Century Marks

Century Marks

Born believers

While God exists, it may be true that atheists do not. Cognitive scientists are increasingly finding that belief in some kind of god may be so hardwired into the brain that it can’t be expunged. “Atheism is psychologically impossible because of the way humans think,” says Graham Lawton, who is an avowed atheist himself. Studies show, for example, “that even people who claim to be committed atheists tacitly hold religious beliefs, such as the existence of an immortal soul.” According to a Pew Research survey in the United States, 38 percent of people who identified themselves as atheist or agnostic claim belief in some kind of higher power (Science 2.0, July 6).

Home with prayer

When he’s at home, Rowan Williams, former archbishop of Canterbury, begins each day with a short meditative walk, or sometimes with some slow prostrations, followed by 30 to 40 minutes of sitting on a low stool to repeat the Jesus prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner”). Usually he repeats the words silently, saying them while breathing out. “Over the years increasing exposure to and engagement with the Buddhist world in particular has made me aware of practices not unlike the ‘Jesus Prayer’ and introduced me to disciplines that further enforce the stillness and physical focus that the prayer entails,” says Williams (New Statesman, July 8).

Point, counterpoint

George Carey, archbishop of Canterbury from 1991 to 2002, says he is ready to back legislation that would legalize assisted dying for the terminally ill in England and Wales. Admitting it’s an about-face for him, Carey now argues that by “strictly observing the sanctity of life, the Church could now actually be promoting anguish and pain, the very opposite of a Christian message of hope.” Justin Welby, the current archbishop, is strongly opposed to assisted dying. “What sort of society would we be creating if we were to allow this sword of Damocles to hang over the head of every vulnerable, terminally ill person in the country?” Welby said (Ecumenical News).

World diplomats

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Pope Francis have both made international reconciliation and interfaith understanding a priority of their ministries. The pope engaged in two highly symbolic acts: visiting Israel and the West Bank and subsequently inviting Israel president Shimon Peres and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to Rome in June where together the three of them planted olive trees, a symbol of peace. Welby’s visits to Lahore and Pakistan and to Nigeria after the kidnapping of school girls by the militant group Boko Haram were efforts to support and encourage embattled Christians, but the archbishop also has encouraged Christians living among Muslims to build bridges with them (Diplomat, July/August).

First aid

Nora Sandigo, 48, is the legal guardian for 812 children whose parents have been deported due to their undocumented immigration status. The children range from nine months to 17 years, but only a few live with her in Florida. She has found homes for the others in 14 different states. “How can we not help?” she asked her husband in 2009 when a Peruvian couple asked her to look after their children. Calling her work a Band-Aid, she says that all she can do is “hold back some of the bleeding.” About 100,000 children in the United States have one or both parents deported each year (Washington Post, July 5).