October 9 – St. Denis’s Day, patron saint for those who have lost their head (Tea Party? House GOP?) 2014 edition

October 9, 2014

Dear Reader: My apologies. As Cecil might say, we’ve been fighting ignorance since 1974, and it’s taking longer than we thought.  My hopes to retire this post have not been realized.  Heck, it doesn’t even need much editing from last year. Saints save us, please!

We might pause to reflect, too:  2014 has seen the media rise of actual beheadings.  This practice, which now strikes many of us as barbaric, occurs in reality as well as memory and literature; unlike St. Denis, those beheaded do not usually carry on to do anything at all; like St. Denis, they are martyred. Vote well in 2014.  Your vote should be directed at preventing anyone’s losing their head, even just figuratively.

October 9 is the Feast Day of St. Denis.

Who?  He’s the patron saint of Paris (and France, by some accounts), and possessed people.   Take a look at this statue, from the “left door” of the Cathedral of Notre Dame  in Paris (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris: portail de gauche).  He was martyred by beheading, in about 250 C.E.

English: Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris: porta...

St. Denis greets vistors to the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris: portail de gauche)

Our trusty friend Wikipedia explains:

According to the Golden Legend, after his head was chopped off, Denis picked it up and walked two miles, preaching a sermon the entire way.[6] The site where he stopped preaching and actually died was made into a small shrine that developed into the Saint Denis Basilica, which became the burial place for the kings of France. Another account has his corpse being thrown in the Seine, but recovered and buried later that night by his converts.[2]

Clearly, he is the guy to pray to about Michelle Bachmann, Rush Limbaugh, Todd Akin, Paul Ryan, intelligent design, and the Texas State Board of Education, no?  In 2013, you can add Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Louis Gohmert, the entire Tea Party, and the entire GOP crew of the House of Representatives.  You catch my drift.

Perhaps you can use this factoid to some advantage, enlightenment, and perhaps humor.  In Catholic lore, St. Denis is one of the “14 Holy Helpers,” and his aid is sought to help people with headaches, or who have been possessed.

Crazy GOP members who I suspect of having been possessed give me and America a headache.  St. Denis seems to be our man.

Who else do you know of in this modern, vexatious time, who keeps talking after losing his/her head?

As Rod Stewart sang, just “let your imagination run wild.”  Maybe St. Denis is listening.

More:

Statue to St. Denis, in Cluny

Another portrayal, in sculpture, of St. Denis. Notice how this one’s face doesn’t really look like the one above? Ouvre du Musée de Cluny, Wikipedia photo by Guillaume Blanchard (Aoineko), June 2001, FinePix 1400Z.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. I had hoped to have to retire this post someday.  I still hope.  Perhaps this will be the last year we’ll have so many wackaloons running loose. Pray to St. Denis.


Why no one believes in evolution, why faith in creationism isn’t Christian doctrine, and why we know Noah’s flood is false

September 2, 2014

I keep forgetting.

Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub was born in 2006.  That was three years after my first great forays into education policy in Texas, working to make sure science stayed in the science books — and probably about a decade after I started explaining evolution to creationists, patiently at first, and then with a great deal of snark, on the internet.  A lot of that discussion, and some good posts, died when AOL pulled the plug on archiving discussion threads (the schmucks!).

Another sign of AOL’s doom, perhaps.

From time to time I run into an earnest creationist, and rather than re-explain, I start looking for my old explanations here at this blog . . . and then I remember.  The explanations largely do not exist here.

Heck, 2006 was even after the decision in the Dover, Pennsylvania case, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. (Read the decision in the case here, key documents and a chronology, here at the venerable TalkOrigins.)

We saw an uptick in creationist activity recently, in 2012, continuing into 2013.  We’ve seen eruptions of ignorance, blind faith and malice, sometimes, that warrant having explanations of evolution around.  So, even though it’s repeating stuff from elsewhere, even though this discussion should have been over by 50 years ago, here we are trying to establish a trail of information explaining why evolution is hard science, and needs to be taught in public schools (and all other schools, too), and why creationism and its mutant clone “intelligent design” are not science, but are instead religious beliefs that have no place in school science classes (nor any classes, IMHO).

There are good sites living in the tubes of the ‘net these days that didn’t exist even nine years ago — but creationists won’t find them quickly or willingly, and they will dismiss them if they do find them at all.   You can find good stuff there, and I highly recommend writings on evolution at these sites:

Recently I provided a brief correction to a post I fell across in some search or other, at a blog by a guy named Daniel Lovett.  He urged that we reject science with regard to evolution.  I responded, and he responded at a greater length.  I had hoped to point him quickly so something I’d written here, and found I hadn’t written it here.

These issues are simmering even in Texas again; I want to create a record.  Here’s a step.

