Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Seeking to know the cosmic God

Human beings are both sentient physical and spiritual beings. Organized religions have sprung up throughout history, and evolved, supposedly to help support the spiritual affirmation of human beings, in their attempts to establish a relationship to God. However, ancient Gnostic disciples of Jesus, critically illuminate the fact that organized religion was orchestrated as a mass-deception technique against human appreciation of the cosmic God.

Gnostics represent, for example, that the prevailing operating context of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, were mischievously inspired by Manipulative Extraterrestrials. Gnostics allege that Manipulative Extraterrestrials throughout human history, have created organized religions around systems of dogma. It is further alleged that the respective systems of dogma in turn, have been designed by Manipulative Extraterrestrials, to complement their control of Earthbound humanity, through human elites.

These human elites in turn seek to gain power, which is associated with an alliance linked to an exploitative and predatory demonic consciousness. Organized religions pivot around the creation of the false God that manifests in creation myths. Apparently, Manipulative Extraterrestrials seek to be worshipped by Earthbound humanity through the creation of organized religion.

The cosmic God requires no "worship", or blind "faith", as proselytized by organized religions that pivot on a Gnostic-identified "false God". Gnostics present that the cosmic God can be scientifically appreciated, understood, and experienced, through tantric sexuality, and other ways.

When human beings go to services within the initiatives of organized religion, and with the accompanying adoption of dogma, and blind "faith", these human agents in the view of Gnostics, are worshipping a "false God", that has been contrived by demons.

By rejecting organized religion, and at the same time, introspectively exploring spirituality, human beings can begin to evolve an understanding of God. In contrast, organized religion operates under power-hungry bureaucracies which observably act oppressively and mischievously in forging alliances with commercially wealthy interests that exploit the proliferating ranks of the poor, and that collectively create cultures of violence, war and genocide.

The cosmic God of the universe that Gnostics reveal, is associated with a context of empathy that is linked with lovingkindness, peace, and wisdom. Seeking to know the cosmic God, requires rejecting the context of mental slavery, which religion seeks to execute against humanity. Human beings who can free their minds from the oppressive mandate of organized religion can begin to appreciate an empowering spirituality, which oppressive elite-driven religions bureaucracies seek to subvert and destroy.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Politics and religion

YES, we know all about separation of church and state. But religion will definitely play a part in determining the outcome of the 2008 presidential election. That's evident from what the Democratic candidates said at a recent forum on faith.

The event didn't bring forth any fire and brimstone language from Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York or Barack Obama of Illinois, or former Sen. John Edwards. But it provided a glimpse into what faith means in the lives of the Democrats who want to lead the nation.
That may not be welcome news to those who think a politician's faith should be irrelevant to the process. But look how much conservative religious groups had to do with George Bush's victory in 2004. The mastermind behind that victory, Karl Rove, capitalized on the importance of religion in many conservatives' lives, and successfully used religion to drive a wedge between many voters and the Democrats. Democratic nominee John Kerry played into Mr. Rove's hands by rarely discussing his Catholic faith.
This time, the candidates' poignant comments were at least in part meant to put to rest the notion that Democrats have no religion. Their remarks were made at a forum sponsored by a religious group called Sojourners/Call to Renewal, which addresses progressive social issues.
When asked whether God was on the side of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Senator Obama smartly referred to President Lincoln, whom members of both parties think was the greatest of all. The senator said Lincoln held that even in wars for just causes, nations must be careful to avoid acting unjustly. Senator Clinton said her faith helped sustain her during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Mr. Edwards told how he returned to his faith after his teenage son was killed in an auto accident.
The forum showed that politicians of every ideological stripe can have strong religious convictions. That includes GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon whose credentials have been challenged by conservative Christians. And remember, millions of faithful, church-going African-Americans are among the most reliable Democratic voters.
Politicians may need religion, but it would be a mistake to assume that the deity is a member of any political party. Religion is still a powerful force in the lives of millions, and when candidates forget that, they do so at their political peril.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

ISU professor defends reason over religion

Don’t call Hector Avalos a militant atheist with an agenda.

Instead, the Iowa State University religious studies professor asks that he be thought of as a zealot for the separation of church and state, or a crusader for American pluralism.

Avalos has been on a mission to keep his university free from a dominant religious ideology. That’s put him at the forefront of faculty petitions in the last few years, most recently opposing football coach Gene Chizik’s proposed hiring of a team chaplain and previously refuting the theory of intelligent design.

