Too much tsunami aid?
In an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal, economist Keith Marsden argues that the world may be preparing to give too much tsunami aid to Asia. "If housing, food, health, and education services are supplied free or below cost to refugees for prolonged periods, they may lose the motivation to return to their former jobs or seek new activities," he warns. "Aid has hindered rather than helped the development process in some countries."

But more than that, he suggests that aid agencies are overstating the problem just as (he says) they've overstated past emergencies. "Without diminishing the scale of the tragedy, the number of persons affected should be rigorously checked. There are already reports that the number of refugees in Aceh camps has been significantly inflated by local officials seeking more aid," he says. The article is available only to subscribers, so here's a lengthier excerpt than Weblog normally offers:

In a press release dated Jan. 25, Unicef reported the creation of a "Tsunami Water and Sanitation Fund," and appealed for a further $763 million. In justification, Unicef says: "Many of the children affected by the tsunami lacked access to safe water and sanitation before the waves hit. Across South Asia, only 35% of people have access to a basic toilet."
The World Bank paints a different picture. It reports that toilet access rates were much higher in the three most affected countries -- 96% in Thailand, 94% in Sri Lanka and 55% in Indonesia in 2000 -- and they have all seen substantial improvements since 1990. Access to safe drinking water has jumped to 84% in India, 78% in Indonesia and 77% in Sri Lanka.
Yet Unicef claims that "many children in the region -- particularly girls -- are denied their right to education because they are busy fetching water or are deterred by the lack of separate and decent sanitation in schools." Again, other sources describe a different reality. World Bank/Unesco data show that 100% of girls in the relevant age group completed primary school in Sri Lanka and Indonesia in 2000-2003.

The article from Marsden, who has worked for both the World Bank and the United Nations, is sure to be the subject of some debate, and his critique of the United Nations may resonate with some critics. But Christian organizations involved in tsunami relief may find themselves on both sides of the issue.

They may also be divided about another growing news story on the other side of the Atlantic. Oxfam, a major British charity, says too many aid groups have entered tsunami-hit areas, and it "urged governments and the United Nations to introduce accreditation for all agencies and to monitor their ability," the Associated Press reports today.

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An Oxfam press release complains,

… in some cases the influx of money has meant that there are too many organizations working without the appropriate experience, competencies and skills. In some parts of Southern India, for example, the coordination of agencies is a significant problem, while in others, local governments are coordinating the effort very effectively. The report calls on those coordinating the response to ensure that all agencies working in the region are appropriate to the task. National governments with the support of the UN need to implement processes immediately to accredit international agencies and ensure their work is suited to their experience.

Save the Children U.K. and Christian Aid, two of the other huge relief and aid organizations in Britain, told the Associated Press they weren't concerned about small organizations offering help.

"There are inexperienced NGOs working in various areas," Christian Aid's Nick Guttmann said. "Anybody who can is out there trying to help, but they aren't very experienced, so they can't do anything on the large scale. But they definitely can give a lot of small scale help."

This news comes amid renewed debate in even the Christian relief and development work over aid and religious identity. And amid criticism that some organizations are "proselytizing." So one imagines that missions agencies that offer aid and relief organizations that offer spiritual help might have some concerns about the United Nations deciding what organizations should be barred from relief work.

If the United Nations does decide to take up Oxfam's call, expect the aid and relief community to be distracted from providing aid and relief while they fight this one out.

Oh, and by the way, if you haven't seen it already, check out's nice little parody, "Christian Tsunami Aid Groups Withholding 'Best Stuff.'"

Lessons from Auschwitz
Today, as you no doubt have heard on the news by now, is the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Most newspapers today have some op-ed drawing attention to lessons of the story, and many echo the thoughts of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney: "The story of the camps remind us that evil is real and must be called by its name and must be confronted."

