c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service=
IKITSUKI, JapanWhen Kinshiro Ichinose was beheaded here in 1622 for believing in Jesus, his last words were, ``The time will come when the teachings of Christianity will spread once more.''
He was half right. These days, young people on this rocky fishing islet in southern Japan can indeed worship Jesus freely and loudly sing hymns that once had to be whispered. But paradoxically, nothing has killed off traditional Christianity in Japan like freedom of religion.
Back in the 1500s, Christianity spread rapidly in Japan, until a fierce repression began 400 years ago this spring. That sent believers into hiding, and these Hidden Christians, as they are called, survived hundreds of years of torture and executions with their faith intact.
Yet now believers say their ranks are shrinking under more insidious pressures: televisions, cars and video games.
A faith that endured centuries of unfathomable repression is collapsing in just a couple of generations. ``I haven't been able to teach my kids the prayers,'' fretted Yoshiaki Isomoto, 49, a lean clerk whose heavy eyebrows waggled in despair as he reflected on Christianity on the rocky, remote island of Ikitsuki.
It was partly Ikitsuki's isolation that protected its Hidden Christians, and a century ago, 90 percent of the island's residents were still Christians. Now only a bit more than 10 percent are.
In all of Japan, less than 1 percent of the population are Christians of any denomination; only a small portion of those are Hidden Christians.
``I wonder how long this faith can last,'' Isomoto said, ``because there aren't many young people among the believers. They haven't been baptized yet, and they have no faith in their minds.''
It is a tribute to human ornerinessand to courage and tenacitythat persecution sometimes sustains what collapses in freedom. That may be one explanation for why young people in these rocky islands are uninterested in living the religion for which their ancestors died.
This paradox may also help explain why the country in Asia where Christianity may be growing the fastest is China, where religious persecution is among the most severe. Early in this century, Christian missionaries could proselytize freely in China but made relatively few converts. Today missionary work is banned and worship can be risky, yet underground churches are booming.
``It's ironic that our faith is fading at a time of religious freedom,'' mused Hisami Taniyama, a postal worker and local Hidden Christian pastor. ``My ancestors kept this faith despite severe repression, and I want it to survive further. It shouldn't end here.''
St. Francis Xavier helped bring Christianity to Japan in 1549, and he and other missionaries were initially spectacularly successfulalthough for his first two years St. Francis, because of a poor translator, inadvertently preached salvation by worshiping Buddha. Within a few decades, Japan had at least 300,000 Christians.
Hideyoshi, the general who unified Japan in the 16th century, reportedly toyed with the idea of becoming a Christian but decided against it after he learned that he would then be allowed only one wife. Alarmed by the threat that he believed Christians posed to his rule, he soon banned Christianity, and 26 Christians were executed in the spring of 1597.
This part of Japan, near Nagasaki, was a center of Christianity and soon became legendary for the torments used to force Christians to recant. Christians were crucified, tied up in bags and thrown into the sea, dipped repeatedly in boiling hot springs and subjected to what was reputedly the most agonizing death of all: the torture of the pit, in which they were suspended upside down in a hole half-filled with excrement, with a light cut on their forehead, and left to bleed to death.
An hour of this was said to be excruciating, yet some Christians lingered in the pit for weeks before dying. Some were left with one arm untied and told that they could save themselves at any time by simply lifting a hand to renounce their faith.
The centuries passed and everyone assumed that Christianity had been exterminated in Japan. But when the country reopened to the outside world in the middle of the last century a French priest was amazed to get a visit from a group of Japanese who knelt and told him that they were secret Christians.
Up to 50,000 of these Hidden Christians had maintained the faith, although it became transformed over the centuries.
``I have a Buddhist altar and Shinto shrine in my house,'' said Tomeichi Oka, a genial Hidden Christian pastor, as he knelt on the tatami floor of his living room. ``In the old days that was just for camouflage, because our Christianity was hidden, but now I believe in the other gods as well.''
This acceptance of other religious beliefs is common in Japan; most Japanese identify themselves as followers of both Buddhism and Shintoism. But this pantheism has led to tensions between the Hidden Christians and those Japanese who in modern times have converted to Catholic or Protestant churches.
