November 2013

A Global View of Religion
10 Facts about the Transforming Global Religious Landscape
Yasmine Hafiz, November 22, 2013, Huffington Post

The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life conducted a comprehensive demographic study of over 230 countries and territories in 2012, and some of their results might surprise you.

Here are ten things that you should know about the current state of religion in today’s world.

1. Religious ‘Nones’ Are Third-Largest Group
Religiously unaffiliated people are the third-largest “religious” group worldwide, behind Christians and Muslims. Roughly one-in-six people around the globe, 16.3%, are religious “nones.”

2. China Has Huge Population of Religiously Unaffiliated
The number of religiously unaffiliated people in China alone is more than twice the United States’ total population. About 700 million Chinese residents do not identify with a specific religious group…

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Catholicism Queries its Members
Vatican Surveys the World’s Catholics
Mary Sanchez, November 8, 2013, The Kansas City Star

Pope Francis greeting people in St. Peter’s Square – Photo: WikipediaImagine the pope is coming to dinner.

He’ll be taking the bus, and he doesn’t want you to make a big fuss. It’s Francis, after all, the “world’s parish priest.”

There’s a bit of an agenda to his visit. He wants to ask how you feel about some of the most confounding teachings of the faith. He wonders how what you hear in the pews squares with what occurs in your life, and in the lives of your loved ones. What do you think about birth control? About same sex couples raising children? About people living together before marriage, or about divorce and remarriage?

No, really. This isn’t just some parlor game. Something like this is happening.

Pope Francis is indicating yet again that he wants to sit among and listen to his flock, in ways that are unprecedented for the papacy. He’s soliciting opinions on the very moral teachings that are driving Catholics from the church…

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A caricature from the German anti-Semitic Der Stürmer, around Christmas 1929. It urged Germans to avoid buying from Jewish shops. Graphic: WikimediaSurvey Suggests Bigotry Endures in Europe
Jews in Europe Report a Surge in Anti-Semitism
Andrew Higgins, New York Times, Novembwer 8, 2013

BRUSSELS — Fear of rising anti-Semitism in Europe has prompted nearly a third of European Jews to consider emigration because they do not feel safe in their home country, according to a detailed survey of Jewish perceptions released Friday by a European Union agency that monitors discrimination and other violations of basic rights.

The survey, by the bloc’s Fundamental Rights Agency, focused on eight countries that account for more than 90 percent of Europe’s Jewish population and found that “while member states have made sustained efforts to combat anti-Semitism, the problem is still widespread.” …

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U.K.’s Government Criticized for Failing Public Religious Education
Over Half of Schools Failing in Religious Education, Says Ofsted
Judith Burns, October 6, BBC News

Students from different religions studying together in England – Photo: BBC NewsMore than half of England’s schools are failing pupils on religious education, the schools watchdog Ofsted has said.

Its report accuses schools and the government of failing to focus effectively on the subject.

It adds that six in 10 schools are not “realising the subject’s full potential” in an increasingly globalised and multicultural century.

The Religious Education Council for England and Wales called the findings disappointing but not surprising.

The report highlights low standards, weak teaching, weak examination provision and confusion about the purpose of religious education …

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Jewish Interfaith Activist to Lead Muslim Organization
Jacob Bender is First Jew to Lead Chapter of Muslim Advocacy Group CAIR
Nathan Guttman, October 25, 2013, Jewish Daily Forward

Jacob Bender – Photo: Jewish Daily ForwardPhilly Activist Faces Hostility from Jewish Establishment

Jacob Bender is set to be the voice of Philadelphia-area Muslims, to take on discrimination they encounter in workplace and in the public sphere, and to fight expressions of hate.

And his Jewish faith, Bender believes, can only help him do the job effectively.

“The Muslim community is under attack from Islamophobic forces, and it is the obligation and responsibility of people of good will to stand up and say this is a bigoted attack,” Bender said. “This is fully in keeping with my life goals.”

