Belarussian President Aleksandr Lukashenko's PR machine kicked into overdrive yesterday during a meeting with Pope Benedict. RFE/RL's Luke Allnut notes that the Belarussian strongman's adorable son Nikola stole the show at the event: "Resplendent in a white cardigan among the papal grays and purples... playing with a football and presenting the pope with his ABC's book." It certainly sounds like Lukashenko is getting his money's worth from his top-shelf British spin-doctors.
Belarussian opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko put the meeting in context for the AP:
"Lukashenko's main goal is to improve his image and to receive absolution from the pope ahead of the EU summit in Prague, where many European politicians will not extend a hand to the Belarusian dictator," he said.
On this site last week, David Kramer and Irina Krasovskaya (whose husband was "disappeared" by the Lukashenko regime) argued that the E.U.'s efforts to reach out to Belarus were ill-advised and would only lead Lukashenko to crack down more on political dissent.
Most E.U. leaders, at least, seem fairly embarassed by the prospect of standing next to Lukashenko. Some even say they won't shake his hand. Even Silvio Berlusconi, who became the first Western European leader in 14 years to meet with him yesterday, didn't hold a press conference and made it clear that he would press Lukashenko on human rights. On the other hand, the Vatican said only that some "internal problems" were discussed at the Pope's meeting but in a "positive climate"
What is Benedict thinking? There are certainly times when talking with human rights abusers can be productive. But the Pope isn't a realist, nor should he be. Unlike national leaders he's in a position to act as a voice of conscience without worrying about political expediency.
Considering the bad press he's gotten over the last few months, it couldn't have hurt the pope to say a few words in public about Lukashenko's stiffling of free speech and dissent in Belarus. Instead, he gave the dictator a photo-op to die for without a critical word.
Given the role his predecessor played in dispatching authoritarian governments from the rest of Eastern Europe, Benedict's conduct was especially shameful.
CHRIS HELGREN/AFP/Getty Images
Not such a good Friday for Caroline Kennedy, daughter of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
Just last week, her name emerged as a possible ambassador to the Vatican. News outlets reported that Senator John Kerry (the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) recommended her for the role, lobbying U.S. President Barack Obama, who makes the appointments, on her behalf.
The rumor sparked outrage among Catholic groups, because Kennedy, who is Catholic, supports abortion rights, which the church vehemently opposes. One called it an "insult," saying, "It's inappropriate to appoint someone who pretends to be a Catholic but rejects the fundamental teachings of the church."
It seems that the Vatican has crossed names off of Obama's list. "At least three names...have been 'burned' even before the proposal of nomination could be made formally, because they were unwelcome to the church," one Italian journalist wrote, as translated by the Washington Times. (The Vatican denies the allegation.)
The United States has never appointed a pro-choice ambassador to the Holy See.
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
The Israeli ultra-Orthodox newspaper Yated Neeman reached new levels of Stalin-esque photoshop audacity by doctoring photos of Israel's new government to remove female ministers Limor Livnat and Sofa Landver and replacing them with male ministers. (Click the photo for a larger version.) If Tzipi Livni had been elected, I would imagine the paper would have been pretty text-heavy on most days.
Unfortunately, no one has yet invented software that can make Foreign Miniser Avigdor Lieberman disappear.
Atlantic blogger and soon-to-be New York Times columnist Ross Douthat was not happy at all that my colleague David Rothkopf put Pope Benedict on his list of the world's biggest losers because of his comments on AIDS and condoms:
There are many other NGOs working in Africa that proceed from different premises, and take a different attitude toward matters sexual as a result, and if David Rothkopf prefers their approach that's perfectly understandable. But unless he's willing to tell the Catholic Church that it should fold up its charitable operations in the developing world and go home, I'd prefer to be spared the lectures on how the Pope is responsible for "massive death and suffering" among populations for whom Catholic institutions have provided lifelines beyond counting over the years, just because he isn't willing to to use his pulpit to preach the importance of playing it as safe as possible, health-wise, while you're committing what the Church considers mortal sin.
Rothkopf is more than able to defend his own posts, but I think that Douthat is missing the real reason why the Pope's comments upset so many people. As Bill Easterly pointed out, the first part of the Pope's statement, that AIDS is "a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms," is a perfectly legitimate statement. Condoms alone won't solve anything. It's his next clause, that the distribution of condoms "even aggravates the problem" which is more problematic.
