Century Marks

Century Marks

Marriage flicks

When Jeanine Basinger decided to write a book about the portrayal of marriage in movies, she discovered that Hollywood isn’t much interested in marriage. Few movies treat the subject, and those that do are marketed as movies about love or romance. One movie executive said that you can’t get an audience interested in a man and a woman being faithfully married. Basinger identified another problem: “Marriage took time, and movies had no time to give to it. . . . Novels could be written about marriages, and plays could crystallize their tensions into significant scenes of dialogues; but . . . what were movies to do in 90 minutes?” (I Do and I Don’t, excerpted in Salon, February 3).

Loaded argument

Gun rights activists have argued that Hitler’s gun control laws left European Jews defenseless and that the Holocaust would not have happened—or at least would not have been as catastrophic—if Jews had had guns. The Anti-Defamation League has objected to the use of Nazi analogies to advance any political cause. An ADL spokesperson said that armed people couldn’t have stopped the totalitarian power of the Nazi state. Some European Jews had access to a small number of firearms. At most they could put up symbolic resistance, as happened in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising (RNS).

Carbon fast

For the third year in a row the Massachusetts Conference of the United Christ of Church is sponsoring an Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast. Participants receive an e-mail each day during Lent suggesting an action one can take that day to reduce one’s carbon footprint. Actions include eliminating “vampire” electrical use by unplugging appliances, reducing driving speed and buying local produce. More than 10,000 people participated in previous fasts (macucc.org/carbonfast).

Mind blowing

In a famous medical case of the 19th century, Phineas Gage, a railroad worker, prematurely set off a charge. The blast sent a tamping iron through his cheek and out the top of his head, damaging his frontal cortex. Gage maintained all his intellectual capacities, but he was no longer able to control his own actions. His doctor said, “Gage was no longer Gage.” Philosopher Nancey Murphy says that this case is a clear indication that morality and prudence are functions located in a part of the brain, not lodged in the “soul.” This case, and others like it, raise questions for neuroscientists and philosophers about moral responsibility and personal identity (Interpretation, January).

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).