All sides of a recent textbook battle are right, and wrong, about religion in American history.
I think five different people mentioned the same article to me earlier this month: “How Christian Were the Founders?” from The New York Times Magazine. Russell Shorto’s long and generally balanced piece examines how one institution, the Texas State Board of Education, exerts tremendous power over the interpretation of such contentious issues as creation/evolution and the role of Christianity in the founding of the United States. It is a story full of ironies, not unlike American history itself.
Texas is a big state, and it orders a lot of textbooks. Textbook publishers cannot afford to tailor their products to every potential audience, so they often aim at the large target under the Lone Star. As a result, 15 people in Texas help determine the curriculum for much of the country. Who knew that an elected body including high school teachers, administrators, real estate agents, lawyers, and a dentist has more direct influence over public schools in this country than do the presidents of Ivy League universities?
Reality as the opposite of what you would expect is one kind of irony. Irony as unintended consequences, and irony as the juxtaposition of contradictory impulses, are also on display in Shorto’s piece. Both appear in his discussion of the fabled wall of separation between church and state.
Nothing has ever been easy for this once-lush island nation.
Like most people, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to Haiti in the past few weeks than ever before. I know very little about the place. It comes up just twice in my U.S. history survey course, once in the lecture on New World colonization, and again in a lecture on slave uprisings. For my own knowledge as well as for this blog, I thought I’d try to sketch a religious history of Haiti—one that does not include a national pact with the devil.
The island of Hispaniola, now divided between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, bore the brunt of early Spanish colonization of the New World. Christopher Columbus explored its northern coast in 1492, and his favorable reports, along with Spain’s quest for riches and global dominance, soon brought many more soldiers, priests, and economic adventurers. Bartolome de las Casas, a Dominican priest whose father and uncles joined Columbus’s second expedition, witnessed the results of this conquest. He titled his wrenching narrative, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies (1542). It begins:
The Indies were discovered in the year one thousand four hundred and ninety-two. In the following year a great many Spaniards went there with the intention of settling the land. Thus, forty-nine years have passed since the first settlers penetrated the land, the first so claimed being the large and most happy isle called Hispaniola…
And of all the infinite universe of humanity, these [indigenous] people are the most guileless, the most devoid of wickedness and duplicity, the most obedient and faithful to their native masters and to the Spanish Christians whom they serve. They are by nature the most humble, patient, and peaceable, holding no grudges, free from embroilments, neither excitable nor quarrelsome. These people are the most devoid of rancors, hatreds, or desire for vengeance of any people in the world….
Yet into this sheepfold, into this land of meek outcasts there came some Spaniards who immediately behaved like ravening wild beasts, wolves, tigers, or lions that had been starved for many days. And Spaniards have behaved in no other way during the past forty years, down to the present time, for they are still acting like ravening beasts, killing, terrorizing, afflicting, torturing, and destroying the native peoples, doing all this with the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty, never seen or heard of before, and to such a degree that this Island of Hispaniola, once so populous (having a population that I estimated to be more than three million), has now a population of barely two hundred persons.
With the native population annihilated, mostly by disease, the Spanish conquerors looked to the African slave trade for a new labor supply. Religion in Hispaniola thus became a mixture of indigenous Caribbean and imported African practices, overlaid with Roman Catholicism. That mixture produced voodoo (or Vodou), which perhaps half of all Haitians practice, despite the fact that some 80 percent of Haitians formally identify as Roman Catholics, and most of the rest formally identify as Protestants.
According to the website of the Cultural Orientation Resource Center, an organization that aids the resettlement of refugees, the word “voodoo” means “spirit” in the Fon language of West Africa. The COR describes voodoo as “a religion based on family spirits [loas] who generally help and protect. Although lacking a fixed theology and an organized hierarchy, voodoo is a religion with its own rituals, ceremonies, and altars that practitioners do not find to be at odds with Roman Catholicism. In fact, many Roman Catholic symbols and prayers have blended with voodoo rituals and traditions to make for a unique and typically Haitian religion. For example, pictures of Catholic saints are painted on the walls of temples to represent the voodoo spirits; at funerals, it is not uncommon that voodoo ceremonies and rituals be performed for family members first, followed by a more public traditional Roman Catholic ceremony presided over by a priest.”
Hobby Lobby retail chain donates defunct Massachusetts campus to proposed C. S. Lewis College.
