Insight on the News
Moslem Bairam and Christmas
● The major Moslem holy period of Ramadan ends with a three-day holiday called Bairam. Similarities to Christendom’s Christmas are notable: gift giving, feasting, merrymaking. But painful similarities are there too. A report to the New York “Times” from Cairo, Egypt, speaks of “frantic days of shopping and overspending” and says that “Bairam like Christmas can . . . be a backbreaking financial burden, driving many parents to distraction.” Cairo newspapers have carried hundreds of letters complaining about “prices, profit-greedy merchants and the black market.”
Bishops Rebuffed by Pope
● The recent month-long Synod of Catholic bishops in Rome produced several proposals—most of which Pope Paul VI rejected. One major proposal was for greater participation by the bishops in Church administration, or “collegiality” versus papal primacy. Addressing the final session, the pope repeatedly insisted on his ‘assigned’ task of “tending his lambs and sheep.” Any conclusions by the bishops would be regarded as only ‘advice’ to the pope, who would remain the authoritative administrator of the Church world wide. Commenting on the speech, a bishop from Rhodesia said: “It was the Pope saying: ‘I have not been appointed the Lord’s first minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the Roman Empire.’ It was the Pope speaking as the boss man: ‘I’m in charge, and I’m very grateful to you people for helping, but I’ll make up my own mind.’”
Among first-century Christians no one replaced Christ Jesus as God’s “first minister,” neither Peter nor any other apostle, as the Bible book of Acts clearly shows. The Christian congregation, instead, was directed by a body of men, apostles and elders, dealing with one another as brothers.—Acts 6:1-6; 8:14; 15:4-22; 21:18-25; note also Galatians 2:1, 2, 6-9.
Early Christians also avoided contaminating their pure worship with pagan customs and practices. (2 Cor. 6:14-18) The pope’s statement in dealing with requests by African bishops that Roman Catholic worship be adapted to local cultures appeared to harmonize with this. He said of the Christian faith: “Peter and Paul did not transform it to adapt it to the Jewish, Greek or Roman world.” These words, however, contrast sharply with the realities of Catholic history, past and present. The well-known nineteenth-century Cardinal Newman, writing on Catholic church history, said that “the rulers of the Church from early times were prepared, should the occasion arise, to adopt, or imitate, or sanction the existing rites and customs of the populace.” Listing many Church practices and holidays, he said they were “all of pagan origin, and sanctified by their adoption into the Church.” (“Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine,” pages 355, 371, 373) Anyone traveling in Latin America or Asia cannot help but see the way in which local pagan rites and customs have been merged with Catholicism in those lands.
Betel Nut and Cancer
● About 300 million people—or nearly one out of every twelve persons on earth—chew betel nut. This product of the areca palm is a major item in marketplaces throughout southern Asia and related islands. A stimulant, it is generally chewed along with a small amount of lime, and the chewer is usually distinguished without difficulty by the copious flow of brick-red saliva, temporarily staining lips and teeth.
Jehovah’s witnesses class the chewing of betel nut as an unclean practice unworthy of a follower of Jesus Christ, basically as unacceptable as the use of tobacco. Of interest, then, is a recent report out of Papua New Guinea that health authorities there plan a campaign against the chewing of betel nut. The reason? The high incidence of mouth cancer in that land. As with tobacco, however, officials contemplate no actual ban, because, as the report says, “the crop is economically important to both grower and retailer.” How true the statements in the Bible book of Proverbs that the wisdom God gives is worth more than silver and gold, since its inspired principles can prove to mean “life to those finding them and health to all their flesh.”—Prov. 3:13-18; 4:22.