Century Marks

Century Marks

Public grief

The Internet seems to be making a difference in the way Americans think and talk about death, says Laura Arnold Leibman, who recently taught a college course on American Dead and Undead. Social media provide an outlet for people to mourn publicly and to receive sympathy and support. Leibman’s students admitted that they’re not entirely comfortable with such public expressions of grief, but they think the culture is in a time of transition in this area (Religion in American History, July 15).

Source criticism

Some of the most controversial and heavily edited articles on Wikipedia involve religious topics. Former president George W. Bush tops the list of the 100 most-altered articles on the open-source encyclopedia, but not far behind are the articles on Jesus (5) and the Catholic Church (7), with the Prophet Muhammad (35) and Pope John Paul II (82) farther down the list. The list also includes specific religions: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Islam, Christianity, and Scientology. In 2009 Wikipedia banned people using Church of Scientology computers from altering articles because it claimed the church’s members engaged in editing wars (RNS).

Right move

Billionaire Ted Stanley is donating $650 million to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard for researching and treating the genetic roots of mental illness. His son Jonathan was diagnosed as a young adult with bipolar disorder with psychosis. Although Jonathan’s illness is very treatable, Ted has met the parents of many other children with mental illness for whom no treatment works. Jonathan says he’s fine with the fact that his father is giving away most of what could be his inheritance. “All I can say is my family got it right” (NPR.org, July 22).

New normal?

With declines in church attendance and giving at lows not seen since the Depression, Protestant congregations are increasingly unable to afford a full-time pastor. More pastors are being forced into bivocational ministry, earning at least part of their income from work outside the church. This pattern has been common among small, rural churches. Many of these pastors are not seminary graduates and therefore don’t have the large student debt that many seminary graduates accrue (Atlantic, July 22).

Mistaken identity

Christian tradition has long painted a negative portrait of Ishmael, the son born to Abraham and Hagar when Abraham’s wife Sarah could not conceive. Ishmael is seen as a wild man whose descendants would live at odds with the children of Abraham. But those views are prejudices based on dubious exegesis, according to Christopher Heard. It is especially problematic when Ishmael’s descendants are identified with Arabs or Muslims and used as an explanation for tension in the Middle East. There is little historical proof that Arabs descend from Ishmael. Besides, Ishmael was also blessed by God with the promise of a great nation (Gen. 21:1), just as Abraham’s other descendants were (Interpretation, July).