News and Views 2014- May/June

PBI News

Religious

Pew Research Center has been tracking religious restrictions and hostilities around the world since 2007. A new report found that a third of the 198 countries and territories studied in 2012 had a high or very high level of social hostilities involving religion, the highest share in the six years of the study. These hostilities — defined in the study as acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations or groups in society — increased in every major region of the world except the Americas. The number of countries with religionrelated terrorist violence has doubled over the past six years. In 2012, religion-related terrorist violence took place in one-in-five countries (20%), up from 9% in 2007. — Pew Research, 1/17/2014

Non-Western Christian influences are causing U.S. churches to shift their roles from worship centers to community advocates, amid an unprecedented increase in the number of immigrants entering the country. The influx of Christian immigrants from Latin America, Asia and Africa are swinging the pendulum of religious representation in the U.S. and affecting the country. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 43 million residents were foreign born, and of those, about 74 percent were Christian. — Washington Times, 2/26/2014

Engaging in regular meditation or another spiritual practice is linked to a thickening of the brain cortex, according to new research published in JAMA Psychiatry. This discovery could lead to new insights as to why these activities help guard against depression for those predisposed to the mental health disorder. Depression affects about 6.7% of the U.S. population over age 18, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. This is the first published study investigating whether there is any physical evidence in the brain linked to the protective effects of spirituality and religion against depression. The research involved 103 adults at either high or low risk of depression, based on family history. Magnetic resonance imaging findings revealed thicker cortices in those participants who placed a high importance on religion or spirituality than those who did not. — Psych Central, 1/19/2014

In Hungary, Croatia, and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, a pro-family, pro-life revolution and a rediscovery of Christian roots is occurring. Unnoticed in the shadow of a secularized west, religion’s public role has been growing in the east since the collapse of communism. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government ratified a new constitution that defines marriage as the union of a man and woman, speaks of the rights of unborn Hungarians, and ties Christianity to Hungarian nationhood. In 2013, Orban’s government reintroduced — for the first time since before Communism — religious education in public schools. — First Things, 1/17/2014

Islamic fighters used explosives and heavy guns to attack a village and worshippers during a Christian church service in Nigeria’s northeast, killing at least 99 people and razing hundreds of homes, officials and witnesses said. The attacks in Borno and Adamawa states resulted in one of the highest death tolls in recent attacks by fighters who are defying an 8-month old military state of emergency in three states in northern Nigeria designed to halt an Islamic uprising there. — Al Jazeera, 1/27/2014

Over the past two decades, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been an upsurge in affiliation with Orthodox Christianity in Russia. Between 1991 and 2008, the share of Russian adults identifying as Orthodox Christian rose from 31% to 72%, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of three waves of data (1991, 1998 and 2008) from the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) — a collaboration involving social scientists in about 50 countries. During the same period, the share of Russia’s population that does not identify with any religion dropped from 61% to 18%. The portion of adults who said they believe in God rose from 38% to 56% over the same period. But for most Russians, the return to religion did not correspond with a return to church. Across all three waves of ISSP data, no more than about oneinten Russians said they attend religious services at least once a month. — Pew Research, 2/10/2014

Science and religion can mix easily in the United States, a survey suggests. The study by Rice University, in Texas, polled more than 10,000 Americans, including scientists and evangelical Protestants. “We found that nearly 50 per cent of evangelical (Christians) believe that science and religion can work together and support one another,” sociologistElaine Howard Ecklund said. — AFP, 2/16/2014

Jewish organizations praised Pope Francis following a report that the Catholic leader would open the Vatican archives to investigate the actions of his predecessor, Pius XII, during the Holocaust. Jewish groups have criticized Pius for failing to speak up against the persecution of Jews during the Second World War. — Jerusalem Post, 1/19/2014

Harvard professor Laura Nasrallah’s edX online course “Early Christianity: The Letters of Paul,” has been called the largest and most concentrated scholarly discussion of Biblical studies in history. edX is a massive online open course (MOOC) platform founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012. “Early Christianity” boasts a registration statistic of 22,000 students from 180 countries. — Huffington Post, 1/25/2014

