Global Spotlight: The Nihang Sikhs

Members of the Nihang, a military order in the Sikh religion also known as the Akali (The Eternal) and the Akal Sena (The Army of the Eternal). Renowned for their strict discipline, courage, and martial skill, the Nihang are named after a Persian mythical sea creature to which their fighting prowess was compared (historians of the Mughal Empire likened their ferocity to that of crocodiles).

The Nihang are accorded considerable respect and affection among Sikhs worldwide, for although their role is primarily ceremonial, they are bound to defend their community in times of war. During the festival of Hola Mohalla (which usually occurs in March), thousands of Nihang gather at Anandpur, a holy city of the Sikhs, where they display their famous martial skills (known collectively as gatka).

As you may have noticed, the Nihang are best recognized by their large and often elaborate turbans. They are often reinforced with steel and fitted with various weapons, including a trident (for stabbing in close-quarters), bagh naka (claw-like weapons) and one or more chakram (steel throwing weapons).

I love the character, color, and personality in these photos (the first of which was taken by Mark Hartman but the others whose . Many thanks to my friend and colleague Richard for first sharing the first photo with me, and thus piquing my interest to learn more about this fascinating group and faith.

Ten Places You Wouldn’t Believe Are in Russia

This looks like something you would see in Tibet or China, right?

Well, this is the Ivolginsky Datsan, located in Buryatia, Russia. A datsan is a Buddhist university in the Tibetan tradition that is typically divided into a philosophical and medical department. This particular one was opened in 1945 and remained the only Buddhist spiritual center in the USSR. It hosts unique samples of old ethnic Buryat art, a collection of old Buddhist manuscripts written in Tibetan language on natural silk, and a greenhouse with a sacred Bodhi tree.

Buddhism has had a presence in Russia since the 17th century, and is now considered one of the nation’s traditional religions, with legal recognition as a part of its historical heritage. Aside from Buryatia, Budhissm has is a major faith in the regions of Kalmykia and Tuva, and is now widespread throughout Russia, with many ethnic Russian converts. As of 2012, anywhere from 700,000 to 1 million people profess Buddhism. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, there has been a Buddhist revivalist movement and many schools and temples opening across the nation.

See more unlikely sites in Russia here.

Xmas vs. Christmas

There is a common misconception that the word Xmas is an attempt to secularize the Christmas tradition by removing the word “Christ”. On the contrary, the word was used by religious people as far back as the 16th century, mostly as a convenient abbreviation.

The “X” comes from the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of the Greek word “Χριστός”, which in English translates into “Christ”. (Meanwhile, the “-mas” part is from the Latin-derived Old English word for Mass).

Granted, some Christians regardless dislike the use of “xmas” in place of Christmas, while by the same token many irreligious people prefer the former as a more secular version of the latter.

Six Maps About Religion in America

The Catholic church (blue) and Southern Baptists (red) dominate the map below, which marks the religion with the largest number of adherents in every American county. Blanketed red, the Bible Belt is alive and well. Members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in orange can lay claim to a smattering of Midwestern and Western counties, while Mormonism (gray) is, unsurprisingly, the largest religion in every Utah county and in chunks of Utah’s neighboring states.

 

Islam is the largest non-Christian religion in the nation, claiming 20 states scattered mostly throughout the Midwest and South. In the West, Buddhism is the largest non-Christian religion in 13 states. Judaism is the largest non-Christian religion in 15 states, mostly in the Northeast. Hinduism reigns in two—Delaware and Arizona. And the Baha’i claim South Carolina.

 

Brown and orange signify high diversity, while blue and blue-green signify those with very low religious diversity. Counties in many Western states and some New England states have high diversity, while there are pockets of low diversity throughout the middle of the country, Utah and the South.

The counties with the highest rate of religious participation, with red being the most and white the lowest. Utah, the Midwest and parts of the South reign supreme. Religious participation was lowest in California’s Alpine County (4.3 percent), Hawaii’s Kalawao County (3.3 percent) and Nevada’s Esmeralda County (3.1 percent). The latter two have incredibly small populations, so are easily distorted by the religious inaction of a few.

 

This table shows those counties with the highest number of congregations—defined as regular religious group meetings—per 10,000 people. The numbers were lowest in New York’s Bronx and Richmond counties, Michigan’s Macomb County and Nevada’s Clark County, where there were only four congregations per 10,000 people.

Source: Washington Post 

The “Divine command” theory of ethics: is it more common than we think?

