Witchhunts in Cambodia

August 14, 2014

Not a country I know about, but apparently it’s one with enough superstition and belief in the supernatural to create mobs intent on accusing ordinary people of black magic and sorcery. Why they thought Pov Sovann was trouble? He was into traditional herbal healing and well respected locally for it. A group reportedly 200 strong confronted him at his home and several followed him up to his bedroom and ultimately bludgeoned him to death. There had been rumours and fears that he’d caused the death of some locals via curses.

Sovann might be the fourth such case in the country this year, up a bit from previous years. Not many deaths all told, but enough for people to start taking notice. Of the hundreds that took part in the latest attack, few if any have been arrested and human rights groups, journalists, anthropologists and economists are weighing in on this disturbing trend.

The article goes on to state that Cambodia has 400 years of history with this “death to sorcerers” business, but back then it was government-sanctioned execution rather than neighbourhood gangs and the accused were tied up and thrown in the river. If they still survived after 15 minutes, then they were definitely using black magic to do it and were killed in some other way. Only by drowning would it prove they were innocent. Sound familiar?

“Witchcraft is born in the time of misery,” said Ang Choulean, a historical anthropologist with the Royal University of Phnom Penh, citing an 1862 book that was published in English under the title “Satanism and Witchcraft: A Study in Medieval Superstition.”

“If one understands that, one can understand anything,” Choulean said, adding that although massacres had happened throughout the world, they still happen in Southeast Asia in times of insecurity or war.

They have no minimum wage and low-level work may only net a person $2 a day.

Using a complex econometric model, economists Joerg Baten of the University of Tuebingen and Ulrich Woitek of the University of Munich connect grain prices with the fluctuating number of accusations of witchcraft.

The result: “[A] 30 percent decline [of real wages] implied a 60 percent increase in accusations,” Baten said.

“An econometric analysis of data from these regions demonstrates that in fact, there is a significant relationship between economic pressure and witch hunting activity,” the paper reads.

I don’t know where to go from there. It’s weird. They aren’t really helping their situation by accusing their neighbours of witchcraft. I’d be curious about the religious leanings of the perpetrators. The country is a mix of Buddhist, Christian and Muslim (and others) so deep down do they think they’re trying to please a god who might reward them? If they vanquish evil God might make the country prosperous. Or is it a violent attempt to fix the karma and bring them to a place of peace and harmony? Maybe it’s pointless asking for a rationale when people are being this irrational…


God doesn’t want people to have money

September 21, 2011

That’s why stocks tanked. It’s so obvious. Why didn’t I see that before!? God ruined the economy to make a point! God will fix it, too – when he’s good and ready and people truly deserve it, of course.

The Baylor Religious Survey results are out for viewing (PDF) and going by findings as reported by blogger Dan Merica at CNN, a full 20% of Americans believe God’s behind the economic woes facing the country. Paul Froese, co-author of the study, is quoted and explains how religious beliefs became so tied into the “conservative economic worldview” that’s touted by Republicans.

This coupling of belief systems began in the 1980’s said Froese, when the Republican Party began to court values voters who selected their candidates based primarily on social issues. Over time, the value voters began to go along with the economic teachings of Republican leaders of the time.

“Those kinds of voters who are driven by their faith tend to think that there are these ultimate truths out there and that everything else is wrong,” said Froese. “If you find a part of a leader you are in agreement with on these faith statements, then their discussion on the economy must also be right.”

Isn’t that kooky logic? Going by that route, if you trust your auto-mechanic’s word when he says he knows precisely what’s wrong with your car, then you can absolutely trust his opinion on whether or not you should have that surgery or get divorced. Being perceived as an expert in one thing doesn’t automatically make you expert at everything else.

There was a bit in my sociology/ethics courses somewhere that picked up on this kind of behaviour. Something about misplaced trust, maybe. Initially I think we were talking about television advertisements where there’s a guy in a lab coat holding a stethoscope while plugging some new drug. The audience should know without needing to be told that the person on the screen is going to be an actor playing a doctor, but they’ll still add a disclaimer admitting that, usually somewhere at the bottom of the screen in little white writing that vanishes in mere seconds. Other examples that came up at the time were celebrity endorsements. What makes them experts on the products they’ve been paid to appear beside on television and magazines? They aren’t. They’re just recognizable and known names, faces or physiques. If people can believe Donald Trump is an expert on steaks (has he ever owned or butchered his own cow?) then there’s no real limit to what the mind can bend itself into believing. Like God taking an active interest in our monetary futures.

