An estimated 50 to 100 pilgrims to the Holy Land each year are afflicted by what psychiatrists call the Jerusalem syndrome. Most of them are evangelical Christians. One woman was convinced she was Jesus' mother, searching for her baby in Bethlehem. Another man was convinced he was King David. In some cases, people come to think of themselves as the Messiah. "There's a joke in psychiatry: if you talk to God, it's called praying; if God talks to you, you're nuts. In Jerusalem God seems to be particularly chatty around Easter, Passover and Christmas--the peak seasons for the syndrome," writes Chris Nashawaty in Wired magazine (March). The best cure is to leave the Holy Land.
Doubt about doubts
Mar 01, 2012
In a public debate last month with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, atheist Richard Dawkins surprised the audience by conceding a bit of doubt about his conviction that there is no such thing as a creator. But the evolutionary biologist swiftly added that he was "6.9 out of seven" certain of his long-standing atheist beliefs. "What I can't understand is why you can't see [that life started from nothing] is such a staggering, elegant, beautiful thing, why would you want to clutter it up with something so messy as a God," Dawkins told Williams. The archbishop replied that he "entirely agreed" with the "beauty" part of Dawkins's statement, but added, "I'm not talking about God as an extra who you can shoehorn into that" (RNS).
Mar 01, 2012
The late Stieg Larsson, author of the hugely successful Millennium trilogy, grew up in the northern part of Sweden sometimes known as the Bible Belt. While the Lutheran church was the state church of Sweden until 2000, renewal groups emerged in the 19th century, especially in the north. These groups emphasized a personal relationship with God, daily Bible reading and a rigorous personal morality. While Larsson's own upbringing was in a family dominated by communist and Social Democratic workers, this Bible Belt milieu seems to have acquainted him with the Bible. The first novel in the Millennium series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, uses scripture texts as codes in the mystery (Eva Gabrielsson, "There Are Things I Want You to Know" about Stieg Larsson and Me, Seven Stories Press).
Mar 01, 2012
Monroe Beachy has been labeled the Bernie Madoff of the Amish community in eastern Ohio. Beachy has been accused by federal prosecutors of running a Ponzi scheme that betrayed the trust of many Amish and Mennonite individuals, charities and congregations. His bankruptcy has wiped out about $16 million in savings. Many investors in Beachy's firm have said it is more important to forgive him than to recover their money, and some have said that other investors with greater needs should be given priority in recovering losses. Federal officials rejected an Amish plea to work on a settlement of the case within their own community. Beachy goes on trial this month for mail fraud charges that could earn him a prison sentence of up to 20 years (New York Times, February 25).
Pulpit and politics
Mar 01, 2012
In a 2006 survey, 32 percent of Americans who belonged to a congregation reported hearing sermons with political content as often as once every month or two. By 2011 that number had dropped off to 19 percent. Perhaps preachers have gotten the message: while people on the right typically like the fusing of religion and politics, moderates and progressives have an aversion to politics being imposed through religion. This aversion is true across the ages, but especially for millennials who are leaving the church in greater numbers than their parents' and grandparents' generations did, in part because of the intrusion of politics (Foreign Affairs, March/April; adapted from American Grace, by David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam).