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June 6th, 2014
08:28 AM ET

Does Islam really condemn converts to death?

Opinion by Abed Awad, special to CNN

(CNN) – Last month, a Sudanese court imposed a death sentence on Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, a 27-year-old pregnant mother, because she refused to renounce her Christian faith.

Ibrahim says she was raised Christian by her mother after her Muslim father abandoned them when she was 6 years old.

But this week, a man claiming to be Ibrahim’s brother said that she was raised a Muslim and that if she does not return to the faith, she should be killed.

Both the Sudanese court and the man who claims to be Ibrahim’s brother say the Islamic faith is clear: Apostasy, renouncing the religion, is a capital crime.

But is it really?

The idea of apostasy as a crime within Islam begins with the Quran and the Sunna, the faith’s foundational texts.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Africa • Belief • Death • Foreign policy • Islam • Islamic law • Muslim • Opinion • Religious liberty • Religious violence • Sharia

June 2nd, 2014
11:25 AM ET

China's latest crackdown target: religion

Opinion by William McKenzie, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Early on the morning of November 28, 2007, Jia Weihan was forced to think the unthinkable: Was her father really a bad man?

At the time, she was an 11-year-old attending a school in Beijing that taught her to respect the communist authorities. When 30 or so police officers arrived to arrest her father, she did not know what to think.

As it turned out, her father, Shi Weihan, the pastor of a house church, was simply trying to live out his religious beliefs. That should be a fundamental right, but in China - even the more economically liberalized China – it’s not.

Twenty-five years after Tiananmen Square - where on June 4, 1989, Chinese soldiers turned their guns on protesting students and activists - freedom remains elusive.

In China, Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims face worse conditions than at any time over the past decade, according to a report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The report warns that independent Protestants and Catholics face arrests, fines and the closing of their churches. The government recently bulldozed one large church in the city of Wenzhou.

The report also highlights other restrictions, including these problems:

"Practitioners of Falun Gong, as well as other Buddhist, folk religionist, and Protestant groups deemed 'superstitious' or 'evil cults' face long jail terms, forced denunciations of faith and torture in detention, and the government has not sufficiently answered accusations of psychiatric experimentation and organ harvesting."

In Shi's case, he had decided not to tell Jia and her 7-year-old sister, Enmei, that he was printing Bibles and Christian literature. That was against Chinese law, so he did not want to put his children in jeopardy by letting them in on the secret.

Their children soon came to understand the secret, in a life-altering way.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog Editor

Filed under: Asia • Belief • China • Christianity • Church and state • Discrimination • Foreign policy • Opinion • Persecution

May 8th, 2014
03:26 PM ET

A mother's prayer, a son's death and a song that lives on

Watch Laura Sobiech talk about faith, family and life after her son's death with CNN's Bill Weir at 9 p.m. ET on Friday. 

Opinion by Laura Sobiech, special to CNN

(CNN) - The nurse told us the doctor wanted to speak with us immediately.

The phone rang and my husband picked it up. I pressed my ear against the handle, trying to hear as Rob listened.

“… tumor … it’s bad … hard year ahead,” was all I could hear the doctor say.

It was enough to know life had changed forever.

Zach, my 14-year-old son watched intently from where he sat across the room; he knew something was up.

“What do I tell him?” I wondered as I walked to him, my legs going weak as my mind processed the news.

I wanted so badly to protect him, but I couldn’t protect him from his own body. He needed the truth.

I sat in the chair next to him and said, “You have a tumor.”

Zach held my gaze for a moment then turned his head and closed his eyes as he processed the news.

My heart was breaking. In that moment he looked so small and vulnerable - not like the tall, confident teenager who ran down a basketball court with ease, but like the little boy who once cried through stitches the doctor’s office.