Here's more Easterly:
From the standpoint of the individual, this is obvious nonsense, you are much less likely to get AIDS if you use a condom. The reason that mass condom distribution has not worked is that far too many people don’t use the condoms. One among the many possible reasons that people don’t use condoms is that religious leaders like the Pope tell them not to, or they believe unscientific statements like the Pope’s that “condoms aggravate the problem.” So it is tragically circular for the Pope to condemn the condom campaigns for not working, when one reason they don’t work is that the Pope has previously condemned condoms.
So in response to Douthat, the Pope was not "proceeding from a different premise" than those who promote condom use, he was making a statement that could at the very least be interpreted as arguing against the fact that condoms use can prevent the transmission of AIDS. Until condom proponents start telling people that they're obligated to have sex, the Pope's defenders are on shaky ground when they say he's just offering another approach.
But don't take my word for it. Roseli Tardelli, a Brazilian AIDS activist who's been educating people on these issues for over a decade, has a new piece on The Argument blog, about how the Pope's words have set her work back years.
BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images
It's been a rough trip to Africa -- at least in the headlines -- for Pope Benedict XVI, but hey, he got some great souvenirs!
No stranger to unusual gifts, Pope Benedict was presented with a tortoise in a basket by a group of Baka Pygmies who gave him an unscheduled send-off from Cameroon last week. I’m not sure whether one can read deep messages into the gift of a tortoise (“It’s a metaphor for Pope Benedict’s approach to the Church, a slow dogged move forward with a heavy protective shell.” “It’s a symbol for…” etc etc etc ad nauseam). At any rate appears that tortoises are quite important to Baka Pygmy culture as a symbol of wisdom—they even have a special dance called the tortoise dance.
Vatican officials at first suggested it might find a nice home in the Vatican gardens. But something must have gone wrong with the turtle that was supposed to bring wisdom. After tagging on to the flight from Cameroon to Angola, the turtle (but let's hope not the wisdom!) was left behind in Luanda.
Father Lombardi told reporters the turtle was "in good hands" with the staff of the nunciature in Angola because it was decided the African turtle should live in an African habitat.
This is disturbing to say the least:
Canada's science minister, the man at the centre of the controversy over federal funding cuts to researchers, won't say if he believes in evolution.
“I'm not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don't think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate,” Gary Goodyear, the federal Minister of State for Science and Technology, said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
A funding crunch, exacerbated by cuts in the January budget, has left many senior researchers across the county scrambling to find the money to continue their experiments.
Some have expressed concern that Mr. Goodyear, a chiropractor from Cambridge, Ont., is suspicious of science, perhaps because he is a creationist.
When asked about those rumours, Mr. Goodyear said such conversations are not worth having.
George W. Bush caught a lot of (understandable) flack from scientists for his partial embrace of "intelligent design" education, but even he chose a science advisor who stated clearly that "evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology."
(Hat tip: Boing Boing)
This morning Kommersant reported (in Russian) that a prominent council of religious associations will, for the first time, be chaired by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The decision represents a major victory for the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and is another sign of the church's increasing influence over the Russian state.
The Kremlin is seeking church support as a rapidly disintegrating economy has fueled internal dissent. The newly annointed Patriarch, Kirill, is believed to be more liberal and politically ambitious than his predecessor and may become a major player in the Russian government.
Malaysian Christians have long referred to Jesus as the "son of Allah." Their government, it seems, has a problem with that:
Malaysian Muslim activists and officials and they see using the word Allah in Christian publications including bibles as attempts to proselytize.
Those concerns led to the ban on the Catholic Herald newspaper's use of "Allah" to denote God. The Herald is now suing the government to overturn the ruling, made after it appeared the paper would be allowed to use "Allah" provided it stamped "For Christians" on the front page of the paper.
"Allowing Christians to use the word is dangerous because it's attacking the sole religion of the Malays," said Yusri Mohamad, president of the influential Muslim Youth Movement.
"We have to question Christians' motive for wanting to use this obviously Muslim word. It appears to be for conversions. All Muslim Malays in Malaysia are against this."
The Indonesian island of Bali has big dreams to become a world capital of spiritual tourism. But that required ignoring the religious edict issued by the country's top Islamic body last week. The Council of Ulemas issued a Fatwa against yoga. Awkward, since Bali had planned to host an international yoga conference.
