Century Marks

Century Marks

Despiser of religion

Robert Inger­soll was a late 19th-century agnostic who spoke to more Americans than U.S. presidents did, at a time when public lectures were a source of information and entertainment. Known by his clerical opponents as Robert Injuresoul, he argued that the United States was the first secular government in world history, and he introduced Darwinism with skillful humor. Ingersoll was the son of an unsuccessful Presbyterian minister and, like his hero Abraham Lincoln, self-taught. Though little known today, he influenced such figures as Clara Barton, Clarence Darrow, Mark Twain and Mar­garet Sanger (American Scholar, Winter).

Now or never

An open letter from scientists published in the MIT Technology Review urges President Obama to make addressing global warming the top priority of his second term. The letter, which recognizes that many Americans remain skeptical about global warming, criticizes the president for bungling efforts to create green jobs. It calls on him to impose a carbon tax and fund trillions of dollars worth of research. “We can no longer pretend that addressing climate change will be without real costs” (Washington Examiner, January 12).

A cut apart

Theologian and Bible scholar Rudolf Bultmann grew up in a family shaped by the pietist revival in Germany. His father, a pastor, eventually became a liberal, but his mother re­mained attached to the pietist tradition. The two took their theological differences to their graves. The tombstone of Bultmann’s father reads: “I believe in God my father,” a line that reflects the theological liberalism of Adolf Harnack. His mother’s tomb­stone declares, “I know that my redeemer lives” (Konrad Hammann, Rudolf Bultmann: A Biography, Polebridge).

Open doors

The Occupy Wall Street movement initially got the cold shoulder from some churches, but attitudes changed in New York City after Hurricane Sandy. Members of Occupy organized a relief effort called Occupy Sandy, and churches in Brooklyn, Staten Island and Coney Island opened their doors as organizing hubs and supply centers. Occupiers won the trust of locals by helping clean up damaged churches and serving people passed over by state-sponsored efforts. And they cleared pews of supplies before worship services so that the sanctuaries could be used by their congregations. Even before Sandy, the Occupy movement was reaching out to faith groups with a program called Rolling Jubilee, an effort to buy up defaulted debts for pennies on the dollar and then liquidate the debts (Utne Reader, December 20).

Retrenchment

Walter Russell Mead cites mainline Protestant seminaries to illustrate what is happening in higher education more broadly: a bubble is about to burst. The problem is a mismatch between the capacity to train more pastors and church leaders and the decreasing need for pastors in denominations that are shrinking in size. Students are also wary of taking on the debt needed to finance a seminary education. The bottom line: too many seminaries are recruiting too few students. Some will have to close, others must restructure and consolidate, and many seminary employees will lose their jobs (The American Interest, December 21).