Century Marks

Century Marks

Two strands of Islam

Islam from the beginning has urged moderation in religious practice, according to Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan. “God desires ease for you, and desires not hardship,” the Qur’an says. Muhammad said, “Make things easy, do not make them difficult.” Two different streams of interpretations emerged in early Islam: one urged a literal application of the teachings of the Qur’an without regard to context or circumstances; the other urged flexibility of interpretation based on the social context of the day. The extreme literalists call into question the authenticity of moderate Muslims (Islam and the Arab Awakening, Oxford University Press).

Fourth strike

Pope Gregory the Great (ca. 540–604), known for his generosity, approved the sale of church treasures to provide for poor people. He distributed food weekly, sent cooked rations daily to the sick and even had dishes from his own table given to the poor. Sabinian, Gregory’s successor, was much more miserly. Three times the deceased Gregory appeared to him in a vision, calling him to repentance. Getting no response, Gregory appeared a fourth time, striking Sabinian on the head with a staff. Sabinian died soon thereafter (R. A. Herrera, Mystics in Spite of Themselves, Eerdmans).

Caught in crossfire

Christians who have fled Syria due to the uprisings against the Assad regime are the most frightened among the refugees, according to a BBC News correspondent. They are afraid to speak up for fear of reprisals. One reason they have been under attack is because of the perception on the part of the rebels that Christians support Assad. While some do support the Assad regime, which has protected Christians, some Christians are supporting the uprising too, including a few who are prominent members of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group. “I see no future, not only in Syria but in all the Middle East,” one Christian woman said. “If people get a chance to leave this region, they will just do it,” she said (BBC).


Utah is arguably the most conservative state in the United States. Its many Mormon residents often assume that the Republican Party is God’s Party. In their early days, however, Mormons were so overwhelmingly Democratic that Brigham Young assigned some families to support Republicans in order to foster a climate of bipartisanship. Utah voted for Franklin D. Roosevelt four times and for his Democratic successor, Harry Truman. Utah flipped to the Republican Party in the 1950s in response to the cold war and later in reaction to the civil rights movement and youth unrest. The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision on abortion sealed Republican support in Utah (Mary Barker, Religion Dispatches).

Best books on the Puritans

  • Perry Miller, The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century and The New England Mind: From Colony to Province. Miller, an atheist and heavy drinker who is widely regarded as the greatest historian of American Puritanism, admired the Puritans as serious intellectuals who lived out their beliefs.
  • Edmund Morgan, The Puritan Family. Morgan, Miller’s student, gives a sympathetic treatment of the warmth and passion of Puritan family life that belies the stereotype of Puritans as legalistic killjoys.
  • Charles Hambrick-Stowe, The Practice of Piety. Hambrick-Stowe brilliantly explicates the Puritans’ devotional practices and their fervent love of God.
  • Harry Stout, The New England Soul. While Miller emphasized the changing nature of Puritanism in America, Stout finds that Puritan theology, focused on the doctrine of covenant, remained quite stable throughout the colonial era.
  • Jill Lepore, The Name of War. Lepore compellingly recounts the tragic, brutal history of the Puritan war with Native Ameri­cans in the 1670s, which in terms of the percentage of people killed remains one of the deadliest wars in American history (Thomas Kidd, Patheos, July 17).