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Bollywood Film Under Attack for “Om” Song

Staying with Uttar Pradesh, the Guardian carries a short AP report about some unhappy Hindu holy men (link added):

Dozens of Hindu holy men in saffron robes torched CDs and posters for a new Bollywood film in northern India yesterday, saying one of the movie’s songs has language offensive to the faith and should be banned.

Some of the holy men have asked a court in Allahabad, a Hindu religious hub in Uttar Pradesh state, to pull the film from theatres.

…The film, Strings, is about a British man who tries to learn Indian spirituality by joining the sacred Kumbh festival.

Further details were provided by IndiaFM News Bureau a few days ago:

The song called ‘Mantra’ originally is a poem written by Baba Nagarjun 1969. It was however, banned for sometime in 1977…The lyrics though controversial, speak about the drawbacks in the democratic set-up.

Baba Nagarjuna was an Indian writer and convert to Buddhism and Marxism who died in 1998; his obituary in the Indian Tribune can be read here. The song contains the sacred word “Om“, which has caused particular upset; it can be heard on the website of composer Zubeen Garg.

The controversy will no doubt boost interest in a film which reviewers have found lacklustre. From IndiaFM:

The problem with STRINGS is that it rests on a paper-thin plot and the backdrop of the Maha Kumbh is of no significance to the storyline…STRINGS is more for the pseudo-critics than an ordinary moviegoer. It eyes the Festival circuit mainly, not even the multiplex crowd…None of the performances are worth noting…a poor show.

The New Kerala concurs:

The journey is at the most a half-baked vapid attempt to capture the chants and visuals of the Kumbh Mela in a presentable package.

The film fails miserably in keeping the faith alive. It instead strangulates the most cherished aspects of the Hindu religion, turns it ineffectual and weans our attention to scenes that are woven into awkward pastiches of spirituality… so hackneyed that the film could qualify as the stalest spiritual search since the invention of time.

IndiaFM describes the actual plot (square brackets in original):

Warren Hastings [Adam Bedi], a British youth, arrives in Nasik with Maya [Sandhya Mridul], an urban Indian girl. Warren is plagued by a sort of unfulfilled quest, for an understanding of the mysticism of India, beyond his realms of imagination.

Maya puts up Warren at Krishna’s [Tannishtha Chatterjee] residence. Krishna is the only child of a temple priest [Vineet Kumar], a widower. Warren and Krishna soon realize that they love each other and one day, Krishna sheds her inhibitions and succumbs to her feelings. In the end, Warren and Krishna realize that a deep bond has developed between them.

A short bio of the film’s director, Sanjay Jha, can be seen here.

Muslim Doctors Battle New Attacks on Polio Vaccine

An Indian Muslim doctor warns against a new outbreak of religious rumours against the polio vaccine; the Muslim News reports:

Dr [Zubair] Meenai said, “This is very unfortunate that rumours are being spread that in Polio drops elements have been added that would destroy the procreative potency of the children when they grew up.

…two days ago my colleagues in Delhi sent me press clippings according to which some Ulema at Mazahirul Uloom [a religious institution] have issued a fatwa that if polio drops contained napak (unholy) elements and if it could harm the procreative potency of future generations than it is haram (forbidden)…Dr Meenai said that the new controversy might have adverse affect on the new phase of anti-Polio campaign in western UP [Uttar Pradesh] in the next few months and the risk to the health of the community would be increased.

On the other hand, Indian madrasas have been in favour of the vaccine, and the local seminary, Darul Uloom Deoband, has advised that such matters are for doctors and scientists to pronounce upon, not clerics. Polio rates as a whole are going down.

However, rumours about the vaccine are long-standing; the British Medical Journal reported in 2002 that

In pockets [of Uttar Pradesh] where polio prevails, many people believe that polio vaccine is an anti-fertility vaccine and would lead to impotence in male children or infect them with HIV/AIDS.