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Cheney's remarks sound similar to those made to the United Nations earlier this week by Silvan Shalom, Israel's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. "It is not too late," he said, to work for an international community … that will be uncompromising in combating intolerance against people of all faiths and ethnicities; that will reject moral equivalence; that will call evil by its name."

Ah, but some moral equivalence is well at work today, as some op-ed pages take some awfully odd lessons from Auschwitz. In the Pasadena (Ca.) Star News, Gerald Plessner invokes the Holocaust (along with the Crusades and Inquisition) in demanding that Intelligent Design never be taught.

"As a Jew I believe that our children cannot be taught subjects like Intelligent Design without being taught religious principles that conflict with our beliefs and are opposed to our aspirations for our own children."

Intelligent Design merely holds that some form of intelligence must have been at work in the beginnings of life on earth: a view probably more in line with Judaism than, say, materialist naturalism. But Plessner warns that he knows of what he speaks since "our histories are filled with the oppression, torture, and death that religious zealotry brought upon our ancestors, both ancient and modern. … It is time for all of us to understand that every individual in America has a right to be free of offense or assault by someone else's religious expressions or convictions. That is why it is wrong to teach the Adam and Eve story or Intelligent Design in public schools."

The right to "be free of offense or assault by someone else's religious expressions or convictions," Plessner is talking about would seem (though it would violate First Amendment rights of speech) to be a right to be free of evangelism. Or, to use the pejorative term, proselytizing. Or, as Rabbi Israel Zoberman in the Daily Press of Hampton Roads, Virginia, puts it, "missionizing." Zoberman's critique against the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) divestment from Israel concludes with a sudden turn against "missionizing" — apparently a reference to the church's support of messianic congregations.

"The continued Presbyterian misguided goal to missionize among Jews remains a blight on a denomination that deserves better," Zoberman writes. "Commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Holocaust's death camps with a first, special session of the United Nations General Assembly earlier this week, we recall that modern Israel arose from the martyrs' ashes. History has taught us that when we deny a people's spiritual authenticity we ultimately invite its physical annihilation."

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It's jumpy, but the line is drawn quite starkly: Evangelism invites holocaust.

Such articles are a farce, a kind of moral equivalence that is itself a kind of holocaust denial. "Never again" actually refers to something that we never want to see happen again. It is not a cry against Intelligent Design or evangelism.

More articles

Politics & Law:

  • 6th Circuit backs evangelist barred from public street | Unanimous panel finds city of Columbus violated Douglas R. Parks' free-speech rights by ejecting him from arts festival (Associated Press)
  • Second-term values agenda | Cynicism abounds among both Beltway insiders and religious activists (Joel Mowbray, The Washington Times)
  • Black evangelicals: Bush's new trump card | The great untold story of the 2004 presidential elections was the black evangelical vote. (Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Pacific News Service)
  • Champion of 'liberal' Christian values to speak at UrBanquet | Ten weeks have passed since the presidential election of 2004, but Jim Wallis is still campaigning (Waco Tribune-Herald, Tex.)
  • Moral values, politics, and the faith factor | E.J. Dionne moderates a conversation between Jim Wallis, Richard Land, J. Bryan Hehir, and Marian Wright Edelman (Brookings Institution)
  • God and guns | Bush's inauguration speech was a declaration of holy war (Editorial, The Boston Phoenix)
  • Religion Today: Evangelicals disunited | Evangelicals of the left and center have long been obscured by the media coverage of outspoken figures on the right (Associated Press)

Religion in school:

  • Objections raised over student's Christ image | Erika Vogt-Nilsen, 17, stirred controversy at the school's Winter Art Show with a digitally manipulated photograph showing a sinister-looking puppeteer with strings attached to an image of a crucified Christ (The Arizona Republic)
  • God, schoolbooks | Court rightly upholds separation of church, state (Editorial, The Detroit Free Press)
  • The Bible in class: Is it ever legal? | It provided some of the foundations of America's laws and is referenced in literature from Dante to Dostoevsky. Bring it into the public schools, though, and the Bible can be problematic (The Christian Science Monitor)
  • Humility needed in evolution debate | Awe -- not argument -- is a better response to the world around us (Eugene Blake, The Wichita Eagle)
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Church & state:

