Vatican tamps down report that Pope Francis denies existence of hell

Original Article

The Vatican on Thursday worked to set the record straight on whether Pope Francis denied the existence of hell in an interview with a well-known Italian journalist.

The controversy started when 93-year-old journalist Eugenio Scalfari, the founder of La Repubblica newspaper, publisheda report that he asked Francis where “bad souls” end up going, USA Today reported. Francis’ reply, according to the journalist, was that those who repent could be forgiven but those who do not, “disappear.”

The article, which ran on March 29, reported that Francis said “hell does not exist.”

“They are not punished, those who repent obtain the forgiveness of God and enter the rank of souls who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot therefore be forgiven disappear,” Francis is quoted as saying. “There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”

The pope chose his theme for World Communications Day.

Scalfari, an atheist, does not usually use tape recorders during interviews, The USA Today report said. The Vatican said the story was the result of the reporter’s “reconstruction.”

“What is reported by the author in today’s article is the result of his reconstruction, in which the literal words pronounced by the Pope are not quoted,” the Vatican said. “No quotation of the aforementioned article must therefore be considered as a faithful transcription of the words of the Holy Father.”

The Catholic News Agency reported that Scalfari has “misrepresented” the pope in the past. The agency reported that Scalfari “aslo falsely reported that Pope Francis had made comments denying the existence of hell in 2015.”

According to Catholic Church teachings, there is a hell and it is for eternity.

“Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs,” according to CNA.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI said hell “really exists and it eternal, even if nobody talks about it much any more.”

In 1999 Pope John Paul II declared that Heaven was “neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but that fullness of communion with God which is the goal of human life.” Hell, by contrast, was “the ultimate consequence of sin itself … Rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy.”

Josh Weed, famous married gay Mormon announces divorce, apologizes to LGBTQ community

Original Article

SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — Josh and Lolly Weed, viewed as proof, and used as an example, that a gay man and a straight woman can make a successful Mormon marriage, have announced their divorce. In the same blog post where they announce their divorce, they offered an apology to the LGBTQ community.

“Today, we need to let you know that Lolly and I are divorcing,” the blog said this week, after recounting the couple’s accidental rise to the media spotlight when Josh Weed came out as a gay LDS man who was faithful to his church and married to a woman. They were in high demand to explain how they made the seemingly contradictory lifestyles work together.

The couple wrote, together and then individually in the same blog post on Thursday, that they came to understand over time that their deep platonic love was not a substitute for romantic love and that such a relationship is vital to everyone’s happiness.

Lolly Weed wrote:

And that is what human beings need to be healthy. All of us. Romantic attachment. It’s one of the main purposes of life!

They explain at length how they came to the realization. Josh Weed said three factors led him to believe this was the case.

  1. Love for the LGBTQ population
  2. Love for himself as a gay person
  3. The death of his mother

The couple rise to notoriety came about because of a blog post — that can no longer be found on JoshWeed.com — that, according to Josh, led them to be “featured on shows and newspapers around the globe.” That included a story on Nightline, embedded below.

Josh works in his private practice as a licensed marriage and family therapist. Included with the announcement and explanation about the couple’s divorce was an apology to the LGBTQ community. Among the specific things the Weeds apologies for are:

  • We’re sorry, so incredibly sorry, for the ways our post has been used to bully others.
  • And we’re sorry if our story made it easier for people in your life to reject you and your difficult path as being wrong.
  • We’re sorry to any gay Mormon who received criticism, backlash, or hatred as a result of our story.
  • We’re sorry to anybody who felt a measure of false peace because of our story.
  • We’re sorry to any LGBTQIA person who was given false hope by our story

Each of the specific apologies came with longer explanations.

Josh Weed also wrote that his stance on homosexuality, that once aligned with that of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had changed.

“I have spent my entire life conforming to every standard of the LDS faith because I believed it was what God wanted me to do,” he explained.

“I believed this because every mentor, every exemplar, every religious teacher, every therapist, every leader I ever grew up listening to and trusting told me that that was the only way I could return to live with God. There was an emphasis on ‘perfect obedience’ and yet, over the course of my lifetime, the list of things said by these trusted leaders about my sexual orientation was profoundly inconsistent and confusing.”

