A soldier’s need to pray

A new survey of troops is instructive

According to research carried out by an Anglican chaplain, Rev. Peter King, more  soldiers serving in Afghanistan have turned to God when facing death or injury in that war zone. British troops have prayed, carried rosary beads and crucifixes while under fire by the Taliban in Helmand province.

During services which the chaplain held, squaddies asked him “Will you baptise me, Padre?”, and they used an army helmet for a water font. (Most of the soldiers surveyed were nominally Church of England; 18 per cent were Catholic and 20 per cent without a religion.)

Rev. King interviewed seven other chaplains and conducted the survey among 200 serving men in the Queen’s Royal Hussars. The proximity of battle certainly intensified most soldiers’ need for prayer, and some felt “an awareness of the presence of God”. A small group felt the inability to reconcile the notion of a loving God with the cruelty of war, of soldiers and civilians being maimed and killed in horrible ways.

This current survey reminded me of events and experiences during the First World War, when prayer and spiritual support became so important to the troops. Irishmen commonly carried rosary beads and there were noted instances when Ulster Protestants, too, gladly accepted (or even asked for) religious medals from nuns who ministered in the war zones.

The spiritual – and sometimes physical – leadership of a chaplain also became very important, and the greatest of these was acknowledged to be Father Gleeson of the Munster Rifles, the bravest of the brave, who went right up to the front line to give his men the Last Rites – and then visited their families when he got back to Ireland.

Robert Graves’ celebrated memoir about the Great War,  Goodbye to All That, gives an inspiring account of Father Gleeson. Surely there should be some monument to this legendary priest, noted for his courage and compassionate?


The UN and China’s one-child policy

I do not repose much confidence in United Nations reports ever since I learned that the UN in 1983 awarded a prize to General Qian Xinxhong of China, the enforcer of the coercive one-child policy.

Recently, Matt Ridley – the science writer – reported in The Times of London: “Eight years later, even though the horrors of the policy were becoming ever clearer, the head of the United Nations Family Planning Agency gushed that China had “every reason to feel proud of its remarkable achievements in population control”.

China’s one-child policy has not only involved the cruellest of late forced abortions and the penalising of families who dare to have more than one child (as well as Government inspection of women’s bodies to ensure that birth control devices are in place). It is also causing an economic downturn, as China grows ever shorter of younger workers. By 2020, China’s workforce will plummet by 10 million a year, while the elderly rise at the same rate.

The one-child policy is now officially ending. But still the UN has not said sorry.


A ‘Brave New World’

A French-Iranian academic at the University of Georgetown, Dr Sheherazade Semsar, has been expressing her concerns about the growing obsession with gender and sexual minorities in American universities.

Speaking in France earlier this month, she referred to notices over school lavatories in California: “If you identify yourself as a boy, this is your toilet.” Also in California, she observed that sex education is “divised in three tiers: as between two men, two women, and a man and a woman”.

She said that all universities now must have a LGBTQ – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual and Queer – Centre, “from Harvard to the smallest faculty in the depths of Ohio”. Any university which refuses will find its funds reduced. (‘Queer’ has been added in recent years ‘for those who oppose all heterosexual norms’, and to ‘reclaim’ the word ‘queer’.)

Recently, Harvard had to accept another category for people of ‘sado-masochistic’ orientation, and there is a now campaign to add ‘Intersexual’ and ‘Asexual’.

Sheherazade Semsar, who is on the Advisory Board of the prestigeous Washington DC university claims that rights claimed by sexual minorities have reached absurdity. “When you have to manage 10,000 students, with all the problems that entails, is it reasonable to spend so much time focusing on the sexual practices of 0.1% of the population?”

But no university can afford not to toe the line when it comes to this cultural war. The University of Texas, in Houston, was involved in expensive litigation when it failed to provide scholarships and burseries especially catering for LGBTQ students. And according to Scheheradade Semsar, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, Peter Thiel the founder of PayPal and many other wealthy names are big donors to the cause of promoting all sexual minorities within academic life.

Welcome to the Brave New World!