The same story was being told in West Bengal:

There has been an alarming increase of polio cases in West Bengal…According to Nakham Abdullah, resident, Jangipur, Murshidabad, “Polio drops leads to polio. When I was in Burdwan district, I saw several children who were inflicted with polio. Then I was told that they had polio because they were given polio drops. I have five brothers and five sisters. None of them got polio drops and they are walking fine.”

…Hasina Bibi, resident, Jangipur, Murshidabad, “The people in this village say that if you take polio drops then you don’t have children anymore.”

That was also in 2002. In 2004 another report added:

There have also been reports of assaults on health workers by irate villagers. Health workers say this trend has been noticed even in Muslim-dominated slums of the capital, Kolkata.

As in Uttar Pradesh, though, religious schools were mobilised in favour of the vaccine:

Under Unicef’s guidance, the Board of Madrassa Education organized camps for about 1,000 seminary teachers in nine districts so they could directly intervene with the families.

The West Bengal Madrassa Students Union (WBMSU) also launched a campaign after government officials reported pockets of resistance in some minority areas.

2004 also saw a massive anti-vaccine hysteria in Nigeria. I blogged on this at the time, noting the particular culpability of Kano governor Ibrahim Shekarau and Lagos State University Professor Hussain Abdulkareem. As I recalled back in February:

A harmless trace amount of the hormone estriadoil (western drinking water contains a greater amount) was said to prove that the vaccine would cause genital deformity in boys, while Abdulkareem also alleged that the vaccine would spread cancer and AIDS – claims that were then spread by local imams. Shekarau rejected a scientific committee’s finding that the vaccine was safe on the utterly bizarre grounds that the committee consisted only of Muslims, and that more Christians should have been involved.

Eventually, a supposedly safer vaccine was imported from Indonesia; who profited from this is not known, but Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo stated that

one of the Muslim leaders opposing the immunisation programme had unsuccessfully sought a government contract to import new vaccines.

The result of the hysteria was not only more polio in Nigeria; migrant workers and pilgrims spread the disease to sixteen countries. In fact, hopes that the disease would be eradicated worldwide by the end of 2004 were dashed. The full story appeared in some of my blog’s earliest entries: see here and here. The extent to which Abdulkareem and Shekarau can be blamed for the persistence of both the rumour and of the disease itself in far-away India is a subject worthy of attention.

Christian Zionist Links Gay Pride to Lebanon Conflict

Following on from yesterday’s entry, here’s some compassionate insight from prominent Christian Zionist Christine Darg, at Exploits Ministry (ellipsis in original):

Military events in Israel are now likely to force the cancellation of the World Pride homosexual desecration of Jerusalem next month.

Believers in Israel and all over the world have been bombarding Heaven for God to intervene…But sometimes God answers in ways that nobody wants. War is never pleasant, but its security demands take precedence over something as frivolous as a gay parade.

God dispenses wrath in mysterious ways. Christine and her husband Peter Darg were responsible for starting CBN‘s Middle East office back in 1982; they had a few moments of wider fame in 1998 when they set up a webcam on the Mount of Olives overlooking Old Jerusalem’s Golden Gate, in anticipation of the return of Jesus. Alas, that project has since been abandoned, due to those annoying non-Jewish people who actually live in the city getting in the way of the view:

You have repeatedly heard the outcry of Arab propaganda about Israelis building so-called ‘illegal settlements’, but the press pays no attention to the other side of the story- Arabs illegally constructing houses and expanding existing structures without any planning permission. This is what happened on the Mount of Olives.

Christine Darg is also a trustee of Elvis Gospel Ministries, which

has grasped the God given opportunity of the continuing popularity of Elvis Presley, to make available to many thousands of people, the good news of  Jesus Christ.

UPDATE: Darg is not alone; some Israeli rabbis concur.

Premillennialists Rapture Ready Over Israel-Lebanon Conflict

“I am excited beyond words that the struggle of this life may be over soon and I can finally be FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!”

