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Archive for the ‘Babylon’ Category

from Real Clear Politics:

At Thursday’s “LGBTQ Equality” town hall on CNN, presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke called for religious institutions that oppose same-sex marriage to lose tax-exempt status.

“There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone … that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us,” he said.

CNN, DON LEMON: Congressman, I want to ask you a question. This is from your LGBTQ plan, and here’s what you write. This is a quote. Freedom of religion is a fundamental right but it should not be used to discriminate. Do you think religious institutions, like colleges, churches, charities, should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?

BETO O’ROURKE: Yes.

(APPLAUSE)

There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone or any institution, any organization in America that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us. And so as president, we’re going to make that a priority and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.

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from Vox:

A new priest named Mindar is holding forth at Kodaiji, a 400-year-old Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. Like other clergy members, this priest can deliver sermons and move around to interface with worshippers. But Mindar comes with some … unusual traits. A body made of aluminum and silicone, for starters.

Mindar is a robot.

Designed to look like Kannon, the Buddhist deity of mercy, the $1 million machine is an attempt to reignite people’s passion for their faith in a country where religious affiliation is on the decline.

For now, Mindar is not AI-powered. It just recites the same preprogrammed sermon about the Heart Sutra over and over. But the robot’s creators say they plan to give it machine-learning capabilities that’ll enable it to tailor feedback to worshippers’ specific spiritual and ethical problems.

“This robot will never die; it will just keep updating itself and evolving,” said Tensho Goto, the temple’s chief steward. “With AI, we hope it will grow in wisdom to help people overcome even the most difficult troubles. It’s changing Buddhism.”

Robots are changing other religions, too. In 2017, Indians rolled out a robot that performs the Hindu aarti ritual, which involves moving a light round and round in front of a deity. That same year, in honor of the Protestant Reformation’s 500th anniversary, Germany’s Protestant Church created a robot called BlessU-2. It gave preprogrammed blessings to over 10,000 people.

Then there’s SanTO — short for Sanctified Theomorphic Operator — a 17-inch-tall robot reminiscent of figurines of Catholic saints. If you tell it you’re worried, it’ll respond by saying something like, “From the Gospel according to Matthew, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Roboticist Gabriele Trovato designed SanTO to offer spiritual succor to elderly people whose mobility and social contact may be limited. Next, he wants to develop devices for Muslims, though it remains to be seen what form those might take.

As more religious communities begin to incorporate robotics — in some cases, AI-powered and in others, not — it stands to change how people experience faith. It may also alter how we engage in ethical reasoning and decision-making, which is a big part of religion.

For the devout, there’s plenty of positive potential here: Robots can get disinterested people curious about religion or allow for a ritual to be performed when a human priest is inaccessible. But robots also pose risks for religion — for example, by making it feel too mechanized or homogenized or by challenging core tenets of theology. On the whole, will the emergence of AI religion make us better or worse off? The answer depends on how we design and deploy it — and on whom you ask.

Some cultures are more open to religious robots than others

New technologies often make us uncomfortable. Which ones we ultimately accept — and which ones we reject — is determined by an array of factors, ranging from our degree of exposure to the emerging technology to our moral presuppositions.

Japanese worshippers who visit Mindar are reportedly not too bothered by questions about the risks of siliconizing spirituality. That makes sense given that robots are already so commonplace in the country, including in the religious domain.

For years now, people who can’t afford to pay a human priest to perform a funeral have had the option to pay a robot named Pepper to do it at a much cheaper rate. And in China, at Beijing’s Longquan Monastery, an android monk named Xian’er recites Buddhist mantras and offers guidance on matters of faith.

What’s more, Buddhism’s non-dualistic metaphysical notion that everything has inherent “Buddha nature” — that all beings have the potential to become enlightened — may predispose its adherents to be receptive to spiritual guidance that comes from technology.