What ever to do? Not much of a question there, it seems. Yoga! The conference went off as planned, finishing up today, with even the island's governor attending.
Praise be to tourism, the payoffs from Bali's yoga drive could be big. Wayan Wijayasa of the Denpasar Tourism Academy in Bali told local press that if just one percent of U.S. "yogis" visited Bali a year, it would mean 160,000 yoga tourists in the country. That's big dough if you consider that Americans spent $2.95 billion on yoga equipment presumably last year, according to Wijayasa.
Monetary gains aside, yoga is popular in Bali. So that must be what Hillary Clinton meant when she said, "If you want to know if Islam, democracy, modernity and women’s rights can coexist, go to Indonesia." That should ceratinly be worth a few sun salutations.
See also, FP's list of the all-time stupidest fatwas.
SONNY TUMBELAKA/AFP/Getty Images
That Bishop Richard Williamson, as a representative of the Vatican, openly and ardently denied the Holocaust's occurrence was a problem. A big problem. As a religious leader it was a position that shouldn't be tolerated. His dismissal from the Church was warranted.
Today however, Argentina's interior ministry announced that the bishop had ten days to leave the country or he would face expulsion, saying that Williamson "has concealed the true motive for his stay in the country." He had said he was an employee of a non-governmental group rather than declaring 'his true activity' as the director of a seminary, the ministry stated."
Wait a minute. Has Williamson broken any laws? No charges have been filed against him. However ignorant, however reprehensible his beliefs, he's entitled to them. This latest action against the bishop seems like blatant persecution and it's a horrendous precedent to set that will no doubt arm more dangerous Holocaust deniers with anti-Semitic rhetoric.
It's certainly not hard to understand the desire to just get rid of Williamson as quickly as possible, but Argentina just gave him a whole new subject to talk about.
Think Pat Robertson et al. are uniquely American? Think again. Here's an item in the Sydney Morning Herald about the leader of a fringe church in Australia:
The Pentecostal church's leader, Pastor Danny Nalliah, claimed he had a dream about raging fires on October 21 last year and that he woke with "a flash from the Spirit of God: that His conditional protection has been removed from the nation of Australia, in particular Victoria, for approving the slaughter of innocent children in the womb". [...]
Pastor Nalliah said he was helping to co-ordinate fire relief, including providing trucks to distribute clothes and food and giving his own blood, but he said he must tell "the truth".
Asked by the Herald if he did not believe most Australians would regard his remarks as being in appallingly bad taste, he said today: "I must tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear."
He said it was no use "molly-coddling" Australians.
Asked if he believed in a God who would take vengeance by killing so many people indiscriminately - even those who opposed abortion, Mr Nalliah referred to 2 Chronicles 7:14 to vouch for his assertion that God could withdraw his protection from a nation.
"The Bible is very clear," he said. "If you walk out of God's protection and turn your back on Him, you are an open target for the devil to destroy."
TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images
In an interview with Der Spiegel over the weekend, embattled (and now unemployed) Bishop Richard Williamson declined to recant his denial of the Holocaust, as the Vatican has demanded, but did say he would read some more about it:
Williamson: Throughout my life, I have always sought the truth. That is why I converted to Catholicism and became a priest. And now I can only say something, the truth of which I am convinced. Because I realize that there are many honest and intelligent people who think differently, I must now review the historical evidence once again. I said the same thing in my interview with Swedish television: Historical evidence is at issue, not emotions. And if I find this evidence, I will correct myself. But that will take time. [...]
SPIEGEL: You could travel to Auschwitz yourself.
Williamson: No, I will not travel to Auschwitz. I've ordered the book by Jean-Claude Pressac. It's called "Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers." A printout is now being sent to me, and I will read it and study it.
How nice that Williamson has suddenly realized that "many honest and intelligent people" disagree with him about this. I can imagine him anxiously checking his mailbox for that Amazon package so he can decide for himself whether one of the most well-documented and historically significant events of the twentieth century actually happened. The Holocaust occured over 60 years ago. Williamson made his controversial comments in the 1980s. He's almost 70 years old. He really hasn't had time to look into this until now?
I feel like if I suddenly decided that, say, the Great Depression or the moon landing had never actually happened, I'd probably want to at least do some follow-up Googling at some point just to be sure.
Never mind his anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories. Does the Vatican really want to put someone this stupid back in a position of authority?