Originally posted on Why Evolution Is True:

Caveat emptor: I am not a philosopher and proffer these posts, as always, as tentative thoughts, designed to hone my ideas, inspire conversation, and learn from my readers.

It has always seemed to me that Plato’s Euthyphro argument pretty much disposed of the claim that morals are grounded in God.  If you need a refresher, that’s simply the argument that if morals are underlain by God’s commands, then anything that God commands is good by definition. (Plato used “piety” rather than “morality,” but the argument is the same.) But by those lights God could say, “Stoning adulterous women is the moral thing to do” and we’d have to go along with it.  (This is, in fact, the “divine command” theory—DCT used by William Lane Craig to justify the genocide of the Canaanites.)

But of course few of us want to adhere to the notion that whatever God says

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A new exposé of Mother Teresa shows that she—and the Vatican—were even worse than we thought

Eupraxsophy:

Very disturbing, though it confirms what I’ve already read and seen from other sources.

Originally posted on Why Evolution Is True:

First Christopher Hitchens took her down, then we learned that her faith wasn’t as strong as we thought, and now a new study from the Université de Montréal is poised to completely destroy what shreds are left of Mother Teresa’s reputation. She was the winner of the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize, was beatified and is well on her way to becoming a saint, and she’s universally admired. As Wikipedia notes:

[She was] named 18 times in the yearly Gallup’s most admired man and woman poll as one of the ten women around the world that Americans admired most. In 1999, a poll of Americans ranked her first in Gallup’s List of Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century. In that survey, she out-polled all other volunteered answers by a wide margin, and was in first place in all major demographic categories except the very young.

The criticisms of…

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Are secularists slackers when it comes to relief efforts?

Eupraxsophy:

It should also be noted that not everyone who does good deeds — especially if they’re secular — feels the need to advertise their religion or ideology. We all do what we can regardless.

Originally posted on Why Evolution Is True:

You might be aware, from discussions on the internet, about Joe Klein’s slur on secular humanists in his recent Time magazine piece on returning veterans performing public service.  Klein mentioned, after seeing church groups helping out after the Oklahoma tornado disaster, “funny how you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals. . . ”

That kind of canard is bruited about all the time, and a needed palliative for it has just been published in the Atlantic, in a piece by Katherine Stewart called, “A Catholic, a Baptist, and a secular humanist walk into a soup kitchen. . . ”  It’s a good critique of the notion that only the religious help out in disasters—a notion that carries with it the idea that religion but not secular humanism promotes morality.

Stewart points out several facts.  First, people in relief organizations like the Red…

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Poll: America losing its religion

Originally posted on CNN Belief Blog:

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) - More than three in four of Americans say religion is losing its influence in the United States, according to a new survey, the highest such percentage in more than 40 years. A nearly identical percentage says that trend bodes ill for the country.

“It may be happening, but Americans don’t like it,” Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor in chief, said of religion’s waning influence. “It is clear that a lot of Americans don’t think this is a good state of affairs.”

According to the Gallup survey released Wednesday, 77% of Americans say religion is losing its influence. Since 1957, when the question was first asked, Americans’ perception of religion’s power has never been lower.

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Growth of the Nonreligious: Many Say Trend is Bad for American Society

That’s the conclusion of a recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, and it’s not terribly surprising given the widespread antipathy towards non believers (especially self-declared atheists). Also unsurprising is the fact that White Evangelical Protestants had the least favorable views (78%), followed by Black Protestants (64%). Continue reading

The Pleasures of Pluralism, The Pain of Offence

Eupraxsophy:

Pretty interesting read, especially the debate and feedback in the comment’s section. Thoughts?

Originally posted on Pandaemonium:

jm-offence

I gave two talks this weekend. One was on ‘Turning diversity on its head’ at the sixth anniversary celebration of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB),  the other on’Offence and censorship’ at an Artangel ‘Party for Freedom’.  The two talks overlapped, so here I have stitched them together into a single post. The cartoons are from the wonderful Jesus and Mo.


Almost twenty years ago, in 1994, the Independent newspaper asked me to write an essay on Tom Paine, the eighteenth-century English revolutionary. It was the 200th anniversary of his masterpiece, The Age of Reason, a book of which Paine said that it was a ‘march through Christianity with an axe’. ‘All national institutions of churches’, wrote Paine, ‘whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to be no more than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolise power and profit.’

Few authors have…

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