Category Archives: Wicca & New Age

MedMob: Meditation and drumming for peace

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Christine Moughamian

By Blogger Christine Moughamian
One Yogini, Many Paths

On Sunday, April 15, I joined eight persons at Greenfield Lake for MedMob, a monthly hour of silent meditation and drumming for world peace.

MedMob originated in Austin, TX, to bring silent meditation to public places. According to their official website, the name refers to “flash mob,” a group of people who meet “in a crowded public place for the purpose of engaging in a coordinated, unexpected, inspiring activity.”

Their mission statement is all-inclusive:

“Our intention is to create an environment for people from all religions, all world views, and all experience levels to join together in meditation. Our vision is to continue inspiring world-wide meditations until the entire world is invited to join – literally!”

After an hour of seated silent meditation, participants may stretch then engage in 11 minutes or longer of “sound bath.” The Austin group’s 200 participants have chanted “OM” under that city’s capitol building dome, nicknamed for the occasion “the OM Dome.”

On Sunday morning, at the initiative of drummer Perry Smith, our group drummed a simple beat on African drums. I was given a double-drum. My hands moved in rhythm with the deep bass sound.

Eyes closed, a smile on my face, I felt connected to the beat of our hearts, the pulse of the Earth.

When we were done, I asked my friend Elena Pezzuto about the purpose of the monthly gathering. She said: “We meditate for individual peace, community peace and world peace. Come join us!”

The Wilmington MedMob has met in front of a high school shaken by shooting, on the steps of the courthouse and other places of tension around town.

When we talked about the depth of our experiences afterwards, it seemed the name “MedMob” didn’t do it justice. Pezzuto proposed “Meandering Meditators.” We also agreed meeting once a week, in a park, might be good practice.

Participant Pat Reynard explained to me: “It’s anchored where love and light are needed.” Reynard stood up strong, feet firm on the ground, then added: “I am planted. I am here.”

Another participant, Elaine Wilson, said: “It’s grounded with mechanical support.”

I could attest to that feeling of “groundedness” during our meditation. After only a few moments of deep breathing, I felt both calmed down and uplifted. For a moment, I felt I was more than just “peaceful.”

I WAS peace.

“Project Conversion” – A Lumberton man’s year of burying hatred by exploring 12 different faiths

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Andrew Bowen sat yoga-style in his armchair, absentmindedly fingering a set of Muslim prayer beads in his left hand as he talked about 2011 – his year of conversion.

But he’s not Muslim. In fact, the 29-year-old Lumberton resident doesn’t call himself by any of the 12 faiths he practiced for a month at a time last year.

Not Hindu (January). Not Baha’i (February). Not Zoroastrian (March). Not Jewish (April). Not Buddhist (May). Not agnostic (June). Not Mormon (July). Not Muslim (August). Not Sikh (September). Not Wiccan (October). Not Jain (November). And not Catholic (December).

Finding faith in God again was not Bowen’s aim. This young father of two was looking for faith in humanity.

The hardest decision

Bowen became a Christian in high school and took “a nose dive into fundamentalism,” he said. “It just ignited a furnace in me.”

As a teen, Bowen said he was extremely critical of faiths different from his own. Once when a pair of male Mormon missionaries visited his home, Bowen said he chased them down the street as they retreated on their bicycles.

After high school, Bowen met his wife, Heather, at East Carolina University.

The Bowens had two girls, Shaylie and Nevaeh, and thought their family was complete. But in 2008, Heather’s tubal ligation failed, and she was pregnant with their “miracle baby.”

But the doctors discovered the baby was behind her ovaries, an ectopic pregnancy which threatened Heather’s life.

And Heather and Bowen had to choose to abort the baby, something the couple never dreamed they would do. They were devastated.

“It was a really dark time. I went into a very deep state of depression,” Heather recalled.

Project Conversion

But Heather and her husband dealt with the baby’s death in polar opposite ways.

