Saturday, 25 October 2008

Dawkins: serious case could be made for a deistic God

Ed: So there probably isn't a God, maybe ...?

By Melanie Phillips

On Tuesday evening I attended the debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox at Oxford’s Natural History Museum. This was the second public encounter between the two men, but it turned out to be very different from the first. Lennox is the Oxford mathematics professor whose book, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? is to my mind an excoriating demolition of Dawkins’s overreach from biology into religion as expressed in his book The God Delusion -- all the more devastating because Lennox attacks him on the basis of science itself. In the first debate, which can be seen on video on this website, Dawkins was badly caught off-balance by Lennox’s argument precisely because, possibly for the first time, he was being challenged on his own chosen scientific ground.

This week’s debate, however, was different because from the off Dawkins moved it onto safer territory– and at the very beginning made a most startling admission. He said:

A serious case could be made for a deistic God.

This was surely remarkable. Here was the arch-apostle of atheism, whose whole case is based on the assertion that believing in a creator of the universe is no different from believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden, saying that a serious case can be made for the idea that the universe was brought into being by some kind of purposeful force. A creator. True, he was not saying he was now a deist; on the contrary, he still didn't believe in such a purposeful founding intelligence, and he was certainly still saying that belief in the personal God of the Bible was just like believing in fairies. Nevertheless, to acknowledge that ‘a serious case could be made for a deistic god’ is to undermine his previous categorical assertion that

...all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all ‘design’ anywhere in the universe is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection...Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.

In Oxford on Tuesday night, however, virtually the first thing he said was that a serious case could be made for believing that it could. Read more
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Why don’t humanists give value to humans?

Not someone with whom I would usually agree, but ...

Humanists (and by that I mean secular humanists for now) would do much more to persuade me of their world-view if they took more seriously the idea that the human is of fundamental value. Instead, secu­lar humanists are becoming increas­ingly cavalier with their central belief. They have become a bit like Christians who don’t believe in God. This leads me to ponder whether human life is really all that safe in the hands of human­ists.

Here, for instance, is a passage from the British Humanist Associ­ation’s website: “Religious people also often use phrases like 'the sanctity of life' to justify the view that life has intrinsic value and must not be des­troyed. Humanists, too, see a special value in human life, but think that if an individual has decided on rational grounds that his life has lost its meaning and value, that evalu­ation should be respected.”

Oh, how nice: humanists think life has a “special” value, whatever that means. Less sarcastically, it is clear that here is an admission that the value of human life is down­graded by those who call themselves humanists. Read more
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Friday, 24 October 2008

Atheism on the Buses - your chance to do something

Are you concerned at all about the atheism on the buses campaign? Do you want to do something in response? Why not contribute to the expenses of the Churches Advertising Network?

They’ve been putting adverts on commercial radio for some time now. The adverts are short, snappy and reach a wider audience than a London bus (outside London, for a start).

The bottom line is simple: money buys time on commercial radio.
Stop whingeing. Start giving. And tell your friends.
John Richardson

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Thursday, 23 October 2008

Vicar who performed 'wedding' ceremony for two gay clergy expresses regret

The London vicar who performed a “gay wedding” for two homosexual clergy in his church in the City is to escape without any sanction or reprimand, The Times has learnt.

The Bishop of London, the Right Rev Richard Chartres, launched an investigation after the Rev Martin Dudley presided at a Prayer Book-style service of blessing for the Rev Peter Cowell, a London hospital chaplain and priest at Westminster Abbey, and the Rev David Lord, a priest from New Zealand.

In the service, comparable to a traditional wedding, the couple exchanged rings and vows at the historic church of St Bartholomew the Great.

After protests from evangelicals that Mr Dudley had flouted Church of England guidelines that prohibit such ceremonies, Bishop Chartres asked one of his archdeacons to investigate and there was speculation that Mr Dudley’s future might be at risk.

