Century Marks

Century Marks

Darwin’s surprise

In early editions of On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin didn’t express any religious beliefs, but he ended the book’s third edition with a hymn in praise of God. He was in awe of the fact that “from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved.” He wrote that the Creator had originally breathed life “into a few forms or into one.” Darwin’s 19th-century critics might not have been so surprised at this expression of religious wonder if they had known about the one book Darwin took with him on his voyages: Milton’s Paradise Lost (Roger Rosenblatt, Kayak Morning, Ecco).

Sans dogma

The service begins with a song, but instead of playing a hymn, the band plays “Don’t Stop Me Now,” by Queen. There is a reading, time for silent reflection and time for greeting others.  This is the pattern at an atheist “church,” which meets in a deconsecrated church in Islington, north of London. In place of a sermon on a recent Sunday, a Cambridge University physicist talked about wonder. An offering is taken to care for the facility, and the group intends to organize for community service in the future. Its motto: “Live better, help often, wonder more.” An enthusiastic participant said, “It’s got all the good things about church without the terrible dogma” (Guardian, February 3).

Case for repeal

The editors of the Jesuit magazine America (February 25) have called for the United States to repeal the Second Amendment. The editors agree with the 2008 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court that the amendment impedes the government in controlling the possession and use of firearms. Yet empirical evidence shows, they say, that a reduction in the number of guns reduces the number of deaths. The America editors realize it wouldn’t be easy to repeal an amendment that has become ingrained in American life, but they point to the example of the 21st Amendment repealing the 18th, which prohibited alcoholic beverages.

Checkmate

The success of the chess team at Brooklyn’s Intermediate School 318 demolishes the notion that chess is a game of the privileged. Last year the middle school’s team won the national high school championship, beating players who were as much as four years older. More than half the students at IS-318 come from families with incomes below the federal poverty level. Carlos Tapia is a typical player on the team. His Mexican-American parents don’t know how to play chess. Despite the team’s accomplishments, funding for extracurricular activities at the school is drying up (Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, January 30).

Repentance

The Amish, like many Protestants, have blamed the Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus. As pacifists, they haven’t been supportive of Israel, regarding Israel as an aggressive and militant state. A group of 31 Amish from the United States and Canada recently visited Israel to express their regrets for these positions. In a statement the delegation said: “We, the Amish and Anabaptist people, turned away from the Jewish nation while they were in their darkest hour of need. We hardened our hearts against them, we left them—never lifting our voices in protest against the atrocities that were committed against them. We want to publicly repent of this and acknowledge our support of Israel.” The group attracted attention by singing hymns at the Western Wall of the Temple Mount (Jerusalem Post, February 11).