Three points need to be made to the neo-creationists:

  • Evolution is not a faith, it’s based in science and observations of nature.  Consequently, one does not “believe” in evolution; one follows the evidenceThe old creationist snark that “it takes more faith to believe evolution than to be a Christian” is only a statement that one refuses to look at or acknowledge evidence, how evidence works.  It is a confession that one is biased against evidence in reality.
  • Creationism cannot be found in scripture, nor in most Christian tradition.  Creationism is a mostly-American invention falling out of a rather new form of scriptural interpretation called “literalism” which refuses to recognize scripture as documents written by humans about human history.  Creationism starts with an assumption, contrary to tradition and scripture, that God dictated much of the Bible.  In this way it confuses Moslem and Mormon doctrine with traditional Christian doctrine.  This is a long discussion that will only be touched on here even if it seems long.  Creationism claims incorrect authorship of scripture, inaccurately claims only one creation story is told, and assumes as Christian doctrine that the age of the Earth is of importance to the faith, and that contrary to scripture’s claims, one can determine how old the Earth is by following one family tree in the Bible.  Or maybe another family tree.  Serious students of the Bible know that at no place is there anything close to a statement that says, “God created in the Earth in a rush, in six days of slap-dash whim, and one must ignore science in order to be Christian.”
  • Noah’s flood, if it occurred at all, was regional, and not worldwide; assuming a greater cataclysm should not be a point of faith, when it requires one to deny physical reality.

With those preliminaries out of the way, I can answer Mr. Lovett’s arguments specifically, I think.  I stumbled into his blog, and I provided a very brief response to a post of his that makes several erroneous claims about science, about evolution and Christianity, and concludes that creationism is superior to evolution, scientifically.  Mr. Lovett responded, and called me “friend.”

Dear Friend Daniel, you wrote:

I am of the opinion that the Bible is true and accurate in every respect, scientific and otherwise. It can be trusted because Jesus can be trusted. Though I don’t pretend to know “how” God accomplished the creation in 6 days, I know that he did because he revealed that to us (see my other blog post: http://daniellovett.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/creation-science-oxymoron/).

Let’s be clear that the credibility of Jesus is not on the line here.  Jesus didn’t write any of the books we know as “the Bible” today.  So far as we know, Jesus wrote nothing that survives, no text at all.  Could Jesus write?  We don’t know.

So, for all of those reasons which tell us Jesus had nothing to do with the authoring of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, but also the New Testament, putting trust in Jesus has nothing to do with scientific accuracy in the Bible.  If you’re trusting the Bible because you trust Jesus, you’re projecting where projection is not logically required, and where the faith doesn’t ask it.

Evolution is not faith - Global Secular Humanist Movement on Facebook

If the evidence is there, no faith is required. Faith is what we use to substitute for evidence, for things we cannot prove in any rational fashion.

While you say “I don’t pretend to know ‘how’ God accomplished the creation in 6 days,” you assume God worked in a fast slap-dash fashion, and your entire post is dedicated to denying that God could have used natural processes of chemistry, physics and biology.  So you do pretend to know how God did it; and you make pretense to knowing that all of science is in error, for theological reasons that escape me.  For Jesus to be right about philosophy, or sin, or any other topic expounded on in Christian scripture, it is not necessary that science be in error.

As with Jesus not being the author of scripture, so we know — in Christian tradition — that God is not the author of scripture, either.  The earliest books we know were written by Jews; the first five books of the modern canon, in both Judaism and most sects of Christianity, we attribute to Moses by tradition, but by the words of the books themselves not to God.  In those books we find the clear command from God to Moses and the Jews to ‘write it down’ with regard to their history and laws.  Nowhere, according to scripture, does God say, “This is what to write down.”  Nowhere does God say, “Here is what I have written.”  The Old Testament was not written by God, was not dictated by God, nor is it the biography of God.

In a few places in those texts is there a claim that God revealed the when and why of creation.  In no place is there a claim God revealed the how of creation.   There are several places where various, different and frequently conflicting creation stories are told, however.  We get the history of creation, though, perhaps like Billy Pilgrim it is “unstuck in time.”  Creation occurred sometime before each story is told — but how long before is never a topic of scripture.  Depending on the version of the Bible one chooses, especially Catholic versus Protestant, there are four to eight different creation stories in scripture.  In Genesis 1 and 2, we find two different, often contradictory creation stories.  In Job, we find a story that is wholly different from both of the Genesis stories — and this is the one that is said by the author to be from God’s lips, explaining to Job what happened at the beginning when God wrestled a dragon to see who would have control of the Earth — no six day creation at all, no day of rest, no Eden, no Adam and Eve.

How can you “know” God revealed something when scripture doesn’t support that claim?  Do you claim to be a prophet?

Wholly apart from what you don’t know about science, I fear you’re unfamiliar with scripture, or you’re hiding those parts that simply do not support your own beliefs.  If the Bible is “true in every respect,” one should respect it; I don’t think you do.  How can you be said to respect scripture, when you ignore all the other creation stories, and the actual instructions of scripture as you do?