But The Times has learnt that both sides have agreed to put the incident behind them after Mr Dudley issued a “letter of regret” to the Bishop and pledged not to do it again. Read more
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Guess who said ...

Guess who said ...

"anti-depressants depressed me till I prayed to God to make the pain stop."

Answer here, and see here.

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Was Pope Pius a moral coward or a saint?

The streets of Paris ask an insistent moral question, now more than half a century old but as pertinent as ever. On many street corners, small plaques commemorate those who faced up to Nazism: “Here died so-and-so, rĂ©sistant de guerre.”

When I lived in Paris, I often pondered the question posed by these small memorials: what would I have done? Would I have done anything? Some Frenchmen and women actively collaborated during the war; many quietly acquiesced to protect themselves and their families. Those who chose to resist fascism did so in different ways: some secretly and discreetly, some with guns and actions, others with words. Those who spoke up, and out, were perhaps the bravest of all: the saints, and the martyrs.

Exactly 50 years after the death of Pope Pius XII, supporters of the wartime pontiff are demanding his beatification, the last step on the road to sainthood, reigniting a long-running battle over whether he did enough, early enough, to condemn the persecution of Jews.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Israel carries a deliberately provocative depiction of the Pope's wartime role, including him among the “unjust”. Hardline supporters of Pius have tried to ram through the process of sainthood with little regard for Jewish sensitivities. Pius has been condemned as “Hitler's Pope” by some critics and lauded by Pope Benedict XVI as a great leader.

For all the fury and posturing, the story is essentially about how one very powerful man responded to the most pressing moral question of the age. This is not some distant historical dispute among scholars. It is a defining issue that asks, just as insistently as those Paris plaques: what would you have done? Read more
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Lessons on sex 'to be compulsory'

The government is expected to announce later that sex and relationship lessons will be made compulsory in primary and secondary schools in England.

A review was ordered after ministers branded teaching on the issue "patchy".
Currently, it is only compulsory to teach children about the biology of reproduction and changing bodies.

A BBC poll of more than 1,000 people found that 87% would support a change in approach, as long as teaching did not begin at too young an age.

In Wales, sex and relationship education is already part of the curriculum and it is a legal requirement in Northern Ireland.

There is no legal requirement in Scotland.

The UK has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe with 27 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19.

'Greater involvement'

It is not yet clear exactly what will be taught to each year group in England, but some reports suggest five-year-olds could receive some level of sex education. Read more

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Canadian Bishop: "Schism worse than heresy"

Ed: Note, this is the same article as below, but referring to a different area of Canada.

[...] In a related development, the diocesan bishop of Brandon, Jim Njegovan, addressed the issue of cross-border interventions in his charge to the diocesan synod held Oct. 16 to 18.

“Sadly, our diocese, even though we as a synod have not even begun to address permitting parishes to bless same-sex couples, has been one of those parts of the communion affected by cross-provincial intervention and it is all the more painful because it has been done by those who many of us considered friends and colleagues,” said Bishop Njegovan.

St. Bede’s, a small rural congregation of the South Parkland parish in the diocese of Brandon, voted to leave Oct. 15.

Bishop Njegovan noted that his predecessor, Malcolm Harding, had relinquished his order of ministry in the Anglican Church of Canada, “meaning that for all intents and purposes he was ‘laicized;’ that is, he could no longer exercise any ordained ministerial function within the church and could not use ministerial titles or wear clerical vesture.” He said that following ancient practice and polity of the church, this would apply not only to ministries within the Anglican Church of Canada “but also within all churches in full communion with us, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and all the churches of the Anglican Communion.”

Bishop Njegovan said that his predecessor, now recognized as a bishop by Archbishop Venables, has been meeting in various communities in the diocese “with the intent of planting ‘ network’ (ANiC) churches.” He cautioned parishioners against believing what they have been told “that they would still be Anglicans recognized by the communion” once they leave the Canadian Anglican church and fall under the jurisdiction of another province like the Southern Cone.