That little boy had quieted his crying, pinched his eyes shut and turned away from me when he realized I couldn’t save him.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Content Partner • Death • Faith • Opinion • TV-CNN Tonight

May 6th, 2014
10:50 AM ET

Hey Boko Haram, pick up a Quran and bring back our girls

Opinion by Arsalan Iftikhar, special to CNN 

(CNN) - Hey Boko Haram, have you read the Quran lately?

Most of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world have, and we're utterly certain that it condemns kidnapping young girls and selling them into slavery - no matter what you say "Allah" tells you.

According to Amnesty International, several hundred schoolgirls - both Christian and Muslim - between the ages of 16 and 18 were abducted at gunpoint on April 14 from their rooms at the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria, where they had been sleeping.

The armed extremist group Boko Haram, which roughly translates to “Western Education is Sin,” claimed responsibility for these mass kidnappings and threatened to sell these young girls for as little as $12 into sex slavery or forced “marriages” to members of their group.

"I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah," a man claiming to be Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said in a video first obtained by Agence France-Presse.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Africa • Foreign policy • Human trafficking • Islam • Muslim • Nigeria • Opinion • Quran • Religious violence

May 1st, 2014
09:15 AM ET

Why Christians should support the death penalty

Opinion by R. Albert Mohler Jr., Special to CNN

(CNN) - The death penalty has been part of human society for millennia, understood to be the ultimate punishment for the most serious crimes.

But, should Christians support the death penalty now, especially in light of the controversial execution Tuesday in Oklahoma?

This is not an easy yes or no question.

On the one hand, the Bible clearly calls for capital punishment in the case of intentional murder.

In Genesis 9:6, God told Noah that the penalty for intentional murder should be death: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”

The death penalty was explicitly grounded in the fact that God made every individual human being in his own image, and thus an act of intentional murder is an assault upon human dignity and the very image of God.

In the simplest form, the Bible condemns murder and calls for the death of the murderer. The one who intentionally takes life by murder forfeits the right to his own life.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Christianity • Courts • Crime • Death • Discrimination • Ethics • Opinion • Violence

April 29th, 2014
12:35 PM ET

New clues cast doubt on 'Gospel of Jesus' Wife'

Opinion by Joel S. Baden and Candida R. Moss, special to CNN

(CNN) - It seemed real; it seemed fake; it seemed real again; now we’re back to fake.

"It” is the controversial little scrap of papyrus, written in Coptic, that seems to have Jesus referring to “my wife,” in contrast to the traditional stance that affirms Jesus’ perpetual bachelorhood.

The quick backstory: In 2012, a Harvard professor, Karen King, brought this papyrus to the attention of scholars and the public.

Both the material and the script looked authentically ancient at first glance, and though the notion of Jesus having a wife was remarkable, these “lost” Christian writings, such as the Gnostic Gospels, are full of unorthodoxies.

It was good enough for King, who is widely respected in the scholarly world.

From the beginning, there were doubts, however, beyond the unlikelihood that the tiny scrap that survived the centuries would happen to be the one that contained the reference to Jesus’ wife.

The papyrus, along with a few other ancient papyri of lesser novelty, had been passed to King by an anonymous figure.

Anonymity, in the world of antiquities, is often a bad sign, compounding the inherent uncertainty when dealing with texts that are bought and sold rather than discovered in a firm archaeological setting.

Then there were aspects of the text itself that seemed suspicious.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: archaeology • Bible • Christianity • Opinion

April 27th, 2014
07:46 AM ET

Punch thy neighbor? 'Fight church' doesn't turn the other cheek

Opinion by Paul Burress, Special to CNN

(CNN)– As I sat backstage, I could hear the sound of thousands cheering as they waited for me to enter the ring.

“Lord put your covering over me,” I prayed in a whisper. “Use me as a witness. Use me to be a billboard for you."

I’m a pastor by trade, and the next morning I was set to preach the Easter sermon.

But on that night, I was preparing for something else entirely. This wasn’t the normal, churchgoing crowd.

I was about to enter the cage and compete in a mixed martial arts bout.

When I tell people I’m a pastor and a mixed martial arts fighter, I usually get some puzzled looks.

