When the lines between religion and law get blurred

The first line of the Huffington Post article: Whose Sharia is it? says it all: ‘It has been a lousy month for Islamic law’.  Between the horrific abduction of Nigerian girls, and  new laws in Brunei which are thinly veiled anti-gay laws, the religion of Islam is taking a beating in the Western Press. In fact, both these events have been condoned both those who support it because of a claim of Islamic faith, as if that covers the abhorrent nature of it. In both cases the lines between religion/faith and law have been blurred to the point where one is no longer distinguishable from the other.  As the author points out, ‘The pretense that these laws are straightforward implementations of God’s will not only serves to justify these otherwise unjustifiable rules but also feeds the demonization and dehumanization of Muslims.’

As if the first two stories were not enough, another story came to light regarding a woman in Sudan being beaten and condemned for marrying a Christian man. The irony? She is Christian, but since her father (who abandoned her as a baby) is Muslim, she is Muslim and therefore subject to the archaic rules of apostasy and sexual relations. Again, religion is used as law in a way that perverts justice.

So what is the common thread through all this?  The author of this article comes to this conclusion, ‘My “what’s the use?” phase shifted into the simmering anger phase once I began to think about why exactly this version of Islamic law holds sway. It’s patriarchy straight down the line.’ She goes on to write, ‘At the moment, though, I am less interested in insisting on the nuance and variability of traditional Islamic law and more on critiquing its powerful patriarchal presuppositions…Islamic law is only part of the picture. And yet it is a key piece of the picture. Rethinking Islamic law without questioning its basic presumptions about male dominance will not take us nearly far enough. Whose sharia is this? It is certainly not mine. I cannot believe that it is God’s.’

Muslim theologian Jerusha Lamptey, states in his article linked to this one, ‘It is similar with shariah and Islamic law. The majority of Islamic laws do not derive directly from the Qur’an, which primarily contains generalized ethical content. Most Islamic laws instead come from the work of Islamic jurists over the past 1,400 years. These jurists, in the past and today, have debated, upheld, modified, and introduced diverse laws. They have tried—with varying degrees of success—to align those laws with the principles of shariah. What they have never done is agree upon a fixed set of specific laws.’

How do we prevent the lines between religion and law from being blurred? In the USA, the rhetoric claims that church and state are separate. However, anyone critically looking at the situation can see foreshadowing of similar blurred lines. How much should religion inform law? Or law inform religion? We can learn much from what is happening around the world in religion. But the real question is can we avoid falling into the same traps?

Sikh Holy Book Supernaturally Protected in School Fire

A suspicious fire in Vancouver at a Khalsa School in 2009 destroyed the entire school, but the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Jee  (the Sikh holy book) completely survived the fire and was recovered.  Authorities do not know the cause of the fire, but it appeared to be suspicious because it rapidly engulfed one building and two portable classrooms at virtually the same time.

When the fire was finally extinguished, firefighters entered the buildings and recovered the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Jee.  Even though the condition of the book was not known as it was brought out covered with a white cloth, members of the temple attributed that it was God’s will that protected the book.

Christianity teaches and believes that the Bible alone is the revealed Word of God. Even though humans wrote the Bible, the ultimate author was God. We have internal evidences such as its unity (66 individuals books, written on three continents, in three different languages, over a period of 1500 years, by more than 40 authors from various walks of life and yet remains unified from beginning to end) and its prophecies (relating to future nations, cities, Jesus the Messiah that more detailed as compared to prophecies in other religious books).

We have external evidences such as historicity of the Bible as it detailed historical events that could be proven using archeological evidences and other writings. Another external evidence is the integrity of its human authors. In studying their lives, we discover that they are honest and sincere.  They were willing to die for what they believed shows that these honest authors truly believed God had spoken to them.

