eNews For The Week Of December 13, 2011
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In This Week’s Issue
- Woman Executed for "Witchcraft" in Saudi Arabia - (Read)
- The History of Christmas: Is It Pagan? - (Read)
- Hunting Down The God Particle - (Read)
Important News Headlines
The wife of a disgraced doctor on Tuesday admitted to performing an illegal late-term abortion at her husband's clinic, a now-shuttered facility that authorities described as a filthy "house of horrors" where newborns were routinely murdered. Pearl Gosnell, 50, of Philadelphia, pleaded guilty to performing an abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy, two counts of conspiracy and participating in a corrupt organization, according to court documents. Authorities said Gosnell's husband, Kermit Gosnell, ran the Women's Medical Society, an abortion clinic in west Philadelphia where babies born alive were killed.
Archaeologists with the Israel Antiquities Authority now say diggers have found coins underneath the massive foundation stones of the
compound's Western Wall that were stamped by a Roman proconsul 20 years after Herod's death. "The find changes the way we see the construction,
and shows it lasted for longer than we originally thought," said the dig's co-director, Eli Shukron. The four bronze coins were stamped around
A.D. 17 by the Roman official Valerius Gratus. The coins were found inside a ritual bath that predated construction of the renovated Temple
Mount complex and which was filled in to support the new walls.
Cuba and Venezuela have become the most strident defenders of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the three countries have formed a strategic partnership to evade U.N. and U.S economic sanctions. Iran is an increasingly important politico-economic player in Latin America. Its influence transcends geography, language, culture and religion. At the heart of this growing Iranian influence is a peculiar trilateral political configuration with Cuba and Venezuela. In the case of Iran, Cuba and Venezuela, the unifying point seems to be virulent hostility toward the United States, liberal democracy and market economies. Increasingly, the Tehran, Havana, Caracas bloc speaks with a unified anti-American voice in a concerted effort to undermine U.S. influence by any means at its disposal.
— The Miami Herald
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Articles And Commentary
Woman Executed for "Witchcraft" in Saudi Arabia
A woman is accused of sorcery and given a perfunctory trial, but is not permitted legal counsel. After being found guilty, she is summarily executed. The setting of this story is neither 12th century Spain, nor Salem, Massachusetts in the 1700's. The woman in question died this Monday in the al-Jawf province of Saudi Arabia.
According to Phillip Luther, interim director of the Middle East and North Africa for Amnesty International, "The charges of 'witchcraft and sorcery' are not defined as crimes in Saudi Arabia." Yet that did not stop the beheading of Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser, a 60-year-old woman who was executed on Monday after having been condemned on these charges. While sorcery may not be a crime on the books, the BBC writes that, "some of its conservative clerics have urged the strongest possible punishments against fortunetellers and faith healers as a threat to Islam."
Saudi Arabia is a monarchy without a comprehensive criminal code; instead, the country's judges impose a strict form of Sharia law on a case-by-case basis. Interestingly, the Saudi ministry gave no further details of the charges for which the woman was convicted. However, the London-based newspaper al-Hayat quoted a member of the Saudi religious police as saying she had tricked people into giving her money, claiming that she could cure their illnesses. According to the report, she charged up to $800 a session.
Oddly, while "witchcraft and sorcery" are not well defined criminal offenses in Saudi Arabia, fraud is. In November of 2009, a man charged with "swindling and preparing talismans to break spells" was sentenced to 2 years in prison and 500 lashes with a whip. The official charges (which the defendant is appealing) were "trickery and deception to swindle money." It is noteworthy that the prosecutor in the case wanted a stiffer sentence for "practicing magic," but the indictment under those charges failed.
Why the double standard? If Nasser was essentially using people's belief in her "cures" to swindle them, why was she not sentenced in a similar fashion to the Jeddah man, with jail time and lashes? If what she was doing was "practicing sorcery," and therefore punishable by death, why was the Jeddah defendant's prosecutor denied from pursuing a similar charge in the 2009 incident? Gender likely played a significant role.
