Welcome to , 14 Aug 2011
Fortnightly Report on Christianity in Former Soviet Bloc Countries,
by Dr. Robert D. Hosken
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FIRST, THE NEWS:
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(Note: the "prayers" link in the heading will take you to this issue's "Prayer and Praise" list.)

MOST RUSSIANS PRAISE PUBLIC ACTIVITIES OF PATRIARCH KIRILL
from Interfax-Religion

Select to see full-size!(5 Aug) Over half of polled Russians (53%) praise the public efforts of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, 15% more regard them as average and only 7% hold them in low respect, Interfax was told on Friday at Sreda service in relation to a nation-wide poll of 1,500 people conducted together with the Public Opinion Foundation. The highest praise comes from Russians aged 45 and over, residents of big cities, parents of big families (63%), the retired (58%), people in the medium income bracket (58%) and those who vote for United Russia party (58%).

Men rate the patriarch lower than women. Young people and students constitute the most critical group. Low grades are more frequently given by respondents with a university degree (9%), childless couples (10%), non-superstitious people (12%), supporters of the Liberal-Democratic Party (14%) and those not planning to take part in the upcoming elections (12%). Every fourth respondent was undecided. This group is comprised mainly of people with low educational standards and residents of small towns. Meanwhile, atheists and those not belonging to any particular creed tend to think that the Patriarch's public efforts are not worth much. [read more...]


A CLOSE ENCOUNTER OF CHRISTIANITY'S EAST, WEST TRADITIONS
from Seattle Times

(13 Aug) Despite some attempts through the last millennium, the East and West Churches are still at odds with each other, though considerable progress has been made since the breakthrough encounter in Jerusalem of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople in 1964. This historic meeting between the pope and the patriarch led a year later to a mutual declaration rescinding the dual excommunications of 1054 which began the Great Schism between the churches of the East and the West. Though the declaration did not end the schism, it showed a great desire for reconciliation between the two churches.

Roman Catholic relationships with the Russian Orthodox reached their lowest ebb about 10 years ago when the Vatican established four Catholic dioceses in Russia - mainly to serve the ethnic Germans, Poles and others who had been sent into exile during the Cold War. Today, with a new Russian Orthodox patriarch, relationships are much more cordial and open. But the Russian Orthodox are particularly negative toward the proselytizing by American-based evangelical churches. [read more...]


BELARUS: "INMATES ARE AFRAID OF EXERCISING THEIR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM RIGHTS"
by Olga Glace, Forum 18 News Service

(4 Aug) In Belarus non-Orthodox prisoners face difficulties in exercising their freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has found. In maximum security prisons, "prison administrations make prisoners face a difficult choice whom to see once a year - either clergy or relatives", lawyer Vlasta Oleksuk told Forum 18. Prisoners sentenced to death - such as Andrei Burdyka executed in July - are denied the possibility to meet clergy before their execution, even if they request this. There are also problems in ordinary prisons, for example Muslims having no allowance made for their diet

Anatoly Tunchik of the Punishment Implementation Department, asked about visits by non-Orthodox clergy, replied: "We are very strict at not admitting any random person into prisons. Sometimes", he continued, "they disguise themselves as other religions and have a negative influence over the inmates. For this reason access is only possible for Orthodox and Catholic priests, which means registered religions". Many convicts and clergy of different religions were not even aware of the rights they had. Also, "inmates are afraid of exercising their religious freedom rights, as they fear that the prison staff's attitude will be tougher", Protestant Pastor Boris Chernoglaz told Forum 18. [read more...]


VANDALS DETAINED FOR DESTROYING CROSSES ON GRAVES
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

(11 Aug) In the village of Lozovske of Sloviano-Serbskyi District of the Luhansk Oblast in the east of Ukraine, police have detained a group of minors who danced on graves at a local cemetery and destroyed twenty gravestones and crosses, Tetiana Pohukai, the press secretary of the Main Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine in the Luhansk Oblast, reported to UNIAN.

According to her, six boys and girls aged 11-16 committed the sacrilege, being drunk. She said that the vandals were detained. Proceedings were initiated against two of them aged 14 and 16 according to Article 27 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine. They may be imprisoned for 3-5 years. [read more...]