The image of Mormon missionaries in dark suits and white shirts, knocking on doors at inconvenient times, is being replaced by the sight of these name-tag-wearing twosomes in blue jeans and T-shirts, hoeing gardens, scrubbing off graffiti, dishing out food in homeless shelters and reading with refugees. It’s part of the LDS Church’s recognition that its longheld practice of “tracting,” going door to door handing out church materials and delivering religious messages, is no longer effective. — Salt Lake Tribune, 1/31/2014

Social

Nine years after an accident caused the loss of his left hand, Dennis Aabo Sørensen from Denmark became the first amputee in the world to feel — in real-time — with a sensory-enhanced prosthetic hand that was surgically wired to nerves in his upper arm. — EPFL, 2/8/2014

In the Netherlands, a radical idea is being tested: Self-contained “villages” where people with dementia shop, cook, and live together — safely. In the small town of Weesp, in Holland a dementiafocused living center called De Hogeweyk, aka Dementiavillage, is serving as a model for the rest of the world. The secure compound contains apartments and buildings, closed to the outside world with gates and security fences. But, inside, it is its own self-contained village: Restaurants, cafes, a supermarket, gardens, a pedestrianboulevard, and more. — Gizmodo, 2/26/2014

The structure and toughness of a mollusk shell has inspired scientists at McGill’s University to create glass that doesn’t shatter. Instead, the glass bends with flexibility that comes from a network of microscopic cracks. According to a study published in thejournal Nature Communications, a research team in McGill’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, led by Prof. François Barthelat, has successfully taken inspiration from the mechanics of natural structures like seashells in order to significantly increase the toughness of glass. — Good News Network, 2/1/2014

The number of U.S. soldiers forced out of the Army because of crimes or misconduct has increased from about 5,600 in 2007 to 11,000 in 2013. The Army says it reflects the rapid growth in the middle part of the decade and the decisions to relax standards to bring in and retain tens of thousands of soldiers to fill the ranks as troops were added in Iraq and Afghanistan. — AP, 2/15/2014

Political

Belgian lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to extend the country’s euthanasia law to those younger than 18. The law empowers children with terminal ailments and who are in great pain to ask to be put to death by their doctor if their parents agree and a psychiatrist or psychologist certifies they are conscious of what their choice signifies. —AP, 2/14/2014

Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca said Russia’s troop buildup in Crimea, an autonomous province of Ukraine, could be replicated in other eastern European countries. “It is just a very dangerous development,” Leanca said in an interview. Moldova, the smallest economy in central and Eastern Europe after Kosovo, shares a border with Ukraine and depends on Russia for natural gas needs. Leanca, who has been Moldova’s prime minister since April 2013, said he is “very anxious” about the developments in Crimea and has spent time during a visit to the U.S. to appeal to President Barack Obama to provide more leadership in the region together with the European Union. — Bloomberg News, 5/5/2014

Almost a year ago, Venezuela saw the demise of their president, Hugo Chavez. Chavez was well known for his anti-Semitism and had his intelligence service spying on Venezuelan Jews. He blamed the opposition against his government on “his Jewish problem” and claimed the opposition was headed by the “Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie.” A replacement for the likes of Chavez in Venezuela’s presidency would seem to be a relief for the Jewish people there, but his successor, Nicolas Maduro, is proving to be the opposite. Grafitti on the walls in Caracas appeared almost immediately after Maduro came into power with messages of “Jews are murderers, Jews out.” In other writings there was condemnation against the Jewish people as the ones responsible for the death of Chavez. — Bridges for Peace, 2/21/2014

Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza urged fighters to put down their arms as she took the oath of office even as looters pillaged Muslim neighborhoods and sectarian tensions escalated in the anarchic Central African Republic. Central African Republic has been wracked by sectarian violence, with more than 1,000 people killed in Bangui over the course of several days in December alone. Nearly 1 million people have fled their homes, with 100,000 of them living in and around the Bangui airport being guarded by French soldiers. U.N. officials have warned that the crisis is at high risk of escalatinginto a genocide, driven by fighting between Christian and Muslim communities in the country with a history of coups and dictatorship. — AP, 1/23/2014