The Saudi monarchy may be friendly to the United States, but it still uses strict fundamentalist Islam to maintain an iron-hard grip of control over its population. According to Luther, "While we don't know the details of the acts which the authorities accused Amina of committing, the charge of sorcery has often been used in Saudi Arabia to punish people, generally after unfair trials, for exercising their right to freedom of speech or religion." Many of those executed under such charges have no defense lawyer and are not informed about the legal proceedings against them.
The people being accused may not, in fact, be committing sorcery or witchcraft; as noted, faith healers can be included in the category of the condemned as well. Foreigners should not expect to find immunity to the rough sentencing of Saudi Arabian courts. Earlier this month, an Australian man was sentenced to 500 lashes and a year in prison for blasphemy while on a pilgrimage to Medina. In 2006, an Eritrean man was imprisoned and given hundreds of lashes for "charlatanry" because he couldn't convince the court that his leather-bound personal phone booklet written in the Tigrinya alphabet was not a "talisman."
Freedom is not highly regarded in the oil-rich kingdom, and its leaders have been accused of conducting a campaign of repression against protesters and reformists since the Arab Spring erupted a year ago. Saudi Arabia was one of a minority of states that voted against a UN General Assembly resolution last December calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions. In April of this year, the US State Department published a report that the Saudi government executed 67 persons in 2009 and 102 persons in 2008. So far this year, the number is 73, and there is no decades-long appeal system for the condemned to go through.
Saudi Arabia may be diplomatic and savvy enough to befriend the West, but that does not mean it has a particularly high regard for justice and basic human rights. Visitors to the kingdom are warned to be careful what sorts of religious remarks they make in public and to make sure the writing in their leather-bound personal phone books is easy to read.
The History of Christmas: Is It Pagan?
-A Christian feast commemorating the birth of Jesus.
-An annual church festival (December 25) and in some States a legal holiday, in memory of the birth of Christ, often celebrated by a particular church service, and also by special gifts, greetings, and hospitality. [www.Dictionary.com]
The celebration of Christmas has caused some controversy in recent years, for a variety of reasons. Many have been concerned that Christ is too often left out of Christmas; replaced by trimmings and presents and fudge. Others have battled over whether we should allow manger scenes on public property or allow the school choir to sing Christmas carols that actually contain a message about Jesus Christ. On the other hand, a growing number of Christians have been arguing that we should not celebrate Christmas at all because there is no command to do so in the Bible and because the celebration has pagan roots.
What stand should we take? How should we approach Christmas in the light of history and in the light of the Bible? This week we'll look at the history of the winter solstice and other pagan celebrations, and continue next week with the Jewish and Christian roots of this favorite of holidays.
The Pagan History:
Many pagan religions throughout the millennia have worshipped the sun as the source of light and warmth and life. As darkness deepened in the winter and the shortest day of the year approached, many pagans of yesteryear feared that the light might die altogether. Once the winter solstice hit, however, and the hours of sunlight began to increase once again, there would be great celebrations over the return of the sun and the accompanying hope for a future spring. In the northern hemisphere, these celebrations would occur toward the end of December.
Tammuz, the son of Nimrod and his queen, Semiramis, was identified with the Babylonian Sun God and worshipped following the sinter solstice, on about December 22-23. Tammuz was thought to have died during the winter solstice, and was memorialized by burning a log in the fireplace. (The Chaldean word for "infant" is yule. This is the origin of the yule log.) His rebirth was celebrated by replacing the log with a trimmed tree the next morning.
The Roman god Saturn's celebration fell on December 17 and lasted for seven days. Romans would gaily decorate their homes in evergreen boughs and candles, and would give gifts to one another. It was a time of visiting with family and friends, and of often-rowdy merry-making.
December 25 was also considered to be the birth date of the Iranian mystery god Mithra, the god of light and contracts. A once-minor god of the Persian pantheon, Roman soldiers adopted Mithra as the manly man's hero, a divinity of fidelity, manliness, and bravery. Women were excluded from the caves where men worshipped Mithra through secret rituals.
