Quotes: The Wrath to Come

“even after the military deployed to try to enforce a lockdown, several clerics made videos that went viral in recent days, urging Pakistanis to come back to the mosques to worship.

To avoid mosques on Fridays would only invite God’s wrath at a time when people need his mercy, the clerics warned.”

Zia ur-RehmanMaria Abi-Habib and , here.

The American South: DO NOT SAY Namaste

All y’all who don’t live down here may be unaware of this political fight.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers might lift a decades old ban on yoga in public schools, though the bill would keep the greeting “namaste” on the forbidden list.

A bill by Rep. Jeremy Gray of Opelika would let local school systems decide if they want to teach yoga, poses and stretches. However it would require the moves to have exclusively English names.

It would also prohibit the use of chanting, mantras and saying the greeting “namaste.”

Read all about it.

Happy All Hallows’ Eve

City Center, Wittenberg, Germany

Five hundred and three years ago today, in his All Hallows’ Eve lecture in the German town of Wittenberg the preacher Martin Luther criticized the pope and his own patron, Frederick the Wise, ruler of Electoral Saxony. While that was remarkable in itself, more remarkable still was the system Martin Luther was criticizing, the system of indulgences in place in the church in the year 1516.

Each year on All Saint’s Day, 1 November, Wittenberg received pilgrims who came to see Frederick’s collection of over 19,000 relics, “including a twig from Moses’s burning bush, four hairs of the Virgin Mary, five particles of her milk, a piece of Jesus’s swaddling clothes, two pieces of hay from the manger, five pieces of the table from the Last Supper, and eight thorns from Jesus’s crown.”

Along with each relic came an indulgence, whereby a parishioner’s cash payment to the church lessened “the penalties associated with sin and so reduced the time the sinner had to spend in Purgatory. The Castle Church (in Wittenberg) was one of many churches in Europe authorized by the pope to offer an indulgence once or twice a year…. Added together, the relics in Frederick’s collection could bring about a reduction of precisely 1,902,202 years and 270 days in Purgatory.”

Sounds like a racket to me. Apparently it sounded that way to Martin Luther, too.

– Quotes from Fatal Discord: Erasmus, Luther, and the Fight for the Western Mind by Michael Massing.

Evidence of a Wedding, Church Steps in Wittenberg.

Eradicating Malaria while Buddhist

Here is an anecdote from my first book, Common Sense and Whiskey, about a stay in Thimpu, the capital of the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon, Bhutan:

“Stray dogs (I think about eight billion) gave a free, full-throated concert most nights. Strays are the bane of Bhutan, just like in Kathmandu and Rangoon and Tahiti.

Being Buddhist, the Bhutanese have a little problem. They can’t kill the strays, can’t even spay them. That would be taking a life. But they can appoint Indian Hindus as dog catchers, and have them kill dogs on the pretense of rabies or rash.”

And here is a story from the BBC about another Buddhist conundrum, the problem of wiping out malaria in a land where “killing any life form, even a disease-carrying mosquito,” is not okay. A quote:

“One interesting challenge in Bhutan was the Buddhist aversion, in this deeply religious country, to killing any life form, even a disease-carrying mosquito. Thus the officials spraying buildings with insecticide had to reframe this practice. Rinzin Namgay, Bhutan’s first entomologist, laughs when he remembers that they would tell anxious homeowners during IRS: ‘We’re just spraying the house. If a mosquito wants to commit suicide by coming in, let it.’”

Quotes: Erdogan & Northern Cyprus

Not surprising, but I didn’t know this was going on, to considerable protest: the aggressive Islamification of Turkish Cyprus:

When the Hula Sultan mosque in Nicosia opens its doors this year, it will be able to accommodate 3,000 worshippers. Many faithful will be settlers – mainland Turks brought in initially in the 1970s as part of efforts to “Turkify” the north.

“It is not only that Turkish Cypriots have become a minority in their own country, they are now trying to replace the secular education system with religious schools,” said Elcil. “Over 400 imams have been sent here as missionaries to target the children of settlers. Instead of English, lessons in Arabic and the Qur’an are being taught. Religion has never been a point of conflict in Cyprus, nationalism, yes, but not this.”

Read the whole story.

Friday Photos #51: Faith and Worship, a Photo Tour

Here is a good long photo tour that shows whatever their origin theory and wherever they are, people believe in a greater power, a force beyond. Click to enlarge any of these, and please enjoy them:

We begin in Bhutan, at a ceremony in the watchtower of the Tongsa Dzong, Tongsa.

This is the elaborate interior of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland.

Prayer flags fly above prayer wheels at Changu (Tsomgo) Lake, Sikkim, India.


