- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2008

Revisiting Reformation

“It’s impossible to walk through Wittenberg, also known as “Luther City,” without stumbling across reminders of Martin Luther. There’s the “Luther oak,” then Luther Street, which leads to the Luther House. Along the way are restaurants offering a ‘Luther menu’ (choice of meat or fish) and a travel agency touting a tour boat named after the city, which couples can book for their weddings. The bars serve Luther beer; the bakery has Luther bread. There’s a huge memorial to Luther in the main marketplace. And the city is crawling with guides decked out in long frocks a la Luther. The city has been completely Lutherized.

“Wittenberg, in fact, is as important to the history of Protestantism as Rome is for the Catholic Church. But there’s an essential difference: While Rome is full of Catholics, less than 10 percent of Wittenberg’s 46,000 citizens are Protestants. …

“In today’s Wittenberg, the real miracle to behold is something more like a miracle of disbelief: Luther can’t be avoided here, but the beliefs he stood for are easy to miss. An official from the organization responsible for the city’s Protestant churches describes the ironic tension by saying it’s ‘a tension that isn’t always easy to take.’”

-Stefan Berg, writing on “Luther City Revisits the Reformation,” on Oct. 28 in Der Spiegel

Potter’s spell

“Harry Potter has become the latest target for Professor Richard Dawkins, who is planning to find out whether tales of witch[c]raft and wizardy have a negative effect on children. The prominent atheist is stepping down from his post at Oxford University to write a book aimed at youngsters, in which he will warn them against believing in ‘anti-scientific’ fairytales.

“Prof. Dawkins said: ‘The book I write next year will be a children’s book on how to think about the world, science thinking contrasted with mythical thinking.’ … Prof. Dawkins said he wanted to look at the effects of ‘bringing children up to believe in spells and wizards.’

“‘I think it is anti-scientific — whether that has a pernicious effect, I don’t know,’ he told More4 News. ‘I think looking back to my own childhood, the fact that so many of the stories I read allowed the possibility of frogs turning into princes, whether that has a sort of insidious affect on rationality, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s something for research.’ ”

-Martin Beckford and Urmee Khan, writing on “Harry Potter fails to cast spell over Professor Richard Dawkins,” on Oct. 25 at the London Daily Telegraph


“Most religions offer precepts that seek to dampen our touchy, selfish side. Confucius was asked, ‘Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?’ He replied, ‘It is the word ‘shu’ — reciprocity.’ Leviticus says, ‘Love your fellow as yourself.’ And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke the Golden Rule: ‘So in everything do unto others what you would have them do to you.’ But a recurring source of offense is that while people can easily live with the fact that they fall short on ‘doing unto others,’ they often find it intolerable when others are not properly doing unto them.

“Humans have superb abilities to evaluate the defects of everyone else. The glitch, [psychology professor Jonathan] Haidt says, is that we’re blind to our own flaws. He points out that Jesus used this very metaphor when he said, ‘You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.’ Haidt says we think that our perception of events is the objective truth, while everyone else’s version is deluded by their self-interest.”

-Emily Yoffe, writing on “Well, Excuuuuuse Meee!” on Oct. 17 at Slate

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