  • Meaning of the Ten Commandments needs not a statue | Is not our faith crisis that "people fight to keep commandments in place that they don't observe anyway?" (James C. Miller, The Providence Journal, R.I.)
  • Religious references pervade D.C. | From U.S. currency to government buildings, there are myriad examples of what some say is an inextricable link between the U.S. government and God. (Fox News)

Life ethics:

  • A way to avoid Schiavo's fate | Written instructions can prevent battles (Editorial, USA Today)
  • 'Death sentence' is unjust | State's duty is to protect lives (Daniel Webster, USA Today)
  • Stem cell policy collapses | Contamination of cell colonies destroys basis for Bush's compromise (Editorial, USA Today)
  • Hopes come with challenges | Whether federal or private, research faces scientific obstacles (Elias A. Zerhouni, USA Today)
  • Pope condemns euthanasia, calls elderly a resource | "What would happen if the people of God yielded to a certain current mentality that considers these people, our brothers and sisters, as almost useless when they are reduced in their capacities due to the difficulties of age or sickness," the pope said (Associated Press)
  • Animal-human hybrids spark controversy | Scientists have begun blurring the line between human and animal by producing chimeras—a hybrid creature that's part human, part animal (National Geographic News)


  • Vatican ups ante in dispute with Spain | The Vatican upped the ante in a diplomatic squabble with Spain on Thursday, criticizing the Madrid government a day after it summoned the Holy See's ambassador to complain about a speech by Pope John Paul (Reuters)
  • Catholic bishop says condoms could save lives | Kitui Catholic Diocese Bishop Boniface Lele aid faced with the sad prospect of families being wiped out when one infected spouse infects or re-infects the other, and without sanctioning separations of properly constituted marriages, condoms could be the life-saver (The East African Standard, Kenya)
  • Catholic bishop clarifies stand on condoms | "I fully support and stand for the Catholic Church's teaching on the use of condoms, of which I am bound as a Bishop and custodian of the Catholic faith," Bishop Lele in a statement, dated January 26, 2005 (Catholic Information Service for Africa)
  • Protesters say Gingrich should not speak at Catholic University | Some students say former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's support of the death penalty should rule out a planned speaking engagement at Catholic University, just as support of abortion rights has ruled out other speakers (Morning Edition, NPR)
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  • Sudan genocide report submitted | A United Nations investigation on whether genocide has been committed in Sudan's Darfur region has been submitted but not made public (BBC)
  • Sudan 'bombing Darfur villages' | The Sudanese air force has bombed villages in Darfur despite agreeing to stop using planes in the war-torn region, aid agencies say (BBC)


  • Poor lands treating far more AIDS patients | The number of AIDS patients receiving life-saving drug treatment in poor nations rose 60 percent in the past six months (The New York Times)
  • A path to cheaper AIDS drugs for poor nations | The FDA has opened the way for U.S. taxpayer dollars to be used to buy cheaper AIDS medicines for use in poor countries (The New York Times)


  • In Indonesia, faith and aid can't relieve a family's pain | Many Muslims blame Christians in Banda Aceh (Los Angeles Times)
  • Where was God during tsunami? | Chicago area religious leaders marked the one-month anniversary of Southern Asia's cataclysmic tsunami Wednesday with solemn words of faith, compassion and unity (Chicago Sun-Times)
  • Is sin to blame? | A war of words has broken out between two religious leaders as to whether the Asian tsunami was a deliberate act of God or a natural disaster (Runcorn Weekly News, England)
  • Christian groups criticized for post-tsunami proselytizing | Exactly one month after the tsunami disaster in Asia, aid agencies are still working around the clock to bring relief to the victims. But some Christian groups also bringing aid to the area have been accused of sparking religious tension, by angling for new converts (Radio Netherlands)
  • Volunteers for tsunami relief keep low profile | Terry Henderson doesn't reveal too much information about the Georgia Baptist volunteers who've gone to Sumatra to help tsunami victims (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
  • Baptists to discuss aid efforts | Texas Baptist organizations will meet Friday and Saturday in Irving to enlist volunteers and talk strategy for recovery efforts. They will also explain the challenges of relief work, such as cultural taboos and refraining from outright evangelism (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Tex.)