JUAN MABROMATA/AFP/Getty Images
The controversy of Pope Benedict XVI reinstatement of excommunicated, Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson with German Chancellor Angela Merkel joining those condemning the decision:
Ms Merkel called on the German Pope to make a "very clear" rejection of the views of Bishop Richard Williamson, who has denied that six million Jews were gassed in Nazi concentration camps. In a highly unusual rebuke to the pontiff, she said that she did not believe there had been "sufficient" clarification.
"This should not be allowed to pass without consequences," Ms Merkel, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, said. "This is not just a matter, in my opinion, for the Christian, Catholic and Jewish communities in Germany. The Pope and the Vatican should clarify unambiguously that there can be no denial and that there must be positive relations with the Jewish community overall."
I'm not sure, but I don't recall any secular democratic leader criticizing the Pope this way before. Merkel's rebuke also followed a statement by German Catholic theologian calling for Benedict to step down. That doesn't seem particularly likely, but it does seem significant that this controversy shows no sign of slowing down after more than a week.
If you haven't already, definitely check out John L. Allen's counterintuitive take on Benedict and Obama.
Photo: JULIA FASSBENDER/AFP/Getty Images
As Bishop Gene Robinson is added to the roster for Obama's inaugural events, it seems pretty obvious why he and Rick Warren, set to give the invocation, don't exactly get along. Bluntly, Warren is an influential Conservative Evangelical who actively campaigns against gay marriage, and V. Gene Robinson is the first openly gay Bishop in the Episcopal Church.
The gaping divide between the two religious men actually goes even deeper -- all the way to Nigeria, where the powerful Episcopal Archbishop Peter Akinola presides. The famously anti-gay Akinola has led a global movement of Episcopalians against Robinson's consecration. The church in fact split over the issue, twice -- a wide global spectrum of parishes turning to Akinola for leadership.
And when Time named Bishop Akinola as one of the world's most influential people in 2006, guess who they got to write him up? Rick Warren. Just today, Warren was rumored to be willing to help disgruntled Episcopalians get as far away from Robinson as possible. No surprise that when Warren was chosen for the inaugural invocation, Robinson told The New York Times, "it was like a slap in the face."
They've both also said quite nice words about one another, by the way. But still. Yikes. If Obama is trying to "bring people together," that's quite a daring pairing. What must Akinola be thinking about all this?
Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
The announcement that Reverend Rick Warren will be delivering the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration has already drawn some harsh criticism.
High on the list of complaints is that Warren, pastor of the Saddleback mega-church in Orange County, California, is anti-gay-marriage and recently threw his support behind California's much-debated Proposition 8. The Human Rights Campaign has sent Obama a letter asking him to "reconsider."
Liberal bloggers also denounced Obama's selection. Ezra Klein at The American Prospect said:
There's a difference between reaching out to the evangelical community with respect and surrendering to it. Obama could have called on an Episcopalian or a Methodist or any number of more complicated and nuanced religious figures. Giving Warren this sort of political-religious opportunity effectively codifies his position as America's most politically important, and accepted, religious leader. That seems unwise, and unnecessary."
As Klein himself points out, Warren "is the author of the best-selling book of all time" and concedes an argument (albeit an unlikely one in his opinion), can be made that "Obama's demonstrated respect for the preacher might build some level of rapport, or at least openness, with that community."
But how surprised are we really by this invitation? Obama has reached out to America's most powerful evangelical before, sharing the stage with him for an event on AIDS prevention, (that time it was Warren who drew criticism from his followers) and participating in a campaign forum at Saddleback.
We've had our eye on Warren's rise in U.S. politics. In our World's Top Religious Power Brokers List from October, I wrote, "Whichever candidate wins in November, he’ll likely be making a regular pilgrimage to Orange County for counsel and support." It appears the back-scratching has begun.
Photo: David McNew/Getty Images
The Anglican Church in North America announced its plans yesterday to create a breakaway church to protest the ordination of an openly gay bishop five years ago. Up to this point, Anglicans in the United States and Canada who objected to homosexuality had allied themselves with churches abroad -- namely, the Anglican Church of Nigeria.
As FP's recent list of the world's top religious powerbrokers explained, Nigerian Bishop Peter Akinola has profited greatly from his status as the world's anti-gay Anglican leader. So today's announcement might sound like bad news to Akinola, who could easily be described as violently anti-gay.
