100,000 secular Britons seek ‘de-baptism’

100,000 secular Britons seek ‘de-baptism’

LONDON (AFP) – More than 100,000 Britons have recently downloaded “certificates of de-baptism” from the Internet to renounce their Christian faith.

The initiative launched by a group called the National Secular Society (NSS) follows atheist campaigns here and elsewhere, including a London bus poster which triggered protests by proclaiming “There’s probably no God.”

“We now produce a certificate on parchment and we have sold 1,500 units at three pounds (4.35 dollars, 3.20 euros) a pop,” said NSS president Terry Sanderson, 58.

John Hunt, a 58-year-old from London and one of the first to try to be “de-baptised,” held that he was too young to make any decision when he was christened at five months old.

The male nurse said he approached the Church of England to ask it to remove his name. “They said they had sought legal advice and that I should place an announcement in the London Gazette,” said Hunt, referring to one of the official journals of record of the British government.

So that’s what he did — his notice of renouncement was published in the Gazette in May 2008 and other Britons have followed suit.

Michael Evans, 66, branded baptising children as “a form of child abuse” — and said that when he complained to the church where he was christened he was told to contact the European Court of Human Rights.

The Church of England said its official position was not to amend its records. “Renouncing baptism is a matter between the individual and God,” a Church spokesman told AFP.

“We are not a ‘membership’ church, and do not keep a running total of the number of baptised people in the Church of England, and such totals do not feature in the statistics that we regularly publish,” he added.

De-baptism organisers say the initiative is a response to what they see as increasing stridency from churches — the latest last week when Pope Benedict XVI stirred global controversy on a trip to AIDS-ravaged Africa by saying condom use could further spread of the disease.

“The Catholic Church is so politically active at the moment that I think that is where the hostility is coming from,” said Sanderson. “In Catholic countries there is a very strong feeling of wanting to punish the church by leaving it.”

In Britain, where government figures say nearly 72 percent of the population list themselves as Christian, Sanderson feels this “hostility” is fuelling the de-baptism movement.

Theologian Paul Murray at Durham University disagrees. “That is not my experience,” he said, but concedes that change is in the air.

“We are in an interesting climate where Catholicism and other belief systems have moved into the public, pluralist arena, alongside secularists,” he said.

De-baptism movements have already sprung up in other countries.

In Spain, the high court ruled in favour of a man from Valencia, Manuel Blat, saying that under data protection laws he could have the record of his baptism erased, according to a report in the International Herald Tribune.

Similarly, the Italian Union of Rationalists and Agnostics (UAAR) won a legal battle over the right to file for de-baptism in 2002, according to media reports. The group’s website carries a “de-baptism” form to facilitate matters.

According to UAAR secretary Raffaele Carcano, more than 60,000 of these forms have been downloaded in the past four years and continue to be downloaded at a rate of about 2,000 per month. Another 1,000 were downloaded in one day when the group held its first national de-baptism day last October 25.

Elsewhere, an Argentinian secularist movement is running a “Collective Apostasy” campaign, using the slogan “Not in my name” (No en mi nombre).

Sanderson hopes rulings in other European countries will pave the way for legal action in Britain, since European Union directives require a level of parity among member states’ legislation.

“That would be a good precedent for us to say to the British Information Commissioner: Come on, what’s your excuse?” said Sanderson.

The bus-side posters that hit London in January sported the message: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

The scheme was in response to pro-Christian adverts on buses directing passers-by to a website warning those who did not accept Jesus would suffer for eternity in hell.

Comedy writer Ariane Sherine, mastermind of the British bus campaign that saw a copycat version in Barcelona and other cities, said she backs the “de-baptism” movement but insisted the two initiatives were separate.

Sanderson meanwhile remains resolute. “The fact that people are willing to pay for the parchments shows how seriously they are taking them,” he said.

U.N. body adopts resolution on religious defamation

This is a disgrace.

