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Editors’ Picks Issue 11

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American Prophets: Seven Religious Radicals and Their Struggle for Social and Political Justice

Albert J. Raboteau
(Princeton University Press)

What good does religion do in politics? Here’s an answer. This excellent introduction to the lives of seven truly prophetic voices of the last century shows how their boldness, love for humanity, and willingness to suffer stemmed from a deep personal relationship with the living God, which burned “like fire in the bones” (Jer. 20:9).

One can’t do justice to any of these figures in a chapter, but religious scholar Raboteau gets quickly to the heart of their witness, outlining the stories and spiritual insight of Abraham Joshua Heschel, Thomas Merton, Howard Thurman, Dorothy Day, A. J. Muste, Martin Luther King Jr., and Fannie Lou Hamer.

Raboteau traces the close connections between these men and women, who learned much from each other. They raised their voices together at a kairos moment; the time was ripe for the prophetic vision of a few to move millions to self-sacrificial action out of love to others.

Surely we’re due for another such moment. Rather than bemoan the dearth of prophetic voices today, we can follow the same call. As Heschel insists: “This world, this society can be redeemed. God has a stake in our moral predicament. I cannot believe that God will be defeated.”

book cover of American Prophets American Prophets

Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge
Film directed by Mel Gibson

We wondered how Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to win a Congressional Medal of Honor, would survive the Hollywood treatment. The protagonist of Mel Gibson’s new film refuses to carry a gun and goes on to save seventy-five men as a medic during the battle of Okinawa.

A Chicago Tribune review calling the film “the most bloodthirsty movie about a pacifist ever made” is on point; war really is hell, but we don’t need Mel Gibson to teach us that. The most thought-provoking parts of the film occur off the battlefield: Doss’s relationship with his girlfriend (and later wife), his repeated clashes with military brass and fellow soldiers, and the formative influence of his father, a deeply damaged World War I veteran who presented young Doss with an illustrated copy of the Ten Commandments depicting Cain killing his brother Abel. Doss later said, “I wondered, How in the world could a brother do such a thing? It put a horror in my heart of just killing, and as a result I took it personally: ‘Desmond, if you love me, you won’t kill.’”

Doss’s religious conviction was perceived as unmanly cowardice, a sign of feeble character. But what defines courage? It’s not all hard-bitten muscle and smoking firepower. What about moral bravery, the strength to stand alone for what you believe is right? It won’t make you popular and is harder to attain, but will almost certainly have more enduring consequences. Through his actions Doss disproved his nay­sayers, even as he saved their lives.

movie poster of Hacksaw Ridge Hacksaw Ridge
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