Because of the centuries of persecution, the Hidden Christians have no tradition of churches or public displays of their faith, although some have crucifixes that were secretly handed down from generation to generation.
When someone dies, a public Buddhist funeral is held, and then the Christians secretly gather to chant prayersoften in Latin, still recognizable despite mistakes introduced over the centuries.
``After the Buddhist funeral is held, we tell our God that it was all a mistake,'' Oka said. ``And then we hold the Christian funeral and sing the Christian hymns.''
The doctrine of the Hidden Christians is a fascinating example of how a religious faith can evolve to match local ideas and history. For example, the bible of the Hidden Christians, published last year in English as ``The Beginning of Heaven and Earth'' (University of Hawaii Press), describes not a great flood but a sudden tsunami, and the Noah-like figure survives not in an ark but in a canoe.
Mary is a 12-year-old girl from the Philippines who studies hard, turns down a proposal from the Philippine king and apparently visits Japan. Holy Sacrament is the name of a tutor for Jesus, the chief disciple is the pope, and Jesus is betrayed by Judas, ``who eats his rice with soup every morning.''
Later, the Crucifixion is arranged not by Pontius Pilate but by two different men, Ponsha and Piloto.
Some Hidden Christians rejoined the Roman Catholic Church after freedom of religion was introduced late in the last century, while others continued to follow Hidden Christian practices.
Ikitsuki Island is filled with sites like the eerily named Thousand Corpse Mound, where the authorities executed and buried Christians. Officials sometimes ordered the heads of Christians to be buried far from the rest of their bodies, to reduce the risk of resurrections.
But most of the Christians here were executed on a tiny islet that today is a sacred spot where water is believed to gush forth when Hidden Christians repeat their traditional prayers.
The Hidden Christians say that one of their pastors once visited the spot with a Catholic priest, and that first the priest repeated prayers to no avail.
``Then I hear that our pastor chanted our prayers,'' said Taniyama, the pastor, ``and water came gurgling from the rock.''<
c. 1997 Cox News Service
WACO, TexasA cult expert, a minister and a professor of theology all agreed on one thing on Monday's ABC ``Nightline'' _ the government should not get into the cult regulation business. That gets perilously close to the religion regulation business.
After the mass suicide of the 39 Heaven's Gate followers in California, many Americans reflexively called on the government to do something to protect them from dangerous cults.
The problem with government regulation of cults is obvious. Do we really trust the government, which also is in charge of delivering the mail and buying computers for the IRS, to establish a bureaucracy that will accurately tell the difference between unacceptable cults and acceptable religions?
I think not, and neither did the three ``Nightline'' experts.
The religion professor pointed out that about the only difference between cults and mainstream religions is that mainstream religions have mellowed and weathered with time. Sharp edges wear off as radical beliefs adapt to mainstream society.
The Bible tells how Judaism's monotheism was once considered a threat to prevailing mainstream religions. One god, unseen, more powerful than all gods? That's blasphemy, of course.
Jesus was a Jew considered by mainstream Judaism as a dangerous cult leader. The ``Nightline'' professor of religion said the Heaven's Gate leader was correct when he made that point.
In their day, Prince Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), Confucius and Muhammad were considered cultists, as were their followers.
Many, if not most, religions survived despite attempts to shut them down. They were considered dangerous threats to mainstream beliefs. Concerned parents feared losing their children to a strange cult. Once established, some religions did in fact become dangerous threats to thousands, if not millions, of non-believers who were given the choice of conversion or death.
Since America was settled by people hounded for their non-mainstream religious beliefs, this nation is extremely tolerant of new and odd religious groups. Mormans, Christian Scientists and Seventh-day Adventists began in this country, despite the fact they were long considered cults. The Branch Davidians who followed David Koresh considered themselves true Seventh-day Adventists.
Scientology is considered something between a cult and an organized criminal activity in some countries. The U.S. government refused to recognize it as a religion until a few years ago when the IRS reversed a 25-year-old decision and allowed the group a religious tax-exempt status.
