Observers of American life have long wondered what it would take to disrupt our love affair with cars. It turns out that $4-a-gallon gasoline might do the trick. Last year for the first time in 28 years, Americans drove fewer miles than the year before. Automakers can no longer sell their highly profitable but gas-guzzling SUVs.
It’s been an odd season for pastors and would-be presidents. The latter have been renouncing the former faster than you can say “damage control.” Barack Obama quit his membership at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago after Catholic priest Michael Pfleger delivered a sermon there in which he mocked Hillary Clinton for her alleged racism.
A report emerged from President Bush’s visit to Israel saying that Bush told Israeli leaders he intends to launch a military strike against Iran before he leaves office. The president is reported to have said that Hezbollah’s recent show of military strength in Lebanon proves that Iran’s influence in the Middle East is growing and that “the disease must be treated—not the symptoms.”
Prophets do not always have a balanced view of reality. They are not people who have made a pragmatic adjustment to the status quo. Rather, prophets are people seized by a vision of God’s justice. They speak poetically and act dramatically, trying to move people to face truths that they’d rather not face.
Benedict XVI has a reputation as a blunt, rigorous teacher of doctrine, so it was perhaps surprising that the highlight of his much publicized visit to the U.S. was an unexpected private pastoral act—his meeting with people who had been sexually abused by Catholic priests.
Dr. Paul Farmer, an infectious disease specialist known for his work in Haiti, has been to Liberia and planned to go back again in the fight against Ebola. According to Farmer, the outbreak of Ebola is a symptom of a very poor and weak health-care system in the three West African countries where it is spreading. In Liberia there is one physician per 100,000 people, compared to 240 in the United States. The president of Liberia points out that the Dallas Cowboys stadium uses more electricity each year than her whole country. Vaccines and drugs don’t exist because Ebola’s victims are poor and—so far—not very numerous (London Review of Books, October 23).