The Council on American Islamic Relations’ Philadelphia branch announced the appointment of Bender as its executive director October 15. Bender is the first Jew, and the first non-Muslim, to serve as director of a CAIR branch….

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Sayyed Ali Fadlallah Calls Muslims and Christians to Reach Out to ‘the Other’
Lebanese Shiite leader Launches Interfaith Dialogue
Haytham Mouzahem (Translator-Tyler Huffman), November 7, 2013, Al Monitor

Shiite cleric Ali Fadlallah (R), son of Lebanese Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, receives condolences for the death of his father from Lebanese President Michel Suleiman at a mosque in Beirut’s southern suburb, July 4, 2010. - Photo: Al Monitor“God taught us how to converse with all people. There are no sanctities when it comes to dialogue. God Almighty himself spoke to the devil. Are there people like the devil? Also, the Quran is a book of dialogue with polytheists about the unity of God, and with infidels about the existence of God and the prophecy of Muhammad.” This is how the late Lebanese Shiite cleric Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah responded when asked about the increased talk of interfaith dialogue in the 1990s.

The occasion to talk about the late Fadlallah today, and about his call for dialogue with the “Other” — especially with other Christian and Islamic sects — is an initiative launched by his son, the scholar Sayyed Ali Fadlallah. The latter established the “Religions and Cultures Forum for Development and Dialogue,” in which 50 different personalities participated, including Muslim and Christian clerics and intellectuals from Lebanon and other countries of the Arab and Islamic world.

This forum was announced by Fadlallah during a ceremony held in Beirut on Tuesday, Oct. 30, attended by MPs, politicians, party leaders, intellectuals and media figures. The most prominent attendees included the head of the Loyalty to the Resistance (Hezbollah) Bloc, MP Mohammad Raad; the head of the Islamic Group in Lebanon’s political bureau, Azzam Ayoubi; a representative of former Lebanese President and Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel; and delegations from the Amal Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party.

A number of religious leaders were also in attendance,..

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Interfaith Social Justice Pioneer Dies at 56
Remembering Annie Rawlings: Interfaith Justice Seeker, Beloved Friend
Chloe Breyer, November 11, 2013, Huffington Post

Interfaith work is community organizing work.

Annie Rawlings – Photo:

While there is a place for finely worded doctrinal agreement about God, the real fruits of Interfaith work are measured in soup kitchens that honor multiple types of dietary constraints or City Hall marches that call on God in many names. Interfaith work involves phone calls, emails, tireless amounts of networking, and lots of ethnic food. Its promise is revealed in joint efforts by people of different religions to address common concerns.

Annie Rawlings, my friend and colleague at the Interfaith Center of New York, knew all this very well. She was a Presbyterian who could locate the neighborhood Sikh Gurdwara and enjoyed their Lungar meals.

Annie was a big-hearted champion of the poor and disenfranchised. She recognized that if progress was to be made confronting problems like immigration reform and prison re-entry, America’s communities would require a diversified front-line comprised of Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and non-believers. Annie died suddenly at the age of 56, on Saturday November 2nd, after snorkeling in Cancun, Mexico. Her loss is the loss of all those engaged in interfaith organizing work…

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Museums Embrace Interfaith High Fashion
Multicultural fashion Trio Uses Religion as Catalyst for Peace
Eliora Katz, October 23, 2013 Jerusalem Post

Israeli, Lebanese and Tajik designers fuse geometry and mosaic formations from churches, synagogues, and mosques into clothing patterns.

Model presents threeASFOUR Spring/Summer collection piece during New York Fashion Week September 8 – Photo: REUTERS/Eric ThayerA Lebanese, Tajik, and an Israeli walk into a studio. Sounds like the making of a bad joke, but in fact, this is the daily routine of the dynamic fashion trio threeASFOUR. Since 1998 Gabriel Asfour, Angela Donhauser, and Adi Gil have been pushing cultural and sartorial norms with avant-garde apparel, proving that two’s company and three’s a multicultural fashion crowd. Yet this season threeASFOUR is taking things a step further fusing religion, geometry, tradition, and technology in a collection redefining the way we think of clothing.