A few days after Christmas I caught up with some news stories about the sale of the boarding schools evangelist Dwight L. Moody founded for poor children in 1879 (the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies) and 1881 (the Mount Hermon School for Boys). Hat tip to Philadelphia journalist W. G. Shuster for the links.
The basic facts according to news reports:
- The Massachusetts schools had gone co-ed in 1971, consolidated on one campus in 2005, and needed to find an appropriate owner for the unused and deteriorating Northfield Campus.
- Hobby Lobby, a privately held retail chain with a Christian vision, purchased the property for a nominal $100,000 and a commitment to preserve the historic campus and building. They are planning to spend about $5 million in operations and capital improvement projects over the next few years.
- Hobby Lobby then donated the property to the C. S. Lewis Foundation, which since its founding in 1986 has been looking for a way to start a great books college based on a Christian educational vision.
- The C. S. Lewis Foundation (which earlier purchased and refurbished Lewis’s Oxford home known as “The Kilns” and holds periodic seminars there) plans to launch C. S. Lewis College on the Northfield campus in 2012 with an initial entering class of 400, a faculty of 40, and a staff of 45.
So what is the story behind the schools Dwight L. Moody founded and the campus that will soon take the name of C. S. Lewis?
A preliminary list.
As the managing editor for news and online journalism at Christianity Today, I’m constantly watching out for religion news. As a church history fan, I pay particular attention when today’s developments intersect with yesterday’s.
We’ve recently finished putting together our list of the top news stories of 2009 (we haven’t released our list yet, but Religion Newswriters Association, Baptist Joint Committee, Catholic News Service, and Time have.) I have to say, for pure news value, it seemed like a slow news year in religion news.
It was a bit of a slow news year in Christian history news, too, but I was able to put a list together of some notable events. Still, I can’t help but feel I’m missing something rather significant. Consider this, then, a non-authoritative, preliminary list.
1. A year of anniversaries
The “restoration movement” celebrated the 200th anniversary of its founding document of sorts, Thomas Campbell’s “Declaration and Address of the Christian Association of Washington.” Baptists celebrated the 400th anniversary of the first Baptist congregation by Thomas Helwys and John Smyth. The 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth drew renewed attention to his “enigmatic” faith (Charles Darwin, born the same day, got similar treatment.) But, probably due to the growing popularity of the “young Reformed movement,” the 500th birthday of John Calvin got the most attention.
2. Archaeologists find Israel’s largest artificial cave near Jericho
University of Haifa Archaeologist Adam Zertal told reporters he thought the site might be Galgala (Gilgal)—or perhaps just a place where later Christians thought Gilgal might have been. But at the very least, the 31 cross markings on the pillars and the suggestion that the site may have been a monastery or early Christian refuge during periods of persecution remains intriguing.
3. Discovery announced of a Byzantine church near Jerusalem with “breathtakingly beautiful mosaics”
The good news: A church from the sixth or seventh century was discovered at Moshav Nes-Harim, near Jerusalem. Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Daniel Ein Mor said the excavation “supplements our knowledge about the nature of the Christian-Byzantine settlement in the rural areas between the main cities in this part of the country during the Byzantine period, among them Bet Guvrin, Emmaus and Jerusalem.” Among the findings: “breathtakingly beautiful mosaics” and an inscription: “O Lord God of Saint Theodorus, protect Antonius and Theodosia the illustres [a title used to distinguish high nobility in the Byzantine period] - Theophylactus and John the priest [or priests]. [Remember o Lord] Mary and John who have offe[red - ] in the 6th indiction. Lord, have pity of Stephen.”
The story does not have a happy ending: “In November , during the first excavation in the site, archaeologists exposed the church's narthex—the broad entrance at the front of the church's nave. It was filled with a carpet of polychrome mosaics that was adorned with geometric patterns of intertwined rhomboids separated by flower bud motifs. Unfortunately, at the conclusion of that excavation, the mosaic was defaced and almost completely destroyed by unknown vandals.”
4. Pope Benedict XVI confronts Holocaust denial
The Pope’s decision to lift the excommunication of four bishops associated with the Society of St. Pius X, including Richard Williamson, caused an uproar. Williamson had denied the extent of the Holocaust, saying, “I think that 200,000 to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, but none of them in gas chambers.” Pope Benedict acknowledged “mistakes” in handling the lifting of the excommunication, including not “consulting the information available on the internet.” The debate, which became a focus of Benedict’s May visit to Israel, gave opportunity for pundits to call attention to the longstanding discussion over whether Vatican did enough to save Jews during World War II and to the history of Catholic-Jewish relations.