“I too am soooo excited!!”

“I will just have time to get my hair and nails done”

“Sound the shofar!…Yeshua is stepping onto the battlefield.”

Rapture Ready has pulled a message thread that was coming under undue attention from the mockers and scoffers. Luckily, Google cache allows us to see the discussion members’ profound concern over the human tragedy currently unfolding in Lebanon and Israel. Here are the choicest entries; emoticons from the originals not included:

July 11th, 2006, 10:13 PM
Is it time to get excited? I can’t help the way I feel. For the first time in my Christian walk, I have no doubts that the day of the Lords appearing is upon us. I have never felt this way before, I have a joy that bubbles up every-time I think of him, for I know this is truly the time I have waited for so long. Am I alone in feeling guilty about the human suffering like my joy at his appearing some how fuels the evil I see everywhere. If it were not for the souls that hang in the balance and the horror that stalks man daily on this earth, my joy would be complete. For those of us who await his arrival know, somehow we just know it won’t be long now, the Bridegroom cometh rather man is ready are not.

July 11th, 2006, 10:26 PM
it has been quite a day today, if you caught all the news; I’m getting the feeling world tension is gonna be high for a long time with increased terrorism and nations being defiant. I don’t think it will cool down until after the rapture when the peace deal is confirmed.

July 11th, 2006, 10:30 PM
…How can we not be excited, our redeemer cometh. We should pray always for the lost. But he is coming. Amen Amen ever so come lord Jesus.
your brother in Christ,

July 11th, 2006, 11:30 PM
Ready, waiting and excited here! Still telling others whenever possible that the rapture could take place at any time because this world is in such a big MESS and evidently it goes through one ear and right out the other.

July 12th, 2006, 08:15 AM
I am excited beyond words that the struggle of this life may be over soon and I can finally be FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!

Shelle circles her fist over her head and imitates Arsenio Hall by yelling WHOO-WHOO-WHOOOOOO!!!!!!!!

July 12th, 2006, 09:15 AM
I too am soooo excited!! I get goose bumps, literally, when I watch what’s going on in the M.E.!! And Watcherboy, you were so right when saying it was quite a day yesterday, in the world news, and I add in local news here in the Boston area!! Tunnel ceiling collapsed on a car and killed a woman of faith, and we had the most terrifying storms I have ever seen here!! But, yes, Ohappyday, like in your screen name , it is most indeed a time to be happy and excited, right there with ya!!

July 12th, 2006, 12:46 PM
…Our bridegroom and kinsmen redeemer, what a beautiful thought!! To finally see His face!!!

Sound the shofar! Let the Enemy know the alert has been sounded and Yeshua is stepping onto the battlefield.

I am a Jewish princess, my Father is the King of Kings!

July 12th, 2006, 05:16 PM
…If He tarries, I will just have time to get my hair and nails done (you know let all I come into contact with know of my Bridegroom and what He has/will do). So i am all spiffied up for Him when He does arrive to take me home. No disappointment, just a few last minute details to take care of to be more pleasing to look at.

July 12th, 2006, 06:46 PM
Days like today it’s all I want. Other days because of others I want one more. But what a privilege to be apart of the rapture. I can hardly wait!!

Alas, the “Rapture Ready Index” has not been updated since 10 July.


(Hat tip: Cursor, via Jesus’ General. Pic via Radosh.)

Archbishop Milingo Resurfaces, Hosted by Ally of Rev Moon

John Gorenfeld’s blog on the Unification Church is back in business, with a note on the recent re-surfacing of Roman Catholic Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo of Zambia. Milingo, who has been controversial for years over his emphasis on exorcism, hit the headlines in 2001 after marrying Unificationist Maria Sung in a mass wedding and separating from her soon afterwards. Last month he went missing from his home in Rome, and a few days ago the AP reported that he had appeared in public in Washington. There he made a speech imploring the church to accept married priests:

Milingo, 76, appears now to be back with his wife, although he said Monday, “This is irrelevant.”