With the end of traditional New York fashion week last month, a high profile audience featuring Fern Mallis, Kate Spade, Marisa Tomei, Waris Ahluwalla and Sean Lennon, seemed happy to get away from Lincoln Center, the aggressive photographers and the Maybelline stands. But at the threeASFOUR runway presentation, attendees strolled through a Chagall exhibit before reaching an intimate room where models worked the runway in tradition-infused futuristic frocks.

For spring 2014, designers Asfour, Donhauser and Gil, took inspiration from a subject well known to those who call the Middle East home: religion. Rather than just one source of inspiration, this creative trio fused sacred geometry and traditional mosaic formations from churches, synagogues, and mosques across the globe into patterns on dresses, tops, pants and bathing suits using the next big thing in fashion: 3D printers…

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Interfaith Same-sex Couple Finally Say their Vows
Retired Catholic Priest Marries Jewish Partner of 20 Years
Yasmine Hafiz, October 23, 2013, Huffington Post

Retired Catholic priest the Rev. Tom Pivinski and his partner of over 20 years, Malcolm Navias, celebrated a beautiful interfaith wedding on Monday at their home in Asbury Park, New Jersey. They wed on the very first day that same-sex marriage was allowed to happen in New Jersey after Governor Chris Christie dropped his appeal to overturn legalization.

Pivinski had already officiated three marriages in the wee hours of Monday morning, as couples didn’t want to hesitate a minute more than they had already been waiting to finally become husband and husband or wife and wife.

He told the Ashbury Park Press (APP), “I think it’s wonderful. I am just very grateful that the state has recognized the equality of all people.” …

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Malaysian Judge Shouldn’t Adjudicate Religious Language
Anyone Can Say ‘Allah’, Not Only Muslims
Harun Yahya, Oct 29, 2013, Huffington Post

Allah, in Arabic – Photo: Wikimedia CommonsPreviously in Malaysia, the use of the word “Allah” was prohibited for anyone other than Muslims as a result of a decision by a Malaysian court. The case was opened when the Catholic newspaper, The Herald, used the name Allah.

This mistaken decision was based on illogical and theologically unacceptable reasoning:”Preventing any confusion that might be caused for Muslims when using the name Allah by the non-Muslims.”

On the other hand, even though there were explanations the Malaysian government officials that this decision applied to The Herald newspaper only, it is obvious that in reality this decision will be applied to society in general and there will inevitably be an environment of severe oppression.

Such a decision cannot be accepted and defended even if it was directed at one newspaper or a single person. This decision, which is completely against Islam, a religion of peace and brotherhood, must be reversed and there must be freedom of expression for everyone…

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Atheists Getting Organized in Community
Atheist ‘Mega-Churches’ Take Root across U.S., World
Gillian Flaccus, November 20, 2013, Associated Press

By the numbers, actually, Wikimedia suggests that ‘megachurches’ can seat 2000 or more, like this sanctuary, once the Crystal Cathedral, today named Christ Cathedral by its new Catholic owners. – Photo: WikipediaLOS ANGELES – It looked like a typical Sunday morning at any mega-church. Several hundred people, including families with small children, packed in for more than an hour of rousing music, an inspirational talk and some quiet reflection. The only thing missing was God.

Nearly three dozen gatherings dubbed “atheist mega-churches” by supporters and detractors have sprung up around the U.S. and Australia – with more to come – after finding success in Great Britain earlier this year. The movement fueled by social media and spearheaded by two prominent British comedians is no joke.

On Sunday, the inaugural Sunday Assembly in Los Angeles attracted several hundred people bound by their belief in non-belief. Similar gatherings in San Diego, Nashville, New York, and other U.S. cities have drawn hundreds of atheists seeking the camaraderie of a congregation without religion or ritual...

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