At the temple in Kyoto, Goto put it like this: “Buddhism isn’t a belief in a God; it’s pursuing Buddha’s path. It doesn’t matter whether it’s represented by a machine, a piece of scrap metal, or a tree.”

“Mindar’s metal skeleton is exposed, and I think that’s an interesting choice — its creator, Hiroshi Ishiguro, is not trying to make something that looks totally human,” said Natasha Heller, an associate professor of Chinese religions at the University of Virginia. She told me the deity Kannon, upon whom Mindar is based, is an ideal candidate for cyborgization because the Lotus Sutra explicitly says Kannon can manifest in different forms — whatever forms will best resonate with the humans of a given time and place.

Westerners seem more disturbed by Mindar, likening it to Frankenstein’s monster. In Western economies, we don’t yet have robots enmeshed in many aspects of our lives. What we do have is a pervasive cultural narrative, reinforced by Hollywood blockbusters, about our impending enslavement at the hands of “robot overlords.”

Plus, Abrahamic religions like Islam or Judaism tend to be more metaphysically dualistic — there’s the sacred and then there’s the profane. And they have more misgivings than Buddhism about visually depicting divinity, so they may take issue with Mindar-style iconography.

They also have different ideas about what makes a religious practice effective. For example, Judaism places a strong emphasis on intentionality, something machines don’t possess. When a worshipper prays, what matters is not just that their mouth forms the right words — it’s also very important that they have the right intention.

Meanwhile, some Buddhists use prayer wheels containing scrolls printed with sacred words and believe that spinning the wheel has its own spiritual efficacy, even if nobody recites the words aloud. In hospice settings, elderly Buddhists who don’t have people on hand to recite prayers on their behalf will use devices known as nianfo ji — small machines about the size of an iPhone, which recite the name of the Buddha endlessly.

Despite such theological differences, it’s ironic that many Westerners have a knee-jerk negative reaction to a robot like Mindar. The dream of creating artificial life goes all the way back to ancient Greece, where the ancients actually invented real animated machines as the Stanford classicist Adrienne Mayor has documented in her book Gods and Robots. And there is a long tradition of religious robots in the West.

In the Middle Ages, Christians designed automata to perform the mysteries of Easter and Christmas. One proto-roboticist in the 16th century designed a mechanical monk that is, amazingly, performing ritual gestures to this day. With his right arm, he strikes his chest in a mea culpa; with his left, he raises a rosary to his lips.

In other words, the real novelty is not the use of robots in the religious domain but the use of AI……..

Read the full article here.

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I do not promote or support the “No More Fake News” website I only post this link to point out that censorship is extending to WordPress.com. Makes me wonder how long it will be before WordPress.com starts removing Christian websites. This website has been up for over 12 years. We will see!

from No More Fake News:

On May 11, 2019, WordPress suddenly took down my blog after 10 years of continuous operation. There was no warning or advance notice of any kind.”

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from CNS News:

The Department of Health and Human Services says it has granted a second 90-day extension to a contract it has with the University of California at San Francisco that requires UCSF to make “humanized mice.”

These creatures are made by implanting mice with human tissues taken from late-term aborted babies.

The HHS’s multi-million-dollar contract with UCSF that requires the construction of these “humanized mice” creates a demand–driven by federal tax dollars–for tissue taken from late-term aborted babies. According to an estimate it has published on its website, the National Institutes of Health (which is a division of HHS) will spend $95 million this fiscal year alone on research that–like UCSF’s “humanized mouse” contract–uses human fetal tissue.

Under the new 90-day extension, the contract—which the government calls “Humanized Mouse Models for HIV Therapeutics Development”–will run through June 5.

HHS also is still in the process of conducting the “comprehensive review” it announced last September “of all research involving fetal tissue.”

That review was initiated to ensure that all federally funded research using human fetal tissue is consistent “with statutes and regulations governing such research, and to ensure the adequacy of procedures and oversight of this research in light of the serious regulatory, moral, and ethical considerations involved.”

