Category Archives: religion

Golden Child Turns Back On Buddhism

Osel Hita Torres, 24, the boy that the Dalai Lama has hand-picked as a reincarnation of a spiritual leader has turned his back on the Buddhist order.
Torres grew up in a palace, living a monastic life. That life has been replaced by university in Madrid where he is studying film. He has given up the life that was picked for him as a toddler saying it was all a lie.

The Guardian reports:

“They took me away from my family and stuck me in a medieval situation in which I suffered a great deal,” said Torres, 24, describing how he was whisked from obscurity in Granada to a monastery in southern India. “It was like living a lie,” he told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

It was suspected that Torres was the reincarnation of Lama Yeshe. He was found at the age of five months. In 1986 his parents took him to see the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India at the age of 14 months. He was chosen from nine others to be enthroned.

He grew up being called Lama Tenzin Osel Rinpoche. As a boy his only social contacts were with other reincarnated souls and Richard Gere who had a cabin next to him.

Today Torres is a Jimi Hendrix fan. Last year he performed in the Burning Man Festival is the Nevada desert.

The young man has distanced himself from the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. He is no longer wearing the monastic robes as he pursues his education in his homeland of Spain.

Joshua Witter Sells I-Told-You-So Cards For Those Left Behind

According to many Christians when the second coming of Christ happens those who are non-believers will be left behind. Atheist Joshua Witter sells cards to Christians who want to send a message to their loved ones when that happens.
If the Rapture comes Joshua Witter will be busy for a few days. He has about 70 cards to deliver from those who left behind their loved ones.

The Orlando Sentinel quotes Witter:

“Anyway you look at it, I’m screwed. It’s too late for me,” said Witter, a 24-year-old computer software engineer who wears long sideburns and hip black-framed glasses.

Witter started his website Post Rapture Post as a joke in 2005. He didn’t expect to receive orders for his wares. He had sold more than 200 items, mostly to his friends and fellow atheists.

One of his best sellers is a line of I-Told-You-So cards. The cards sell for $8.
the cards are all stored on his computers ready to be delivered if the end of the world really comes.

He knows if the end does come he’ll be painfully covering the miles in boils dealing with insects, darkness and meteors to deliver the cards.

“Your hope lies with me. I am your mailman,” he vows. “I’ll do my best come Hell or high water to deliver those letters.”

Camp Quest Now In England, An Atheist Summer Camp

Every year parents send their children to camp. Many camps have a solid religious background. What about camps for non-religious families? Camp Quest was the first camp in the US for children of Atheists. The camp this year crosses the ocean to England.
The British version of the camp is founded by ex-University of York student Samantha Stein. Stein is modeling her program after Camp Quest which was started by Edwin and Helen Kagin in 1996. It now has five locations in the United States and one in Ontario, Canada.

The campers are required to sign a “Declaration of Religious Belief” when they attend the 5 day program.

Stein took the program to England after research showed her that there were no other camps geared to non-believers. This year’s session will be from July 27th until July 31st in Bath.

Campers are not required to be atheists but parents should be aware that the camp adopts a critical, scientific approach as opposed to a “faith-based” approach. The theme of this year’s camp is Evolution. During the mornings campers will explore many ideas including philosophy for Children, pseudoscience, astronomy, evolution, critical thinking, nature games and the famous Invisible Unicorns Challenge. Afternoons will be devoted to physical activities like archery, climbing and rafting.

The Yorker reports:

“We aren’t about converting children or trying to tell them what is right or wrong, rather we seek to promote critical thinking, philosophy and science in the context of those without religious belief. Our aim is educational – we are not an indoctrination scheme trying to push some ‘atheist agenda’ to abolish all religion.”

Stein added: “There are few social networks for the children of nonreligious parents, in the same way that children may make friends at church or Sunday school, and this is part of what that attempts to be: a way in which children can meet to discuss their ideas, have fun and know that they are not alone.”

The camp’s goal is to introduce children to “logical fallacies in a fun way”.

Stein graduated from York last year with a degree in Psychology, and is currently pursuing a masters in Religion in Contemporary Society at Kings College London.

The Ontario program was founded in 1992 in Guelph. This year’s session will take place in Waterloo July 19-25.

