News and Views

Jan/Feb-2014


JanFeb2014_coverpic_pastReligious

 

The gunmen who infiltrated Nairobi’s Westgate mall arrived with a set of religious trivia questions to separate Muslims from those they consider infidels. Numerous survivors described how the attackers from al-Shabab, a Somali cell which recently joined al-Qaida, shot people who failed to provide the correct answers. — AP, 9/29/2013

(Editor’s note: Killed in the assault on the mall was Sr. Gloria Nabukwesi, an extremely active and zealous young sister in Kenya. Described by several as soft spoken, sweet, and beloved, she organized a Bible Student class in Nairobi as well as introducing the Truth to thousands of Christians through various Truth Seminars in Nairobi and elsewhere. Her funeral service near her native Kagamega allowed two speakers two days of Truth witness, distributing a thousand Kingdom brochures to mourners.)

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Almost 305,000,000 people worldwide, or 14 percent of the world’s self-identified Christian population, is part of the charismatic movement. — Christianity Today, 10/18/2013

Here are some results from recent Pew Research Center Reports:

Prior to the Arab Spring, the Middle East and North Africa had the highest level of government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion in the world. The Pew Research study, which scored 198 countries and territories on a Government Restrictions Index and a Social Hostilities Index, found that government restrictions on religion in the area remained high throughout 2011, while social hostilities involving religion increased. It found that violence resulting from religious tensions in places like Egypt, China and Nigeria was the primary cause of the increase in overall religious restrictions. — Pew Research Center, 7/8/2013

Government restrictions on religion in Egypt in 2011 included the use of force against religious groups; failure to prevent religious discrimination; favoritism of Islam over other religions; prohibitions on Muslims converting from Islam to other religions; stigmatization of some religious groups as dangerous sects or cults; and restrictions on religious literature or broadcasting. The intensity of each of these restrictions was higher than in other countries. — Pew Research Center, 7/2/2013

Brazil has more Roman Catholics than any other country in the world — an estimated 123 million. But the share of Brazil’s overall population that identifies as Catholic has been dropping steadily in recent decades, while the percentage of Brazilians who belong to Protestant churches has been rising. Smaller but steadily increasing shares of Brazilians also identify with other religions or with no religion at all. — Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 7/18/2013

The percentage of countries with high or very high restrictions on religion rose from 37% to 40% in 2011, marking a five-year high. More than 5.1 billion people were living in countries with these high levels of religious restrictions. That is equal to 74% of the world’s population — a number explained by the fact that some of the world’s most restrictive countries are also among its most populous. — Pew Research Center, 7/8/2013

Two-thirds of Canadians identify either as Catholic or as Protestant, but both Christian groups have seen substantial erosion in their shares of the Canadian public. The percentage of Canadians who identify as Catholic has dropped from 47% to 39% over the last four decades, while the share that identifies as Protestant has fallen even more steeply, from 41% to 27%. Concurrently, the number of Canadians who belong to other religions — including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Judaism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity — is growing. The number of Canadians who do not identify with any religion has been rising rapidly in recent decades, going from 4% in 1971 to nearly a quarter (24%) in 2011. — Pew Research Center, 6/27/2013

Atheists show a range of beliefs. Eighteen percent of atheists say religion has some importance in their life, 26 percent say they are spiritual or religious and 14 percent believe in “God or a universal spirit.” Of all Americans who say they don’t believe in God, 12 percent say they pray. — Washington Post, 6/24/2013

Modern Britain is “spiritual” but not religious. A ComRes poll from the Christian think-tank Theos found that well over half those questioned (59%) said that they believed in some kind of spiritual being or essence. The survey suggests that much of organized religion’s former success derived from social convention rather than spirituality. — New Statesman, 10/19/2013

The Center for the Study of New Test- ament Manuscripts (CSNTM) announc-ed that a six-person team, in a four-week expedition during July-August 2013, digitized all the Greek biblical papyri at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Republic of Ireland. The CBL has granted permission to CSNTM to post the images on their website (www.csntm.org), which will happen before the end of the year. — Press release, Center for Study of New Testament Manuscripts, 9/17/2013

Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that missionaries won’t be going door-to-door to evangelize and will instead use the Internet to probe potential new members. They say that they recognize the growing power and importance of social media and admitted that going to the homes of perfect strangers in-person hasn’t been terribly effective lately. — The Inquisitor, 6/25/2013