5. Did the “authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls” exist? Some critics of Dead Sea Scroll scholarship didn’t.
Rachel Elior made headlines with her claim that the Essenes were merely an invention by Flavius Josephus and that the efforts to tie the sect to the Dead Sea Scrolls are thus doomed to failure. But her claim was overshadowed by the arrest of Raphael Golb, son of Dead Sea Scrolls scholar Norman Golb, on charges of identity theft, criminal impersonation and aggravated harassment. Norman Golb is one of the most vocal critics of the Essene-authorship theory (though he apparently believes they existed). Raphael Golb apparently created many internet aliases and trolled the internet to promote his father’s work and smear critics. Did either Golb or Elior significantly change Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship this year? Maybe not. But it gave people something to talk about, anyway.
Last weekend, white and black Methodist congregations in Philadelphia worshiped together for the first time in more than 200 years.
In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told an audience at Western Michigan University, “At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation. This is tragic.” Sunday morning segregation was especially tragic at two Methodist churches in Philadelphia, separated by one mile and more than 200 years. The two churches, St. George’s and Mother Bethel, reunited for the first time October 25, 2009.
The split between the churches dated back to the late eighteenth century and the career of Richard Allen. Born a slave in Philadelphia in 1760, Allen and his family were sold to a Delaware farmer, Stokely Sturgis, who allowed him to attend church. Slaves’ exposure to Christianity in the early eighteenth century had largely consisted of exhortations to obey their masters, but by the later years of that century, Methodists and Baptists had begun effective evangelism to slave communities. These two churches’ practice of licensing black preachers proved a key to their success but also, unfortunately, brought the racial tensions building in American society in-house.
In 1777, Allen and Sturgis both converted to Methodism. Sturgis became convinced that God would judge slaveholders harshly, so he offered his slaves their freedom for $2,000 each. Allen purchased his and his brother’s freedom in 1783, became a Methodist preacher, and spent the next six years itinerating around Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, and South Carolina. Eventually he worked his way back to Philadelphia. He was invited to serve as assistant minister at St. George’s Methodist Church and to preach publicly in the city’s black neighborhoods. As his popularity grew, so did the black congregation worshiping at St. George’s, much to the consternation of some white members.
In his autobiography, Allen recounted the events that divided the church:
Anglican agonies demonstrate the link between long history and deep conflict.
Now is not a happy time to be an Episcopalian, or an Anglican, or an Anglican who was until recently an Episcopalian, or any permutation thereof. After agreeing to a temporary moratorium on ordaining homosexual bishops, the Episcopal Church - the American branch of the Anglican Communion, so named because Anglican sounded treasonously English during the Revolutionary War - voted last week to lift the moratorium and begin developing a liturgy to bless same-sex unions. (Though the Episcopal Church's presiding bishop is, after the fact, claiming the vote didn't actually mean that.)
The exodus of conservative members and parishes already underway is sure to continue, along with an increase in expressions of anger, chagrin, and sadness on all sides. Oh, and there will be plenty of valuable church properties to wrestle over, too.
Although several other Protestant denominations have been agonizing over homosexuality for years now, Episcopalians seem to be tied in the tightest knots, an impression created in part because they make such great news.
The troubling Christian forerunners of Tiller's killer.
"The shooting of abortion physician George Tiller continued a long, dark tradition in American politics," Jon Shields wrote in a fascinating op-ed for Christianity Today earlier this month. "Radicalism on the fringes of social movements has been a surprisingly enduring phenomenon in American politics. There were violent abolitionists, axe-wielding temperance crusaders, Black Panthers in the civil rights movement, Weathermen in the New Left, and eco-terrorists in the environmental movement."
Indeed, in the wake of Tiller's murder I've seen more discussion of Christian history than I've seen since The Da Vinci Code movie came out. Shields points to various social movements, but in the blogosphere over the past few weeks there has been a focus on two particular moments in history: Dietrich Bonhoeffer's participation in an attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler, and the violent abolitionism of John Brown, Nat Turner, and others.
"When it came to defying Hitler's regime, Bonhoeffer saw that several excruciating moral questions were on â€˜the borderland' and could not be settled with absolute certainty," Al Mohler wrote in an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune. "Eventually, he was convinced that the Nazi regime was beyond moral correction and no longer legitimate. Christians, he then saw, bore a responsibility to oppose the regime at every level and to seek its demise. He acted in defense of life and was finally willing to use violence to that end."
