May 6 - May 8, 2002
Wednesday 8th May, 2002
No-One’s Long-Term Interest
Thomas Friedman is
America needs to be aware of how its war on terrorism is read in other
countries, especially those in transition. Indonesia is the world's biggest
Muslim country. Its greatest contribution to us would be to show the Arab
Muslim states that it is possible to develop a successful Muslim democracy,
with a modern economy and a moderate religious outlook. Setting that example
is a lot more in America's long-term interest than arresting a few stray
Qaeda fighters in the jungles of Borneo.
A few stray al Qaeda fighters? In Borneo?
The Indonesian government has
confirmed that the militant Islamic group Laskar Jihad has
links with al Qaeda. Laskar Jihad has sent thousands of armed fighters
to attack Christians in Sulawesi and Maluku. (No word of them in Borneo.)
Friedman’s point is that the corrupt
Indonesian military and security services are itching to be given more
powers, but that this is not in Indonesia’s own interests. And certainly
when you recall the
terror campaign the Indonesian military waged in East Timor, over many
years, you have to agree.
Yet it is also crucial that Indonesia not
become the next Lebanon, which is what could happen if Laskar Jihad and its
allies are not repulsed.
Defeating Islamic terror is going to be no
picnic. It could be lengthy and bloody. Great tact and skill are vital,
based on a realistic assessment of the predicament. Dismissing the problem
as “a few stray Qaeda fighters in the jungles of Borneo” is in no-one’s
Michael Tinkler of Hobart & William Smith Colleges in New York is cranky,
and he tells you all about it in his
are wide-ranging. In an email to me he writes of his concerns about a friend
who practises Tibetan Buddhism but who doesn’t seem to know much about it.
Somehow what seems like an 'oh, simple and quiet form of meditation' turns
out, like so many 'other' religions, to have a huge burden of history that
its Western converts either don't learn until they're into the whole mess or
don't seem to want to know about. It would be like becoming a Christian
because you like the practice of prayer and drinking coffee with the
community after church but aren't really interested in those Gospel-things
and are offended when someone asks you 'why are there four of them and how
can their accounts be reconciled?'
I touched on this theme in my book
Living Water to Light the Journey (which I’m struggling to get up on
this website; I’ve been pre-occupied with my Christian bloglist).
The spiritual and mystical traditions of Christianity have become an
important part of my life. Yet I also see dangers in veering too far towards
this side of religion—in putting all the emphasis on the experiential.
That is what worries me about idealistic young Australians who seek out an
adviser for instruction in Eastern and New Age spiritualities. Too often
they operate in “pick ‘n’ mix” fashion, moving from one fashionable,
articulate guru to the next, absorbing a bit of Oriental philosophy and
timeless wisdom and achieving some transcendental-like experiences. They
feel they are on a voyage, journeying closer to the divine. Often it is
little more than a pilgrimage deeper into their own egos.
In Japan, the country of the East that I know best, a person engaged in a
spiritual journey will normally become attached to a teacher, and that
teacher will be attached to a hierarchy of other teachers, some of whom will
have many decades of experience. These teachers will be revered and
respected, and they will put enormous stress on hard work and discipline,
some of it intensely unpleasant. Dedicated study of traditional scripture
will be required, and the teachers will also be likely to emphasise
continuing humility, duty and service. There will probably be a strong
Unfortunately, too often the Australian Oriental experience is designed to
give people a quick fix, to make them feel better about themselves. And
though there is of course nothing intrinsically wrong with feeling better
about yourself, especially if you have problems, the point is that it is a
short-term fix only. When big difficulties crop up in your life you may find
that you have nothing solid supporting you. For me, it is the support of God
that has proven to be one of the major differences between my past Buddhist
experiences and my present life as a Christian.
ABC – Going to the Dogs
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation is
working hard to beat up tonight’s scheduled “Foreign
Correspondent” programme on Korea’s dog meat trade. It has turned it
news item, and it has made it the lead story on “Foreign Correspondent”.
This morning’s Herald Sun warns: “Watch for horrifying footage of a
dog being tortured to death. Some believe the fear creates hormones which
My wife is Korean. She’s had dog meat
about once in her life (and hated it). It’s hardly mainstream. She says
people eat it because they believe it boosts energy. Her theory is that the
meat has such a rich taste that it must be cooked with numerous vegetables,
spices and herbs to make it edible, and it is these that boost the energy,
not the meat itself.
Why doesn’t the ABC investigate the
massive infrastructure that undergirds the pet industry in Australia and
other Western countries? In a world where millions of people are sick and
starving, pharmaceutical companies sink enormous resources into the
continual development of new, improved pet-care products.
Here in Melbourne we live in a well-off
suburb, with vet clinics all around. It’s a huge industry. Our own vet moved
just last month to lavish new premises. It cost us $168 six weeks ago when
we took our golden retriever to him for her annual check-up, injection and
flea treatment. Our oldest boy loves animals and would like to become a vet,
but it’s as hard to get into a vet’s course at university as to enter
medical school, so lucrative is this business.
Friends own a lovely sheltie which caught
a virus earlier this year and became seriously ill. It was rushed to a
clinic and placed on a drip for 10 days before recovering. The bill was
$1,200. These people are good Christians who strive to raise their kids to
be sacrificial in working to help the suffering of the world. But what do
you do when the clinic phones every day and asks for instructions on whether
to keep the dog on the drip and your daughter is so sick with worry that the
dog might die that she can hardly eat or go to school? My friends are
probably still in conflict.