She bought a devotional Bible and was baptized at a local Baptist church. He plunged into a “two-year stint of just seething hatred toward God.”

The couple fought each time Heather wanted to talk about her growing faith. Still, deep down, Bowen worried his hatred would consume him.

“The best way I can describe it was flying down the road like a bat out of hell toward a wall,” Bowen said. “With any transformation, there’s a fire that has to be applied.”

So Project Conversion was born. He would study and practice one faith each month, guided by a mentor from each belief system. But this was no reality TV stunt.

It was an obsession – his own personal intervention.

“It was 110 percent balls to the walls for me,” Bowen said, describing his dedication to the project.

To find his mentors in late 2010, he had to look outside his tiny, mostly Baptist farm town. His Zoroastrian mentor lives in Chicago. His Jewish mentor lives in Charlotte. His Muslim mentor lives in Fayetteville.

Truthfully, Heather was skeptical about Project Conversion at first.

But she “saw changes in him. He was more patient. There was more of a sense of peace about him,” she said.

His first two weeks each month were spent intensely reading and learning a faith’s tenets and the last half was spent exploring the faith’s practices and rituals and visiting nearby congregations if possible. For his Sikh month, he spent five hours watching YouTube videos on how to tie a turban. During his Jewish month, he spent a weekend visiting different congregations with his Jewish mentor, journalist Michael Solender in Charlotte. He’s filled an entire bookshelf with holy books from his research.

Now as he’s writing a book and speaking about Project Conversion and blogging about the experience for, Bowen is still exploring all he’s learned.

“The most important thing I learned in Buddhism was how to wash dishes. Like there is nothing but this dish. It taught me finally to be quiet,” he said. “With the Mormons, the first thing I did was apologize. It was about humility and being one of them and serving them.”

Islam “showed me how much I was wasting in my life from food to activity. Bowing with the men in the mosque was astounding,” he said.

Catholicism was “a wellspring of expression and arts in worship. It was an ocean I could bury myself in for days and not come up for breath.”

The project also touched the lives of his mentors.

“It was energizing in that it allowed us to really put on the table and discuss conversations my wife and I wouldn’t normally have had with other people,” Solender said.

Bowen was one of the best students of Wicca Greenville resident Melissa Barnhurst has had.

“On the first week, he’d already run into tons of public backlash in the stereotypes against Wicca. But he stuck with it,” she said. “He gave it a lot more than some students who’ve come to wanting to become Wiccan.”

Meanwhile, his wife was still working as a labor and delivery nurse at a local hospital. Things were hard financially, at times, because Bowen wasn’t working.

And then there was November, Jainism and Heather’s least favorite

Andrew Bowen during his Jain month, November 2011. Photo courtesy of Andrew Bowen.

month. Bowen loved becoming a monk, meditating wrapped in his grandmother’s sheets, not bathing and walking with a broom to whisk away any creature in the Jain tradition of respecting all life.

“It was the not bathing or washing your hands,” she said. “The nurse in me was beginning to have a fit.”

Though he admits his experiment caused hardship, the couple had a deal. Bowen put his wife through nursing school. She carried the financial burdens through Project Conversion.

“It was entirely disruptive to our family. We argued more than we ever did, but my kids participated in celebrations, and my wife’s Christianity opened up a whole lot more,” Bowen said.

His wife agrees.

“Faith has become a constant topic in our house,” Heather said. “We may not share a faith. We may never share a faith, but there’s definitely a respect there.”

And now?

Bowen still meditates daily using various prayer books, and he attends Mass occasionally at a Catholic church in Lumberton.

At its essence, Project Conversion was about burying his hatred and learning tolerance.

“For so long, I suffered with ego so now I’m just going to make the faiths of others more beautiful to themselves,” he said. “I don’t think about God now. I just participate.”

Meet Lynn Heritage, our peace writer

Meet Lynn Heritage, our peace writer.