  • Colo. mortuary apologizes over fetuses | A mortuary that secretly gave a Roman Catholic church fetal remains from an abortion clinic and other medical sources has apologized to a hospital unaware of the practice (Associated Press)
  • Woman settles with clinic in suit over abortion risks | An Oregon woman who underwent an abortion when she was 15 has settled out of court in a lawsuit against the Portland clinic where the procedure was performed. The lawsuit said workers failed to advise her that the procedure would put her at increased risk for breast cancer (The Washington Times)
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  • Democrats divided over rethink on abortion | Two of the leading candidates for the leadership of the Democratic national committee on February 12 have called on the party to embrace opponents of abortion — an idea that would once have been unthinkable in an organization where the right to choose is sacrosanct (The Guardian, London)
  • Safe, legal, and never | Hillary Clinton's anti-abortion strategy (William Saletan, Slate)


  • Fla. school official accused of abuse | Manatee County Schools Superintendent Roger Dearing said he was placing the assistant principal on paid leave until an investigation could determine if he is the same man who allegedly molested a child as a seminarian in the mid-1960s (Associated Press)
  • Insurers sue church for abuse data | Three firms accuse the L.A. Archdiocese of not sharing details about alleged sex abuse by priests. The church calls the suit a delaying tactic (Los Angeles Times)
  • Fifth molestation lawsuit filed against priest | The Rev. Ricardo Castellanos has been accused in a new lawsuit of sexually abusing a Catholic youth in Miami decades ago, the fifth claim against the priest (The Miami Herald)

Paul Shanley trial:

  • Emotional accuser tells of alleged abuse by Shanley | He is thickly built and tough looking, a firefighter who prefers football to baseball and described Air Force boot camp as ''awesome." But when a prosecutor's queries summoned memories from Sunday school in the early 1980s, he began to cry (The Boston Globe)
  • Accuser says he was abused by ex-priest | A man testified that the now-defrocked priest at the center of the Boston Archdiocese sex scandal would wait for him in the bathroom with the lights off, pull him from catechism classes and rape and fondle him in the church pews, confessional and rectory (Associated Press)
  • Accuser testifies at trial of ex-priest in abuse case | A 27-year-old who has accused a defrocked Boston priest of molesting him 20 years ago said that the defendant, Paul R. Shanley, sexually abused him at church (The New York Times)
  • Accuser says abuse went on for years | A 27-year-old firefighter takes the stand in the trial of a former Boston priest. A defense lawyer questions the witness on his repressed memories (Los Angeles Times)
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Sexual ethics:

  • Council votes to set up red light district | Plans to open Britain's first official red light district were approved last night (The Telegraph, London)
  • Church anger over sex health plan | Scotland's former health minister and the Catholic Church have clashed over measures to tackle the problem of sexually transmitted diseases (BBC)
  • The Virginia Supreme Court strikes down the state's fornication law | Indication that other states' antiquated laws will fall if challenged (Joanna Grossman,


  • High school journalist faces firing | Co-editor of a Fullerton campus paper profiled three gay students who decided to come out. Officials say she needed their parents' okay (Los Angeles Times)
  • Virginia Episcopals to discuss ordination | Virginia Episcopalians, who at 89,000 make up the country's largest Episcopal diocese, will meet tomorrow and Saturday in Reston to discuss finances and whether the denomination needs to stop ordaining homosexual clergy (The Washington Times)

