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Showing posts from November, 2014

A look at rising tension between Muslims and Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka

Buddhist monks are leading attacks on Muslim shop owners and worshippers in the nation of Sri Lanka. This article was originally posted to Helium Network on Jan. 13, 2014.Buddhism is widely known as a peaceful religion. The first of the Buddha's five precepts is the oath of nonviolence. Yet today in Sri Lanka, some Buddhist monks are leading a militant campaign against the nation's minority Muslim population. Despite being long established in Sri Lanka and economically successful, Muslims find themselves held suspect and treated as a demographic threat.Recent violent incidents by Buddhists against Muslims in Sri Lanka On April 20, 2012, a large Buddhist mob that included monks vandalized a mosque in the city of Dumbulla. Police did not intervene, and the government later ordered the mosque to be removed on the grounds that it was in a Buddhist area, although the mosque had been there for decades.On March 29, 2013, monks led a mob in the vandalization of a clothing store owned b…

The character Lord Varys in 'Game of Thrones'

Lord Varys is a character in the HBO television series "Game of Thrones," based on the books by George R. R. Martin. He originally came from a land "across the narrow sea" (as Lord Baelish puts it), was castrated young, does not have a family name, and now sits on the Council of King Robert Baratheon. His epithet is "The Spider," and the small children who serve as his spies are referred to as his "little birds." He is played by the actor Conleth Hill.Each season of "Game of Thrones" has ten episodes, one hour each. Below, Lord Varys's activity in the first four seasons is summarized, episode by episode. Although this summary carries implicit information about the saga's overall trajectory, there are not many significant "spoilers." Let's put it this way: Many central characters die in the lethal kingmaking battles and intrigues, but Lord Varys survives the first four seasons.Before you read!I'm thrilled that …

An Ethiopian princess seeks help in 'The Eunuch and the King's Daughter' (spoiler alert)

Waltenegus Dargie's novel "The Eunuch and the King's Daughter" is set in 19th-century Ethiopia. A princess wants to run away. She seeks the collusion of her eunuch guard. Originally posted to Helium Network on Oct. 13, 2012.Spoilers below!In Waltenegus Dargie's story The Eunuch and the King's Daughter, set in the fictional kingdom of Méthi in 19th-century southwestern Ethiopia, the only child of King Badar's second wife, Mersabel, is unhappy. She is tutored by Temari, a Christian, who is fixated on destroying the sacred oak where the local people sacrifice to their gods. He attempts to teach the princess to recite the story of St. George and the Dragon (a story of one of Ethiopia's most popular saints who was said to have saved a maiden from a dragon). Mersabel's mother privately suggests that she would do well to marry Temari, but Mersabel finds the idea repulsive, and anyway has her eye on another man.This novel does not depend too much on the s…

Attis: A castrated god honored with pine trees

In his book Hermaphrodeities, Raven Kaldera tells the story of Agdistis and Attis. The mythical Agdistis was born, he writes, "in the land of Asia Minor that was long ago ruled by the Great Mother Goddess Cybele". Agdistis was both male and female and had many sexual partners. The gods feared that Agdistis would become too powerful. They asked Agdistis to choose between being male or female. As Kaldera put the dialogue: "If you choose to be female, we will cut off your male parts. If you choose to be male, we will sew up your female parts." The gods were afraid to kill Agdistis lest they be cursed, so they asked Zeus's son Dionysus to do it.Dionysus cut off Agdistis's male organ. (In some versions of the myth, Agdistis dies here; in others, not.) An almond or pomegranate tree grew where it fell. The river nymph Nana (of the river Sangarius) ate of it and became pregnant. She exposed her infant son, Attis, to die, but he was raised by a male goat.When Attis …

That's OK, because hot cocoa: 'Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas'

