Sunday, January 31, 2010

How Dare He Make That Claim!

If you have read any news lately you certainly know about the earthquake in Haiti. And not long after that news broke, you probably heard that Reverend Pat Robertson made a statement along the lines of saying that God was punishing Haiti because of their "pact with the devil."

The media wasted no time in jumping on Robertson's comments. I would certainly not defend the reverend's take on this or his timing. But at least he was trying to interpret the Bible (presumably). One example of the news' reaction is from Time Magazine's blog section. Here is the account from Newsbusters:

Time's Karen Tumulty: Pat Robertson Akin to Terrorist-tied Muslim Clerics?

Such a comparison is as over the line as Robertson's comments. Now how about this comment from actor Danny Glover:

"When we see what we did at the climate summit in Copenhagen, this is the response, this is what happens, you know what I’m sayin'?"

So who is Glover saying punished Haiti? Al Gore? President Obama? Or did God punish Haiti because of the richer nations' lack of decisive action at the Climate Summit? Here is what England's Daily Telegraph said about Glover's comment:

"His obscene opinion would be bigger news if Glover had – in the manner of others – idiotically blamed a less-fashionable deity."

I'm watching U.S. media to see if they also notice that Global Warming (sorry.. "Climate Change") has become almost a god-like concept.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Chris Matthews Wants to Censor Only Religious Voices

This is an issue that is in the news often these days, and it is not just from the rather outspoken Chris Matthews of MSNBC. But in this interchange he pushed a Catholic bishop quite hard on speaking out over abortion and the responsibility that Catholic politicians may have to their religion.

Is that a radical point of view, to think politicians who profess to be Catholic recognize certain core tenets of the Catholic Church? Look through this blog and you will find countless examples where the very men who founded this country thought it was important to have faith and to seek God's guidance. Many denominations can be a bit mixed or vague about some issues, and a politician of faith could see things one way or the other. But the Catholic Church is not at all vague on certain issues. Isn't it at least a fair conversation to discuss whether a Catholic politician who goes to Mass and takes communion could be chastised by church leaders if he or she goes completely against an absolute statement by the church?

Matthews seemed concerned that the church is telling politicians how to vote. But should the church not be a "special interest group" like any other? What if the NAACP speaks out about Sen. A's vote on an issue? What if a labor union criticizes Rep. B's vote on an issue? Should a labor union be allowed to tell Rep. B how to vote? If so, then is the church disallowed that opinion?

Read the interchange here:

MSNBC's Chris Matthews Brow-Beats Catholic Bishop Over Abortion

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Judge in New Hampshire upholds ‘under God’ phrase in Pledge of Allegiance

The fight over our Pledge of Allegiance keeps popping up in various places. One such was Hanover, New Hampshire, where a suit was brought claiming that reciting the Pledge in public schools is unconstitutional. It was claimed that the Pledge, because it says we are one nation under God, amounts to a prayer. The federal judge who dismissed the atheist's lawsuit said that the Pledge is not a prayer and that it is voluntary.

Usually cases like this rest on the claim of a "separation of church and state." That phrase come from a single letter of Thomas Jefferson, and it is not found in any of our governing documents. But if you look at the previous post on this blog (Jan. 25, 2010), you will see that Jefferson believed one of his greatest accomplishments was drafting the Declaration of Independence (one of the USA's four foundational documents, according to the U.S. Code). In that document, Jefferson affirmed the fact that the rights of our citizens come from God, not from government. He said our Creator has given us unalienable (or inalienable) rights. That is a critical point. If our rights come from government, then government may take them away at will.

Given that our Declaration of Independence says our rights come from God, does it seem so out of place to say we are a nation under God?

Read about the New Hampshire case outcome here:

Judge in New Hampshire upholds ‘under God’ phrase in Pledge of Allegiance

Monday, January 25, 2010

Thomas Jefferson's Proudest Accomplishments

I have mentioned Thomas Jefferson many times in this blog. Probably his most common mention here is because he once used the phrase "separation of church and state" in a letter, and that phrase somehow has become our de facto guide to the meaning of the Constitution's First Amendment religion clauses. But does it really mean what some people take it to mean? Did Jefferson mean that there can be no governmental recognition or accmomodation of religion? Read on...

Of course, Thomas Jefferson is know for a great many things. But what did Jefferson himself consider his greatest accomplishments? Certainly not the letter mentioned above. At the age of only 33, he penned the words of the Declaration of Independence. Now that is definitely one for the history books! He was proud enough of that work to have it chiseled into his headstone. Sharing the honor (after the Declaration) is his authorship of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom and his role as father of the University of Virginia.

The statute was a law that, among other things, specified a fine for working on the sabbath.

And consider his work as president of the University of Virginia (a state institution).

The following was previously posted as Jefferson's Actions Speak Louder than a few of His Words:

In order to accommodate and perpetuate the religious beliefs and practices of students at the university, he recommended that students be allowed to meet on the campus to pray, worship, and receive religious instruction, or, if necessary, to meet and pray with their professors.