His efforts have made him a hero to some who see him as a defender of reason, but to others he’s a heathen eager to impose his atheistic views on others.

Avalos organized the petition opposing the football chaplain because he contends hiring someone for the full-time but privately paid position would violate tenets of a public university. Avalos said naming a chaplain would indicate a preference of one religion — likely evangelical Christianity — over other faiths.

He said 112 ISU faculty have signed the petition.

“The government should not be in the business of preferring a religion,” Avalos said. “We do believe our football field should not be a mission field.”

Tom Kroeschell, an ISU athletics department spokesman, said President Gregory Geoffroy has asked the Iowa State Athletics Council to consider the petition. The 18-member council, along with Athletics Director Jamie Pollard, have until Aug. 1 to consider the chaplain position.

Pollard has said he supports the hiring because student-athletes are under a lot of pressure and many would welcome access to spiritual guidance.

“Their charge is to discuss conditions under which the concept would or would not be acceptable,” Kroeschell said. “And then they’ll make a report to the president.”

Avalos said the petition reflects a coalition of people, some religious and others not, who want the university to remain inclusive.

Some aren’t buying it. They accuse Avalos of being anti-religion.

“There are some very hateful e-mails, some very angry ones,” he said. “They accuse me of having an atheist agenda, which is not true.”

Avalos, who has been at ISU since 1993, said he can weather attacks, especially given his childhood experience as a Pentecostal preacher. From age 7 to 17, he toured Arizona as a child preacher and faith healer until foregoing his faith in college.

“In one way or another I’ve been speaking out since I was young,” he said. “When I was preaching is when I had rocks thrown at me.”

He said he doesn’t impose his secular-humanist views in the classroom but fights for his ideals outside because they parallel the university’s nonreligious reputation.

That’s why two years ago he launched a petition refuting intelligent design as a legitimate science. The theory holds the universe and living things are so finely tuned and complex, they must have been designed by a supreme, intelligent force.

The petition, signed by more than 120 ISU faculty, recently burst back into the news because of controversy over the unnamed target: intelligent design advocate Guillermo Gonzalez, an ISU assistant astronomy and physics professor. The university president last month denied Gonzalez’s tenure request, leading advocates of the theory to claim discrimination.

Gonzalez is well known among supporters of the theory because he co-authored a book that supports the idea, “The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery.”

Avalos said people in other states had started to associate ISU with intelligent design because of Gonzalez, so faculty members wanted to be sure they cleared the school’s record from mixing science and religion.

Gonzalez has appealed the tenure decision, and the ISU president has until June 6 to make a decision.

Despite accusations of being an atheist hard-liner, the Harvard Divinity School-trained Avalos doesn’t dismiss religion as an irrelevant phenomenon.

He said it can be “a force for good or ill,” depending on whether religious communities allow for honest debate about its divisive trends.

Avalos notes also that he’s often invited to speak at churches and has two books out from Christian-affiliated publishers.

“I want people to see some of what you believe may be causing the problem,” he said. “The encouraging thing is, I see churches willing to listen.”

Saturday, May 19, 2007

'Rosary Bowl' seeks to revive a once-vibrant tradition

For many years, Southern California was home to annual outdoor celebrations of the Roman Catholic rosary and the Virgin Mary, events that drew thousands at a time to the Hollywood Bowl, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Dodger Stadium.

The devotional service, known as Mary's Hour, began at the Bowl in 1948 and drew its largest audience, about 100,000, to the Coliseum in 1954.

But crowds of the faithful dwindled over time, and Mary's Hour was last held on an annual basis in 1969, with occasional smaller services in the late 1980s.

The tradition is scheduled to be revived today, when organizers say 50,000 to 75,000 people are expected to gather for the "Rosary Bowl," the first celebration of the rosary to be held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

Organizers say the event, from 6 to 9 p.m., will include prayer, music and cultural exhibitions and is expected to draw participants from across Southern California.

"The intent is to encourage families to come together to pray the rosary and pray for peace," said Beth Mahoney, mission director of Holy Cross Family Ministries of Easton, Mass. The group is sponsoring the gathering with its local affiliate, Family Theater Productions of Hollywood, and the support of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

The event, "A World at Prayer Is a World at Peace," is free and open to the public. More than 75,000 advance tickets have been distributed, the organizers said, and tickets may still be obtained at the Rose Bowl today.

Father Willy Raymond is the president of Family Theater Productions, which was started in 1947 by Father Patrick Peyton, an Irish-born priest who helped popularize daily reciting of the rosary through large public celebrations and the religious dramas his company produced. Peyton died in 1992 after carrying his rosary crusade to an estimated 27 million people worldwide.

