Century Marks

Century Marks

Mind blowing

In a famous medical case of the 19th century, Phineas Gage, a railroad worker, prematurely set off a charge. The blast sent a tamping iron through his cheek and out the top of his head, damaging his frontal cortex. Gage maintained all his intellectual capacities, but he was no longer able to control his own actions. His doctor said, “Gage was no longer Gage.” Philosopher Nancey Murphy says that this case is a clear indication that morality and prudence are functions located in a part of the brain, not lodged in the “soul.” This case, and others like it, raise questions for neuroscientists and philosophers about moral responsibility and personal identity (Interpretation, January).

Textbook case

Palestinian textbooks have long been criticized for demonizing Israelis and even calling Jews pigs. A recent study of textbooks for Palestinians, Israelis and ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel concluded that though textbooks of both sides are one-sided, demonization of others is rare in any of them. The most extreme examples of a negative bias were found in the ultra-Orthodox textbooks. Both Israeli and Palestinian textbooks avoid acknowledging the existence of the other’s territory. Only 4 percent of Palestinian textbooks show the green line, which separates their territory in the West Bank from Israel. On the other side, 76 percent of Israeli textbooks fail to label the Palestinian territories and show no boundaries between Israel and Palestine. Bruce Wexler of Yale, who led the study, said: “The idea of maps is to represent reality; here it represents fantasy.” The study was sponsored by the U.S. State Department (Guardian, February 3).


Last October reporter Clare Morgana Gillis visited the northwest corner of Syria. The Free Syrian Army had recently pushed the Syrian regime’s forces out of the region, but it was still being shelled. Gillis found decimated forests, abandoned villages, unpicked olives weighing down their branches, apples rotting on the trees. One elderly farmer, waving two guns, said: “Nobody outside is hearing us. . . . People all through the Muslim world made demonstrations about this Muhammad video. This is junk! God will protect Muhammad--who is protecting us?” A Catholic priest in a mostly abandoned Christian village said: “This is not our war. It’s between Sunnis, Alawites and Shia. . . . Christians refuse to take arms—our weapon is to pray” (American Scholar, Web exclusive).

Mission creep

Historically Americans tended to be suspicious of standing armies, preferring instead to use temporary militias. It was not until World War II that a standing army was established, with some dissent. Robert Taft, a Republican senator from Ohio, predicted accurately in May 1941 that if the United States were to enter the war, it would have “to maintain a police force perpetually in Germany and throughout Europe.” A permanent Department of Defense wasn’t established until after the war. Now the U.S. not only has a standing army, it has perpetual war, argues Jill Lepore—war perpetuated by what President Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex. Lockheed Martin alone has annual defense contracts of about $30 billion and spends $15 million a year on lobbying and campaign contributions (New Yorker, January 28).

Not just for clergy

The Academy of Parish Clergy 2013 Book of the Year Award goes to Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World, by Brian D. McLaren (Jericho). The Reference Book of the Year Award goes to The New Testament: A Historical and Theological Intro­duction, by Donald A. Hagner (Baker Academic). The Top Ten Books for Parish Ministry published in 2012 are: Sara Gaston Barton, A Woman Called: Piecing Together the Ministry Puzzle (Leafwood Publishers); Diana Butler Bass, Chris­tianity after Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening (HarperOne); John Swinton, Dementia: Living in the Mem­ories of God (Eerd­mans); Gregory L. Hunt, Leading Con­gre­gations through Crisis (Chalice); Fred Craddock, Dale Goldsmith and Joy V. Goldsmith, Speak­ing of Dying: Recovering the Church’s Voice in the Face of Death (Brazos); Lauren F. Winner, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis (HarperOne); John Dominic Crossan, The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus (HarperOne); Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey, The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America (University of North Carolina Press); Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Com­mentary (Eerd­mans); Justin Lee, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate (Jericho).