Same-sex marriage:

  • Transsexual marriage a legal Catch-22 | While states can either recognize or refuse to recognize someone's new gender following a sex change, either decision inescapably permits some form of same-sex marriage (Associated Press)
  • Gay marriage fight shifts to California | The legal fight over same-sex marriage has shifted to Southern California now that a lawsuit filed by a gay couple from suburban Orange County is the only remaining challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (Associated Press)
  • Cotler announces same-sex bill for next week | Canadian Justice Minister moves to silence Liberal critics (Canadian Press)
  • Rally against same-sex marriage misses the point | In matters of private morality, we are better citizens when we seek to influence behavior by persuasion and example rather than by legislation (Jason Poling, The Baltimore Sun)
  • Dozens decry ban on same-sex marriages | Opponents of a ban on same-sex marriage quoted Scripture and constitutional law to support their arguments Wednesday, just as proponents had done a day earlier (The Kansas City Star, Mo.)

PBS pro-gay cartoon:

  • Culture wars pull Buster into the fray | Buster Baxter, a cute animated rabbit on the PBS program "Postcards From Buster," has joined SpongeBob SquarePants as a focus of the nation's culture wars (The New York Times)
  • PBS's 'Buster' gets an education | PBS was surprised to receive a letter from new Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, warning the public TV network against airing an upcoming episode of the kids show "Postcards From Buster," because PBS had already informed her office it would not send the episode to its stations, programming co-chief John Wilson says (The Washington Post)
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  • Spellings wants PBS money back | Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has asked the Public Broadcasting Service to refund taxpayer dollars used to create and distribute an episode of a cartoon program that features lesbian parents, saying the subject matter was inappropriate and undermines the show's effort to promote literacy (The Washington Times)


  • No Oscar battle for 'Passion' partisans | But activists will be watching Hollywood, they say (CNN)
  • Story of former Racine Dominican gets Oscar nod | "Sister Rose's Passion," a 39-minute documentary by Oren Jacoby and Steve Kalafer, focuses on Sister Thering's decades-long drive to correct anti-Semitism within the Catholic Church (The Journal Times, Racine, Wi.)
  • Passionate Christians perceive bias in Academy Award nominations | Conservative Christian groups are outraged, but not surprised, that the box-office hit "The Passion of the Christ" didn't receive an Academy Award nomination for best picture or best director (Religion News Service)

Michael Medved on The Passion:

  • A movie with legs | "Fahrenheit 9/11" is already dated, but "The Passion" will endure (Michael Medved, The Wall Street Journal)
  • Oscar bids reflect industry's discomfort with religion | The Oscar nominations announced Tuesday illustrate Hollywood's profound, almost pathological discomfort with the traditional religiosity embraced by most of its mass audience (Michael Medved, USA Today)


  • Religious historian dies at 89 | Oxford University's Vivian Green, author of A New History of Christianity (1996), was an inspiration for John le Carre's fictional spymaster George Smiley (Associated Press)
  • America's dean of architects dies | Philip Johnson designed some of America's most recognizable buildings, including the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove (Los Angeles Times)
  • Search for the right direction | Former minister's faith fulfilled by converting (South Bend Tribune, Ind.)
  • A vision of religion | The former head of George Fox College discusses his motivation and beliefs (The Oregonian)
  • The preacher who died with heaven on his lips | My father died instantly in the pulpit two weeks ago after uttering his final words: "And when I go to heaven." I immediately left Chattanooga for Orlando (The Chattoogan, Tenn.)
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  • Epiphany writ forever on concrete | The bare bones of Arthur Stace's life - his seedy origins, his conversion from hopeless alcoholic to bible-basher, his compulsively evangelical writing of the single word "Eternity" on the footpaths of Sydney, and his ultimate suicide - may seem a bleak subject for a chamber opera (The Australian)


