Century Marks

Century Marks

The unanticipated galaxy

Poet Donald Hall, 83, teeters when he walks. He stopped driving at age 80 after having had several accidents. He spends much of his time looking out his window—at the birds that come to his feeder, at squirrels ("tree rats with the agility of point guards"), at the barn on his farm or at the workers in the fields where he and his grandfather used to cut hay with a horse-drawn mower. "However alert we are, however much we think we know what will happen, antiquity remains an unknown, unanticipated galaxy," Hall writes. "It is alien, and old people are a separate form of life" (New Yorker, January 23).

Before Mitt

Mitt Romney was not the first Mormon to run for the presi­dency of the United States. Founder Joseph Smith ran as an independent in 1843–1844, until he was killed by a mob while sitting in prison awaiting trial. He was charged with treason against the state of Illinois and the Constitution of the United States for ordering the destruction of an anti-Mormon newspaper. The newspaper had promised to expose Smith's secret organization of a "Council of Fifty" that privately ordained him "king over Israel on earth." Smith had the largest militia in the country, in size second only to the U.S. Army (D. Michael Quinn in The Columbia Guide to Religion in America, edited by Paul Harvey and Edward J. Blum).

God for us

The doctrine of the Trinity has flourished in modern theology ever since Karl Barth wrote the first volume of Church Dogmatics. But it hasn't always been considered a welcome doctrine. In 1230 the Cistercians banned sermons on the feast of the Holy Trinity because they thought the subject too difficult. Dorothy Sayers captured the bafflement of many Christians: "The Father is incomprehensible, the Son is incomprehensible, and the whole thing is incomprehensible. Something put in by theologians to make it more difficult—nothing to do with daily life or ethics." Nevertheless, the intent of the Trinity, says Beverly Gaventa, should be to return us to reflection on God in scripture, where the main emphasis is that "God acts for us and for our salvation" (Interpretation, January).

Violence against Christians

Anti-Christian violence is a greatly underreported problem, argues Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim from Somalia. Attacks against Christians increased 309 percent between 2003 and 2010 in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. This violence for the most part isn't centrally planned and is the spontaneous expression of anti-Christian animosity. One of the most serious problems is in Nigeria, where an organization called Boko Haram wants to establish Islamic shari'a law. In 2011 its members killed more than 500 Chris­tians and destroyed or burned over 350 churches in ten of the northern states of Nigeria (Newsweek, February 13).

Old battle

Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island, believed that freedom of religion and political freedom were inextricably linked. Pagans, Jews, Turks and even anti-Christians should be given the freedom to worship as they wished, or not worship at all, he believed. Current public debates about the role of religion in public life go back to the conflict between Williams and the Massa­chusetts Puritans. The Puritans wanted to create a Christian commonwealth. Williams created a government that was based on the will of the people and didn't depend on God's blessing. Williams set the tone for the U.S. Constitution, which doesn't mention God or invoke God's blessings on the country (John M. Barry, author of Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul, in the Los Angeles Times, February 5).