Date published: January 25, 2011
NONVIOLENT RESPONSE: After 9/11 Danielle Gram, now 21 and a senior at Harvard, couldn't understand why people from different cultures would want to kill each other. At 16 she cofounded Kids for Peace (kidsforpeaceglobal.org), which tries to inspire kids to work for a more peaceful world. It has 75 chapters in several countries. Members pledge to speak in a kind way, help others, care for the earth, respect people and work together. Gram was not deterred when her only brother was killed last year on a vacation - an apparent murder. "Every single one of my immediate family members has a deeper conviction that nonviolence is the way to respond," she says (Christian Science Monitor, December 27).
MOTHER'S LOVE: When theologian Howard Thurman was dying of cancer in 1981, he spent over three hours with Edward Kaplan, his longtime Jewish friend. Kaplan told the dying Thurman that he didn't believe his mother ever loved him. "All mothers love their children," Thurman assured him, and Kaplan's mother loved him "because she gave birth to you." "That is just a pure biological fact," Kaplan replied skeptically. "There is no such thing as a pure biological fact," Thurman said. Thurman, the grandson of slaves, was confident in the Divine Presence in all human beings, and he was able to convince Kaplan of his mother's love for him and to help him love his mother as she truly was (Cross Currents, December).
PERCEIVED INFLUENCE: In a recent Gallup poll 70 percent of respondents said that religion is losing its influence on American life. Since 1957 Gallup has been asking, "At the present time, do you think religion as a whole is increasing its influence on American life or losing its influence?1' In 1957, 69 percent of Americans thought religion was increasing its influence - the highest percentage ever. By 1970, 75 percent of Americans thought religion was losing influence. Self-reported membership in churches and synagogues has also been on a slow decline. It now stands at 61 percent of the population, the lowest figure measured by Gallup since the 1930s (Gallup, December 29).
REPLAYING HISTORY: AS the U.S. marks the sesquicentennial of the beginning of the Civil War. old arguments are resurfacing over the causes of the war. Defenders of the Confederacy argue that the war was more about states' rights than slavery. But the Confederacy's own constitution made it clear that the struggle was about protecting the institution of slavery, says historian Stephanie McCurry (American History, December).
SLOW LEARNER: Despite his deserved reputation as the "father of the social gospel," Walter Rauschenbusch was not in the vanguard of racial justice. In an anonymous letter he wrote for Rochester Seminary, he played on the racial fears of potential donors and called for an infusion of German immigrants: "Are the whites of this continent so sure of their possession against the blacks of the South and the seething yellow flocks beyond the Pacific that they need no reinforcement of men of their own blood while yet it is time?" But in A Theology for !he Social Gospel Rauschenbusch used racial lynching as the ultimate example of evil as a social inheritance (Gary Dorrien, Economy, Difference, Empire, Columbia University Press).
CHANGE AGENTS: Dissidents and authoritarian regimes both believe in the power of social media. Authoritarian governments like China's are becoming more effective in blocking access to sites such as Facebook and YouTube. Clay Shirky argues that American efforts to promote global access to Internet information focus loo much on public media and not enough on the tools that permit private conversations. "Access to information is far less important, politically, than access to conversation," he says. Cell phones have proved very effective in mobilizing popular protest movements in the Philippines, Iran and China. Equipped with cameras, they are a deterrent to governments tempted to crack down violently on public actions by dissidents (Foreign Affairs. January /February).
WHY WAIT? A new study shows that couples who refrain from intercourse before marriage are happier with the quality of their sex Ufe than those who don't. Those who don't engage in premarital sex also have more stable and happier marriages, according to the study, which appeared in the Journal of Family Psychology. One possible explanation is that couples who wait to have sex were more focused on getting to know each other and developing the relational skills that make for more satisfactory sex. The researchers discovered that waiting to have sex contributed to more stable and satisfactory relationships regardless of religious beliefs (WebMD Health News, December 28).
BEYOND RED AND BLUE: Non Catholic Tom Krattenmaker is not among those who delight in the troubles facing the Catholic Church. He gives it credit for its ability to take stances in the public arena that are not popular. The Catholic Church infuriates people on the left for its opposition to abortion and contraception, and it infuriates people on the right because it stands up for the poor and opposes the death penalty. Unlike politically active evangelicals, who have been largely in allegiance with the Republican Party, the Catholic Church maintains its political independence (USA Today, January 3).
KARL MARX'S CHURCH: when Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, recently visited the United Methodist Building in Washington, D.C, he was disturbed to see a promotional banner for the DREAM Act. The act, which was defeated by the Senate, would have provided a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children. "The Methodist Church is pro illegal immigration," Phillips said. "They have been in the bag for socialist health care, going as far as sending out e-mails to their membership 'debunking' the myths of Obamacare." Phillips, who was once a UMC member, now calls it "the first Church of Karl Marx" (Huffington Post, December 20).
SOME BRIGHT SPOTS: Humorist Dave Barry thinks 2010 was the worst year ever. However, it had a few bright spots, three to be exact: one, the Yankees didn't get into the World Series; two, there were several days when Lindsay Lohan wasn't going into or getting out of rehab; and three, Apple released its much anticipated iPad, which gave iPhone users "something to fondle in their other hand" (Washington Post, January 2).