Josh Weed listed a number of those “inconsistent and confusing” things, which included:

  • My sexual orientation wasn’t real
  • My sexual orientation was evil
  • My sexual orientation was an abomination
  • My sexual orientation was tantamount to bestiality and just shy of murder
  • My sexual orientation could change in this life if I had enough faith
  • My sexual orientation was a “trial” to bear
  • My sexual orientation maybe couldn’t change in this life after all
  • My sexual orientation could be managed with faith
  • My sexual orientation could be endured

Lolly Weed also wrote that many of her friends and community expressed to her, upon learning of the divorce, empathized with her and say she deserved the romantic connection, but few felt that empathy for her husband.

The thing that’s so interesting to me is how few people think of Josh in this way. How few people in his life have ever thought these things about him—things that are so obvious, so clear, so emphatic when talking to another straight person. I mean, isn’t the same true for LGBT people? Shouldn’t we feel the exact same intuitive injustice at the thought of them deserving to be “loved like that”?

When the tables are turned and we are talking about LGBTQ individuals, somehow people don’t see the parallels. Why am I, as a straight person, entitled to reciprocal, requited romantic love while an LGBTQ individual is not?

The blog post says the couple and their children will continue to be close and will continue to love each other.

“We can continue to be the family we have always been, and we can add to that family,” they wrote.

Weed emailed KUTV this statement:

“In posting, we hoped to let those who followed our story five years ago know the reality of our situation. We also wanted to apologize to the LGBTQIA community and to anybody who was hurt by our story over the last five years.

Thanks so much!

Josh”

Report: Dalai Lama received $1M from Albany ‘sex cult’ accused of branding women

Original Article

A new report claims His Holiness the Dalai Lama was paid $1 million by an Upstate New York “sex cult” that brands women to speak at their event.

According to The Daily Mail, the Dalai Lama received the fee to speak in front of 3,000 members of NXIVM (pronounced “nexium”), which has recently come under fire from former members. The Buddhist leader is seen in a photograph placing a khata, a traditional ceremonial Tibetan scarf, around the neck of the group’s founder, Keith Raniere, in Albany.

NXIVM describes itself as a self-help organization, but former member Sarah Edmondson filed a complaint in July against a member who branded her. She said female members are required to be branded with Raniere’s initials, “KR,” and also must give their “master,” or recruiter, naked photos or other compromising materials of themselves; Ranier allegedly manipulates women with sex and intimidates people who try to leave the group, threatening to expose those materials.

The New York Times reported last year that DOS, a women’s only group within NXIVM, has been described as a “secret sorority” that also brainwashes members, puts them on starvation diets and beats them if they don’t recruit enough “slaves.” DOS, led by former “Smallville” actress Allison Mack, allegedly stands for “dominus obsequious sororium,” Latin for “master over the slave women.”

Members also reportedly include former “Dallas” star Catherine Oxenberg’s daughter India Oxenberg, and wealthy Seagram’s heiresses Sara and Clare Bronfman.

The Daily Mail reports Sara Bronfman helped book the Dalai Lama to speak at the Albany event in 2009 while in a relationship with his “personal emissary of peace” to the U.S., Lama Tenzin Dhonden. Bronfman can be seen on stage next to the Dalai Lama during the event in a YouTube video.

The Guardian reports Dhonden was replaced last month amid allegations of corruption. A Seattle-based technology entrepreneur claims Dhonden extorted him for “unjustified payments” between 2005 and 2008, in return for setting up an event with the Dalai Lama; Dhonden has denied all wrongdoing.

Whistleblower Frank Parlato has repeatedly detailed the allegations against NXIVM and Dhonden on his website, The Frank Report. He posted photos of Bronfman with Dhonden, a Buddhist monk that would have taken a vow of celibacy.

“Everyone in NXIVM knew the monk was a fraud. NXIVM used him to get the Dalai Lama to come to Albany and endorse the cult leader, Keith Raniere. The Dalai Lama was too wise to fall for this and DID NOT endorse the cult or its leader,” Parlato wrote.