Mithra came to be identified with the sun-god Helios and became known as 'The Great God Helios-Mithras.' Several Roman emperors formally announced their alliance with the sun, including Commodus who was initiated in public. Emperor Aurelian (AD 270 to 275) blended a number of pagan solstice celebrations of such god-men/saviors as Apollo, Attis, Baal, Dionysus, Helios, Hercules, Horus, Mithra, Osiris, Perseus, and Theseus into a single festival called the 'Birthday of the Unconquered Sun,' celebrated on December 25th.
There are a few rumored similarities between the legends of Mithra and the story of Christ. Mithra was said to have been born in a cave, with shepherds attending, (although there were no men on earth at the time (?)). Other legends have him being born from a rock by a river under a tree. According to Persian mythology, Mithra was a moral god, upholding the sanctity of the contract even when the contract was made with one who was sure to break it. Initiates into Mithraism would be 'baptized' with the trickle of the sacrificial bull's blood that would flow into a pit. This blood was said to cleanse the initiates from any impurities.
The few actual similarities between the Persian Mithra and Jesus Christ are superficial and are nothing compared to the major differences between the two. The comparisons that are fairly close - that Mithra was born of a virgin, that he was buried and rose again, are based on Roman versions of Mithra that post date Jesus Christ and not the original Persian stories of the god. That a god who was (in the Persian tradition) born from a rock could also somehow be born of a virgin demonstrates the adaption of the story by the Romans after the time of Christ.
Tertullian (AD 160-220), the early Church writer, noticed that the pagan religion utilized baptism as well as bread and wine consecrated by priests. He considered Mithraism to have been inspired by the devil, who wanted to mock Christians and lead others to hell.
While Tammuz and Saturn, Mithra and the Unconquered Sun may have once been celebrated at the end of December, few people even are aware of them anymore. There are no shrines to Tammuz set up in town squares, nor are carols being sung around the neighborhood in honor of Mithra. Whatever celebrations that pagans once had (and still have) at the end of December, Christmas is a decidedly Christian holiday that celebrates the birth of our Savior.
As the Christmas season gets into full steam, let's certainly avoid the temptation to worship pagan gods (wherever those temptations might yet lurk), but let's do focus on rejoicing that God sent His Son to be a man like us. He was laid in a manger as a baby and later had no place to lay his head (Matt 8:20), yet he is the King of Kings (Rev 17:14) and God the Father has given him a name above all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow (Phil 2:8-11). Rather than fearing the pagan history of this time of year, let's take advantage of the current cultural opportunity to worship and bring glory to Christ at a time when people are most open to his being the "reason for the season".
Hunting Down The God Particle
Scientists think they've caught sight of the elusive Higgs boson, a theoretical subatomic particle that makes up the glue that holds the Universe together. The announcement was made at a press conference on Tuesday. After billions of dollars and a decade of sweat from thousands of scientists deep in the ground under the Alps, the great mysteries of physics may finally be answered. Perhaps. The Higgs may exist after all.
The Large Hadron Collider, a massive atom smasher hidden underground in the Alps along the border of France and Switzerland, has a price tag of $10 billion and the job of shooting atoms through its 16.8-mile circular tunnel at insanely high speeds. The CERN scientists running this vast project have been on the hunt for the Higgs boson, which the media have warmly dubbed the "God Particle." The scientists cannot see the Higgs boson itself; it breaks down too quickly to be directly observed, and only its "shadow" can be seen. They do believe, however, that they have narrowed its mass down to the region of 124 to 126 GeV. (Remember, mass = energy according to Einstein's famous E=mc^2.) That's approximately 125 times heavier than a proton and 500,000 times heavier than an electron. The data is not conclusive, but if the Higgs actually exists, then the CERN scientists are on the way to getting a snapshot. The Higgs boson theoretically isn't charged, but it does have a sizeable mass.
This is a big deal to physicists. All known matter is made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons, which are made up of quarks, leptons, and gluons and the like. These are the building blocks of all matter. Physicists want to know what gives these subatomic particles their mass in the first place. Why don't particles just race around at the speed of light? What gives them inertia, and what slows them down? What makes it possible for our atoms to stick together so that we can exist? Is there a particle that unifies all the forces we see in the physics of the Universe?