If we are to believe that the Bible is truly God’s Word, it begs the question, “Why did God “protect” the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Jee?” We know for a fact that the Bible has suffered more vicious attacks and attempts to destroy it than any other book in history. From Roman Emperors such as Diocletian, to communist dictators and to modern-day atheists and agnostics, the Bible has withstood and outlasted all its attackers. As a result, it would make sense that the Bible would be supernaturally protected given it is God’s True Word.

If I were to attempt to rationalize this (which I find extremely difficult given the fact that an imperfect being attempting to rationalize a perfect being), I come up with three possible explanations:

1) It was just a coincidence that the Holy Book survived.

2) Since the fire was suspiciously set, someone in the temple could have deliberately set the fire in order to strengthen those Sikhs whose faith were weak.  The temple leaders could say to them, “Look! Our holy was not damaged in the fire. It must be divine intervention!” But, this seems unlikely.

3)The other explanation deals in the realm of spiritual warfare.  If Christians believe that God’s desire is to have and maintain a relationship with His children, then they can say that Satan’s desire is to break or damage God’s relationship with His children. In that case the survival of the Sikh holy book was allowed to challenge to the faith of Christians with a counterfeit miracle. BC

The Gospel, The Gays and Uganda

Carey mini-Blog

Last summer I visited 2 African countries, Malawi and Uganda. As a woman who has short hair and rarely wears a dress, I was viewed as an anomaly. However my status as a North American, the wedding band on my finger and the fact that I work for a international non-profit was enough to quell any troubled folks. The reason? They wanted to make sure I wasn’t ‘wrong’. In other words, that I wasn’t gay or ‘two-spirited’ as the First Nations say. Friends in those countries also warned me that even being sympathetic to gays was cause for punishment or even jail.  So I wasn’t overly surprised, (but grieved, nonetheless) when I saw this article in the L.A. Times and similar articles in other publications.

In December of 2013, the Ugandan president made it not only illegal to be gay but punishable by death. (Now, technically the bill removed the death penalty, but folks on the ground say differently)

Now, normally I’d be inclined to be upset because this is a human rights issue and demand that my country’s government step up and denounce such atrocity. However, this particular issue is magnified by the fact that the leading proponent of the anti-gay bill is none other than an American ‘pastor’ (and I use the term loosely), Scott Lively. In recent years the conservative right wing Christian faction in America has not only been whipping African countries into frenzies with anti-gay rhetoric, but has been spending millions of dollars in doing so.

Just re-read that last sentence again. Millions of dollars. To spread hate. In the name of God.

Now, I’m no theologian. But when I read the Bible, I read about a loving God and loving your neighbor.  I read about loving the stranger and taking care of the widows, orphans, and children. 

It baffles me that in a city like Camden, NJ, USA, can exist, and that no church will come and help with funds to support programs that feed, educate and create safe places. But, MILLIONS of dollars will be funneled to a country half way across the world to ensure that a tiny percentage of people will be humiliated, beaten, jailed and murdered.

How is that living out the gospel? How does that at all reflect what Jesus taught?

We have known the danger of colonizing countries in the way of Western religion. God knows that our Western fingerprints have done incredibly damage to indigenous cultures around the world in the name of God.  So you would think that we would learn from that history. But what remains the same is man’s thirst for power and control and fame. That is what happened here.  The author of the article, Kapya Kaoma says it best, ” The people of Uganda, Nigeria, Russia and elsewhere are leading their own struggles for human rights. Their fight is difficult enough without campaigns of vilification designed by a handful of Americans who distort the meaning of the Gospels to justify the criminalization of innocents.”

It only took a few to change the good news into horror and death, but I fear it will take a nation to redeem it back to life.

Superstition or Violation of Religious Freedom?

Carey mini-Blog

The University of British Columbia’s Board of Governors has approved a 15-bed hospice on a campus location, even as some residents of a neighbouring high-rise condominium continue to object to the facility on what they say are cultural grounds. Their reasoning, according to the a letter written to the University Neighbourhood Association, subscribe to the belief that death is considered the “yin,” and life is the “yang” and when combining the two results in poverty, sickness and death because ghosts will invade and harass the living. This stems from the belief of feng shui, the belief that one can avoid “negative chi” through design. Building next to a hospital, cemetery, funeral home or hospice would expose the energy of death on its inhabitants.