He provided in his regulations for the University of Virginia that the main rotunda be used for religious worship under the regulations allowed to be prescribed by law.

He proposed that all University of Virginia students be required to study as a matter of ethics "the proofs of the being of a God, the creator, preserver, and supreme ruler of the universe, the author of all relations within morality, and of the laws and obligations these infer."

See a photo of Jefferson's gravestone here:
Thomas Jefferson’s Greatest Achievement

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Stamford, CT - Early Education Was Christian

Remember the tussles some towns had this past Christmas about mixing religion with public school? There were debates about whether a concert of Handel's Messiah could be held in a school auditorium; there were debates about whether children's gift exchanges should prohibit items with a red & green color scheme; there were not too many debates about teaching the meaning of Christmas because no public school that I have heard of has the nerve to risk a lawsuit by doing so.

Yet in our past, from the earliest days of our country's founding, this was not a concern. I have pointed out before that it was not a concern of Thomas Jefferson, the many who is so often cited because he once used the phrase "separation of church and state." But there are countless other examples of the regular use of religious sources and/or teaching in public schools.

As one example, look at the Stamford Historical Society of Connecticut. Once of our original 13 colonies, Connecticut has a history that includes religion (President Jefferson's "separation" quote is from a letter to a group in Danbury, CT, who worried their religious freedom might be in danger). One of Stamford's first school house was also used for Christian worship services, a concept that might be challenged today (look through past blog posts on this blog to find examples). But that is an example of building use for convenience, not curriculum. An article from Stamford's historical society includes the following tidbits:

  • Usually the Congregational minister had considerable influence in selecting a teacher, and any young man who voiced unorthodox opinions would quickly be turned down.
  • ...the code of 1650 ruled that parents and schoolmasters must question children systematically each week in the principles of Christian religion. This catechism requirement persisted until 1821.
  • ...the Bible undoubtedly served as a textbook for early Stamford children...
  • The first edition of The New England Primer appeared in 1690, It introduced children to reading by means of a series of woodcuts, each with a letter of the alphabet used in a cheerful little rhyme such as, “In Adam's fall, we sinned all,” Next came easy syllables to be recited and memorized and then words, including words like “fidelity” and “fornication.” The primer did not shrink from letting its young readers in on the sins of the biblical fathers: “Uriah's Beauteous Wife Made David Seek his Life.”
  • 1731, a division of administration put the Stamford schools under church jurisdiction in what were known as Ecclesiastical Society Meetings. ... The School Society appointed “school visitors” who were delegated to inspect each school at least twice a season; without the inspections, the school would forfeit its portion of the public money. The visitors could “direct the public exercises of the youth, as well as their instructions in letters, religion, morals and manners.” Particularly, the visitors were supposed to direct the daily reading of the Bible, approve the weekly catechism instruction and recommend that the schoolmaster conclude the exercises each day with a prayer.
The header of this article is (boldface added):

Education Spelled Freedom

Stamford Past & Present, 1641 – 1976
The Commemorative Publication of the Stamford Bicentennial Committee

The writer's opinion is that our American Revolution probably would not have happened were it not for the education of the general public. And part of that education included teaching about religion and reading from the Bible (the latter being a characteristic of the Washington, D.C. school district when Thomas Jefferson oversaw its operation).

Read the entire article here:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Some Words of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. That You May Not Have Heard Lately

It is timely to quote Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week, since we just had our national holiday recognizing his work. Surely if you watched television or listened to the radio or read a newspaper, you would have heard quotes from the "I Have a Dream Speech" (which is deservedly a favorite). And in some speeches you heard people quoting him or even putting words in his mouth about health care.

But in our more popular media outlets they seem to be uncomfortable with the fact that it was of great pride to King that he was a Reverend (according to his widow). But in how many stories did you see "Rev." before his name? (I just did a search of Google News results, and out of 20 story snippets involving the holiday, only one mentioned "Rev.")

I doubt you heard the following words this past Monday. They are from a speech King gave at the at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia on the 2/4/1968 (just two months before he was killed).

Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right or your left side, (Yes) not for any selfish reason. I want to be on your right or your left side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition. But I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world.

And there is more to that speech. Read it here:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bible Part of Our History in Art

For a long part of our history one could find references to our religious heritage in the media of the time. It was threaded throughout our textbooks, found in news articles, magazine articles, etc. More frequently today, though, we see articles that are skeptical of our religious roots. Has history changed?

Fortunately, our own Smithsonian Institution has been documenting and collecting our history for a long while. Below is a link to a piece from their collection, this one building on some cliches from everyday life in the past. It shows a man coming late at night and an impatient wife unexpectedly awake to "greet" him. The room is arranged typically of rooms at the time, and makes almost a "museum" of life in an American household. As we have all seen in comedies and cartoons, the man is tip-toeing in carrying his shoes, looking very uncomfortable to find his wife still awake. And using another cliche, the wife has a watch in one hand (showing 3am) and a prayer book in the other. A prayer book? Would the artist have thrown in something atypical of everyday life into such a depiction? Or might he simply be showing that a prayer book was standard equipment in the house of U.S. citizens?

