The Asian tsunami disaster should make all Christians question the existence of God, Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, writes in The Telegraph today.1I was all ready to go "yeah, this is why the Anglican Church is dying in England!" I started writing a post about what a pathetic faith the leader of the church exhibited and how uninspiring it must be to be an Anglican and hear this dreck. Something made me check and see if the original op-ed was available, however. And there was a problem, when I read it. The problem was this: that Archbishop Rowan Williams didn't say what they say he said, they just distorted what he said in order to sensationalize their own article, scandalize people too lazy to dig up the original and verify that their characterization is accurate, and take cheap shots at what people of faith believe.
In a deeply personal and candid article, he says "it would be wrong" if faith were not "upset" by the catastrophe2 which has already claimed more than 150,000 lives.
Prayer, he admits, provides no "magical solutions" and most of the stock Christian answers to human suffering do not "go very far in helping us, one week on, with the intolerable grief and devastation in front of us".3
Dr Williams, who, as head of the Church of England, represents 70 million Anglicans around the world, writes: "Every single random, accidental death is something that should upset a faith bound up in comfort and ready answers. Faced with the paralysing magnitude of a disaster like this, we naturally feel more deeply outraged - and also more deeply helpless."
He adds: "The question, 'How can you believe in a God who permits suffering on this scale?' is therefore very much around at the moment, and it would be surprising if it weren't - indeed it would be wrong if it weren't."
Dr Williams concludes that, faced with such a terrible challenge to their faith, Christians must focus on "passionate engagement with the lives that are left".
Every single random, accidental death is something that should upset a faith bound up with comfort and ready answers.He's saying that if your faith is a shallow, comfortable, shopworn one, not only would this upset it, but any random or accidental death should shake it. They're simply lying about what he said! You have to love how they started off this particular lie, to reassure you that their read of it is accurate: they snare you by saying "In a deeply candid and personal article" to relax you. Then when you read what outrageous thing he supposedly said, you think, "ah yes, the swindling old fraud is confessing that he doesn't believe in God either, quite candid and personal, hm, yes". Well no, he's not confessing a thing of the sort, the only swindling frauds here are these journo-bastards.
So why do religious believers pray for God's help or healing? They ask for God's action to come in to a situation and change it, yes; but if they are honest, they don't see prayer as a plea for magical solutions that will make the world totally safe for them and others.
1. Who's faith is the Archbishop talking about? The faith of the man who sits on the concrete pad that marks out the boundaries of his former home - his entire family lost to the waves? His faith is the only faith that matters. Does he have the faith to rebuild his life? Does he care whether faithless Westerners are having difficulty maintaining their cosy notions of a sunny-faced God?When I read George Miller's take on it, it made me realize that yeah, this isn't a very vibrant and vital faith that the Archbishop is asking us to grasp. It reminds me of John Kerry and his endless nuances: if you read his statements full of equivocation taken separately you think "oh, that's very reasonable, yes, anyone could see both sides of this"-but taken in totality, his inability to take a firm stand and his constant "...and on the third hand" makes your stomach feel wobbly and you don't feel especially safe handing over the keys to someone like him. He sees both sides of everything: his stance is one of nonjudgment and bending over backwards. So is that of the Archbishop: he's apologizing for God's inability to conform to the comfortable notions of believers, rather than rather than challenging their comfort and asking them to stop being so small-minded and enlarge their faith, he tells them to accept that God isn't what they want and sort of plod along. How dull.
2. This was a "natural" disaster. Why should this unpredictable and unpreventable slaughter test one's faith any more than does the mundane violence of human beings? Does the Archbishop suppose that the chance carnage of nature is a greater test of faith than is every premeditated act of human violence? If a Primo Levi can just about retain his faith in humanity through the holocaust, then I'm thinking British viewers full of Xmas turkey will manage it.
3. The Archbishop seems to conceive of faith as something intangible. He might have outlined a plan of action for his flock, a programme of practical faith stretching years into the future and involving a sustained commitment to the rebuilding of wrecked lives. Instead, the Archbishop feels he must apologise for a God who presides over a world that is deadly.
"What kind of God would let innocent people suffer," is an infantile response to disaster. Reacting like a child to a disaster is perfectly understandable. However, one would hope that an Archbishop would remember to remind his flock that no promise of physical safety was ever made by the Christian God to humanity (or by any other god that I know of). The race is not to the swift, etc, etc. If mere spectators to this disaster suffer a crisis of faith, then how will we offer hope to the man on the beach?
Can a man surrounded by many happy reasons to live, really say his faith is tested by witnessing the suffering of others? What is the test of faith, but the will to live when all hope is lost?
