Century Marks

Century Marks

Despiser of religion

Robert Inger­soll was a late 19th-century agnostic who spoke to more Americans than U.S. presidents did, at a time when public lectures were a source of information and entertainment. Known by his clerical opponents as Robert Injuresoul, he argued that the United States was the first secular government in world history, and he introduced Darwinism with skillful humor. Ingersoll was the son of an unsuccessful Presbyterian minister and, like his hero Abraham Lincoln, self-taught. Though little known today, he influenced such figures as Clara Barton, Clarence Darrow, Mark Twain and Mar­garet Sanger (American Scholar, Winter).

Poverty and riches

Only three other countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have a higher degree of income inequality than the United States: Chile, Mexico and Turkey. One reason for the inequality in the U.S. is that a smaller share of national output is targeted for social programs, designed to lessen inequalities. Germany devoted 27.8 percent of its gross domestic product to such programs in 2009, compared to 19.2 percent in the U.S. Tax policies in the U.S. also are not as effective in reducing the effect of inequalities. The division of earnings in the U.S. favors the wealthy more than other developed countries. Finally, there is an attitude problem: the poor in the U.S. are more likely to be accused of laziness. The myth endures that people can become wealthy in the U.S. if they work hard enough, despite recent research which shows that Americans are less likely to rise to a class above that of their parents than are people in other wealthy nations (Reuters).

Marked

Chris Baker is a tattoo artist who sports tattoos on his legs and arms. He also is a Christian minister. Baker has started a not-for-profit organization dedicated to removing tattoos for people who no longer embrace the lifestyle that the tattoos represent—which is often gang membership, drug addiction or prostitution. In a recent case, Baker volunteered to remove the tattoo from a reformed prostitute who had been enslaved in sex trafficking. She was branded with a tattoo by her former pimp, who is now in prison. “Anytime I can get rid of a trafficking tattoo is a good day,” Baker said. “Trafficking is not a choice people make” (Chicago Tribune, December 27).

Misplaced faith

Pryor Creek Community Church in Oklahoma is one of a number of congregations that sponsor classes on using concealed weapons. Pryor Creek and the others see it as a way of reaching out to new people and gaining members. These churches are facing sharp criticism in the wake of the school shootings in Connecticut. Richard Cizik of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good says he grew up in gun country and isn’t opposed to the Second Amendment. But “the gospel should be ‘Put your faith in Christ,’” Cizik says. These church programs teaching people to use guns seem to suggest “Put your faith in Glock” (RNS).

Open doors

The Occupy Wall Street movement initially got the cold shoulder from some churches, but attitudes changed in New York City after Hurricane Sandy. Members of Occupy organized a relief effort called Occupy Sandy, and churches in Brooklyn, Staten Island and Coney Island opened their doors as organizing hubs and supply centers. Occupiers won the trust of locals by helping clean up damaged churches and serving people passed over by state-sponsored efforts. And they cleared pews of supplies before worship services so that the sanctuaries could be used by their congregations. Even before Sandy, the Occupy movement was reaching out to faith groups with a program called Rolling Jubilee, an effort to buy up defaulted debts for pennies on the dollar and then liquidate the debts (Utne Reader, December 20).