“The UCSF contract has been issued another extension,” HHS said on Friday in response to questions from CNSNews.com about the contract and the review.

“We will provide an update on the review once it has concluded and as appropriate,” HHS said.

As CNSNews.com first reported on Oct. 17, 2018, the National Institutes of Health, which is part of HHS, originally signed its “humanized mouse” contract with UCSF on Dec. 6, 2013. The contract was for a one-year period and gave the government the option of renewing it for up to six additional one-year periods through Dec. 5, 2020.

According to contract information published on the Federal Procurement Data System, the new three-month extension will pay UCSF $521,082—bringing the total payments the federal government has made to UCSF for this contract to $10,596,960.

If the government continues renewing the contract through Dec. 5, 2020, HHS would end up paying UCSF a total of $13,799,501.

The contract specifically requires researchers at UCSF to make two different types of “humanized mice” both of which are “engrafted with human fetal liver and thymus.”

The “Statement of Work” in the original contract solicitation said that the contractor would be required to make one “cohort” of “up to 50” mice per month of the first type of humanized mouse and another cohort of “up to 40” mice per month of the second type. The statement said each of these two cohorts of “humanized mice” should be made “with tissue from a single donor”—meaning a single aborted baby…..

read the full article here.

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from The Los Angeles Times:

A Northern California pastor has parted ways with his church following outrage over a sign outside the parish that read, “Bruce Jenner is still a man, homosexuality is still a sin.”

The sign, shared on the pastor’s Facebook page, sparked protests and national news coverage. Justin Hoke announced his departure on the Trinity Bible Presbyterian Church Facebook page on Saturday evening.

“I was informed that essentially all but one couple in membership would leave the church if I continued as pastor of TBPC,” Hoke said in his post. Another church elder agreed to assume pastoral responsibilities, according to Hoke, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The church has been under fire since the sign went up less than two weeks ago, targeting transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner. Hoke first announced that the message was going up outside the church through a Facebook post.

“The response we’re receiving from this sign proves that it was posted way too late,” Hoke commented under a photo he shared of the sign. “If a conservative mountain farming community is no longer a safe place to call sin, sin. Then is anywhere in this country still safe for real Christians?”

The church is located in Siskiyou County, near the Oregon border.

Someone vandalized the sign earlier this week, breaking the Plexiglas and stealing some of the letters. It went back up the following day with essentially the same message.

The sign prompted a few people to organize the Shastina Love Rally “to show our love and support for the LBGTQ community; not only to our community, but worldwide.” The first rally took place Jan. 6, and the second one is planned for Sunday.

Amelia Mallory, a resident of Lake Shastina and organizer of the rally, said the sign was shocking. When the organizers reached out to the pastor about taking down the sign, “He seemed really not open to the idea,” she said.

“Even acknowledging that we live in a more rural, and generally a more conservative area — the fact that somebody thought that that would be accepted by our community was definitely surprising,” Mallory said.

The rally organizers applauded the congregation for being “willing to stand on their convictions,” but also expressed concern for Hoke and his family.

On the church’s Facebook post announcing the pastor’s departure, Mallory offered to help take down the sign.

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from Into:

The Church of England hasn’t always been LGBTQ-friendly. In fact, the official church stance is still that marriage should remain a strictly heterosexual affair between a man and a woman. But the church is slowly evolving, and on Wednesday announced new pastoral guidelines for an official gender transition ceremonythat can be performed by its parishes.

That’s a big deal for a country in which church and state are inextricably linked; the Church of England is the official state religion, public schools are run according to church tenets, and church bishops even participate in lawmaking through a special section of Parliament called “Lords Spiritual.” Unlike in the U.S., the English church has broad influence over national policy and the culture at large. And the Church of England is the mother-ship of the international Anglican faith, with over 85 million members worldwide.

