Century Marks

Century Marks

Cut and paste

In his later years Thomas Jefferson completed a project he had begun decades before: cutting and piecing together his own version of the Gospels. He worked with two texts each of English, French and a combined Latin-Greek New Testament. An admirer of Jesus' moral teachings, Jefferson was skeptical of the miracle stories and the resurrection, and he eliminated references to those events. The original bound version, which he called Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, is on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Facsimiles of the book were given to incoming members of Congress until copies ran out half a century ago (American Heritage, vol. 61, no. 2).

To Princeton or prison?

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate per capita of any country in the world. It is sixth in the world in its number of college graduates. National spending habits reveal a disturbing trend: it costs $37,000 a year for a student to go to Princeton University, and $44,000 per year to house an inmate at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton. Between 1987 and 2007, higher education spending increased 21 percent, while corrections spending went up 127 percent (Atlantic, November).

Sex and marriage

 It is hard to imagine there was a time when contraception was illegal in the U.S. Some religious leaders helped legalize it. In 1932 Rein­hold Niebuhr chaired a study committee of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ, which issued a report endorsing the use of contraception. The statement argued that separating sex from reproduction contributes positively to marital love (New Yorker, November 14).

Different Gods

Neda Agha Soltan became the symbol of the Green Revo­lution in Iran in 2009 after she was shot and killed while running away from anti­riot police. The grainy cell phone photo of her lying on the ground, with blood streaming from her nose and mouth, went viral. Her older sister later recalled that Neda had spoken about a university professor who was teaching about a vengeful God. Neda had said, "This is not my God. The God I worship is a compassionate and loving God" (Robin Wright, Rock the Casbah, Simon and Schuster).

Transgender reality

Chaz Bono's appearance on ABC's Dancing with the Stars has made transgender issues more public—and it appears that the public is fine with that. In an August survey, 89 percent of Americans agree that transgender persons deserve the same rights and protections as other Americans. Three quarters of those polled think that Congress should pass laws to protect them from job discrimination (65 percent of white evangelicals agreed). In a follow-up survey, those polled were given a chance to define transgender and more than two thirds gave correct replies (Public Religion Research Institute).