The Up-side of Down

January 5, 2009

It’s amazing what journalists come up with when prospects are down. We’re facing crises on many fronts: credit, ethics, energy, environment… not to forget, of course, the Middle East. Yet some writers see potential for good.    
This year will mark the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism. It was easy for us then to see the hand of God shaking that edifice built on a godless philosophy.
These two decades have also witnessed unprecedented shakings of the muslim world, as we see vastly different responses to the encroachment of modernity by various streams of Mohammed’s followers. The death of Samuel Huntington over the Christmas break prompted much reflection on his ‘Clash of Civilizations’ thesis. Many hailed  it as a perceptive analysis of reality, that Christian-Muslim conflict was inevitable; while others blame the Harvard professor for creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Whatever. Shakings continue in the Muslim world.

And now it’s the capitalist world’s turn to shake. Even secular journalists, commenting on last year’s events, seem to see the hand of God at work again, and expect good to come from it.

Rules for life
In uncertain times, one columnist writes, we need guidelines. We all need more self-regulation, or self-control: Only he who is without sin can cast the first euro.

And that, she suggests, brings us back to Judeo-Christianity. This religious stream offers ten rules for life, the ten commandments. Ancient they may be. Yet, she asserts, they speak to the heart of the current financial chaos.
For example: No idols! That includes the company’s plane, seven-figure bonuses, parties at the expense of the client.

Don’t kill! Don’t force your client into despair and suicide through false promises and white-collar robbery. Don’t steal! No secret high cost calculations that the customer can’t see. Don’t lie! Away with misleading advertisements and empty sales talk!

Don’t use God’s name in vain, swearing that the deal is foolproof, when it is an empty pyramid scheme. Remember the sabbath! Rest on the weekend and start the week refreshed. Honour your father and mother! These days they can reach 100 years and may need your support.
No adultery! You might find yourself in an expensive legal divorce case. Don’t covet your neighbour’s wife-nor his expensive car.  That only leads to an endless ratrace. And coveting his house simply leads to senseless inflation in the housing market.

Okay, journalists are not theologians, but you get the point. Suddenly we are searching for guidelines.

Moral opportunity
Another frontpage headline caught my eye in the airport lounge last week: ‘Year of spiritual hygiene’. The new year offered us a moral opportunity, the article opened. We learned last year that the sky was not the limit, a university professor was quoted as saying; now we will rediscover small, everyday joys. We can become spiritually and morally healthier this year. But it will require leadership. Who will set the direction? asked the professor. Who will embody this hope?
Yet another secular source posited that perhaps one day 2008 would be seen as a turning point when the public mood changed drastically-from the selfish pursuit of personal pleasure, coupled with a pervasive sullenness, when disagreements ended in fights-to a new solidarity in the community which had not been seen for half a century.        
But one of the most surprising articles I’ve ever read comes from The Times Online site, and relates to Africa’s ongoing crises. The headline itself is arresting: As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God. (Read it yourself on the site below*).
Although a confirmed atheist, the writer, raised in Africa, recently became convinced of the enormous contribution Christian evangelism made in Africa, distinct from secular aid efforts. ‘These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation.’ Christianity, he claims, smashes straight through crushing tribal groupthink.
Aid and know-how alone won’t make the change. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete, he warned.
And that’s just as true for the ‘sophisticated’ mission field of Europe, too.
Till next week,

Till next week,

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