Watching the World
The U.N. ‘Needed’?
◆ The seeming détente in the world has, in the eyes of many persons, been brought about without the U.N. Is that true? Not according to Finnish historian Max Jakobson, who writes: “The Brezhnev-Nixon agreement of cooperation for the prevention of conflicts could not be effectively carried out without the services of an international peacekeeping agency. The need for a United Nations force in the Middle East proves the point.”
◆ As a person listens to and reads the news, he may think that the U.S. dollar is actually making gains. Well, it is, when compared to some other paper currencies that have been harder hit by recent economic developments. However, in buying power, the dollar is sinking. In the four-month period of October 1973 through January 1974 its value deteriorated 29 percent against gold and 31 percent against silver. It was down 26 percent against gasoline and 25 percent against oats. At the end of January 1974 the U.S. dollar bought exactly one half as much cotton as it did a year earlier. Says the Chicago Sun-Times: “The dollar is collapsing, not coming back.”
◆ Southern Baptist churches in the U.S. have been known to commend themselves on rising membership. But their claim to increase is open to challenge when the facts are examined. Thus, an item in Texas’ Baptist Standard recently noted: “Southern Baptists still are better at collecting dollars than they are at enlisting people. . . . Churches affiliated with the convention received $1.2 billion last year, an increase of 12.3 percent. But, baptisms are down by 6 percent. We claim membership gained 1.7 percent for a total of 12.3 million but everybody knows our churches are enthusiastic in adding and reluctant to subtract. Training union is down. So is Woman’s Missionary Union enrollment. Sunday school is static. . . . All of which leaves us a bit reluctant to commend ourselves for the year that is history.” The article was reprinted in Oklahoma’s Baptist Messenger.
Famine Picture Darkens
◆ Some time back, food experts started warning about possible coming famine. Have they changed their minds since then, or, perhaps, lowered the estimates of the number of deaths that they feel may soon occur? Roy L. Prosterman is quoted in The World Today as answering: “I have grown even more pessimistic since September. . . . This grows out of the oil crisis plus a shortage of fertilizer plant capacity. . . . Today, I believe that without massive aid effort by America and the other rich countries, as many as 50 million additional deaths may occur, along with widespread political chaos.”
Stealing Steel Posts
◆ First an item is declared to be in “shortage.” Then what? Then it becomes the special target of thieves! A current shortage in the U.S. state of Oklahoma is steel fence posts. Dealers have waiting lists of customers that want them. So now hundreds of steel posts have been literally yanked out of the ground by thieves. Some have taken every other post, hoping nobody would notice the missing ones. But ranchers lose more than the posts by such actions; valuable cattle stray off their land without good fencing. Says one area sheriff: “Some folks will steal anything these days. There’s no telling what it’ll be next.”
◆ Alfred Kazin, the literary critic, recently spoke at a University of Louisville “Love and Sex in Modern Literature” conference. U.S. literature, he pointed out, according to a Courier-Journal report, was built on a romantic and not on an explicit or “dirty” form of writing; now, however, literature is dominated by sex. When did the switchover take place? The account says: “The big change came after World War I, with the general disillusionment and the self-awareness that was spawned by wholesale slaughter with bombs and bullets, he said.”
Erosion in Nigeria
◆ In Nigeria soil erosion has reached what that country’s Daily Times calls “frightening proportions.” Huge gullies have been formed, one of which is said to be over 400 feet deep and to cover about a square mile. Estimates claim that 15 million tons of soil are washed away annually. Of course, crops needed to feed the area’s growing population are also lost with soil erosion, as are valuable timber trees. The cause of the problem? Says the Times: ‘This is due, in part, to intensive cultivation. And so radically modified has been the state’s original tropical vegetation that only very small isolated clumps of high forest now remain.”
“These Priests Stay”—Why?
◆ Many priests have quit the Roman Catholic Church in the last few years. But, respond churchmen, many others have remained. But why have they stayed? A new book, These Priests Stay, by Paul Wilkes, shows that the reasons for priests remaining are not always as noble as some persons like to believe. One says: “I stay a priest simply because I am one.” Another admits that he “cannot rationally put down why I stay a priest.” And, what about faith? Confesses a priest who was a civil rights activist: “I caught on that when the Pope cries about ‘losing faith,’ he means faith in him, in authority.”
◆ The world’s species of birds and mammals are growing extinct at the rate of about one per year, according to Dr. Ian McTaggart Cowan of the University of British Columbia. He asserts that in the year 1600 there were about 4,226 species of mammals; 36 of these are now extinct. There were 8,684 species of birds; 94 are now gone. Man is considered a major cause of animal extinction. Of 83 currently endangered fish species, 46 percent of the declines have come about as a result of man’s dam building or his pollution and pesticides. The energy crisis has contributed to endangering ospreys in the Klamath Falls, Oregon, area, says the Herald and News; residents seeking firewood to warm their homes have disturbed the birds’ nests. The worldwide currency crisis has made ivory more valuable, and so Africa’s elephant herds are feared vanishing, says a report from Nairobi, Kenya.