After my time in Nigeria, however, I suspect the opposite. Akinola made waves when he created his own breakaway church in protest against homosexuality; the fact that others are following simply means his movement is catching on. The man behind the split will still retain strong influence among Anglicans.
And perhaps more importantly for Akinola, he is still strong -- and getting stronger -- at home. Akinola's views on homosexuality are wildly popular in Nigeria, where conservative Christian values are in a neck-in-neck competition with convertive Islamic ones for converts. Religious violence flared up last week at the flashpoint of north and south Nigeria (where Islam meets Christianity, to a large extent). Akinola criticized the government for inaction.
Akinola can make a strong case as the founder of the breakaway movements within the Anglican Church. And he can take credit for lashing out against homosexuality in the church. Whatever your view of the matter, that kind of symbolic power doesn't fade fast.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Today, the United Nations is hosting an "interfaith dialogue" on religious tolerance led by... Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy where religious freedom does not exist. I guess it's like John McEnroe holding a seminar on good sportsmanship.
The supposed big news about the event is that King Abdullah just might, maybe, be in the same room as Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, during dinner. Will they shake hands?
Arab News, a Saudi-owned newspaper, credulously reports, "[T]he conference is expected to usher in a new era of peace and prosperity in the world."
Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Cairo's zabaleen form the backbone of the city's garbage disposal system. They collect about a third of Cairo's trash and traditionally haul it by donkey cart, as seen in this Oct. 20 photo. Largely scorned by Egyptian society, the trash scavengers recently lost one woman who had worked tirelessly for their well-being -- Sister Emmanuelle, a Belgium-born French nun who died Oct. 20 at age 99.
See more photos of zabaleen at work and read more about them in this week's photo essay, "Cairo's Trash Collectors Down in the Dumps."
Photo: KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
If there was one place you thought you could turn to get away from the "greed" of Wall Street, it might be your Church.
Unless, of course, you attend the Church of England.
The Financial Times today reports that the Archbishops of Canterbury and York condemned short selling and other trading practices, only to have it pointed out that their own investments were involved in those practices.
Further proof of what the Church has been teaching all along: we are all sinners.
In Iran, health experts have issued warnings on TV and radio discouraging people from overeating during the holy month of Ramadan.
They are right to worry. Some Iranians actually gain weight during this time because they overindulge at iftar, the evening feast when Muslims break their daily fasts, National Geographic News reports:
The situation in Georgia is evolving rapidly. Here are some of the latest developments:
Watch this space for more.
Comedian Mike Myers's latest movie, The Love Guru, hits the big screen in the United States today. In the film, Myers plays Guru Pitka, a character who is raised at an ashram in India and then moves to the United States to serve as a New Age-ish life coach for a Canadian ice hockey player experiencing marital problems.
Some Hindus in the United States have complained that, based on what they've seen in the trailer, the movie lampoons their faith and reinforces misconceptions about their religion. The movie never mentions Hinduism, and Guru Pitka is supposed to be of a fictional faith. Critics, however, contend that considering he's coming from an ashram in India, wears Hindu saffron robes, and uses the term "guru," what other religion would viewers logically link him to?
It's true that in the United States, Hinduism -- one of the world's fastest growing religions and practiced by nearly 1 billion people -- has been largely and inaccurately portrayed as a bizarre, New Age-like religion. And The Love Guru will probably reinforce that image. As one Hindu leader told the Associated Press, "People are not very well-versed in Hinduism, so this might be their only exposure. They will have an image in their minds of stereotypes. They will think most of us are like that."
Upset Hindus should take solace, however, in the fact that this movie is a flop, mainly due to Myers's tired jokes and lame toilet humor. Reviews have been scathing, and the film received a pathetically low 15 percent on the tomatometer. Looks like The Love Guru generated some bad karma for itself.
Residents of the Iraqi city of Fallujah claim that U.S. Marines are trying to convert them to Christianity. McClatchy's Jamal Naji and Leila Fadel report:
At the western entrance to the Iraqi city of Fallujah Tuesday, Muamar Anad handed his residence badge to the U.S. Marines guarding the city. They checked to be sure that he was a city resident, and when they were done, Anad said, a Marine slipped a coin out of his pocket and put it in his hand.
Out of fear, he accepted it, Anad said. When he was inside the city, the college student said, he looked at one side of the coin. "Where will you spend eternity?" it asked.
He flipped it over, and on the other side it read, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16."
