Century marks - Brief Article

Century marks - Brief ArticleTHEY SAID IT: "Cardinal Law [of Boston] should resign. His moral authority has been irrevocably undermined. But above all, he should resign because he can still be a model for Christians through the penitential act of yielding power.... He has in fact the opportunity of a lifetime: to perform a simple, Christlike act while all the world is watching. That no one seriously expects him to do this is perhaps the saddest and strongest indication of how far from the Good Shepherd some of our shepherds have strayed." --Robert Kiely, in the Tablet (March 29).

If the church does not respond vigorously to this scandal, then the authority the hierarchy has to teach morally will vanish. It won't just be a crisis. It will all be over but the shouting." --R. Scott Appleby of the University of Notre Dame, speaking about sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic priesthood (New York Times, March 17).

The problem is Nietzsche, not jihad: Though some strands of Islamic tradition encourage people to sacrifice themselves in violent martyrdom, Navid Kermani says that suicide bombers operate with a distinctly modernist temperament. In fact, says Kermani, writing in the Times Literary Supplement (March 29), suicide terrorists express an "active nihilism" influenced more by Nietzschean aspects of modernity than by the Qur'an. He points out that the attackers of September 11 were all "products of the Westernized middle and upper classes. Many of the attackers went to the disco at weekends, had girlfriends, drank alcohol." They were sharply attuned to the media, staging the Twin Towers disaster so that the second explosion could be caught on television. Like terrorists in a 19th-century novel, they sought to make a grand gesture of violence directed against the world at large, unconnected to any concrete political goals. Kermani adds that the September 11 attack represents "the kind of terrorism that can spring up anywhere in a modern society."

History lesson: Seminary students of a certain era were almost sure to read John Bright's History of Israel. It was the standard one-volume account assigned in courses on the Old Testament. The book, which first came out in the 1950s and is now in its third edition, affirms the reliability of the scriptural account. That is, Bright regarded the main outline of the story of Israel known to all churchgoers--from the Exodus to the Israelites' conquering of the land west of the Jordan to the establishment of David's kingdom--as generally true.

But Daniel Lazare, writing in Harper's (March), subjects Bright and like-minded historians (such as William Albright) to a withering critical blast, contending that in the past three decades archaeological research has shown the basic biblical plot to be more fiction than fact. There was no conquest of the land, for example, as suggested by the books of Joshua and Judges, but something more like a gradual infiltration. And there's no evidence that Jerusalem was more than a rural village in the time of David and Solomon.

Bright was indeed a "maximalist" when it came to assessing evidence. He gave the Bible the maximum benefit of the doubt in historical disputes. Lazare, in contrast, takes the part of the modern minimalist. Still, if Blight was the last thing you've read, Lazare provides a lively, if tendentious, introduction to the archaeological discussions.

French intellectuals strike again: Topping the best-seller list in France is Thierry Meyssan's L'Effroyable Imposture ("The Appalling Fraud"), which contends that no plane crashed into the Pentagon on September 11, that the damage to the building was inconsistent with an air crash, and that the attack was actually staged by the U.S. government to justify increases in defense spending. "Copies have been flying off the shelves," said a clerk in a Paris bookshop (BBC News, April 2).

Modern slaves: Not only does slavery still exist, it is increasing, according to Kevin Bales, a professor of sociology at the University of Surrey Roehampton in London and author of Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy. Writing in the Scientific American (April), Bales estimates that perhaps 27 million people are enslaved around the world, especially in South Asia and North Africa. He also contends that the psychology of modern slavery is so powerful that it can leave its victims unable to function in the outside world. The psychology affects the slaveholders as well, who often see their role as that of parents who are needed to protect and control slaves. This is why a "highly developed system of rehabilitation for freed slaves and slaveholders alike" is necessary. In spite of a growing recognition of the problem, "only a small fraction of slaves are reached and freed every year."