Century Marks

Century Marks

About face

Conservative pundits and politicians are exploiting anti-Muslim concerns about building a mosque near Ground Zero in New York City. But when plans for the mosque first caught the attention of one right-wing spokesperson, they were commended. Laura Ingraham interviewed the wife of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the figure behind the mosque, on the O'Reilly Factor on Fox News. The imam's wife, Daisy Khan, explained that the planned Islamic center was intended to counter Islamic extremists. Ingraham responded: "I can't find many people who really have a problem with it . . . I like what you're trying to do" (Washington Post, August 17).

Missing strings

Nearly 40 years ago Nathaniel Ayers was diagnosed with schizophrenia and subsequently thrown out of Juilliard School of Music. He ended up homeless and playing a two-string violin in the streets. Discovered by Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, his story was the basis of the 2009 movie The Soloist. Ayers was invited this summer to the White House to perform on the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. "It's the most incredible thing I ever could have imagined," said Ayers, who still struggles with the disease (The Week, August 13).

Big government at work

Without government intervention, large parts of the auto industry would have been wiped out, losing a million or more jobs, says columnist E. J. Dionne. But the bailout was wildly unpopular at the time when George W. Bush and Barack Obama spent $25 billion and $60 billion respectively to save the ailing industry. When Obama added to the auto bailout funds, a Gallup poll found 72 percent opposed it. The Obama administration now claims that 55,000 auto-related jobs were added since June 2009 and that all three U.S. automakers are operating at a profit for the first time since 2004 (Washington Post, August 2).

Color of penance

Pope Benedict XVI has become known for his attire: red shoes, sunglasses rumored to be Serengetis and ermine-trimmed capes and hats. Anne Burke, who was head of the review board set up by the U.S. Catholic bishops to oversee their policies on priests accused of pedophilia, has written to the pope suggesting he wear a simple black cassock for the remainder of his papacy to demonstrate penance for the priest sex scandal. Speaking to a Chicago Sun-Times columnist, Burke said the pope should urge clerics to spend a day a week in prayer and fasting as a public expression of sorrow for failing to safeguard children (David Gibson at Politics Daily, July 31).

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."