Century Marks

Century Marks

Jesus on the mount

In the midst of a civil war, a 40-foot statue of Jesus was erected last month on a mountain in Syria. It overlooks an ancient pilgrimage route connecting Constantinople and Jerusalem. The project, which took eight years and was stalled by the civil war, was backed by the London-based St. Paul and St. George Foundation, with support from Russian Orthodox churches. The statue, designed to encourage Syrian Christians, was inspired by Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro (AP).

Theology without faith

When Tara Isabella Burton went to Oxford University to study theology, her liberal, secular New York mother thought her studies would be as useless as speculating about the number of angels that can fit on the head of a pin. Burton argues that the academic study of theology is important not just to people of faith but to those who care about history, humans and culture. “To study theology well requires not faith, but empathy.” In her studies, she says, she is able to get inside the minds and hearts, fears and concerns, of those in circumstances vastly different from her own and of people who shape much of the world (Atlantic, October 30).

Remote control

When airman Brandon Bryant first began work as a drone operator, he thought he was part of a force for good. After six years of working from a base in Nevada, sitting at a console with vivid and violent scenes of Afghan and Pakistani villages 7,000 miles away, he changed his mind. His views about the morality of the operation changed when he saw a child vaporized on the screen and saw hundreds of people blown to bits. He walked away from a $109,000 bonus with a severe case of PTSD and a final kill count of 1,626. “The number made me sick to my stomach,” he said (GQ, October 23).

Origins

The discovery of a 1.8 million-year-old skull in Georgia will radically alter thinking about human origins, according to a research team’s report in Science. Comparing this skull to other specimens from the same era in Africa led the team to conclude that humanity’s early ancestors all came from one species in Africa rather than from several as previously thought. It is likely the remains of a tool-using species dubbed Homo erectus, who had a brain one-third the size of a modern human brain. Similar remains have been found in Africa, Spain, Indonesia, India, China and Java (Wall Street Journal, October 17).

Best ever

For its “Big Question” column the Atlantic (October) asked a number of public figures what was the greatest speech ever given, historical or fictional. Some of the answers were predictable: soliloquies from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural speech and Winston Churchill’s speech before the House of Commons in 1940 when he said, “We shall never surrender.” Two persons chose Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain, even though they probably weren’t delivered as a single speech. “Although it does not have the same cachet as the Sermon on the Mount, the Sermon on the Plain is a shorter and more cogent speech,” said James Carville, former campaign manager for Bill Clinton.