Century Marks

Century Marks

Precarious state

Most Christians in Syria back the Alawite-dominated regime led by Bashar al-Assad. They prefer a flawed secular government to one run by Islamic hardliners. Syrian Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, are a significant portion of the business and professional classes. They do not fear bloodshed were there to be a regime change. What they fear is being treated like second-class citizens. A victory by the opposition forces could lead to the emigration of hundreds of thousands of Syrian Chris­tians (Current History, December).

Anonymous Christian?

Abraham Lincoln, a skeptic and a free thinker, never joined a church. However, he did have close contact with several Presbyterian pastors. James Smith, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Illinois, preached the funeral sermon for Lincoln’s son Eddie. Afterward, Mary Todd Lincoln joined his church and Lincoln became his friend. Phineas D. Gurley, pastor of the New York Presbyterian Church, often visited Lincoln at the White House to discuss the Bible and theology. Lincoln frequently attended this congregation’s midweek prayer service. Lincoln sat in the pastor’s study with the door ajar, to avoid making a commotion over his presence (Presbyterian News Service, December 20).

Bricks, mortar and books

When the two bookstores in Nashville, Tennessee, shut down, writer Ann Patchett and a friend cooked up the idea of starting an independent bookstore. People scoffed at the idea, saying that there is no future for bookstores—and perhaps not for books in a digital world. Patchett knew, however, that the bookstores that had closed had been profitable. They closed because of actions by their parent companies. “People still want books,” Patchett said. “I’ve got the numbers to prove it.” She said she hadn’t counted on one benefit of starting a bookstore: “I could talk strangers into reading books that I love” (Atlantic, December).

Proselytized

Blake Page decided to quit the U.S. Military Academy only six months before graduation because he said he could no longer be part of a culture that promoted prayer and religious activities. In a Huffington Post column, Page charged that prayers were routinely included at mandatory school events and that nonreligious cadets were jokingly referred to as heathen (Chris­tian Science Monitor, December 7).

Typecast

Social scientists from University of Southern California, the University of Virginia and New York University investigated the moral stereotypes that political liberals and conservatives have of each other. Not surprisingly, they discovered that liberals and conservatives tend to exaggerate the tendencies of their polar opposites. Each extreme tends to exaggerate their own moral commitments. Surprisingly, their study showed that liberals are less accurate in describing both themselves and their conservative opposites than conservatives are. Liberals, for example, tended to underemphasize conservatives’ commitment to the protection and fair treatment of individuals (PLOS One, December).