Century Marks

Century Marks

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.

Race card

Political conservatives in the United States are acutely aware of race, says veteran pollster Stan Greenberg. “They are very aware that they are ‘white’ in a country that is becoming increasingly ‘minority.’” They are inclined to believe that government programs exist for the benefit of minorities, not the poor. Obamacare has become a flash point for race-conscious conservatives, who think it will disproportionately help minorities. Obama, the first black president, is an emblem of their uneasiness. The word they’re most likely to use to describe him is liar (Guardian, October 20).

Old atheism

Near the end of his career, Karl Barth was asked to write a response to an essay by atheist Max Bense. Barth’s response reflected his sense that Christians don’t need to argue better than atheists, they need to live better. He called his response “The Rationality of Discipleship” (not “The Rationality of Theism”). Barth wondered why Bense felt the need to attack Christian faith when there are so many gods plaguing modernity: money, sex, sports. But Barth reserved his sharpest barbs for Christians. Practical atheism, which exists even in the church, is the really pernicious kind of atheism, he said. Practical atheists acknowledge God’s existence, yet they go about life as though God doesn’t exist. “The atheists of the other kind live on the fact that we are not better Christians” (Theology Today, October).

A problem with Jesus

Some Swedish Christians tell about an aged and pious church member who was always quoting Jesus and was sharply critical of her fellow church members for drinking wine. If her congregation ever started serving wine for communion instead of grape juice, she said she’d have to leave the church. When others reminded her that Jesus drank wine, she replied: “You know, that’s the one thing about Jesus that I never liked” (Martin E. Marty, Sightings, October 14).

Solar powered

To fulfill a 2010 pledge, President Obama had American-made solar panels installed at the White House last summer. This is not the first time the White House has had solar panels. President Carter installed some in the late 1970s to produce hot water, but President Reagan had them removed. In 2003 President George W. Bush had a photovoltaic system with two solar panels installed on a maintenance building to heat the White House swimming pool (Washington Post, August 15).