The new ceremony for trans church members incorporates something called the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith into celebrations that mark a gender transition.

“Everyone’s journey through life is unique. Baptism is the place where we find our true identity in Christ,” reads the pastoral guidance. “As with all pastoral encounters with people negotiating major life events, ministers will wish to respond sensitively and creatively to the person’s circumstances.”

The church guidelines recommend a ceremonial event that fosters a “celebratory character.” The pastor conducting the ceremony is advised to use the trans person’s chosen name and pronouns, perform an anointment using water or oil, allow “testimony” to reflect on the person’s journey, and present the person with a baptismal certificate of sorts.

The impressively detailed church guidelines include basic definitions of what it means to be transgender along with an overview of terminology for church officials for whom the concept is new. “It should be noted that the term ‘transgender’ is typically preferred to transgendered,” reads the guidance.

The church’s ceremonial blessing of gender transition does not mean the work of LGBTQ advocates in England is over. With the church still defining marriage in heterosexual terms, a debate is roaring within its ranks over the welcoming of LGBTQ congregants.

This past May, bishops from the Lichfield diocese just outside Birmingham, England signed a letter calling for “radical Christian inclusion” that urged LGBTQ people to seek leadership positions within the church. In the letter, the bishops also instructed their parishes on how to treat LGBTQ people in a way that made them feel welcome.

“Nobody should be excluded or discouraged from receiving the Sacraments of Baptism or the Lord’s Supper on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” read the May 2018 letter. “It is also unacceptable to tell or insinuate to people that sexual orientation or gender identity will be changed by faith, or that homosexuality or gender difference is a sign of immaturity or a lack of faith.”

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from Yahoo:

Witchcraft is thriving in the US, with an estimated 1.5 million Americans now identifying as witches – more than the total number of Presbyterians. As Christianity declines across the country, paganism has swung to the mainstream, with witchcraft paraphernalia for sale on every high street and practices normalized across popular culture. In the past two years, it has also become darkly politicized.

Dakota Bracciale, a 29-year-old transgender/queer witch and co-owner of Catland Books and witch shop in Brooklyn, is pleased with the outcome of the ritual hex placed on US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in October. The curse, carried out from Catland Books, was well attended by witches, atheists ad humanists – and was followed around the country on social media.

Millennials, says Bracciale, are looking for spiritualism outside traditional religion. “The hex centres on the notion that we live in a universe of chaos, entropy, destruction, death, decay with a final ending of oblivion – scientists are telling us. So the witch does everything for themselves – there is no other help in this universe of decay and chaos. If you don’t get in the driver’s seat things will just get worse,” the witch said.

In a wide-ranging discussion with the Telegraph, Bracciale, who described the interview questions as “sensationalist”, talked about political hexes and witchcraft in general.

Bracciale is “absolutely” willing to cause physical harm through a hex – “no issue with that”. And while Bracciale would have been just as pleased with the new Supreme Court Justice’s death, resignation or physical disfigurement, the main goal of the Kavanaugh hex, and the three hexes on President Donald Trump from Catland Books this summer, was to “let them be exposed for who they are – especially as impotent men”. The curse began with a recitation of the Biblical scripture Psalm 109: 8: “let his days be few, let another take his office.”

Catland Books is replete with Christian images including the Archangel Michael, Christian defender against the demonic, and the Virgin Mary. Bracciale, a self-described sexual abuse survivor, who grew up in a born-again-Christian evangelical cult in Arizona, takes umbrage at the notion that witchcraft and Christianity are mutually exclusive. Witchcraft “has a ton of roots in Christianity”, the Brooklyn witch says. Indeed, in Bracciale’s view, the Bible is a spell book, particularly the Book of Psalms.

Witchcraft is powerful, according to Bracciale, because of the “intersectionality of feminism, sexuality, gender, the fight for freedom, eschewing the patriarchy and having sort of a vitriolic response towards it”.

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