Century Marks

Century Marks

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).

Repentance

The Amish, like many Protestants, have blamed the Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus. As pacifists, they haven’t been supportive of Israel, regarding Israel as an aggressive and militant state. A group of 31 Amish from the United States and Canada recently visited Israel to express their regrets for these positions. In a statement the delegation said: “We, the Amish and Anabaptist people, turned away from the Jewish nation while they were in their darkest hour of need. We hardened our hearts against them, we left them—never lifting our voices in protest against the atrocities that were committed against them. We want to publicly repent of this and acknowledge our support of Israel.” The group attracted attention by singing hymns at the Western Wall of the Temple Mount (Jerusalem Post, February 11).

Food for thought

When Pastor Alois Bell’s group was hit with a mandatory 18 percent service charge in an Applebee’s restaurant in St. Louis, she wrote a biting note on the receipt: “I give God 10%. Why do you get 18%?” When the waitress posted the receipt online, it went viral. Bell later said that writing the note showed a lapse in judgment, but she complained to the restaurant about the unwanted publicity given to her and her church. Applebee’s fired the waitress. Shocked by her dismissal, the waitress said: “I come home exhausted, sore, burnt, dirty, and blistered on a good day. And after all that, I can be fired for ‘embarrassing’ someone who directly insults their server on religious grounds” (Christian Science Monitor, February 1).