I’m not equipped to offer suggestions on the topic of economic woes, so you won’t see any here. I don’t tend to follow politics or history either, so I don’t know what side of the economic debates are more likely right in terms of what will fix the damage. I think it’s fair to say leaving it all up to God sounds like a bad idea, though. There’s no real proof there is one, let alone one who cares about the economy.

Giant Croatian Jesus creates controversy

July 12, 2011

As well it should. From the Telegraph.

Split mayor Zeljko Kerum announced an initiative last week to erect a 129-foot-high statue of Christ – 10 feet taller than the world’s current biggest in Swiebodzin, western Poland.

Mr Kerum said the statue, to be erected on the Marjan hill that for many years sported big letters spelling Tito for the late Yugoslav communist leader Josip Broz, was a “good symbol.”

“It would be a tourist attraction, a new shrine … We are however a Catholic town and a Catholic country,” he said.

The mayor of the southern Adriatic town said he believed a municipal commission would support his idea and citizens could decide about it in a referendum.

Until then, Facebook is the places a lot of citizens are choosing to state their opinion on this venture.

On Monday, almost 4,000 people liked the Facebook page entitled: “Kerum, in Jesus’ name, don’t build Jesus” – some arguing the money could be better spent on windmills or solar panels.

“He is trying to gather people ahead of elections,” added Mate Loncar.

Some said this was simply not the right place for such a statue.

“If I want to see the statue of Jesus I will go to a church and pray to Him,” posted Marko Gundic.

I expect the project will wind up going ahead anyway. They won’t do the sensible thing and use the money this will cost to improve their city in other areas now. They’d rather sell this to the public as a kick-start to future tourism. Maybe they ought to check with the folks in Swiebodzin and see if their statue has improved the economic state of their town in any way.

Meanwhile, people in Peru are enjoying their own massive Jesus statue. Maybe enjoying isn’t exactly the word but Lima put on one hell of a welcoming party for it, complete with fireworks.

The statue was officially inaugurated by President Garcia.

‘Our Lord, Jesus Christ, I ask you to bring peace to our country,’ he said adding, ‘Material things can do a lot, but nothing is worth anything if there is not a transcendental and different message, and that is what you have brought here.’

Monsignor Bruno Musaro, the Apostolic Nuncio to Peru, was also in attendance at the ceremony.

‘I am very excited by this show of faith,’ he said.

Because you can’t show faith unless you’re showing off in some way?

Peru’s newly erected statue of Christ is the tallest in the world.

Second is the 120 foot (36 metre) Christ the King statue which was erected last year in Swiebodzin, Poland.

Rio de Janeiro’s world-famous 99 foot (30 metre) Christ the Redeemer came in third.

Makes me want to cherry pick the bible:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Phillippians 2:3-4

I guess when it comes to generating tourism dollars for a country in need of an economic boost, these lines won’t be the ones uttered in church.

Which country will next battle it out in the Jesus wars?

June 4, 2011

Morning amusement:

For years, Brazil held the title with its imposing Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro.

The 30m statue of Christ with arms outstretched has been struck by lightning, vandalised and infected by fungus but remained the world’s tallest for 70 years.

In 1994, Bolivia topped Brazil with a Jesus statue claimed to reach 34m into the heavens.

Now the little Polish town of Swiebodzin has conquered with a stone and fibreglass Jesus statue that stands a shade over 36m.

If only laughing was all a person would do over this 1-up business. Unfortunately, the people responsible for this new statue in Swiebodzin are pinning more than just faith in Jesus on it:

A local official said the statue would hopefully bring in the tourist dollars to the economically downtrodden town.

“If we had opened a racetrack or a golf course here, tourists would have come only for the season,” he said. “But with a statue of Jesus the season will last all year.”

