Friday, January 21, 2005


As well as news about heroic deeds and passionate pleas, there has been some dreadful material on the tsunami up on the web from many religious quarters. Some tunnel-visioned Christians, Muslims, Hindus and others are eager to portray the tragic events as a divine judgment, or to seek religious capital for some of their more outrageous doctrinal claims.

How sad this is. I've ventured into the field myself, with an article about the theological questions (Is God A Disaster?), a comment on Christ and suffering, a news statement on behalf of CCOM about exploitative proselytism, and, of course the tsunami prayer page - which seeks to pull together a range of the good resources that are out there in cyberspace.

I was much cheered yesterday by a fine, forthright journalistic piece from the pen of E. Allen Campbell, Tsunami theology for dummies. This rightly lacerates the 'theological gobbledygook' that's around on the subject. I hope my stuff doesn't count for that, but I'm happy and willing to stand corrected.

Anyway, Campbell, whose entertaining Wolverton Mountain articles I'm linking under my 'godBlogs' section (hope this isn't too much of a misnomer), says this, inter alia:

"In spite of cutting across all religious beliefs, the truly dumbest theological statement that I heard in the wake of the tsunami was made by a white, American woman in her mid-twenties who avoided being counted with the tens of thousands less fortunate. Upon her return to the States, she ascribed her escaping the fate of so many others to her God saving her.

"While we don't normally make the soundest theological statements having just avoided such a traumatic event, she and her listeners need nonetheless to reexamine her theology. It is way off the mark.

"Think about how that statement sounds. Here is a young, white Christian, affluent, American tourist, who believes that God hovered over the raging tower of cascading water, spotted her amongst the hundreds of thousands facing drowning, and intervened on her behalf to rescue her. What is wrong with that belief? Do you really think that God selected this one gal for rescue? I'd like to know what she did or believed to have this special deus ex machina treatment from God.

"What does that theological picture paint for us? God rescues someone who can afford to vacation in some Asian paradise and allows tens of thousands of others to perish- mothers who couldn't save their children or fathers who couldn't protect their families already on the lowest rung of the poverty ladder. Get real."

Absolutely. See also Giles Fraser on this subject.

Archbishop Rowan Williams' attempts at straightforward communication about things like the tsunami are often said to be 'above the heads' of people in the pews. If that's so it is surely a terrible commentary on the illiteracy that passes for Christian learning in many of our churches, not least those where people who are apparently capable of erudition in their professional fields suddenly turn to intellectual jelly when it comes to their faith.

What a huge challenge this is.

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