WWJV: Where Would Jesus Vacation?

I just got off an airplane returning from a brief research trip to Tampa, where I spent a wonderful day at the Poynter Institute talking to the usual cast of bright people about newspapers, blogs, religion news, editors, reporters, producers, the future of news and all kinds of connected stuff. What can I say? It's what I do. And what I normally do not do is read the travel pages of daily newspapers, especially USA Today. I guess I don't do a good job of relaxing or dreaming of spending large sums of money in exotic locales. The travel pages don't have much to do with how I live. Whatever.

Anyway, I happened to glance at the bottom of the travel page in today's McPaper travel page and, lo and behold, I think I saw a religion-story ghost. I am sure that I saw and ethical ghost. I'm not sure about the religion part. I'll let you decide.

The story is about the moral -- religious? -- questions raised by people whose first response to the tsunami in Asia and Southeast Asia is to . . . well, let's let reporter Laura Bly describe what some people did.

The day after the earthquake-spawned tsunami killed thousands and ravaged coastlines across the Indian Ocean, Jeff Burleson posted a message on FlyerTalk.com, wondering whether the disaster would translate to lower Asian airfares.

Slammed by fellow posters, the Encinitas, Calif., globetrotter was unrepentant: "Did airfares & room rates fall after 9/11? Yes. By your logic, you would have encouraged everyone to avoid NYC & DC because going would afford those who went with an 'unseemly disaster discount,' " he wrote. "I plan on going to Asia this spring, and I invite all of you to join me in a tangible demonstration of goodwill & sympathy vs. useless pity."

So there you have it. You can send aid to the region, aid that may get caught in all kinds of government lockboxes and global red tape and, dare we say it, corruption, or you can grab your wallet and your flip-flops and head to the beach? Clearly, the major source of income in some of these regions is tourism. Is it unethical to attempt to pour money back into those economies?

Or, as Bly puts it, does it show an immoral disrespect for the 150,000 dead to jump into the beach chairs with a parasol drink in hand? Which will help the survivors more? Which form of direct aid will work best? Here is another piece of the feature:

"Nobody is making light of the huge human cost of the disaster (or) suggesting we should go and get in the way of the clear-up. But for many in the developing world, no tourists this morning can mean no food on the table tonight," says Lonely Planet guidebooks co-founder Tony Wheeler, writing in London's Independent newspaper. "We can all dig into our pockets to contribute money to relief efforts. But in the longer term the best thing we can do is, simply, go there."

Simply stated, what happens to the living if the bottom drops out of their economy? Yet the mind spins at the thought of this. Mine spins for religious reasons. Yet I can see why people are asking this question.

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