Daniel Lovett wrote:

So why do we believe Jesus or the word of God? Short answer: Because Jesus has been proven to be the Son of God and the Messiah, having fulfilled over 300 prophecies, lived a sinless life, worked miracles (all of which went unquestioned – people could have verified the facts by interviewing eyewitnesses), and finally the clincher – he rose from the dead.

I see.  You believe that you are correct, not for any rational reason, but because you believe what you believe.  Faith is a powerful quality; its exercise can be a bold act of tenacity, or a foolish act of stubbornness.  We need to take care when resting on faith, that which can be fact checked, lest we become the poster child of the Dunning Kruger Effect.

We don’t need to contradict your claim that the Bible is correct, but instead we might observe that at no place does the Bible claim to provide a literal and scientifically accurate story of creation.  Your trust in the Bible may be well placed.  Your claim that it presents a creation story in scientific accuracy, however, is not correct on the Bible’s own terms.

You have stretched the Bible to cover material it does not claim to cover, to make claims it does not claim to make.  At no point does the Bible, read as a complete collection, deny evolution, nor an old Earth, nor physics, nor chemistry.

Title page of James Ussher's Annales veteris t...

Title page of James Ussher’s Annales veteris testamenti, a prima mundi origine — the text upon which 6-day creationism is based. No, it’s not in scripture. (Photo: Wikipedia)

For example, at no place does the Bible claim that the Earth is young.  That conclusion was misapprehended through a misreading of the work of an Irish bishop, in the 17th century.  Bishop James Ussher, who passed for a geologist in his day. Studying nature was believed to be a rather divine calling for people who claimed faith in God in that time. Learning about nature was learning about God’s creation from a testament unsullied by mistranslation, church politics, or language difficulties.  Nature provided a solid, irrefutably correct second testament of God, and direct from God with God’s fingerprints on it.  In short, Ussher, and Darwin 200 years later, studied nature because of their belief that God was the creating force behind it.

Isn’t it ironic that, today, you reject the traditional Christian view of nature and its study, and instead adopt a more Pharisaic stance, that scripture written by men trumps God’s own creation?

Lovett wrote:

Jesus believed in creation:
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’” Matthew 19:4

Now I grow concerned.  You say you put your faith in the Bible, but then you cite this passage as somehow evidence that Jesus disputed Darwin and geology and cosmology and biology.

Jesus was talking about divorce.  How in the world could you have missed the plain meaning of that passage, and how could you have confused it to say anything about science, and the science of creation of the planet?  In context, it’s clear Jesus was rebuking the Pharisees for their clinging too strongly to scripture and not paying attention to reality; but at no point does Jesus pause and say, “By the way, the Earth was created in 6 days just a few thousand years ago.”  Jesus mentions a shorthand version of biological observation (I say shorthand because he ignores species with no gender, species with gender other that male and female, transgender, misgender, and species with more than two genders — if he’s relying on biology being accurate here, this passage would nullify all Abramic faith-based questioning of homosexual rights, since God also made them Adam and Steve, and Alice and Eve; but by now I’m digressing).  Jesus says mating is from God, and men shouldn’t create laws to undo it.

Jesus talks about divorce, and how it’s not part of the plan.  He says nothing against Darwin, and in fact appears to be relying on Darwin-style science, what we actually see in nature, to ground his argument against divorce.

I find it interesting that Jesus does not appeal solely to scripture here, but instead to nature.  If we stick to the words recorded, and the events, we get Jesus denying the religious laws of the day and saying, ‘Hey, Pharisees, haven’t you noticed that in nature things pair off; in humans, people naturally pair off in opposite-gender couples most of the time?  That’s an indication of God’s plan.  Divorce isn’t a key value of God’s scheme of marriage.  Don’t muck it up with a misinterpretation of scripture.’  You appeal to scripture, as the Pharisees did, to deny nature, where Jesus based his argument.  Plus, you do that on a topic that was nowhere mentioned in those 12 verses.

Let’s check the text.

In the King James version (so the fundies won’t squawk about mistranslations from Jesus’s English):

Matthew 19

King James Version (KJV)

19 And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, he departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judaea beyond Jordan;

And great multitudes followed him; and he healed them there.

The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?

And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,

And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?

Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?

He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

10 His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.

11 But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.

12 For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

Indirectly, Jesus bases his argument on creation; you stretch that to say He was putting his faith in creation, something that Jesus does not say there.  Then you stretch that farther to suggest it means He also believed in creationism.  We can fairly deduce a belief in the existence of creation and some natural order; but it’s adding much to the text, to claim that passage contradicts science.  I find that an unfair and unholy twisting of scripture.

At no place is there anything close to “Darwin goofed.”  At no place is there a testament from Jesus to the short slap-dash creation you insist.

