issue 159 - May 1986
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Dr Dominion's article on sexual morality (NI 158) made insufficient allowance for the extent of the social and sexual revolution within which we are all living. His conclusion was a tidy morality allowing sex before marriage provided it was within a stable relationship. He then went on to argue for a totally exclusive marriage where physical sex and good communication reinforced each other to bond together the happy couple. Even permissive teenagers were quoted as 'disapproving' of adultery, itself a loaded word.
That seemed too slick and did not do justice to the painful search for integrity in relationships which is leading men and women down surprising paths.
A number of factors have combined to produce a new context within which individuals have to discover themselves and each other. First, the barriers which protected the sexes from free social intercourse have come down. Second, in earlier days the physical barrier was held sacrosanct, largely because of the risk of conception. Since scientific advances have separated sexual intercourse from procreation that taboo has gone.
It is doubtless true that some kind of stability is important. Children need the insurance of their parents' continuing presence. If a couple are always in doubt as to whether their partnership will survive, they may be less able to function effectively. But do the ingredients for a stable union include physical exclusiveness?
I face this problem in an increasing number of pastoral situations and recognise no solution is without cost and risk. But there is a choice and the choice demands personal honesty, a willingness to care for all involved and a measure of freedom from imposed guilt.
Bishop of St Andrews
Love thy God
Enver Carim's article on Islam deals only superficially with sexual dynamics in Muslim society. Fatima Mernissi's book Beyond the Veil provides a better insight. Taking Morocco as an example she argues 'the Muslim system is not so much opposed to women as to the heterosexual unit. What is feared is growth of the involvement between man and woman into an all encompassing love, satisfying the sexual, emotional and intellectual needs of both partners. Such an involvement constitutes a direct threat to the man's allegiance to Allah.' According to Mernissi, men and women were socialised to perceive each other as enemies and men empowered with institutionalised means to oppress women.
Beating the bully
Congratulations, Peter Stalker, on the Nicaragua issue (NI 156). But there is a gap in the story. There is little mention of the measures taken by the US government with the aim of overturning the revolution, measures which have included everything short of sending in the Marines (so far). Here is an incomplete list
· The financing, training and equipping of the contras;
· the blocking of loans from the World Bank and other agencies;
· the trade embargo;
· the mining of ports and the harassing of fishing boats;
· the blowing up of oil tanks at Corinto.
I have a leaflet published by the British Ministry of Defence. It is titled How to deal with a Bully and pictures a large and threatening (Russian) bear. There ought to be another leaflet - same title and picturing an eagle with blood dripping from its beak and claws.
It would perhaps interest readers of Michael Goulder's article (NI 155) to know that having religious experiences does not necessarily immunize a person against atheism. Whereas his decision to quit Christianity seems to have been due to the failure on the part of its God to deliver the promised goods socially, in my case God fell short of expectations in a psychological sense.
Christianity is a religion of very high moral demands and consequently of guilt and fear. After a lifetime of Christianity and several deeply moving mystical experiences, the God of Christian dogma proved unable to rid me of recurrent depression. A little psychological insight proved more effective to this end than all the preachings of the churches. Dropping the 'faith of the fathers' set me free from this lifelong burden, permanently it would appear, confirming Mr Goulder's statement that 'confession is good for the soul' as well as for the body.
I found the issue on Religion (NI 155) a distressingly bad one. I had to force myself to read on after the statement 'If we cannot agree on our approach to God, let's at least agree on our approach to the enemy: the rootless nihilism of the modern age'. This announced the intention to treat 'religion' as somehow 'good' and believing in no God as therefore 'bad'.
I believe that the Religion issue could have been useful if questions like 'Is religion a con trick?' had been tackled as a pre-requisite and if you then went on to detail the evils of organised religion, now and in the past, including its effect on women, its support for the rule of the unjust, its attempts to frighten the ignorant into obedience, and its traditional role as a reactionary force preaching division of humanity.
In your recent survey on Religion (NI 155) and the number of believers in the world, what is missing is any reference to the growing numbers of non-believers.
In Canada. for example, we know from official census data that acknowledged non-believers have increased by 1,700 per cent in 20 years, growing at an enormously higher rate than any other group, and now representing about two and a half million Canadians.
While these two and a half million can definitely be counted as having no religion - which is what they stated on their census forms - it by no means follows that the remaining part of the population are all believers. Indeed church membership figures for Canada point to a 'gap' of at least nine million Canadians who are not members of Christian, Jewish or any other non-Christian denominations. On this basis one would have to question very seriously the accuracy of your figures for total numbers of 'believers' in the world. It cannot in fact be doubted that we live in a very largely secular and non-believing world today.
