Century Marks

Century Marks

SK and FDR

The late Howard A. Johnson, an Episcopal priest, theologian and Kierkegaard scholar, was invited to the White House near the end of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s life. Roosevelt picked his brain about Kierkegaard, since he had been told that Kierkegaard’s later writings helped to explain the rise of totalitarianism and Nazism. Frances Perkins, Roosevelt’s biographer, said that the hour-long conversation made an impression on Roosevelt, as he spoke of it often afterward. “I have never been able to make out why people who are obviously human beings could behave like that,” Roosevelt said, speaking of the Nazis. “They are human, yet they behave like demons. Kierkegaard gives you an understanding of what it is in man that makes possible for these Germans to be so evil” (Anglican Theological Review, Winter).

Shoppers’ choice

“Walmart Moms” are defined by the superstore chain as women with children 18 years of age or younger living at home and who shop at Walmart at least once a month. The Bentonville, Arkansas–based company studies this group very carefully, including their political leanings. President Obama won a majority of their votes in 2008, but their votes are up for grabs in 2012. Obama’s advantage with Walmart Moms drops dramatically in the battleground states that are likely to determine the outcome of the presidential election this fall (Bloomberg.com, August 2).

Past imperfect

David Barton’s historical revisionism about American history has been wildly popular with conservatives who want to believe, like Barton, that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and that the founding fathers did not share modern notions about the separation of church and state. Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and a Republican candidate for president in 2008, said he wished that every American could be made to listen to a telecast of David Barton lecturing, even if at gunpoint. However, Barton’s latest book, The Jefferson Lies, has drawn criticism not just from liberals or professional historians, his usual critics, but from a group of evangelical pastors, black and white, from Cincinnati. They called for a boycott of Barton’s publisher, Thomas Nelson, because the book seeks to justify Thomas Jefferson’s ownership of slaves and glosses over the third president’s racism and heretical views about Christ. Thomas Nelson has since pulled the book from the market (NPR, August 8, and World, August 9).

God in the rocks

Early in his career, Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin told his spiritual director that he intended to abandon his interest in rocks and natural philosophy to focus on the spiritual life. His spiritual director responded that if he were to do so, he’d be abandoning his vocation as a Jesuit, since Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, urged his followers to find God in everything, no matter what they were doing (James F. Salmon SJ, with Nicole Schmitz-Moormann, in The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity, Wiley-Blackwell).

Shades of sex

A hotel in the United Kingdom has placed a copy of E. L. James’s erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey in each room instead of the Bible. Defending the switch, the hotel manager said: “The Gideon Bible is full of references to sex and violence, although it’s written using more formal language. So James’s book is easier to read.” Guests who would like a Bible can ask for one (Christian Science Monitor, July 25).