Century Marks

Century Marks

Food fight

After talking with David Beckmann of Bread for the World, food writer Mark Bittman decided to go on a fast to protest cuts in the federal budget that would affect poor people. Speaking about a House budget bill, Bittman said: "These supposedly deficit-reducing cuts—they'd barely make a dent—will quite literally cause more people to starve to death, go to bed hungry or live more miserably than are doing so now." While corporate profits in 2010 increased at a greater rate than any year since 1950, a record was also set in the number of Americans using food stamps (New York Times, March 30).

Price of conversion

The chief Sephardic rabbi in Israel is accusing foreign Orthodox rabbis of accepting bribes for certifying conversions to Judaism. One rabbi allegedly received $1 million for one conversion. The Sephardic rabbi said this is happening in North and South America as well as in Europe. The allegations arose during discussion of a two-year-old policy that stipulates that conversions aren't accepted unless the Orthodox rabbis honoring them are members of designated rabbinical organizations. The policy has resulted in some converts being denied immigration rights under Israel's law of return (Haaretz, March 17).

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).