June 23, 2007

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On the move

June 15, 2007

Dear reader,

Tinyplanet has packed its bags and its moving to a new domain. Come and visit at

Out and about

June 2, 2007

Egypt has freed a blogger who was detained more than a month ago for being a member of the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Abdel Moneim Mahmoud, who is also a correspondent for British-based Arabic television channel al-Hewar, had not officially been charged. He had been detained along with 23 others, who were also set free.

Human rights group the El Nadim Center has claimed Mahmoud was taken into custody because of “the role he played in exposing crimes committed by the Ministry of the Interior through his blog, where he called for the release of detainees”.

The organisation also points out that Mahmoud took part in media activities arranged by Amnesty International after that group released a report documenting torture in Egyptian police stations.

The Muslim Brotherhood advocates an Islamic state — and let me state quite clearly that I support complete separation of clergy and state — but with democratic reforms Egypt needs.

For example, Egyptian presidents, with whom almost all power rests, have typically been elected in single-candidate votes since the country became a republic in the 1950s. September 2005 saw the first multi-party presidential vote; however, candidates were screened by an electoral commission which only allowed 10 of the 30 applicants to run. The Muslim Brotherhood, which has the broadest support of the opposition groups, had no candidate.

Unsurprisingly, Hosni Mubarack was re-elected.

A March 2007 referendum — which Amnesty International said represented the biggest erosion of human rights since 1981, when emergency laws were introduced following the assassination of Anwar Sadat — gave the president the power to dissolve parliament.

It also prohibited parties using religion as a basis of political activity, ended judicial supervision of elections and allowed for civilians to be tried by military courts in terrorism cases.

Isn’t politics fun?

Conflict of interests

May 29, 2007

The Virginian-Pilot has an interesting biog-piece on Marcus Ross, who holds a doctorate in geosciences yet is also a creationist. I like how the spark for his internal debate was the fact he liked dinosaurs while being raised a Christian fundamentalist. His 197-page thesis was described by his supervisor as “impeccable”, yet Ross doesn’t believe a word of it.

Bidding farewell to limbo

April 21, 2007

The Catholic Church has finally got its act in gear and published a document burying limbo. While never a formal part of the Church’s doctrine, it was taught for generations; in medieval Christian theology it was where the unbaptised dead went, even the good people who lived before Jesus.

But what got the Church moving on the issue was the spiritual destination for unbaptised babies, who were, according to the theory, sent to limbo. This is because of the Church’s doctrine of original sin; i.e. the sin of Adam and Eve in giving into temptation. Baptism is said to wash this sin away, leaving one’s soul squeaky clean.

That’s fine if you’re an adult or otherwise have some understanding of sin, confession, forgiveness, etc. But if you were unfortunate enough to be born and die shortly afterward without the requisite trickle of cold water over your forehead, off you went to that great waiting room in the sky.

Although it wasn’t necessarily a bad place to be. Thomas Aquinas considered it a state of natural happiness, although lacking the presence of God. Which is certainly a better fate for unbaptised infants than that espoused by Augustine of Hippo, who believed they went to hell.

I have never understood the logic in excluding infants from heaven. What could be more innocent than a newborn baby? I thought God was benevolent, loving and forgiving? And He would send babies to limbo because they couldn’t ask to be baptised? It all clashed horribly with the Christian teaching of salvation. Now the Catholic Church has come to its senses in this regard with a document called The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised.

The report by the International Theological Commission, authorised by Pope Benedict (who himself cast doubt on limbo before he was elevated the papacy), decided that limbo represents “an unduly restrictive view of salvation”.

“The conclusion of this study is that there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in revelation,” it reads.

“There are reasons to hope that God will save these infants precisely because it was not possible (to baptize them).

“People find it increasingly difficult to accept that God is just and merciful if he excludes infants, who have no personal sins, from eternal happiness, whether they are Christian or non-Christian.”

The reference to non-Christian infants is particularly interesting. I look at it as a recognition of universal innocence; after all, babies have no understanding of the world and its foibles, and in that respect they’re all the same.

Of course, it is possible to argue that this is the Catholic Church staking a claim to the soul of every child born on the face of the Earth (and there’s no getting around its doctrine that salvation is only possible through Christianity, and the report stresses it is not challenging the concept of original sin). I am unsure if what the report says is intended to also be applied to non-Christian adults, although Rev Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center, seems to think so.

So there we have it. While the document lacks the weight of a papal bull, Benedict has nonetheless backed it. And while the report only expresses the “hope” that the non-baptised can go to heaven, hope is better than limbo.

The report can be read online at (log-in required).