FaithWorld

from Edward Hadas:

A Christmas message for lenders

For many shoppers, Christmas is a time to rack up debts in the expression of seasonal goodwill. For policymakers, it should be the holiday of debt forgiveness.

The inspiration for that religious-sounding thought comes from the atheist philosopher Hannah Arendt. She argued that forgiveness has a central role in human affairs, and the secular world should be grateful to Christianity for the discovery. Arendt was of course talking about forgiveness in the common understanding of the term – a pardon for a wrong, the cancellation of “you owe me one”. But her understanding of this as enabling people to “begin something new” works just as well when thinking about the financial equivalent: a willing erasure of material obligations.

Consider a loan from parents to a son or daughter who wants to start a business. If the new venture fails, a tough demand for repayment is likely to spawn resentment. Debt forgiveness will breed gratitude and closer ties.

The gains of forgiveness are less psychological when the debts in question are loans from mega-banks to anonymous companies or overly ambitious homeowners, or bonds issued by cash-short governments. Still, when borrowers would be impoverished by making every effort to repay, forgiveness is ultimately the better way. Lenders should take some responsibility for their own poor judgement. Besides, strict exactions create socially divisive goodwill, while the dissolution of excessively onerous obligations gives companies and families a chance to engage in socially beneficial activities, and sets governments free to serve the governed better.

Consider also what debt forgiveness avoids. Some loans are taken out in desperation and can probably never be repaid. Others go irredeemably bad because of an unpredictable problem - a flood, war or economic downturn. If all these un-payable debts are held sacrosanct, then the number of overburdened borrowers and the sum of unpaid debts will inevitably increase.

Most Americans celebrate Christmas, half see it as mostly religious holiday: poll

(People carrying shopping bags leave a shopping store advertising sales in New York, December 24, 2012. REUTERS/Keith Bedford )

Nine in 10 Americans say they celebrate Christmas – including 80 percent of non-Christians, according to a poll released on Wednesday. But only half of Americans view Christmas mostly as a religious holiday, while a third view it as more of a cultural holiday, according to the poll by the Pew Research Center.

Others said it was both, or gave no opinion.

The poll looked both at how Americans celebrate the season now, and how they celebrated when they were children. Some Christmas traditions have stayed the same for people over the years, while others have faded.

U.S. Mormon feminists don pants to promote LDS Church equality

(The LDS Church’s Mormon Temple in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, is seen January 27, 2012. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart)

Mormon feminists wore pants to church services on Sunday, rather than their usual dresses or skirts, as a symbol of gender equality and inclusiveness in the traditionalist faith.

The effort was aimed at building on momentum from the inaugural “Wear Pants to Church” day a year ago and marked a break with deeply ingrained customs for women of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a religion known for its patriarchal structure.

Churches take to YouTube, Instagram to spread the Gospel at Christmastime

(Visitors stand in front of a logo of YouTube at the YouTube Space Tokyo, operated by Google, in Tokyo February 14, 2013. REUTERS/Shohei Miyano)

The Christmas holiday brings peak attendance for most churches, and an increasing number of U.S. religious groups are using the boom time to wow parishioners with virtual choirs on YouTube and Instagram advent calendars.

More than 500 churches will stream Christmas sermons online this year, up from just a handful in 2007, said DJ Chuang, host of the Social Media Church, a podcast with church leaders about social media. Hundreds more started Instagram and Pinterest accounts this year to post photos of baptisms and quotes from the gospel, he said.

Arrested in Islamic Pakistan for reading the Koran: Ahmadi sect under siege

(A security guard from the Ahmadi community stands outside the Ahmadi’s Batul Noor mosque in Lahore December 10, 2013. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra )

A 72-year-old British doctor is in prison in Pakistan for “posing as a Muslim”, charges that reveal an escalating ideological fight that often spills over into violence.

Masood Ahmad is a quiet, reserved widower who returned to Pakistan to open a pharmacy in 1982 after decades of working in London to pay his children’s school fees, his family said.

Enigmatic Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen poses challenge to Erdogan’s might

(Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen is pictured at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania in this December 28, 2004 file photo. REUTERS/Selahattin Sevi/Zaman Daily)

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has won three general elections, weathered summer riots, subdued a meddling army and changed Turkey like few leaders before him in a decade in power.

But a rift with an enigmatic U.S.-based Islamic preacher, whose quiet influence in the police, secret services and judiciary looms large over the Turkish state, threatens to shake his hold on power ahead of elections next year.

Tunisian parties agree on new premier to lead as Islamists step down

(Tunisia’s Industry Minister Mehdi Jomaa smiles in his office in Tunis in this June 25, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Anis Mili)

Tunisia’s ruling Islamists and opposition parties have agreed to name the country’s current industry minister as prime minister of a caretaker technocrat cabinet to govern until elections next year. The appointment is the first step in an agreement that will see moderate Islamist party Ennahda hand over power in the next few weeks to end a crisis that threatened Tunisia’s transition to democracy after its 2011 uprising.

Three years after its protests against autocrat Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali inspired Arab uprisings elsewhere, Tunisia has been struggling to overcome disputes over the role of Islam in one of the Arab world’s most secular countries.

France should allow headscarves and teach more Arabic in schools: report to PM

(A young woman from Somalia attends a lesson to learn French given by humanitarian association France Terre d’Asile in Angers, western France, November 9, 2011. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe )

France should reverse decades of strict secularism to integrate its immigrant population better, allowing Muslims to wear headscarves in schools and promoting Arabic teaching, according to an iconoclastic report commissioned by the prime minister.

The document, part of a government review of integration policy, sparked an outcry among conservative opposition politicians and unease among the governing Socialists.

U.S. religion news journalists choose Top Ten religion news stories of 2013

(Pope Francis is silhouetted against window light at the Vatican October 25, 2013. REUTERS/Max Rossi )

The Religion Newswriters Association (RNA) in the United States has chosen the Top Ten religion stories of 2014. The online ballot of RNA members was conducted over the past weekend and announced on Monday.

Here’s the list:

1. Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina is a surprise choice to succeed Benedict, becoming the first Latin American and first Jesuit pope, and the first to take the name of Francis. He immediately launches a series of stunning and generally popular forays—meeting with the poor in Brazil, embracing the ill, issuing conciliatory words toward gays and calling for a poorer and more pastoral church.

African animist funeral customs and military pomp for Mandela burial on Sunday

(Women look into a memorial service for late former South African President Nelson Mandela organized by the African National Congress (ANC) in Mthatha, South Africa, December 12, 2013. REUTERS/Adrees Latif )

Nelson Mandela will be laid to rest on Sunday in an elaborate ceremony combining a state funeral and all its military pomp with the traditional burial rituals of his Xhosa clan to ensure he has an easy transition into the afterworld.

Many South Africans will revere Mandela, who during his life became a global symbol of peace and reconciliation, even more now that he has died, since ancestors are widely believed to have a guiding, protective role over the living.