issue 204 - February 1990
The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
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Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
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Your issue on Green Consumerism (NI 203) was a classic case of a magazine hedging its bets. On the one hand we should buy green; on the other hand we should not take the whole business too seriously. Where was the incisive political analysis I have come to expect from the NI? Dare I intimate that perhaps the green issue is a bit too close to home? If the problem is over-consumption, then the magazine should have argued for reducing what we use. If the problem is capitalism, the profit-motive should have been scrutinized with an emphasis on worker power. Either way green consumerism rapidly degrades into compost.
I read with interest John Shelby Spong's article on the Christian approach to homosexuality (NI 201). I wholeheartedly agree that the church should not condemn gays and lesbians, but rather take up our calling from Jesus to love them as a part of God's creation. But I believe that it is contrary to God's will for the church to publicly affirm and bless such unions. For example Paul warns the church that those 'effeminate by perversion' and homosexuals shall not inherit the kingdom of God. And in Genesis we read that when God created the world, He did not want man to be alone and so decided to create a companion for him. When it was done, man said, 'She shall be called WOMAN'.
I would like to congratulate you on your Homosexuality issue (NI 201). It contained a lot that was new to me regarding gay people. I can see that it will do much to enlighten many. In the UK particularly, I can see it bringing the light of knowledge to people of ethnic minorities who may be gay but suffer prejudice from their own subcultures.
Also, I hope it will open the eyes of the white people who currently form the majority of the UK gay community. Unfortunately lesbians and gay men tend to be as racist as anyone else. Some even see homosexual expression as being the privilege of materially successful people in a 'modern' society.
David J Williams
(Lesbian and Gay Switchboard),
West Midlands, UK
As a Community Education Organizer I would like to congratulate you on the November issue (Homosexuality NI 201). Rarely have I seen such a sane, straightforward and unbiased set of articles about any subject, let alone one which usually arouses such passion. I was particularly struck by the clarification of the oft-quoted arguments against homosexuality in the Christian tradition and by the examination of the way politicians of all persuasions have used prejudice to gain power and control. Combatting prejudice is a major part of the work of someone in my position and I shall certainly make the magazine widely available.
When I read that you were doing a study of homosexuals (NI 201), I thought it was my chance to learn about the problem. I was wrong. Most of my questions went unanswered. For example, what exactly produces this abnormality? Is it increasing in popularity in this country and worldwide? If so why? I want to know more.
A H Morley,
Gwynedd, Wales, UK
Congratulations on your gay issue (NI 201). Those who see homosexuality as an abomination are suffering from a delusion. Gay people do not choose their sexuality; it is just part of how they are made. And it is not wrong. To love and care for your fellow beings - whether of the same or opposite sex - is life's essence. How can I regard my sexuality as an abomination? It is mine. It is creator-given. It will not be changed or go away; it is part of God's plan. Gays claim the right to live as they choose, and to be respected for the human beings we are.
Name and address withheld by request
Bruce Watson's letter (Letters NI 201) is very patronizing. As a child I lived in Morocco and Mozambique, and in common with many colonial children, I sensed that the servants were infinitely wiser and more dignified than the guests at my parents' cocktail parties. These simple warm people were not happier or better than us - but neither were they unhappier or inferior. I have never been able to see what makes 'our' way better than theirs. And like my mother, I share the view that we have no business flogging unnecessary poisons to people who are too nice to know what we are up to.
As inhabitants of the South Pacific - where earthquakes regularly raise land from the sea - we were delighted to hear of the arrival of 16 million people all squeezed into 50 square kilometres of the Enaye Islands (Country Profile NI 200). It is a relief to know that 'the Enaye people will not be deceived for much longer' - but what about all those newly-formed 'Aid to Enaye' action groups?
Wellington, Aotearoa / New Zealand
Thank you for your brilliant exposé of the brutal pseudo-colonial repression of the Enaye people (Country Profile NI 200). May I ask all your readers to write to their local MPs and urge withdrawal of recognition by world governments of the illegitimate Trein regime, and to put pressure on this regime by boycotting our main export - camel fat - used to make such diverse products as deodorants, toothpaste, chewing gum and laxatives. If you receive this letter, it will only be because of the courage of my top scout who must paddle his canoe under cover of darkness to post this letter in the neighbouring Solomon Islands.
(Chairperson for the National Organization for the Liberation of Enaye - NOLIE),
I have just read your 200th edition. It is a wonderful document, a fitting tribute to the 17 years of your paper's life and an inspiration to those of us still in the infant years of our publication. Bravo.
(Co-editor), The Weekly Mail,
Johannesburg, South Africa
Your Palestine / Israel issue (NI 199) made me very angry. The Palestinians have been done an enormous injustice. Good God - can you imagine attempting to write a balanced issue about apartheid? Also, why do you try and equate the 'tragic histories' of Palestinians and Jewish Israelis? The tragedy of Palestinians has been created exclusively by Zionism and its supporters, whereas the injustices perpetrated on the Jews have nothing to do with Palestinians.
