Century Marks

Century Marks

Doubt about doubts

In a public debate last month with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, atheist Richard Dawkins surprised the audience by conceding a bit of doubt about his conviction that there is no such thing as a creator. But the evolutionary biologist swiftly added that he was "6.9 out of seven" certain of his long-standing atheist beliefs. "What I can't understand is why you can't see [that life started from nothing] is such a staggering, elegant, beautiful thing, why would you want to clutter it up with something so messy as a God," Dawkins told Williams. The archbishop replied that he "entirely agreed" with the "beauty" part of Dawkins's statement, but added, "I'm not talking about God as an extra who you can shoehorn into that" (RNS).

Bible clues

The late Stieg Larsson, author of the hugely successful Millennium trilogy, grew up in the northern part of Sweden sometimes known as the Bible Belt. While the Lutheran church was the state church of Sweden until 2000, renewal groups emerged in the 19th century, especially in the north. These groups emphasized a personal relationship with God, daily Bible reading and a rigorous personal morality. While Larsson's own upbringing was in a family dominated by communist and Social Democratic workers, this Bible Belt milieu seems to have acquainted him with the Bible. The first novel in the Millen­nium series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, uses scripture texts as codes in the mystery (Eva Gab­rielsson, "There Are Things I Want You to Know" about Stieg Larsson and Me, Seven Stories Press).

Forgiving debts

Monroe Beachy has been labeled the Bernie Madoff of the Amish community in eastern Ohio. Beachy has been accused by federal prosecutors of running a Ponzi scheme that betrayed the trust of many Amish and Mennonite individuals, charities and congregations. His bankruptcy has wiped out about $16 million in savings. Many investors in Beachy's firm have said it is more important to forgive him than to recover their money, and some have said that other investors with greater needs should be given priority in recovering losses. Federal officials rejected an Amish plea to work on a settlement of the case within their own community. Beachy goes on trial this month for mail fraud charges that could earn him a prison sentence of up to 20 years (New York Times, February 25).

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).