Important Sites of Religious Pilgrimage

A BBC travel article in 2012 named 10 must-see pilgrimage locations around the world. You might have heard of the pilgrimages before, or simply learnt the famous religious story in class and can now discover how a village or town in 2018 can allow a religious person to feel closer to their faith by visiting a place written about in their holy books.

Lumbini
Location: Rupandehi, Nepal
Religion: Buddhism
Significance: birthplace of the Lord Buddha. Siddhartha Gautama, the Lord Buddha, was born in 623 B.C. in the famous gardens of Lumbini, which soon became a place of pilgrimage. Buddhism has interesting ideas which we can reflect on when thinking about whether we are at fault for our suffering and if we should take care in our actions so not to harm others or ourselves.

Lumbini

Vatican City
Location: surrounded by Rome, Italy
Religion: Catholicism
Significance: home of the Pope and centre of the Roman Catholic Church. Currently Pope Francis is the man at the Vatican! He often brings to the world’s attention things we learn about at school, such as Christians being persecuted and the need for Christians to pray for them; how Christians should show mercy and compassion to refugees like the Rohingya Muslims; and that if you are fasting during Lent you should still be kind to others to be a truly just Christian.

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Wittenberg
Location: Saxony, Germany
Religion: Protestantism
Significance: birthplace of the Protestant Reformation. It was here in Wittenberg that the monk Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of  Castle Church in 1517. Unfortunately during the Seven Years’ War, much of Wittenberg was destroyed, but Castle Church was rebuilt in the 1800s and the text of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses was inscribed into the church’s front doors. Inside the church you will also find Luther’s tomb. There are some great Martin Luther raps; film clips; animations; and mini documentaries you can watch or sing along to to help you remember the facts!

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Western Wall
Location: Jerusalem, Israel
Religion: Judaism
Significance: the holiest of Jewish sites. The Western Wall made headlines in May 2017 when the US President Donald Trump visited it and prayed there, and female journalist were kept in a penned off area behind male colleagues. It is a place where awe and wonder fills Jewish pilgrims minds and hearts.

Orthodox Jewish men praying in the  men's section, Western Wall (Wailing Wall), Old City, Jerusalem, Israel.

Massacre in Burma or is it Myanmar?

A group of people, the Rohingya (Muslim), have been fleeing their homes in their thousands this week and sharing stories with refugee, government and new agencies about their mistreatment in Burma/ Myanmar (majority Buddhist).  More than 160,000 of Burma/ Myanmar’s 1.1 million ethnic Rohingya minority have fled to Bangladesh, bringing with them stories that they say describe ethnic cleansing.

Ethnic cleansing – the mass expulsion or killing of members of one ethnic or religious group in an area by those of another.

FCO 303 - Bangladesh Travel Advice [WEB]

The leader in Burma/ Myanmar is Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who said in 1991: “Wherever suffering is ignored, there will be the seeds of conflict, for suffering degrades and embitters and enrages.” There is a petition that she is stripped of her Nobel Prize for not stopping and condemning the attacks on the Rohingya.

News agencies are being cautious with their language when reporting the story as there have also been reports of Rohingya terrorists attacking and killing Buddhists and Hindus. So when they report on a massacre against the Rohingya they use language like the Guardian cannot independently corroborate the villagers’ accounts to protect themselves if the stories do turn out not to be true.

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Head Transplants one step closer in humans

The first human head transplant is planned for later this year and it looks one step closer as scientists report that they’ve successfully transplanted a smaller rat’s head onto another larger rat. The operation involved three rats in total: the donor, the recipient and a third used to maintain the blood supply to the transplanted head. After the operation, the rat whose head had been transplanted was able to see and feel pain, showing the brain was functioning despite having been detached from its original body.

Not all scientists are impressed with this path towards human head transplants: Hunt Batjer, the president elect of the American Association for Neurological Surgeons, has criticised the plans to transplant a human head. “I would not wish this on anyone,” he said. “I would not allow anyone to do it to me as there are a lot of things worse than death.”

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Lifestyle Rationing or Health Optimisation?

Quite often in Religious Studies lessons our discussion lead us to the NHS – the National Health Service in Britain which provides free medical treatment to people resident in the country. If we are discussing the causes of crime; illegal drugs; alcohol and cigarette addiction; multi-faith society; and immigration we often at some point mention the NHS and its benefits and flaws.

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So what do we think about some NHS trusts having a criteria which puts smokers and obese people at the back of the queue for certain treatments like hip and knee operations? The critics call it ‘lifestyle rationing’ whereas the NHS Trust says they advise patients to improve their lifestyle over 6 months as health optimisation. Now other NHS Trusts might take up this policy and so people are debating whether it is morally fair: the Evening Standard, The Sun, The Independent,  and BBC all reported this story.

What might a religious person think about this debate? With regards Christianity we could refer to: sanctity of life, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the Parable of the Sheep and Goat, Do Not Kill, the Golden Rule, Love Thy Neighbour, live like Jesus, and situation ethics. Whereas for Buddhism we could refer to the 5 Precepts focusing in on Do not Harm and Do not Take Drugs, Karma, Tanha (craving), Karuna (compassion) and Upaya Kausalya (skilful means).

 

Children learning to be Buddhist monks

The BBC have a beautiful collection of photographs showing young children learning to be Buddhist monks in the Himalayas.

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You can see the conch shell in front of the boys. Today the conch is used in Tibetan Buddhism to call together religious assemblies. During the actual practise of rituals, it is used both as a musical instrument and as a container for holy water.

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Remember that if you’ve chosen to use Buddhism in your GCSE exam this summer you need to know more than the basics on the ‘cheat sheet’ above. Why not check out these online guides?

  • BBC guide to religions: Buddhism
  • BBC Schools Religion: Buddhism
  • 8 Brief Class Clips about beliefs in Buddhism from the BBC
  • Use this page to find Bitesize Revision pages about Buddhism and the topics we learn such as Life after Death, Abortion, Crime and Punishment and many more.
  • A really good YouTube video is about the Religion and Life paper, and although they talk about the War question which we’re not studying all the other 4 topics are shown and Buddhism is referred to throughout. Mark Warwick has a really useful YouTube page where there are numerous useful videos to help your GCSE preparation.

 

New Scorsese film called Silence

Coming in January to the UK is a new film by the eminent director Martin Scorsese called Silence, all about a group of priests who go to Japan to ‘save’ the soul of their old mentor. Film reviews praise the acting and storyline and it looks like it might be a useful dramatisation of Christian missions and evangelism which Year 10 students are studying as part of Component 1 of their GCSE RS. Rated an R in the US it is expected to be made a 15 rating in the UK.

The trailer shows two young priests heading out to  Japan, to find their mentor Father Ferreira who they’ve been told has denounced Christianity and become a Buddhist with a wife and children. The Portuguese priests have to witness persecution and killings of any Christian converts and all the time they are tormented by God’s silence, and the question of whether this is the same as absence, or if God’s refusal to intervene has become an unimaginable and intolerable cruelty. “How can I explain his silence to these people?”

The film also delves into questions of God’s omniscience: if a believer is forced to recant (deny their faith in God), yet maintains a hidden unbreakable core of secret faith, a hidden finger-cross, is that a defeat or not? God sees all, of course, including the way a public disavowal of faith has stopped hundreds or thousands from believing. Is the public theatre of faith more important than a secret bargain with a silent creator?