Century Marks

Century Marks

Pulpit and politics

In a 2006 survey, 32 percent of Americans who be­longed to a congregation reported hearing sermons with political content as often as once every month or two. By 2011 that number had dropped off to 19 percent. Perhaps preachers have gotten the message: while people on the right typically like the fusing of religion and politics, moderates and progressives have an aversion to politics being imposed through religion. This aversion is true across the ages, but especially for millennials who are leaving the church in greater numbers than their parents' and grandparents' generations did, in part because of the intrusion of politics (For­eign Affairs, March/April; adapted from American Grace, by David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam).

Misquoted

In his stump speeches Mitt Romney has been using a line that is wildly popular with his audiences: "In another era of American crisis, Thomas Paine is reported to have said, 'Lead, follow, or get out of the way.' Mr. President, you were elected to lead, you chose to follow, and now it's time for you to get out of the way!" But Paine never said those words, according to a representative of the Yale Book of Quotations. The line was likely uttered by George Patton. The Romney campaign may know the attribution is in­correct, hence the use of the word reported (John Fea, Patheos, February 8).

The unanticipated galaxy

Poet Donald Hall, 83, teeters when he walks. He stopped driving at age 80 after having had several accidents. He spends much of his time looking out his window—at the birds that come to his feeder, at squirrels ("tree rats with the agility of point guards"), at the barn on his farm or at the workers in the fields where he and his grandfather used to cut hay with a horse-drawn mower. "However alert we are, however much we think we know what will happen, antiquity remains an unknown, unanticipated galaxy," Hall writes. "It is alien, and old people are a separate form of life" (New Yorker, January 23).

Before Mitt

Mitt Romney was not the first Mormon to run for the presi­dency of the United States. Founder Joseph Smith ran as an independent in 1843–1844, until he was killed by a mob while sitting in prison awaiting trial. He was charged with treason against the state of Illinois and the Constitution of the United States for ordering the destruction of an anti-Mormon newspaper. The newspaper had promised to expose Smith's secret organization of a "Council of Fifty" that privately ordained him "king over Israel on earth." Smith had the largest militia in the country, in size second only to the U.S. Army (D. Michael Quinn in The Columbia Guide to Religion in America, edited by Paul Harvey and Edward J. Blum).

God for us

The doctrine of the Trinity has flourished in modern theology ever since Karl Barth wrote the first volume of Church Dogmatics. But it hasn't always been considered a welcome doctrine. In 1230 the Cistercians banned sermons on the feast of the Holy Trinity because they thought the subject too difficult. Dorothy Sayers captured the bafflement of many Christians: "The Father is incomprehensible, the Son is incomprehensible, and the whole thing is incomprehensible. Something put in by theologians to make it more difficult—nothing to do with daily life or ethics." Nevertheless, the intent of the Trinity, says Beverly Gaventa, should be to return us to reflection on God in scripture, where the main emphasis is that "God acts for us and for our salvation" (Interpretation, January).