He said that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has stated in a letter to him that his office and that of the Anglican Communion only recognizes “one ecclesial body in Canada as a constitute part of the communion, that being the Anglican Church of Canada.”

Bishop Njegovan said that while the Southern Cone is a recognized part of the communion and Archbishop Venables was invited and present at the Lambeth Conference of bishops “those claiming to be under his jurisdiction in Canada were not and are not so recognized.”

In his strongly-worded charge, Bishop Njegovan added, “It could be argued that the promotion of schism within the church has always been considered an even greater heresy in that it flies directly in the face of the scriptural call to unity…” Read more
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Central Interior assembly of Anglican Church in Canada says ‘yes’ to blessings

The assembly of the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior (APCI) has requested its bishop, Gordon Light, to allow clergy whose conscience permits to bless civilly-married gay couples where at least one party is baptized. The assembly passed the motion when it met Oct. 17 to 19.

A notice of a similar motion was filed at the synod of the diocese of Ontario but was declared out of order by the diocesan bishop, George Bruce, who acted on the advice of the diocesan chancellor (legal advisor). The ruling was appealed at the synod held Oct. 16 to 18 but was upheld by a majority vote of delegates.

At the APCI assembly, Bishop Light gave concurrence to the motion but suspended any action pending consultations with the Canadian house of bishops, which meets Oct. 27 to 31 to discuss, among others, how best to respond to renewed proposals for moratoria on the blessing of same-sex unions, the ordination of persons living in same-sex unions to the episcopate, and cross-border interventions. Read more
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Wednesday, 22 October 2008

76th General Convention should not consider Anglican covenant, Presiding Bishop tells Executive Council

If a proposed Anglican covenant is released in mid-May for adoption by the Anglican Communion's provinces, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will "strongly discourage" any effort to bring that request to the 76th General Convention in July.
Jefferts Schori briefly discussed the covenant process during her remarks to the opening plenary session October 21 on the second of the Executive Council's four-day meeting in Helena, the seat of the Diocese of Montana.

Anglican Communion provinces have until the end of March 2009 to respond to the current version of the proposed covenant, known as the St. Andrew's Draft. The Covenant Design Group meets in London in April 2009 and may issue another draft of a covenant. That draft is expected to be reviewed by the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) during its May 1-12, 2009 meeting. The ACC could decide to release that version to the provinces for their adoption.

If the ACC decides to do that, "my sense is that the time is far too short before our General Convention for us to have a thorough discussion of it as a church and I'm therefore going to strongly discourage any move to bring it to General Convention," Jefferts Schori told the Executive Council. "I just think it's inappropriate to make a decision that weighty" that quickly, she added. Read more
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TEC pursues removal of San Joaquin priests, deacons

Steps are under way to take 36 priests and 16 deacons off the books of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin over charges they abandoned the U.S. Episcopal Church. But the local breakaway Anglican diocese said the Episcopal body doesn't have the authority.

"We don't recognize their authority over us," said the Rev. Van McCalister, spokesman for the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin, based in Fresno.

McCalister said Tuesday the Episcopal diocese's action doesn't affect the abilities of the priests and deacons to do their jobs because the Anglican Communion recognizes them as fully ordained.
The U.S. Episcopal Church and Anglican Bishop John-David Schofield have been at odds since December; that is when Schofield led a secession over differences with the national body's approval of same-sex blessings, ordination of a gay bishop, the role of women in the church and how to interpret the Bible over such issues.

Schofield leads the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin, which is affiliated with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Read more
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Immigration Minister: Church of England has lost special position in English life

Phil Woolas, the new Immigration Minister, was again at the centre of controversy last night after contradicting official government policy over the position of the Church of England.

The outcome of the Government’s attempt to reform the House of Lords would be to strip the Church of its privileges, he said. Within 50 years the Church of England would have lost the special position it has held in English life since the Reformation.

Mr Woolas told The Times: “Disestablishment – I think it will happen because it’s the way things are going. Once you open debate about reform of the House of Lords you open up debate about the make-up of the House. It will probably take 50 years, but a modern society is multifaith.”

His remarks caused consternation in Whitehall: the Government has no intention of igniting a political row over the issue, which has consequences for the monarchy. Read more
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Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Woman, 80, warned she faces prosecution for feeding birds in her garden

Ed: Makes me proud to be British.

Mrs Coton, who has been putting food out for the bluetits, starlings and sparrows in her garden for 20 years, was warned that she could face legal action from her local council if she does not desist from feeding the "feral" birds.

Officials said that a neighbour had complained that her "overfeeding" had led to large groups of birds congregating on the street creating "environmental" problems and damaging property.

Coventry City Council said it was considering serving an abatement notice - similar to orders given to neighbours who play loud music late at night - to curtail her bird feeding. If she fails to comply she could be prosecuted.

But the RSPB questioned whether birds could damage buildings and said it was "vital" to feed garden birds at this time of year when food is scare, particularly in light of a marked decline in numbers.

Mrs Coton, a great-grandmother, who lives in Coventry, received the letter last week after returning home from a spell in hospital. Read more

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Afghan journalism student sentenced to 20 years for insulting Islam

An Afghan journalism student sentenced to death for allegedly ’insulting Islam’ had his conviction upheld but his sentence reduced to 20 years in prison by an Afghan central appeal court today.

The prosecution alleged that Sayed Perwez Kambashkh, 24, downloaded from the internet and distributed an article by an Iranian writer questioning some of the tenets of Islam relating women’s rights. He has always denied the charges.

He is alleged to have added three paragraphs to the offending article himself, one of which read: “This is the real face of Islam... the prophet Mohammad wrote verses of the Holy Quran just for his own benefit.”

At his appeal court trial today five professors of Balkh University, where the defendant was a student, claimed that Kambakhsh disrupted classes by asking “anti-Islam and insulting questions.”

Kambakhsh was originally sentenced to death by a local court in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif following his arrest in October 2007. Read more
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All aboard the atheist bus campaign

Ed: Surely the Christian response to this bit of advertising should be, "If you think there's no god, you should be worrying, because any day now you're going to die."

And anyway, what's with "probably"? I thought this was an atheist campaign.

Ariane Sherine's atheist bus advert

The godless move in mysterious ways: what the atheist bus campaign's advert will look like.

The atheist bus campaign launches today thanks to Comment is free readers. Because of your enthusiastic response to the idea of a reassuring God-free advert being used to counter religious advertising, the slogan "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life" could now become an ad campaign on London buses – and leading secularists have jumped on board to help us raise the money.

The British Humanist Association will be administering all donations to the campaign, and Professor Richard Dawkins, bestselling author of The God Delusion, has generously agreed to match all contributions up to a maximum of £5,500, giving us a total of £11,000 if we raise the full amount. This will be enough to fund two sets of atheist adverts on 30 London buses for four weeks.

If the buses hit the road, this will be the UK's first ever atheist advertising campaign. It's an exciting development, which I never expected when I first proposed the idea on Cif in June. Back then, I was just keen to counter the religious ads running on public transport, which featured a URL to a website telling non-Christians they would spend "all eternity in torment in hell", burning in "a lake of fire". When I suggested the atheist counter-slogan (now shortened for readability), the response was extremely positive, and hundreds of you pledged your support after the follow-up article. Read more
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Gayle Williams was serving Christ, not proselytising

I have a young friend, approaching Gayle Williams’ age, who does aid work in some of the more dangerous parts of the world. I texted her in the wake of Miss Williams’ murder – I’m not sure why. She replied cheerfully from Pakistan that she had to buy her team ice creams as a penalty for her mobile ringing at work.

Let’s call my friend “Bridgit”. Because, since Miss Williams was shot dead on a street of Kabul, we should perhaps apply the same sort of security principles to people working in Christian charity relief as we do to the military.