The cult expert on ``Nightline'' made the matter of identifying cults more confusing by saying that the exact same set of beliefs could be considered a cult under one leader and a religion under another leader.
If the ability to leave the group is the difference between cults and religions, then Heaven's Gate didn't qualify. It offered members money to leave.
If the definition of a cult is brainwashing, then where does religious indoctrination end and brainwashing begin? If the definition is asking people to die for their beliefs, then how about the history of religious martyrdom? If it is withdrawing from society, then how about the history of monasteries and religious retreats? If it is the endangerment of non-believers, then how about the history of the Christian Crusades and Islamic jihads?
The ``Nightline'' guests were right that the government should not be in the business of regulating cults. Perhaps the government even goes too far when it decides what groups deserve religious tax-exempt status.
Rowland Nethaway is senior editor of the Waco (Texas) Tribune-Herald. E-mail:RNeth(at)aol.com
c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<
Scientists have been accused of playing God when they clone sheep, and of naysaying God when they insist that evolution be taught in school, but as a new study indicates, many scientists believe in God by the most mainstream, uppercase definition of the concept.
Repeating verbatim a famous survey first conducted in 1916, Edward Larson of the University of Georgia has found that the depth of religious faith among scientists has not budged regardless of whatever scientific and technical advances this century has wrought.
Then as now, about 40 percent of the responding biologists, physicists and mathematicians said they believed in a God who, by the survey's strict definition, actively communicates with humankind and to whom one may pray ``in expectation of receiving an answer.'' Roughly 15 percent in both surveys claimed to be agnostic or to have ``no definite belief'' regarding the question, while about 42 percent in 1916 and about 45 percent today said they did not believe in a God as specified in the questionnaire, although whether they believed in some other definition of a deity or an all-mighty was not addressed.
The figure of unqualified believers is considerably lower than that usually cited for Americans as a whole. Gallup polls, for example, have found that about 93 percent of people surveyed profess a belief in God. But those familiar with the survey said that, given the questionnaire's exceedingly restrictive definition of Godnarrower than the standard Gallup questionand given scientists' training to say exactly what they mean and nothing more, the 40 percent figure in fact is impressively high.
More revealing than the figures themselves, experts said, is their stability. The fact that scientists' private beliefs remained unchanged across almost a century defined by change suggests that orthodox religion is no more disappearing among those considered the intellectual elite than it is among the public at large. The results also indicate that, while science and religion often are depicted as irreconcilable antagonists, each a claimant to the throne of truth, many scientists see no contradiction between a quest to understand the laws of nature, and a belief in a higher deity.
The results of Larson's survey, which he conducted with a religion writer, Larry Witham of Burtonsville, Md., appear on Thursday in the journal Nature.
Larson did not try to determine whether the scientists he polled were Christian, Jewish, Muslim or any other creed, whether they went to religious services or otherwise attended to the rituals of a particular faith. He merely wanted to see what had happened in the 80-plus years since the renowned psychologist James Leuba asked 1,000 randomly selected scientists if they believed in God.
Leuba, a devout atheist, had predicted that a disbelief in God would grow as education spread, and Larson decided to use the psychologist's exact methods to see if the prediction held.
He polled the same number of researchers as had Leuba and used the same source for picking his subjectsthe directory ``American Men and Women of Science,'' a compendium of researchers successful enough to win awards and be cited regularly in the scientific literature. He followed Leuba's survey format to the letter, with the same introduction and the same questions written in the same stilted language, even enclosing the same type of return envelope. More than 600 of about 1,000 scientists answered the questionnaire, similar to Leuba's response rate.
In addition to the question about a belief in an accessible God, the survey asked whether the respondents believed in personal immortality, and if not, whether they would desire immortality anyway. Here there were some changes in the responses. In Leuba's survey, 50 percent of the scientists said they believed in personal immortality, a puzzling and inconsistent figure given the more modest 40 percent belief in God. Moreover, many doubters confessed to a strong desire for immortality. Larson found that his two statistics, a belief in God and in life everlasting matched; and that those who didn't believe in personal immortality had little wish for it. ``I see this as a healthy trend,'' he said. ``People have become more consistent, confident and comfortable with their world views.''
But of the divination that religion was on its way out, Larson writes, ``Leuba misjudged either the human mind or the ability of science to satisfy all human needs.''
Rodney Stark, a professor of sociology and comparative religion at the University of Washington in Seattle, said that because the questions in the Leuba survey are so narrowly phrased, the results probably underestimate the extent of religious sentiment among scientists. Several recent surveys of American college professors, he said, show that professors are almost as likely to express a belief in God as are Americans as a whole.
Moreover, he said, when the sample in a study he and his coworkers are now doing is broken down into specialties, teachers of the so-called hard sciences, like math and chemistry, are more likely to be devout than are professors of such softer sciences as anthropology and psychology or of the humanities.
Since the analysis is not finished he could not give exact numbers. The reason for the discrepancy may be that, in an odd sort of way, traditional religious dogma suits the mathematically inclined mind, suggested George Marsden, a professor of history at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. ``It could be that scientists are used to looking for definite answers, whereas humanists go into their field because they like to deal with ambiguities.''
Leuba's survey had an enormous impact in its day. William Jennings Bryan, a populist Democratic politician and orator, used the results as ammunition in the Scopes trial of the 1920s, claiming that they showed a scandalous level of atheism among scientists and thus proved the dangers of allowing evolutionary thinking to pollute education.
Larson suggests that the updated survey could be used for very different ends, to calm public fears that scientists are godless at heart. Whether the public hungers for the reassurance is another matter.
``In 1916, when scientists were emerging as the high priests of a new technological culture, everybody cared about what they thought and believed,'' Marsden said. ``But the prestige of science peaked in 1960 and has been declining ever since. Do people still care whether scientists believe in God? I'm not so sure.''
c.1997 The Boston Globe
One year ago, just back from his 27-day ``world tour'' of African dictatorships and Middle East police states, Louis Farrakhan held a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington. Why, one reporter asked, did he defend the government of Sudan, an Iran-style Islamic junta that enslaves African natives from the country's southern provinces?
Farrakhan bristled. ``Where is the proof?'' he demanded. ``If slavery exists, why don't you go as a member of the press? And you look inside Sudan, and if you find it, then you come back and tell the American people what you have found.''
Farrakhan has long insisted that Khartoum's grisly traffic in black slaves is merely an unproved rumor. But there is no shortage of eyewitness testimony laying out in skin-crawling detail the atrocities inflicted on the southern Sudanese.
``What usually happens is that Arab armed militias go into the southern villages or the Nuba mountains,'' reported The London Observer in 1995. ``They burn the villages. The men are killed if they don't escape, and the women and children are rounded up ... and taken to the Arab north.''
These women and children are black-skinned and often Christian, unlike their lighter-skinned Muslim captors. The slavery that awaits them is both race- and religion-based, and it is unspeakable: Hard labor in the fields. Domestic servitude. Whipping. Branding. Genital mutilation. Compulsory conversion to Islam. Rape and forced marriage.
Some masters sever their slaves' Achilles tendons, to keep them from running away. Countless African teenagers are impressed into the army, cannon fodder for Khartoum's jihad against the south. ``The government's hands,'' says Macram Gassis, a Sudanese Catholic bishop, ``drip with the blood of innocent people.''
Yet Farrakhan, who routinely invokes 19th-century American slavery, persistently covers up for the perpetrators of 20th-century African slavery. His newspaper, The Final Call, labels the reports out of Sudan a ``Big Lie ... another manipulative device to divide the Black and Arab people in America.'' On a PBS program, Farrakhan's spokesman Akbar Muhammad dismissed evidence of Sudan's slave trade as a Jewish conspiracy. ``I know that the Jewish groups, the Zionists, have a problem with the Sudan.'' Shown footage of young black captives being whipped by Arabs, Muhammad shrugged: ``That's their culture. They'll beat 'em.''
In the year since Farrakhan issued his National Press Club challenge, two major US media outlets rose to meet it. The Baltimore Sun and ``Dateline NBC'' sent several journalists deep inside Sudan. What they reported was harrowingchildren ripped from parents at gunpoint, town squares where slaves are distributed like booty, a man shot in the face when for trying to save a child from capture. ``Here in southern Sudan,'' wrote the Sun's Gilbert Lewthwaite and Gregory Kane, ``there can be no doubt that slavery exists.''