If the U.S. wants to help people in tsunami-hit countries like Sri Lanka and Indonesia - not to mention other poor countries in Africa - there's one step that would cost us nothing and would save hundreds of thousands of lives.It's an annual holocaust caused by lunatic Greens and it's entirely preventable. The human toll of the tsunami pales besides this. I salute Nick Kristof heartily for this piece. Later in the piece he directly calls on President Bush to cut through the bureaucratic red tape and lead. I echo his call.
It would be to allow DDT in malaria-ravaged countries.
I'm thrilled that we're pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the relief effort, but the tsunami was only a blip in third-world mortality. Mosquitoes kill 20 times more people each year than the tsunami did, and in the long war between humans and mosquitoes it looks as if mosquitoes are winning.
One reason is that the U.S. and other rich countries are siding with the mosquitoes against the world's poor - by opposing the use of DDT.
"It's a colossal tragedy," says Donald Roberts, a professor of tropical public health at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. "And it's embroiled in environmental politics and incompetent bureaucracies."
In the 1950's, 60's and early 70's, DDT was used to reduce malaria around the world, even eliminating it in places like Taiwan. But then the growing recognition of the harm DDT can cause in the environment - threatening the extinction of the bald eagle, for example - led DDT to be banned in the West and stigmatized worldwide. Ever since, malaria has been on the rise.
The poor countries that were able to keep malaria in check tend to be the same few that continued to use DDT, like Ecuador. Similarly, in Mexico, malaria rose and fell with the use of DDT. South Africa brought back DDT in 2000, after a switch to other pesticides had led to a surge in malaria, and now the disease is under control again. The evidence is overwhelming: DDT saves lives.
But most Western aid agencies will not pay for anti-malarial programs that use DDT, and that pretty much ensures that DDT won't be used. Instead, the U.N. and Western donors encourage use of insecticide-treated bed nets and medicine to cure malaria.
Bed nets and medicines are critical tools in fighting malaria, but they're not enough. The existing anti-malaria strategy is an underfinanced failure, with malaria probably killing 2 million or 3 million people each year.
The venue is one of four places depending on a number of factors: In the house or garden at the house of the deceased or one of his sons, on the pavement outside the house, using a make-shift "tunnel tent" (called chaadir) or in a hall dedicated to the purpose annexed to a mosque or a Husseineyyah.In Jordan they were usually held in black tents on the roof of the family's house. Most houses are built of cheap concrete with flat, short-walled roofs that are where the kids play marbles, they raise pigeons or rabbits or both, there's a room on the roof for the father to be alone with the men and play cards and smoke nargileh, and so on.
Duration: usually 3 hours in the early evening 5-8 or 6-9 pm, except for Ramadan where it starts right after breaking the fast. At present, it is becoming increasingly common to have it in the afternoon…2-5 or 3-6 pm to give people time to get back home before dark or soon after. For first-generation immigrants from the countryside, the reception is usually all-day long.None of this differs from my own experience.
Protocol: Just outside the entrance to the hall, several young men stand in a row to greet visitors. You walk into the hall, you say "al Salam Alaikum" (May Peace be upon you) to the hall in general (some raise their right hand in salute while, or instead of, saying the words). Some of those nearby answer back with similar words (something like: Alaikum al Salam). You don't shake hands with anybody. You may be directed to a seat or may be left to find a seat in a position of your liking.
Before, or immediately after, sitting down you loudly say the word "al Fat-ha". You quietly recite the Fatiha verses. The verses are also recited by those who hear your announcement. When someone finishes his recital he wipes his face with the both palms as a sign that he has finished. Non-believers just make the motions!!
A Christians visiting a Muslim Fat-ha crosses himself and recites a prayer before sitting down.
People around the newcomer would then say: "Allah bi Khair" where he would respond with the same words.
The deceased's close kin receiving people, usually 4 or 5, sitting close to the entrance, stand up and don't sit down again until this procedure is complete.
All the time, the Koran is recited by a professional reader or from a recording in a loud enough level to drum the quiet murmur of noises usually present. In principle, people shouldn't talk while the Koran is being read, but in Iraq, you can see people talking to those next to them in hushed voices. It is not uncommon to see the odd smile. Extremely religious people are generally angered by that but there is nothing they can do about entrenched social habits!
Only three items are served: Water, Arabic coffee (a tiny amount, about a teaspoonful, black, really concentrated stuff without sugar, served in special cups that are only used for this purpose – perhaps more details of the coffee ritual in a future post) and cigarettes.The cigarettes circulate on trays carried by female relatives of the deceased. There was usually Goldstar, Reem, Philadelphia, Kamal, Top Twenty, and if the family's rich, Marlboros and Camels. The Marlboros and Camels vanish the fastest because Jordanian cigarettes are so crappy by comparison. Everyone smokes, of course, and the black tents quickly fill up with a cloud of smoke. The women would also carry large ibreeks of coffee to replenish everyone's cup, and sickeningly sweet black tea is also served at Jordanian wakes.
