Century Marks

Century Marks

Locked up

In 1970 the number of Americans in prison was fewer than one in 400; today that figure stands at one in 100, largely due to tougher laws and longer, mandatory sentences. One study found that if a person were arrested for aggravated assault at age 18 but managed to stay out of trouble until age 22, the risk of a repeat offense was no greater than it is for the rest of the population. Imprisonment is expensive: it costs California about $50,000 a year per prisoner--in a state where only a seventh of that amount is spent on education (Economist, July 24).


Occupational hazard II

In a New York Times op-ed piece (August 7) G. Jeffrey MacDonald argues that no amount of time taken off by pastors will address the main source of their stress: a consumer-driven religion which expects them to be spiritual concierges. "The pastoral vocation is to help people grow spiritually, resist their lowest impulses and adopt higher, more compassionate ways," says MacDonald, a United Church of Christ pastor and author of Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul. "But churchgoers increasingly want pastors to soothe and entertain them." He understands the pressure: the advisory committee in his own small Massachusetts congregation told him to keep his sermons to ten minutes, tell funny stories and help people feel good about themselves. The implicit message was "give us the comforting, amusing fare we want or we'll get our spiritual leadership from someone else."

Cloistered chants

An order of cloistered Benedictine nuns near Avignon, France, was picked as the world's finest female singers of Gregorian chant following a search by Decca Records. The nuns' order dates back to the sixth century. Their convent remains closed to the outside world, and its rules prohibit record company executives from entering the abbey. The nuns will film their own television commercial and photograph their own album cover. The album, Voices—Chant from Avignon, will be released in November (Catholic News Agency).

Flagging injustice

Churches throughout India were urged to hoist black flags for a day last month to protest discrimination faced by Christian Dalits, people from low castes treated as untouchables. The protest marks the 60th anniversary of the introduction of free education and reserved government jobs for Hindu Dalits. Such benefits were extended to Sikh Dalits in 1956 and then to Buddhist Dalits in 1990. Christian Dalits, who account for two thirds of some 28 million Christians in India, as well as Muslim Dalits, are denied these rights.

Swear not

The Church of Sweden is considering imposing fines on swearing at Synod meetings following the outbreak of profanity at last year's annual meeting. The proposal, slated for a vote this month, points out that soccer trainers are fined $70 for swearing during games (UPI).