Century Marks

Century Marks

Getting it wrong

Studies have shown that peoples are often mistaken when they claim to remember where they were when they heard the news of the death of John Kennedy or Princess Diana. And when confronted with evidence of their error, people still cling to their original claims. Kathryn Schulz says in Being Wrong that a challenge to one's belief can make a person move "from noncommittal to evangelical in milliseconds." People can admit mistakes, however. Schultz points to the case of C. P. Ellis, once the head Klansman in Durham, North Carolina. Having seen the error of his ways, Ellis spent the latter part of his life working toward justice for blacks (review by Raymond Tallis, Times Literary Supplement, March 18).

Unholy writ?

The fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison did not share the opinion of many American Chris­tians today that the U.S. Constitution is a sacred and God-blessed document. Garrison blamed the Constitution for the institution of slavery and called it a compact between the North and the South, "a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell." He even burned a copy of the Constitution as an act of protest (John Fea, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? Westminster John Knox).

Secularization theory

A team of mathematicians is predicting that religion will eventually become nearly extinct in nine countries: Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Nether­lands, Austria, the Czech Repub­lic, Finland and Switzerland. The data from these countries show "unaffiliated" as the fastest growing group. They base their conclusion on two sociological principles: that it is more attractive to be part of the majority than the minority, and that there are social, political and economic advantages to being unaffiliated in countries where religion is in decline. The researchers say they can't make predictions about the United States because the U.S. census doesn't ask questions about religion (Redeye, March 24).

God in the lab

In a survey conducted by Elaine Howard Ecklund, 42 percent of scientists at elite American universities said that religion has a role to play in the university. It helps students deal with difficult circumstances, and it can provide ethical guidance on issues that arise in research. Nearly 50 percent of academic scientists have a religious identity and more than 50 percent have an interest in spirituality. Scientists who are believers, however, are reluctant to bring up religion be­cause of a perceived bias against it. They tend to express their faith in small ways, such as in their interactions with students (HuffingtonPost.com, March 23).

Take a stand

Robert D. Putnam (author of Bowling Alone and coauthor of American Grace) was raised a Meth­o­­dist and was active in church as a Methodist youth. He recalls that in the late 1950s, in a small conservative town and in a rather conservative Methodist congregation, his pastor said bluntly, "Racism is a sin." Putnam says that was powerful, prophetic language then, but there's still plenty to be outraged about now. "The growth of inequality and class segregation in America is ripe for a religious prophecy that says 'here I stand and I can do no other'" (interview in Hedgehog Review, Spring).