  • Publishing sees pizazz potential in new awards | Quill Awards will include relgion/spirituality category (The New York Times)
  • Divine invention | Marilynne Robinson on her long-awaited new novel, Gilead (LA Weekly)
  • Wimpish Christians urged to fight their way into Heaven | Swimming among killer whales and tangling with a bull moose are just two of the practical tips offered in Wild at Heart by the American evangelist John Eldredge, who calls for men to rediscover God by modelling themselves on heroic warriors such as Henry V and Mel Gibson's interpretation of William Wallace (The Times, London)

Money & business:

  • Big retailers drive out Bible shops | Across the country, 271 merchants specializing in religious products closed shop in 2003, according to the Christian Booksellers Association (The Tampa Tribune, Fla.)
  • Researcher proposes lower insurance rates for married couples | The Christian head of a conservative think tank says married couples with children enjoy better health than single, divorced or cohabiting people, and should have lower insurance rates (Religion News Service)
  • O shop, all ye faithful! | The values of shopping now permeate every department of life just as those of religion once did (David McKie, The Guardian, London)

More articles of interest:

  • Religious chats often escalate, but to killing? | Authorities investigate possible online death threat in fatal stabbing of Coptic family in Jersey City (The Star-Ledger, Newark, N.J.)
  • Religion news in brief | Marcial Maciel Degollado's successor elected; British report says evangelical schools worse at teaching tolerance than Muslim ones; Denmark's top court affirms supermarket's firing of Muslim woman over head scarf; Orange County Catholic diocese launches long-awaited expansion; Slovakia's Jewish community protests plan to alter penal code (Associated Press)
  • Settlement allows plan for large church in Vista to proceed | The church will move ahead, but it will have to limit future expansion, push back the opening of a school and pay for area improvements. In return, contesting parties dropped their suit (San Diego Union-Tribune)
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  • Secularism or state oppression? | Sadly, the state which is expected to be distant from religious affairs and pretends to be neutral to all religious practices is now increasingly seeking a larger role in the management of religious institutions (M Venkataraman, The Times of India)
  • Kuwaiti 'slit daughter's throat' | Returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca, a Kuwaiti man reportedly killed his 14-year-old daughter because he believed she was having sex. Forensic tests later showed she was still a virgin. (BBC)
  • Let's not be silly as parents | What is more of a threat to child well-being in America: SpongeBob SquarePants, or The Rod? (Jane Eisner, Philadelphia Daily News)
  • Shroud of Turin: Old as Jesus? | The Shroud of Turin could be old enough to have been the burial wrapping of Jesus, a new analysis concludes (The New York Times)
  • Ugandan kids deliver hope through song | Though the children have suffered much in their young lives, they sing with exuberance (Tammy L. Carter, The Orlando Sentinel)

Related Elsewhere:

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What is Weblog?

Check out Books & Culture's weekly weblog, Content & Context, and the Christianity Today Movies weekly weblog, Reel News.

See our past Weblog updates:

January 26 | 25
January 19 | 18 | 17
January 14 | 13 | 12
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January 7 | 6 | 5 | 4
December 23 | 22 | 21
December 17 | 14b | 14a
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Launched in 1999, Christianity Today’s Weblog was not just one of the first religion-oriented weblogs, but one of the first published by a media organization. (Hence its rather bland title.) Mostly compiled by then-online editor Ted Olsen, Weblog rounded up religion news and opinion pieces from publications around the world. As Christianity Today’s website grew, it launched other blogs. Olsen took on management responsibilities, and the Weblog feature as such was mothballed. But CT’s efforts to round up important news and opinion from around the web continues, especially on our Gleanings feature.
Ted Olsen
Ted Olsen is Christianity Today's executive editor. He wrote the magazine's Weblog—a collection of news and opinion articles from mainstream news sources around the world—from 1999 to 2006. In 2004, the magazine launched Weblog in Print, which looks for unexpected connections and trends in articles appearing in the mainstream press. The column was later renamed "Tidings" and ran until 2007.
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