Lovett said:

He also believed in the flood:
‘Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man.People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the Ark. Then the Flood came and destroyed them all.’ Luke 17:26–27

Again, I think you ignore what Jesus intended, and instead try to stretch a small part to say something else.

During the time Christians believe that Jesus lived and ministered, one of the divisions in Judaism broke over the issue of whether there is an afterlife, and what will be the signs of the Messiah’s coming, and later, of the end of the Earth.  Again, Pharisees try to hold Jesus to scripture, and again Jesus suggests different interpretations.  Notice that, again, neither side is talking about how the Earth as we know it was created.  That’s your add-on.

Again, from the King James Version, much of that chapter of Luke:

20 And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:

21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

22 And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it.

23 And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them.

24 For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day.

25 But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation.

26 And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.

27 They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.

28 Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded;

29 But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.

30 Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.

31 In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back.

32 Remember Lot’s wife.

33 Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.

34 I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.

35 Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

36 Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

37 And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.

Jesus is reported to have referred to a flood here, the flood of Noah.  As we noted earlier, Jesus is not the author of scripture, particularly not the author of the scriptures of the Pentateuch, in which the story of Noah is found.

But he’s not talking about whether a flood actually occurred.  Jesus uses literary allusion here.  Jews had their scriptures (not yet bound into the Torah), and observant and non-observant Jews, including especially the Pharisees, would have been familiar with the story of the flood of Noah.  When challenged about which side of the dispute he was on with regard to afterlife, Jesus didn’t fall into the trap.  He said, just like in the story of Noah when most people had no clue about the pending disaster, no one can know when “the Kingdom of God” will come (let alone exactly what that means).

So Jesus wasn’t saying, “By the way, the whole world was covered by a flood that can be pinpointed in time.”  Jesus was saying, “You Pharisees know the story of Noah; here’s an analogy:  The Kingdom of God will come when people don’t expect it, and they will be caught by surprise, as in the story of Noah people were caught by surprise by the flood.”

Critically, Jesus nowhere claims that the story is wholly, scientifically accurate.

Which is good, because that would make Jesus out to be a liar — and in your schema, where your faith seems to rest on whether Jesus is trustworthy in all things, that would destroy the basis of your faith, right?

I think perhaps you don’t understand what Christians mean by “faith.”  That colors your reasoning, and it clouds your understanding of scripture, and it completely fogs your view of science.  We call it faith because we don’t have the evidence to back it up.

If we did have the evidence, none of us could be anything more than agnostics — the agnostic position is that belief will come when the evidence is sufficient.  Christians believe, despite that lack of evidence.  We call the process a “leap of faith.”  We call it “stepping out on the word of God.”  It’s risky.  It takes faith, which is why we call it that.  (Jews and Muslims also make such leaps.)

It must be faith, because the evidence is not there — as the Bible occasionally acknowledges (see 2 Corinthians 4.18, or Hebrews 11.1; faith is in the things “unseen,” as they are eternal).

Built around the story of the flood of Noah, there is a trap a lot of people of faith fall into, a false dichotomy that, if divinely inspired, surely was intended by evil forces to turn otherwise faithful people away from knowledge and science.  I fear you’ve fallen into it.

Daniel said:

So to cling to a belief that Creation or the Flood is not true is to say that Jesus was a liar.

Quite to the contrary, to claim that Jesus said creationism is true, or that Jesus vouched for the historicity of Noah’s flood, is false.  Jesus didn’t intend that, as we can see from the context, and stretching his meaning to topics way beyond what Jesus was discussing puts us in the uncomfortable and unholy position of adding words to scripture that are not there.

[Hmmm. There's supposed to be a brief explanation of the science that disproves the idea of a worldwide flood as many creationists believe the Bible describes . . . pending. Maybe later.]

Sorry if I offended you by saying your religion has blinded you, but my position is that a Godless scientific world view is a religion. An unbiased look at science will always reveal the Designer. The scandal of the Gospel is that this Designer then became the man Jesus who died for your sin and rebellion and to restore you to your loving heavenly Father. I pray you find him.

your friend Daniel

Then what is a godful scientific position?  As creationists are too often wrongly happy to remind us, many scientists of the past were faithful, often good Christians.  Darwin, for example, studied for the clergy, and stuck with the church to his death.

Claiming that science is godless, or Godless, is a biased and inaccurate view of science, and as we have seen here, a biased and inaccurate view of  Christian religion, too.

Scripture tells us that regardless how the universe, matter, stars, galaxies, planets and life were created, God is behind it.  The scandal of creationism is the denying that God can be behind what the universe shows us to be true and accurate.  Jesus died for your sin and rebellion, too, Daniel — even your rebellion against God’s creation and the science that explains how and why it works.  You can’t find God if you refuse to look.

More:

Darwin's grave in Westminster Abbey

The grave of Charles Darwin, in the Nave of the Collegiate Chapel at Westminster Abbey. Darwin is interred near Sir Isaac Newton. Bishop James Ussher is interred in the St. Paul’s Chapel, a few dozen yards away. Photo via Graveyard Database.

(Yeah, this one’s kicked around in the draft file for a long, long time.)


What ARE these Christians advertising?

August 4, 2014

Not your usual bon mot from a church sign; probably from College Avenue Presbyterian Church in Oakland, California

Not your usual bon mot from a church sign; probably from College Avenue Presbyterian Church in Oakland, California

Found this on Twitter, from an @DocBobLA.  I believe the sign is from College Avenue Presbyterian Church in Oakland, California.  An  enlightened bunch of Christians — they even have a Twitter account, @CAPCOakland.

Some Christians take the Gospels seriously, even in those scriptures not exactly found in the New Testament, it would appear.  Would that others follow.

Update: I see @CAPCOakland tweeted this sign earlier.

 


“Some there are”: Antonin Scalia, rock music, and high school graduation in churches

June 17, 2014

Some there are—many, perhaps—who are offended by public displays of religion. Religion, they believe, is a personal matter; if it must be given external manifestation, that should not occur in public places where others may be offended. I can understand that attitude: It parallels my own toward the playing in public of rock music or Stravinsky. And I too am especially annoyed when the intrusion upon my inner peace occurs while I am part of a captive audience, as on a municipal bus or in the waiting room of a public agency.

Justice Antonin Scalia, dissenting to the Supreme Court’s denying to hear a case about high school graduations held in religious facilities, the denial of the writ of certiorari to Elmbrook vs. John Doe et al., 573 U.S. ______.

Justice Clarence Thomas joined Scalia in the dissent.

But, he argues, religion is protected by the First Amendment, our music choices are not.

Read the dissent (way down at the bottom).

Easter services at Elmbrook Church, in Brookfield, Wisconsin.

Easter services at Elmbrook Church, in Brookfield, Wisconsin.

I suppose to some, high school graduation ceremonies are a lot like being forced to listen to rap music at intersections.  To others, high school graduations may seem akin to religious experience.  Not sure either view means the ceremonies should be held in churches.

This case is 14 years in the justice system.

More:


A sermon remembering Millard Fillmore’s second wife

March 18, 2014

This was delivered in January.  My search engines found it just a couple days ago, a story about a sermon featuring Millard Fillmore and his second wife, Caroline.

Interesting.  From the Newnan Times-Herald in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia:

Almost forgotten president focus at service

Millard Fillmore's second wife, Caroline, and Fillmore's official White House portrait.


Millard Fillmore was president for a few difficult years a decade before the Civil War split the nation into.

He is almost forgotten by most Americans today. When remembered, Fillmore is often the punchline of a joke — he is often erroneously remembered as the first president to have a bathtub in the White House.

Fillmore and his wife, Caroline, however, were points of beginning for a recent sermon at Allen-Lee Memorial United Methodist Church in Lone Oak. Winston Skinner, a member of the church and a staff member at The Newnan Times-Herald who has a great love for history, brought the message.

Skinner was a pastor for more than 24 years and often used events from history as touchstones for sermons and special services. Chad Hill, Allen-Lee’s pastor, asked Skinner to preach on Jan. 12.

“This sermon idea had been rolling around in my head,” Skinner said.

Skinner, who lives in Newnan, has been interested in presidents and first ladies since he was in elementary school. “I had been reading about Caroline Fillmore, who married the former president in 1858. Upon reflection, I saw several points that ‘will preach’ in her life story,” he said.

“The Fillmores were a religious couple. Their home was known as one of clean language and living. She was Baptist. He Unitarian. When the former president had died in 1874, ministers from three different faiths preached at his funeral,” Skinner noted in his sermon.

Caroline McIntosh “was the wife of a former president, but she had never lived in the White House, never experienced the power and burden of the presidency,” Skinner preached.

“In Caroline Fillmore’s story, we find glimpses of our own. We were not there to see Jesus speak to a multitude on the hillside. We did not taste the fish and bread multiplied from a little boy’s lunch. We did not hear the noises as Lazarus, dead three days, rose from his tomb in Bethany and walked into the sunlight,” Skinner said.

“We did not experience any of that, but we who believe know the one who worked those great miracles. We know Jesus intimately. He lives in our hearts. He accompanies us each moment of our lives,” he added.

The hymns used for the service were from Ira Sankey’s Gospel Hymns, published in the 1870s. A copy of the popular hymnal was among Caroline Fillmore’s belongings offered at auction last year.

Shelia Simpson sang “Sweet Hour of Prayer” during the service.

Church members invited visitors on Jan. 12, days after Millard Fillmore’s 214th birthday. A special effort was made to contact members descendants of Coweta County’s pioneer Carmichael family who may be distantly related to Caroline Fillmore.