On the third day, to signal the last day of the Fat-ha, rosewater is sprinkled from a special canister into each new guest's hands.Never heard of this, it must be an Iraqi thing.
People usually stay for about half an hour. The duration of the stay and the number of times you go to the same Fat-ha in the three days is a function of the closeness to the deceased or his kin.Usually dinner is served every evening at Jordanian fathas (he puts a dash in fat-ha so you know not to make a "th" sound btw). It's usually a very large (3 ft diameter) platter with a flat bread base, a giant mound of rice on top, and chunks of lamb in a yoghurt sauce, often with a lamb's head right on top of the mound. You sit around it and eat with your hands scoops of rice and meat and sauce in bread directly out of the mound along with everyone else. There's nothing quite like it.
To signal your wish to leave you say "Fat-ha" aloud again, recite the verse and get up. The "receptionists" stand and you shake hands with them (junior first, senior last) and say your words of condolences.
Before the 1950's Fat-has were usually of 7-day duration. Up to the 1950's there would be dinner at the end of each day of Fat-ha. In the 1960's, 70's and 80's, there would be dinner on the third day only. Nowadays, dinner is rarely served in city Fat-has.
Christian protesters have set fire to their television licences outside the BBC's London offices as outrage spread over the public broadcaster's plans to air a profanity-laden musical.
In the award-winning London show "Jerry Springer -- The Opera", viewers can watch a diaper fetishist confess all to his true love, catch a tap dance routine by the Ku Klux Klan and see Jesus and the Devil locked in a swearing match.
Michael Reid, a pastor and self-styled bishop who organised the peaceful demonstration ahead of the airing on Saturday evening, called the musical "filth".
"The use of foul language together with mocking Jesus Christ and portraying him wearing a nappy with sequins is highly offensive to Christians and we felt that it was totally wrong," he told Reuters on Friday.
He said the BBC would not risk upsetting minority faiths like Islam or Buddhism.
"Because we are Christians they think we are fair game for any insults," he added after dozens of people burned licences.
The spat, which has made front page news in the tabloid press, comes less than a month after hundreds of angry Sikh protesters stormed a theatre in Birmingham and forced it to scrap a play depicting sexual abuse in a Sikh temple.
'Israel... is... the country thought least deserving of international respect.' (Daily Telegraph)
People frequently tell me that criticism of Israel needn't amount to anti-Semitism. Actually I already believe this, and indeed don't personally know anyone, from any part of the political spectrum, who denies its truth (though perhaps I lead a sheltered life). But something that's just as manifestly true is the fact that criticism of Israel needn't not be anti-Semitic, either. Indeed we should expect anti-Semites to spend some of their energy in attacking the only Jewish state in existence, particularly perhaps those anti-Semites who don't recognize their own prejudice. So what's the difference between the anti-Semitic kind of criticism and the other, less tainted, kind?
I very much doubt that there's a set of clear rules which will give the necessary and sufficient conditions for a criticism to be anti-Semitic. Think how varied and subtle can be the ways of insulting another person: we're not going to get clear hard-edged rules about what constitutes an insult, since a creative insulter, so to speak, will always find a way of evading such rules while delivering his or her measure of offence. (Dumb insolence, for example, and sarcasm are almost impossible to capture in rules.) Similarly we won't get straightforward rules about anti-Semitic criticism – it, too, is a supple and inventive practice, hard to codify. What I think we may reasonably look for are features of a criticism which shift the onus of proof on to the critic – features which are prima facie anti-Semitic, so that in their presence it's reasonable to require the critic to show why his or her complaints about Israel don't involve anti-Semitism.
One such feature is of course the presence of double standards. Those who criticize Israel in the harshest terms, perhaps proposing boycotts against her, while remaining silent on (or even condoning) far worse and bloodier offences committed against human rights by other states, such as China, Sudan, Myanmar, North Korea, Baathist Iraq, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Pakistan, Mauretania, Mali, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Russia, Congo, Turkey, India, and others, owe us an explanation of why their hostility comes to red heat just where it does. Why is their animus focused on this one, out of all the possible candidates?
One of the most ancient monasteries in the world, St Matthew's, stands on a barren mountainside in northern Iraq, its last inhabitant a crusty old Syrian Orthodox priest. Nestled between sandstone crags with views of the hills around ancient Nineveh, now called Mosul, it looks like the final redoubt of the Christian world.
Seven thousand monks used to worship here; now there is just one, Father Ada Qadr al-Kars.
This thinning of the ranks has taken centuries, he said, but in the valleys Iraq's Christian community, targeted with especial ferocity by Islamic extremists for the past year, is disappearing rapidly.
Churches have been bombed, priests kidnapped and Christian neighbourhoods subjected to random shootings, the terrorists' revenge for the community's shared religion with the "Christian" invaders.
According to Church leaders, some 300,000 Christians - roughly a quarter of the population - have fled their homes since the US-led invasion.