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.

from Photographers' Blog:

A Klingon Christmas Carol

By Jim Young

"ram nI' tay"

Which in the Klingon language means “Festival of the long night”, because fictional alien cultures obviously don’t observe Christmas.

SLIDESHOW: A Klingon Christmas Carol

Having seen Christmas decorations up since before Thanksgiving Day and hearing the cringing sound of carols in shopping malls everywhere, I was looking for a different way to ring in the holiday cheer and what better way than to cover a take on the Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol” as performed by Klingons.

Klingons, for those not fortunate enough to be raised on Star Trek as a child, are aliens from the television series and though the show has been off the air for over 40 years, it continued on through movies and devoted fans everywhere.

from Photographers' Blog:

Christmas in Afghanistan

Baghlan, Afghanistan

By Fabrizio Bensch

There are thousands of miles that separate the German soldiers in Afghanistan from home.  For up to one year, they may be stationed in Afghanistan, but for most of them no more than four to five months.

The lead up to Christmas in Germany has a very long tradition and the arriving season is dominated by beautifully decorated shop windows in department stores and the smell of gingerbread and cinnamon. Christmas trees are festively illuminated in the streets with Christmas decoration and Christmas markets and Santa Claus are in every city.

But for the German armed forces Bundeswehr soldiers far away, each of them tries to maintain a little bit of these traditions and so everywhere in the camps are signs of Christmas.

Egypt sentences Muslim to death for Coptic shooting

coptic (Photo: Riot police stand guard near the Orthodox church in Alexandria, Egypt bombed during Orthodox Christmas Mass, January 6, 2011/Asmaa Waguih)

An Egyptian state security court on Sunday sentenced a Muslim man to death for killing six Coptic Christians and a Muslim police officer in a drive-by shooting on Coptic Christmas Eve in January 2010.

Mohamed Ahmed Hussein, 39, known as Hamam Kamouni, had been charged with the “premeditated murder” of the Christians and the police officer and with “intimidating citizens” in Nagaa Hamady in southern Egypt after mass on the eve of Coptic Christmas.

The judge said Hussein’s sentence would be sent to the Grand Mufti for confirmation, a reference to Egypt’s top religious authority who is called on to confirm death sentences.

Christian-Muslim clashes flare in Nigeria after Christmas Eve bombings

jos (Photo: After an explosion in Nigeria’s central city of Jos on December 25, 2010 picture/Afolabi Sotunde)

Clashes broke out between armed Christian and Muslim groups near the central Nigerian city of Jos on Sunday, a Reuters witness said, after Christmas Eve bombings in the region killed more than 30 people.

Buildings were set ablaze and people were seen running for cover as the police and military arrived on the scene in an effort to disperse crowds. This correspondent saw dozens of buildings on fire and injured people covered in blood being dragged by friends and family to hospital.

The unrest was triggered by explosions on Christmas Eve in villages near Jos, capital of Plateau state, that killed at least 32 people and left 74 critically injured. Pope Benedict condemned the attacks, which killed six people in two churches.

Christmas of misery for many in calamity-hit Haiti

haiti (Photo: A girl with a Christmas hat in a makeshift camp in Port-au-Prince January 24, 2010/Shannon Stapleton)

Maritza Monfort is singing along to a Christmas carol in Creole on the radio, but the Haitian mother of two is struggling to lift her spirits.  “I sing to ease my pain. If I think too much, I’ll die,” said Monfort, 38, one of over a million Haitians made homeless by a January earthquake that plunged the poor, French-speaking Caribbean nation into the most calamitous year of its history.

With a raging cholera epidemic and election turmoil heaping more death and hardship on top of the quake devastation, Haitians are facing an exceptionally bleak Christmas and New Year marked by the prospect of more suffering and uncertainty.

The January 12 earthquake killed more than a quarter of a million people and snuffed out what had been some encouraging signs of revival in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest economy. Following hard on the quake’s heels like an apocalyptic horseman, the cholera epidemic has killed more than 2,500 Haitians since mid-October and is still claiming victims daily, confronting the United Nations-led international community with one of its toughest ever humanitarian assistance tasks.

Attack fears cloud Christmas for Baghdad Christians

baghdad (Photo: Pictures of victims killed in an attack of Our Lady of Salvation church shown there on Christmas Eve in Baghdad December 24, 2010/Mohammed Ameen)

Normally on Christmas Eve, Ban Zaki puts on festive clothes and takes her family to Baghdad’s Our Lady of Salvation church for lively holiday celebrations.

Not this year.

Dressed in black and fighting back tears, she has brought her three children to the church to honour her late husband, who was killed along with 51 others when Iraqi forces stormed it after militants took hostages during Sunday mass on Oct 31.

“He died on this spot,” 49-year-old Zaki said, pointing to the marble floor of the Catholic church. “This year, there will be no festivities, no celebrations. The images of the attack and how they killed my husband here in this place are still in front of my eyes. Those were four hours I won’t forget for the rest of my life,” she said.

Indonesian Muslim cleric warns against over-the-top Christmas

indonesia (Photo: Two Indonesian women — the one on the left wearing a Muslim headscarf — pose for a photo in front of a Christmas tree in a shopping mall in Jakarta December 23, 2010/Dadang Tri)

Opulent Christmas decorations at shopping malls in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, could incite anger among non-Christians, the country’s highest Islamic authority said on Thursday. Although 90 percent of the country’s 240 million people are Muslim, the capital’s myriad glitzy malls have been decorated with Christmas lights and bunting — including faux snow, Santas and nativity scenes.

“Christmas describes a certain religion, and if the religion advertises it too overtly — even though they have only a small number of followers — it will cause jealousy and anger from other groups,” said Ma’ruf Amin, of Indonesia’s Ulema Council.

Retailers say the giant Christmas trees, paper mache reindeers and carols serve no religious purpose and are there to attract more shoppers during the holiday seasons. But Amin said over-the-top festivities could hurt existing tolerance.

Pope breaks tradition with BBC broadcast

pope bbcPope Benedict called for people to remember the significance of Christ’s birth in a Christmas message specially recorded for Britons and aired on the BBC on Friday. It was the first time the pope has addressed a Christmas message specifically to one of the countries visited during the year, the BBC said. (Photo: Pope Benedict records his BBC ”Thought for the Day” address at the Vatican December 24, 2010/Osservatore Romano)

Pope Benedict XVI is seen during a recording session for BBC radio’s ”Thought for the Day” programme, at the Vatican December 24, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Osservatore Romano

Pope Benedict XVI is seen during a recording session for BBC radio’s ”Thought for the Day” programme, at the Vatican December 24, 2010.

Pope records special Christmas message for the BBC

pope waves (Photo: Pope Benedict waves from his private apartment in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican January 4, 2009/Tony Gentile)

Pope Benedict has recorded a Christmas message at the Vatican specially for Britain following his successful state visit to the country in September, according to the BBC. It is the first time the pope has addressed a Christmas message specifically to one of the countries visited during the year, the state-funded broadcaster said.

The recording will be broadcast on Christmas Eve in the “Thought for the Day” slot on the BBC Radio 4 current affairs programme “Today.”

“Thought for the Day” lasts about three minutes and has a regular place on the morning programme broadcast Monday to Saturday. It offers a personal perspective, from leaders of a variety of religious denominations, on topical issues.