UZBEKISTAN: "SPIRITUALLY RICH AND FOR FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE AND RELIGION"?
by Mushfig Raybam, Forum 18 News Service

(2 Aug) An indictment has been filed against a Baptist in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Konstantin Malchikovsky is accused of not paying in monies from church offerings and book sales. Baptists strongly dispute the charges, describing them as "absurd," and noting that they "violate the Religion Law." They also note that courts have ignored what they describe as "exhaustive proofs of falsification and forgery of documents by the tax authorities."

The charges have, as in previous cases, been accompanied by a hostile campaign in the state-run media accusing Baptists among other things of running an "illegal training center." After attacking the Baptists' work with children, an article claims that Uzbekistan has "created an environment where all conditions exist for children to grow spiritually rich and for freedom of conscience and religion." In other cases, a computer hard disk belonging to a Baptist has been ordered to be destroyed, and a prisoner of conscience on a ten year jail sentence for exercising freedom of religion or belief, Tohar Haydarov, has had his sentence confirmed by the Supreme Court. [read more...]


OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:

INDOMITABLE SOUL BRAVED STALIN'S WORST
from TheAge.com

ESCALATION OF CHRISTIANOPHOBIA IN THE MIDDLE EAST IS A THREAT TO ORTHODOXY
from Interfax-Religion

AZERBAIJAN: WARNED FOR MEETING WITHOUT STATE PERMISSION, LEGAL STATUS APPLICATIONS STILL DELAYED
from Forum 18 News Service

TEAM BRINGS THE GOSPEL TO SAVE ORPHANS FROM A PATH TO DRUGS AND PROSTITUTION
from Mission Network News

UKRAINIANS MARK 20 YEARS AS A NATION
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

PATRIARCHATE MUM ON REPORTS OF KIRILL'S HEART ATTACK
from Interfax-Religion

METROPOLITAN HILARION: LACK OF FAITH IS AN ILLNESS, WHILE FAITH IS SPIRITUAL HEALTH
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate

SUMMER CAMP WELCOMED HIV-POSITIVE CHILDREN IN UKRAINE
from Russian Ministries

See HOSKEN-NEWS Daily for more of the latest news!


NOW, OUR VIEWS:

The past two weeks since our last Hosken-News have been a real roller coaster ride, not only for the U.S. but for much of the world: Great Britain, Ireland, France, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain, Japan and China are desperately struggling with social and economic problems. In the article The Invisible Hand Is Writing On Our Wall we read: "The invisible hand has been writing on our wall of late, and the message is scaring the markets. The markets should be scared; there is real trouble afoot, and the world's political and economic leaders are terrifyingly out of their depth. In the Book of Daniel, King Belshazzar of Babylon held a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and as they ate and drank from the vessels captured when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, they praised the false gods of gold and of silver and of brass, iron, wood and stone."

Adam Smith introduced into popular thought the concept of of the "Invisible Hand" in his book The Wealth of Nations. Today most people think of this "Invisible Hand" as merely the combination of economic and political forces that somehow average out the selfish desires of each person to form what is good for society as a whole. In our modern secular society, God has been shut out of the picture almost entirely, and we are indoctrinated to see the world as made up only of blind material forces and objects. But the mistake here is forgetting where Adam Smith was coming from: he was part of a largely Christian society, and he himself was Rev. Adam Smith, a Christian minister as well as a political-economics philosopher. To Rev. Smith, the "Invisible Hand" was nothing other than the Hand of God. Only God can make "all things work together for good," and only "for those who love God and are called according to His service."

Neuroplasticity, Authority and Truth

(Let us know what you think - use the online feedback form!)

You're probably thinking, "What is Neuroplasticity, and what does it have to do with anything at all, let alone the problems and trials of Christians in East and West?" I've been reading a few books recently on Neuroplasticity and a related topic called Epigenetics, and they tie in amazingly with the above issues. For well over a century, since Charles Darwin and others promoted the idea of evolution, we've been taught that our brains have evolved over millions of years and are "hard-wired" so that we behave in certain ways, and can't change. But in the last few decades, many neurologists and psycholigists have learned that our brain neurons are "plastic," that is, they can and do change over time. Also, B.F. Skinner's "Behaviorism" taught that our actions are simply the predetermined product of conditioned responses that are "hard-wired" into our nature, and therefore human free will is merely an illusion. Of course, this is very convenient for those scientists and philosophers who want to shut God entirely out of the picture, and thereby justify the idea that we can - indeed must - live only according to our animal nature.