She’s a North Carolina native and lives in Carolina Beach with her husband, Dave, and their dog, Sadie Mae. As a mom, grandma, sister, aunt and friend, Heritage believes her love for the people in her life is reason enough to take a stand for peace.

After retiring from the corporate world five years ago, Heritage volunteers twice a week in a first grade classroom at Gregory Elementary School and at the Lower Cape Fear YWCA as a facilitator for “What’s Wrong With Different,” an anti-racism program.

She’s also the coordinator of the Southeastern Chapter of International Grandmothers For Peace, which celebrated its fifth year last year.

Moving so close to the ocean opened her heart in ways she never anticipated and because of it, she’s found the courage to travel inward to connect with her spiritual center. Peace is her mantra because “the thought of peace… the hope of peace…the belief in peace and, most certainly, the need of peace is paramount in my soul. When I breathe in the spirit of my mantra, p-e-a-c-e, it resonates with all that is me.”

Welcome, Lynn!

One Brave Christian Experiment: Day 40, “Am I a brave Christian?”

Editor’s Note: Contributor Christine Moughamian has blogged for 40 days of Lent (including Sundays) about her progress becoming “one brave Christian.” This was the last day of her Lenten experiment. Read about her experiment by searching this site for “One Brave Christian Experiment.”

By Contributor Christine Moughamian

Today’s day 40 of my 40-day Lenten experiment. I ask myself the question: “Am I a ‘brave Christian’?”

The answer that comes to me is: “Yes and No.”

If being a Christian means “accepting Jesus as my savior,” the answer is “No.”

If it means “living my life in accordance to what Jesus taught,” the answer is “Yes.”

What I have learned from this experiment is what I already knew:

– First, my Bible study gave me the certainty that the words and

Good Shepherd

Jesus as the Good Shepherd (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

teachings of Jesus are aimed at leading us back to our inner divinity.

– Second, in my understanding of the scriptures, Jesus opened that path for us through the gates of forgiveness and love.

– Third, I think these teachings point to a universal truth. They belong to all spiritual traditions and are not exclusive to Christianity.

My experience strengthened my world faith approach to spirituality.

I am grateful to both Sam Teague, the creator of the experiment, and Danny Morris, the author of “A Life That Really Matters,” for this program.

Special thanks go to Stowe Dailey Shockey for giving me her book “Flying High,” and to her co-author Calvin LeHew for sharing his experience as a “brave Christian.”

I enjoyed the discipline of writing everyday. I think it made me a better writer.

I am grateful to editor, Amanda Greene, for believing in my commitment and supporting me along the way.

I deeply appreciate the opportunity I had to share my process with my readers. I am thankful for their comments.

My fondest gratitude goes to my boyfriend, Jim Downer, for his unfailing support and listening presence. I love you, Jim!

Blessings of Love and Light to All!

‘Occult’ filming picks spooky spots in the Cape Fear area

By Cassie Foss
Copyright 2012
Reprinted with permission

Maybe it’s the rural setting or the quaint, historical chapel at Shelter Neck’s Universalist Unitarian Camp, but something screams “The Occult” in Burgaw.

The local production, which kicked off filming in the region the week of March 20, has chosen the camp and the surrounding area as the setting of the fictional village of New Bethlehem, a devout community kept under the tight reins of the town’s vigilant elders, according to Blaise Noto, a publicist for the film.

But the production wasn’t satisfied with just being in the country.

On Wednesday, film crews began to spread dirt over about a quarter-mile stretch of Croomsbridge Road near the camp.

The road is expected to be closed near 3747 Croomsbridge until April 14, according to a N.C. Department of Transportation news release.

Although the horror thriller isn’t a period piece, the dirt is designed to give the area a more “countrified” feel, Noto said.

The story follows six girls who are born on the same day to different mothers.

On the eve of their 18th birthdays, the girls begin to mysteriously disappear and are feared dead.

