Media on Religion, February Edition

Dr Abel Ugba is member of the Centre for Religion and Public Life and Teaching Fellow in Sociology at the University of Leeds whose work focuses on media, religion, migration and international development. This is the fifth piece for his ongoing MoR column for the Religion in Public blog.

IN FEBRUARY 2019, believers condemned cartoons that depicted Jesus and Mary as anime, the Church of England determined that struggling churches could shut their doors on Sundays, Russia intensified crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses, the BBC revisited the Satanic Verses affair, and a Satan-worshipping rapist complained of unfair treatment in prison.    

Cartoon depiction of Jesus and Mary anger believers: CARTOON depictions of religious figures, including the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, as anime figures have sparked outrage among believers. The anime icons are shared on social media by the “8,000 Ortodoksalanime” group. Social media users in Russia lashed out at the creators of the anime figures, with Daria Nikonova commenting: “Guys, making fun of icons is blasphemy. You should think of judgement day people.” And Dmitriy Kovalevskiy added: “Aren’t you ashamed of making fun of the holy icons? What on earth are you doing folks?” But Rokot saw the matter differently: “Looks interesting, I bet children will like them. Usually, churches are associated with death and people try to avoid them. I think icons like that will attract children to churches.” – Daily Star, February 22.

The Churches that can remain shut on Sundays: Rural churches are no longer required to open their doors to worshippers every Sunday. The new rule enshrines practices that have become common in recent years as countryside clergy face severely dwindling congregations. In many parishes, vicars have been forced to hold Sunday services at different locations on a rolling rota system. The latest count of Sunday congregations shows just 722,000 people are taking their place in the pews, a drop of 15 per cent over the past decade. Current rules require that morning and evening prayer is celebrated in every parish church on all Sundays and other principal feast days. Holy Communion should also be celebrated weekly. The rules that have been altered were drawn up in the 1970s and 1990s to replace laws dating from the early 1600s. Daily Mail, February 22.

Russia detained and tortured Jehovah’s Witnesses: Russian security forces have intensified a crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses in the western Siberian city of Surgut, arresting dozens of believers in dawn raids, and allegedly subjecting seven of them to torture. Alleged victims describe the extreme violence in shocking detail: from arms and legs being tied together, to suffocation and torture by electricity. Since 2017, when Russia’s Supreme Court declared the Russian branch of the global church an extremist organisation, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been forbidden from practising their religion. More than 120 followers now face criminal investigation, a number that is increasing every month. “We’ve become used to the arrest of innocent people, but this goes beyond the realm of good and evil,” said Yaroslav Sivulskiy of the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “It is the Inquisition of the 21st century.” Independent, February 22.

BBC examines the impact of the Satanic Verses: ‘The Satanic Verses: 30 Years On’, is a film in which broadcaster and journalist Mobeen Azhar examines the impact of the novel The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, which was published in 1988. The book sparked a culture war in Britain between those in the Muslim community who considered it blasphemous and called for the book to be banned, and those defending it as an expression of freedom of speech. Protests took place in the UK and across the Islamic world, culminating in February 1998 when Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a death sentence on the writer:

Devil-worshipping rapist complains of unfair treatment in prison: A rapist devil worshipper is moaning that he is being discriminated against in jail for his “religious” beliefs. Pedro Evangelou, 44, says he is being harassed by fellow lags about his occult beliefs and satanic tattoos. He was jailed for nine years in 2017 for raping a teen clubber in his flat – which he had turned into a shrine to evil. He described himself as a “Luciferian” satanist. A prison source said: “He stands out like a sore thumb with an upside down pentagram tattoo on his forehead. It’s made him a target. Rapists are generally the lowest of the low in the prison, but add in a person who believes in ritual magic and pretending to be evil and it creates problems with other prisoners just trying to get on with serving their sentence.” Devil worship has existed in Britain for centuries and 1,893 Satanists were counted in the 2011 census. Daily Mirror, February 17.

Image Credit: Michael Coghlan @Flickr 

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