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Christians On Sudan

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The New York Times today published two editorials, both by notable Christian leaders and both concerned with the imminent arrest of Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir. The first, by Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, criticizes African leaders for their unwillingness to denounce Bashir. Instead, they have petitioned the United Nations Security Council to have the proceedings of the International Criminal Court suspended. “[R]ather than stand by those who have suffered in Darfur, African leaders have so far rallied behind the man responsible for turning that corner of Africa into a graveyard.” Desmond Tutu clearly favors bringing Bashir to justice and sees peace as dependent on justice. “There is no peace precisely because there has been no justice,” he writes.

The second piece is by the president and chief executive of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Franklin Graham. Graham argues that peace must take precedence over justice. He tells of meeting with Bashir and winning concessions that have saved lives and resulted in improved conditions in southern Sudan and Darfur. Graham fears that if Bashir is brought to justice, then someone worse will take his place and the situation in Sudan and Darfur will deteriorate even more.

In this instance I have to agree with Desmond Tutu. It’s hard to imagine things getting really worse in southern Sudan and Darfur, and any head of state who comes after Bashir is bound to take into consideration the fate of his predecessor before pursuing policies that would be even more detestable to the watching world. Moreover, it appears that justice is what the victims themselves want. For more, see Nicholas D. Kristof’s blogs about Sudan and Darfur.

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Free Food, Not Sex

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The New York Times had an article today about fears today’s children have about eating ‘bad’ food. It seems that parents’ concerns about eating healthy are making their children food-obsessed and fearful. Kids are worrying about eating too much sodium and refined sugar, too many trans fats and carbohydrates. Nutritionists tell us that what kids (and most of the rest of us) need is variety and balance. Rather than avoiding particular nutrients—and let’s face it, sodium, sugar, fat, and carbs are all essential nutrients—we just need to eat a good, balanced variety. Our kids are learning that some foods are ‘good’ and some ‘bad,’ but the truth is that all food is good in appropriate amounts. The health risks from not eating or from eating obsessively are much greater than from just eating what you like.

Jesus declared all foods clean. So when it comes to the pleasures of eating, we have complete freedom. No one has to stick to a diet of carrots and fish sticks or liver and broccoli. Christians can eat pork, calamari, mushrooms, and McDonald’s cheeseburgers without fear of displeasing God—as long as they give him thanks. It seems odd that an area so full of freedom biblically should be so full of strictures and rules culturally.

It’s equally odd that in another area biblically restricted, there is so much cultural freedom. Of course, I mean  sex. We worry endlessly about the health effects of what we eat but pretend that the health risks of sexual adventuring are worth taking. If everyone suddenly began to live with the kind of sexual purity recommended in the New Testament, sexually transmitted disease would disappear in two generations. The benefits of sexual purity are obvious and would be immediate. Yet hardly anyone touts them or tries to make a public health case for encouraging sexual purity. Instead, we focus on passing laws to ban trans fats in restaurants. Our efforts to protect against the well-known risks of sexual adventuring are relatively feeble. We encourage condom use and advise people to get regular check-ups. We spend millions to find cures for diseases whose root cause is well-known and preventable. All it takes is a little change in behavior. Yet for some reason it is easier to become a vegetarian than a celibate, and though we treat vegans with bewildered awe, we think there must be something wrong with someone who is voluntarily celibate.

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Spook Country

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Spook Country is only the third of William Gibson’s novels that I have read. The first—and, I have to say, best—was Pattern Recognition. Spook Country shares with it the same sense of incipient danger amidst a cultural malaise spiked with a curious hope. It also shares the wealthy and enigmatic Hubertus Bigend. If you’ve read and liked Pattern Recognition, you will like Spook Country. I highly recommend it.

Some of the claims in the book are too bizarre to be true, yet they are. For example, one character tells the protagonist, Hollis Henry, that a staggering $12 billion was sent to Iraq and distributed without any oversight or monetary controls. This was true; you can read about it here. One shipment consisted of shrinked-wrapped hundred dollar bills totaling over $2 billion. That’s nearly a ton of currency. The money was not US taxpayer funds; it was seized Iraqi assets, so it belonged to the Iraqis. Nevertheless, you can imagine the potential for abuse and corruption with that much money flowing freely into a war zone. If you can’t, Gibson can.

Like other books by Gibson, Spook Country requires careful reading and attention. Gibson seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of recent—and not so recent—popular culture. His characters are comfortable with Google, GPS systems, and Internet-enabled phones. Comfortable but also distrustful. The book follows three characters whose stories seem at first unrelated. The switch from one story to another was disorienting at first, but quickly took on a rythmn of it s own. It was a fascinating and satisfying read.

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