Century Marks

Century Marks

Precarious state

Most Christians in Syria back the Alawite-dominated regime led by Bashar al-Assad. They prefer a flawed secular government to one run by Islamic hardliners. Syrian Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, are a significant portion of the business and professional classes. They do not fear bloodshed were there to be a regime change. What they fear is being treated like second-class citizens. A victory by the opposition forces could lead to the emigration of hundreds of thousands of Syrian Chris­tians (Current History, December).

Anonymous Christian?

Abraham Lincoln, a skeptic and a free thinker, never joined a church. However, he did have close contact with several Presbyterian pastors. James Smith, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Illinois, preached the funeral sermon for Lincoln’s son Eddie. Afterward, Mary Todd Lincoln joined his church and Lincoln became his friend. Phineas D. Gurley, pastor of the New York Presbyterian Church, often visited Lincoln at the White House to discuss the Bible and theology. Lincoln frequently attended this congregation’s midweek prayer service. Lincoln sat in the pastor’s study with the door ajar, to avoid making a commotion over his presence (Presbyterian News Service, December 20).

Fiction without faith?

Writer Paul Elie says that if there is any portion of our culture which is truly post-Christian it is literature. There are no fiction writers today like Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Reynolds Price or John Updike, who took faith seriously and gave it explanatory power. Faith in fiction is now largely treated as an artifact of the past. Even Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, which portrays “the most emphatically Christian character in contemporary American fiction”—the Rev. John Ames—is historical fiction, set in the past. “Belief as upbringing, belief as social fact, belief as a species of American weirdness: our literary fiction has all of these things,” says Elie. “All that is missing is the believer” (New York Times, December 19).

Poverty and riches

Only three other countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have a higher degree of income inequality than the United States: Chile, Mexico and Turkey. One reason for the inequality in the U.S. is that a smaller share of national output is targeted for social programs, designed to lessen inequalities. Germany devoted 27.8 percent of its gross domestic product to such programs in 2009, compared to 19.2 percent in the U.S. Tax policies in the U.S. also are not as effective in reducing the effect of inequalities. The division of earnings in the U.S. favors the wealthy more than other developed countries. Finally, there is an attitude problem: the poor in the U.S. are more likely to be accused of laziness. The myth endures that people can become wealthy in the U.S. if they work hard enough, despite recent research which shows that Americans are less likely to rise to a class above that of their parents than are people in other wealthy nations (Reuters).


Chris Baker is a tattoo artist who sports tattoos on his legs and arms. He also is a Christian minister. Baker has started a not-for-profit organization dedicated to removing tattoos for people who no longer embrace the lifestyle that the tattoos represent—which is often gang membership, drug addiction or prostitution. In a recent case, Baker volunteered to remove the tattoo from a reformed prostitute who had been enslaved in sex trafficking. She was branded with a tattoo by her former pimp, who is now in prison. “Anytime I can get rid of a trafficking tattoo is a good day,” Baker said. “Trafficking is not a choice people make” (Chicago Tribune, December 27).