According to the Daily Mail, the Dalai Lama initially canceled the Albany event and several others in the U.S. that year due to controversy surrounding NXIVM. Bronfman and Raniere reportedly convinced him to come a month later by saying all the allegations of misconduct were false.

The Justice Department began a federal investigation of NXIVM in December, examining Raniere, the group’s business dealings, and recruitment practices. NXIVM officials and associates have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and dispute any allegation that it is a cult.

NXIVM, based in the Albany suburb of Colonie, has over 16,000 members in chapters nationwide, as well as in Canada and Mexico. A “20/20” special report focused on the group last month:

Church of Sweden to stop referring to God as ‘he’ or ‘Lord’

Original Article

The Church of Sweden is urging its clergy to use gender-neutral language when referring to the supreme deity, refraining from using terms such as “Lord” and “he” in favour of the less specific “God.”

The move is one of several taken by the national Evangelical Lutheran church in updating a 31-year-old handbook setting out how services should be conducted in terms of language, liturgy, hymns and other aspects.

The decision was taken on Thursday at the end of an eight-day meeting of the church’s 251-member decision-making body, and takes effect on 20 May on the Christian holiday of Pentecost.

A former state church, headquartered in Uppsala, some 37 miles north of the capital, the church has 6.1 million baptised members in a country of 10 million. It is headed by a woman, Archbishop Antje Jackelén.

Jackelén told Sweden’s TT news agency that a more inclusive language had been discussed as early as the 1986 conference.

“Theologically, for instance, we know that God is beyond our gender determinations, God is not human,” Jackelén said.

The change was met with criticism, however. Christer Pahlmblad, an associate theology professor at Sweden’s Lund University, told the Kristeligt Dagblad newspaper in Denmark that the move was “undermining the doctrine of the Trinity and the community with the other Christian churches”.

“It really isn’t smart if the Church of Sweden becomes known as a church that does not respect the common theology heritage,” he said.

“There Is No Such Thing as the Bible” The messy Scripture on display at the Museum of the Bible.

Original Article

By William Saletan

ST-BIBLEOPEN
Visitors listen to a “living history interpreter” in the old Jerusalem exhibit at the Museum of the Bible on Friday in Washington.

Bill O’Leary/Washington Post via Getty Images

Last week, the Museum of the Bible opened in Washington, D.C. When the museum was first conceived, it was intended to “inspire confidence in the absolute authority and reliability of the Bible,” according to documents filed in 2010. But then, scholarship and dialogue intervened. The original vision of Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby and an outspoken conservative evangelical, gave ground to the reality that “the” Bible—a single, clear, definitive text—is a myth.

 

“There is no such thing as the Bible,” David Trobisch, the museum’s director of collections, said matter-of-factly last week as he sat next to Green at a press lunch organized by the Faith Angle Forum. With Trobisch and other scholars guiding the process, the Museum of the Bible became a real museum, exploring the messy history and shifting contents of the Judeo-Christian canon.

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Green’s reputation as a conservative crusader has aroused skepticism of the museum. Critics portray the 430,000-square-foot building, just a few blocks from the Capitol, as a propaganda showcase. But what I found was a surprising degree of frankness, even agnosticism. If you want the cartoon Bible, eternal and infallible, you can find it in quotes from Scripture on purple banners along the walls. “Every word of God is pure,” says one. “The law of the Lord is perfect,” says another. “The Word of our God stands forever,” says a third. But start poking around in the exhibits, and things get interesting. Many Bible stories, you soon learn, aren’t original. The flood, for instance, echoes Babylonian tales. “In each version, a growing population upsets a god,” a plaque explains dryly. “A single hero listens to the supreme being, builds a boat before a catastrophic flood, and then sends out birds.”