Social

Employing advanced technology, researchers are coming closer to understanding clay balls used in economic transactions in Mesopotamia. The balls, which functioned as early “envelopes,” are marked with seal impressions. Contained within these hollow balls are small clay tokens. Scholars agree that the envelopes, the earliest of which date to the middle of the fourth millennium BCE, were an early administrative device for proto-literate societies. The envelopes served as receipts: The tokens sealed within the envelopes represent commodities involved in an exchange, and the sealing of the tokens within the envelopes prevented fraud. An Oriental Institute team is using CT-scan and digital imaging technologies to look inside 18 clay balls excavated at Choga Mish, Iran. — Bible History Daily, 10/21/2013

A new study has found that the cleanup system in the brain, responsible for flushing out toxic waste products that cells produce with daily use, goes into overdrive in mice that are asleep. The cells even shrink in size to make for easier cleaning of the spaces around them. Scientists say this nightly self-clean by the brain provides a compelling biological reason for the restorative power of sleep. “Sleep puts the brain in another state where we clean out all the byproducts of activity during the daytime,” said study author and University of Rochester neurosurgeon Maiken Nedergaard. The study explains why sleep deprivation has such strong and immediate consequences. Too little sleep causes mental fog, crankiness, and increased risks of migraine and seizure. Rats deprived of all sleep die within weeks. — Washington Post, 10/19/2013

Crime rates in the developed world have plummeted over the last few decades, new figures have revealed. Comparative statistics for the G7 nations show that many places are now safer to live than in the halcyon days of the 1950s. Robberies, car thefts and murders have fallen substantially, and in some cases, such crime has practically vanished. While violent crime has fallen by 32 per cent since 1990 across the U.S. as a whole, in the biggest cities the figure rises to 64 per cent. Sociologists cite the worldwide aging population as a major reason for the decline across most developed countries. However, instances of other crimes such as banking fraud and money-wire scams have risen in the tech-savvy world of 2013. — Daily Mail, 10/21/2013

Google has launched 30 balloons into the stratosphere from New Zealand as it experiments with ways to bring affordable internet access to the world. Nicknamed Project Loon, the internet giant is sending the super pressure balloons 12 miles up into the air, where they will sail around the globe at twice the altitude of airplanes. The helium-filled balloons inflate to 49 feet in diameter and carry transmitters that could beam 3G-speed internet to some of the 4.8 billion people in the world that are not yet online, supplying an area of about 780 square miles — twice the size of New York City. —Daily Mail, 6/16/2013

Political

U.S. officials said that President Obama will offer Iran a chance to recoup billions of dollars in frozen assets-sitting there since the 1979 Islamic revolution — if it scales back its nuclear program. The sanctions will stay in place for now, but Iran would suddenly receive between $50 and $75 billion, tax free, not for eliminating its nuclear weapons program, but for merely slowing it down. — Jewish Press, 10/21/2013

In a move that left many experts baffled, Saudi Arabia announced that it is rejecting a rotating seat on the seat on the U.N. Security Council, one day after being elected to it. This is believed to be the first time this has ever happened. The Saudi government has been increasingly frustrated with the Security Council’s response to events in Syria, and in a statement, the country’s foreign ministry said that “the manner, the mechanisms of action and double standards existing in the Security Council prevent it from performing its duties and assuming its responsibilities toward preserving international peace and security as required.” — The Slate, 10/18/2013

The latest effort to measure the death toll in Iraq is a paper published recently by a large team of researchers in the peer-reviewed online journal PLOS Medicine. Media reports have described the paper as finding that half a million deaths were caused by the war which broke out in 2003. Of the 405,000 estimated deaths, 60 percent (240,000) were caused by violence. The rest were “associated with the collapse of infrastructure and other indirect, but war-related, causes.” — The Slate, 10/18/2013

New York City is likely to start giving students time off to observe Muslim holy days Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha starting next year in honor of the estimated 13 percent of Muslims among its 1.1 million student population. — Christian Post, 10/18/2013

Switzerland announced a national competition that will search for a new national anthem to replace its current one, which government officials say has too many references to God and is too old-fashioned. “The real problem is above all the text,” said Lukas Niederberger, who is part of the Swiss Society for Public Utility (SGG), the completion organizer in charge of looking for a new anthem. “Officially the anthem is a psalm, a prayer, but of course we have an open society, religiously neutral. We have atheists, no single god, so this anthem is a difficulty,” he told BBC News. The “Swiss Psalm,” as the current anthem is called, was composed in 1841. — Christian Post, 8/7/2013

Financial

Swiss authorities said they are investigating several banks for allegedly colluding to manipulate the $5.3 trillion-a-day foreign exchange market. The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority “is coordinating closely with authorities in other countries as multiple banks around the world are potentially implicated,” it said in a statement. Separately, the competition commission said it opened a preliminary probe on Sept. 30 after receiving allegations of collusion among banks to manipulate some foreign-exchange rates. In June, published reports found evidence that dealers at banks pooled information through instant messages and used client orders to move benchmark currency rates. — Bloomberg, 10/4/2013

