Century Marks

Century Marks

Living wage

Debates about the minimum wage usually overlook the religious roots of the concept. John A. Ryan, an Irish Catholic priest from Minnesota, coined the term “living wage” and based it on Catholic social teaching. In 1894 he wrote in his diary: “We must have a more just distribution of wealth.” In 1906 he published a book called A Living Wage. In 1937 he became the first Catholic to give an invocation at a presidential inauguration (Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second). A year later FDR signed the first national law requiring a minimum wage law—25 cents an hour (Tikkun, February 26).

Yeast of the Christians

Some churches are using the popularity of craft beer and home brewing to reach out to young adults. Valley Church (Methodist) in Allendale, Michigan, holds semiregular meetings of beer enthusiasts and home brewers. The events go by the moniker “What would Jesus brew?” St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Wilmington, North Carolina, sponsored a home brewing contest with other churches in the city as a fund-raiser. At least two church brewing groups have turned into commercial operations—Hess Brewing Company in San Diego and Monday Night Brewing in Atlanta. They claim they are part of an old church tradition: some monasteries have long brewed beer to serve their guests (Wall Street Journal, March 8).

Occupy success

Critics of the Occupy Wall Street movement say it failed largely because of a lack of organization and focus. Jeff Madrick argues that the movement was a success not so much in changing policies as in raising public awareness of inequities. “We are the 99 percent” will remain a political slogan every bit as galvanizing for its time as “Hell no, we won’t go” was for the antiwar protesters of the 1960s and 1970s, he says. Civil rights demonstrations and antiwar movements were criticized in their day for being unfocused, but they led to enduring change (Harper’s, March).

Papal powers

Liberal Catholic theologian Hans Küng points out the Ro­man Catholic Church got along without the papacy as we know it today for a millennium. It was Pope Gregory VII in the 11th century who gave Catholics three enduring elements of the Roman system: “a centralist-absolutist papacy, compulsory clericalism and the obligation of celibacy for priests and other secular clergy.” Küng argues that the church needs a pope who knows how deep the church’s crisis is and how to lead the church out of it. He calls for the church to hold another council along the lines of Vatican II, this time gathering a “representative assembly of bishops, priests and lay people” (New York Times, February 27).

Abandoned

The number of South Korean seniors who commit suicide has nearly quadrupled in recent years. The country has the highest rate of suicide by the elderly in the developed world. This trend is attributed to the fraying of the traditional Confucian social contract, according to which the elderly were taken care of by their children. In the runaway South Korean economy, many younger people have moved to urban areas, leaving their parents behind in towns occupied mostly by older people. South Korea had nothing like Social Security until 1988, so many older Koreans aren’t covered by the program. The government refuses to support older people when it deems that their children have the means to care for them (New York Times, February 16).