Kirk Cameron has a new film about "Saving Christmas". It is a dramatized dialogue between himself and a depressed family member who doesn't see the meaning and joy of Christmas. According to the film's official website, it is showing in 400 theaters for only two weeks during November 2014. In a collection of reviews compiled by Rotten Tomatoes, the film has been described by reviewers as “one of the least artful holiday films ever made” (Chicago Sun-Times) that was “thrown together” (Los Angeles Times) with “absurd logic” (Arizona Republic) and “seems to flat-out endorse materialism, greed and outright gluttony” (RogerEbert.com). It is “determined to win any perceived war on Christmas through brute force” (New York Times) and “will hold little interest for anyone not already a believer” (Austin Chronicle). Rotten Tomatoes fans do not seem to care for the film, either. As the film approached the end of its two-week run, nearly 16,000 users had rated it, and only o…

Holding meaningful discussions with people who have different beliefs about God

"Each of us has a basic view of reality and God that we act out every day," says Geneen Roth in Women Food and God (2010).  Who can deny that simple, foundational statement?  "Anyone who breathes and thinks and experiences," she wrote, "has beliefs about God."Are religious beliefs, or the lack thereof, important? They surely are. Beliefs combine to craft the worldview that drives a person's most cherished values: their sense of self and society, their sensitivity to the world, their joy and sympathy.James Calvin Davis provides this definition in his book In Defense of Civility (2010):  "A worldview is a moral reading of the universe. It is an interpretation of the events that surround us, the choices that confront us, and the responsibilities that obligate us – all in relation to a particular understanding of the 'meaning of life.'"In Davis's opinion, it is a misguided secularism that attempts to shove all "religious ideas&q…

Prejudices against eunuchs during the Renaissance

In the early twenty-first century, Americans like to debate whether one should be able to marry a person of the same sex, but in the early eighteenth century, Europeans liked to debate whether a castrated man should be able to marry a woman.  This was a practical question given the Italian tradition of castrating boy singers so they could be trained as lifelong sopranos.This article was originally posted to Helium Network on Feb. 12, 2011.The marriage debate is exemplified in "Traite des Eunuques," originally published in 1707 by jurist and diplomat Charles Ancillon under the pseudonym C. D'Ollincan.  Following his death, it was translated into English by Robert Samber and printed in 1718 for the London bookseller Edmund Curll under the title "Eunuchism Display'd" with the anonymous byline "a Person of Honour." Unlike many books of its time, "Eunuchism Display'd" puts many scandalous sexual terms in plain English rather than disguisi…

The complexities of altruism

An article on Vox.com cited recent research that suggests that "extreme altruism" and "extreme psychopathy" are two polar ends of the same spectrum. Among people who risk their own lives to help others, an area of their brain called the right amygdala is usually above average in size and has increased activity. The amygdala is associated with the ability to feel emotion. This may explain why people who take extreme actions to help others will say that they act quickly without spending time calculating what to do. Psychopaths, on the other hand – that is, those who are immoral or amoral, and who manipulate or injure others for self-serving purposes – have less active amygdalas. They have a more limited emotional repertoire and are known as being more calculating.Most altruism is not extreme. Where on the spectrum, by the way, would the "ice bucket challenge" fall? Last summer, the popular phenomenon involved people publicly daring their friends over social…

Martel's Tiger eats Ockham's Razor

The movie Life of Pi is faithful to Yann Martel's award-winning novel of the same name.  Fans have had to wait since the book's 2001 publication for a film adaptation, finally released in 2012, about a boy trapped in a lifeboat with a tiger after their menagerie-bearing cargo ship sinks in the Pacific Ocean.  The human-tiger interaction was made possible by CGI technology and is available with and without 3-D.  The animal looks quite real, and actor Suraj Sharma is inspiring in his role as the persistently God-directed boy who must tame the tiger.  The story is told as a flashback as the adult narrator relives his experiences.  (Would-be filmgoers prone to seasickness might want to stay home on dry land.) Before the shipwreck, the boy's father warns him not to anthropomorphize the zoo tiger.  "When you look into his eyes, you're seeing your own emotions reflected back at you – nothing else," the rationalist father maintains.  The viewers are thus reminded of t…