School Wins-California Supreme Court Sexual Discrimination Case

The California Supreme Court ruled in favor of a school that expelled two students because they were having a lesbian relationship.
The state’s highest court ruled in favor of California Lutheran High School‘s right to expel the young teenagers. The school according to the court was within their right to exclude students based on their sexual orientation because it is a private, religious organization.

The private school is a Christian institution that teaches its students the ‘unchanging will of God.’

The girls had sued the Riverside County school in 2005 using the state’s anti-discrimination law.

The Court’s ruling could open the doors for private schools to discriminate against students on any basis including sex and religion.

This goes against the California Safe School Coalition for public schools which states California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000 prohibits discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in California public schools.

Had the school been considered a business opened to the public their expelling students based on sexual orientation would be considered discrimination. That was the angle that the lawyers for the two female students suing the school went for.

In January the California’s 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that the school was not a business.

Both girls are now attending college.

Canada has two Atheist ministers

special to Digital Journal:

In Canada there are quite a few people who say they are persons of no religion. Atheist beliefs have risen lately. Who takes care of their spiritual needs? In Canada there are two Atheist ministers.

In Canada in 2001 there were over 4.9 million people that have no religious affiliation. Of those 18,605 said that they are Atheist. Most atheists have studied religious material thoroughly and have concluded that for them there is no true evidence of the existence of gods or goddesses. The universe, Earth and life came about from a natural process not by the hand of a superior being. Because many Atheists say that they are Humanists, Free thinkers, Unitarian Universalists, Ethical Culturalists, persons of no religion, etc. when questioned by census takers the true number that reside in Canada is not clear.

Canadian atheists have an online magazine, loads of web sites and everything else that other Canadians may have. Heck The Canadian Atheist is even sending a rep to the Center for Inquiry World Congress 2009 later this month.

The one thing they don’t have many of is a minister who can perform ceremonies like marriages and funeral services.

That is changing with a Toronto journalist named Mike Krachan (aka “Phree”). Mr. Krachan recently was granted documents, letter of good standing, and I.D naming him as a minister.

Mike is well known in his circles as being Atheist. He’s rather public and proud of that. Curious about why Mike would want to take on the role of minister I interviewed him via email.

KM: Why would a Atheist want a minister considering the religious implications of the term?

MK: “I often tell my friends that I became ordained for just the parking privileges! Although the term is associated with religion by the majority of people, there are actually many different meanings to the word. Basically, a Minister is just someone who has been authorized to “administer” a service, such as an oath or pledge, or a duty. This could be a Minister of a particular religion, or a person appointed into a high government office, such as the Minister of Transportation, or the Prime Minister of Canada. Those legally ordained by the First Church of Atheism, as a “Minister of Ceremonies”, are able to perform many services including weddings, funerals, or “commitment” ceremonies. Of course, we can also charge a fee for these services. The FCA believes it is every Atheists right to perform these functions, and to have them available for those who desire them.”

KM: Exactly how did you obtain your minister status?

MK: By signing up and becoming a member of The First Church of Atheism, you are ordained automatically, free of charge. In order to perform ceremonies, or open a church, you need to obtain some documentation and Ministers identification card.

KJ: Where did you get your number of Canadians who are Atheist? Do you believe that number is correct as in past censuses those who say they are Atheist can also use different wording such as Humanists, Free thinkers, Unitarian Universalists, Ethical Culturalists, persons of no religion, etc.

MK: A recent Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey showed that 23% of Canadians have indicated that they do not believe in a god or gods.–(I also covered this on DJ)–Although these numbers are higher then ever before, and similar polls in the United States also indicate a rise in Atheism, I do believe that the actual numbers are much higher when we account the other non-believers. the problem lies with the definition I think. Some- erroneously in my opinion- like to define Atheism as a “belief that god does not exist”, whereas its proper definition “no belief, or a lack of belief in a god or gods” should be used to avoid this misconception of Atheists. By the latter definition, Agnostics, Humanists, Free thinkers,(some) persons of no religion,and yes even babies, all fall under the Atheists umbrella. When we compare our beliefs with other religions, all of us are Atheists to hundreds of gods that we don’t believe in…if you want to get really technical. If we decide to be even more technical and define Atheism as simply “without god”, then we are all Atheists period, as we are all certainly without god, by way of his physical absence in the universe.

KM: Do you believe those with a different religious world view should still be treated with respect? How as a minister would you guide others in dealing with those who believe?