U.N. body adopts resolution on religious defamation

GENEVA (Reuters) – A United Nations forum on Thursday passed a resolution condemning “defamation of religion” as a human rights violation, despite wide concerns that it could be used to justify curbs on free speech in Muslim countries.

The U.N. Human Rights Council adopted the non-binding text, proposed by Pakistan on behalf of Islamic states, with a vote of 23 states in favor and 11 against, with 13 abstentions.

Western governments and a broad alliance of activist groups have voiced dismay about the religious defamation text, which adds to recent efforts to broaden the concept of human rights to protect communities of believers rather than individuals.

Pakistan, speaking for the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said a “delicate balance” had to be struck between freedom of expression and respect for religions.

The resolution said Muslim minorities had faced intolerance, discrimination and acts of violence since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, including laws and administrative procedures that stigmatize religious followers.

“Defamation of religious is a serious affront to human dignity leading to a restriction on the freedom of their adherents and incitement to religious violence,” the adopted text read, adding that “Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism.”

It called on states to ensure that religious places, sites, shrines and symbols are protected, to reinforce laws “to deny impunity” for those exhibiting intolerance of ethnic and religious minorities, and “to take all possible measures to promote tolerance and respect for all religions and beliefs.”

ISLAMOPHOBIA, CHRISTIANOPHOBIA, ANTI-SEMITISM

The 47-member Human Rights Council has drawn criticism for reflecting mainly the interests of Islamic and African countries, which when voting together can control its agenda.

Addressing the body, Germany said on behalf of the European Union that while instances of Islamophobia, Christianophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of religious discrimination should be taken seriously, it was “problematic to reconcile the notion of defamation (of religion) with the concept of discrimination.”

“The European Union does not see the concept of defamation of religion as a valid one in a human rights discourse,” it said. “The European Union believes that a broader, more balanced and thoroughly rights-based text would be best suited to address the issues underlying this draft resolution.”

India and Canada also took to the floor of the Geneva-based Council to raise objections to the OIC text. Both said the text looked too narrowly at the discrimination issue.

“It is individuals who have rights, not religions,” Ottawa’s representative told the body. “Canada believes that to extend (the notion of) defamation beyond its proper scope would jeopardize the fundamental right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of expression on religious subjects.”

A separate, EU-sponsored resolution about religious discrimination is due to be discussed by the Council on Friday.

Earlier this week, 180 secular, religious and media groups from around the world urged diplomats to reject the resolution which they said “may be used in certain countries to silence and intimidate human rights activists, religious dissenters and other independent voices” and ultimately restrict freedoms.

Pilot who paused to pray in crash-landing sentenced to 10 years in jail

See, religion DOES improve our lives. That is, by “improve”, you mean “doesn’t improve”.

Pilot who paused to pray in crash-landing sentenced to 10 years in jail

A Tunisian pilot who paused to pray instead of taking emergency measures before crash-landing his plane, killing 16 people, has been sentenced to 10 years in jail by an Italian court along with his co-pilot.

The 2005 crash at sea off Sicily left survivors swimming for their lives, some clinging to a piece of the fuselage that remained floating after the ATR turbo-prop aircraft splintered upon impact.

A fuel-gauge malfunction was partly to blame but prosecutors said the pilot had succumbed to panic, praying out loud instead of following emergency procedures and then opting to crash-land the plane instead trying to reach a nearby airport.

Another five employees of Tuninter, a subsidiary of Tunisair, were sentenced to between eight and nine years in jail by the court, in a verdict handed down on Monday.

The seven accused, who were not in court, will not spend time in jail until the appeals process has been exhausted.

ABC Nightline News – Covering News, That Matters

“Nightline” debate to take on Satan in Ballard church

The debate over whether Satan exists is hardly going to be settled in a 30-minute television show.

But that’s not stopping a rather curious lineup from debating that question for ABC’s “Nightline.”

The debaters: megachurch Pastor Mark Driscoll of Seattle; alternative-medicine author Deepak Chopra; a former Las Vegas escort who founded Hookers for Jesus; and a former Pentecostal preacher who was branded a heretic for saying everyone — not just Christians — could go to heaven.

