Within the decided limits of a Hollywood blockbuster, Steven Spielberg’s movie Lincoln presents a nonheroic version of the 16th president. Though some iconic images are carefully polished—Lincoln as folksy storyteller and as lonely bearer of the ravages of war—the film focuses on Lincoln as wily politician, twisting arms and trading favors.
“The government that is closest to the people governs best.” That sentiment was expressed recently by Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, and it’s long been a staple of conservative political philosophy and of candidates who want federal programs to be taken over by state and local governments. But liberals embrace it in their own way when they talk about “participatory democracy” and the need for people to be able to make decisions about the issues that directly affect them.
The question is: what does it mean for government to be “closer” to people?
A federal judge in Eastern Missouri has upheld the government mandate that insurance policies cover birth control. Judge Carol E. Jackson ruled that the mandate is not a violation of religious liberty. Religious freedom is “a shield, not a sword,” she said, and religious liberty claims cannot be used as a “means to force one’s religious practices upon others.” Her argument closely aligns with points that the Century made some months ago in an editorial and that I tried to make in a blog post.
A recent episode of PBS’s American Experience explored how the massive number of deaths in the Civil War sent the nation into shock. The catastrophe—750,000 dead—was equivalent to the U.S. suffering 7 million deaths today. Besides evoking this ghastly experience, Ric Burns’s film Death and the Civil War (reviewed here in the New York Times), which is based on Drew Gilpin’s book The Republic of Suffering, offers a fascinating perspective on current political debates over the size and scope of the federal government.
The disappearance of well-paying manufacturing jobs in the U.S. has decimated the middle class. It has also put stress on gender roles—especially in the South, where there’s a strong presumption, backed by evangelical Christian teaching, that being a man means providing financially for your family.
The Republicans invited him first, and his acceptance raised questions about whether Dolan, the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was lending the authority of the Catholic hierarchy to the GOP. But then the Democrats shrewdly invited him to pray at their convention too. Dolan shrewdly accepted.
One hundred years ago this summer, a fundamentalist Christian stood before the convention of a major political party and offered an impromptu resolution. He ended his impassioned speech by quoting words of Jesus. The speech was not what you might expect.
A two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine crisis has been growing more and more distant. Prospects suffered yet another blow last week when a government commission in Israel recommended that all Israeli settlements in the West Bank be declared legal.
Anyone who likes maps, religion and useful or odd bits of data will have fun poking around the website created by the Association of Religion Data Archives, which now includes information from the 2010 census. The site allows for all kinds of searches by denomination and region.
For example, the curious can find out what U.S. counties have the highest or lowest percentage of Episcopalians.
One of the few things Western observers of the Middle East tend to agree on, regardless of whether they lean toward the Israelis or the Palestinians, is that Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad has done an excellent job as administrator of the Palestinian Authority.
In noting the death of Chuck Colson, David Sessions at the Daily Beast points to Colson’s role in popularizing the idea--which he got it from Francis Schaeffer, who got it from other Reformed thinkers--that Christians possess a distinct “worldview.”
Brian Bantum, a theologian at Seattle Pacific, was
mentioned in the Century's recent article on the new black theology. Readers
intrigued by that topic will be interested in Bantum's comments
on a book on racial reconciliation
written by a white Minneapolis preacher, John Piper.
Who would have thought that contraception would become such a
major issue in this election year?
Or is it?
The U.S. Catholic bishops stress that the issue
is not really contraception but religious liberty--the right of Catholics, and
by extension any group of religious people, to practice and live out their
faith. That's a plausible argument, as the Century
editors acknowledged a few weeks ago, and
it is certainly one designed to gain allies among other religious people.
lawyers for University of Virginia student George Huguely said
their client was a "stupid drunk," not a killer. He was widely known to have a
history of abusing alcohol--hardly a rarity on college campuses. Huguely was
convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 26 years in prison for
killing his girlfriend, Yeardley Love, after a day of nonstop drinking.
case highlighted yet again the problem of rampant alcohol abuse on campus--and
the situation of friends and bystanders who know perfectly well that someone
has a drinking problem but don't care or know how to intervene.
John F. Kennedy's famous
Houston speech on church and state during
the 1960 presidential campaign elicited Rick Santorum's after-the-fact disgust. Though Santorum
misrepresents the speech in some ways--Kennedy didn't say anything about
limiting religious institutions and leaders from speaking on public issues--he
is right to find the speech theologically lame.
Occasionally the Century editors sit down to talk with experts in magazine
marketing. They sometimes tells us that we need to do more with
celebrities--feature a celebrity on the cover of the magazine, for example.
No, they're not pressing us to feature Brad Pitt
or Lindsay Lohan. What they have in mind is featuring the celebrities of our world, that is, the celebrities of
the mainline Protestant world.
We usually respond: "But mainline Protestants
don't really have celebrities." When the experts look doubtful, the editors
look at one another. "Well, we might come up with a few living semi-celebrities--but that would take
care of only two months worth of covers."