Marine Le Pen, whose party is riding a wave of anti-immigration and anti-Muslim voter sentiment around Europe, says it will cut public funds to religious groups in towns where it wins municipal elections this month. Le Pen, 45, praised the recent Swiss decision, in a referendum, to cap immigration, saying countries have an “inalienable right” to control their borders. Le Pen, who wants France to abandon the euro currency and leave the European Union, also hopes to boost her party’s strength in European Parliament elections in May. She contends the EU, along with immigration and global financing, are crushing the values of French civilization. — AP, 3/3/2014

Financial

This merciless winter is taking a heavy toll on the nation’s pipes and pavement, breaking hundreds of water mains that turn streets into frozen rivers and opening potholes so big they snap tire rims and wheel axles like Popsicle sticks. From Iowa to New York and Michigan to Georgia, the relentless cycle of snow and bitter cold is testing the strength of the steelandcement skeletons on which our communities are built, the patience of the people who live there and the stamina of crews whose job is to keep the roads safe and the taps running. Even after the weather eases, state and local governments will be left with steep repair bills that could affect their budgets for months to come. In scores of cities, once-smooth roadways have been transformed into obstacle courses by gaping potholes that can seriously damage passing vehicles but are too large to avoid. — AP, 2/12/2014

A U.S. based group called Wello has reinvented the wheel to help families in the developing world who don’t have easy access to water. Many people, including chil-dren, are spending a quarter to half of every day, hauling water on their heads. But,instead of carrying the heavy load, the Wello water wheel provides a way for anyone to easily transport 50 liters by rolling it. “We designed our business model around extreme affordability. While similar products retail in the $75 to $100+ range, the WaterWheel will retail for $25-$30, making it accessible to the people who need it the most,” says the Wello team. — Good News Network, 2/22/2014

President Obama’s election-year budget pulls back from controversial cuts to Social Security that had been originally proposed. The $3.9 trillion submission for 2015, beginning in October, proposes more than $1.1 trillion in tax increases on the wealthy with an array of modest initiatives such as job-training, rehabilitating national parks and early-childhood education. — AP, 3/4/2014

• $682 Billion — 2012 defense spending by USA

• $652 Billion — 2012 combined defense spending of next 10 countries combined (China, Russia, UK, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy, Brazil)-Business Insider, 2/26/2014

Israel

Purdue University scholar Lawrence Mykytiuk lists 50 figures from the Hebrew Bible that have been confirmed archaeologically. It includes Israelite kings and Mesopotamian monarchs as well as lesser-known figures. Mykytiuk writes that “at least 50 people mentioned in the Bible have been identified in the archaeological record. Their names appear in inscriptions written during the period described by the Bible and in most instances during or quite close to the lifetime of the person identified.” — Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2014

When asked whether God gave Israel to the Jewish people, more Christians (55%) than Jews (40%) say yes (although virtually all of the discrepancy is explained by Jews’ lower levels of belief in God overall). And the share of white evangelicals saying that God gave Israel to the Jews (82%) is on par with the percentage of Orthodox Jews who believe this (84%). — Pew Research Center, 2/27/2014

Figures with deep roots in America’s religious right have launched a quiet effort aimed at pushing evangelical Christians away from decades of growing loyalty to Israel and toward increased solidarity with the Palestinians. The campaign by a coalition of religious leaders, international nonprofits, and activists has taken place in recent years largely behind the scenes and away from the prying eyes of the political press — driven by a generation of Evangelicals alienated by the way their faith was yoked to foreign policy. — BuzzFeed, 1/14/2014

Thousands of ultraOrthodox Jews blocked highways across Israel to protest attempts to draft them into the army. The violent protests came just days after a Supreme Court ruling ordered funding halted to ultraOrthodox seminaries whose students dodge the draft and laid bare one of the deepest rifts in Israeli society. — AP, 2/6/2014

Prof. Zeev Zalevsky, head of the Electro-Optics study program at Bar-Ilan University’s Faculty of Engineering, has developed a bionic contact lens that has tremendous potential to enable the blind to see. The lens translates digital images into tactile sensations. These sensations can be felt on the person’s cornea, allowing him or her to form a picture of their physical surroundings. “It’s like reading Braille with your eyes,” said Zalevsky. The system uses a mounted camera or smartphone to capture images turned into a form of elec-tronic Braille. Zal-evsky said that with a short training the user can use the lens effectively. — American Friends of Bar-Ilan University website

Categories: 2014 Issues, 2014-May/June 2014

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