For their heart-stopping journalism, Lewthwaite and Kanethe former a white veteran foreign correspondent, the latter a black Baltimore columnist who had never before traveled abroadmay win Pulitzer Prizes. But in the Farrakhan fever swamp, the coverup goes on.
``The Sun is a Zionist Jewish daily,'' ranted The Final Call. ``Reject the slavery propaganda against Sudan. ... Don't let the Zionists get away with damn lies!'' Farrakhan swore that in all his travels to Sudan, no one had told (ital) him (unital) about slavery. ``A lot of what I have been reading when it comes to life in Sudan,'' he declared, ``are vicious lies.''
But the only lies in this tale are those told by Farrakhan. Because for all his denials and demands for ``proof,'' Farrakhan was personally told at least three years ago about the enslavement of black Africans in Sudan.
In telephone interviews last week, two leaders of the south Sudanese resistance recounted their meetings with Farrakhan in the spring of 1994.
``For two or three days, we sat at breakfast every morning,'' said Bona Malwal, a former Sudanese cabinet minister, recalling the week he and Farrakhan spent in Nairobi. ``We talked about the situation in the Sudan. We talked about slavery. It came up very often. He knew blacks in the south were being persecuted. He said he had been told about the slave camps.'' Malwal, now editor of the London-based Sudan Democratic Gazette, said Farrakhan vowed to intercede with the authorities in Khartoum, to ``tell them the way they were treating the south was not right.''
When he later met in Kampala, Uganda, with representatives of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, Farrakhan was even blunter.
``We talked to him about slavery,'' recalled Steven Wondu, a key SPLA official. ``About the racial issue, the religious issue. I will never forget what he said: `When it comes to a choice between religion or the dignity of the black man'''i.e., between the Muslim masters or the African slaves```I will choose my skin.' >From that minute, we took him for a friend.''
But Farrakhan was no friend. To speak out in behalf of Sudan's black slaves would be to forfeit the patronage of Khartoum's Arab dictators. That was a price Farrakhan wouldn't pay. And so, as a million African innocents go on bleeding under the whip, he goes on making excuses for the slavetraders who whip them.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for the Boston Globe. His e-mail address is jacoby(AT)nws.globe.com).
c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service=
THE HAGUE, NetherlandsOnce again, the courtroom of the war-crimes tribunal here echoes with accounts of cruelty and murder, the ghastly but now familiar tales of Bosnia's war.
But in this case, it is not Serbs who are on trial.
The three Bosnian Muslims and one Croat stand charged with 14 murders and numerous incidents of torture and abuse committed against Serbs at a prison camp in 1992.
The Bosnian Serbs are blamed for almost all the horrors of the war, and they in turn accuse the tribunal of political prejudice. But court officials have insisted that the U.N. tribunal is evenhanded and not driven by politics. Cases like this one, tribunal officials say, show that the court will try war-crimes suspects regardless of their politics or ethnic origin.
At the same time, the latest trial is also a reminder of how little the tribunal has achieved since its creation in 1993. It has only seven defendants in its custody, four of whom are now in court. Of the 74 people indicted for war crimes, 67 remain at large, even though in many cases their whereabouts are known.
The four men now on trial are charged with terrorizing hundreds of men and women who spent time at a prison camp controlled by Bosnian Muslims between May and December of 1992. The camp, at Celebici in the mountains some 30 miles southwest of Sarajevo, used to be a military storage site.
Prosecutors said that some 500 people passed through the camp during those months, most of them Serbs from villages around Konjic. Some had helped defend their villages when Muslim forces attacked, but others had not. The indictment said that many of the camp's inmates suffered hunger, beatings, torture and rape.
The camp conditions described in the court sound familiar. They mirror the stories that have been told and retold by survivors of dozens of Serbian-run camps where Bosnian Muslims were held and persecuted.
