Century Marks

Century Marks

Free or determined

John Horgan, a self-confessed lapsed Catholic turned agnostic and scientific materialist, welcomes scientists who question the existence of God. But he's concerned about scientists who deny free will. It doesn't make sense, he claims, "to deny that our conscious, psychological deliberations . . . influence our actions." According to Horgan, we need the concept of free will more than we need God as a basis for ethics and morality. He notes an experiment that showed students were more inclined to cheat on a math test and less likely to let a peer use their cell phone after reading a passage challenging the validity of free will (Religion Dispatches).

Peace weapon

In his annual message for the World Day of Peace on January 1, Pope Benedict XVI said the freedom to profess and express one's faith is an "authentic weapon of peace" now under threat, especially in Iraq. The pope made special mention of the plight of Iraqi Christians, recalling the October attack on a Catholic cathedral in Baghdad in which dozens of worshipers, including two priests, were killed by gunmen linked to al-Qaeda. Benedict also warned against "more subtle and sophisticated forms of prejudice and hostility" aimed at Christians in the West, especially in an increasingly secular Europe (RNS).

Mourning into dancing

 When Robin Rogers and George Overholser called off their nuptials, they decided they didn't want to waste their $3,500 deposit for the reception, so they orga­nized a $100-per-person fund-raiser for the Greenpoint Reformed Church's soup kitchen in New York City and raised $10,000 for the hungry. "This is a great example of someone turning mourning into dancing," the Greenpoint pastor said (The Week, December 17).

Wonder woman

Glamour magazine has named Dr. Hawa Abdi woman of the year, saying she is "equal parts Mother Teresa and Rambo." A Somali ob-gyn and lawyer, she runs a 400-bed hospital and helped start a school mostly for girls. Surrounding the hospital are 1,300 acres of farmland that have become a refuge for some 90,000 people displaced by the warring factions in Somalia. A hard-line militia decided last May that a woman couldn't run this operation and ordered her to hand it over to them. She refused, even though her daughter pleaded with her to give in. The militia eventually relented in the face of worldwide outrage, mostly from Somali groups. But before departing the militia wrecked the hospital. Abdi has been in the U.S. raising money to restore the facility (Nicholas D. Kristof in New York Times, December 15).

Power of poetry

Kim Rosen (author of Saved by a Poem: The Transformative Power of Words) visited a safe house in Kenya for young Masai women who had run away from home to escape genital mutilation. The girls liked to sing and asked Rosen if she knew any songs. When Rosen said that what she really likes is poetry, the girls asked her to recite a poem. The first poem to come to Rosen's mind was Mary Oliver's "The Journey," a poem about leaving home, which begins: "One day you finally knew / what you had to do." By the time Rosen was done reciting this poem, she and some of the girls were in tears. One of them asked, "Who is this woman, Mary Oliver? Is she Masai?" (The Sun, December).