True story, from a non-religious friend. The family received a Christmas party invitation from neighbours who have just moved in. The invitation was to drink mulled wine and sing Christmas carols.
Sing Christmas carols? Not part of the family tradition. They had a closer look at the invitation card. It contained a biblical verse. They decided to decline the invitation.
In the last few days I have had a couple of bus rides sitting next to people who positively smelled. It was a redolent reminder of the variety of lifestyles people have.
Because I live where I do and use the buses a lot, I often see people with very different lifestyles from mine. There is nothing unusual about that, but I fear it’s becoming less usual. As the poor get poorer and the rich get richer, more people have an incentive to insulate themselves from those with whom they have little in common. They then become unaware of what life is like for those others.
This is one of the big religious questions, perhaps the biggest of all.
There is a huge debate about it. The technical term is ‘theodicy’. If God the creator is good, why does God allow suffering and evil? The problem is highlighted if we take seriously the principle, which Christians and Muslims have inherited from Jews, that the divine creator is all-powerful, all-knowing and perfectly good. So it is not surprising that, since the Holocaust, Jews have been in the forefront of debating the question.
This is an article I wrote after Hurricane Katrina, but ended up not using. It begins with a quotation from the natural theologian John Ray, written in 1692:
If a country thus planted and adorned, thus polished and civilized, thus improved to the Height by all Manner of Culture for the Support and Sustenance, and convenient Entertainment of innumerable Multitudes of People, be not to be preferred before… a rude and unpolished America peopled with slothful and naked Indians, instead of well-built houses, living in pitiful Huts, and Cabbins, made of Poles set endways; then surely the brute Beasts Condition, and Manner of Living, to which, what we have mentioned doth nearly approach, is to be estimated better than Man’s, and wit and reason was in vain bestowed on him.
Well-known people are usually praised at the time of their death, but not like this. Mandela, judging from all the descriptions, was more than a great person, more than a hero. He was a role model. Many of the tributes are about his character, his moral standing.
Typically it is said that he was a superb reconciler, largely because he was so good at forgiving. These virtues are associated with his patience and his ability to empathise with his opponents.
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