Raymond said part of the impetus for today's event was a 2002 decision by Pope John Paul II to add a new set of mysteries, or meditations, to the rosary, which is a traditional Catholic devotion that involves a string of beads and the recitation of a set number of prayers.

Previously, Catholics were asked to use the rosary to reflect daily on one of three sets of scenes from the Gospels: the Joyful, Sorrowful or Glorious mysteries, which focus on Jesus' birth, crucifixion and resurrection.

The additional set, the Luminous mysteries, fill in key scenes of Christ's public life, including his baptism and the Last Supper.

"That really reminded everyone that the rosary, although addressed to Mary, is focused on Christ," Raymond said. "And while it can be a very precious, intimate form of prayer, it can also be very meaningful as a public devotion."

Raymond said his organization would like to restart the tradition of public rosary festivals and chose Los Angeles for the first event because of the large, ethnically diverse Catholic population here and the area's history of holding such celebrations.

Today's celebration, will include music and processions, along with prayers and inspirational words from Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, Bishop Oscar Solis and Immaculee Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide.

The Rose Bowl's parking lots are scheduled to open at 1 p.m. and the stadium gates at 5 p.m. Although the tickets are free, parking will cost $15 for cars and $40 for buses.


Life's Mysteries 101

Several universities are taking steps to help students explore spiritual and religious issues, in response to studies showing that large majorities of American undergraduates are interested in spirituality or searching for meaning in their lives.

Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, for example, plans to launch a residential program for freshmen this fall that will ask them to ponder and discuss questions about the meaning of life and definitions of success.

Miami University of Ohio says it will extend existing theme programs in some of its dorms to incorporate conversations around spiritual topics.

And Florida State University is promoting interfaith dialogues and planning training sessions for faculty and staff on how to lead and participate in conversations with students on spiritual issues.

The programs grew out of discussions held at UCLA in November as part of the 4-year-old Spirituality in Higher Education project at the school's Higher Education Research Institute. Teams of faculty, staff and administrators from 10 colleges and universities across the country gathered at the institute to develop plans for programs that would allow students to explore questions of meaning, purpose, value and other such issues.

"We wanted to engage a variety of faculty and others in talking about this sometimes difficult issue, the question of spirituality in higher education," said Jennifer Lindholm, the project's director. "Some came because they were skeptics and many of the others because they were at least marginally receptive to trying to work with students on these issues. And we had a really interesting conversation."

A 2004 institute study of entering college freshmen nationwide found that four of every five had an interest in spirituality, three-fourths were searching for meaning or purpose in life and more than three-fourths — 79% — believed in God.

"The research shows that many are searching for something larger than themselves," Lindholm said.

University faculty and administrators, especially at public institutions, are often reluctant to become involved in such issues both in the classroom and in other official settings, she said. But that may leave students struggling for answers.

"We feel that there are appropriate ways to talk about these issues and always underscore that this is not to indoctrinate or validate one belief or another, including non-belief," she said. "But we need to be aware that there's a lot going on with undergraduates along these lines and figure out ways to help them explore the issues."


Darfur observance

In an effort to draw attention to the continuing bloodshed in Sudan's Darfur region, an ecumenical service at First AME Church of Los Angeles on Sunday will feature Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and leaders of various religious denominations and community organizations.

The Los Angeles Darfur Observance Day will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. at the church, 2270 S. Harvard Blvd.

It will include an interfaith choir performance, speeches by Villaraigosa and others, and a display of video and photographs documenting violence in the African nation.

The Bush administration has described the situation in Darfur, which includes assaults by Sudanese troops and allied militias against civilians, as genocide. The United Nations estimates that more than 180,000 people in the region have died since 2003, when a civil war began.

Among the event's sponsors are the American Jewish Committee of Los Angeles and Jewish World Watch, which have been active for several years in trying to raise awareness about Darfur.

"The genocide is an issue that resonates with the Jewish community because of its experience with the Holocaust," said Dean Schramm, vice president of the local office of the American Jewish Committee. "What we're trying to do collectively here is to say to Khartoum that this must stop, to say to Washington that we have to do more and to say to the people of Darfur, 'You are not alone.' "

Expected participants include the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Islamic Center of Southern California and UCLA's Darfur Action Committee.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

3 who influenced religion

During Black History Month, the Daily News is looking at the accomplishments of some of the influential but less-celebrated African-Americans who made their marks in American history.