The elders of the village believe the girls’ disappearances are linked to an old prophecy that foretells the coming of the devil’s daughter via the villagers.

Terror overtakes the community, leading villagers to wonder if a serial killer is at work or if the prophecy has come true.

The film, an LD Entertainment Production directed by Christian Christiansen (“The Roommate”) and written by Karl Mueller, stars Rufus Sewell (“The Illusionist”) and Alycia Debnam-Carey.

Heche has worked in the area before. She was cast in last year’s locally filmed “Arthur Newman, Golf Pro” and she had a small role in the 1997’s “I Know What You Did Last Summer.”

Sewell stars in the upcoming “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”

Other recent cast additions include Colm Meaney (“Law Abiding

Colm J. Meaney, an Irish actor widely known fo...

Colm J. Meaney, an Irish actor widely known for playing Miles O'Brien in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, sits as he speaks into a microphone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Citizen”), Jennifer Carpenter (“Dexter”) and Cary native singer/songwriter Katie Garfield, who will play Abby, one of the village’s young women.

Burgaw isn’t the only spooky spot cast members will visit.

Location scouts chose Marilyn Meares’ Chestnut Street bungalow in Wilmington as the setting of at least one scene in the film.

The conservation consultant said she came home from work recently to find a note from production scouts taped to her front door.

Scouts may have chosen her bungalow, built in 1923, because of its location in an established neighborhood and its lush, leafy vegetation, Meares said.

They also needed a long hallway.

“I think the main thing they needed was a hallway for people to run through and hide, and I’ve got a long one that goes to my bedroom,” she said. “It just kind of came together.”

The film is expected to shoot at the home Monday through Thursday.

Crews also filmed scenes this month at a wooded area at Autumn Hall Lake near Eastwood Road.

Filming is expected to continue through the end of April, Noto said.

Cassie Foss: 343-2365
On Twitter: @WilmOnFilm

One Brave Christian Experiment: Day 34, The fountain of eternal bliss

A quote from Christine's date book from one of her favorite spiritual masters. Photo by Christine Moughamian

Editor’s Note: Contributor Christine Moughamian is blogging each day of Lent about her progress becoming “one brave Christian.” Follow her experiment on Twitter @1bravechristian.

By Contributor Christine Moughamian

Today’s scripture turned this “brave Christian” back into a “brave Yogini.”

First, I read the words of Jesus as they applied to me, a woman:

I thought it especially important to change the gender since Jesus, sitting by a well, was talking to a woman.

“But whoever drinks of the water which I give her shall never thirst; but the same water which I give her shall become in her a well of water springing up to life everlasting.” (John 4:14).

Second, I remembered what Jesus meant when he said “I give”:

“My own peace I give you; not as the world gives, I give to you.” (John 14:27)

It was clear to me that Jesus gave his disciples nothing tangible or material. As a teacher, Christ gave them the teachings of Spirit, indwelling within everyone.

Third, I was reminded of an inspirational quote by one of my favorite spiritual masters, Paramahamsa Yogananda:

“The wellspring of undiluted joy of Spirit lies buried within your soul. Dig with the pickax of meditation until you discover it, and bathe in that fountain of eternal bliss.”

And so it passed that, sitting at the well of “life everlasting” in me, I also drank from “the fountain of eternal bliss.”

Study offers view of religious life behind prison walls

Two inmates in the InnerChange Freedom Initiative at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Lino Lakes, join together in prayer as part of the Christian-based program in their medium-security unit. The program developed by Prison Fellowship aims to reduce the chances they'll return behind bars, but has been labeled unconstitutional in a lawsuit. Photo by Steve Wewerka.

c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

WASHINGTON (RNS) Behind high prison walls and rolls of barbed wire, Muslim and pagan inmates are most likely to have extreme religious views and be the least assisted by religious volunteers.

