Century Marks

Century Marks

Abandoned

The number of South Korean seniors who commit suicide has nearly quadrupled in recent years. The country has the highest rate of suicide by the elderly in the developed world. This trend is attributed to the fraying of the traditional Confucian social contract, according to which the elderly were taken care of by their children. In the runaway South Korean economy, many younger people have moved to urban areas, leaving their parents behind in towns occupied mostly by older people. South Korea had nothing like Social Security until 1988, so many older Koreans aren’t covered by the program. The government refuses to support older people when it deems that their children have the means to care for them (New York Times, February 16).

Darwin’s surprise

In early editions of On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin didn’t express any religious beliefs, but he ended the book’s third edition with a hymn in praise of God. He was in awe of the fact that “from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved.” He wrote that the Creator had originally breathed life “into a few forms or into one.” Darwin’s 19th-century critics might not have been so surprised at this expression of religious wonder if they had known about the one book Darwin took with him on his voyages: Milton’s Paradise Lost (Roger Rosenblatt, Kayak Morning, Ecco).

Sans dogma

The service begins with a song, but instead of playing a hymn, the band plays “Don’t Stop Me Now,” by Queen. There is a reading, time for silent reflection and time for greeting others.  This is the pattern at an atheist “church,” which meets in a deconsecrated church in Islington, north of London. In place of a sermon on a recent Sunday, a Cambridge University physicist talked about wonder. An offering is taken to care for the facility, and the group intends to organize for community service in the future. Its motto: “Live better, help often, wonder more.” An enthusiastic participant said, “It’s got all the good things about church without the terrible dogma” (Guardian, February 3).

Case for repeal

The editors of the Jesuit magazine America (February 25) have called for the United States to repeal the Second Amendment. The editors agree with the 2008 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court that the amendment impedes the government in controlling the possession and use of firearms. Yet empirical evidence shows, they say, that a reduction in the number of guns reduces the number of deaths. The America editors realize it wouldn’t be easy to repeal an amendment that has become ingrained in American life, but they point to the example of the 21st Amendment repealing the 18th, which prohibited alcoholic beverages.

Choosing ignorance

Over the past 20 years the number of deaths from motor vehicle crashes has dropped by 31 percent, deaths from fire by 38 percent and deaths from drowning by 52 percent. These advances came as a result of interventions based on research.  In 1996, pro-gun members of Congress were able to sharply reduce the funding that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention received for research on injury and death from firearms. Two years later, Congress curtailed research on the subject at all agencies of the Department of Health and Human Services, including the National Insti­tutes of Health. Since 1997 at least 470,000 people in the United States have died from gunshot wounds, including more than 165,000 who were victims of homicide (JAMA, February 13).