These are men and women who inspired the dreams, fanned the flames and stood in the thick of revolutionary change, but are often short-changed in the history books.

Here are three such individuals.

Adam Clayton Powell Sr. 1865-1953

He was the grandson of slaves, the father of a flamboyant namesake congressman and a towering figure in his own right.

As a boy, Powell, a Virginia native, is said to have learned the alphabet in a day. A year later, he was reading from the Bible.

A grandfather nudged Powell toward the ministry and he eventually served as pastor of churches in Connecticut and Pennsylvania. The pastorate that made him famous, however, was at Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City.

Under Powell's leadership, Abyssinian practiced a social gospel that did not limit itself the pulpit and pews; the church operated a facility for the aged, helped feed the poor and agitated for racial and economic justice.

By the mid-1930s, Abyssinian claimed 14,000 members, making it the largest Protestant congregation in the United States.

Mamie Smith 1883-1946

Bessie Smith was better known, but Mamie got there first.

Her hit, "Crazy Blues," recorded in 1920, was the first blues vocal ever recorded and also the first recording by an African-American woman.

Despite that distinction, Smith did not think of herself primarily as a blues singer - she was a vaudevillian who sang many different styles.

The Cincinnati-born vocalist spent the '20s and '30s barnstorming across the United States with her Jazz Hounds, a band that included such luminaries as James "Bubber" Miley and Willie "The Lion" Smith.

Matthew Alexander Henson 1866-1955

On the day in 1887 that he first met explorer Robert Peary, Henson, though only about 21 years old, already had experience as a stevedore, seaman, bellhop and coachman.

Peary thought Henson might make a valuable valet on Peary's attempt to become the first man to reach the North Pole.

Peary soon discovered that Henson's abilities and experiences made him even more valuable as a colleague.

As Peary once put it, "I couldn't get along without him."

The men mounted seven expeditions to the Arctic, including the last, in 1908 and 1909, when they finally stood together at the top of the world, the first explorers to do so.

Religion News in Brief

LONDON - Muslim women should be allowed to wear a veil in British courts, as long it does not interfere with court proceedings, senior judges said in guidelines published Tuesday.

Decisions on whether to allow the full facial covering, known as the niqab, should be made on a case-by-case basis, the Judicial Studies Board's Equal Treatment Advisory Committee said.

The guidance was issued after an immigration judge adjourned a case in Stoke-on-Trent, in central England, last November because he could not hear a Muslim lawyer who refused to remove her veil. The case resumed after her firm sent another lawyer to represent her client in court.

Forcing a woman to choose between participating in a court case or removing her veil could have a "significant impact on that woman's sense of dignity" and could exclude and marginalize her, the panel said.

The issue of face-covering veils has stoked debate over religious tolerance and cultural assimilation in Britain, which is home to 1.6 million Muslims.

Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw provoked a stir in October when he said he requested _ but did not insist _ that Muslim women remove face-covering veils during one-on-one meetings. Prime Minister Tony Blair said at the time that veils were seen as a "mark of separation."

Southern Baptist baptisms drop for 2nd straight year

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ The number of baptisms in Southern Baptist churches has fallen for the second consecutive year despite a push by top leaders to evangelize.

At the same time, national membership increased by less than 1 percent, but more churches were built, according to the 2006 profile of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, a Southern Baptist agency that conducts the annual survey, said the findings show that denomination has not been effective in "stepping up to the task of sharing the Gospel with a lost and dying world."

Baptisms dropped from 371,850 to 364,826, or 1.89 percent, last year, the lowest annual total since 1993, according to Baptist Press. In 2005, baptisms decreased by 4.15 percent.

National membership reached 16,306,246, up by nearly 36,000 in 2005. The number of churches across the country increased by 524, or 1.2 percent, to a total of 44,223.

The Southern Baptist Convention is the nation's largest Protestant denomination.

Biden says Democrats must convince voters on faith issue

JOHNSTON, Iowa (AP) _ Democrats must convince voters that the party is comfortable with religion or else risk losing the presidential race next year, Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden said.

"I think my party has to demonstrate that it's not afraid to deal with the faith issue, and has a candidate who the public thinks knows there's something bigger than he or she is and is comfortable with that," said Biden. "We treat it like a third rail within our party."

Biden, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, spoke April 20 during a taping of Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press" program.

Biden said Democrats don't have to demonstrate deep religious faith, but they must make clear their understanding of religion's role in the nation's life. He said religious Americans accepted President Clinton, flaws and all, because he understood the importance of faith for the country.