While opponents have dismissed the residents’ concerns as mere superstition, resident and realtor Jane Li during a press conference at the time dismissed the notion that it was not due to superstition, but rather 5,000 years of culture and religion.  She further added that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protected her rights to religious beliefs.

While I fully support that our rights to religious beliefs should be protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, one needs to distinguish what is considered superstition with what is considered religious practice or ritual. Having grown up in a traditional Chinese family, I am fully aware of Chinese superstitious practices.  When I got married, my mother-in-law did not allow me to wash my hair on the Lunar New Year’s Day for fear of washing away all my good luck and fortunes.  The ironic thing about this is that my mother-in-law is a practicing Catholic!

If the university was forcing Jewish and Muslim students or employees to consume pork or requiring Christian students and employees to marry only same-sex partners, I can understand that would be a fundamental violation of one’s religious rights and freedoms. But to protest the building of a hospice on the grounds that it violates one’s religious beliefs does not make sense.  The article states another example of another neighbourhood protesting the construction of a funeral home, but in this case, the residents believed that it would prevent future buyers from choosing to live in the neighbourhood.[1] I feel that the residents are more concerned about having their property value drop than believing that it violates their rights and freedoms to be living in close proximity to a hospice.

Finally, the residents claim that “yin” which represents death should not be in close proximity to “yang” which represents life and will result in bad luck. Close examination of the yin-yang symbol shows not a straight line, but rather a wavy line.  The whole of the yin and yang is about life and life is not complete when only one is present. In other words, the yin and yang exists when the yang is next to the yin in order to make it whole because the Chinese believe that everything in life should be balanced. Hospice is a part of a life process.  If there is life, there must be death.

Link: http://goo.gl/OjUn5R

[1] http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/funeral-home-faces-opposition-at-new-location-1.1333387

Revised – David Cameron’s ‘Christian country’ remarks fuel mini media frenzy

Carey mini-Blog

N:B: This mini-Blog was reposted because some parts of the original blog-story were missing from the first version.

During a pre-Easter reception at Downing Street for religious leaders, British Prime Minister David Cameron made some remarks about his own religious faith. He followed up on his comments by writing an article for a paper called the Church Times. The result created quite a stir within the British media.

Here is what appeared to be at least one of Cameron’s ‘offending’ remarks: “I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country.” Cameron also said Britain should be “more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives.” Not exactly front page news material.
However, the various reactions to Cameron’s comments were quickly swept up by the news. Various groups and individuals were either quick to comment or pulled into the fray because of distinction and/or intellect.
A group of prominent liberals, writing in an open letter published in the Daily Telegraph, accused Cameron of fostering alienation and division within the UK. Written by various personalities, it said, “Apart from in the narrow constitutional sense that we continue to have an establish Church, Britain is not a “Christian country.”

How is it that Britain, a country so richly steeped in Christianity stumbles upon its own Christian identity? This was a country that was so profoundly changed by having the Bible placed into the hands of the common person just centuries past. This is a country that gave rise to such prominent Christians as John Tyndale, John Wesley, George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon, and John Stott, to name just a few.

During a recent interview, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams was asked to comment on Britain’s religious status. Shrewdly, Dr Williams “said it was important to ‘pick your way quite carefully’ in the debate about the nation’s relationship with Christianity.”

It was interesting to note Dr William’s belief about whether Britain was a Christian country or not. During the same interview, when Dr Williams was pressed for a yes or no answer, he replied, “A Christian country as a nation of believers? No. A Christian country in the sense of still being very saturated by this vision of the world and shaped by it? Yes.”

The debate also included the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. During an interview Welby was asked the same question as to whether Britain is a Christian country. His reply essentially echoed Dr Williams, that is to say, if one goes by the number of pews filled in each service then the answer is no. But if one considers the British system of ethics, law and justice, protection of the poor… these values have been shaped by and founded on Christianity.