He immediately added this: "America is not Nazi Germany. George Tiller, though bearing the blood of thousands of unborn children on his hands, was not Adolf Hitler. The murderer of Dr. George Tiller is no Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Dr. Tiller's murderer did not serve the cause of life; he assaulted that cause at its moral core. There is no justification for this murder, and it is the responsibility of everyone who cherishes life and honors human dignity to declare this without equivocation or hesitation."
How hardship steeled the Greatest Generation for their greatest challenge.
The day will come when American presidents will no longer feel compelled to visit the beaches of Normandy on landmark anniversaries. Like other great feats of self-sacrifice, D-Day will fade from public memory. The veterans will pass away. And no movie can replace hearing their first-person accounts of these heroic, horrific events. But for now, anniversaries still stir presidents to deliver new words of appreciation for the soldiers who never returned home. Official visits bring to our television screens the haunting images of rows and rows of white crosses that mark veteran graves.
â€˜It was unknowable then, but so much of the progress that would define the 20th century, on both sides of the Atlantic, came down to the battle for a slice of beach only six miles long and two miles wide," President Obama said on June 6, the 65th anniversary. "More particularly, it came down to the men who landed here - those who now rest in this place for eternity, and those who are with us here today. Perhaps more than any other reason, you, the veterans of that landing, are why we still remember what happened on D-Day. You're why we keep coming back."
Church largely greets latest Dan Brown thriller with shrug.
Compared to The Da Vinci Code hype in 2006, Angels & Demons has barely registered a blip on the pop culture radar. With the new Dan Brown adaptation opening in theaters May 15, director Ron Howard attempted to stir up controversy when he accused the Roman Catholic Church of obstructing his filming. The usual suspects have obliged movie publicists with anti-Brown polemics. But so far the Vatican has resisted the urge to join the fray. The semi-official Vatican weekly L'Osservatore Romano declined to cite the movie's many historical inaccuracies. Instead, a reviewer described it as a basic big-budget action flick with stereotypical characters. At least this time the church sides with Brown's good guys, namely Robert Langdon, played once again by Tom Hanks.
Strategically, it's hard to argue with the Vatican's approach. Vocal Christian opposition to The Da Vinci Code largely served to stoke reader and moviegoer interest. Much the same happened, of course, when the Anti-Defamation League, The New York Times, and others faulted Mel Gibson for The Passion of Jesus Christ. By contrast, agnosticism breeds apathy. A little culture-war controversy might have bolstered the bottom line for The Nativity Story. America magazine blogger Michael Sean Winters captured this mood when he urged Catholics not to expect historical accuracy from Angels & Demons.
"So, go to the movie or don’t go to the movie," Winters wrote. "Your soul, and the soul of our culture, is not at stake here."
The Practice of Piety by Lewis Bayly was the most popular book in Puritan England.
Still today, Christians around the world read John Bunyan's classic allegory The Pilgrim's Progress with profit. Yet Bunyan may have never embarked on his dynamic spiritual journey if not for the most popular book during his day. The Practice of Piety (published 1611) rarely grips readers the way Bunyan did. But its author, Lewis Bayly, set a lofty standard for Christian devotion that convicted Bunyan and inspired generations of his countrymen.
Bayly was an Anglican bishop with Puritan sympathies. His life's work reflects the Anglican attempt to maintain some continuity with medieval Catholicism and the Puritan plan to radically reform theology and practice. Thus, Bayly infused the Catholic devotional genre shaped by Thomas ? Kempis and Ignatius of Loyola with Puritan theology indebted to John Calvin.
Following the Reformation, Protestant clergy such as Bayly determined to meet the significant challenge of reworking devotional literature to reflect theological changes. Few lay Protestants could confidently and correctly pray without the aid of their Catholic primers. Bayly's theology-rich prayers and meditations filled this need. In the spirit of Holy Week, we'll look at a few of his meditations on the Cross and Resurrection.
Claim “has shaken the bedrock of biblical scholarship.”
Western biblical scholars have long discussed and debated the work of biblical scholars living in Israel, amid the scorching deserts of the Middle East. Now a prominent expert disputes that one of those scholars doesn't exist at all - a claim that has shaken the bedrock of biblical scholarship.
Rachel Elior, who nearly destroyed the academic universe as we know it last week when she argued that the ascetic and celibate Jewish community known as the Essenes were a myth fabricated by the first-century historian Josephus, is herself a myth fabricated by journalists desperate for an Eastertime biblical scandal, according to prominent expert Alan Smithee.