But Celebici was run by Muslims and the victims were Serbs. Two of the men charged in the Celebici case are the highest-ranking defendants so far to stand trial in The Hague. Zejnil Delalic, 48, and Zdravko Mucic, 41, are charged with overall responsibility for the atrocities linked to the camp, Delalic as regional commander of the Bosnian Muslim forces, Mucic as the camp commander.
Hazim Delic, 32, deputy commander of the camp, is individually charged with four murders and torture, including the rapes of two women. Esad Landzo, 24, a camp guard, is accused in five deaths, and of torture and cruelty. Their crimes, as listed by the prosecutor, included beating elderly men to death with wooden planks, baseball bats and shovels. The prosecutor said the two charged with torture also used pliers, acid, electric shocks and hot pincers to torment their prisoners.
In the courtroom, the four defendants appeared to follow the proceedings, conducted in English, via earphones providing them with translations. At times they took notes; often they looked bored or dozed. Each defendant has two lawyers paid for by the court.
The defense lawyers have requested that their clients be tried separately, in part because they fear that the suspects may testify against each other, as they already have in pretrial statements.
But the court has ruled that the four were closely linked through the chain of command and that separate trials would mean duplicating much work and recalling the same witnesses many times.
Among the first witnesses to appear was Mirko Babic, 63, a Serb. He pulled up his trouser leg to show his scars. He said Landzo had poured gasoline on his legs and set fire to them. ``I saw the flames, it was very painful,'' he told the court.
Another witness, Branco Gotovac, 66, also a Serb, said Landzo had beaten him so hard that he swallowed his tongue and nearly suffocated until a fellow prisoner, a nurse, rescued him.
``I had to put my hands behind my head and then he kicked me in the testicles,'' Gotovac said. ``During all this, my tongue went inside my throat. I was urinating blood.'' Gotovac had lasting injuries.
Gotovac, a frail and sick man, was questioned by Landzo's lawyer in such a strident way that the presiding judge, Adolphus Karibi-Whyte, from Nigeria, intervened. He said to the lawyer, Cynthia White McMurrey, an American, ``I left you at large when some of the things you said have been complete rubbish. If you continue being irresponsible, I think I will have to take a different attitude.''
In the courtroom, Grozdana Cecez, 47, a Serb, came face to face with the man who she said had raped her at the camp. Speaking of Delic, she said: ``I thought he was going to beat me. Then he started to rape me. I will never be the woman that I was.''
On another night, four men raped her, she said. Delic did not look at his accuser. While she described the event in detail, he chewed gum and kept his hand over his face.
For this trial, Bosnian Serbs have cooperated with prosecutors and agreed to testify. Until a year ago, tribunal workers frequently complained that they were unable to conduct their investigations in Belgrade or in the Serbian-controlled part of Bosnia.
As a result, much of the evidence they collected involved crimes against Muslims or Croats, to whom the investigators did have access, but they learned little of what had happened to Serbs. Serbs nonetheless accused the court of being anti-Serbian.
Belgrade's attitude toward the court began to change when, as Antonio Cassese, the tribunal president, put it, ``the Serbs understood finally that they were making a huge blunder'' by not talking to court investigators.
Even during this trial, some Serbs continue to criticize what they call the tribunal's anti-Serbian bias.
Branco Jovanovic, a representative of an association of Serbian war victims based in Belgrade, said her group is demanding that charges against the four defendants be broadened.
Prosecutors have defined the charges as ``grave breaches of the Geneva Convention'' and as ``violations of the laws and customs of war.'' But Ms. Jovanovic said her group wants the crimes to be classified as ``genocide'' and as ``crimes against humanity,'' which carry greater legal and moral weight.
``What happened at Konjic was ethnic cleansing against Serbs,'' she said. ``More than 5,000 Serbs were driven out. More than 150 were killed and 120 women were raped. Why is that different, I ask, why are those attacks defined only as war crimes, and not as crimes against humanity?''
The prosecution has not explained why it selected some charges over others. But crimes against humanity must involve a widespread or systematic attack on a people or group, court officials say, and many Serbs have been indicted on these charges in connection with planning and carrying out ethnic cleansing.
The trial is expected to go on for several months. Prosecutors said they have a list of 76 witnesses but may not call all of them.<
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