Century Marks

Century Marks

Covering religion

Jon Stewart, host of the humorous Daily Show, appears to be a nonpracticing Jew, but his show covers religion better than any other TV program except for Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, claims Mark Oppenheimer. Writers for the Daily Show find humor in the finer points of religion rather than in caricatures of it. Sometimes the beliefs or practices of religion are shown as bizarre, but often it’s the antagonists of religion who are made to look silly. In one sketch, a Muslim woman’s application to become a foster mother is rejected because she won’t allow pork products in her house. The episode helped to explain Muslim dietary practices while making the foster agency’s objections look ignorant and bigoted (Religion & Politics, May 1).

Divine spark

The word asylum means shelter or protection from danger. One of the first asylums was called the Retreat, and it was established by Quakers in 1796 in York, England. The Quakers, seeing a divine spark in everyone, tried to remove the stigma then attached to the mentally ill. The Retreat emphasized friendship with the insane and incorporated exercise therapy, pet therapy and occupational therapy. The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Quakers opened a similar facility in 1817, inspiring similar ventures in the next few years in Boston, New York, Hartford and Charleston (American Scholar, Spring).


Ken Bennett, Arizona’s secretary of state, threatened to keep President Obama off the ballot this fall unless it was proved that Obama’s birth certificate is not a fraud. In response, an online petition was begun, garnering 18,000 signatures, requesting that Bennett certify that Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, is not a unicorn. Bennett called the probe ridiculous, but he also withdrew his threat to take Obama off the ballot. In March, a California group filed a suit that would require all presidential candidates to certify their citizenship. In addition to raising the usual—and long since disproved—claim that Obama was not born in the U.S., the suit raised questions about Romney’s birth certificate, since his father had spent some time
as a child in Mexico (Washington Post, May 29).

Proper punishment?

Gay advocates across the country argued that Dharun Ravi should not be scapegoated for the death of his roommate, Tyler Clementi. Clementi took his life after Ravi secretly videotaped him kissing an older man in their Rutgers University dorm room and posted the video on social media. Ravi, a student from India, could have been sentenced up to ten years for his conviction on hate crime laws. Instead, he was sentenced to 30 days in prison, three years probation, mandatory counseling and a $10,000 fine, an amount that will go to victims of hate-based crimes. Aaron Hicklin, editor of Out magazine, E. J. Graff, lesbian columnist for the American Prospect, Jim McGreevey, the gay former governor of New Jersey, and sex columnist Dan Savage were among those who said that while Ravi’s behavior was wrong, he didn’t deserve a lengthy prison term (Reuters and AP).

Change or else

Due to declining enrollments and budget crunches, many seminaries are rethinking their future. Katherine M. Douglass and Jason Bruner, doctoral students at Princeton Theological Seminary, think there are other reasons why seminaries need to think fresh thoughts about their role in the churches. One has to do with a changing demographic, which includes more minority and immigrant congregations. Another has to do with the increasing challenge of interfaith relationships and dialogue. Established seminaries could learn from the model of some immigrant churches whose leaders are trained to work in other fields. Seminaries should recruit local immigrant pastors to provide on-the-job training. The old model of apprenticeships is worth another look, too (Chronicle of Higher Education, May 13).