Century Marks

Century Marks

Throw away the key

The incarceration rate in the United States jumped 222 percent between 1980 and 2012, according to the Brookings Institution. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws, the increase in the number of for-profit prisons, and overpolicing in poor and minority neighborhoods have contributed to the exponential growth. The goals of the penal system have shifted toward incapacitation, deterrence, and retribution, rather than rehabilitation. “When you take rehabilitation out of the mix, then that de-incentivizes the system from having shorter sentences because there’s no longer an affirmative goal of reintegrating people meaningfully back into the community,” says Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., a Harvard law professor (Harvard Gazette, May 13).

Critical mass

A Harvard student club called off a satanic “black mass” after it was condemned by the archdiocese of Boston and by Harvard’s president. Although the history behind the black mass is murky, Catholics claim it is designed to mock their rituals and beliefs. The Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club, sponsor of the black mass, said the purpose wasn’t to mock the Catholic mass “but instead to learn and experience the history of different cultural practices.” The group said it plans to host a Shinto tea ceremony, a Shaker exhibit, and a presentation on Buddhist meditation (CNN, May 12).


Thousands of Iranian women are sending photos of themselves without their hijab to a London-based Facebook page dedicated to allowing them “stealthy freedoms.” The Facebook page—called “Stealthy Freedom of Iranian Women”—was set up by Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad and has attracted almost 150,000 “likes.” The photos show women—sans veil—in parks, on the beach, or on the street. The late Ayatollah Khomeini made the hijab mandatory in 1979 (RNS).

Demon possessed?

Pope Francis’s open recognition of the devil is making some Catholic theologians nervous, leading one to accuse the pope of opening the door to superstition. Quoting his critics, Francis said recently at a Vatican mass, “But Father, how old-fashioned you are to speak about the devil in the 21st century.” He has praised the International Association of Exorcists, and a Vatican-sanctioned convention on exorcism was held recently. “The sad truth is that there are many bishops and priests in our church who do not really believe in the devil,” a priest-exorcist said at the conference (Washington Post, May 10).

Christian kindness

Desiderius Erasmus, the Catholic reformer and humanist known for his work on the New Testament, wrote commentaries on 11 Psalms. In a study of Psalm 38, he offered a long litany of the failings of the church and its theologians. He added these pastoral words: “It is a mark of Christian kindness not to make rash judgments and to forgive human error in others, while not forgetting one’s own weaknesses; to put a favorable interpretation on anything which has been ambiguously expressed and to express sincere approval of things which have been well said” (Howard Louthan, in Church History, March).