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April 17th, 2014
03:23 PM ET

'Chilling' anti-Semitic leaflets target Ukrainian Jews

(CNN) – "Chilling" leaflets warning Jews to register and document their property with the pro-Russian government that has claimed power in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk are "the real deal," the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine said Thursday.

Geoffrey Pyatt told CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper" that a respected Jewish leader in Ukraine showed him a photograph of one of the leaflets.

It was not clear who was behind the flier, which warned Jews that they face deportation or loss of citizenship if they fail to register.

"All citizens of Jewish nationality over age of 16, living on territories of Donetsk People's Republic, have to register with DPR commissioner of nationality before May 3rd, 2014 at the Donetsk Regional Administration, room 514, registration fee is $50," the leaflet reads, according to a CNN translation of the document.

"Must have in person $50 cash, passport, all available IDs, and documentation of ownership of real estate and transportation."

A statement from the Jewish community in Donetsk said the fliers bore the signature of "People's Governor" Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-declared "People's Republic of Donetsk."

But Pushilin denied any connection to the leaflets, calling the incident a "clear provocation."

Pushilin told CNN the handwriting on the flier wasn't his, and the title attached to his name was not one he uses. And the Jewish community in Donetsk said the act "smells like a provocation."

The reports come as Ukraine's Western-backed interim government has been struggling to contain uprisings by pro-Russian political movements in several eastern cities.

FULL STORY
- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Discrimination • Foreign policy • Judaism

Heathenism's battle with white supremacists
Odin or Wotan, the chief god in Norse mythology. White supremacists have appropriate some Heathen images and gods.
April 16th, 2014
02:54 PM ET

Heathenism's battle with white supremacists

Opinion by Joshua Rood, special to CNN

(CNN) – The word “heathen” is a very old one that once meant “heath dweller” or a person who lives out in the wild.

Eventually, when Christianity came into Northern Europe, it came to mean “one who still worships the old gods.” It still means that in some parts of the world, like Iceland, where it also goes by the name Ásatrú (“belief in the Aesir”).

Aesir is just a very old word for the traditional gods of Scandinavia. You’ve probably heard of some of these gods: Odin, Thor, Freyr and Freyja.

What you might not know is that many traditions, stories and celebrations have never gone away.

These can be as simple as the Scandinavian belief in vaettir (nature spirits) or as complex as the poems and songs about the Aesi that were written and are still sung and performed in Iceland.

Most of the stories were preserved in Icelandic poems and sagas, written in the 13th and 14th centuries. Others have been preserved in regional folk stories and folk customs.

Today, Ásatrú, which can go by many names, is the largest non-Christian religion in Iceland and is officially recognized in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Thanks to multiculturalism, it exists in many countries around the world, including the United States, Canada and most European countries.

There are many organizations, private groups and individuals who adhere to Ásatrú. Although terminology, festivals and customs can vary depending on local lore and tradition, at its heart, Ásatrú is a celebration of the gods, stories and customs that have been passed down from Northern Europe into the modern world.

Unfortunately, there are people in this world who try to use these beautiful stories and traditions for selfish and hateful reasons.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Discrimination • Faith Now • Heathenism • Neo-Nazi • Neopaganism • Opinion • Paganism • Prejudice • Religious violence

April 14th, 2014
06:06 PM ET

The accused Kansas killer's neo-pagan religion

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) – Frazier Glenn Cross is a white supremacist, an avowed anti-Semite and an accused killer. But he is not, as many think, a Christian.

Cross, who also goes by the name Glenn Miller, is accused of killing three people – all Christians - on Sunday at Jewish institutions in Overland Park, Kansas.

Authorities are weighing whether to file hate-crime charges against Cross, who is suspected of targeting Jews.

The 73-year-old has espoused anti-Semitism for decades. He also founded racist groups like a branch of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Patriot Party, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Both groups have deep ties to Christian white supremacists.

But according to Cross' 1999 biography, he is an adherent of Odinism, a neo-pagan religion that experts say has emerged as one the most vicious strains in the white supremacist movement.

"The faith’s obsession with genetic purity, racial supremacy and conquering supposedly lesser peoples is a recipe for violence," said Josh Glasstetter, campaign director for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Crime • Discrimination • Neo-Nazi • Neopaganism • Prejudice • Religious violence • Violence

Rwanda 20 years later
April 13th, 2014
07:25 AM ET

Forgiving the unforgivable in Rwanda

By Tim Townsend, special to CNN

(CNN) – When the killing began in earnest, Steven Gahigi fled his home in the Bugesera district of Rwanda to neighboring Burundi.

By the time he returned the next year, 52 members of his family were dead. Most of them, including his sister, were slaughtered in the first week of the 20th century’s final genocide.

This week, Rwanda began commemorating the 20 years that have passed since the mass murder of Tutsis and moderate Hutus, which continued for 100 days and left at least 800,000 dead.

Gathering in a packed soccer stadium in Kigali, Rwandans re-enacted the horrific events of 1994. President Paul Kagame said his country had “a reason to celebrate the normal moments of life, that are easy for others to take for granted."

When Gahigi returned to Rwanda after the genocide, he had nothing: no family, no home. Eventually, he moved past his anger and entered a Christian seminary.

In 1999, he began visiting Rilima Prison in Bugesera, the new home to thousands of the génocidaires, the men who wielded the machetes. In Rilima he met the band of 15 who killed his sister.

At first, the prisoners thought he had been sent by the government – a spy in a clerical collar – to investigate their crimes. Even when they were satisfied that Gahigi wasn’t a spy, they were skeptical of his motives. Why would this man come to their prison to preach when he knew what they had done?

