Century Marks

Century Marks

Protest as prayer

Susannah Heschel, daughter of the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, says it was a big mistake for the makers of the film Selma to leave her father out of the picture. By excluding him, Selma fails to convey how diverse that civil rights march was. It included “an extraordinary gathering of nuns, priests, rabbis, black and white, a range of political views, from all over the United States.” For her father, marching with Martin Luther King Jr. was both a political and a religious act. He said after the march: “For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying” (Forward, January 18).

Pope in a hurry

Pope Francis has an apocalyptic sense of urgency about the world in which we live. That may be fed partly by his fondness for the 1907 novel Lord of the World, by Robert Hugh Benson. In this dystopian novel featuring a conflict between secular humanism and Catholicism, an Antichrist savior figure emerges who attacks Christian symbols and believers and advocates euthanasia. The pope appears to believe that on issues like economics and the environment, decisions are being made from which there is no turning back. His own peripatetic style and extensive travel plans evince his sense of urgency about his papal role (Crux, January 25).

Jury duty

Jury selection in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, defendant in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, is expected to take a long time. On the first day of interviewing, juror no. 10 identified himself a professor of theology at a Catholic college and said he is opposed to the death penalty except in situations where there is no prison to house a person for life. He said that if he were to support the death penalty, his department might deny him tenure. “They would wonder what I know about Catholic social ethics,” he said (New York Times, January 15).

Brain scan

Can the same brain circuitry produce both Mother Teresa and Mohamed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers? Two neuroscientists at the Univer­sity of Utah are exploring what happens in the brain while people have religious experiences. They are examining the brains of Mormons undergoing MRIs while being led through a series of religious experiences. The researchers aren’t trying to determine how people come to believe in the supernatural, but rather to discern what happens once they believe. They think that brain activity during religious experiences won’t be much different between Mormons, Jews, and Muslims (Los Angeles Times, January 7).

Homesick soldiers

Michael Sharp and Emmanuel Kambale, colleagues in the Congolese Protestant Council’s Peace and Reconciliation program, have found a way to encourage some 1,600 soldiers to put down their arms. The FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), which has been ravaging villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo for 20 years, has its roots in the Hutu militias that killed Tutsi civilians during the Rwanda genocide. Listening to the fighters’ stories, Sharp and Kambale discovered that they were homesick for life back in Rwanda. That acknowledgment has led some of them to give up the fight. But the meager $12,000 per month Peace and Reconciliation budget is drying up in March (NPR, January 2).