The Archbishop also stated these values are a historical fact. He further states, “For those in the church as well as for those of other faiths and traditions, history ‘makes for some uncomfortable reading… Its facts are awkward for all of us, but its no use pretending they do not exist… The PM is right on this.”

Whether the PM has ulterior motives behind his religious comments or not, as suggest by this article, the question of whether Britain is still a Christian country should be one that other countries might ask of themselves. 48% of the British public believe Christians are afforded less protection than members of other faiths. 50% are afraid to express their beliefs due the rise of religious fundamentalism.

How does this affect a country such as Canada? What will our religious landscape look like in twenty years and what sort of protection will the various faiths enjoy?

Source: CBC NewsWorld

A Good Lesson to Chinese Christian Leaders

Carey mini-Blog

The British newspaper The Telegraph, http://bit.ly/S4nyo8, reports on the demolition of the Sanjiang Church building in a rich eastern Chinese city Wen Zhou shocked the Christian world. The so called “Jerusalem of the East” church building was totally torn down without “one stone left on another” on April 28th, 2014. According to the government announcement, that building has exceeded the governmental approved building limitation excessively (10,000 vs. 1,800 sqms) and it is one of the illegal buildings in that city which have been demolished (totally over 863,000 sqms) in the recent campaign of the city government against illegal buildings. Five government officials have been accused malfeasance because they failed to stop the illegal church building construction during its twelve years constructing process.

Some would say that this is an indication of another round of persecution toward Christians in China. That would be very sad of China after thirty six years of successful social and economical reformation. Apparently, there are still lots of restrains to religious freedom although the National Constitution clearly announces that Chinese people could enjoy it. Among all religions in China, Christianity has always been related to imperialism because of the early missionary movement into China were majorly from the western countries following successful military actions of westerners in China during the late nineteenth century. Although the tension between the communist government and foreign missionaries has been significantly mitigated during the past three decades, there are still radical atheists playing important role in the governmental authority. The close connection between the local Christian community and the foreign Christian mission boards and political leaders is highly sensitive to the contemporary Chinese government. This is a very important task to the Chinese Christian leaders to ease the misunderstanding in the society and realize that Christian community is still a minority comparing with the vast number of Chinese population, although the number of Christians has excitedly boosted during recent years. Any exaggerating optimism would easily lead to arrogation and sadly results like this.

I am intrigued about the name “Jerusalem of the east”. There is probably no theological foundation but longing for secular glory. People of Wen Zhou are proud of their business achievement not only in China but also around the world. They have accumulated large amount of wealth through their hard working and eloquently compare their business success to that of Jewish people. So that they claim themselves to be “the Jews of the east”. It might because of such sentiment, the Christian “Jews of the east” would like to name their building “Jerusalem of the east”. From such a name, it is easy to perceive the religious passion of the Jewish people of the Old Testament rather than any clue of the New Testament. A successful church doesn’t merely equals to a large number of congregation, a huge building on the earth, but a church in Jesus Christ which no one could demolish, a church that every member longs for the truth of God and everyone would participate the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. Twelve struggling years and more than five million dollars have been spent on such a tragedy. Fortunately, no one was injured, both sides remained restraint during the conflict. Personally, I am not in favor of revoking obvious conflict against any state jurisdiction. Now, I must pray to God for Chinese Christians and for His guidance to their church leaders.

Tarot Card Readers Tell All…

Carey mini-Blog

The article linked below invites you into the fascinating world of seven tarot card readers who are making their mark in Brooklyn, New York. It comes to life in Brooklyn because there are “two focal points” in the community says the author, “the occult bookstore, Catland and the biweekly tarot bazaar, Tarot Society”. Those interviewed, while all practicing the art of reading tarot cards, use various descriptors like paganism, divination, and magic to describe their personal experience as well as the service they provide to their clients. Throughout the article, there are three pieces that stood out which are woven as commonalities throughout each individual story.