“How can you preach the Word of God participate in such brutal activity?” people ask. “Didn’t Jesus teach us to love one another?”

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church • Faith • Movies • Opinion • Sports • Violence

April 25th, 2014
07:57 AM ET

Three popes, one brilliant move

Opinion by John Carr, special to CNN

(CNN) - This Sunday, Pope Francis will canonize “Good” Pope John and Pope John Paul “the Great.”

These popular references to Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II recall the ancient practice of choosing saints by public acclaim.

Sunday's ceremony, on the other hand, is the result of a more elaborate process and a brilliant decision by their successor, Pope Francis.

Though they will be canonized together, in some ways these two popes were very different people.

Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was one of 14 children from an Italian peasant family who became a historian, diplomat, bishop and then Pope John XXIII.

Long before Pope Francis' off-script, populist touches led some to dub him the "people's pope," John broke precedent by escaping the Vatican to visit hospitals and prisons.

He left as a legacy his encyclical “Pacem in Terris,” which was addressed for the first time not just to Catholics, but to all those of “good will.” It reshaped Catholic teaching on human rights and made an impassioned call for peace amid the Cold War.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Italy • Leaders • Opinion • Poland • Pope Francis • Pope John Paul II • Vatican

Hollywood's religious revival
April 21st, 2014
11:00 AM ET

What Hollywood gets wrong about heaven

Opinion by Drew Dyck, special to CNN 

(CNN) - The 4-year-old boy sees angels floating toward him. They start out as stars, then slowly become more visible, wings flapping behind orbs of white light.

As they approach, they sing a melodious song. The boy cocks his head, squints into the sky, and makes a strange request. “Can you sing ‘We Will Rock You’?”

The angels giggle.

So do people in the theater.

The scene is from “Heaven is for Real,” the latest in a string of religious movies soaring at the box office. Based on the best-selling book of the same name, the film tells the real-life story of Colton Burpo, a 4-year-old boy who awakens from surgery with eye-popping tales of the great beyond. The film took in an estimated $21.5 million in opening on Easter weekend.

Even Colton’s religious parents (his dad, Todd, is a pastor) struggle to accept the celestial encounters their son describes: seeing Jesus and his rainbow-colored horse, meeting his sister who died in utero, and talking to his deceased great-grandfather, “Pop,” who, Colton exclaims, has “huge wings.”

The book and film are part of a larger trend. Depictions of journeys to heaven have never been more numerous or more popular. There’s “90 Minutes in Heaven,” “To Heaven and Back,” “Proof of Heaven,” and “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven,” just to name a few.

Does God have a prayer in Hollywood?

So what should we make of such accounts? And what does their popularity say about us?

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Art • Belief • Bible • Christianity • Heaven • Media • Movies • Opinion

Holy Week around the world
April 17th, 2014
08:00 AM ET

Did Christians really 'steal' Easter?

Opinion by Candida Moss, special to CNN

(CNN) - It’s that time of year again: the time when chocolate comes in pastels, cherry blossoms start to bloom and well-marketed religion exposés are released to the world.

In other words, it’s Easter.

Among the rash of sensationalist stories we can expect through the season, the annual “Easter was stolen from the pagans” refrain has sprouted again just in time for Holy Week.

Don’t believe the hype.

Perhaps most misinformed theory that rolls around the Internet this time of year is that Easter was originally a celebration of the ancient Near Eastern fertility goddess Ishtar.

This idea is grounded in the shared concept of new life and similar-sounding words Easter/Ishtar. There’s no linguistic connection, however. Ishtar is Akkadian and Easter is likely to be Anglo-Saxon.

Just because words in different languages sound the same doesn’t mean they are related. In Swedish, the word “kiss” means urine.

But the biggest issue for Christians is the claim that Jesus’ resurrection - the faith’s central tenet - might have pagan roots.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church • Easter • Easter • Holidays • Jesus • Opinion • Paganism • Traditions

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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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.

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