Century Marks

Century Marks

Past imperfect

David Barton’s historical revisionism about American history has been wildly popular with conservatives who want to believe, like Barton, that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and that the founding fathers did not share modern notions about the separation of church and state. Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and a Republican candidate for president in 2008, said he wished that every American could be made to listen to a telecast of David Barton lecturing, even if at gunpoint. However, Barton’s latest book, The Jefferson Lies, has drawn criticism not just from liberals or professional historians, his usual critics, but from a group of evangelical pastors, black and white, from Cincinnati. They called for a boycott of Barton’s publisher, Thomas Nelson, because the book seeks to justify Thomas Jefferson’s ownership of slaves and glosses over the third president’s racism and heretical views about Christ. Thomas Nelson has since pulled the book from the market (NPR, August 8, and World, August 9).

God in the rocks

Early in his career, Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin told his spiritual director that he intended to abandon his interest in rocks and natural philosophy to focus on the spiritual life. His spiritual director responded that if he were to do so, he’d be abandoning his vocation as a Jesuit, since Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, urged his followers to find God in everything, no matter what they were doing (James F. Salmon SJ, with Nicole Schmitz-Moormann, in The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity, Wiley-Blackwell).

Shades of sex

A hotel in the United Kingdom has placed a copy of E. L. James’s erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey in each room instead of the Bible. Defending the switch, the hotel manager said: “The Gideon Bible is full of references to sex and violence, although it’s written using more formal language. So James’s book is easier to read.” Guests who would like a Bible can ask for one (Christian Science Monitor, July 25).

overcoming complexity

Steve Jobs’s success at Apple may have sent the wrong message to some entrepreneurs: to be successful, you have to ignore your family and be ruthless with your employees. Walter Isaacson, Jobs’s biographer, says we should learn lessons from Jobs’s accomplishments, but not from his personality. Stay focused and keep things simple were two principles, among others, that guided Jobs. At an annual retreat with people he considered the leaders at Apple, the group would come to consensus on the top ten things the company should focus on next. Jobs would cross off the bottom seven and say, “We can only do three.” Simplicity of design for Jobs was a way of overcoming complexity, not of ignoring it (Harvard Business Review, April, and Wired, August).

Target audience

Joseph S. Khalil says we miss the meaning of the book of Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth or preacher) unless we understand its central intention, which is to challenge overconfident preachers who claim to know the ways and will of God. “God’s inscrutability is evident in the illogicality of life,” says Khalil. Qoheleth is particularly critical of those who think they know God’s will with respect to reward and punishment. “Who is like the wise man?” Qoheleth asked. The question is a challenge to all human wisdom and understanding; it points to human limitations about knowing the ways of God in the world (Word & World, Summer).