After the service, a display of some of Skinner’s presidential memorabilia was displayed in the church fellowship hall. There were miniature figures of presidents, coins, stamps and items autographed by four presidents’ wives — Frances Cleveland, Mary Harrison, Rosalynn Carter and Barbara Bush.

I hope there’s an electronic copy of that sermon, and I hope I can get one.


December 20, 1620: Mayflower passengers finally disembark at Plymouth, after agreeing to the Mayflower Compact

December 21, 2013

Item from The Associated Press‘s “Today in History” feature, for December 21:  “1620 – Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower went ashore for the first time at present-day Plymouth, Mass.”  Why in December?  The arrived at the place almost a month earlier, but because of delays in getting out of England due to the leaky second boat (which didn’t make the trip), and difficulties encountered en route, when the group anchored, they first had to come to an agreement how to govern the colony, so far out of the territory of the charter they had been granted, as explained below.  Originally, a version of this desultory ran here, on July 26, 2006.

Credit: Sarony & Major.

From the Library of Congress, one of the few illustrations of the event that makes it clear it was near winter: The Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock, December 1620 Credit: Sarony & Major. “The landing of the Pilgrims, on Plymouth Rock, Dec. 11th 1620.” c1846. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Dispatches from the Culture Wars features a set of comments on an interview right-right-wing pundit John Lofton did with Roy Moore, the former chief justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court who lost his job when he illegally tried to force his religion on the court and on Alabama. In 2006 Moore ran for governor of Alabama, losing in the primary election.

One of the grandest canards in current thought about U.S. history is that the Mayflower Compact set up a theocracy in Massachusetts. Lofton and Moore banter about it as if it were well-established fact — or as if, as I suspect, neither of them has looked at the thing in a long time, and that neither of them has ever diagrammed the operative sentence in the thing.

The Mayflower Compact was an agreement between the people in two religiously disparate groups, that among them they would fairly establish a governing body to fairly make laws, and that they would abide by those laws. Quite the opposite of a theocracy, this was the first time Europeans set up in the New World a government by consent of the governed.

That is something quite different from a theocracy.

I think people get confused by the run-on sentences, and the flattering, intended-to-be-flowery language in the clauses prefacing the meat of the document.

First, a very brief history: There were two groups aboard the ship in 1620, about 70 artisans and craftsman along to provide the real work to make sure the colony made money, and about 30 religious refugees. The London Company (accurately) thought the religious refugees lacking in key skills, like trapping, hunting and hide tanning, and barrel-making (barrels were needed to ship goods to England). So the London Company had insisted the craftsman go along, to make sure somebody knew how to harvest stuff and ship it back.

The London Company had a charter to establish a colony in Virginia. Because of delays with leaky ships and uncooperative winds, the Mayflower got to America late, and much farther north. The Mayflower landed well outside the territory the company was chartered to colonize, and the 70 craftsmen announced they were striking out on their own. Bradford realized his group would freeze, or starve, or both, and at gunpoint he kept both groups aboard ship to work out a compromise.

Here is the full text, from the University of Oklahoma’s College of Law site:

In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the Grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, e&.

Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

In Witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord, King James of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini, 1620.

See what I mean? It’s loaded with clauses that tend to obscure what is going on. Starting out with the standard contract language of the day, “In the name of God, Amen,” it loses modern readers. We tend to think that with so many mentions of God without a “damn” following, it must be a religious document. But it’s not.

Here’s the meat the the document, the money quote:

We, whose names are underwritten . . . do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

Got that? They promised to form a government, enact fair laws, and obey those laws — government by consent of the governed, by mutual compact, not by divine right.

Just because God is mentioned in the document doesn’t change its nature. It’s a secular compact, an agreement between men, outside the stricture of any church, outside any particular belief.

As we noted over at Ed Brayton’s site, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, many New England settlements and towns became little theocracies. But it wasn’t the Mayflower Compact which set that up, or encouraged it.

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Christmas 2013: Do we know who invented Santa Claus? Who really wrote the “Night Before Christmas?”

December 10, 2013

An encore post and Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub tradition from 2007

Thomas Nast invented Santa Claus? Clement C. Moore didn’t write the famous poem that starts out, “‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house . . . ?”

The murky waters of history from Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub soak even our most cherished ideas and traditions.

But isn’t that part of the fun of history?

Santa Claus delivers to Union soldiers, "Santa Claus in Camp" - Thomas Nast, Harper's Weekly, Jan 3, 1863

In Janaury 1863, Thomas Nast portraye Santa Claus delivered gifts to Union troops in Washington, D.C., wearing a blue, star-spangled coat, just a few days earlier.

