Century Marks

Century Marks

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).

Trying peace

Between 1900 and 2006 nonviolent campaigns against authoritarian regimes were twice as likely to be successful as violent ones. Nonviolent campaigns also increase the likelihood that a peaceful, democratic government will emerge. Three characteristics of successful nonviolent campaigns are that they draw widespread and diverse participation, they elicit defections from the regime, and they employ flexible tactics. Spontaneous nonviolent campaigns are rarely successful; planning and coordination are required. Outside countries are often at a loss to know how best to support nonviolent movements for change. People within those movements know best what, if anything, from the outside could be useful (Foreign Affairs, July/August).

The prudent life

The quest for fame, fortune, and sexual variety is like getting hooked on drugs: once you have a little of it, you want more, and getting more leads to less happiness. Numerous academic studies are underscoring what religions have touted for millennia: it is better to give than to receive, and satisfaction doesn’t come from extrinsic benefits like material wealth but from intrinsic ones, such as better relationships with others. “Declaring war on these destructive impulses is not about asceticism or Puritanism,” says Arthur C. Brooks. “It is about being a prudent person who seeks to avoid unnecessary suffering” (New York Times, July 18).

Elder brew

To support its aging population, the monks of St. Joseph’s Abbey in central Massachusetts have built a brewery producing a light ale. The average age of the monks in the monastery is 70; the oldest is 90. A third of their community’s expenses goes to health care, and its 12-room infirmary is almost always full. The ale is based on a brew made by Trappist monks in Europe. The brewery is highly automated, since the aging monks aren’t able to do much manual labor (Reuters).


In June a mob of hundreds of people brutally attacked a group of Vietnamese Mennonites, including Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang and 20 church leaders and Bible college students, who had gathered for a religious retreat. More than 300 plainclothes police and security forces stormed the host church at night under the pretext of conducting an “administrative search.” The pastor, known for defending the rights of Vietnamese minorities, suffered injuries to his head and chest and was left with broken teeth. For years, Vietnamese authorities have been accused of suppressing Protestants and other religious groups. These churches are prohibited from reaching out to children and evangelizing openly (Ecumenical News).