The four are gathering Friday at Mars Hill Church in Ballard, where Driscoll is preaching pastor, to tape the segment, which will air March 26.

The topic has gotten a few responses of “Say what?” Why, now, is “Nightline” discussing Satan’s existence, and why were these particular people chosen to do so?

For one, the topic can be particularly relevant in troubled times such as these, when people are looking for explanations for economic chaos.

For another: “There’s always an interest in these topics,” said James Goldston, the show’s executive producer.

Not to mention potentially great ratings.

“Every time we’ve done one, the response has been pretty dramatic,” he said.

It’s the latest in a series of “Face Off” debates “Nightline” launched two years ago, bringing together prominent people to debate hot topics. The first one — on the existence of God — is still abcnews.com’s single most commented-upon story, Goldston said.

The idea of doing a debate on Satan came about, in part, through conversations the show’s staff had with Driscoll when doing a profile on him.

ABC also had done stories on Chopra; Annie Lobert, the founder of Hookers for Jesus, which preaches a Christian message to women in the sex trade; and the Rev. Carlton Pearson, an Oklahoma pastor who went from preaching before 6,000 to leading a couple hundred after he rejected traditional Christian beliefs about heaven and hell.

“We went for the most interesting voices we could find,” Goldston said.

All of which makes T.J. Wray, co-author of “The Birth of Satan: Tracing the Devil’s Biblical Roots,” sigh in exasperation.

“Why don’t they call professionals — the people who write this stuff?” asked Wray, an associate professor of religious studies at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I.

It’s unlikely a debate of this type can get into the complex theology and history behind Satan, she said.

Still, the topic is timely.

“Historically, when times are difficult, Satan increases in popularity. People begin talking about him,” Wray said.

“When things are going well, Satan is kind of on the periphery. But when things go wrong, people ask: ‘Why are things the way they are? There must be some evil force in the world.’

“Satan provides a language for us to speak about evil,” she said. “That’s been his historic role.”

For his part, Driscoll believes a literal spirit being named Satan exists and is at work in the world for evil and injustice.

The Bible speaks clearly and repeatedly of Satan, he said.

And “in my own pastoral experience, I have witnessed such great evil and injustice so often that no answer but the existence of a real enemy to good and life makes any sense to me.”

The lineup of debaters, Driscoll said, helps ensure “this is not just an academic debate but also a practical discourse.”

Driscoll and Lobert will be taking on Chopra and Pearson.

Pearson does not believe in Satan as an actual being and discourages people from doing so because “it makes us helpless, paranoid and frightened.”

Human beings themselves create evil and “stupid stuff,” he said. To blame Satan takes away personal responsibility.

“I’ve heard: ‘The devil made me do it.’ Don’t put that on the devil,” Pearson said. “You made that stupid decision yourself. Let’s talk about why you made it.”

In any case, said Wray, the university professor, “to debate this issue is futile. No one’s going to emerge the victor. … It’s the topic that never goes away.”

Pope rejects condoms for Africa

Pope rejects condom use in Africa (2009)

Pope Benedict XVI has said that handing out condoms is not the answer in the fight against HIV/Aids, as he makes his first visit to Africa as pontiff.

Speaking en route to Cameroon, he said distribution of condoms “increases the problem”. The Vatican urges abstinence.

The Pope will also visit Angola on his week-long trip, where thousands are expected to attend open-air masses.

According to Vatican figures, the number of Catholics in Africa has been rising steadily in recent years.

Baptised Catholics made up 17% of the African population in 2006, compared with 12% in 1978, the Vatican says.

Pope Benedict said on the eve of his trip that he wanted to wrap his arms around the entire continent, with “its painful wounds, its enormous potential and hopes”.

Speaking to reporters on his way to Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde, the Pope said HIV/Aids was “a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem”.

The solution lies in a “spiritual and human awakening” and “friendship for those who suffer”, the AFP news agency quotes him as saying.