'Event of the century' offers hope during depression.
If you're not familiar with what renowned Harvard historian Perry Miller termed the "event of the century," now is the time. We're talking about the 19th century, but we're not talking about the Civil War. We're talking about the nationwide revivals of 1857 and 1858. Kathryn Long of Wheaton College notes that historians have largely ignored these revivals, caught between the Second Great Awakening before 1835 and the Civil War, which broke out in 1861.
With diversity up and the economy down, these Sabbatarian statutes could be coming off the books.
"Blue laws" do not appear in the indices of any of the American church history survey texts on my shelf (I looked), but in many parts of the country these quirky codes are some of the most enduring reminders of a bygone era. You can't buy a car at a dealership on Sunday in Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin. Rules governing purchases of alcohol on the Lord's Day are far more complicated. On Sundays, you can't buy alcohol between 4 and 8 a.m. in New York (but if you want to get blasted before the late church service, go right ahead), between 2 and 10 a.m. in Arizona, before noon in Michigan, or at any time in several states. In some places, you can buy beer or wine, but not liquor, on Sundays, and in others, you can buy warm drinks but not cold. And, of course, almost no one gets mail on Sunday - unless you live in Seventh-day Adventist enclave Loma Linda, California, where you can't get mail on Saturday instead.
All of this could be changing soon, with potentially considerable consequences.
Though the etymology is murky, the "blue" in "blue laws" seems to refer not to blue paper or blue-bound law books but to a pejorative descriptor for Puritans, as in bluenose and blueblood. Puritans do not entirely deserve their reputation as killjoys, but they did take their Sabbath seriously, restricting trade, travel, entertainment, and sex, among other things. They did not, however, originally forbid drinking on Sunday. Those laws came later, after alcoholic beverages grew more potent and water supplies were purified.
Health and holiness were never the only reasons behind Sabbath laws. True, 19th-century revivals often spurred campaigns against such impieties as Sabbath-breaking and drunkenness, but cultural protectionism lay behind some blue law crusades as well. Jews and Seventh-day Adventists, especially in the West, sometimes found themselves targeted by efforts to halt business on a day they did not recognize as the Sabbath, while Roman Catholic immigrants felt particularly acute Protestant hostility on Sundays. For many immigrant laborers, Sunday was their only day off. Already frustrated by restrictions on alcohol (a classic attack on "rum, Romanism, and rebellion"), immigrant workers were disproportionately burdened by Sabbath-day store closings and public transportation stoppages.
Blue law backers shifted over time. After New England religion lost much of its hard-edged holiness, blue laws remained in place to promote general sobriety and, at least as important, the social status quo. It is important to remember that, generally speaking, the same people who fought for abolition went on to champion woman suffrage and Prohibition, all ideas considered "progressive" in their day. By the 1920s, though, liberal and conservative Protestants began to split on this and so many other issues. A 1920 New York Times article highlighted the opposition of the Rev. Dr. William T. Manning, rector of Trinity [Episcopal] Church, to a coalition that sought to make "church the only place to go and home the only place to stay" on Sunday. Rev. Manning proclaimed that a return to the Puritan-style Sabbath would "injure religion" and protested that "God is near in joys also." From that decade forward, morality legislation became increasingly identified, sometimes aptly and sometimes opportunistically, with the born-again wing of American Christianity.
Much of the fervor behind Sabbath-keeping has dissipated. Now that so many people worship different gods, or no god at all, hitting the grocery store - or the bar - on Sunday raises far fewer eyebrows than it might have years ago. (I still do not recommend that you mow your lawn on Sunday morning in my small Indiana hometown. You will get looks.) More important, in this economy, cash-strapped states crave revenues raised on products like beer and cars. And so, from South Carolina to Minnesota, Connecticut to Texas, lawmakers are working to scratch blue laws and open for business on Sunday.
Will repealing blue laws make any difference?
We moderns (and even we postmoderns) love top-ten lists. David Letterman has even managed to prop up a wilting career by providing one daily.
This list reaches fearlessly into the land of the oxymoron - you know, those lovely self-contradictory statements: "jumbo shrimp," "airline food," "Microsoft Works™." The oxymoron for today: "Hot issues in history."
That was the topic put to me a couple of years ago when my seminary's sister undergraduate institution, Bethel College, was looking to spiff up the Christian history content of its Western Civ course. Would I come talk to the course's cadre of professors about what's "new and exciting" in this field of history? So I took my best shot.
