Century Marks

Century Marks

Required reading

Nothing outrages students in Jonathan Sheehan’s course on the history of Christianity at the University of California at Berkeley more than the writings of John Calvin. What kind of God is it who would predetermine the ultimate destiny of all humans before the creation of the world? students wonder. Reading Calvin, he says, helps students see the power of an argument and consider the consequences of their own beliefs and commitments. Sheehan wants students to wrestle with Calvin with “integrity, reason, creativity, and charity . . . intellectual virtues that we need in our modern world” (New York Times, September 12).


It is hard to assess how many people die annually from climate change, but one measurement puts it at 700,000. The people least responsible for climate change are the ones most devastated by it. “Just 10 percent of the world’s population are responsible for 50 percent of emissions, while the poorest 50 percent are responsible for only 10 percent of emissions,” says Asad Rehman of Friends of the Earth. People of color in developing countries are most affected by climate change (Newsweek, September 9).

Hidden past

The national parks are rightly considered some of America’s great treasures, but their history is not as serene as their landscapes. A year after the Battle of Gettysburg, President Lincoln deeded Yosemite Valley to the state of California, to be maintained for public use for all time. Lincoln hoped these “magnificent lands . . . might offer a unifying peace for a divided nation.” But before Yosemite could be turned into a park for public use, the Ahwahneechee, its native inhabitants, had to be driven out. Similar wars of removal were conducted at the end of the 19th century at the sites of Glacier and Yellowstone parks (Times Literary Supplement, September 2).

Leading by example

John Coleman, who died recently, presided over Haverford College during the tumultuous Vietnam War era. He sympathized with students’ antiwar protests but also tried to channel the antiwar movement in constructive ways. When students considered burning the American flag, Coleman placed a washing machine at the center of the campus and encouraged students to wash the flag instead. He persuaded dozens of college presidents to sign an antiwar statement. On sabbaticals he took blue-collar jobs to explore the gap between academics and workers (Inside Higher Ed, September 12).

National story

The negativity in this year’s election is the consequence of Americans not having a truthful story about their common history, says Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary in New York. The story we tell about ourselves as Americans is relentlessly positive, avoiding the truth about our failures—including the near-genocide of America’s original residents and the brutality of chattel slavery. We live the lie that we are good and those who oppose us are bad. This bifurcation manifests itself in the contentiousness of an election in which neither side can admit any bad about themselves or good about their opponents (Time, September 7).