Natural disasters versus man-made volcanoes

The volcano in Montserrat or the violence in Rwanda - which tells us more about human suffering? And for which does Christian Europe bear more responsibility?, asks John Kennedy.

Joan Meade is a Methodist minister in the small Caribbean island of Montserrat. Her country is disappearing fast, under waves of superheated pumice and clouds of volcanic ash. The people have lived with this monster for two years. Their worst enemy now is uncertainty - to flee or to stay? And, of course, can the British government be trusted?

Daniel Mulunda-Nyanga is another minister, a Muluba from Kalemie, in Katanga. He belongs to a church of half a million French-speaking Methodists. His country has been renamed; once Zaire, it has since June been the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The new president is Laurent Kabila. He came to power on a wave of Tutsi rebellion against the formerly insurgent Hutu, a conflict which raged horribly in Rwanda, and then flooded westwards. These peoples of Central Africa have been living on their own man-made volcano for more than 30 years.

Daniel and President Kabila are from the same town and tribe. The Congo was a great traditional kleptocracy, made that way under colonial rule, with Mobutu Sese Seko as its last, most grotesque beneficiary. Daniel has slightly greater purchase on events than Joan Meade in Montserrat. He is International Secretary of the All Africa Council of Churches, and he is engrossed in the process of reconciliation between the churches in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and the Congo.

The events in the region have been terrible, and the churches are not guiltless. Maybe things are changing now. Daniel hopes that the region's leaders can sustain some kind of order, based on something wider than Tutsi hegemony.

I met Joan and Daniel last week at an international gathering at Somerville College, the Tenth Oxford Institute for Wesley Studies. We basked on the lawns, ate too much, and listened to the likes of Jose Miguez Bonino and Jurgen Moltmann. Two hundred of us were telling the stories of 30 million Meth-odists. Some, like Joan's, reflect a world which can be struck any time by impersonal forces. But some, like Daniel's, are witness to terrifying inhumanity.

Few Christians still believe that natural catastrophe is a sign of God's displeasure. And humanity is often seen at its vigorous best in the face of such calamity, as in the Montserratians brave response to their dreadful plight.

Human cruelty is much more difficult to cope with. One response is to see such inhumanity as foreign to "us" - something "they" do. But it is not far from Somerville College to the Martyrs' Memorial in Oxford. In October 1555, Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley were burnt there. In August 1997, Egon Krenz, the last custodian of the Berlin Wall, was jailed.

The centuries between created our unmanageable empires, whose last dependencies are now like Montserrat, and whose enmities are still being settled in Central Africa. If that region does discover peace, history will indicate that "we" only just beat "them" to it. The arrogance of those empires which pretended to a Christian, civilising mission which they were incapable of adopting for themselves!

The problem here is smaller than the question of human wickedness. It is the more mundane matter of how human energy is to be contained. The Christian instinct is to create benevolent structures into which the passive human clay can be poured. But this is to mistake the essentially turbulent, unruly nature of humanity.

The energies that have been loose in Central Africa are not about to subside. They will, if we are lucky, create new patterns of competition and inequality, winners and losers. It will not be a wonderfully just world, but it may be governed by some kind of consent, and its arbiters will be traders and farmers, not warlords and mobs of neighbours with pangas.

Such a turbulent world is, however, not pretty, and Christians find it hard to justify morally. It will be a generation before successful businesses are willing, or able, to cough up the taxes that can make such a society even remotely just. Nobody remotely expects foreign aid to fill the gap.

Yet it is necessary to protest that the British Government's parsimony and delay has harmed the people of Montserrat. It is part of our Christian vocation to complain when multinationals cut cynical deals with local tyrants. But societies starting from scratch have, it seems, to move to bourgeois peacability - as Europe did over a much longer period - through a morass of breathtaking exploitation for the poor. This is an oppression less terrible than a massacre, less sudden than a volcanic eruption, but even more troubling to the Christian conscience.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Assistant / Human Resources Assistant

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An HR Assistant / Human Resources Ass...

Talent Community Coordinator

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Talent Community Coordinator is nee...

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform