Century Marks

Century Marks

Nietzsche in America

In the years surrounding the turn of the 20th century, some American intellectuals were infatuated with philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. People as different as William James, H. L. Mencken, Margaret Sanger and Ayn Rand were attracted to his ideas and the tortured personality that produced them. How could this son of a Lutheran minister declare that God is dead and rail against the idea of universal truth? Some Christian leaders pushed back at Nietzsche, notably theologian Walter Rauschenbusch. As a social gospel proponent, Rauschenbusch saw in Nietzsche's philosophy an expression of the brutal nature of laissez-faire capitalism (Wilson Quarterly, Winter).

Shari‘a law

Churches in India have decried the verdict of an Islamic court in Kashmir that ordered the expulsion of a Protestant pastor and a Dutch Catholic missionary. Muslim groups pressed charges against the pastor for baptizing five Muslims and a Hindu. While the pastor was released on bail, the Shari'a court went ahead with its own trial. Muslims are the majority in this part of India, and they make up a majority of students and teachers even in Christian schools (ENI).


Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, says doctrine is needed in order to help Christians know how God acts in creation and in transformation. We must have doctrine in order to know what it is that we are to be attuned to. "But if doctrine doesn't make possible poetry and contemplation, then doctrine is a waste of time," he says. This "is where the poetic and contemplative touch the prophetic, because the prophetic is all about the diagnosis of dead words and false acts. The prophetic task is to smell out death in a situation" (Williams, A Silent Action).


The Salafists are the most influential movement in the Muslim world today, says Muslim scholar Rabia Terri Harris. They were originally an anti-imperial movement that resisted the Ottoman Empire. Harris believes that all radical Muslims groups, such as the Salafists, al-Qaeda and the Taliban, are inclined to violence and to utopianism as a consequence of the trauma inflicted on the Muslim world by the Ottoman Empire, Western nations and autocratic Muslim governments. "The solution to trauma is not more trauma; it is healing," says Harris. "The solution to traumatized Islam is not further attacks on Islam; it is supporting natural regeneration from within" (Interfaith Just Peacemaking, edited by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite).


The late Václav Havel, the dissident Czech writer who became his country's president after the fall of the iron curtain, differentiated between hope and optimism. Hope, he said, "is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, and orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. . . . It is an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. . . . [Hope] is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out" (Pro Ecclesia, Winter).