Most prisoners who want religious books will get them, but wearing a beard is far less likely to be permitted. And the majority of chaplains who serve convicted murderers, thieves and other criminals are satisfied with their jobs.

Those and other findings form a snapshot of religious life behind bars in a report that was released Thursday (March 22) by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, based on the perceptions of 730 chaplains who serve in the nation’s state prison systems.

As the U.S. has grown more religiously diverse, the prison population has, too, but often in different directions, said Stephanie Boddie, a senior researcher on the study.

“The unaffiliated is growing in the general population but it’s decreasing in the prison population,” said Boddie, who noted the Pew findings are based on the impressions of chaplains rather than official prison statistics.

“We also have 1 percent of Muslims in the general population but in some of the prisons we had as high as 20 percent, and in some prisons they had 0 percent.”

The majority of chaplains reported a significant amount of “religious switching,” and said it’s common for inmates to try to convert other prisoners. But Cary Funk, another senior researcher with the study, said chaplains report that some of those conversions may be short-lived.

“Inmates can be motivated by things that on the outside we might take for granted but on the inside have a lot more value — things like special food, special holidays,” she said. “One chaplain put it that they were privilege-based conversions not religious-based conversions.”

While a sizable minority of chaplains says religious extremism is common among prisoners, only 4 percent said it “almost always” poses a threat to prison security. Muslim chaplains were less likely to say they had encountered widespread religious extremism.

Boddie said generally the chaplains were not dealing with what might usually be considered “extremism” by people outside prison walls.

“They don’t talk as much about some of the ways that possibly are more commonly thought of in terms of anti-government or anti-authority and violence,” she said.

The chaplains described extremism as intolerance of racial or social groups, religious exclusivity and particular requests for accommodation, such as asking for raw meat for a Voodoo ritual. Close to half said their prisons have consulted with experts about suspected religious extremism or provided extra supervision for religious meetings.

The vast majority of chaplains are Christian and they are mostly white, male, middle-aged and conservative in their theological and political beliefs. The chaplains often reported that they had more Christian volunteers than necessary but lacked Muslim, pagan and Native American volunteers.

Tom O’Connor, a former Oregon prison chaplain who runs the company Transforming Corrections, said more trained volunteers are needed to help move inmates away from anti-social behavior. But he said he was heartened to learn that researchers found that Muslim chaplains constituted 7 percent of the respondents, and cited a program at Hartford Seminary that is training new prospects.

“More and more, Islam is producing chaplains in America because we desperately do need more of them,” said O’Connor, who advised researchers on the study.

But O’Connor cautioned against lumping too many diverse beliefs together when considering what might be extreme behavior. In the Pew report, Muslims included the Nation of Islam, a movement founded on black pride and racial separation, and pagan and earth-based religions included Asatru, which is sometimes associated with white supremacists.

“I’ve never come across a racially superior-inclined Wiccan,” he said.

Prisoner requests for religious accommodation reflect a range of faiths. Chaplains said about half of the requests tend to be granted for special religious diets and sacred items such as turbans, crucifixes and eagle feathers.

Despite the lack of certain kinds of volunteers and the time spent on paperwork rather than religious services, about two-thirds of chaplains report high job satisfaction.

But they say work needs to be done. Hardly any think the prison system is doing an excellent job on preparing prisoners to re-enter society. And there is near consensus among the chaplains that first-time nonviolent offenders should be sentenced to community service or mandatory drug counseling instead of prison terms.

The survey was based on a response rate of about 50 percent from 1,474 chaplains who were asked to complete Web or paper questionnaires last year, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.

A prison chapel that started with a plow – Pender Correctional breaks ground on its new chapel

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Since the future prison chapel at Pender Correctional Institution in Burgaw began as a community effort, with more than 100 local churches and individuals giving money, its groundbreaking today (March 14) was no different.