The problem with this thinking is that it implies we can choose to live one way or another. If I can rationally understand Darwinism and Behaviorism, that means I can decide whether or not to accept these ideas and adapt my lifestyle accordingly. But that also implies that I could reject their conclusions and lead a different kind of life. So being able to think rationally and make decisions implies having the freedom of choice. And this is exactly what Neuroplasticity tells us: many areas of the brain even after serious trauma or illness, can re-learn what damaged parts of the brain contained, and also learn new things such as foreign languages, new habits and other new skills, even in adulthood.

The book The Brain that Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge, M.D. narrates his interviews with dozens of "neuroplasticians" who have rehabilitated people with strokes, autism, cerebral palsy and many other serious maladies. Time and again he illustrates that our brains are not "hard-wired" to make us behave only in a certain way, that we can freely choose to change. Of course, change is not easy for anyone, it requires great will-power and desire to be able to change. Many people are simply set in their ways, and choose not to change their ways. The ability to change also comes from the outside: the grace of God is more than merely "a free gift" that gives us a free ticket to heaven - it is God's almighty, transforming power that enables us to change. God works, and we are co-laborers together with God: He's the senior partner without which our efforts are almost impossible. God does His part, and we must do our part.

The related field of Epigenetics also debunks Darwinism and Behaviorism's scientific-philosophical viewpoint that says our genetics determine how we behave. The "epigenome" is the area surrounding the genome, about 500 times larger than the genome, that instructs which genes will be expressed and which genes will be suppressed. And the epigenome is affected by our conscious choices and life circumstances. Thus, our choices to partake in alcoholism, gluttony, sexual immorality, drug addiction and other harmful behaviors can cause certain genes to be expressed, and these bad behaviors to be passed on to future generations: "The sins of the fathers (and mothers) are visited upon their children to the third and fourth generation." Conversely, our choices to live in harmony and moderation cause certain "good" genes to be expressed and passed on to the following generations, up to several generations.

Why do people often choose harmful behaviors? The short answer is "sin." But to fill out that answer, sin is rebellion against God, "missing the mark" of His goal and purpose for our lives. When God says, "This is the way, walk in it!" - we often reply, "I'll do it my way!" This is rebellion against God's authority, thinking of ourselves as autonomous beings, independent of God. Choosing to do things "my way" often results in going the wrong way and messing things up. Then people often say, "It's not my fault, that's just the way God made me!" - thus blaming God, or fate, or determinism, or genetics. But in truth, it was often their own voluntary, free choices that brought about those results.

The answer to rebellion against God's authority is to recognize the truth about ourselves, our mistakes, and to confess them to God. Confession is literally "speaking the truth." When we confess our rebellion against God's authority, our sin, we're not telling God something He doesn't already know: we are acknowledging the truth about ourselves. Then God's almighty grace can begin to transform our lives, changing our behavior and even our bodies to reflect the glory of the transfigured Christ. Christ's body that was broken for us and arose again can heal our brokenness, making us whole again.


Prayer and Praise:
Sun. - Thank God for the growing respect for the Patriarch, the Church and Christianity among most Russian people.
Mon. - Pray for an increase in good relations between Eastern and Western Christianity: Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants.
Tue. - Ask the Lord that non-Orthodox prisoners in Belarus will be able to exercise their religious freedom rights.
Wed. - Pray against the desecration of gravestones by drunken teenagers in the village of Lozovske, Ukraine.
Thu. - Uphold in prayer the genuine freedom of conscience and religion for Baptists in Uzbekistan.
Fri. - Thank the Lord that we can change our behavior, by God's grace and Christ's transforming power.
Sat. - Pray that we Christians as well as unbelievers will really submit to God's authority, confess and live out the truth.