While in Africa, the pontiff is expected to talk to young people about the Aids epidemic and explain to them why the Catholic Church recommends sexual abstinence as the best way to prevent the spread of the disease.

He gave a similar message to African bishops who visited the Vatican in 2005, when he told them that abstinence and fidelity, not condoms, were the means to tackle the epidemic.

The BBC’s Caroline Duffield, in Cameroon, says people in Yaounde are energetically sweeping and cleaning everywhere in preparation for Pope Benedict’s visit.

The Pope will stay in Yaounde until Friday, where he will meet bishops from all over Africa who will be taking part in a meeting at the Vatican later this year to discuss the Church’s role in Africa.

In Angola, which is still recovering from 27 years of civil war, Pope Benedict will meet diplomats posted in Luanda and is expected to urge the international community not to abandon Africa.

The pontiff is also due to hold private talks with political leaders in the two countries, both of which have been accused of corruption and squandering revenues from natural resources.

Speaking to pilgrims in St Peter’s Square before setting out on his journey, the Pope said he wanted to reach out to the victims of hunger, disease, injustice, fratricidal conflicts and the violence afflicting adults and children alike in most parts of Africa.

Pope rejects condoms for Africa (2005)

The spread of HIV and Aids in Africa should be tackled through fidelity and abstinence and not by condoms, Pope Benedict XVI has said.

Speaking to African bishops at the Vatican, the Pope described HIV/Aids in Africa as a “cruel epidemic”.

But he told them: “The traditional teaching of the church has proven to be the only failsafe way to prevent the spread of HIV/Aids.”

More than 60% of the world’s 40m people with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa.

In South Africa alone, 600-1,000 people are thought to die every day because of Aids.

Pope Benedict, who was elected to succeed John Paul II in April, has already signalled that he will maintain a strictly traditional line on issues including abortion and homosexuality.

Before being elected pope, Benedict served as head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office.

These were his first public comments on the issue of Aids/HIV and contraception since taking office.

He was addressing bishops from South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia and Lesotho, who had travelled to the Vatican for a routine papal audience.

Some Catholic clergymen have argued that the use of condoms to stem the spread of the disease would be a “lesser of two evils”.

The Pope warned that contraception was one of a host of trends contributing to a “breakdown in sexual morality”, and church teachings should not be ignored.

“It is of great concern that the fabric of African life, its very source of hope and stability, is threatened by divorce, abortion, prostitution, human trafficking and a contraception mentality,” he added.

The virus “seriously threatens the economic and social stability of the continent,” the Pope said.

The UN estimates that without new initiatives and greater access to drugs, more than 80 million Africans may die from Aids by 2025 and HIV infections could reach 90 million, or 10% of the continent’s population.

Atheist ads can go on buses, council decides

Atheist ads can go on buses, council decides

OTTAWA — Ottawa Council has voted to allow advertisements on the city’s bus fleet that question the existence of God.

Councillors voted 13-7 Wednesday to overrule OC Transpo management, which had not permitted ads that read: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” The ads, from the Free Thought Association of Canada, are running on buses in Toronto, London and Calgary.

Bay Councillor Alex Cullen, chairman of council’s transit committee, said the right to express opinions is fundamental to a free society and a precious part of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

He said that while the ads might make some council members uncomfortable, a free society must be prepared to permit expression of dissenting views.

And he said that city buses are not a trivial matter, since it was on buses that American black people gained civil rights in the 1960s.

Somerset Councillor Diane Holmes said it’s a good thing to have an open discourse about religion with diverse views, as long as those views do not express hatred.

The only councillor to speak clearly against the move was Orléans Councillor Bob Monette, who said that council should show respect for the church and should never condone the placement of offensive ads on public property. Transpo management had rejected the ads on the grounds that they were offensive to some people and the company has a policy of not running offensive ads.

Some other councillors didn’t want council deciding what is allowed or not allowed. The transit company is going to review its policy for taking ads.

The city’s solicitor, Rick O’Connor, gave councillors a legal opinion that if the city goes ahead with banning the ads, the move could be challenged in court and the city would likely lose.