Growing up in Korea, my wife always had a
dog as a pet. But if it got sick the expectation was that it would probably
die. You didn’t take it to the vet. Sometimes my wife would come home from
school and find that her dog had disappeared. It was sick, and her father
had somehow disposed of it. She’d cry for a few days, and then get another
dog. That was life.
But strange Asian eating habits are always
good for a laugh and a bit of shock-horror in the Western media. When I was
a freelance journalist in Tokyo I always knew that I could sell a report on
the (very few) restaurants that sold grilled snake and raw horsemeat and
turtle blood and simmered grasshoppers and barbecued sparrows. I stopped
writing the stories because I felt that newspapers just published them in
order to poke fun at the Japanese, and I didn’t want to be part of that.
These restaurants were not at all part of mainstream Japanese life. Most
Japanese have never eaten those dishes.
The average Australian knows next to
nothing about life in South Korea (one of our biggest trading partners). The
ABC would serve its viewers better if it devoted its resources to stories
that helped us towards a better understanding of the country.
Tuesday 7th May, 2002
Downward, But Not All That Downward
A quarter of Australian church-goers
believe the Bible is the word of God and is to be taken literally. The
Sydney Morning Herald seems surprised the proportion is so high. But
what on earth do the rest believe?
The National Church Life Survey questioned
435,000 church-goers one Sunday last year, and found a mixture of modest
gloom mixed in with some, well, modest joy. One of the researchers gallantly
tried to express the mood:
I'm not sure that overall it's all that encouraging ... but the downward
trend is not as downward as I was expecting….There are some positive notes,
so you could say the church is evolving ... we're just not sure exactly what
it's evolving to.
A reader in Atlanta wishes to put in a
plug for the Melbourne journal
AD2000, which he considers to be “a global flagship among Catholic
journals in English”.
Unfortunately, he then continues:
Oh, and one more thing. Mr. Roth, on behalf of: a) all truly sport-loving
Americans, and b) all American parents of fruit-loving toddlers, I wish to
thank your country for: a) the Australian Football League and b) Bananas In
I have lived in Melbourne (the heart of
Aussie Rules football) for nine years, and have yet to watch a complete
yawn-inducing is this travesty of
Bananas in Pyjamas were
last seen planning the forthcoming allied bombing campaign of Iraq.
Banned in Melbourne
The Age, Melbourne’s “quality” broadsheet, has refused to publish a cartoon by
Michael Leunig, one of its regular cartoonists, apparently deeming it
anti-Jewish. The cartoon is
here, and a commentary from last night’s Media Watch TV programme
Why Pim Fortuyn (Probably) Wouldn’t
Be Assassinated in Australia
The Australian right seems incapable of
producing a figure with the passion of Jean-Marie Le Pen. The best we can
manage is the rambling racist drivel of failed politician Pauline Hanson.
Our left might be good at posturing, but we’ve never thrown up the fiery
criminality of the Baader-Meinhof gang or the Red Brigades or the Weather
Underground. No Pim Fortuyn-style assassinations, either (we pray).
If you are looking for ideology in a democratic society, give Australia a
miss….Certainly Australia is not without serious debate on matters
political, economic and social. It's just that the level of intensity seems
less than in comparable nations in Western Europe and North
America….Australia's success in the 20th century has been due primarily to
the fact that this is a practical society. This explains why, whenever
attempted, economic and social change (including immigration) has been
achieved with relative success. This non-ideological ethos has also led to a
situation where Australia has experienced very little crime motivated by
political, religious or ethnic belief. Think Australia; observe empiricism -
with only occasional exceptions.
It’s the same with religion. My wife and I
often bemoan the weakness of Sunday worship in this country—the lack of
passion or real joy, the utterly sensible approach to it all. And then we
look at countries where people do get passionate about their
religion—Northern Ireland, the former Yugoslavia, the Middle East—and we
have to think that Australia really is the Lucky Country.
Monday 6th May, 2002
Melbourne Anglicans Reply
Roland Ashby, Director of Communications
of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, has sent the following email in
response to my
Anglican Media Melbourne.
I apologise if our website has created the impression that we are biased in
favour of the Palestinians. If such an impression has been created it has
certainly not been intentional. It is true that our reporting has been
influenced by reports and appeals from the Anglican Bishop in Palestine
concerning the current situation. Archbishop Watson's statement was also
made in direct response to this. However, the Archbishop made it very clear
in a comment to
The Melbourne Anglican that he is equally concerned about violence
perpetrated by the Palestinians. "Suicide bombing is a terrible development
in the history of war. I am appalled by all forms of terrorism and violence
perpetrated by any group of people," he is quoted as saying in the lead
article in this month's issue of The Melbourne Anglican. This article
is also on the website under The Melbourne Anglican. We have
traditionally been even-handed on the Middle East issue. Please refer to the
article, also on the website under The Melbourne Anglican, August
should not take sides in the Middle East."
Anglican Hall of Fame
I worship at an Anglican church, and I’m
not anti-Anglican, despite the
article I posted two days ago on Anglican
Media Melbourne. Christopher Johnson at
Midwest Conservative Journal isn’t anti-Anglican either, despite some
concerns. He has launched the Anglican Hall of Fame, and invites
John Leo writes about blogging in
US News and World Report.
The first commandment of blogdom is that anyone can become a pundit. Nobody
is in charge. Bloggers can say anything they want and get their message out
with blinding speed. This is unsettling to us lumbering print guys. Six or
seven times I had to abandon a column because some upstart blogger beat me
He mentions the phenomenon of Christian
blogging, and cites this site. Thank you.