Culture and Life
by Rob Gowland
Join us in prayer
I had a very interesting talk with a journalist from Sri Lanka the other day. Among other things, he spoke of the spread of fundamentalism on the island. Oh, not Islamic fundamentalism but Christian fundamentalism. It seems that Sri Lanka has been invaded by a multitude of reactionary Christian fundamentalist churches from the USA — Baptists, Assemblies of God, and a lot of others. They are all lavishly cashed up, and they pursue the same tactics. The most popular method is to go to poor villages or poor urban areas, and display an interest in how the people are coping with poverty. Then they encourage everyone to "join them in prayer". The next day, when those same poor people get up, they find on their doorstep milk, fruit, packets of food, children's clothes etc. Like the poor cobbler and the elves, it seems like a dream come true. A day or two later, the Christians return, asking innocently how things are going, has anything interesting happened? Then they make their big play: the goodies left overnight were in fact left by the Christian God in answer to their prayers a day or so earlier. Having demonstrated that their religion actually works, they set about signing up recruits. Of course, it's a simple coupling of bribery to credulity, but with lots of money at their disposal the fundamentalist Western Churches are able to produce tangible benefits for people who have nothing. Small wonder that with such blatant huckstering tactics, the Christian fundamentalists are making converts in a big way. And not just among Hindus and Muslims. The fundamental churches are making inroads into the followers of mainstream Christian faiths especially among the Catholics. The areas these Christian fundamentalists choose in which to dispense their largesse in order to win converts are the traditional strongholds of the left. But while the left is urging the people to stand up for their rights, the US Christian fundamentalists are handing out cash and goods, in plentiful amounts. It's immediate, it's tangible, it's "real", and it's now. Buying converts in this way must be extremely expensive, but for the very right-wing US fundamentalist churches, saving the poor of Sri Lanka from the evils of Islam or Communism (or both) would undoubtedly be regarded as money well spent. There is probably a US government department — several, in fact — dedicated to fostering and supporting just such activity. It is after all merely a variant of the good old US political tactic of "pork barrelling".
* * *Free speech
George W Bush, the great thinker who whizzed in and out of our country last week, is the master of the dumb remark. When Australian Senators Bob Brown and Kerry Nettle were being silenced in our own parliament for daring to interrupt the US leader, Bush saw fit to quip "I love free speech". When asked on US TV whether his brutal policies in the Middle East might provoke more retaliatory attacks on US personnel, Bush, safely out of harm's way, acted the tough guy, saying: "Bring 'em on!" Serving US soldiers were reportedly not impressed. Near the end of 2002, Bush made a televised speech to pull the American people together. He defined the concept (crassly) with an image from the vocabulary of his oil company backers: "Let your children wash the neighbour's car". Not for Bush the promotion of public transport or even car pooling. And yet, only six months before, on June 3 in fact, Bush had acknowledged that global warming — caused in large part by petroleum-burning cars — was real and had potentially catastrophic consequences for humankind. This was the first time Bush had admitted that there was anything to the warnings of the scientific community about global warming. But it still didn't stop him from announcing proudly policies that would mean that in the next 18 years, the US will increase the emissions of toxic gases by 43 percent. What the oil companies want, the oil companies get, it seems. And why not, after all they helped put him in office. Bush is fond of telling reporters that God told him to become President. But in the circles Bush moves in, the Religious Right of the Republican Party, God is very pro-business. Kenneth Lay, CEO of the giant Enron Corporation until it went belly up following the exposure of its manipulation of energy markets and fraudulent behaviour, was wont to say: "I believe in God and I believe in the market". No contradiction between God and Mammon for these cuties. Enron of course was one of Bush's main financial backers. The Spanish environmentalist and commentator Eduardo Galeano has called the major capitalist powers ("the powerful nations that own the planet") a gigantic "Frankenpower" that "exercises its freedom to turn air into filth, and its right to leave humanity homeless; it refers to its horrors as errors; it crushes whomever stands in its way; it is deaf to all alarms and it breaks everything it touches". Hard words. But is he wrong