Century Marks

Century Marks

God and the foxhole

There may be no atheists in foxholes, but few soldiers show up for worship services at bases in Afghanistan. Army captain Michael Cummings reports that a typical service attracts only three or four soldiers. At the large 30,000-strong Bagram Air Field, only about 30 people show up for worship. Cummings explains that religion is "not cool" in the army. Chaplains tell him that soldiers tend to seek religious resources when no one else is around. Veteran Kathleen Johnson, an atheist who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, has another perspective: soldiers aren't openly religious unless they are compelled to be so by their commanders and chaplains. "The real irony is that commanders like these truly believe they have the duty and right to force their faith on others and when that 'right' is impeded, they see it as an infringement to their religious freedom," Johnson said (New York Times, At War, November 5 and 16).

Don’t worry

U.S. Representative John Shimkus (R., Ill.), who believes that climate change should not concern us, would like to become chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, which has wide-ranging power over energy and environmental legislation. At a committee hearing in 2009 he cited God's post-Flood promise to Noah (Gen. 8:21–22) that God would never again curse the earth, and he added: "The Earth will end only when God declares it's time to be over. Man will not destroy this Earth" (Toronto Star, November 10).

Prayer or politics?

About 30 conservative Christian leaders met in September to plan how to defeat President Obama in 2012. The gathering was convened by evangelist James Robison, who was involved in a similar effort 30 years ago to defeat President Carter and back the candidacy of Ronald Reagan. Ethics Daily, a division of the Nashville-based Baptist Center for Ethics, contacted about a dozen leaders who were at the meeting, but none would speak on the record. Public statements about the meeting give the impression that its concerns were spiritual, but Robison's blog makes clear his political intentions. "I am presently more deeply concerned than I was during Carter's administration," he wrote. He called the Republican successes in the fall campaign an answer to prayer (ethicsdaily.com, November 15).

National glue

What if there had been a popular uprising in reaction to the Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore, which decided the 2000 election in favor of George W. Bush? What if the Florida recount had gone forward and Al Gore had won instead? Possibly there would have been no invasion of Iraq and no relaxation of financial regulations that led to an economic near-meltdown. Justice Stephen Breyer and three other members of the Supreme Court disagreed with the majority that ruled in Bush's favor. Yet Breyer said the most important and amazing part of this ruling was that both Democrats and Republicans accepted it peacefully. The rule of law holds this very disparate country together (review of Breyer's Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge's View in the New York Review of Books, November 11).

Not out of Africa

The African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa, is trying to stem the continent's brain drain. William Kamkwamba is a good example of the type of students recruited to ALA: at age 14 he built a windmill to provide energy for his family in Malawi and subsequently wrote the international bestseller The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. ALA has drawn students from over 30 African nations. Many go on to study in the U.S. and Europe, but ALA students have scholarships that must be repaid if the students don't return to Africa to work for at least ten years (Christian Science Monitor, November 1).