Century Marks

Century Marks

Flip-flop

Utah is arguably the most conservative state in the United States. Its many Mormon residents often assume that the Republican Party is God’s Party. In their early days, however, Mormons were so overwhelmingly Democratic that Brigham Young assigned some families to support Republicans in order to foster a climate of bipartisanship. Utah voted for Franklin D. Roosevelt four times and for his Democratic successor, Harry Truman. Utah flipped to the Republican Party in the 1950s in response to the cold war and later in reaction to the civil rights movement and youth unrest. The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision on abortion sealed Republican support in Utah (Mary Barker, Religion Dispatches).

Best books on the Puritans

  • Perry Miller, The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century and The New England Mind: From Colony to Province. Miller, an atheist and heavy drinker who is widely regarded as the greatest historian of American Puritanism, admired the Puritans as serious intellectuals who lived out their beliefs.
  • Edmund Morgan, The Puritan Family. Morgan, Miller’s student, gives a sympathetic treatment of the warmth and passion of Puritan family life that belies the stereotype of Puritans as legalistic killjoys.
  • Charles Hambrick-Stowe, The Practice of Piety. Hambrick-Stowe brilliantly explicates the Puritans’ devotional practices and their fervent love of God.
  • Harry Stout, The New England Soul. While Miller emphasized the changing nature of Puritanism in America, Stout finds that Puritan theology, focused on the doctrine of covenant, remained quite stable throughout the colonial era.
  • Jill Lepore, The Name of War. Lepore compellingly recounts the tragic, brutal history of the Puritan war with Native Ameri­cans in the 1670s, which in terms of the percentage of people killed remains one of the deadliest wars in American history (Thomas Kidd, Patheos, July 17).

Jesus’ complexion

Many Americans were disturbed when video clips of Jeremiah Wright surfaced in 2008 showing him preaching about a black Jesus crucified by white Roman centurions. Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey, authors of The Color of Christ, point out that the features of another image of Jesus hardly get noticed: Christus, an 11-foot white marble Jesus at the Mormon visitors’ center in Salt Lake City, is a central part of Mormon iconography. The statue, a replica of a work by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, shows a Northern European–looking Jesus. It fits with what Joseph Smith said was revealed to him about Jesus: that he had fair skin and blue eyes (Huff Post Religion, September 9).

Denominational decline

Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism, the two most liberal Jewish groups in the United States, are losing about 1 percent of their members each year, according Steven Cohen, sociologist at Hebrew Union College. Interreligious marriage is a significant cause: only 15 to 20 percent of interfaith families join a synagogue, and those who do are less active or leave the synagogue after the bar mitzvah of their last child. Jews tend to live in blue states where the rate of religious affiliation is the lowest. The largest “denomination” declared by American Jews is “none” (Economist, July 28).

Target audience

Despite the fact that President Obama has done virtually nothing to restrict firearms, the National Rifle Association and the firearms industry warn that Obama will take guns away from law-abiding citizens. The message is good for business. Last year the firearms industry had an overall economic impact of $31.8 billion. Employment is up in the industry 31 percent since 2008. Remington alone sold more than 1 million guns and 2 billion rounds of ammunition in 2011, its third most profitable year in the last two decades—outdone only by the two previous years. The NRA has said that a second term for Obama would result in an all-out war on Second Amendment rights. However, the Brady Center, which lobbies for gun control, has given Obama an F on efforts to control guns (Nation Institute, September 2).