That is the only comparison with the military that I’m prepared to concede in speaking of Bridgit, or for that matter Miss Williams. These brave and selfless people are not serving governments or nation states or “the West”. They are serving Christ.

Let’s be clear what that means. Miss Williams’ proud and grief-engulfed parents said that their daughter died “doing what the Lord had called her to do.” Mr and Mrs Williams can say whatever they like at this time, or nothing at all. But let us not allow that phrase to let a breath of justification into the Williams family’s loss.

The work of Miss Williams and her friends is indeed profoundly vocational, though far from all of them will be consciously motivated by religious faith. For the Christians among them, the Lord can indeed be said to call them to perform it. But the Lord did not call Miss Williams to be gunned down.

To permit that view any space at all is to undermine the human – no, the inhuman – wickedness of the murderous, gun-toting assassins on their motorbike in that dusty Afghan road, as they embarked on their merciless mission. Read more
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There's a God-shaped hole in Westminster

[...] The creeping secularisation of politics was one of the factors that pushed Ruth Kelly, a devout Roman Catholic, into resigning her Cabinet position. It was not only that she disagreed with the Government's proposals on stem-cell research - and as a backbencher she will be able to vote against them tomorrow. She was also disturbed by the way in which her membership of Opus Dei was seen as something weird and even rather dangerous; and she disliked the way in which Mr Blair's Christianity was mocked during the war in Iraq. “The debate in Britain has become incredibly secularised,” she explained earlier this month. “Religion is seen as something a bit strange, in the margins. Politics is much the poorer for that because you want people who believe in things to go into politics.”

In policy terms, the assumption in Whitehall is that it is bad to believe. The Government's “statement of British values” is unlikely to make any mention of faith; the Department for Communities and Local Government guidelines for councils on what to tell new residents include lots about queuing but nothing on Christianity. A report published by the Church of England earlier this year accused the Government of “deep religious illiteracy” and of having “no convincing moral direction”

When Alice Thomson and I interviewed Phil Woolas last week, his comments on immigration hit the headlines - but it was his suggestion that the Anglican Church would be disestablished that got Downing Street in a jitter. Read more
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Open Communion dividing Episcopal church

A quiet revolution is taking place at the altars of many churches - in the form of bread and wine.

Communion, the central ritual of most Christian worship services and long a members-only sacrament, is increasingly being opened to any willing participant, including the nonbaptized, the nonbeliever, and the non-Christian.

The change is most dramatic in the Episcopal Church, particularly in liberal dioceses like Massachusetts. The denomination's rules are clear: "No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church." Yet, a recent survey by the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts found that nearly three-quarters of local parishes are practicing "open Communion," inviting anyone to partake.

"Who am I to say who should be at God's table?" said the Rev. Gale Davis Morris, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Acton. "Most of Scripture is pretty clear about who the ultimate judge is, and it's not anybody that's human. And I would much rather err on the side of inclusion than exclusion."

Supporters of open Communion argue that Jesus would not have turned anyone away; defenders of closed Communion say that's a misreading of biblical history and that Communion is meant to be a sign not only of one's faith but of one's membership in the church. The debate is taking place as the number of Americans who describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated is growing, and church leaders are attempting to lure them in.

"Both sides will appeal to Scripture - those for open Communion will appeal to Jesus' practice of having meals with tax collectors and sinners, while those who want to maintain the traditional practice appeal to the Last Supper, where Jesus was eating with his disciples," said the Rev. Matthew Stewart, priest in charge at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit in Fall River. Stewart led a study of Communion practices in the Diocese of Massachusetts.

Strikingly, the transformation is taking place with little public controversy, as parish by parish, Episcopal priests are making their own decisions about whom to invite to the Communion rail. The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts has taken a hands-off approach.

"Episcopal Church leadership recognizes that Episcopalians have varied interpretations from Scripture and early Church practices," said the diocesan spokeswoman, Maria Plati. "At this time the decision to invite unbaptized persons to Communion is understood and accepted as a local option." Read more
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Monday, 20 October 2008

British aid worker shot dead in Afghanistan "for preaching Christianity"

A woman working for a UK-registered charity has been shot dead near Kabul University in the Afghan capital.