The Obama administration has enlisted computer experts from across the government and from private companies to help rewrite computer code and make other improvements to the online health insurance marketplace created under the Affordable Healthcare Act. The site has been plagued by technical defects that stymied many consumers since it opened. “Unfortunately, the experience on HealthCare.gov has been frustrating for many Americans,” HHS officials said in a blog post, ackknowledging what has been obvious to millions of insurance seekers who live in the three dozen states relying on the federal exchange. — Washington Post, 10/20/2013

With Janet Yellen poised to be the first woman to chair the U.S. Federal Reserve board, far more attention is being paid to her gender than to her Jewishness. She would be the third consecutive Jew in the job. In 1930, when President Hoover picked Eugene Meyer to head the Fed — the first Jew to hold the position — the headline of the article on Meyer’s appointment labeled it an “Unusual Honor for Jew.” — JTA, 10/20/2013

Since the induction of Pope Francis, no single entity inside Vatican City has seen the light of change more than the Institute for Religious Works, also known as the Vatican bank. Founded in its modern form during the 1940s, the bank became a clearinghouse for donations and charities while facilitating the banking needs of those engaged in church business as well as diplomatic missions to the Holy See. But the Vatican’s fiercely guarded sovereignty and culture of secrecy also made the bank an ideal target for criminals, enveloping the institution in scandals involving Mafia cash and corrupt clerics. In August, the pope issued an edict against money laundering. Recently the bank released its first ever financial report. It showed that the bank made $117 million in 2012, more than quadruple the 2011 figure. — Washington Post, 10/18/2013

Israel

Some religious sects in Israel are pressing for an end to an effective ban on holdingJewish prayers on the Temple Mount, now home to al- Aqsa mosque, one of Islam’s most revered sites. Palestinians oppose Jewish worship at the vast stone plazaoverlooking Judaism’s Western Wall as a potential threat to access for Muslims. Israel has largely stymied such prayer for 46 years by having its police prevent Jewish worship at the site. Allies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are among the most vocal advocates of Jewish prayer at the 35- acre site. — Reuters, 6/25/2013

After many years of searching, Israeli archaeologists announced the discovery of a largepalace and storeroom believed to have once belonged to the Biblical monarch King David. “The ruins are the best example to date of the uncovered fortress city of King David,” lead researchers Yossi Garfinkel and Saar Ganor said. “This is indisputable proof of the existence of a central authority in Judah during the time of King David.” The site is located roughly 18 miles southwest of Jerusalem, according to the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA). — Huffington Post, 7/19/2013

In 2009 a team of researchers in the town of Migdal on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel discovered an ancient synagogue, one of only a handful dating back to the time of Jesus, when the town was a small fishing village known as Magdala. An ongoing excavation at the Magdala synagogue has since turned up valuable artifacts. What archaeologists discovered about the synagogue’s construction also suggests that Jews and the earliest Judeo-Christians may have worshipped together at the holy site. A coin recovered from the remains of the synagogue has been dated to 29 AD, while other research shows the temple was renovated between 40 and 50 AD and then abandoned before 68 AD — Huffington Post, 9/25/2013

Turkey’s Jews, most of whom trace their roots to the 15th century when their ancestors found refuge in the Ottoman Empire from the Spanish Inquisition, have in recent years faced pressure as relations between Israel and Turkey soured. Ties between the erstwhile military allies hit a low in May 2010 when Israeli commandoes killed nine Turkish activists in self defense while boarding the Mavi Marmara, a ship in a Turkish-led convoy seeking to break a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. Earlier this year, Erdogan called Zionism “a crime against humanity.” — Reuters, 7/2/2013

The issue of army service is at the core of a cultural war over the place of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israeli society. The ultra-Orthodox, who make up about 8 percent of Israel’s 8 million citizens, have largely been allowed to skip compulsory military service to pursue their religious studies. The issue figured prominently in January elections and propelled the secular Yesh Atid Party into the government. Israel’s Cabinet approved a Yesh Atid plan to gradually end the automatic draft exemptions to ultra- Orthodox seminary students and require all to register for service. Yaakov Peri, the minister who headed the drive, said the legislation takes into consideration “the importance of learning the Torah and the obligation to serve in the army.” — AP, 7/17/2013

The president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), Ronald S. Lauder, called remarks made by Iran’s incoming President Hassan Rouhani “proof that he is not the moderate many in the West believe he is” and that “he is more likely to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.” On the regime’s annual “Palestine Day,” Rouhani reportedly called Israel “an old wound on the body of the Islamic world for years” that “should be removed.” — World Jewish Conference, 8/2/2013 

 

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