…He estimated that 150,000 priests are in that position around the world – about 20,000 in the United States – and said half would be willing to return to active ministry if invited.

…His host in Washington, Archbishop George Augustus Stallings Jr., said, “I excommunicated myself from the church” in 1989 when he married and set up his own church, Imani Temple.

Gorenfeld adds some important context here:

The AP report downplays the exciting identity of Milingo’s partner in connubial rebellion. That would be de-frocked Catholic Archbishop Augustus Stallings, whom Reverend Moon gave a gold watch…in exchange for loyal service, including hosting the coronation of Moon on Capitol Hill in 2004 (see it here, and read the AU report on Stallings here.) American National Catholic Church). Some resources on Stallings have been brought together on a Unificationist website.

One slight clarification is needed: Stallings was never a Roman Catholic Archbishop; he was a Catholic priest, and his subsequent ecclesiastical promotions came through the Independent Old Catholic Church (although one source claims it was the American National Catholic Church).

But why would Stallings be hosting Milingo, when the Zambian has repudiated Rev Moon? Following his separation from Sung and return to the church, Milingo gave an book-length interview to Italian journalist Michele Zanzucchi. A summary appeared in the Tablet in 2002; it includes the following details:

Milingo says some disciples of Sun Myung Moon sought him out with invitations to speak at their conferences. The time he was allotted gradually grew, as did his audiences; soon he was leading mass healings in the packed theatres he had so missed.

…Milingo confesses to “a serious ignorance” about the Moonies; he knew only that they were rich and had mass weddings. He saw the [Family Federation for World Peace and Unification] as an interreligious organisation – his audiences were made up of Buddhists, Muslims, as well as Christians.

…Later he would realise he had “fallen into a trap, and the shock was greater than I had imagined”.

…In order to be appointed an official preacher to the Catholics in the organisation, he was told, he would have to be married in the Moonie rite to a wife selected by Moon himself. “I agreed because, in my stupidity, I thought that this way I could do good.” He was not drugged or hypnotised, he says.

…Meanwhile, the Moonies had plans: to found a well-financed parallel Catholic Church in Africa, autonomous from Rome, with its own hierarchy headed by Milingo. “I would not have gone along with the plan,” says Milingo, who was becoming more and more depressed. “One day, one of the last I spent with Maria Sung, the situation I found myself in seemed so absurd that I raised to God a desperate prayer, whose last words were something like, ‘Let me die, Lord, let me die.'”

A Guardian report adds that Milingo claims to have had a document outlining the details of the proposed African church, but that it “mysteriously disappeared from his suitcase on his return to Italy”.

The Tablet report includes the unfortunate claim that

…The final part of the Milingo drama came in early October 2001.

Not quite. Just the intermission, it seems.

UPDATE: Much more from Milingo, in an interview in the National Catholic Reporter.

Putin Views Cthulhu “with Suspicion”

Several days after addressing the World Summit of Religious Leaders (see here), Vladimir Putin has a bit of advice for those who would raise Cthulhu from the eldritch depths of R’lyeh:

After wrapping up an online conference last Thursday, Putin took a few minutes to answer several of the most-popular questions sent in by Russian Internet users, Kommersant reported Friday.

…Asked about the possible awakening of the giant mythical octopus Cthulhu, the fourth-most popular question among the more than 150,000 sent to Putin, he said that he believed something more serious was behind the question. Cthulhu was invented by novelist H.P. Lovecraft and was said to be sleeping beneath the Pacific Ocean.

Putin said he viewed mysterious forces with suspicion and advised those who took them seriously to read the Bible, Koran or other religious books.

(Hat tip: Bulldada Newsblog)

Every Nation and Student Politics in Auckland

A reader brings to my attention an article from Craccum, the student magazine of the University of Auckland. The piece is a year old, but it concerns a subject which this blog has been following for some time: the activities of Every Nation (formerly Morning Star International), a neo-Pentecostal grouping which has been accused of authoritarian behaviour in a number of contexts that have made the news (see my entries here). Every Nation has various “ministries”, one of which was formerly known as Victory Campus Ministries. VCM, now going by the name of Every Nation Campus Ministries, is the subject of some suspicion, due to the fact that Every Nation’s leadership includes individuals previously associated with Maranatha, a student ministry that became notorious in the 1980s for alleged abusive practices. Craccum co-editor Alec Hutchinson explains the New Zealand link:

In 1989, a VCM (then Maranatha) mission began at Auckland University under the tutelage of an American pastor named Bob Muni. A number of American missionaries were flown in to help with the efforts to convert, gain numbers and spread the love of Jesus into student government.

Craccum goes on to cite artices from Maranatha’s old newsletter, the Forerunner, which is now online; one of these pieces can be seen here. The Forerunner, written in the USA, creates a picture of Christian activists battling homosexuals for positions of authority:

…Last year there were no Christians in student government. In fact, 12 of the 13 positions were held by homosexual activists. The exciting turnaround included the election of another Christian, Moses F., and a corresponding decrease in the positions held by militant homosexuals.

Someone who was there at the time has told me that this account is highly inaccurate and sensationalised. However, the 1989 campaign is of interest to Craccum for reasons to do with contemporary student politics. Hutchinson explains:

A few weeks before the AUSA [Auckland University Student Association] elections in 2000, they began arriving. A trickle at first, then a flood: 50 VCM missionaries flown in from the US. They were here to support a candidate named Sherid Thackwray in her bid to become AUSA president. Their official name for this operation: Operation Campus Harvest.

Some strange antics allegedly followed:

The missionaries even brought a religious strongman over with them – 120kg and bearing a startling resemblance to then-WWF superstar Big Show… Accounts taken from news articles at the time suggest that around 70 VCM supporters had gathered in the park to dance, sing and swoon for Sherid’s campaign. Paul Schischka, AUSA’s Environmental Affairs Officer in 1999, took part in this rally under the guise of a VCM supporter. He stood up on stage and professed his love for Jesus; as a result he received a free “Vote Sherid” screen-printed T-shirt. Once he had donned the shirt, however, he broke into drunken blasphemy and leapt clear of the crowd. Immediately, VCM demanded their shirt back. A chase ensued, with a large proportion of the VCM supports tailing Schischka out of the park, across the Quad and up into the Craccum Offices. Schischka barricaded himself behind the Craccum door while VCM’s strongman tried to channel the strength of Jesus and knock it down. From inside the offices, security was called, and the Christians were asked to leave.

This is of contemporary relevance in 2005 because

One of [VCM’s] members is running for the position of AUSA student president in the upcoming elections.

The name of the candidate, however, is not given.

Russian Orthodox Church Explains Dalai Lama’s Lack of Invite to Summit

Back once again to Interfax, for yet more word on why the Dalai Lama was not invited to the recent World Summit of Religious Leaders, which took place in Moscow. On Friday I noted Metropolitan Kirill’s dubious explanation that

…the Dalai Lama was not invited so as not to jeopardise Tibetan Buddhists’ fragile negotiations with the Chinese government.

The decision was praised by Chinese State Administration for Religious Affairs Director Ye Xiaowen, who denounced the Dalai Lama for “dissident activities”; and by happy coincidence, Ye was also pleased to announce that the Russian Orthodox Church would soon be allowed to build a chapel in Beijing.

Now Kirill’s deputy Vsevolod Chaplin gives some further explanation:

According to Rev. Vsevolod, Dalai Lama was not invited to the World Religious Summit because the organizers could have found themselves in ‘a strange situation… as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would not grant him a visa.’

‘As granting of his visa was not guaranteed, we did not send him an official invitation. However, we would have been happy to welcome him,’ the priest underscored.

