What a Week

THE ''No Name 1990s'' has become notable for its stranger than fiction news. O.J. aside, much of this news lies under the surface -- like the 12-year-olds in New Jersey who were found making napalm, or the MTV exec who says his channel is ''not at all safe for kids.''

But this past week outdid itself for strangeness. It wasn't just that G. Gordon Liddy got a free speech award. Or that a New York schoolteacher and his 9th-grade student were caught in Las Vegas after a cross-country binge. Rather, the main news swirled in a weird mix of apocalypse and banality.

A nearly blind ''messiah'' in Japan was charged with killing morning subway commuters with poison gas, and hours later a bomb went off in Toyko City Hall -- an apparent retaliation.

The flames of Waco, Texas, are everywhere. One press report had Timothy McVeigh breaking a silence to admit he bombed Oklahoma City in retribution. Reviews of 1993 federal action against the Branch Davidians are emerging. The face of a bearded rock 'n' roller who believed he was the messiah flashed next to Attorney General Janet Reno -- who regrets the decision to storm the compound.

The shelling of Sarajevo, absent for a year, began again; so habituated to the seige are diplomats that they criticize the Bosnians for fighting back.

A new dimension to the horror in Rwanda has been reported -- rape. A virus in Zaire causes fear. Meanwhile lawyers in TV studios across America debate about a speck of blood on O.J.'s sock.

What a week. In the 1980s, many warned of a ''culture of apathy.'' Harvard President Derek Bok left office in 1991 noting an ''eerie indifference'' to what in previous eras would be considered shocking social ills. And this in a time of relative glow, when East bloc repression was crumbling apart.

The photo of young boy who raced with a smiling face this week across a sniper zone in Sarajevo captured the strange dream-like quality of these times -- a dislocation that seems to defy any attempt to name it. Is it any wonder that, given these times, a fundamentalist ''Christian coalition'' would this week call for a religious Contract With America?

Yet the program of school prayer and moral behavior the religious right proposes falls so far short of the answer. An awakening with far more spiritual energy is called for. And there are signs of this awakening lying at a level deeper than this week's troubling themes. Therein lies the answer.

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