The passage (Mark 12:41–44) about the poor widow who put “everything she had” in the temple treasury was among the lectionary readings a few weeks ago, and it’s a frequent text for stewardship sermons. The example of the widow’s generosity seems clear enough, and it’s part of the church’s standard repertoire about sacrificial giving.
But Fergus Kerr suggests that the story is about not generosity but exploitation.
Jesus of Nazareth: What He Wanted, Who He Was, by Gerhard Lohfink. The attempt to distinguish the authentic words of Jesus from the inauthentic ones has the whiff of silliness, says Lohfink. The Gospel writers, drawing from numerous traditions about Jesus, put together a narrative interpretation of his life and ministry.
The presidential election revealed that the “God gap” in electoral politics remains as large as ever—and is much larger than the gender gap that was often touted during the campaign. Mark Silk summarizes it:
Those who said they attend worship weekly preferred Mitt Romney by 20 points, 59-39. Those who said they attend less frequently went for Obama by 25 points. That compares to a male preference for Romney of seven points and a female preference for Obama of 11.
How fervently one practices one’s religion is—apart from race—still the best predictor of how one votes.
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.