Century Marks

Century Marks

Aid follows media

There are tens of thousands of humanitarian workers who roam the world responding to natural and human-made disasters. They are backed by an estimated $15 billion each year contributed by governments, foundations and individuals. Remarkably, it wasn't until after World War II that governments and nongovernmental organizations began to launch concerted relief and aid programs. Aid tends to follow media attention: CNN coverage helped an outpouring of contributions to Haiti relief after the earthquake last year. Because the flood in Pakistan didn't get as much media attention, victims there didn't get nearly the aid needed even though the flood affected millions more than the earthquake in Haiti (Christian Science Monitor, January 10).

Tales out of church

The notion that Americans are more religious than people in other developed countries may be about perception as much as reality. Philip Brenner of the University of Michigan conducted a time-use study to determine how often Americans actually go to church. The study indicates that Americans say they go to church about twice as much as they actually do. The gap wasn't nearly as big in European countries or Japan. Ironically, the gap was even larger in Canada, where religious observance isn't as socially desirable as it is in the U.S. (Institute for the Biocultural Study of Religion).

Life after death?

Once dismissed as mere hallucinations, near-death experiences (NDEs) are being taken seriously by researchers. Last year, three medical doctors published books on new NDE research in which they consider what it suggests about consciousness beyond the brain and even the possibility of afterlife. Researchers are identifying patterns that transcend differences based on age, culture and religious backgrounds. The experience of moving through a tunnel, looking down at one's own body, reuniting with predeceased loved ones and being overwhelmed with a sense of love and beauty are among the typical experiences. Some doctors say these perceptions can be traced to a distressed physical condition (RNS).

Beautiful faith

Troy Polamalu, a safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is known for his long, curly hair and the way he flies around the football field with reckless abandon. Polamalu is an Orthodox Christian who crosses himself before each play. He and his wife converted to Orthodoxy about five years ago, and he believes there is nothing more beautiful than the Orthodox liturgy. Despite his high-energy occupation, he fasts during both the 40 days of "winter Lent," broken by the Orthodox Christmas, and the 50 days of the Great Lent leading up to Easter. He is wary of claiming that faith makes one a better athlete—that claim, he says, can lead to failure in both faith and career (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 7).

Truth be told

Ricardo Sanchez was in charge of the coalition ground forces in Iraq when the Abu Ghraib prison abuses came to light. He was forced to retire, although later an army inspector general's report cleared him of wrongdoing. Now Sanchez is calling for the formation of a truth commission to look into possible crimes involved with the use of waterboarding and other torture techniques during that era. "As a Christian, I must do what's right regardless of what my personal consequences are," he says, "and that's what I have embarked on." Because of his out­spoken criticism of the way the Iraq war was prosecuted, he has not been able to get lucrative consulting jobs typical for retired military officers (Atlantic, January/ February).