Century Marks

Century Marks

Abortion numbers

Research at Washington University’s School of Med­icine indicates that unwanted pregnancies and abortions drop dramatically when free contraception is available. In this study, 9,000 St. Louis women re­ceived free contraception. Teen pregnancy in this group numbered 6.3 births per 1,000 teenagers, compared to 34 births per 1,000 teens nationally. Abor­tions among the women in the study numbered 4.4 to 7.5 per 1,000 women, compared to national figures of 13.4 to 17 abortions per 1,000. The Affordable Care Act pays for contraception for woman. More than 30 federal lawsuits have been filed challenging the contraception mandate, mostly by anti­abortion groups (Religion Dispatches, October 22).

Real presence

Tarn Wilson, a high school English teacher, sat with a student after school to talk with her about a memoir the student had written concerning her depression and attempt at suicide. Wilson asked the student, “What helped?” The student responded that she had been helped by friends who encouraged her, who argued for life, even at times when she was too sullen to respond. Then she said: “Just being there. Physically. Being there. You don’t have to say anything at all” (Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Summer/Autumn).

Making the cut

The United States and Germany seem to be going in different directions on the practice of male circumcision. The American Acad­emy of Pediatrics released a statement indicating that for parents who choose it, circumcision is warranted on the basis of a medical risk-benefit analysis. In Germany there has been an effort to criminalize the procedure and to institute a two-year moratorium on the practice. An outcry from religious groups led Chancellor Angela Merkel to ask the Justice Ministry to draft legislation that would protect the right of religious groups like Jews and Muslims to continue the practice if the circumciser is properly trained, parents provide informed consent and effective analgesia is used. A secularized Europe does not seem to understand the religious significance of this ritual (Michelle Harrington, Sightings, October 18).

On a mission

The Church of the Holy Spirit in Lake Forest, Illinois, has been asking itself: “Is the church doing and being what it is called to do and be?” As part of that reflection, parish leaders decided to consult with nearby Willow Creek, an evangelical megachurch—a move that made some people in the congregation unhappy. One parishioner said that less damage would have been done if a grenade had been thrown down the church’s center aisle. The leaders persisted in their consultation, however. What they learned is that the spiritual vitality of any congregation flows from the vitality of its members and that leadership is key: leaders must lead by example (Anglican Theological Review, Summer).

Wake-up call

Neurosurgeon Eben Alexander believed that there is a scientific explanation for near-death experiences—until he had one of his own. What was unusual about his near-death experience was that his cortex, the part of the brain that makes us human, was inactivated during a seven-day coma. He has no doubt that his inner self was alive and well during that time. Through most of his near-death journey, Alexander was accompanied by a young woman. Without using words, she conveyed a three-part message to him: “You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever.” “You have nothing to fear.” “There is nothing you can do wrong.” He wants to spend the rest of his life studying consciousness and show that humans are much more than their physical brains (Proof of Heaven, Simon & Schuster, excerpted in Newsweek, October 8).