These are worshippers at Trinity Ethiopian Orthodox church, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


Elders venerated (we guess) at Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island (Rapa Nui).


Whirling Dervish ‘Sema’ performance at the Seljuk caravanserai at Sarihan, Turkey.


This is a Buddhist temple in the Cholon district of Saigon, Vietnam.


A service in St. Michael’s Orthodox Cathedral, Kyiv, Ukraine in March, 2013.


Monks at Angkor Wat, Cambodia.


Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada de La Habana, Havana, Cuba.


Prayer wheel in Buddhist monastery, or datsun, in Ivolginsk, Buryatian Autonomous Republic, Siberia, Russia.


14th century Trinity Church (Tsminda Sameba) near Mt. Kazbek, Caucasus mountains, Republic of Georgia.


Shwemawdaw pagoda, Bago, Burma.


The Fearsome Hallgrim’s Church, Reykjavik, Iceland.


Wat That Luang, Vientaine, Laos.


Yak butter lamps, Jokhang Temple, Lhasa, Tibet.


Interior of Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat, Oman.


Orthodox Jewish men at the Western Wall at night, Jerusalem, Israel.


Pope John Paul II in the Popemobile, Dubrovnik, Croatia.


The Duomo di Milano, Milan, Italy.


Orthodox Church at the Russian settlement of Barentsburg, Svalbard.


Men at mosque, old city, Fez, Morocco.


The ceiling at St. Nicholas church, Prague, Czech Republic.


Khor Virap Monastery, Armenia and Mt. Ararat, Turkey.

There are more photos in the Worship section of EarthPhotos.com. And see all the other fifty weeks of Friday Photos.

A good weekend to all!

Rock Star Pope


One afternoon in the autumn of 1978 I came screaming across Atlanta in my Chevette, rushing from a job fifty miles up the road, hurrying to meet my friends at the IHOP. My adulthood so far was a scramble of post-college roommates, general naïveté and a bad job, with all the self confidence that just having been turned down for a VISA card would allow.

I paid no attention that day, October 16th just like today, when a puff of white smoke over the Sistine Chapel announced the first non-Italian Pope in 456 years. Karol Wojtyla, the vicar of Krakow (his church, above), chose the regnal name John Paul II.

If we’d said things like that back then, looking back I’d have said, Whoa, dude. It was a pretty darned fateful day. 


Josef Stalin scorned the church. “The Pope! How many divisions has he got?” he would sneer. The year he said that, 1935, was a long time ago. But on December 1st of 1989, eleven years one month and fifteen days after that puff of smoke in Vatican City, Stalin’s successor, Mikhail Gorbachev, came hat in hand to Vatican City, pleading that the Pope return the favor with a visit to the Soviet Union.

Stalin’s heir needed the Pope more than the other way around, and John Paul II was noncommittal, replying that he hoped “developments would make it possible for him to accept.”


I do not believe in Catholic doctrine. That autumn day in 1978 I didn’t believe in much beyond my disc-jockey job, rock bands of the moment and girlfriends. But with hindsight, with time enough to have visited Krakow and Gdansk, and Warsaw as both Soviet satellite…


and today…


I respect that Polish Pope for his hand in shaping the events that puff of smoke helped set in motion back in October 1978.


Pope John Paul II came to visit Dubrovnik, where we happened to be visiting, on my birthday in 2003. We stood close enough to the Popemobile to be able to read his watch.


On Brunei’s Sharia Law

Others have begun to note Brunei’s implementation of Sharia (see my earlier article here or here). Among them are entertainers Ellen DeGeneres and Stephen Fry, who are organizing a boycott of ten luxury hotels owned by the Sultan and his family: The Dorchester, The Beverly Hills Hotel, Plaza Athénée, Hotel Meurice, Principe di Savoia, Hotel Bel-Air, Coworth Park, 45 Park Lane, Le Richemond and Hotel Eden.

I know they’re entirely well meaning and I applaud and support the effort.

But Ms. DeGeneres’s tweet, “I won’t be visiting the Hotel Bel-Air or the Beverly Hills Hotel until this is resolved” – somehow, I don’t know, it just doesn’t strike me as fighting fire with fire.

You know what though? I’ll show ’em. Neither will I!

Wednesday HDRs – Churches

Click to enlarge. More in the Worship Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.

churches1St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland.


churches2Notre Dame Cathedral, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


churches3Rigas Doms, the Riga Cathedral, Riga, Latvia.


churches4La Iglesia de la Merced, Casco Viejo, Panama City, Panama.


churches6Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada de La Habana, Havana, Cuba.


churches7Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon, Vietnam.


churches8Rigas Doms, Riga Cathedral HDR, Riga, Latvia.


churches9The Duomo, Milan, Italy.


churches10St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland.


churches11,jpgSt. James Church, the oldest Anglican church in the southern hemisphere, St. Helena Island, South Atlantic Ocean.

