Century Marks

Century Marks

Biblical insanity

A sample sermon issued by the Church of England to tackle the stigma of mental illness suggests that some biblical characters could be diagnosed as having had mental disease. King Saul’s mood swings might have been signs of bipolar disorder. St. Paul’s Damascus road experience could have involved some sort of breakdown or psychotic episode. And the New Testament suggests that Jesus’ own family suspected that he was losing his mind. People who find these suggestions offensive should consider this question: “Do we mistakenly believe that God cannot or will not work through people with mental illness?” (Daily Express, August 28).

Cardinal virtues

Chinese Cardinal Paul Shan Kuo-hsi passed away last month after a six-year battle with lung cancer. He considered cancer a blessing, as it gave him a chance to explain his faith to many people. In his final years he gave priority to ministering to three groups: intellectuals, condemned prisoners and people of other religions. When asked if he was afraid to die, he responded: “No! Dying is falling into the loving arms of God” (Vatican Insider, August 23).


The American Atheists organization bought billboard space near the site for the Democratic convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, and put up a sign claiming that Christianity promotes hate and exalts a useless savior. The group wanted to buy billboard space near the Republican convention in Tampa, Florida, for a sign deriding Mormonism, but no one would sell them the space. The billboard in Charlotte was taken down after American Atheists received vehement opposition (Economist, August 25, and USAToday.com, August 28).


The story has been told that in 1953 a Yale University survey found that only 3 percent of students had long-term goals, and 20 years later, when the same students were interviewed again, the 3 percent who had long-term goals were not only happier and more productive but also had a net worth as great as the other 97 percent combined. But this story, oft repeated by motivational speakers, preachers and professors, is a legend; these studies never took place. In What Christians Believe about the Bible (Baker Academic), Don Thorsen and Keith H. Reeves suggest that the circulation of this false story should compel us to question our own assumptions, including those about the Bible.


The French artist Henri Matisse was brought back to health in 1943 by a nurse who later became a novitiate in the Dominican Sisters of Monteil. When she told Matisse about her order’s desire for a new chapel, he set to work designing the chapel, the shape of the altar, the liturgical furnishings and even the vestments. Matisse chose only three colors for the stained glass windows: yellow representing the sun and heavenly light, green for plant life and the earth and blue for the sky, sea and the Madonna. For the windows he drew from Revelation 21–22, the description of the descent of the heavenly new Jerusalem. Matisse said he considered the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, perched above the French Mediterranean, his masterpiece (Wall Street Journal, August 18).