Yes, Virginia (and California, too)! Thomas Nast created the image of Santa Claus most of us in the U.S. know today. Perhaps even more significant than his campaign against the graft of Boss Tweed, Nast’s popularization of a fat, jolly elf who delivers good things to people for Christmas makes one of the great stories in commercial illustration. Nast’s cartoons, mostly for the popular news publication Harper’s Weekly, created many of the conventions of modern political cartooning and modeled the way in which an illustrator could campaign for good, with his campaign against the graft of Tammany Hall and Tweed. But Nast’s popular vision of Santa Claus can be said to be the foundation for the modern mercantile flurry around Christmas.

Nast is probably ensconced in a cartoonists’ hall of fame. Perhaps he should be in a business or sales hall of fame, too.  [See also Bill Casselman’s page, “The Man Who Designed Santa Claus.]

Nast’s drawings probably drew some inspiration from the poem, “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” traditionally attributed to Clement C. Moore, a New York City lawyer, published in 1822. The poem is among the earliest to describe the elf dressed in fur, and magically coming down a chimney to leave toys for children; the poem invented the reindeer-pulled sleigh.

Modern analysis suggests the poem was not the work of Moore, and many critics and historians now attribute it to Major Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828) following sleuthing by Vassar College Prof. Don Foster in 2000. Fortunately for us, we do not need to be partisans in such a query to enjoy the poem (a complete copy of which is below the fold).

The Library of Congress still gives Moore the credit. When disputes arise over who wrote about the night before Christmas, is it any wonder more controversial topics produce bigger and louder disputes among historians?

Moore was not known for being a poet. The popular story is that he wrote it on the spur of the moment:

Moore is thought to have composed the tale, now popularly known as “The Night Before Christmas,” on December 24, 1822, while traveling home from Greenwich Village, where he had bought a turkey for his family’s Christmas dinner.

Inspired by the plump, bearded Dutchman who took him by sleigh on his errand through the snow-covered streets of New York City, Moore penned A Visit from St. Nicholas for the amusement of his six children, with whom he shared the poem that evening. His vision of St. Nicholas draws upon Dutch-American and Norwegian traditions of a magical, gift-giving figure who appears at Christmas time, as well as the German legend of a visitor who enters homes through chimneys.

Again from the Library of Congress, we get information that suggests that Moore was a minor celebrity from a well-known family with historical ties that would make a good “connections” exercise in a high school history class, perhaps (”the link from Aaron Burr’s treason to Santa Claus?”): (read more, below the fold)

Clement Moore was born in 1779 into a prominent New York family. His father, Benjamin Moore, president of Columbia University, in his role as Episcopal Bishop of New York participated in the inauguration of George Washington as the nation’s first president. The elder Moore also administered last rites to Alexander Hamilton after he was mortally wounded in a tragic duel with Aaron Burr.

A graduate of Columbia, Clement Moore was a scholar of Hebrew and a professor of Oriental and Greek literature at the General Theological Seminary in Manhattan. [See comment from Pam Bumsted below for more on Moore.] He is said to have been embarrassed by the light-hearted verse, which was made public without his knowledge in December 1823. Moore did not publish it under his name until 1844.

Tonight, American children will be tucked in under their blankets and quilts and read this beloved poem as a last “sugarplum” before slipping into dreamland. Before they drift off, treat them to a message from Santa, recorded by the Thomas Edison Company in 1922.

Santa Claus Hides in Your Phonograph
By Arthur A. Penn, Performed by Harry E. Humphrey.
Edison, 1922.
Coupling date: 6/20/1922. Cutout date: 10/31/1929.
Inventing Entertainment: The Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies

Listen to this recording (RealAudio Format)

Listen to this recording (wav Format, 8,471 Kb)

But Henry Livingston was no less noble or historic. He hailed from the Livingstons of the Hudson Valley (one of whose farms is now occupied by Camp Rising Sun of the Louis August Jonas Foundation, a place where I spent four amazing summers teaching swimming and lifesaving). Livingston’s biography at the University of Toronto site offers another path for a connections exercise (”What connects the Declaration of Independence, the American invasion of Canada, the famous poem about a visit from St. Nick, and George W. Bush?”):

Henry Livingston Jr. was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, on Oct. 13, 1748. The Livingston family was one of the important colonial and revolutionary families of New York. The Poughkeepsie branch, descended from Gilbert, the youngest son of Robert Livingston, 1st Lord of Livingston Manor, was not as well off as the more well-known branches, descended from sons Robert and Philip. Two other descendants of Gilbert Livingston, President George Walker Herbert Bush and his son, President-Elect George W. Bush, though, have done their share to bring attention to this line. Henry’s brother, Rev. John Henry Livingston, entered Yale at the age of 12, and was able to unite the Dutch and American branches of the Dutch Reformed Church. At the time of his death, Rev. Livingston was president of Rutgers University. Henry’s father and brother Gilbert were involved in New York politics, and Henry’s granduncle was New York’s first Lt. Governor. But the law was the natural home for many of Henry’s family. His brother-in-law, Judge Jonas Platt, was an unsuccessful candidate for governor, as was his daughter Elizabeth’s husband, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Smith Thompson. Henry’s grandson, Sidney Breese, was Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court.

