Morgan). The outer physical struggle of Muslim to my understanding is what we normally called the “holy war” (even though not everyone agrees with this (Hexam, p.434).

Many Muslims claimed that it is the struggle against the enemies of Islam. They will keep fighting until enemies died, or surrender. This Muslim tradition is understandable as it happened and keeping happening since the very first day. However, I wonder when did the struggle against other religion first happened in a Buddhist community, as well as why it happened.

Buddhists talk about peace of mind, they talk about nirvana. (Hexam, p.206) The teaching of Buddhism also teaches the followers to master their thoughts to gain control over the inner working of their minds so as to escape the bonds of existence (Hexam, p.196). Therefore, I see the riot, rampageous or even the killing activities of Buddhists in Myanmar contradicted to their belief.

I wonder if they really know Buddhist belief, or were they really Buddhists? Or just a group of non-Buddhists people follow what Nero did in 64AD so as to lead public targeting Buddhists? And why didn’t those Muslim strike back?

The article also mentioned the report from Human Rights Watch which account yet of the violence in Rakhine state. It accused authorities – including Buddhist monks, local politicians and government officials, and state security forces – organized campaign of “ethnic cleansing” to against a Muslim minority known as the Rohingya. This incident again proved that religion should have nothing to do with politics, and it also proved that however it seldom work this way.

What we find all over the world is that “religions are good tools to politicians” (except communism, I attribute their fear of the power of religion which can gather general populace to against it). If politicians are wise enough, they can “utilizes” religious groups to achieve what their goals. It is not restricted in undeveloped and developing countries. I also saw politician appear in church during election period right here in Canada, and then he suddenly “vanished” afterward.

On the other hand, I wonder why those Muslims in Myanmar did not fight back. Is it because of they are just a minority in the country? Or they do not have enough resources to fight back? Or what …?


Hexham, Irving. Understanding world religions: an interdisciplinary approach. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. 2011

Morgan, Diane (2010). Essential Islam: A Comprehensive Guide to Belief and Practice. ABC-CLIO. p. 87. Retrieved 5 January 2011.

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“Move Over, Mount Zion”

World Religions
Many world religions have their holy mountains: the Hindus had Mount Meru, the Japanese folk religions had Fujiyama, and the Greeks had Mount Olympus. The Temple Mount in Jerusalem, claimed by both Jews and Muslims and revered by Christians, is possibly the most contentious holy mountain in history ( ).

In April 2011 the newly restored Baha’i Shrine on Mount Carmel in Israel was unveiled. Why mention it in a May 2013 article? Why, because the Shrine was originally due to be finished last month. Thanks to a dedicated team – a better word might be “legion” – of conservators and volunteers, the work was completed two years ahead of schedule.

The news caught my eye not merely because I am a Christian, who along with the Jews appreciates the significance of holy and historical mountains such as Mount Zion and Mount Sinai, but because I am currently preparing a sermon on John 4. In this passage, Jesus and a Samaritan woman briefly debate the Jews’ worship on Mount Zion versus the Samaritans’ worship on Mount Gerizim. Jesus memorably claims that he himself is the new centre of true worship rather than any specific holy mountain.

Local residents and followers of Baha’i call the Baha’i Shrine “The Queen of Carmel.” Architectural speaking, it is regal indeed: gilded tiles and manicured gardens are just the beginning. It may be the finest holy place you’ve never heard of…until now.

Tweet: Move aside, Mount Zion: the Baha’i Shrine on Mount Carmel is on the rise, bigger and better than ever: #worldrels

Do Indian Christian converts cease to be Indians?

World Religions
The recent report about the issue of Indian Christian converts in South Africa ( ) shed lights onto my understanding toward Hinduism. An Eastern Indian pastor in South African, who uses Tamil in preaching and teaching, is accused by Indian nationalists, Thillayvel Naidoo, who is a party leader and linguist. Naidoo claimed that “those who reject their religion (Hinduism) lose the right to be completely Indian.” The nationality and religion are understood by some eastern Indian people as indivisible.

It is hard to define what Hinduism is. The richness of Hindu religion practice and philosophy makes it almost impossible to find a universal doctrine for Hinduism. In India, the religion practice and belief varies greatly from place to place. The term of Hinduism is first used by British as the name of all local religions besides Muslim. As a result, it is fair to say that the unified religious system so-called Hinduism never really exists.

Yet the area of Hindu is constantly under invasion. The British occupation, the latest one, set great influence on the development of Indian nationalism. It could be fair to say that Hinduism is a term to define the identity of a wide variety of local religion other than Islam and Christianity. Under the rule of Britain, Indian began their religious reformation. Ramakrishna developed a creed to unify the various religious systems in Indian culture. According to him, there is true reality lies behind all illusions in the world. Although we couldn’t attain the divine truth, the incarnation of God in all gods makes truth attainable through all the gods of different Indian religions. Through worshipping these gods, no matter which one, the true God is worshipped.

Worshipping in Hindu religion begins at home. Each home has a shrine. In this sense, the worshipping of a certain god is part of the home identity. Hindu religion also has close connection to calendar. The life journey, birth, marriage, and death are also connected with the religious practice. All these practice are communal. Hindu people understand person as part of a religious community instead of being an individual. From this sense, it is understandable why Thillayvel Naidoo will made the claim that those Christians lose the right to be completely Indian.

The Christian input of incarnation is a very interesting factor for me as a Christian to understand the evangelical work toward Hindu people. We could see how this is incorporated into the Hinduism belief. Yet Hinduism is, by large, against the Muslim belief. I believe the difference in their attitude toward the two most-important Abramic religions sheds some light onto the evangelical work among Hindu people. How much the Hindu Christians could develop a Christian theology respond to the Hinduism belief while still under the orthodox trail? At least, to be converted as an Indian Christian shouldn’t means to reject all what they do as a Hinduism believer.