Quite a few locals say they have received the coins and the U.S. military is investigating the claims. It shouldn't even need repeating, but stories like this don't exactly help fight the perception of many Muslims that the U.S.-led war on terror is actually a war on Islam. This literal proselytization at gunpoint is understandably humiliating for the people on the other end and, if it is going on, the Marine Corps ought to put a stop to it immediately.
Even so, [Noah's ark] would struggle to comply with modern marine transport guidelines, even with a few thousand creatures.
That's from a very weird Reuters story that uses the upcoming U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity as a peg to discuss whether or not the Noah's ark story really happened. Biologists, environmentalists, creationists, shipbuilders, and "livestock shipping experts" all weigh in.
By the way, if you're ever in the greater Cincinnati area, I highly recommend a visit to Answers in Genesis' infamous Creation Museum. In addition to learning just how all those animals did fit on the ark, you can also see some pretty scary animatronic dinosaurs in the full-scale Garden of Eden replica.
Professor Bernard Sabella of Bethlehem University came to Georgetown Wednesday to speak about the decline of the Palestinian Christian population in the Holy Land. It's a group whose unique role as bridge-builders, particularly between the West and the Palestinian Muslims, is increasingly at risk.
Palestinian Christians number somewhere near 50,000, making up less than 2 percent of the population. In Jerusalem alone, the population has gone from 30,000 in 1945 to at most 8,000 today.
As a sociologist, Sabella conducts surveys to discover why Palestinian Christians are emigrating. His results suggest economic and political rather than religious reasons, though 8 percent of respondents say religious fanaticism could be a contributing factor to seeking a life elsewhere. Jews and Muslims are leaving for the same reasons.
Sabella, who has served in the Palestinian legislature, also weighed in on the political situation. The way he sees it, the peace process has reached a critical juncture. If it doesn't succeed by the end of the year, he expects escalating confrontation on Palestinian streets and the election of hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister.
The implications of failure, he says, are serious:
If the political and economic situation doesn't improve, then we are going to lose our youngest and brightest brains."
Uganda is being held in suspense right now as Lord's Resistance Army commander Joseph Kony continues to delay signing a peace agreement that would bring an end to one of the world's longest-running conflicts.
It's probably safe to say that if Kony operated in the Northern Hemisphere, he'd be considered the world's most dangerous terrorist. Throughout the LRA's 22-year rebellion, it has killed more people than al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah combined, and abducted thousands of children to serve as child soldiers or "wives" for top commanders.
Kony ran the LRA like a religious cult, aimed to create a government based on the 10 commandments and consulted regularly with a "spirit council" that included a dead Chinese general. He's also just one of the zealots and hate-mongers profiled in this week's FP list, "The World's Worst Religious Leaders."
Here's hoping this dark chapter in African history is finally coming to an end.
People are literally stealing the roofs off of churches in Britain, the New York Times reports today. Some call it "the most concerted assault on churches since the Reformation." But it's not religious zealotry that's driving the vandals, it's simple economics.
Rising resource demand from China and India coupled with supply disruptions from Australia (the holy trinity of skyrocketing prices) have caused lead prices to jump sevenfold in the past six years. Before 2005, instances of roof theft were few and far between. But last year, one church insurance company reported $18 million in claims, mostly from cases of disappearing lead. Historical preservation laws mandate the use of original building materials, hence the metal installation and replacement in the event of theft. John Deave, a retired churchwarden, is feeling the pressure:
Whenever I get an early morning phone call these days, I think, 'Oh no, they’ve taken the roof again.'"
Institutions are mulling tough love tactics to prevent further vandalism including barbed wire, roof lights, and slippery drain pipe paint, but mere fences can't stop the forces of supply and demand. This highlights a broader trend in which the West feels a pinch from inflation and commodity price hikes in the developing world. The free ride is ending, folks.
Worshipers re-enact the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday in the French Quarter, March 21, 2008 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
The government of the Philippines wants its citizens to know that crucifixion can pose a health risk:
Philippine health officials Wednesday warned people taking part in Easter crucifixions and self-flagellation rituals to get a tetanus shot first and sterilise the nails to avoid infections.
Every Good Friday in this predominately Roman Catholic Southeast Asian nation dozens of men re-enact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ by having themselves nailed to wooden crosses.
The Vatican has just released a new list of "social sins" that will earn you time in hell, and in a deeply, hysterically ironic move, possessing excessive wealth is one of them.
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