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from Christian Headlines:

The president of a seminary founded in 1836 on the “infallible” Word of God says in a new interview she doesn’t believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ, the power of prayer, a literal heaven, or miracles.

Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary in New York, made the comments in an interview with Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times for an article published Easter weekend. Although the author’s intent may have been to inspire readers, it also served to spotlight the leftward drift of many seminaries.

Union Theological Seminary’s founding constitution stated the seminary’s goal was to “promote” the “Kingdom of Christ.” Professors were required to affirm they believed “the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the word of God” and the “only infallible rule of faith and practice.”

But as Jones made clear, the seminary is a very different school today.

She rejects a literal bodily resurrection of Christ.

“When you look in the Gospels, the stories are all over the place. There’s no resurrection story in Mark, just an empty tomb. Those who claim to know whether or not it happened are kidding themselves,” Jones said. “… Crucifixion is not something that God is orchestrating from upstairs. The pervasive idea of an abusive God-father who sends his own kid to the cross so God could forgive people is nuts. For me, the cross is an enactment of our human hatred. But what happens on Easter is the triumph of love in the midst of suffering. Isn’t that reason for hope?”

She rejects the idea that God miraculously heals through prayer.

“I don’t believe in a God who, because of prayer, would decide to cure your mother’s cancer but not cure the mother of your nonpraying neighbor,” she said. “We can’t manipulate God like that.”

She rejects the virgin birth.

“I find the virgin birth a bizarre claim,” she said. “It has nothing to do with Jesus’ message. The virgin birth only becomes important if you have a theology in which sexuality is considered sinful. It also promotes this notion that the pure, untouched female body is the best body, and that idea has led to centuries of oppressing women.”

Asked what happens when people die, Jones responded, “I don’t know! There may be something, there may be nothing. My faith is not tied to some divine promise about the afterlife.”

Asked how we can reconcile an “omnipotent, omniscient God” with evil and suffering, Jones responded, “At the heart of faith is mystery. God is beyond our knowing, not a being or an essence or an object. But I don’t worship an all-powerful, all-controlling omnipotent, omniscient being. That is a fabrication of Roman juridical theory and Greek mythology.”

When Kristof asked her if he can be considered a Christian after not believing in a virgin birth or resurrection, Jones answered, “Well, you sound an awful lot like me, and I’m a Christian. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said Jones rejected the “entire edifice of orthodox, biblical Christianity.”

“This is not Christianity,” Mohler wrote. “This is a new religion, a new god, formed in an image intended not to offend modern secular sensibilities. She has constructed a god from post-modern theology that in no way resembles the God of the Bible – the one true God.”

Mohler observed that Jones denied “the reality of the resurrection, the necessity of the virgin birth, the attributes of God, the power of prayer, and the existence of heaven and hell.”

“According to Jones,” Mohler wrote. “there is no cross on which Jesus died for sin, there is no Father who sent the Son to pay our ransom, there is no bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead as a sign and seal of God’s promises – indeed, she has denied everything that makes the gospel good news. She even denies that God is a ‘being.’”

Jones claims to be a Christian minister while simultaneously rejecting “every tenet of the historic Christian faith,” Mohler said.

“Why would anyone identify as a Christian minister and then deny the entire superstructure of Christian theology?” Mohler asked. “What we see here is a hope to replace biblical Christianity with a new religion without anyone noticing.”

 

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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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from Campus Reform:

Swarthmore College offers a course on “Queering God,” most recently taught during the spring 2019 semester, that provides a feminist and queer perspective of the Bible, while also exploring God’s gender identity.

The course, taught by Professor Gwynn Kessler, questions whether God is a masculine or feminine figure through the examination of feminist and queer writings. Its course description says the class “stretch[es] the limits of gendering-and sexing-the divine.” Key themes of the class, also outlined in the course description, include gender, embodiment, masculinity, liberation, sexuality, and feminist and queer theory.

“Part of the student community definitely wants to have more representation and to have LGBTQ issues addressed in courses and elsewhere on campus,” a Swarthmore student, who asked to remain anonymous, told Campus Reform. “This means spreading awareness and getting people to action through taking courses like this.”

Natalie, another Swarthmore student who asked for her last name not to be published, noted that the school demonstrates “normalized progressivism, unfazed by even the most controversial topics.”

Queering the Bible is a similar course that the institution offers, which uses Biblical readings from a queer and transgender perspective to explore sex, identity, and gender. Campus Reform has previously reported on the rise of such courses in American academic institutions.

“I took [Queering the Bible] because I’ve always overheard of people claiming that being queer, specifically homosexual, was a sin, or that the Bible said so,” another Swarthmore student, who also asked to remain anonymous, said. “It pushed me to ask questions so absurd that it seems even unthinkable to ask.”