“It will be difficult for the city to justify its rejection of the ads,” said O’Connor in his legal opinion.

He said such a legal case would cost the city between $10,000 and $20,000.

Cullen presented a motion to have OC Transpo accept the ads which was approved by: councillors Clive Doucet, Christine Leadman, Peter Hume, Diane Holmes, Jan Harder, Michel Bellemare, Peggy Feltmate, Steve Desroches, Jacques Legendre, Georges Bédard, Gord Hunter, Shad Qadri and Cullen. Voting against the motion were: Marianne Wilkinson, Bob Monette, Rainer Bloess, Eli El-Chantiry, Doug Thompson, Rob Jellett and Mayor Larry O’Brien.

The matter was before full council after a split vote at transit committee.

The mayor voted against the motion at council even though he said he had met with religious leaders in the community who said they were not bothered by the ads and welcomed expressions of free speech.

A crowd of people wearing T-shirts with the advertisement’s message sat quietly throughout council’s deliberations and seemed pleased with the outcome.

“Do we have the right to be non-religious? Council has voted that yes, we do,” said Paul Bendus.

Supporters of the ads had argued that the city has run religious advertisements before and city councillors were allowing their personal religious beliefs to influence their handling of the issue.

David Burton, director of the Humanist Association of Ottawa, said that the council decision isn’t just about the ads. He said the decision was a victory for people with all kinds of religious beliefs and faiths.

Vatican defends Brazil excommunication

Vatican defends Brazil excommunication

A senior Vatican cleric has defended the excommunication of the mother and doctors of a nine-year-old girl who had an abortion in Brazil after being raped.

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Catholic church’s Congregation for Bishops, told the daily La Stampa on Saturday that the twins the girl had been carrying had a right to live.

“It is a sad case but the real problem is that the twins conceived were two innocent persons, who had the right to live and could not be eliminated,” he said.

Re, who also heads the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, added: “Life must always be protected, the attack on the Brazilian church is unjustified.”

The row was triggered by the termination on Wednesday of twin foetuses carried by a nine-year-old allegedly raped by her stepfather in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco.

The regional archbishop, Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, pronounced excommunication for the mother for authorising the operation and doctors who carried it out for fear that the slim girl would not survive carrying the foetuses to term.

“God’s law is above any human law. So when a human law … is contrary to God’s law, this human law has no value,” Cardoso had said.

He also said the accused stepfather would not be expelled from the church. Although the man allegedly committed “a heinous crime … the abortion – the elimination of an innocent life – was more serious”.

Battista Re agreed, saying: “Excommunication for those who carried out the abortion is just” as a pregnancy termination always meant ending an innocent life.

The case has sparked fierce debate in Brazil, where abortion is illegal except in cases of rape or if the woman’s health is in danger.

On Friday, President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva hit out at Sobrinho’s decision, saying: “As a Christian and a Catholic, I deeply regret that a bishop of the Catholic church has such a conservative attitude.”

“The doctors did what had to be done: save the life of a girl of nine years old,” he said, adding that “in this case, the medical profession was more right than the church.”

One of the doctors involved in the abortion, Rivaldo Albuquerque, told Globo television that he would keep going to mass, regardless of the archbishop’s order.

“The people want a church full of forgiveness, love and mercy,” he said.

Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporao also slammed the archbishop.

“Two things strike me: the assault on the girl and the position of this bishop, which is truly lamentable,” he said.

The girl, who was not identified because she is a minor, was last week found to be four months’ pregnant after being taken to hospital suffering stomach pains.

Officials said she told them she had suffered sexual abuse by her stepfather since the age of six.

Police said the 23-year-old stepfather also allegedly sexually abused the girl’s physically handicapped 14-year-old sister.

He was arrested a week ago and is being kept in protective custody. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

The website of the news group Globo reported that another girl, aged 11, had been found to be seven months pregnant following alleged sexual abuse at the hands of her adoptive father.

The girl has said she does not intend to seek an abortion, according to reports.