The Need For The Higgs:
The Standard Model in particle physics attempts to explain how all the fundamental particles of the Universe interact with each other. The model, which is often compared to the Periodic Table of Elements used by chemists, consists of 16 particles that make up all matter in the Universe. The problem is that the Standard Model is not complete.
In 1964, a physicist by the name of Peter Higgs, currently professor emeritus at the University of Edinburgh, proposed that empty space is not really empty at all; it is filled with a background energy field, like a lattice through which all other particles have to move. Wherever a particle moves through this field, the field gets distorted and hugs around the particle. The Higgs boson is that "hug" of the field around a particle - like a crowd of people around a starlet. The particle is given mass, making it harder for it to change direction, speed up or slow down, like the crowd-clustered starlet trying to move across the room. People surround her as she moves, making it harder for her to speed up or slow down. In a similar way, it is believed that subatomic particles get their mass - their inertia, their resistance to changes in motion - through interactions with the Higgs Field. That was Peter Higgs' idea.
Since a field cannot be seen, scientists are looking for the hugging clusters, the uncharged particle that would interact with every other subatomic particle to give them all mass. Since then, scientists have been scrambling to find this particle, the Higgs boson.
Back in 2008, world renowned physicist Steven Hawking told British TV, "I think it will be much more exciting if we don't find the Higgs. That will show something is wrong, and we need to think again. I have a bet of $100 that we won't find the Higgs." If the recent excitement is all based on random blips that have no statistical significance after all, then the physicists will have to embrace the renewed mystery of the Universe and be open to other possibilities.
"If we don’t see [it], that would be an incredible discovery, be cause then the Standard Model doesn't work," Pierluigi Catastini, a research associate with the ATLAS experiment, told Mashable Tech. "If we do find the Higgs boson, then we fill in the most important piece."
A significant number of scientists, though, are hopeful about proving the Higgs Field and are willing for Hawking to eventually lose his bet. The project involves more than 8,000 scientists from at least 85 countries.
The existence of dark matter was proposed in 1932 by astronomer Jan Oort, who measured the motions of nearby stars in our Milky Way relative to the galactic plane. He found that the mass of the plane must be more than the mass of the material that can be seen. A year later, Fritz Zwicky examined the dynamics of clusters of galaxies and found their movements similarly perplexing. Over the years, many spiral galaxies were observed and found to be swirling too fast to be held together by the gravitational pull of the visible stars. Since the speedy-moving stars have not been flung out through space, some scientists describe dark matter as "the glue that holds the Universe together."
Astronomers cannot detect or measure dark matter directly because it emits no light or radiation - hence the name. Its existence is inferred from the gravitational effect it has on visible matter (such as stars and galaxies). There have been a number of conjectures regarding the nature of dark matter, but all of them have eluded any empirical validation.
Physicists hope CERN's Large Hadron Collider will shed even more light on dark matter, dark energy, the existence of extra dimensions, and the fundamental nature of matter, energy, space and time.
Science, like religion, often requires us to take a leap of faith. Any honest scientist should admit that despite centuries of scientific discovery and technological advances, most of the Universe remains an enigma. There are large numbers of areas that, despite careful investigation, we do not fully understand, from the "magic" of photosynthesis to the mysterious particles that make up the fabric of space-time.
Science continues to develop and change as scientists discover new evidence, and it is one of the great joys of being human to explore and discover the marvelous brilliance and detail God used in putting this world together. Still, even as scientists analyze the data from the LHC and hope to catch a glimpse of the Higgs boson, we're certain that the name "God particle" is more accurate than some physicists would choose to admit. Whether or not dark matter is busy keeping distant stars from shooting further into space, we know that Jesus Christ holds each of us, and we trust him to hold the atoms in our bodies together with as much care as he takes in sustaining the entire Universe. Even if Science changes, we know He does not.
"Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear." - Hebrews 11:3
"For by him [Jesus] were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist." - Col 1:16-17
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