Known for his encyclopedic knowledge and his love of literature, Henry Livingston was a farmer, surveyor and Justice of the Peace, a judicial position dealing with financially limited criminal and civil cases. One of the first New Yorkers to enlist in the Revolutionary Army in 1775, Major Henry Livingston accompanied his cousin’s husband, General Montgomery, in his campaign up the Hudson River to invade Canada, leaving behind his new wife, Sarah Welles, and their week-old baby, on his Poughkeepsie property, Locust Grove. Baby Catherine was the subject of the first poem currently known by Major Livingston. Following this campaign, Livingston was involved in the War as a Commissioner of Sequestration, appropriating lands owned by British loyalists and selling them for the revolutionary cause. It was in the period following Sarah’s early death in 1783, that Major Livingston published most of his poems and prose, anonymously or under the pseudonym of R. Ten years after the death of Sarah, Henry married Jane Patterson, the daughter of a Dutchess County politician and sister of his next-door neighbor. Between both wives, Henry fathered twelve children. He published his good-natured, often occasional verse from 1787 in many journals, including Political Barometer, Poughkeepsie Journal, and New-York Magazine. His most famous poem, “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” was until 2000 thought to have been the work of Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863), who published it with his collected poems in 1844. Livingston died Feb. 29, 1828.

More on Henry Livingston and his authorship of the Christmas poem here.
Thomas Nast, Merry Old Santa Claus, Harper's Weekly, Jan 1, 1881

Our views of Santa Claus owe a great deal also to the Coca-Cola advertising campaign. Coca-Cola first noted Santa’s use of the drink in a 1922 campaign to suggest Coke was a year-round drink (100 years after the publication of Livingston’s poem). The company’s on-line archives gives details:

In 1930, artist Fred Mizen painted a department store Santa in a crowd drinking a bottle of Coke. The ad featured the world’s largest soda fountain, which was located in the department store of Famous Barr Co. in St. Louis, Mo. Mizen’s painting was used in print ads that Christmas season, appearing in The Saturday Evening Post in December 1930.

1936 Coca-Cola Santa cardboard store display

  • 1936 Coca-Cola Santa cardboard store display

Archie Lee, the D’Arcy Advertising Agency executive working with The Coca-Cola Company, wanted the next campaign to show a wholesome Santa as both realistic and symbolic. In 1931, The Coca-Cola Company commissioned Michigan-born illustrator Haddon Sundblom to develop advertising images using Santa Claus — showing Santa himself, not a man dressed as Santa, as Mizen’s work had portrayed him.
1942 original oil painting - 'They Remembered Me'

  • 1942 original oil painting – ‘They Remembered Me’

For inspiration, Sundblom turned to Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (commonly called “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”). Moore’s description of St. Nick led to an image of Santa that was warm, friendly, pleasantly plump and human. For the next 33 years, Sundblom painted portraits of Santa that helped to create the modern image of Santa — an interpretation that today lives on in the minds of people of all ages, all over the world.

Santa Claus is a controversial figure. Debates still rage among parents about the wisdom of allowing the elf into the family’s home, and under what conditions. Theologians worry that the celebration of Christmas is diluted by the imagery. Other faiths worry that the secular, cultural impact of Santa Claus damages their own faiths (few other faiths have such a popular figure, and even atheists generally give gifts and participate in Christmas rituals such as putting up a decorated tree).

For over 100 years, Santa Claus has been a popular part of commercial, cultural and religious life in America. Has any other icon endured so long, or so well?

________________________
Below:
From the University of Toronto Library’s Representative Poetry Online

Major Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828)

Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas

1 ‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house,

2 Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

3 The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

4 In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

5 The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

6 While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads,

7 And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,

8 Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap –

9 When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

10 I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

11 Away to the window I flew like a flash,

12 Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.

13 The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,

14 Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below;

15 When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

16 But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,

17 With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

18 I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

19 More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

20 And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name:

21 “Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer, and Vixen,

22 “On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blixem;

23 “To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

24 “Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

25 As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,

26 When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;

27 So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,

28 With the sleigh full of Toys — and St. Nicholas too:

29 And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

30 The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

31 As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

32 Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:

33 He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,

34 And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;

35 A bundle of toys was flung on his back,

36 And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack:

37 His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry,

38 His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;

39 His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow.

40 And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

41 The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

42 And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.

43 He had a broad face, and a little round belly

44 That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:

45 He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

46 And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;

47 A wink of his eye and a twist of his head

48 Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

49 He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

50 And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk,

51 And laying his finger aside of his nose

52 And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

53 He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

54 And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:

55 But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight –

56 Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Online text copyright © 2005, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto. Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries. Be sure to visit this site for more information on this poem, on Maj. Livingston, and on poetry in general.

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