I can't say my colleagues in the guild of Christian historians are staying awake nights wrestling with any of the following 10 issues. But these are all matters that I've recently seen discussed - some of them with some heat - by historically conscious evangelicals. If there is a theme to the list, it is this: How does our history define us, and how should it?
So here goes:
The story of George Beverly Shea's signature tune.
George Beverly Shea turns 100 on Sunday, February 1. Ever since 1944, when 26-year-old Wheaton College student Billy Graham recruited him to sing on the radio program "Songs in the Night," Bev Shea has been the face and the voice most associated in the public mind with the famous evangelist.
The song most associated with Billy Graham is "Just As I Am," but Bev Shea's signature tune is clearly "How Great Thou Art." Even though nearly every gospel artist - from Elvis Presley to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir - has recorded it, it is Bev Shea's tune. Here's the story of that song.
George Beverly Shea's first contact with "How Great Thou Art" dates to 1954. But the song itself dates to 1885, when Swedish pastor Carl Gustav Boberg was caught in a thunderstorm.
Is there a connection? Historians press - perhaps too hard - for answers.
This is a belated report from the American Historical Associa-
tion/American Society of Church History conference, held in New
York City the first week of January. Excellent sessions on American religious history abounded, with a surprising number of them scheduled on the AHA program. My hunch is that this abundance has something to do with the relative scarcity of American Christian history on the program at the American Academy of Religion, the other major conference for scholars in this field, but that's my own professional bugaboo, not worth ranting about here.
Anyhow, I'd like to focus on one AHA session, titled, "Oil, Coal, and Conservative Religion in the Twentieth Century." (In the interest of full disclosure, I worked with four of the five scholars involved with this session at Duke or the University of North Carolina, so I'm not exactly choosing it at random.)
The first paper, by Brendan Pietsch at Duke, dug into the mind of Ly-
man Stewart, the early twentieth-century oil tycoon who bankrolled
The Fundamentals. Drawing on Stewart's writings, the paper found an alchemical link between drilling and evangelism, as Stewart repeatedly professed a desire to transmute oil wealth into "living gospel truth" as quickly as possible. The paper also sketched a link
between the breathless search for new reserves -
Stewart was known to sniff for oil in gopher holes - and a similarly exhilarating search for hidden truths in the Bible's prophetic passages.
Is an Armenian Church in Tbilisi the victim of "Georgianization"?
In late summer 2008, Russian and Georgian forces fought for control of a disputed region, South Ossetia. Among the complicating factors in that conflict were ethnic versus political boundaries, the possible return of Cold War tensions, and debate over which side fired the first shots. In this final week of the year, a different battle in Georgia has made the news, one pitting Georgians against Armenians for control of a disputed church.
As reported by Nina Akhmeteli of AFP, in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, two centuries-old stone churches share a courtyard. Jvaris Mama, a Georgian Orthodox church noted by the Lonely Planet guide for its "exquisitely pious and calm atmosphere," opens its doors to an active congregation. Its neighbor, Norashen Holy Mother of God Armenian Church, is locked, its walls and grounds marked by recent additions. The Georgian priest says the Norashen Church is undergoing renovations. Armenians complain that the church is the victim of "Georgianization," a systematic campaign to obscure Armenian heritage and rewrite the church's--and the country's--history.
Ethnicity and political control factor into this fight as in the August conflict with Russia. An ancient theological dispute remains relevant as well.
It's that season again. No, I'm not talking about Christmas. I'm talking about the incessant television ads that bombard you with reminders of the movies that open on Christmas. And nothing says Christmas like Tom Cruise dressed as a German officer from the Nazi era. In the movie Valkyrie, the megastar plays Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, a leading figure in the failed plot to kill Hitler with a bomb on July 20, 1944. Hitler's narrow escape from the assassination attempt has inspired countless "what if" scenarios in the years since Hitler committed suicide and Germany surrendered in 1945. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was connected with the Valkyrie plotters, almost certainly would have evaded martyrdom, for example.
The lure of box office riches keeps filmmakers returning again and again to this era. A little more than a year ago, Ken Burns released his latest acclaimed documentary, titled simply "The War." The title needed no adjective, because everyone knows the reference. At one point, this simple title might have belonged to the Civil War or maybe World War I. But today, World War II is the war that helps us forget all other wars, especially those shrouded in controversy - namely Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq.
So what is it about World War II that sustains our interest?