Kessler is an associate professor of religion at Swarthmore College. She received her Ph.D. in Rabbinics from the Jewish Theological Seminary and has taught at various universities in the U.S., including the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the University of Florida. Kessler has taught many different courses, some of which are on Jewish History, Judaism and Gender, Judaism and Ecology, Feminist Theology, and Religion and Gender. In her university bio, it says that her work fits the categories of “postmodern, feminist, and queer theoretical approaches.”

Campus Reform reached out to Kessler for comments regarding her course but received no response in time for publication.

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from The Gatestone Institute

Christian persecution ‘at near genocide levels,'” the title of a May 3 BBC report, cites a lengthy interim study ordered by British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and led by Rev. Philip Mounstephen, the Bishop of Truro.

According to the BBC report, one in three people around the world suffer from religious persecution, with Christians being “the most persecuted religious group”. “Religion ‘is at risk of disappearing’ in some parts of the world,” it noted, and “In some regions, the level and nature of persecution is arguably coming close to meeting the international definition of genocide, according to that adopted by the UN.”

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is also quoted on why Western governments have been “asleep” — his word — concerning this growing epidemic:

“I think there is a misplaced worry that it is somehow colonialist to talk about a religion [Christianity] that was associated with colonial powers rather than the countries that we marched into as colonisers. That has perhaps created an awkwardness in talking about this issue—the role of missionaries was always a controversial one and that has, I think, also led some people to shy away from this topic.”

Whatever the merits of such thinking, the fact is that many of the world’s most persecuted Christians have nothing whatsoever to do with colonialism or missionaries. Those most faced with the threat of genocide — including Syria’s and Iraq’s Assyrians or Egypt’s Copts — were Christian several centuries before the ancestors of Europe’s colonizers became Christian and went missionizing.

The BBC report highlights “political correctness” as being especially responsible for the West’s indifference, and quotes Hunt again in this regard: “What we have forgotten in that atmosphere of political correctness is actually the Christians that are being persecuted are some of the poorest people on the planet.”

Although the BBC report has an entire heading titled and devoted to the impact of “political correctness,” ironically, it too succumbs to this contemporary Western malady. For while it did a fair job in highlighting the problem, it said nothing about its causes — not one word about who is persecuting Christians, or why.

The overwhelming majority of Christian persecution, however, evidently occurs in Muslim majority nations. According to Open Doors’ World Watch List 2019[WWL], which surveys the 50 nations where Christians are most persecuted, “Islamic oppression continues to impact millions of Christians.” In seven of the absolute worst ten nations, “Islamic oppression” is the cause of persecution. “This means, for millions of Christians—particularly those who grew up Muslim or were born into Muslim families—openly following Jesus can have painful consequences,” including death.

Among the worst persecutors are those that rule according to Islamic law, or Sharia — which academics such as Georgetown University’s John Esposito insist is equitable and just. In Afghanistan (ranked #2) , “Christianity is not permitted to exist,” says the WWL 2019, because it “is an Islamic state by constitution, which means government officials, ethnic group leaders, religious officials and citizens are hostile toward” Christians. Similarly, in Somalia, (#3), “The Christian community is small and under constant threat of attack. Sharia law and Islam are enshrined in the country’s constitution, and the persecution of Christians almost always involves violence.” In Iran (#9), “society is governed by Islamic law, which means the rights and professional possibilities for Christians are heavily restricted.”

Equally telling is that 38 of the 50 nations making the WWL 2019 are Muslim majority.

Perhaps the BBC succumbed to silence concerning the sources of Christian persecution — that is, succumbed to “the atmosphere of political correctness” which it ironically highlighted — because in its own report, it did not rely on the WWL. The problem with this interpretation is that the study the BBC did rely on, the Bishop of Truro’s, is saturated with talk concerning the actual sources of Christian persecution. In this regard, the words “Islam” and “Islamist” appear 61 times; “Muslim” appears 56 times in this review on persecuted Christians.

Here are a few of the more significant quotes from the Bishop of Truro’s report:

  • “The persecution of Christians is perhaps at its most virulent in the region of the birthplace of Christianity—the Middle East & North Africa.”
  • “In countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia the situation of Christians and other minorities has reached an alarming stage.”
  • “The eradication of Christians and other minorities on pain of ‘the sword’ or other violent means was revealed to be the specific and stated objective of [Islamic] extremist groups in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, north-east Nigeria and the Philippines.”
  • “[T]here is mass violence which regularly expresses itself through the bombing of churches, as has been the case in countries such as Egypt, Pakistan, and Indonesia.”
  • “The single-greatest threat to Christians [in Nigeria] … came from Islamist militant group Boko Haram, with US intelligence reports in 2015 suggesting that 200,000 Christians were at risk of being killed… Those worst affected included Christian women and girls ‘abducted, and forced to convert, enter forced marriages, sexual abuse and torture.'”
  • “An intent to erase all evidence of the Christian presence [in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, north-east Nigeria and the Philippines] was made plain by the removal of crosses, the destruction of Church buildings and other Church symbols. The killing and abduction of clergy represented a direct attack on the Church’s structure and leadership.”
  • “Christianity now faces the possibility of being wiped-out in parts of the Middle East where its roots go back furthest. In Palestine, Christian numbers are below 1.5 percent; in Syria the Christian population has declined from 1.7 million in 2011 to below 450,000 and in Iraq, Christian numbers have slumped from 1.5 million before 2003 to below 120,000 today. Christianity is at risk of disappearing, representing a massive setback for plurality in the region.”

The BBC should be commended for (finally) reporting on this urgent issue — even if it is three years behind the times. As the Truro report correctly observes, “In 2016 various political bodies including the UK parliament, the European Parliament and the US House of Representatives, declared that ISIS atrocities against Christians and other religious minority groups such as Yazidis and Shi’a Muslims met the tests of genocide.”

At the very least, it appears that the BBC has stopped trying to minimize the specter of Christian persecution as it did in 2013, when this situation was just starting to reach the boiling point.

 

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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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A Covenant That Pushes Us Much Closer To A One World Religion!

from The Guardian:

The pope and the grand imam of al-Azhar have signed a historic declaration of fraternity, calling for peace between nations, religions and races, in front of a global audience of religious leaders from Christianity, Islam, Judaism and other faiths.

Pope Francis, the leader of the world’s Catholics, and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the head of Sunni Islam’s most prestigious seat of learning, arrived at the ceremony in Abu Dhabi hand-in-hand in a symbol of interfaith brotherhood.

The document pledges that al-Azhar and the Vatican will work together to fight extremism. Claiming to be in the name of “all victims of wars, persecution and injustice”, it warns against a “third world war being fought piecemeal”.

It says: “We resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood.”

In the first ever papal visit to the Arabian peninsula, the birthplace of Islam, the pope specifically called for an end to wars in the Middle East, naming Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya. All religious leaders had a “duty to reject every nuance of approval from the word war”, he said in a 26-minute address.

The UAE is part of the Saudi-led military coalition engaged in the war in Yemen. On Sunday, before leaving Rome for Abu Dhabi, Francis said he was following the situation in Yemen “with great concern”, and that the population was “exhausted by the lengthy conflict, and a great many children are suffering from hunger”.

In his speech on Monday evening – his first public comments during the three-day trip – he welcomed “the opportunity to come here as a believer for peace … We are here to desire peace, we are here to promote peace, to be instruments of peace.”

Violence, extremism or fanaticism could never be justified in the name of religion, he said. He also called for religious freedom “not limited only to freedom of worship”, justice and for religions to “stand on the side of the poor”.

Sheikh Tayeb, who addressed the pope as “my dear brother”, said millions of Muslims had paid the price for the actions of “a handful of criminals” following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Earlier on Monday, Francis arrived at the lavish presidential palace in Abu Dhabi in a small black Kia. He was greeted with a 21-shot salute and military flyover trailing yellow and white smoke in the colours of the Vatican flag. Horse-mounted guards escorted the pontiff’s motorcade through the palace gardens.

The pope had a private meeting with Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who later tweeted: “We discussed enhancing cooperation, consolidating dialogue, tolerance, human coexistence & important initiatives to achieve peace, stability and development for peoples and societies.”

The UAE is promoting itself as a regional leader in religious diversity and tolerance. According to the organisers of a conference on “human fraternity” this week, the UAE since its formation in 1971 has “given special attention to issues such as dialogue, tolerance, fraternity and peace. It also offered the world a model example of applying these human values through the coexistence and tolerance embraced by the various cultures, races and faiths living on its soil.”

The population of the Emirates is 90% expatriate, with people from more than 200 countries, including significant numbers from Asia who are employed in domestic service, hospitality and construction.

Christians are free to worship at churches and wear religious clothing. But Open Doors, which monitors discrimination against and persecution of Christians around the world, says the UAE government does not allow Christians “to evangelise or pray in public. Converts from Islam endure the most persecution as they face pressure from family members and the local community to recant their Christian faith.”

The government has also been criticised by human rights organisations for restrictions on freedom of expression.

Reem al-Hashemi, the UAE’s minister of state for international cooperation, said it was “important to note that openness has to have parameters, otherwise things can quickly spiral into incitement or hate. Freedom of expression has to have limitations.”

Pope Francis is to celebrate mass in front of an expected audience of 120,000 people at a sports stadium in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday before flying back to Rome.

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