Century Marks

Century Marks

Pope in a hurry

Pope Francis has an apocalyptic sense of urgency about the world in which we live. That may be fed partly by his fondness for the 1907 novel Lord of the World, by Robert Hugh Benson. In this dystopian novel featuring a conflict between secular humanism and Catholicism, an Antichrist savior figure emerges who attacks Christian symbols and believers and advocates euthanasia. The pope appears to believe that on issues like economics and the environment, decisions are being made from which there is no turning back. His own peripatetic style and extensive travel plans evince his sense of urgency about his papal role (Crux, January 25).

Jury duty

Jury selection in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, defendant in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, is expected to take a long time. On the first day of interviewing, juror no. 10 identified himself a professor of theology at a Catholic college and said he is opposed to the death penalty except in situations where there is no prison to house a person for life. He said that if he were to support the death penalty, his department might deny him tenure. “They would wonder what I know about Catholic social ethics,” he said (New York Times, January 15).


Joni Ernst, the freshman senator from Iowa who gave the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, deplores government handouts. Her own extended family receives corn subsidies from the federal government. In her campaign she recalled how her home community came together during the 2009 economic crisis, saying that what they needed was for the federal government to get out of the way. She failed to report that in 2009 her own Iowa county received nearly $9 million in federal farm subsidies. Nearly 20 percent of the residents in her county depend on food stamps (LA Times, January 23).

Imago Dei

In prerevolutionary Russia, criminals were called unfortunates. Instead of being executed, most of those convicted of murder and other serious crimes were sent to Siberian labor camps. There were, in fact, very few executions in prerevolutionary Russia. John of Kronstadt, a 19th-century saint, captured this benevolent spirit toward delinquents: “Never confuse the person, formed in the image of God, with the evil that is in him, because evil is but a chance misfortune, illness, a devilish reverie. But the very essence of the person is the image of God, and this remains in him despite every disfigurement” (Jim Forest, Loving Our Enemies, Orbis).

Atheist platform

Gretta Vos­per, an outspoken atheist, is also an ordained minister in the United Church of Canada and pastor of a small congregation in Toronto. Following the terrorist attacks in France, Vosper wrote a letter to the head of the denomination, suggesting that he should denounce all religion since it is the key source of global violence. The liberal denomination has taken no actions against her views, possibly because it does not want to draw more attention to her. David Ewart, a United Church pastor who has a column in the United Observer, says Vosper should do the right thing and leave the denomination (Vancouver Sun, January 20).