One aspect that wasn't covered in your Palestine / Israel issue (NI 199) is the relationship between South Africa and Israel. Israel makes a mockery of its anti-Nazi stance and the memory of Holocaust victims when it trades with and sells arms to 'the spiritual children of Adolf Hitler'.
Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand
Congratulations on the September issue (The Palestine / Israel conflict NI 199) It was a remarkable achievement, although the Universities' Educational Fund for Palestinian Refugees was not mentioned. We send volunteers to help Palestinian communities in the Occupied Territories, Israel and Jordan, and our address is: 12 Helen Road, Oxford 0X2 ODE.
Countless US Catholics whose votes have kept reactionary governments in Washington for decades, remain oblivious to the butchery in El Salvador and elsewhere in Latin America. While so-called Communist countries are now engaged in serious reforms, few Americans recognize the need for radical economic and political change at home.
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
Tickets to salvation
Susanna Rance writes about a new religious experience
which is rocking and rolling hope to Bolivia's poor.
People of all ages queued outside the huge, striped tent. Gradually the bustle and the music drew us in out of the cold night air. Hoisting the children onto our shoulders so they could peer over the sea of heads, we found ourselves witnessing a 'revival show' with energetic marketing techniques which seemed strangely out of place in the backstreets of a La Paz shanty town.
Tidy, blue-jeaned youths roused the public to clap and sing along to hymns set to fast rock rhythms. The close, steamy atmosphere became charged with enthusiasm as collection bags grew heavy with money; cassettes, stickers and 'cost-price' bibles sold like hot cakes by every tent pole.
After two hours, we felt stunned by the bombardment of music and emotion which drew several of those present into a state of trance. Swaying, trembling and weeping, many were already possessed by the time the star of the show - a Pentecostal preacher - leapt onto the stage to grab a microphone, impressively agile despite his tight suit. 'Let the Spirit touch you!' he roared, pointing aggressively at one spectator, then another, swearing that those who believed would be freed of their afflictions.
The blind, lame and sick fell into line and shuffled onto the stage to be saved and cured. 'Illness comes from sin and ignorance,' shouted the preacher. 'Out! Out! Out!' he yelled at the devils inhabiting his timorous guests, who were then ordered to move their wasted limbs and see with their sightless eyes.
'Let's hear it for Jesus!' he screamed finally, sweating under the floodlights. The show was a roaring success. People left in high spirits helping the blind and lame out into the muddy field and down the unlit shanty-town alleyways.
Pushing our way out, we ran into Dona Elba from our corner shop, her sturdy two-year-old slung across her back, three older kids in tow. 'Good, wasn't it?' she beamed. I joined to get my husband converted, to make him stop drinking. They say it really works.' She trudged off back to the shop, her shawl flapping in the wind, the children trailing behind to pick up leaflets strewn on the ground.
Like most people in La Paz, Dona Elba regularly practices native Aymara rites. She pours libations of alcohol onto the ground for the Earth Mother, the Pacharnama; reads coca leaves to see what fate has in store for her; and bums offerings of herbs, incense, sweets and animal fat to be consumed by the spirits in times of special need. But, faithful to tradition, she also got married and had her children baptized in a Catholic church.
Salvation, for many Bolivians, is not an exclusive affair: allies in the struggle for survival can be sought in various spiritual quarters, without betraying one's basic beliefs. Bolivia has been a Catholic nation since colonial times. But most of the population also worship native deities, and over 400 churches and esoteric groups compete with the official creed for souls.
The 'Vice-Ministry of Worship' admits the existence of 180 sects which have eluded official registration and control. Some of the more unconvincing are the Adorers of the Navel (of Nepalese origin), the itinerant Zombies for Bob, Seeing is Believing, and Ovnibol or unidentified flying object worshippers who hang out in the historic mining town of Potosi.
'These groups go against the country's moral norms,' complains Vice-Minister Pedro Martinez, who organized the religious census. They conspire against family values, children's obedience to their parents and good morals.' His department tracks down acolytes of these clandestine groups and takes steps to deal with them - like closing down vegetarian restaurants reputed to be facades for obscure activities carried out by the previously deported Hare Krishnas.
Other Catholics have a more self-critical attitude to the salvation boom and to the rapid growth of Pentecostal churches. - Where are we failing? That's the question we must ask ourselves,' muses Father Franz Damen, who runs the Catholic Church office which deals with ecumenical matters. He says that a scarcity of priests and the rigidity of Catholic dogma have alienated native congregations. Those on the bottom rung of society are in search of a warmer, more personal faith which offers emotional release, participation and a concrete answer to their problems. 'The new sects seem to be offering something we aren't able to give,' admits Father Damen. 'Our Church ought to be what many of the sects are now: the religion of the poor.'
Susanna Rance is a writer and researcher who has lived in Bolivia for several years.