Century Marks

Century Marks

How doctors die

At the 50th reunion of his medical school class, Dr. James Sabin said his classmates were able to talk freely about death. One noted that only half of them would be present at their 60th reunion. The dominant tones in their death talk were a matter-of-factness, gallows humor, and curiosity about the future of the human species and the planet. Doctors typically don’t talk much about death, despite dealing with it routinely. When they do, they call attention to the limits of modern medicine and eschew any heroic measures at the end of their own life (Hastings Center Over 65 blog, September 1).

Spoils of war

Human Rights Watch says that the so-called Islamic State is holding hundreds of the members of the Yazidi sect captive in Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State defends this practice in Dabiq, its slick online English-language newspaper. IS claims it is reviving an old Muslim practice of claiming women and children as spoils of war and denies that they have separated mothers from their children. By forcing these people to become Muslims, they argue, they are saving them from idolatry, and by selling women to IS soldiers they are keeping the soldiers from the temptation of adultery (Reuters).

Mass attendance

A group of Catholics in the Detroit area is sponsoring “mass mobs” one Sunday a month at churches where attendance is typically sparse. On a designated mass Sunday, attendance swells—up to 2,000 at one church, which netted an offering of more than $19,000, ten times the usual amount. One parishioner said she hoped the movement would encourage more Catholics to attend mass. Similar movements have been started in Catholic churches in other cities (NPR, October 9).

Lids down

A professor of the theory and practice of social media, Clay Shirky, doesn’t let his students use electronic devices in his classes. It’s not just that he can’t compete with the hardware or the software. Studies show that multitasking is bad for the kind of cognitive work required in a classroom. It has a negative effect on memory and recall. One study showed that students who multitasked in class scored lower than those who didn’t. The presence of electronic devices also distracts those who aren’t using them. “I’m coming to see student focus as a collaborative process,” Shirky said (Washington Post, September 25).


Dale Martin, professor of religion at Yale, argues that Jesus wasn’t the pacifist he is often made out to be. In fact, he may have been killed because his followers were carrying weapons. Some historical documents show that it was illegal to walk around with weapons in Rome and some other Roman cities, although no known documents proscribe weapons in Jerusalem. Martin thinks Jesus and his disciples may have been expecting an apocalyptic showdown with the Roman Empire and were committed to using weapons to help usher in God’s reign (Newsweek, September 18).