Century Marks

Century Marks

Price of conversion

The chief Sephardic rabbi in Israel is accusing foreign Orthodox rabbis of accepting bribes for certifying conversions to Judaism. One rabbi allegedly received $1 million for one conversion. The Sephardic rabbi said this is happening in North and South America as well as in Europe. The allegations arose during discussion of a two-year-old policy that stipulates that conversions aren't accepted unless the Orthodox rabbis honoring them are members of designated rabbinical organizations. The policy has resulted in some converts being denied immigration rights under Israel's law of return (Haaretz, March 17).

Getting it wrong

Studies have shown that peoples are often mistaken when they claim to remember where they were when they heard the news of the death of John Kennedy or Princess Diana. And when confronted with evidence of their error, people still cling to their original claims. Kathryn Schulz says in Being Wrong that a challenge to one's belief can make a person move "from noncommittal to evangelical in milliseconds." People can admit mistakes, however. Schultz points to the case of C. P. Ellis, once the head Klansman in Durham, North Carolina. Having seen the error of his ways, Ellis spent the latter part of his life working toward justice for blacks (review by Raymond Tallis, Times Literary Supplement, March 18).

Unholy writ?

The fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison did not share the opinion of many American Chris­tians today that the U.S. Constitution is a sacred and God-blessed document. Garrison blamed the Constitution for the institution of slavery and called it a compact between the North and the South, "a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell." He even burned a copy of the Constitution as an act of protest (John Fea, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? Westminster John Knox).

Secularization theory

A team of mathematicians is predicting that religion will eventually become nearly extinct in nine countries: Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Nether­lands, Austria, the Czech Repub­lic, Finland and Switzerland. The data from these countries show "unaffiliated" as the fastest growing group. They base their conclusion on two sociological principles: that it is more attractive to be part of the majority than the minority, and that there are social, political and economic advantages to being unaffiliated in countries where religion is in decline. The researchers say they can't make predictions about the United States because the U.S. census doesn't ask questions about religion (Redeye, March 24).

God in the lab

In a survey conducted by Elaine Howard Ecklund, 42 percent of scientists at elite American universities said that religion has a role to play in the university. It helps students deal with difficult circumstances, and it can provide ethical guidance on issues that arise in research. Nearly 50 percent of academic scientists have a religious identity and more than 50 percent have an interest in spirituality. Scientists who are believers, however, are reluctant to bring up religion be­cause of a perceived bias against it. They tend to express their faith in small ways, such as in their interactions with students (HuffingtonPost.com, March 23).