The Sultan’s Parting Gift to His Kingdom


Brunei is a custom laundered, crisply folded table linen of a country on an island where people eat with their hands. Every one of the 30-some thousand people in the capital practices flawless good manners, perhaps because they have nothing else to do.

The capital of this tiny country on Borneo’s north shore is Bandar Seri Bagawan, named after the ruler’s father. It is sauna hot, breathlessly dull, buggy, swampy, stultifying and untiringly friendly. It basks in the wealth of crude oil and natural gas, which account for 90% of its GDP.

Brunei ranks fifth in the world in per capita GDP, one notch ahead of the United States. Medical care and education are free. Most people work six hours a day, gas costs a dollar a gallon and there are no taxes. The capital’s Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque is magnificent.

Since the global oil trade began Brunei has reaped its benefits. Yet now Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, educated in Malaysia and at Sandhurst in the U.K., has come to fear globalization. Now His Majesty, who is also Prime Minister, wants a “strong and effective firewall” to protect his subjects from the rest of the world.

“Allah the Almighty, in all his generosity, has created laws for us, so that we can utilize them to obtain justice,” he says.

This month Brunei becomes the first Southeast Asian state to implement Sharia law as national policy. It is a banner Brunei hoists alongside Mauritania, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Maldives, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, among a few others.

Some of the Sultan’s subjects are wary. One wrote online: “It is truly frightening to think that we might potentially be stoned to death for being lovers, that we may be fined for being of a different sexual orientation, and that what we wear will be regulated.”

That’s the kind of insubordination that will drive a Sultan nuts.

His subjects can’t criticize the Sultan, but he can threaten their body parts off. Criticisms, His Majesty scolded, “are no doubt categorised as offences under the General Offences (of the law). They can no longer be given the liberty to continue with their mockery and if there is a basis for them to be brought to court, then therefore, the first phase of the Syariah (criminal) law this coming April will be relevant to them.”

Sounds like he’s coming to get them. And maybe non-Muslims, too.

At first Brunei’s religious establishment took pains to reassure non-Muslims. “They can continue to practise their own religions. There is no compulsion in Islam. Their religions and cultures are protected,” a religious figure said last October.

About a third of Brunei is non-Muslim, and now, six months later, that community is not so sure:

“Brunei hosts 30,000 Filipinos, most of whom are Catholics, and to whom baptisms may be out of reach in two years’ time. There will be no baptisms. There is not a lot we can do about it. We will have to wait and see what happens,” a worried Father Robert Leong, a Catholic priest in Brunei, told The Independent.

What is the Sultan thinking?

Brunei is already safe. It ranks near the bottom on the whole range of world crime statistics. The Sultan rules an entirely agreeable land and none of his subjects clamor for protection from the outside world. Unless, perhaps, it’s protection from Sharia.

Thing is, the Sultan hasn’t much stirred the Islamic pot in his previous 45 years of rule. After a life sometimes oriented more toward the secular than the spiritual, he is a curious standard bearer for Allah.

The Sultan has had three wives, though that is not so unusual for Muslim royalty. He is still married to his first wife. His second and third wives were a stewardess and a TV personality.

He lives in the world’s largest private residence, with some 1,800 rooms. Ceausescu’s Palace in Bucharest had some 1,100. In 1997, when he turned 50, the Sultan threw a $17 million birthday party at which Michael Jackson performed three concerts. He owns thousands of luxury cars including a 24 carat gold-plated Rolls-Royce.

A former Miss USA and others alleged in a 1997 lawsuit that they were held as “sex slaves” at the Sultan’s palace and were “intimidated and coerced into performing physically and morally repulsive acts of prostitution.”

In fairness, this appears to have been more about the Sultan’s brother Prince Jefri, who was also accused of keeping a harem of as many as forty women, embezzling $14.8 billion in state funds, and once had a yacht named “Tits.”



We meant to arrive in Brunei via the Labuan ferry. We watched it load up outside our hotel window in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah province, Malaysia. But it turned out no visas were issued at the ferry terminal, so we had to fly instead.

Royal Brunei blessed the flight with a video while tropical cumulus made like popcorn, rising into the sky at 9:00 in the morning. We skipped along the north Bornean littoral for scarcely twenty minutes.

A few minutes after takeoff, the captain announced, “Approximately a few minutes from now we begin our descent.” The customs man asked, so I confided that I had only the most wee tiny Galah brand Continue reading