Century Marks

Century Marks

Joking around

While religion played a role in the Egyptian protests (see "Muslims and Copts together"), so did humor. The garbage pile that accumulated in Tahrir Square was labeled the National Democratic Party headquarters—the name of Hosni Mubarak's party. After the vice president accused the protesters of having foreign agendas, youth started showing up with blank notebooks, proclaiming to each other, "Whoops, I left my 'agenda' at home." One woman, in an e-mail, likened Mubarak's reign to a long, loveless marriage: "After 30 years with my husband I feel like I need a new start, but he ­doesn't feel the same way, and now I can't get rid of him." The humor built camaraderie among the protesters and provided a safe means of defying the regime (The Atlantic, February).

Praying together

People who attend religious services regularly and build friendships within their congregation indicate higher levels of satisfaction with their lives, according to a Faith Matters survey of American adults conducted from 2006 to 2007. Strength of religious convictions and private religious practices such as prayer do not by themselves indicate higher levels of satisfaction. What matters is a strong sense of religious identity and belonging and the forging of friendships within one's faith community. "It is neither faith nor communities, per se, that are important, but communities of faith," report the authors of the study. "For life satisfaction, praying together seems to be better than either bowling together or praying alone" (Chaeyoon Lim and Robert D. Putnam in American Sociological Review, December 2010).

Shrinking church

Barely half of the population of El Salvador is Catholic now, and the number of Catholics in Honduras and Belize has dropped below half, with Nicaragua not far behind. Some Salvadorans left the Catholic Church after Archbishop Óscar Romero was murdered in 1980, because it was dangerous then to be associated with the church. More recently, Catholics have been drawn to evangelical Protestant churches, and the prosperity gospel is a draw in poor countries. Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama have bucked this trend and remain strongly Catholic (Economist, February 5).

Evolution in the church

Some pro-evolution folks have come up with a snarky response to those who think creationism should be taught in public schools—a bumper sticker which reads, "So can I teach evolution in your church?" Paul Wallace, a professor of astronomy and physics who is now attending seminary, argues that if evolution were taught in churches, it would enhance congregants' appreciation for mystery and their understanding of God. Christians opposed to evolution are guilty of "small-god-ism." "If 'God' is not large enough to contain this universe in all its immensity and complexity and age, then it's just not God," says Wallace (Religion Dispatches, February 9).

Smells and bells

Nathan D. Mitchell says that his earliest memories of church are attached to smells: the incense, the musty odor of the cloth veiling the priest in the confessional, the  aroma of the floor wax in the corridor leading to the parish school. There is, of course, a close connection between smell and memory. Mitchell laments that so much liturgical reform and renewal makes intelligibility of the faith the centerpiece rather than sensory perception. "The unintentional consequence is a liturgy which 'explains' rather than evokes, speaks rather than sings, drones rather than dances, and skulks rather than soars" (Worship, January).