Century Marks

Century Marks

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).

Long-term care

Russell Dohner, 87, has been practicing medicine in the small town of Rushville, Illinois, for nearly 60 years. He refuses to quit, even though he is stooped and increasingly frail. And he still charges just $5 for each visit—or nothing at all if patients can’t afford that meager amount. People remember his kindnesses. One woman recalls how Dohner came to her house and sat by her sister’s crib all night when she suffered from seizures. Dohner’s nurse is 85 and his receptionist 84 (Chicago Tribune, August 26).

Energized

On a very windy day last April, Colorado’s largest utility company generated 57 percent of its power from wind, a national record. Overall, the United States gets just 3 percent of its power from wind, and utility companies are reluctant to become more dependent upon it due to its variability (CNN.com, August 6). The San Antonio Water System has agreed to be the first site to host an experimental system that produces renewable energy from the flow of water in municipal pipelines. The system incorporates vertical axis turbines that generate electricity in large, gravity-fed pipelines (WaterWorld.com).

Biblical insanity

A sample sermon issued by the Church of England to tackle the stigma of mental illness suggests that some biblical characters could be diagnosed as having had mental disease. King Saul’s mood swings might have been signs of bipolar disorder. St. Paul’s Damascus road experience could have involved some sort of breakdown or psychotic episode. And the New Testament suggests that Jesus’ own family suspected that he was losing his mind. People who find these suggestions offensive should consider this question: “Do we mistakenly believe that God cannot or will not work through people with mental illness?” (Daily Express, August 28).

Cardinal virtues

Chinese Cardinal Paul Shan Kuo-hsi passed away last month after a six-year battle with lung cancer. He considered cancer a blessing, as it gave him a chance to explain his faith to many people. In his final years he gave priority to ministering to three groups: intellectuals, condemned prisoners and people of other religions. When asked if he was afraid to die, he responded: “No! Dying is falling into the loving arms of God” (Vatican Insider, August 23).