Religion Today Summaries - May 19, 2011

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

Religion Today Summaries - May 19, 2011

Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.

In today's edition:

  • Hawking Says Heaven Is for 'People Afraid of the Dark'
  • China Unlikely to Ease Crackdown on Shouwang Church
  • Rights Experts Warn of Rising Religious Violence in Egypt
  • Churches Asked to Share Pulpits with Muslims


Hawking Says Heaven Is for 'People Afraid of the Dark'

Religion News Service reports that Professor Stephen Hawking, one of the world's most eminent scientists, is making news again for saying the concept of heaven is “a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” In an interview with London's Guardian newspaper, the 69-year-old Cambridge University cosmologist said that as a victim of motor neuron disease he has lived under the shadow of death for the last 49 years, and it holds no fear for him. “I regard the brain as a computer that will stop working when its components fail,” he said, and he insisted that “there is no heaven or afterlife for broken-down computers -- that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” In “A Brief History of Time,” written 23 years ago, the scientist said that if mankind eventually discovers a “complete theory” to explain the universe, “it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason, for then we should know the mind of God.”

China Unlikely to Ease Crackdown on Shouwang Church

The showdown between Shouwang Church in Beijing and Chinese authorities shows no signs of ending, Mission News Network reports. The 1,000-member church was ousted from its building when their landlord was pressured by officials to evict them. For the six weeks following, Shouwang members have been meeting publicly outside, and officials have arrested dozens each week. International news investigations have brought light to the issue across the globe, as well, but Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs says China is likely not going to budge. "In spite of all of the publicity, in spite of the international outcry, the Chinese government has continued to hold a very firm line: ‘We will not allow this church to meet because they are not registered with the Chinese religious officials,'" explains Nettleton.

Rights Experts Warn of Rising Religious Violence in Egypt

A group of experts, advocates and faith leaders have released a statement highlighting the increasing frequency of attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt and the subsequent "inaccurate" media coverage. At least 12 people were killed over the weekend when about 100 people attacked Coptic demonstrators outside a state TV building, and such deadly interactions are increasingly common. The letter, signed by members of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and Christian Solidarity Worldwide among others, notes the recent revolution has left a "power vacuum" and opened a "'Pandora's Box' of social problems." It continued, “While most of this is a necessary part of the emergence of true democracy in Egypt, the increase in and intensity of attacks on Christians are indicators of imminent civil unrest and the potential for widespread ethno-religious violence that demands an immediate response.”

Churches Asked to Share Pulpits with Muslims

Religious and human rights activists are asking U.S. churches to invite Jewish and Muslim clergy to their sanctuaries to read from sacred texts next month in an initiative designed to counter anti-Muslim bigotry. According to Religion News Service, the June 26 initiative, called “Faith Shared: Uniting in Prayer and Understanding,” is co-sponsored by the Interfaith Alliance and Human Rights First. Leaders of the two Washington-based groups said the event hopes to demonstrate respect for Islam in the wake of Quran burnings in recent months. More than 50 churches in 26 states already have committed to the initiative, including the Washington National Cathedral and New York's Riverside Church. Tad Stahnke, director of policy and programs for Human Rights First, said he hopes the initiative will draw attention to religious freedom, and counter negative stereotypes of Christian leaders making anti-Muslim statements.