Humanist Association of Canada
Christians can have a fundamentalist concern for morality as well as a concern for the poor and oppressed without an ultra right-wing political view. This was the balance Jesus had.
Christians have also discovered that the oppression of women in the church is wrong and inconsistent with the way of Jesus. The Christian Church is awakening. All members are equal and important.
Your Update on the threat to Latin America's indigenous people (NI 155) unfortunately omitted Guatemala, one of the two Latin American nations - Bolivia is the other - where the indigenous people form a majority of the population, over 60 per cent. Not only has the indigenous population of Guatemala suffered disproportionately from the genocidal policies of the regimes of Lucas Garcia (1978-1982) and Rios Montt (1982-83) but, through the current system of 'model villages' (Vietnam-style strategic hamlets), they are being forced to abandon their language, traditional dress, the growing of their most important food, corn; indeed, everything which has distinguished them for centuries from the dominant ladino minority. If this precious legacy is allowed to be destroyed, much of what is quintessentially Guatemalan will be forever lost.
Janet E. Harris
This is not family planning - it is compulsory abortion. It is promoted by the population scaremongers of the West, who want to avoid the real issue of relieving poverty.
Are we prepared to stand in solidarity with Third World women, against the coercive state and such organisations as the Rockefeller Commission which promote abortion (even when it is against women's wishes) but not aid?
Following a letter in the NI four years ago asking for contacts in the Third World, LINK has gone from strength to strength.
We have supplied books to Nigeria, Kenya. Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Dominica, and are now seeking contacts in Latin America and India. Would anyone who can recommend deserving institutions in either of these countries please contact me?
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
Yvonne St Clare has been working as an English teacher in the
My students walk up to two and a half hours to get to school by 7.20 in the morning (by the sun!). And they are supposed to stay until four in the afternoon, Monday to Friday, even though there is no food at school for them, and no lessons at all in the afternoons.
Once at school, they study O'level syllabi inherited from Britain and Rhodesia, which still - despite some changes in style and content - stresses the advantages, or rather the necessities, of modern living. And fluency in English is number one. Geography is about manufacturing, mining and farming. The new science course concentrates more on biology, but still includes irrelevant mysteries like electricity and atom-splitting. Even recent English textbooks are full of passages about boarding schools and city life.
Yet my students live in a totally different world, relying on traditional skills of agriculture, building and fishing, trapping and crafts. Ironically, given that the majority of the agricultural work in Zimbabwe is done by women, agriculture is taught as a 'boy's' subject, while the girls make do with needlework lessons. Another irony is the fact that students' families are also expected to find $60 (US$96) per child per term for school fees, hoping that one day their sacrifice will be repaid with the golden egg of a well-paid job: convinced that without this crippling investment, things can only get worse.
Why do they believe this? Why do they accept that progress can only come in terms of modern, city-led life, on European terms? I think the school itself is partly to blame.
Every night in the moonlight, or under the stars, we can hear the drums talking across the plain, telling us that somewhere beer has been brewed in honour of the ancestors. Somewhere a family is gathering to drink, sing and dance together, gathering to solve some pressing problem of illness or misfortune by observing an ancient ritual.
But at school assembly every morning, when the Headmaster stands up to deliver his sermon, no mention is ever made of traditional beliefs and customs. They are ignored - in public at least - as an archaic embarrassment by educated modern leaders, whose attitudes seem to me little more than a caricature of their colonial predecessors. In private, however, most of these same people probably consult traditional healers and observe many rituals with their families at home.
Yet who am I, a British expatriate, to sneer? Along with the Headmaster and leagues of other Zimbabwean officials, I too am benefiting from an international economic system that condemns my local friend to exhausted land, increasing hardship and cultural alienation.
So why am I here, working as a teacher in the very school system that I believe contributes to the problems of the villagers? And more - why do I want to stay? I am here because I know that the system is the same wherever I live. And I want to understand better what is happening in our world by facing these contradictions there they confront me most clearly, living with them and writing about them. On this level, being here is not a comfortable experience. But comfort comes on the human level: in new relationships, hours shared eating, singing, working, or exchanging skills.
Soon I hope to be working in the community, not as a school teacher, but with school leavers and others involved in local co-operative ventures. But I can't say I'm here only for the sake of other people. 'Community development' and my own 'development' have come to mean almost the same thing.