“At most groundbreakings, you see folks with their shiny silver or gold shovels turning a little bit of dirt,” said the prison’s contract Chaplain Jimmy Joseph. “But we have a lot of dirt to move today so you all get to be the mules.”

In the prison yard, about 30 corrections officials, leaders with N.C. Baptist Men, the Burgaw mayor and community members grabbed a long thick rope attached to an old farm plow with Joseph at the helm.

“And pull,” the chaplain shouted. Tug-of-war-style, attendees in coats, ties and skirts leaned back on their rope section, pulling that plow and breaking ground on the 4,200 square foot facility. The community has been planning and fundraising for this day for the last six years.

In his speech chronicling the long road to building the chapel, retired Chaplain James Spiritosanto said: “It took King Solomon 46 years to build the Temple, and I’m happy to report, we are ahead of schedule.”

The need for a chapel became apparent to the prison’s chaplains over years of trying to schedule the hundreds of inmates who wanted to participate in the prison’s faith curriculum into a classroom that will only fit 30 at a time.

The new building’s auditorium will seat 200. There are 768 inmates in the prison, Joseph said.

The chapel will also have two classrooms, offices for the chaplaincy staff, restrooms and storage space. A large stained glass window in the gable of the auditorium will capture eastern light in the mornings. The building will be a wood-framed structure with brick veneer to match the other buildings in the prison.

With the help of volunteer labor from N.C. Baptist Men, Joseph hopes to be cutting a grand opening ribbon on the chapel in six months. Pender’s chapel project is the first construction task inside a prison for the N.C. Baptist Men.

“We found it to be a worthy project. How could we say no?” said Gaylon Moss, coordinator of disaster relief and volunteerism for the group.

This project was also a first for the North Carolina Department of Corrections. Usually, the prison system takes bids from licensed contractors to complete prison building projects. But the majority of labor on this project will be volunteers, along with area contractors who are overseeing the construction.

His voice shaking with emotion, the project’s contractor Billy Soots told attendees, “I hope this project is a light to this community, to this campus and enriches the kingdom of God.”

Pender prison to break ground on its chapel Wednesday

Wilmington Faith and Values

It’s been six years of fundraising with donations coming from 74 area churches and 88 people in Southeastern North Carolina. But this week Pender Correctional Institution in Burgaw will break ground on its freestanding chapel.

PCI will hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the 4,200 square foot facility at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. Only invited guests can attend.

With labor donated from N.C. Baptist Men, the Pender County prison hopes to complete its new chapel in six months.

For many years, the space used as the chapel in the prison was a 20 foot by 24 foot classroom space, the walls lined with bookshelves full of holy texts and reference material for different faiths.

In the North Carolina prison system, privately-funded chapels are fairly rare. According to N.C. prison system records, as of 2010, out of the state’s 70 prisons with chapels, only nine were built with private money.

The new building’s auditorium will seat 200, where the former room seated 30. There are 768 inmates in the prison, said Pender Correctional Chaplain Jimmy Joseph.

The chapel will also have two classrooms, offices for the chaplaincy staff, restrooms and storage space. A large stained glass window in the gable of the auditorium will capture eastern light in the mornings, “creating a worshipful atmosphere in the building,” Joseph wrote in an email. The building will be a wood framed structure with brick veneer to match the other buildings in the prison.

Stay tuned for more on this story. Wilmington Faith and Values reporters will attend the ceremony on Wednesday.

Bodily desecration is disturbing — but why?

A video of U.S. Marines urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters stoked anger across the Muslim world and was condemned by the U.S. State Department and Pentagon. For use with RNS-BODY-DESCREATE, transmitted Jan. 23, 2011. RNS photo courtesy

c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) The recent outrage over a video allegedly showing U.S. Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters provided Americans with a disturbing reminder that war can reduce men to revenge-seeking brutality that defies human norms.

It’s nothing new: the desecration of enemy soldiers during the Civil War, of Japanese during World War II and North Vietnamese fighters during the Vietnam War, and Iraqis and Afghans in the most recent conflicts, is well-documented.