That’s assuming people stick around to buy stuff in the pop: 21,679 town and don’t just stroll over to take a pic with it and drive off again like so many other people do with roadside attractions. Back in April I wrote about this and quoted an article from the Guardian regarding the cost of the bloody thing: six million zloty (£1.5m). I do declare this venture to be a waste of money.

Why focus on sins of homosexuality?

February 9, 2011

T.J. Facto asks a pertinent question:

I am not a Biblical scholar, nor a professor of constitutional law. It’s rare when I can resolve my own struggle between a society’s right to determine acceptable behavior and citizens’ civil liberties.

Looking for guidance, I found Jesus didn’t ever mention homosexuality or abortion, but he was crystal clear when warning that amassing and maintaining great wealth (America’s pastime) puts an immortal soul in serious jeopardy.

Maybe a theologian could explain to us laypersons why Christian Republicans aren’t spending their time and energy doggedly attacking rich people.

I’m not a theologian either, but a quick answer comes to mind anyway: hardly anybody dreams of being homosexual; nearly everybody dreams of being rich.

Back in university I’d been in a sociology class that explained some history via religious roads, particularly protestantism. There was something called the protestant work ethic and Max Weber had written a series of essays around 1904/05 about it that later became the book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

On my hunt for a brain refresher about his work, I ran across a worthwhile article outlining how people’s perceptions of work have changed over the centuries, and across cultures for that matter. Especially in the middle ages. After Martin Luther hammered his ideas for radical changes onto a church door, a man by the name of John Calvin came up with some ideas of his own: predestination and the idea that only a few, the Elect, would be selected for heavenly reward. It was impossible to tell at a glance who’d be so lucky but Calvin figured a good way to judge worthiness was by how well off the person was financially.

A person who was indifferent and displayed idleness was most certainly one of the damned, but a person who was active, austere, and hard-working gave evidence to himself and to others that he was one of God’s chosen ones (Tilgher, 1930).

Calvin taught that all men must work, even the rich, because to work was the will of God. It was the duty of men to serve as God’s instruments here on earth, to reshape the world in the fashion of the Kingdom of God, and to become a part of the continuing process of His creation (Braude, 1975). Men were not to lust after wealth, possessions, or easy living, but were to reinvest the profits of their labor into financing further ventures. Earnings were thus to be reinvested over and over again, ad infinitum, or to the end of time (Lipset, 1990).

Thus was born the idea that God wants people to get rich. They’re not supposed to love the money, though (love of money is still the root of all evil); they’re just supposed to collect it by the bin load.

Clearly on his way to being Elected


Weber, and Karl Marx for that matter, felt the change of attitude had to do with the economics of the time and the changing behaviours, work, and living conditions of the people then.

European cities acted to alleviate the problems of unemployment and begging on the streets by passing laws which prohibited begging. The general perception of the time was that work was available for those who wanted to work, and that beggars and vagrants were just lazy. The reality was that the movement of people into the cities far exceeded the capacity of the urban areas to provide jobs. The theological premise that work was a necessary penance for original sin caused increased prejudice toward those without work. Bernstein (1988) suggested that a fundamental misunderstanding of the economic realities facing the poor contributed to the theological development of the Protestant ethic.

From a marxist view, what actually occurred was the development of a religious base of support for a new industrial system which required workers who would accept long hours and poor working conditions (Anthony, 1977; Berenstein, 1988). Berenstein did not accuse the theological leaders of the Protestant Reformation of deliberately constructing a belief system which would support the new economic order, but proposed that they did misconstrue the realities of the poor and the unemployed of their day.

And, I think it’s fair to say a lot of this still goes on. Maybe the idea of penance for original sin has been lost but the misunderstandings and mismanagement of problems/lack of good solutions is still an issue. Especially when so many people want to hoard or waste their “hard earned” money instead of doing something worthwhile with it.

So, getting back to the question posed, it’s far easier to pick on the gays than it is to fix a financial problem of this magnitude. We’ve made the making of money such an important part of our lives, whether we’re protestant or not. We continue to think ill of the poor and the homeless. We accuse them of bringing it on themselves and then give them a side of Jesus when they come by for soup, as if the acquiring of Christ will fix all the problems their lack of money buys. In some cities, panhandling might pay better than minimum wage.

