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Friday Miscellania

Today I want to point to just a couple of items that have been waiting in my Bookmarks folder.

Boring Sermons

At a recent post on her blog, Deb Burton says this: “Your child thinks Sunday morning sermons are boring. The pastor is just another talking head, like all those grown-up shows with political pundits. His body language shows it. You think the pastor is right on the money - he’s biblical, he’s topical, and he has a decent presentation.” And she is pretty well right, at least as my children go. They love and respect the pastors at our church but don’t have much interest in listening to their sermons.

Aileen and I have varied between trying to force them to sit properly while keeping their eyes focused on the front to bringing notebooks and allowing them to just write or color or whatever catches their fancy, provided they sit reasonably still. We have sometimes rejoiced at what they have drawn from the sermon and at other times despaired at what has passed them by. I am always eager to hear what other parents do and how they try to coax some tangible benefit from the sermon on behalf of their children. And so I’d like to ask, how do you, as parents, engage your children in the sermon?

What Africa Gives

I’ve been reading with some interest a series of articles written by Kevin Myers and printed in Ireland’s The Independent. While he is harsh in his judgments and while he is seemingly something of a curmudgeon, he is also refreshingly honest and counter-cultural, I think. He raises some issues that on the outside seem so black and white but, upon further reflection, become far more difficult. At the very least I think his columns are worthy of some consideration.

In his first article, he says, with a bit of hyperbole, that Africa is giving nothing to anyone — apart from AIDS. He wonders at the usefulness of sending aid to African nations and points to the example of Ethiopia. You remember, I’m sure, how in the mid-80’s the Western world rallied to send aid to Ethiopia to save her starving children. That assistance allowed Ethiopia to surge in population from 33.5 million to 78 million in just those few short years. Myers says, “Unlike most of you, I have been to Ethiopia; like most of you, I have stumped up the loot to charities to stop starvation there. The wide-eyed boy-child we saved, 20 years or so ago, is now a priapic, Kalashnikov-bearing hearty, siring children whenever the whim takes him. There is, no doubt a good argument why we should prolong this predatory and dysfunctional economic, social and sexual system; but I do not know what it is. There is, on the other hand, every reason not to write a column like this.”

His concerns are many.

Africa’s peoples are outstripping their resources, and causing catastrophic ecological degradation. By 2050, the population of Ethiopia will be 177 million: The equivalent of France, Germany and Benelux today, but located on the parched and increasingly protein-free wastelands of the Great Rift Valley.

So, how much sense does it make for us actively to increase the adult population of what is already a vastly over-populated, environmentally devastated and economically dependent country?

How much morality is there in saving an Ethiopian child from starvation today, for it to survive to a life of brutal circumcision, poverty, hunger, violence and sexual abuse, resulting in another half-dozen such wide-eyed children, with comparably jolly little lives ahead of them? Of course, it might make you feel better, which is a prime reason for so much charity. But that is not good enough.

As the “begging bowl” is passed to the West one more time and as African nations come looking for foreign assistance (assistance that is necessary should they wish to avoid widespread famine), Myers asks “why on earth should I do anything to encourage further catastrophic demographic growth in that country? Where is the logic? There is none.”

Needless to say, this article ignited a good deal of criticism. In a second article he justifies his first. And again, he raises interesting issues of morality.

Ethiopia has effectively gained the entire population of the United Kingdom since the famine. But at least 80pc of Ethiopian girls are circumcised, meaning that no less than 24 million girls suffered this fate, usually without anaesthetics or antiseptic. The UN estimates that 12pc of girls die through septicaemia, spinal convulsions, trauma and blood-loss after circumcision which probably means that around three million little Ethiopian girls have been butchered since the famine — roughly the same as the number of Jewish women who died in the Holocaust.

So what is the moral justification for saving a baby from death through hunger, in order to give her an even more agonising, almost sacrificial, death aged eight or 13? The practice could have been stamped out, with sufficient political will, as sutti in India once was. And the feminists of the west would never have allowed such unconditional aid to be given to such a wicked and brutal society if it had been run by white men.

But, instead, the state was run by black males, for whom a special race-and-gender dispensation apparently applies: thus the two most politically incorrect sins of our age — sexism and racism — by some mysterious moral process, akin to the mathematics of the double-negative, annul one another, and produce an unquestioned positive virtue, called Ethiopia.

This next paragraph has haunted me since I read it:

I am not innocent in all this. The people of Ireland remained in ignorance of the reality of Africa because of cowardly journalists like me. When I went to Ethiopia just over 20 years ago, I saw many things I never reported — such as the menacing effect of gangs of young men with Kalashnikovs everywhere, while women did all the work. In the very middle of starvation and death, men spent their time drinking the local hooch in the boonabate shebeens. Alongside the boonabates were shanty-brothels, to which drinkers would casually repair, to briefly relieve themselves in the scarred orifice of some wretched prostitute (whom God preserve and protect). I saw all this and did not report it, nor the anger of the Irish aid workers at the sexual incontinence and fecklessness of Ethiopian men. Why? Because I wanted to write much-acclaimed, tear-jerkingly purple prose about wide-eyed, fly-infested children — not cold, unpopular and even “racist” accusations about African male culpability.

The population surge in an area that cannot sustain such numbers is leading to inevitable trouble. “We are heading towards a demographic holocaust, with a potential premature loss of life far exceeding that of all the wars of the 20th Century. This terrible truth cannot be ignored.”

Myers does not suggest that we allow African children to simply starve, as if this would be pragmatically moral. Rather, he writes all of this to make the world aware of the complexity of the various possible responses. “I am lost in awe at the dreadful options open to us. This is the greatest moral quandary facing the world. We cannot allow the starving children of Ethiopia to die.”

Why do I write about his columns? Simply because I feel he points to an issue that quickly dissolves from black and white into various shades of gray. There is often much more to an issue than it may seem at first. There must be a better way of dealing with the coming crises in Africa.