MK: Yes and no. It really depends on if they’re an asshole or not! My personal opinion is that religious believers are more like victims that need to be helped, loved and forgiven for their mistakes, not scolded, but educated. I think the best approach for an Atheist Minister, is to teach other Atheists to forget about debunking religion so much, and lead by example. It is more important to show others that even an Atheist church can raise money for charity, feed the hungry, and shelter the poor. Leave the debunking for the pro’s, and start doing something good to set an example.

KM: What was your motivation to become an Atheist minister?

MK: Well I wasn’t motivated actually. I was in the middle of a debate and someone posted the link to the FCA, whilst trying to prove his point that Atheism was a so-called religion. Once I read about the special parking privileges, I was hooked!

KM: How do plan on using this new title? Are you planning on forming your own church?

MK: I plan on using my title as a Minister to its full effect. Whether it is parking privileges, tax breaks, or making a few bucks, I aim to take full advantage. I would like to form a church where Science is taught on Sundays, and where reason and logic is used with passion, and where music, art, and fun are encouraged at all times.

As I started to search for Atheist ministers I found only two in Canada. Mike Krachan and Rev. Lydia Holden of Saskatoon, SK.

2 gives a definition of Atheism.

“Arguments for atheism can be divided into two main categories: those that dispute the existence of god, and those that demonstrate the ill effects of religion. It might be better if I broadened this somewhat, and said those that dispute the existence of an intervening god. Religion is, after all, more than the belief in a supreme being. It is the cult of that supreme being and the belief that his or her wishes have been made known or can be determined.”–Christopher Hitchens, in his introduction to The Portable Atheist.

Reg Bibby, an University of Lethbridge sociologist who has been studying Canadian religions and societal trend for thirty years conducted a national survey in 2005. He found that seven per cent of those who responded to his questions were atheists, a figure that was comparable to a 1975 study. His survey shows Canadians who personally don’t believe in God are not necessarily antagonistic toward organized religion.

Bibby says 46 per cent of atheist respondents agreed with the statement that, “religious groups still have a role to play in Canadian lives” while 19 per cent say they’d be open to greater involvement in religious groups. “If they could find it worthwhile for themselves or their families.” He believes that the responses are typical for most Canadians. reports:

“You may be a non-believer but that doesn’t mean you’re going to trash your grandma’s long-held beliefs when you get together for a family reunion,” Bibby says.

The First Church of Atheism, where Mike Kranchan got his minister papers only requires members to click on an “Ordain Me” link. Within 24 hours a confirmation email is sent. To remain ordained a new minister only has to visit the site from time to time.

They claim to have ordained 724 ministers world-wide. Only one Canadian minister is listed on their site at this time.

According to their FAQ those ordained are legally ordained ministers. They are able to perform every task any other clergy member is allowed.

To prove that they are ordained one simply purchases an Ordainment Certificate and receives a free ID card with that purchase. The certificate costs $14.95 and a Letter of Good Standing costs $5.95. Other items available are parking placards, marriage certificates and commitment certificates. It does cost money though to be listed as a minister on their web page so other ordained Canadian ministers may exist.

The church itself is located in Levittown, Pennsylvania.

Sweden gives the go-ahead for gay marriage

On Wednesday Swedish Parliament voted 226 to 22 in favor of allowing same-sex marriages. In May, the nation will join Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Norway allowing gay couples to wed. Canada and South Africa also allow gay marriages.
The Parliament has spoken, making Sweden the fifth European country to allow same-sex marriages.

The BBC reports:

“The decision means that gender no longer has an impact on the ability to marry and that the law on registered partnership is repealed,” the government said on its website.

Not everyone in Sweden is happy about the Parliament’s decision. The Christian Democrats were the only party to oppose the law. The party had instead proposed the word of marriage be removed from Swedish law and replaced with a legally binding union between two persons. This would have made ‘marriage’ separate from the government and only a Christian ceremony that the church would conduct.


“Unfortunately this is not an April Fool’s Day joke, this is reality,” Yvonne Andersson, member of the Swedish parliament for the Christian Democrats, wrote on the party’s Web site following the vote.

Sweden has backed gay couples being one of the first nations in the world to give gay couples legal “partnership” rights in 1994.

