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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Tuesday, January 11, 2005
    After the storm, the question about our humanity
    I like Alistair Burt's suggestion that local communities here seek to go into a form of partnership with a tsunami-hit community in Asia. What he actually said was, "People would feel greater empathy if local governments were to adopt a specific project in an affected area," and this feels like an idea with a measure of depth and long-term commitment to it. Wonder how the aid agencies view it - they'd be the ones to facilitate such projects.

    Also refreshing, the NS editorial which is a good sort of reactionary, the sort which makes you want to need to change things:

    It would be wrong to belittle the generosity of many westerners - often those who, by the standards of their own societies, are hard up - and wrong, too, to deny that it may be more uplifting to give voluntarily than to be forced to contribute through taxation. Yet the hard truth is that, if we really wish to help developing countries, we have to do more than deny ourselves a few glasses of wine. We have to pay more for the goods we buy from those countries; allow them more favourable terms of trade; forgive them many billions of pounds in debt; permit them to manufacture and sell cheaper medicines; require multinationals to repatriate more of their profits; welcome economic migrants more warmly; pledge a fixed proportion of our national income in aid for years to come. All these are within the power of governments, rather than individuals, and all would have uncomfortable implications for western consumers, western jobs, western businesses, western financial institutions and western economies in general. Do Gordon Brown and Tony Blair really have the courage to propose and see through such a programme? And would people vote for them if they did? In Britain, at least, we decided a century ago that private philanthropy was an inadequate means of alleviating poverty and achieving justice. But we still tend to think it perfectly acceptable for Asia and Africa.

    ... commentators have retreated in recent days into considering the mysteries of God's powers and intentions, in the spirit of Voltaire after the Lisbon earthquake in 1755. How can a supposedly omniscient and omnipotent but also benign deity allow such things to happen? Indeed, since tsunamis are described (admittedly by insurance companies, which are not the most reliable theological witnesses) as acts of God, do we have to face the possibility that the Creator willed this event? Or is it evidence that, if there is a God at all, he is a cold, uncaring, even brutal one, treating us as mere playthings of his moods? These are the wrong questions, and atheists have no business wasting their time on them
    [Believers also, I'd say]. It is far more pertinent to ask how human beings, particularly the more powerful and wealthy among us, can remain indifferent to a daily toll of poverty, disease and hunger that it is well within their means to end. The condition of Africa and much of Asia questions our humanity, not the divinity of a hypothetical God.