The woman, Gayle Williams, was a UK and South African national. She was killed by two men on a motorbike, witnesses told the BBC.

She was working for a Christian charity called Serve Afghanistan.

The Taleban are reported to have said they carried out the attack because they said her organisation was preaching Christianity. Read more

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"Gay Wedding" priest accuses objectors of "Donatism"

For what the Bishop of London thought of Revd Martin Dudley's actions, see here.

[...] To the representatives from St Helen Bishopsgate, St Peter-upon-Cornhill, and St Botolph-without-Aldersgate, I say this: We become Donatists if we doubt the faithfulness and promises of God. We do it if we think the Gospel is ours and not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We do it if we think we, and we alone, are the good seed and everyone who does not agree with us is no better than weeds. If we take that approach, then we must scrutinize the life and behaviour and connections of everyone. At the door of the church-building those who should be welcoming will be required to ask questions about what each person has thought and said and done in the past week. It cannot be sufficient that hearts are open to God, that each person should review their own behaviour before confessing that we do not trust in our own righteousness — no, some will be called upon to judge others, as these representatives have chosen to judge me, though no-one appointed them as my judges, and if a negative judgement is returned then the person who is judged is unchurched, declared unworthy to be a part of the Body of Christ. Is the City of London the world? Is this present time the harvest? Are the representatives of these City churches the reapers? Read more
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"Gay Wedding": London Deanery Synod members issue statement of "Fractured Fellowship"

Joint Statement from the City of London Deanery Synod representatives from St Helen Bishopsgate, St Peter-upon-Cornhill, and St Botolph-without-Aldersgate, made at the Deanery Synod on 16th October 2008.

On 31 May 2008 at The Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great the Revd Dr Martin Dudley conducted a service of blessing for the Revd Peter Cowell and the Revd Dr David Lord, subsequent to their civil partnership ceremony. We are grateful that the Bishop of London has called for an investigation, but given that our Deanery Synod meets on Thursday 16th October 2008 for fellowship and prayer we want to explain the degree to which that fellowship has been fractured.

We do not presume to have any authority over Dr Dudley or his church, but given this service took place within the Deanery and that the Deanery Synod meets with an assumption of shared fellowship, we feel the need, with great sadness, to make clear that our fellowship with Dr Dudley has been broken by his recent actions. In particular, we cannot recognise him as a teacher of the same gospel as ours. Read more
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Sunday, 19 October 2008

Convert or we will kill you, Hindu lynch mobs tell fleeing Christians

Hundreds of Christians in the Indian state of Orissa have been forced to renounce their religion and become Hindus after lynch mobs issued them with a stark ultimatum: convert or die.

The wave of forced conversions marks a dramatic escalation in a two-month orgy of sectarian violence which has left at least 59 people dead, 50,000 homeless and thousands of houses and churches burnt to the ground. As neighbour has turned on neighbour, thousands more Christians have sought sanctuary in refugee camps, unable to return to the wreckage of their homes unless they, too, agree to abandon their faith.

Last week, in the worst-affected Kandhamal district, The Observer encountered compelling evidence of the scale of the violence employed in a conversion programme apparently sanctioned by members of one of the most powerful Hindu groups in India, the 6.8-million member Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) - the World Hindu Council.

Standing in the ashes of her neighbour's house in the village of Sarangagada, Jaspina Naik, 32, spoke nervously, glancing towards a group of Hindu men watching her suspiciously. 'My neighbours said, "If you go on being Christians, we will burn your houses and your children in front of you, so make up your minds quickly",' she said. 'I was scared. Christians have no place in this area now.'

On her forehead, she wore a gash of vermilion denoting a married Hindu woman, placed there by the priest at the conversion ceremony she had been obliged to attend a day earlier, along with her husband and three young children. Read more
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