Century Marks

Century Marks

Despiser of religion

Robert Inger­soll was a late 19th-century agnostic who spoke to more Americans than U.S. presidents did, at a time when public lectures were a source of information and entertainment. Known by his clerical opponents as Robert Injuresoul, he argued that the United States was the first secular government in world history, and he introduced Darwinism with skillful humor. Ingersoll was the son of an unsuccessful Presbyterian minister and, like his hero Abraham Lincoln, self-taught. Though little known today, he influenced such figures as Clara Barton, Clarence Darrow, Mark Twain and Mar­garet Sanger (American Scholar, Winter).

Now or never

An open letter from scientists published in the MIT Technology Review urges President Obama to make addressing global warming the top priority of his second term. The letter, which recognizes that many Americans remain skeptical about global warming, criticizes the president for bungling efforts to create green jobs. It calls on him to impose a carbon tax and fund trillions of dollars worth of research. “We can no longer pretend that addressing climate change will be without real costs” (Washington Examiner, January 12).

A cut apart

Theologian and Bible scholar Rudolf Bultmann grew up in a family shaped by the pietist revival in Germany. His father, a pastor, eventually became a liberal, but his mother re­mained attached to the pietist tradition. The two took their theological differences to their graves. The tombstone of Bultmann’s father reads: “I believe in God my father,” a line that reflects the theological liberalism of Adolf Harnack. His mother’s tomb­stone declares, “I know that my redeemer lives” (Konrad Hammann, Rudolf Bultmann: A Biography, Polebridge).


As late as the mid-1970s the National Rifle Association (founded in 1871) focused on hunting, conservation and marksmanship. But at its annual meeting in 1977 it was taken over by radical gun rights activists, who reshaped the group’s orientation. The old guard had plans to move headquarters to Colorado, but the new leaders decided that the real action was in Washington. Today the NRA is arguably the most powerful lobbying organization in the country. William J. Vizzard, a retired Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms official, says the NRA has no interest in compromise. “They’re not interested in fixing things. They want to stir things up, and the more they stir things up, the more members they get and the more money they make” (Washington Post, January 12).

Emancipation promised

This month is the sesquicentennial celebration of Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, popularly thought to be the act that freed the slaves. In reality, it didn’t free all the slaves, only those in parts of the Confederacy that were in rebellion against the Union. Since those slaves were behind enemy lines, the proclamation couldn’t be enforced, at least not while the Civil War was in progress. The proclamation didn’t apply to parts of the South that weren’t in rebellion or to four border states with slaves who ­didn’t join the Confederacy. The procla­ma­tion, however, set the stage for the passing of the Thirteenth Amend­ment two years later, which outlawed slavery (USA Today, December 25).