1. Age

Each of these readers gained interest, and often their first deck of tarot cards at a very young age. David was the youngest at age five. The others tell of their beginnings in their early to mid-teens, ages 12 – 15. The fact that these readers all had young beginnings is worth pondering. The teenage years are a time when individuals are seeking to understand themselves and the world they live in. In these stories, they found their understanding in tarot cards.

2. Mentorship

Another common trait of these seven storytellers is that each of them, in one way or another, had someone in their life who was teaching them how to read the cards: a grandmother, mother, or a peer. While not a personal relationship, one interviewee used YouTube to learn to read cards, which in some way, at least in our culture today, could be understood as a form of mentorship. Stuart is the exception to this commonality. His mentors were the books he picked up that taught him about various forms of magic including the reading of tarot cards. For him, tarot reading is an “academic study”.

3. Spirituality

Lastly, there were echoes of common spiritual language used in many religions. The language that the interviewees used to describe their personal experience from which comes the service they provide to their clients is curious when viewing this article through the lens of Christianity. The commonalities are italicized. Stuart describes that his clients often feel like something is “’missing from their life’ and so they turn to tarot with the hope of discovering some truth about their lives and feeling more ‘spiritually fulfilled’”. Others do it because it can help people. Molly makes the statement that her “deck knows her” and describes having a “personal relationship with it” and does it because of the transformation that she has experienced in her own life. Bruno describes it as part of his identity, “part of who I am” he says. Further to those descriptions, tarot cards use symbols, something many religions share.

If you move down to the comment section of the article, it is clear that there are many opinions regarding the use of tarot cards and other forms of magic. If anything, it should spark good conversation. See the article here: http://huff.to/R9eEVg

What commonalities did you notice in the article? What is your opinion of tarot card reading?

Community Minded

Carey mini-Blog

Is there a disconnect between Jesus and people of the Twenty-first Century West? Well… yes and no. Let me explain. In a recent Vancouver Sun article about religious perspectives in the Vancouver area, Douglas Todd writes about the results of a recent poll where Jesus scored very high as a person who had a positive effect on mankind. So there is a belief out there that no matter who Jesus really was (sage, prophet, Son of God) humanity is better because of him. In the same regard the Buddha was ranked equally as high though. While it is great to see that Jesus is thought well of, I think the equality of the two in our culture speaks about the presence of the disconnect.

This disconnect is not a terrible thing though. In typical Jesus fashion, weakness becomes strength. I am assuming that most people have a basic ankle-deep sort of understanding about various religions in the world and so some of the main tenants of those religions have come to be known about. I would like to take a look at some of the things that I think people are noticing about Christianity and Buddhism specifically.

Some things that stand out because of the equal standing of Jesus and Buddha in this article are:

  • Compassion. Both the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis as respective leaders of the two religions demonstrate a commitment to compassion. People respond to the virtuosity of compassion because lots of us have witnessed if not experienced the power of a compassionate act from another.
  • Morality or strong character. It appears that people in the West still look and see the importance of taking the moral high road. This is a good thing because Jesus was awesome at this. As Christ followers we have the opportunity to share with others the reason for strong character and why we believe in choosing the high road.
  • The insignificance of material things. This is one of the implications about this comparison that I really think is cool. There is an admiration of being free from a consumerist mindset. In essence people understand the gift to humanity that a humble life is, and the immorality of measuring life with possessions.

So here is point of all this. Christians sit as a misunderstood minority on the margins of society, a minority who’s focus is the God who establishes community. Eugene Peterson makes the observation that this identity is a positive because “… a minority people working from the margins has the best chance of being a community capable of penetrating the noncommunity, the mob, the depersonalized, function-defined crowd that is the sociological norm of America.” (Peterson, Pastor, 2012) The disconnect of society from Jesus creates the tension that allows for recognition of change needed. The values that people recognize in various world religions is a way in which God through the Holy Spirit is making people aware of the need for life and community.