THERE are some serious stories this week, some interesting ones,
and some that are just flat out weird.
The weirdest of these is undoubtedly that of the Wald family, of
Hamilton, Ontario, who were firm in their hope of the resurrection.
They were so firm that, when Peter Wald, the family patriarch, got
an infected foot as a result of his diabetes, he refused to go to
hospital. He lay in his bed until he fell into a coma, convinced
that God would cure him. Some days later, his wife, Kaling,
"noticed his stomach bloating and signs of rigor mortis on his
forehead", according to the Hamilton Spectator.
"She then left him - his body covered with two blankets, his
head with a toque - in the bed and padlocked the bedroom door.
"Kaling sealed in the door and the vents with duct tape to
protect her family from the smell of the cadaver. And then for six
months, life went on and they prayed for their dead husband and
father in the bed upstairs as they awaited his return."
The Walds had five children living in the house, together with
seven other adults. They formed a kind of evangelistic community,
distributing tracts and food for the homeless. None of their
neighbours, who were told that Mr Wald was "in God's hands now",
had a bad word to say about them. The corpse was discovered only
after about six months (the state of the body precluded greater
precision), when they were all evicted for non-payment of mortgage
Mrs Wald was eventually sentenced to 18 months on probation by a
sympathetic judge. The family moved to another town, and she told
the Hamilton Spectator: "It was unusual, yes . . . and we
won't do that again. . . Laws exist and we know that now." She
remains convinced, however, that there have been many documented
cases of resurrection around the world.
I have certainly been told such stories in a respectable Clapham
kitchen by a woman active on the hairier fringes of the Charismatic
movement. But they were all supposed to have happened in Africa.
They didn't happen in the developed world, she explained, because
we don't have enough faith. The Walds seem to have tested that
particular theory to destruction.
A LONG PIECE by Meghan O'Gieblyn, in The Guardian,
originally published in The Point Magazine in Chicago,
described growing up as a believer in hell. "I got saved when I was
five years old. . . As a home-schooled junior-high student I
actually didn't know any unbelievers. In my mind, the 'lost'
consisted of a motley minority of animal-worshipping tribesmen,
Michael Jackson, Madonna, and our Catholic neighbours.
"It wasn't until I started going to public high school that I
began to feel a gnawing guilt, spurred by the occasional
realisation that my evolution-touting biology teacher, or the girl
who sat next to me in study hall reading The Satanic
Bible, was going to spend eternity suffering." So, of course,
she loses her faith as a young woman.
What lifts this essay above the norm is the way in which she
still misses parts of belief, and, in particular, the notion of
sin: "Part of what made church such a powerful experience for me as
a child and a young adult was that it was the one place where my
own faults and failings were recognised and accepted, where people
referred to themselves affectionately as 'sinners', where it was
taken as a given that the person standing in the pews beside you
was morally fallible, but still you held hands and lifted your
voice with hers as you worshipped in song. . .
"And it's precisely this acknowledgement of collective guilt
that makes it possible for a community to observe the core virtues
of the faith: mercy, forgiveness, grace."
It's been a long time since anything that grown-up was written
about fundamentalist Christianity in the British press.
TWO sidelights on Pope Francis's speech comparing Europe to a
grandmother. The first was a report of the speech he gave on the
subject in October to European bishops, from La
Repubblica: "The Europe of today has been invaded. It may be
the second invasion of the barbarians, I don't know." There's a
quote inexplicably missed by the Daily Mail.
The second was a defence of Europe taken from The Financial
Times: "The Pope drew attention to the chilling fact that the
Mediterranean is becoming a 'cemetery' for migrants.
"But we should allow for the possibility that it is not just the
prospect of black economy work that draws them. Perhaps some of
those who risk their lives in tiny ramshackle boats believe the
continent's liberal values are worth having. Europe may not be the
best of all possible worlds, but for many, it might be the least
bad of the worlds available."
Which is, I suppose, an old grandmother's version of