“houses of worship are subject to the same laws of economics as secular real estate”

January 31, 2011

That’s a direct quote from an NPR article about church foreclosures in the States.

For Dan Burr, the road to losing his church last year began with the greatest of hopes. Twelve years ago, Burr and his wife started to worship with a few friends in their son’s house in Fontana, Calif., a community about 80 miles East of Los Angeles. Neighbors began to come to the service. They brought their kids.

“And it began to grow, and before we knew it we had a little viable church,” Burr recalls.

Eventually Crossroads Community Church bought a building of its own — a dilapidated Boy’s Club that church members fixed up themselves. Those were the glory days. Fontana was one of the fastest growing cities in the country, church attendance was booming and Burr began to make big plans.

Their dreams clashed with the reality of job loss and financial strains not long after, as several of their members found themselves without work and without money to feed their own families, let alone Crossroads’ coffer.

Chris Macke, a senior strategist at CoStar Group, has looked into the rising number of church forclosures. He’s seen that churches (and other businesses for that matter) tend to assume good times will keep on rolling and make grandiose future plans that inevitably flop when the other shoe drops.

What made the problem more acute this time, says Scott Rolfs at Ziegler, an investment banking firm that does church financing, was the easy credit in the mid-2000s.

“There was a lot of money out there,” he says, “and just as some home borrowers obtained mortgages that they probably shouldn’t have gotten and wouldn’t have qualified for under historical standards, you had a few churches with some overzealous lenders that ended up in that situation as well.”

That’s not to say churches are going the way of the dodo. There are at least 300,000 other places of worship across the US, according to the article. The dodo just lost a few feathers off a wing or something, but they’ll grow back – other people will be able to buy those foreclosed churches on the cheap and start new ones.

edit 6:27 am — just found an article from the Ottawa Citizen: Churches Gambling with Real Estate.

Do faith organizations have a responsibility to ensure the future use of their property reflects their core values? Does it matter if Canadian Tire builds in God’s vacated backyard?

Indeed, for a religious order committed to vows of poverty, is it not somewhat jarring to enter into the shark tank of multi-million-dollar real estate deals?

Soeurs de la Visitation, an enclave nuns used for at least a hundred years has been sold to developers for $12 million. Other nun-owned property near Ottawa might be sold in the near future.

The early planning is looking at as many as 1,300 homes, divided between townhouses and apartments. Retail and commercial would be worked into what is being called a “model” community.

In this case, the Oblates are reportedly keen to work with planners to ensure they end up both with good neighbours and a design that doesn’t clash with their values, however that is interpreted.


Grow up? Maybe later…

August 24, 2010

A while back I’d written a short post wondering about how long adolescence lasts and the other day I came across this incredibly long article regarding prolonged youth, as if people are creating a whole new post-adolescence thing, putting off the actual moment where adulthood (and all the responsibilities implied) sets in. I’m just quoting page 1 of this but feel free to read the other 9.

We’re in the thick of what one sociologist calls “the changing timetable for adulthood.” Sociologists traditionally define the “transition to adulthood” as marked by five milestones: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had, by the time they reached 30, passed all five milestones. Among 30-year-olds in 2000, according to data from the United States Census Bureau, fewer than half of the women and one-third of the men had done so. A Canadian study reported that a typical 30-year-old in 2001 had completed the same number of milestones as a 25-year-old in the early ’70s.

Of course, the “nuclear family” concept is way past its prime and it’s laughable to claim that it’s something everyone should still aspire to achieve. Frankly, I’d want to argue that more households would be in better financial shape if three or more working adults were a unit instead of limiting “marriage” to two people. But maybe that’s just me (and some Mormons).

It’s been suggested
that the push for industrialization is what pushed families into the so-called nuclear arrangement in the first place. (Breaks added)

The removal of productive work from the home into the factories had, of course, important consequences for all family members. It was no longer necessary for any of them to develop strong roots in any particular community or to become attached to a particular house. Instead, they became free to move about, to follow industrial development into new settlements, to “go after the jobs” wherever they might be.