Next you discover that the holy book is full of spin. One placard describes how texts of the ancient Assyrians celebrated their conquests of Judean cities. Jewish and Christian bibles, describing the same events, “emphasize how God miraculously preserved Jerusalem.” Cyrus, the Persian king, saw himself as an instrument of Babylon’s deity. But writers of the Hebrew Bible, concerned with a different question—Is it good for the Jews?—”portray Cyrus as an agent of Israel’s God.” After every battle, Arameans and Moabites told the same story the Israelites did: Either their god led them to victory, or he punished them with defeat.

When Trobisch says there’s no such thing as “the” Bible, he’s alluding in part to the seven versions displayed along a wall on the museum’s fourth floor: Hebrew, Samaritan, Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Assyrian. Each has its own selection of texts, a sign on the wall observes, “yet each one is a Bible.” In display cases, you can read about the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, and other texts that haven’t made the cut. But don’t count them out. Such “Apocrypha,” another note explains, have been appended to various Bibles, on and off, for centuries.

The more closely you look at the history of Scripture, the more you see how fluid it is. In the New Testament, the gradual canonization of text is obvious. “In time, writings widely associated with the apostles’ teaching came to be regarded as scripture,” says one display. But you also learn how Jews layered texts over the Torah, adding narrative speculations and “expanding the Scriptures” through the Middle Ages.

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Interpretation is just one avenue of expansion. Archaeology is another. The Dead Sea Scrolls were unearthed only decades ago, and “new discoveries are still being made,” says one exhibit. Green should know: Hobby Lobby recently paid millions of dollars to settle a government complaint that it had smuggled Iraqi artifacts that may have been looted. Perhaps for that reason, or perhaps out of scholarly humility, the museum’s display of putative Dead Sea Scrolls fragments bears a cautionary note. “Are these fragments real?” it asks. “Research continues.”

The museum’s second-floor collection traces more recent history. It details and laments the persecution of believers. One display bears the title, “Martyrs and the Bible: Dying for the Faith.” But “the faith,” like “the Bible,” turns out to be a myth. Christians have been persecuted largely by other Christians. In Catholic–Protestant clashes, a plaque recalls, “Different versions of the Bible were condemned as unauthorized or heretical” and were destroyed, often with their followers. Dissenters fled to America, but “each group brought its own version of the Bible.” So the conflicts continued.

Today, politicians glorify the Bible as the foundation of democracy, freedom, and civil rights. But the Bible was also invoked against such ideas, and the museum doesn’t hide this. “Throughout history, the Bible has been used as a source of authority for heads of state,” says one display. There’s a case stocked with old religious tracts that defended “the divine right of absolute monarchy.” Another exhibit notes that early feminists used Scripture to justify equal rights for women, but “opposition was scathing, especially among clergymen, who often quoted the Bible to justify women’s subservient status.”

The most striking concession is the museum’s account of the debate over slavery. Scripture was crucial to the movements for abolition and civil rights. But the collection also shows how verses such as Ephesians 6:5 (“Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters … as unto Christ”) and Genesis 9:25 (“a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren”) were deployed to rationalize human bondage. One case displays an 1808 book titled Parts of the Holy Bible, Selected for the Use of the Negro Slaves. A note explains that the volume features passages about obedience but “omits all entries that express themes of freedom,” including the story of the Exodus.

 

The museum can’t entirely avoid contemporary politics, and it struggles with unresolved debates. Galileo, having won his dispute with religious authorities centuries ago, gets a statue and a vindicating plaque. But Darwin doesn’t: The exhibit says only that he sparked a “debate between traditional and more progressive interpretations of the Bible.” On criminal justice, the museum shows no such reticence. It pushes back against the use of passages about an “eye for an eye” and putting people to death. “The Bible tempers retribution with forgiveness and mercy,” says one plaque. Another touts the restorative justice movement and its view that “God’s compassion takes priority over his wrath.”

The museum wasn’t meant to sow doubt. In our meeting last week, Green and the museum’s president, Cary Summers, made clear that they want to inspire visitors to explore God’s word. Green believes that if he can get people to pick up the holy book, it will sell itself. Maybe so. But by yielding to a more scholarly vision of what the museum should be, he’s also betting that a candid presentation of the text’s backstory, uncertainty, and malleability won’t dissolve the idea of “the Bible.” I admire his faith.