It obviously makes people squeamish — but why?

Desecrating enemy dead is not always a vengeful impulse, and in some cultures even has a religious component. At the same time, disgust at the desecration of the dead is not always a simple case of demanding respect for a fallen human being, but also carries religious implications, even on one’s journey in the afterlife.

“Virtually all religions have reverence for the dead. Different religions, especially the monotheistic faiths, don’t accept any desecration of their own dead, or the enemy’s dead,” said Carl Raschke, a religious studies professor at the University of Denver.

For example, Muslims believe that after death their bodies will slowly disintegrate, except the tailbone, which on the Day of Resurrection will regenerate into the complete human being. For that reason, most Muslims reject cremation because it destroys the tailbone, making resurrection impossible.

Still others believe the resurrected body will appear as it did at the moment of death, and for that reason they fear and condemn desecration of the dead.

Within Islam, desecration of enemy war dead was forbidden by the Prophet Muhammad himself. When warriors mutilated dead Muslim soldiers during one battle, Muhammad commanded his soldiers not to do the same. At another battle, the pagan army offered to pay Muslims for the return of one of their famed warriors. Muhammad responded, “I do not sell dead bodies. You can take away the corpse of your fallen comrade.”

“It’s considered a sin and a crime,” said Imam Muzammil Siddiqi, chairman of the North American Fiqh Council, which interprets Islamic law.

Respect for the dead has been a core teaching within Christianity, in part because of belief in bodily resurrection. Christian churches have softened on cremation in recent years as the practice becomes more popular.

“The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches. “The burial of the dead is a corporal act of mercy; it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit.”

Hindus believe that the soul, or Atman, leaves the body at the moment of death, starting a journey to the next life. The condition of the body has no impact upon the soul’s journey or its ultimate destiny, but a dead person has to be properly cremated under specific funeral rites if the departed soul is to have a peaceful journey to the next life.

“It is believed that if the dead body is not properly cremated, the journey of that soul is disrupted or becomes difficult,” said Dileep Thatte, founder of the Seven Stars of Hinduism, a nonprofit group in Chicago that educates people about Hinduism.

“The rites and the treatment which the body undergoes have bearing on the nature of the journey the soul encounters.”

For that reason, while Hindu scriptures don’t speak of desecration, Hindus condemn the practice. “There is nothing whatsoever in the Vedic literature that promotes desecration of war dead,” explained Bhupender Gupta, a Hindu priest in Cary, N.C. “These are humans, brethren, who performed their duties as commanded.”

Religious belief is also behind the act of scalping, which was practiced by some Native American warriors, who believed that a disfigured body would not be allowed to enter the afterlife.

“A battle was viewed as much a spiritual contest as it was a physical contest,” said Raschke.

Zulu warriors were famous for disemboweling their foes, but not out of revenge or brutality. Rather, Zulus believed that a bloating decomposing body signified spirits trying to escape the corpse. If they did not release the spirits of their victims, Zulus believed that they would suffer the same fate.

Within Judaism, mutilating a dead body — even through an autopsy — is also strictly forbidden.

Nancy Sherman, a philosophy professor at Georgetown University who specializes in war ethics, ventured a guess as to why people worry about human remains.

“I suspect it is simply because the living return to us,” she wrote in a commentary about the return of dead soldiers’ bodies to their loved ones. “And we want something of that for our dead, so that we can mark an honorable passage from this world.”

The various military branches all follow the same written guidelines on how personnel are to conduct themselves, including how to handle enemy dead.

“Desecration is not tolerated in any way, shape or form,” said Lt. Col. Joe Kloppel, a U.S. Marine Corps spokesman. While there is no way to ensure that Marines read or practice the prohibition against desecration, Kloppel said, “it’s made very clear to Marines at various levels what’s right and what’s wrong.”