Since January 2007 the Lutheran Church, Sweden’s largest church, has offered to bless gay partnerships. They have not given formal back to the term “marriage” and if a pastor is against same-sex marriage they are allowed to refuse to officiate such ceremonies.

Gay couples have been allowed to adopt children since 2002.

Lemon Soda Used By Priest For Baptism

It may seem like an April Fool’s joke but a priest really baptized a baby with lemon soda in Norway when the church’s taps froze.
Norwegian priest Paal Dale had to do some fast thinking when there was no holy water on tap in Stord, Norway. Using some lemon soda that had gone flat the holy man daubed a newborn’s head in order to perform the religious ceremony.

Dale only felt the need to tell the parents after the lemony smell lingered.

The Mirror reports:

“They didn’t say much but I assumed they smelled the aroma as well,” Father Paal said.

Baptism is not only a symbolic ceremony in many Christian religions but a means into heaven. That is the reasoning behind infant baptism for Catholic, Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodoxy.

In some religions not using water would render the baptism illicit. There is no word if this is a concern with lemon soda.

Joe Mihevc and the Caravan of Hope 2009

special to digital journal:

The Caravan of Hope 2009 is a community-based project of Toronto. The group has taken five ambulances in the past two years to the poor city of Soyapango, El Salvador.
Father Hernan Astudillo lead the team of volunteers of “The Caravan of Hope” from Toronto, Canada to Soyapango, El Salvador to deliver two decommissioned Toronto EMS ambulances to the poor town in March.

Father Astudillo heads the San Lorenzo Church in Toronto. During the latest trip in March to the impoverished city the Father and his group of volunteers encountered mordida, bride money demanded from the Mexican border all the way to Soyapango. The Toronto Star reports the religious man noted on an email sent back home that a fellow volunteer said on the trip :

“Father we are going to arrive in El Salvador very well mordido (bitten), probably only with one leg.”

The ambulances will be given new life as mobile medical facilities for a city whose population is close to one million. In a city with no medical clinics the ambulances are a godsend. El Salvador has a total of 5 ambulances, all located in the town of Soyapango and all brought in through Caravan of Hope.

Soyapango is the growth of shantytowns of people who were displaced by the 12-year civil war in El Salvador. In the mid-1990’s Toronto formed a relationship with the city. Since that time there have been several missions ongoing ranging from sanitation to public health.

Toronto city councilor Joe Mihevc, Ward 21, St. Paul’s West, has given his support to the project. In 2008 he was behind effort in getting the first ambulance donated. That vehicle was so well received that the he helped obtain two more.

The Caravan of Hope takes older ambulances donated by the city of Toronto and gives them to countries that that in desperate need of the emergency vehicles. Generally ambulances in Toronto are auctioned off once they hit 160,000 kilometers or 54 months in service.

Mihevc has had to battle it out with fellow councilors Rob Ford, (Ward 2, Etobicoke North), and (Doug Holyday, Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre) who think that the price that the ambulances garner at auction would be better used on Canadian Streets according to the media. When Digital Journal asked about this the councilor laughed and said it wasn’t such a battle, just business as usual.

Astudillo takes about 10 days to travel to El Salvador. He has made eight trips before to the country on missions. The first trip was ten years ago to bring aid after the destruction caused by Hurricane Mitch.

in an interview with Joe Mihevc said that not only is the city helping the poor city in El Salvador but building bonds with the Latino community. Toronto has a community of 50,000 El Salvadorians. This project has been very positive in Toronto in showing the Latino population that the city cares about their homeland and the lives of their relatives.

The Toronto Star reports:

“Basically, a marginalized, new-immigrant community comes to understand and learn how to work city hall … how to apply for grants, how to apply for housing, how to use city services,” he said, noting Astudillo is a frequent visitor at councilors’ offices.

On March 11 Mihevc and Councilor Adam Vaughan flew to El Salvador to act as international observers for the country’s presidential election the following Sunday. Astudillo and his colleagues were also observers for the election. Mihevc was very impressed with observing the recent elections held in El Salvador. He said during a telephone interview it was very exciting to see change happen before his eyes. It was a great learning experience. It brought home the realities how lucky we are in Canada to have a democracy and how in other nations that goal is a hard fought struggle.

In Toronto on April 4 Joe Mihevc, Father Hernan Astudillo and Councillor Adam Vaughan will be co-hosting a community meeting about the Caravan of Hope at the Artscape Wychwood Barns.