More than Decency Required
◆ George R. Plagenz, religion editor of the Cleveland (Ohio) Press, recently pointed out that all levels of society indicate an ‘ethical breakdown.’ What is the code that motivates the average person in his daily life? He says: “Most individual ethical systems would appear to fall far short of what is known as the Christian ethic—‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ . . . Far more common, according to a consensus of sociologists, are codes of ethics based on ‘self-interest which does not directly transgress the rights of others.’” Then Plagenz quotes Dean Willard Sperry, who observes: “It is against precisely this quality of a ‘moral mean’ that Jesus is protesting. . . . We are to be morally better than the common level of conventional decency requires us to be.”
Is the Cure Worse?
◆ There is growing disenchantment with methadone, a synthetic narcotic used supposedly to help heroin addicts to break their habit. Robert Cleveland of the Georgia State Drug Abuse Department says that much of the finances alloted to the substitute was “money down a rathole.” Addicts, he says, would sometimes use methadone for “buying time for their next ripoff,” or crime. After illegally obtaining money, of course, they could purchase more heroin. The Montreal Star notes that the Canadian Medical Association now says that methadone “can lead to more opiate dependence and compound the over-all problem.” Deaths from methadone poisoning surpassed those from heroin poisoning in New York city in the first half of 1973. The state of New Jersey reports similarly.
Divorce, Italian Style
◆ Italy recently passed a divorce law. The Catholic Church would like to get the law set aside. But some priests in the central Italian city of Avezzano challenge the propriety of the Church’s stand. At a recent meeting a bishop told priests to prepare for the divorce issue. What happened? Il Messaggero reports: “Two or three priests stood up and asked permission to talk. What should we prepare for? What have we to do with divorce? What should we get busy at, a civil law? Jehovah’s witnesses distribute tracts which accuse us of interfering in Italian politics . . . Jehovah’s witnesses find a lot of people who tell them they are right. . . . How can we impose a value of faith through a civil law?”
◆ Judaism, like most religions of the world, is feeling the pangs of change. In 1900 there were some 300 synagogues on New York’s Lower East Side. Today there are 6 synagogues in the same area. Near Baltimore, Maryland, an attempt to affiliate Beth Tfiloh, an Orthodox synagogue, with a Conservative Jewish organization is resulting in a split congregation. Some members insist on walking to synagogue since they consider driving a violation of their sabbath. But the synagogue has a parking lot for those who do drive. Inside, men and women are separated as in most Orthodox synagogues, but the partition between the two groups is missing. Some families keep “kosher” homes; others do not.
Shearing the Flock
◆ The clergy have tried numerous gimmicks to get money from their parishioners. Now David Stiven of Gordon United Church in British Columbia is trying a different approach. According to The Victorian, his recent pastoral letter read: “Sometimes it is not thought to be the done thing for ministers to preach about money. Tut Tut! But I firmly believe that it is the duty of a good shepherd to shear the sheep, as well as to lead and feed them.” How unlike the apostle Peter, who told true Christian shepherds otherwise at 1 Peter 5:1-4.
◆ Foul words, as well as useless slang terms, are becoming increasingly commonplace in the U.S. Saturday Review/World editor Norman Cousins recently made some interesting observations on such careless use of language: “The first purpose of education is to enable a person to speak up and be understood. Incoherence is no virtue. Feeble language is the swiftest road to a feeble mentality. . . . The trouble with four-letter words and foul language is not so much that they are offensive as that they are weak precisely at the points where they are supposed to be strong. . . . They devitalize everything they touch.”
Fruits of “Relevance”
◆ In recent years the churches of Christendom have become increasingly secular; they call it being “relevant.” This has only made them more like the world. Understandably, observant men question the future of the churches. Says London’s Economist: “Influential voices can be heard predicting the death of the institutional church in the not-too-distant future. Well before the year 2000, says one Catholic writer, Mgr. Malachi Martin, there will no longer be a religious institution recognisable as the Roman Catholic church. A similarly gloomy future has been prophesied for the Church of England by a leading Anglican layman, Mr. Leslie Paul.”
Parochial Schools’ Future
◆ There were four and a half million youngsters in U.S. Catholic elementary schools in 1965. Last school year there were far less than three million students. And the hope for the future? Says the Jesuit magazine America: “In short, the American Catholic school system is getting smaller, costing more and no recovery is in sight.”