Century Marks

Century Marks

Two of a kind

President Obama chose former senator Chuck Hagel as his next secretary of defense because they both have an aversion to war, says journalist Bob Woodward. They both think that the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan was bungled and that the invasion of Iraq was unnecessary. Hagel thinks foreign policy should come from the White House, not the Defense Department. Hagel taught a course at Georgetown University called Re­defining Geopolitical Relation­ships. He believes that the Iraq war made Iran the strongest country in the region, and he worries that Iraq will become an Iranian satellite. A veteran of the Vietnam War, he contends that the U.S. needs to avoid massive land wars (Washington Post, January 27).

Humble laws

Traditional Islamic law made a distinction between Shari‘a (divine law) and fiqh (human articulation of that law). Islamic law is humble, holding that no human being can absolutely know God’s law (Shari‘a); it is also pluralistic, allowing for different interpretations. Premodern Islamic governments recognized this distinction and allowed for a variety of interpretations of fiqh, respecting different Islamic legal schools. The enactment of Shari‘a in Muslim-majority states today blurs this distinction. These Muslim states are a modern mutation owing much to the European nation-state model. Americans shouldn’t be concerned when Muslims want to live according to Shari‘a, for that doesn’t mean they want the state to rule by it (Asifa Quraishi-Landes, “Sharia and Diversity: Why Americans Are Missing the Point,” Institute for Social Policy and Understanding report).


Last October reporter Clare Morgana Gillis visited the northwest corner of Syria. The Free Syrian Army had recently pushed the Syrian regime’s forces out of the region, but it was still being shelled. Gillis found decimated forests, abandoned villages, unpicked olives weighing down their branches, apples rotting on the trees. One elderly farmer, waving two guns, said: “Nobody outside is hearing us. . . . People all through the Muslim world made demonstrations about this Muhammad video. This is junk! God will protect Muhammad--who is protecting us?” A Catholic priest in a mostly abandoned Christian village said: “This is not our war. It’s between Sunnis, Alawites and Shia. . . . Christians refuse to take arms—our weapon is to pray” (American Scholar, Web exclusive).

Mission creep

Historically Americans tended to be suspicious of standing armies, preferring instead to use temporary militias. It was not until World War II that a standing army was established, with some dissent. Robert Taft, a Republican senator from Ohio, predicted accurately in May 1941 that if the United States were to enter the war, it would have “to maintain a police force perpetually in Germany and throughout Europe.” A permanent Department of Defense wasn’t established until after the war. Now the U.S. not only has a standing army, it has perpetual war, argues Jill Lepore—war perpetuated by what President Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex. Lockheed Martin alone has annual defense contracts of about $30 billion and spends $15 million a year on lobbying and campaign contributions (New Yorker, January 28).

Not just for clergy

The Academy of Parish Clergy 2013 Book of the Year Award goes to Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World, by Brian D. McLaren (Jericho). The Reference Book of the Year Award goes to The New Testament: A Historical and Theological Intro­duction, by Donald A. Hagner (Baker Academic). The Top Ten Books for Parish Ministry published in 2012 are: Sara Gaston Barton, A Woman Called: Piecing Together the Ministry Puzzle (Leafwood Publishers); Diana Butler Bass, Chris­tianity after Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening (HarperOne); John Swinton, Dementia: Living in the Mem­ories of God (Eerd­mans); Gregory L. Hunt, Leading Con­gre­gations through Crisis (Chalice); Fred Craddock, Dale Goldsmith and Joy V. Goldsmith, Speak­ing of Dying: Recovering the Church’s Voice in the Face of Death (Brazos); Lauren F. Winner, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis (HarperOne); John Dominic Crossan, The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus (HarperOne); Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey, The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America (University of North Carolina Press); Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Com­mentary (Eerd­mans); Justin Lee, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate (Jericho).