Century Marks

Century Marks


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).

Slippery slope

According to Cul­len Murphy (God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World), the church did no worse in using torture than modern states, and there is some evidence to show that the church behaved better. The church put limits on the use of torture: how severe and how often, when it could be used and by whom. But the limits could be stretched. If a second session of torture was prohibited, its use was sometimes construed as the continuance of a previous session (American Scholar, Winter).

Teacher, teacher

A longitudinal study that followed students from fourth grade into adulthood gives empirical proof that good (or bad) teachers do make a difference. Having a good teacher in the fourth grade alone increases by 1.25 percent the likelihood that a student will go to college and decreases the chance by the same amount that a female student as a teenager will get pregnant. Having a very poor teacher is tantamount to a student's missing 40 percent of the school year, an intolerable truancy rate. Nicholas D. Kristof notes that the quality of public school education is hardly getting any notice in the primary campaigns. Improving the quality of education may be the most essential strategy for the nation's economic development and job creation in the future (New York Times, January 11).