Apparently this unfortunate hitch could not be overcome, despite the participation in the Summit of both Vladimir Putin and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov.

The Dalai Lama last visited Russia two years ago, when he travelled unofficially to the Buddhist area of Kalmykia, to the great annoyance of China. Journalist Andrei Smirnov noted at the time that:

The Russian government allowed him to come despite the fact that his visit broke an informal Russian-Chinese agreement, namely: “We will support you on the issues of Tibet and Xinjiang (a northwestern Chinese province inhabited by Muslim minorities with strong separatist feelings) and you will support us on Chechnya.” Zhan Tsiyue, speaking on behalf of China’s Ministry of the Foreign Affairs, reminded Moscow of this agreement: “Beijing hopes that Russia will meet the commitments to the distinct position on the Tibet issue as they are defined in bilateral political documents” (strana.ru, November 30).

Smirnov suggests that Russia broke the agreement for the benefit of Kalmykia’s authoritarian governor Kirsan Ilumzhinov, who was able to use the visit to increase his own popularity.

But that was in 2004; 2006 has been officially designated as  “The Year of Russia in China“, and the two countries made a massive energy deal in March.

Meanwhile, Christopher Hitchens makes an interesting observation about Putin’s use of faith to bolster his international prestige:

Out of a thesaurus of possible nominations, one would have to select George Bush’s remarks about Vladimir Putin as the stupidest utterance of his entire presidency. Impressed beyond words by the fact that Putin was wearing a crucifix that had belonged to his mother and was thus a man of faith, our chief executive then burbled like a schoolgirl and said that he had looked into the man’s eyes and knew he was the one to trust. (I have not checked, but surely someone can discover how many times Putin has worn that crucifix since. It could be a sort of emblem of the fatuity of the “faith-based.”)

7/7 One Year On


The Uses of Interfaith Dialogue

Staying with the World Summit of Religious Leaders, let’s go back to that report from the Ecumenical News Service we looked at yesterday:

In an interview with Rossiya, Russia’s main state television channel, Metropolitan Kirill, the chairperson of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, said the Dalai Lama was not invited so as not to jeopardise Tibetan Buddhists’ fragile negotiations with the Chinese government.

Very thoughtful of you, Kirill. I’m sure the Tibetans are very grateful. I’ve already noted how the Chinese authorities reacted to this decision:

The Chinese leadership was satisfied to learn that the Dalai Lama was denied entry to Russia to take part in the religious summit, [Chinese State Administration for Religious Affairs Director] Ye [Xiaowen] said. “The Dalai Lama is not only a religious figure but also a politician, who is engaged in dissident activities against his country,” he said.

And now, Asia News reports:

The Russian Orthodox Church is about to get permission to build a chapel in Beijing. This was revealed by Ye Xiaowen, head of China’s state administration for religious affairs when he was talking to Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow.

At the global inter-religious summit just held in the Russian capital, Ye Xiaowen assured the Orthodox Patriarch that the matter of a church in Beijing “was about to be resolved”.

Meanwhile, Interfax provides further reflections on the summit’s significance:

Among important consequences of the World Summit of Religious Leaders one could note a noticeable thaw in relations between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, strengthening of relations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Muslim leaders from Iran and other Arab [sic] countries…The World Summit of Religious Leaders will undoubtedly enhance Russia’s authority on the international arena and serve a beautiful prelude to the G8 meeting in St. Petersburg.


And while we’re on the subject of interfaith unity, Doug Ireland cites a report from the Jerusalem Post:

Even as the ties between Palestinian and Israeli politicians strained against the current crises in Gaza, religious officials from the Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities united Tuesday to oppose a gay pride parade in Jerusalem…Several right-wing religious MKs brought the coalition to the Knesset, asserting that “never before has the Holy Land seen such a union of religious leaders.”

In fact, it’s just a re-run of what happened last year, and which I blogged on then.

UPDATE: More on the Dalai Lama’s exclusion from the summit today.