Moreover, family connections became less important, as factory work became ever more rationalized and efficient. Nepotism gave way to hiring and promotion on merit alone. By the same token, the new worker, business man, or bureaucrat no longer had to take care of distant relatives. He now worked exclusively for his own small family and this made him more industrious. He could advance faster, since his income had to support only very few people.

Thus, the individual husband and father was no longer weighed down by traditions or extensive social obligations. In addition, the education of his children and the care of his aged or sick parents began to be taken over by the state.

Now that education doesn’t lead immediately to well paid careers and the definition of “elderly” has shifted a bit, since many people over 65 are capable of working far past that age should they want to, small wonder there’s an influx of late-bloomers. There’s little alternative, if you get right down to it. (Can’t open up jobs to new blood if those old buggers don’t retire, for one thing…)

Slate has an article mocking the pittance wages some companies were advertising as incentive to work for them and the overall problems with unemployment levels and productivity levels of those who do have jobs. Forbes is predicting technology will wipe out more jobs by 2020. Even something as simple as running a till at Wal-mart might get to be a hard job to find as more and more self-serve checkout machines come in. And it’s not like that was a well paying job to begin with. And technology is revolutionizing the fast food industry, too. Computers can assemble better burgers and faster. They never get the amount of mustard wrong, for one thing, or mistime how long a patty has been on the grill. And they can anticipate orders based on probability and have stuff ready before someone’s even asked for it.

Am I off topic? I don’t think so. The point I’m trying to make is that I can see why young people are delaying the grow-up part of their lives as much as they do — the joys of adulthood seem to be lacking a little these days.

Maybe their parents should be a little firmer with the boot to the ass in some cases, but I suspect they’ve rationalized that it’s better their kids be at home and earning a little than in a dump on welfare, or on the street with nothing at all. In some cases I think it’s great that parents are in a position to let their kids come home. Maybe it isn’t ideal, but the alternatives could be a hell of a lot worse.

What the Times article is ultimately about, though, is whether this is just a trend, or evidence of a mental shift in the brains of the youth, that it’s really becoming another stage of development like adolescence (an unheard of word prior to 1904) wound up being. From page 9:

if the delay in achieving adulthood is just a temporary aberration caused by passing social mores and economic gloom, it’s something to struggle through for now, maybe feeling a little sorry for the young people who had the misfortune to come of age in a recession. But if it’s a true life stage, we need to start rethinking our definition of normal development and to create systems of education, health care and social supports that take the new stage into account.

The Network on Transitions to Adulthood has been issuing reports about young people since it was formed in 1999 and often ends up recommending more support for 20-somethings. But more of what, exactly? There aren’t institutions set up to serve people in this specific age range; social services from a developmental perspective tend to disappear after adolescence.

As an aside, my cousin managed to declare bankruptcy when his student loan got unmanageable but new laws in Canada have made it a bit harder for others to do the same now. I wonder how many kids go into their loans aware of just how hard the bloody thing will be to pay back if they can’t get a job in the field they “trained” (har) for…assuming they even finish the damn course.

I don’t know what it is. Nobody really does. I suppose if people want to treat it like a stage of life, then I think people need to consider the fact that some enabling is going to go on, letting kids prolong their childhoods far past sense. At some point a person does have to throw caution to the wind and take a risk, after all. Next thing we’ll hear is that it’s totally fine if kids never get around to leaving home at all. Helicopter parents, rejoice.

I think I can see rebellion happening for many of these kids at some point, though. After university, I’d wound up home with the folks for a few years and hopped at the chance to move away when the opportunity became available. While hopping into a relationship with an internet fling wound up not being the best idea I ever had, that year with Mr. Switzerland still set me up with enough of a desire to remain independent so I never moved back again even when the thing with him flopped.

I remember being appalled at the idea of remaining with parents (and bringing the significant other into the house to live under the same roof — I had cousins who did that) but times have changed enough that what was once an aberration has become a norm. Just like single parenting, gay couples, and pretend I thought of a third example because three things always sound better than two.

Times change and attitudes will change to match them eventually. We’re born to rationalize and justify everything we do. Of course we’ll figure out a way to explain why kids still want to be kids.