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Africa • Christianity • Crime • Death • Discrimination • Pastors • Prejudice • Rwanda • Violence

How evangelicals won a war and lost a generation
Are church teachings on homosexuality driving millennials away from faith?
March 31st, 2014
02:18 PM ET

How evangelicals won a war and lost a generation

Opinion by Rachel Held Evans, special to CNN

(CNN) - On March 24, World Vision announced that the U.S. branch of the popular humanitarian organization would no longer discriminate against employees in same-sex marriages.

It was a decision that surprised many but one that made sense, given the organization’s ecumenical nature.

But on March 26, World Vision President Richard Stearns reversed the decision, stating, “our board acknowledged that the policy change we made was a mistake.”

Supporters helped the aid group “see that with more clarity,” Stearns added, “and we’re asking you to forgive us for that mistake.”

So what happened within those 48 hours to cause such a sudden reversal?

The Evangelical Machine kicked into gear.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Culture wars • Discrimination • Ethics • evangelicals • Faith Now • Gay marriage • Gay rights • Homosexuality • Opinion • Same-sex marriage

Pastor Fred Phelps
March 20th, 2014
07:12 PM ET

Should we celebrate Fred Phelps' death?

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

(CNN) - He was a preacher best known for his virulent anti-gay rhetoric, the force behind placards that read “God Hates Fags.” He taught that natural disasters and man-made horrors like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting were God’s punishment for acceptance of homosexuality.

He believed gays and lesbians should be put to death.

On Thursday, the world learned that Fred Phelps, founding pastor of the small but infamous Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, was dead.

The news unleashed a firestorm of online chatter. In less than an hour after CNN posted an article announcing his death, more than 3,000 readers had weighed in with comments. By the end of the business day, that number exceeded 11,000.

FULL POST

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Christianity • Discrimination • Gay rights • Homosexuality • Westboro Bapitst Church

Pope Francis: Church could support civil unions
Pope Francis speaks at St Peter's square on December 11, 2013.
March 5th, 2014
10:04 AM ET

Pope Francis: Church could support civil unions

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) - Pope Francis reaffirmed the Catholic Church's opposition to gay marriage on Wednesday, but suggested in a newspaper interview that it could support some types of civil unions.

The Pope reiterated the church's longstanding teaching that "marriage is between a man and a woman." However, he said, "We have to look at different cases and evaluate them in their variety."

States, for instance, justify civil unions as a way to provide economic security to cohabitating couples, the Pope said in a wide-ranging interview published Wednesday in Corriere della Seraan Italian daily. State-sanctioned unions are thus driven by the need to ensure rights like access to health care, Francis added.

A number of Catholic bishops have supported civil unions for same-sex couples as an alternative to marriage, including Pope Francis when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2010, according to reports in National Catholic Reporter and The New York Times.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Culture wars • Discrimination • Gay marriage • Gay rights • Pope Benedict XVI • Pope Francis • Vatican

February 24th, 2014
08:20 AM ET

Obama: religious freedom 'under threat'
President Barack Obama bows his head during a prayer at the National Peace Officers Memorial Service.
February 6th, 2014
10:56 AM ET

Obama: religious freedom 'under threat'

Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama says that "around the world, freedom of religion is under threat."

And at the annual National Prayer Breakfast Thursday, the President also said he's looking forward to meeting Pope Francis.

"I'm especially looking forward to returning to the Vatican next month to meet his holiness, Pope Francis, whose message about caring for the least of these I hope all of us heed. Like (the Apostle) Matthew he has answered the call of Jesus, who said 'follow me' and he inspires us with his words and deeds, his humility and his mercy and his missionary impulses to serve the cause of social justice," Obama said.

The President touted the Pope's stance on inequality as he and congressional Democrats highlight the issue of income inequality. Obama met Francis' predecessor, Benedict XVI, in 2009. That meeting, which took place at the Vatican, was Obama's only meeting with a Pope.

Much of Obama's remarks focused on threats to religious freedom abroad, from China to Egypt to Sudan and Burma.

FULL STORY
- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Discrimination • Faith • Foreign policy • Obama • Religious liberty • Religious violence • Tibet

Why atheists should quit the 'War on Christmas’
The group American Atheists has placed this billboard in New York City's Times Square.
December 21st, 2013
10:22 AM ET

Why atheists should quit the 'War on Christmas’

Opinion by Chris Stedman, special to CNN

(CNN) - The “War on Christmas:”  what — or who—is it good for?

In recent years, one organization, American Atheists, has claimed the mantle of prime atheist promoter of the tired “War on Christmas” narrative.

This year, they ushered in the season with an electronic billboard in New York City’s Times Square carrying the message: “Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody.” The word "Christ" is crossed out, just in case their message wasn't clear enough.

The American Atheists maintain that their latest entry in the annual “War on Christmas” saga is a message to other atheists that they are not alone.

In a recent Fox News appearance, American Atheists President Dave Silverman said, “The point that we’re trying to make is that there’s a whole bunch of people out there for whom religion is the worst part of Christmas, but they go to church anyways, and we’re here to tell them they don’t have to.”

While that intention is important and admirable, very few people—atheist or theist—seem to interpret the message as welcoming to anyone. Many of the responses I’ve seen have been vitriolic and disturbingly anti-atheist.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Christianity • Christmas • Church and state • Culture wars • Discrimination • Faith Now • God • Health • Holidays • Opinion

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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.

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