The meeting will feature photos and videos from the trip in March to El Salvador as well as planning opportunities to expand the Caravan of Hope for 2010.

The event on Saturday is a two part meeting. First will be a report on the most recent trip to El Salvador. The second and most important part of the meeting will be the fund raising ideas that Mihevc told Digital Journal he hopes the community will help come up with.

The goal is to raise enough funds to buy some of the 30 ambulances that the city of Toronto has to dispose of every year. While it is expected the city will continue to donate a few ambulances each year after seeing first hand the need of these emergency vehicles first hand on the streets in Soyapango and how positively received they are Caravan of Hope is hoping to buy more ambulances to take to the Central American country.

One of the side projects this year was the delivery of 149 pairs of eyeglasses that Mihevc and Vaughan brought with them on their trip to the city.

Mr. Mihevc said during a telephone interview with Digital Journal that the response to the eyeglasses in El Salvador was unbelievable. It was amazing to see how much of a difference it made for the community, considering it would cost about $500 to us in Canada. The Caravan of Hope has built child and community health services in a way that could not have been fathomed before.

Opinion: Facebook Users Set To Send The Pope A Condom Shipment

When Pope Benedict told Africans not to use condoms he started a fury with people across the globe. Thousands have pledged to send the head of the Catholic church millions of condoms.
Last week the Pope told reporters that distributing condoms increases HIV. Those were fighting words.

CNN reports that the Pope wants to uphold the teaching of the church that every sperm is sacred.

The world though seems to think it’s laughable that a man who’s pledged to go without sex has the right to tell the world how to conduct themselves when it comes to hanky-panky.

Facebook groups have sprung up to give the Pope a rubbery piece of their mind.

One of the groups; 27 March –> Let’s send a Condom to Pope Ratzinger! papa preservativo is in Italian but the meaning is quite clear. On March 27 the members were to send the Pope a special gift to:

Prefettura della Casa Pontificia
00120 Città del Vaticano

Condoms for Pope Benedict XVI is another of the groups. This group has a Condom Day for Pope Bene! event planned at a bed near you from Friday, March 27 until Sunday, March 29. It’s touted as the cocktail party where they’re all unwrapped!

The groups are joining in the protest like some world leaders that were shocked by the pope’s words.

“When any influential person, be it a religious or political leader, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record,” The Lancet said in an editorial.

“Anything less from Pope Benedict would be an immense disservice to the public and health advocates, including many thousands of Catholics, who work tirelessly to try and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide.”

The Pope may have the old world values going but in the face of a virus that doesn’t ask first if the next occupant is headed for Heaven a condom is the one protector that can work for everyone.

Opinion: Does The Pope Want Africans To Die?

Pope Benedict XVI is telling his faithful in Africa, where HIV is rampant that condoms are not the answer. The head of the Catholic church is now dividing even the clergy with his outrageous statements.
For the first time Pope Benedict XVI has commented on condoms. His comments though are shocking and could hurt efforts to curb the HIV virus in Africa.

AP quotes the Pope:

“You can’t resolve it with the distribution of condoms,” the pope told reporters aboard the Alitalia plane headed to Yaounde, Cameroon, where he will begin a seven-day pilgrimage on the continent. “On the contrary, it increases the problem.”

Benedict’s first papal visit to the continent will be to Cameroon and Angola.

The Pope’s comments though are the exact opposite of reality. Reality is the only means of protection from the HIV virus during sexual intercourse is a condom. While not the only way to fight HIV condoms are one of the few ways that work.

The Chronicle Reports:

“Instead, his opposition to condoms conveys that religious dogma is more important to him than the lives of Africans,” said Rebecca Hodes with the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa.

Telling a continent where over 22 million people are suffering, dying and infecting others not to use a condom is akin to playing Russian roulette with the masses.

Nuns and priests working with HIV know better. They have had to struggle with the church’s stance on condoms. In the end, life wins that struggle.

For a religious head to tell his flock not to protect themselves simply because it is also a means of birth control is disgusting. For a man who has not bothered to tour the areas where HIV has devastated to place judgments is even worse. This is the first trip he’s taken to Africa. He’s been the pope for four years.

It’s widely known that the Catholic Church is against birth control and premartial sex. That is all well and good but to undermine the realities of a disease that is leaving millions dead is just short of criminal.