FaithWorld

Could abortion law backfire on Spain’s Zapatero?

zapateroIn a country like Spain, where a large majority still identify themselves as at least more-or-less Catholic, you’d think the government would shy away from taking on the Roman Catholic Church.  In fact, there are probably few things Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero likes better than a brawl with the bishops.

Lingering anti-clerical sentiment in sectors of Zapatero’s Socialist Party, particularly on its left-most fringes, means the PM has few more effective tools for rallying his voters than the sight of a protest march led by priests and nuns. (Photo: Prime Minister Zapatero, 5 June 2009/Juan Medina)

At a time when unemployment is closing in on 20 percent, Zapatero knows matters economic are not going to provide anything to cheer his supporters. So there was little surprise when the government rolled out a bill to liberalise abortion laws, including a provision to allow 16 year olds to abort without parental consent, in time for the European elections. At present, Spanish law allows abortion only in certain circumstances, such as if the birth poses a psychogical risk to the mother, although in practice it is easily available.

Just in case the bill didn’t drive the Church into a sufficient paroxysm of rage, the government’s Equality Minister Bibiana Aido, defended the proposal to allow legal minors to seek terminations without their parents’ knowledge by comparing the procedure to breast-enlargement surgery. So, last Friday it must have seemed like mission accomplished to the Socialists when Spain’s bishops duly rebuked them for undermining the country’s moral fabric (see Spanish text of their statement here).

Only one thing is now missing for the manoeuvre to attain political perfection, i.e. to lure the main opposition Popular Party, traditionally allied to the Church, into aligning itself with the religious authorities.  From there, thanks to the historical closeness of the Church to the former dictator Francisco Franco, it is but a short rhetorical jump for the Socialists to accuse the PP of being on the extreme right and out of touch.

Recession-hit Asians pray for jobs, luck, recovery

ASIA-RELIGION/ As companies shed jobs and governments inject funds to stimulate economies, recession-hit believers in once-booming Southeast Asia are flocking to temples, churches and mosques to seek solace in religion — and pray for a quick economic recovery.

Meditation centres have also seen an upswing in attendance and people seek peace and calm amid the economic downturn. (Photo: Hindus pray in a Singapore temple, 24 May 2009/Vivek Prakash)

Reuters correspondent Nopporn Wong-Anan has a feature here looking at how people seek spiritual solace at a time of material loss in Asia, home to all the major religions and any number of minor ones.

Markets and morality: a tale of two uproars

excessThe howls of protest against fat cat bonuses during this financial crisis stem from a deep-seated source of moral outrage. For many people, it just seems like common sense that it’s unfair for Wall Street executives to reward  themselves for creating the mess robbing millions of their savings. (Photos: Protest outside Goldman Sachs in New York, 19 March 2009/Eric Thayer)

Evolutionary biologists and social psychologists believe this moral sense is innate, an instinct for cooperation and fairness that has been honed over millions of years of natural selection into a universal moral grammar that gives us a “gut feeling” about ethical dilemmas.

If we have this moral instinct, it would seem natural for politicians to appeal to it. Some are doing that, while others seem to be missing the mark. The news over the weekend from the United States and France shows the two different approaches in action.

U.S. religious groups united on economic crisis

America’s many religious groups agree on one thing: the sinking economy must be the government’s top priority, according to a new analysis of a recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. You can view it here.

US-ECONOMY

It found that stengthening the nation’s economy was regarded as the most pressing issue for the government by 83 percent of white evangelical Protestants, 88 percent of white mainline Protestants and 85 percent of Americans unaffilated with any religion.

It doesn’t say what white evangelical Protestants, a key base for the now opposition Republican Party, would like to see the government do to address America’s economic woes.

Many U.S. Christians pay tithe before mortgage, even in crisis

House foreclosure sign in Boston, 15 March 2007/Brian SnyderIf there is one thing you can usually count upon while working as a journalist in the United States – and in particular if you happen to be British like myself – is that Americans are not only unafraid of talking to the media, many do so without hesitation. It is an endearing characteristic of the American people, a wonderful sign that they are not afraid to stand up and be heard.

But in the six months that I spent working on my feature “For many Christians, it’s God before mortgage” that ran on Sept 21, I ran into a wall of silence for the first time since coming to work in the United States three years ago.

It all began back in February, while working on a series of feature stories that I compiled on the U.S. housing crisis. In interviews with non-profit counsellors in Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Atlanta and then Memphis, the subject of tithing and how some struggling home owners would rather lose their homes than cease their payments to the church kept coming up.