"When Clinton sat in my Catholic church, people didn't think he was a paragon of virtue, they thought he respected them, they thought he was comfortable with them," Biden said.

Vice President Al Gore, when he ran for president in 2000 against George W. Bush, was far more reluctant to talk about faith and never connected with voters on the issue, Biden said, even though "Al Gore was as pure as the driven snow, fidelity was everything about him."

Biden has barely registered in polls, even though he sought the Democratic nomination in the 1988 election cycle and campaigned heavily in Iowa before dropping from the race. He said many people are making a mistake by treating those early polls seriously. He said most voters are willing to change their minds.

Monument dedicated to victims of clergy abuse in Catholic diocese

GRAND MOUND, Iowa (AP) _ A monument honoring the victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests has been placed near a small eastern Iowa parish where a predator once served.

Parishioners of the SS. Philip & James Catholic Church in Grand Mound unveiled the granite monument last Sunday. They and members of a group called Catholics for Spiritual Healing raised the $4,000 needed for the creation and placement of the 3 1/2-foot-high monument.

The torch and flame design depicts an angel and a small boy carrying a Bible.

The verse is from Luke 12: "There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs."

The monument is inscribed, "dedicated to our children who survived abuse by those we trusted."

It will be placed in the yard outside the parish, the last stop in the 40-year career of James Janssen, a former priest who worked in the church from 1980 to 1990. Janssen was accused of sexually assaulting about a dozen boys in six parishes over three decades. The church placed him on indefinite leave in August 1990 and defrocked him in 2004.

Deacon David Montgomery, spokesman for the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, which includes Grand Mound, said Bishop Martin Amos was invited to the ceremony but had previous commitments and couldn't attend.

"He's very pleased that they're doing this," Montgomery said.

Diocesan leaders have asked every parish to have a statute or item "signifying the importance of protecting God's children and reminding everyone of the scars of abuse."

The Diocese of Davenport has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the face of abuse claims.

Malaysia's Muslim men shirk financial duties to divorced wives, activists say

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ Many Malaysian Muslim men who divorce their wives are ignoring their responsibility to provide for their children because the Islamic legal system fails to punish them, a women's rights group says.

Sisters In Islam said women who were unable to get their ex-husbands to pay child support comprised nearly one-third of the 214 complaints it received in the first three months of 2007, adding that those cases constitute "only a small fraction of what is happening."

"Mothers are forced to beg from their children's fathers so that their children have sufficient food, clothing, shelter and education," the group said in an April 21 statement.

Sisters In Islam said Malaysia's Muslim women are suffering a lack of legal protection in a wide range of issues such as polygamy, where men who take multiple wives sometimes neglect the economic and emotional welfare of their families. Some Muslims interpret Islamic teaching as allowing a man to marry up to four women.

The Islamic Shariah Court is the legal authority in disputes involving families, morality and religion for Muslims, who form nearly 60 percent of the 26 million people in Malaysia, which has Buddhist, Christian and Hindu minorities.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Monks call for Buddhism to be Thai national religion as Muslim insurgency rages in south

BANGKOK, Thailand: Hundreds of monks rallied in Thailand on Tuesday for Buddhism to be enshrined in the constitution as the country's national religion, amid a worsening Islamic insurgency in the Muslim south.

More than 2,000 people have died since 2004 in the country's three southernmost provinces along the Malaysian border in an insurgency fueled by concerns among Muslims that they have been discriminated against, especial in educational and job opportunities, in Buddhist-dominated Thailand.

The call from the monks revives a debate that dates back to 1997 when a campaign to make Buddhist the national religion was dropped amid concerns that it would divide the country.

The issue is heating up again as a new constitution is being drafted by a committee appointed by coup leaders who ousted elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in September.

The coup leaders have promised to put a new constitution to voters in a referendum as early as September.

Along with holding a silent rally outside of Parliament, monks sent a representative Tuesday to meet with Prasong Sunsiri, the chairman of the constitutional drafting committee, to press their demands that Buddhism be included.

"It must be pointed out that this national religion campaign is taking place amid widespread paranoia within the clergy against Islam following the southern violence," Sanitsuda Ekachai, a columnist for the English daily Bangkok Post, wrote earlier this month. "There has also been wide distribution of leaflets alleging that Islam is a threat to Thai Buddhism."

More than 90 percent of Thailand's 64 million people are Buddhists, and the remainder are either Muslim or Christian.