 

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FEEDBACK:


from Jim and Joan, 08/15/11, 2:44am:
Enjoyed the last bits about plasticity and epigenome. Have you read Denton's EVOLUTION, THEORY IN CRISIS ? He was an agnostic when he began writing. Good Science.
Blessings, Jim and Joan


Dear Jim and Joan,
Yes, Darwinism and Behaviorism are paradoxes, logical absurdities, because they assume human rationality and decision-making ability in order to conclude that humans are merely deterministic animals without freedom to make genuine decisions.
In Christ, Bob


from Jim, 08/15/11, 10:40am:
Hi there Bro.! Say, it surely is strange how "antiquated" Bible beliefs are not only being proven true by "modern" medical research, but also practical and applicable to daily life. Maybe the "Instruction Book" IS really the best guide after all. Congrats, excellent article; couldn't have said it better myself.
Blessings! Jim


Dear Jim,
Thanks for your feedback! You're right, God gave those Bible authors special divine insight into the way that the world really works. He also knows the thoughts and intents of the human heart. We might try to deceive ourselves, but we can't fool God.
In Christ, Bob


from Sergey, 08/24/11, 10:01am:
Evolution made it possible for human behavior to be adaptable and to withstand the urges of instinct. We are not hard-wired to act in certain ways and that is not what the theory of evolution teaches. In fact, human intellect can be thought of as an extreme form of adaptability, which is, yes, is a product of evolution. Therefore, in my opinion, the initial premise of this article is not true, and the conclusions it arrives at are questionable.

As for epigenetics, I don't think it debunks Darwinism. Instead, I think what epigenetics does to the theory of evolution is similar to what Einstein's theory of relativity did to classical physics. It doesn't cross out our earlier views on the role of genes but it refines them by proposing that they alone have little effect on the development of organisms. They are rather like switches or triggers that activate only when the conditions are right. I.e. genes that make you vulnerable to lung cancer will have no effect unless you actvate them by smoking.


Dear Sergey,
Thanks for taking the time to read my newsletter, and for your good email message! I hope you've read the book I referred to: The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge MD. I would heartily recommend it - he's a leading neurophysiologist, and the book is very well researched. He interviewed more than a dozen leading figures in the emerging field of neuroplasticity, including a few people in Madison WI, and describes their findings by giving several case studies.

He states clearly that the majority position of scientists until at least the 1970s was that certain areas of the brain, both in humans and in lower species, were considered "hard wired" to control certain bodily functions such as processing sensory input from the eyes, the ears, the skin, etc. This is called the "localization theory" and was developed by earlier scientists who followed the teachings of Charles Darwin and B.F. Skinner's determinism, he says. Read the book for more detail on this. It's good science.

The book mentions the field of epigenetics only briefly, but I'm attaching an article from Time magazine on it that goes into more depth. I think you'll find it very interesting.

Concerning Darwinism in general, here's a quote from another Internet discussion group I'm in:

"Micro-evolution and intra-species adaptability to changing environments (peppered moth) is established scientific fact. The first 2/3 of Darwin's Origin of Species covers this.

"Macro-evolution which posits molecules-to-man stretches far beyond observable, verifiable science into the realm of mythology.... This is the last third of Origin of Species which reads more like a science fiction novel. It is perhaps the boundary or continuum between these two positions that is debatable...."

That pretty much sums up my position. Scientists can theorize based on projecting back in time what they/we know from observation in the laboratory and in nature, but let's face it: we weren't there at the "Big Bang" or Creation, and therefore we can't know for certain, we can only theorize. I prefer to leave it at that, and not debate over questions that we can't know the answers to, that are based more on differing philosophical world-views than on genuine knowledge, and seem to generate more heat than light.

About what Einstein's theory of relativity did to classical physics, quoting a source I don't recall -
"If you think you have it all figured out, you're wrong. Progress does not consist of replacing an incorrect theory with one that is correct, but of replacing an incorrect theory with one that is more subtly incorrect."

Your friend, Bob



Select to see full-size!   Please remember to pray for Christians in the former Soviet bloc countries, and for...

  Your fellow-servants,

  Bob & Cheryl

p.s. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. - George Washington


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