Century Marks

Century Marks

Making the cut

The United States and Germany seem to be going in different directions on the practice of male circumcision. The American Acad­emy of Pediatrics released a statement indicating that for parents who choose it, circumcision is warranted on the basis of a medical risk-benefit analysis. In Germany there has been an effort to criminalize the procedure and to institute a two-year moratorium on the practice. An outcry from religious groups led Chancellor Angela Merkel to ask the Justice Ministry to draft legislation that would protect the right of religious groups like Jews and Muslims to continue the practice if the circumciser is properly trained, parents provide informed consent and effective analgesia is used. A secularized Europe does not seem to understand the religious significance of this ritual (Michelle Harrington, Sightings, October 18).

On a mission

The Church of the Holy Spirit in Lake Forest, Illinois, has been asking itself: “Is the church doing and being what it is called to do and be?” As part of that reflection, parish leaders decided to consult with nearby Willow Creek, an evangelical megachurch—a move that made some people in the congregation unhappy. One parishioner said that less damage would have been done if a grenade had been thrown down the church’s center aisle. The leaders persisted in their consultation, however. What they learned is that the spiritual vitality of any congregation flows from the vitality of its members and that leadership is key: leaders must lead by example (Anglican Theological Review, Summer).

Wake-up call

Neurosurgeon Eben Alexander believed that there is a scientific explanation for near-death experiences—until he had one of his own. What was unusual about his near-death experience was that his cortex, the part of the brain that makes us human, was inactivated during a seven-day coma. He has no doubt that his inner self was alive and well during that time. Through most of his near-death journey, Alexander was accompanied by a young woman. Without using words, she conveyed a three-part message to him: “You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever.” “You have nothing to fear.” “There is nothing you can do wrong.” He wants to spend the rest of his life studying consciousness and show that humans are much more than their physical brains (Proof of Heaven, Simon & Schuster, excerpted in Newsweek, October 8).

Normal belief

A Florida state judge has ruled that a schizophrenic man sitting on death row can be executed despite the fact that the legally insane are not supposed to be executed. The reason, the judge ruled, is that this murderer believes he is the “Prince of God” who will some day sit at God’s right hand. The judge said that since this is a normal Christian belief, it doesn’t prove the convicted man is crazy (The Week, October 26).

Strangely familiar

The King James Bible, Shakespeare and the Book of Common Prayer shaped the English language more than any other literature. The BCP, which is celebrating the 350th anniversary of its 1662 edition, was largely the work of Thomas Cranmer, who was appointed archbishop of Canterbury by King Henry VIII. Cranmer borrowed freely from the Sarum Missal, the Latin liturgy that the English Catholic Church had used for centuries, and he wrote many original prayers and collects. Cranmer wanted this prayer book to be for the people, not just the priesthood, so he used ordinary phrases and biblical similes, some of which live on in our language today (“for better, for worse,” “from ashes to ashes,” “peace in our time”). Echoes of the BCP can even be heard in the writings of secular authors like Virginia Woolf and Samuel Beckett (New Yorker, October 22).