See the print here, along with a full description:

Smithsonian Institution, Harry T. Peters Collection

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Prayer in Founding of Medtronics

Prayer is referenced throughout our U.S. history (even though that facet of our history is not mentioned in textbooks these days). Even secular sources such as the National Archives, Architect of the Capitol, Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian. From the latter is an article about Wilson Greatbatch, the founder of Medtronics.

Wilson apparently was not always a religious man, but he had a change of heart while serving in WWII. According to the Smithsonian, "Amid all that seemingly random death, Greatbatch became religious and began carrying a Bible in his pants leg for each mission."

Not long after that he pondered some inventions he discovered and realized the life-saving potential. But following his instincts might put his family's well being at risk. But the article says, "I put it to the Lord in prayer and felt led to quit all my jobs..."

The rest is part of technological history in this country, and his devices have been a boon to patients with heart trouble. Had he not been a man of faith, would he have had the nerve to take such a risk?

Read the whole article from the Smithsonian website.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Prayer Part of U.S. History, Even in Horse Racing!

Prayer has been an important part of American life since our earliest European settlers showed up in North America. We see examples of it in the early Congress, in Presidential proclamations, and other official events.

Sometimes we see examples depicted in the more routine parts of our lives. The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History has an exhibit of a lithograph done in the 1860's. It shows a scene prior to a horse race. The jockey is kneeling in prayer beside his mount.

No doubt others were praying for a favorable outcome for competing jockeys, so one has to wonder how God might have answered!

See the painting on the Smithsonian website

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Prayer in World War II Song

There are many examples of the important role religious faith played in the history of our country, despite the voices today who might deny that. When I was in public school some of this was still taught in history classes, but it is gradually being purged from textbooks.

It has been said that "there are no atheists in foxholes" - meaning when you life is at stake, a belief in God has a more real quality than when you were a kid praying for a new red bike for your birthday. Similar sentiment was expressed in a song by Harold Adamson and Jimmie McHugh: Coming in On a Wing and a Prayer. It evokes mental images of a damaged warplane heading toward its home base and a crew trying to keep the plane together and praying to God their efforts are a success. It was one of several songs the team wrote that become popular in WWII. Such was the effect of the music that President Truman awarded the writers the Presidential Certificate of Merit.

Another example is the song Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition, written in WWII by Frank Loesser. War is simply one of the circumstances that may call up one's faith more strongly than more everyday experiences.

Read more about
Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer
Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition

Monday, January 11, 2010

Faith of Our Fathers - Colonel Davenport of Connecticut, 1780

Are you afraid of Judgment Day? If you are a person of faith, you might be very afraid of God's judgment if you have led a sinful, unrepentant life. If you have always relied on God's word and especially if you believe in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, you might welcome Judgment, or at least be too afraid. And if you have no belief in a higher power (except for nature), then the concept would have no hold on you.

Colonel Abraham Davenport was an important of the American Revolution and was a leader in Connecticut after the war. His faith was well established, and might very well have played an important role in his most famous action (one that has been written about, made into a poem, and made into a painting). Here is a description from Yale's Timothy Dwight in his Travels in New England and New York, published in 1822.

“The 19th of May, 1780, was a remarkably dark day. Candles were lighted in many houses; the birds were silent and disappeared; and the fowls retired to roost. The legislature of Connecticut was then in session at Hartford. A very general opinion prevailed that the Day of Judgment was at hand. The House of Representatives, being unable to transact their business, adjourned. A proposal to adjourn the Council [Senate or Upper House] was under consideration. When the opinion of Col. Davenport was asked, he answered, ‘I am against an adjournment. The Day of Judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for an adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish therefore that candles may be brought.”

Davenport's suggestion was taken and the legislature continued to work. Do you think his calm was due to his faith? Or was he just applying a kind of human logic without benefit of faith? One could argue either way.

Read more of this story from the Stamford Historical Society:
Portrait of a Family: Stamford through the Legacy of the Davenports

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Is There a War on Christmas?

I have many examples on this blog about [what I consider to be] silly over-reactions around the Christmas holiday in the name of not offending non-Christians or not leaving some of our citizens out. Some news sources are using the term "war on Christmas" to discuss incidents. In my opinion, it's not so much a war on Christmas as it is an energy to downplay the faith that is part of the traditions and history of the United States.

Brent Bozell has a good column discussing this theme:

Bozell Column: Deconstructing Christmas

You can find more examples on this very blog here:

Christmas Discrimination

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Massachusetts School Bans Religious Gift from Holiday Store

In Massachusetts, Chelmsfords Byam (elementary) School has a gift store that is open around various holidays. But for the December "holidays" the school bans anything "to do with a religion or a religious celebration," and the ban includes Santa, candy canes, and red & green colored items.

We have a great number of commercial establishments in the USA that make a great deal of money around the Christmas season. Some of them are sensitive about the baby Jesus and such, so they limit their decorations and themes to items considered to be a general celebration rather than a religious one. Those items might very well include candy canes and Santa(s).

So what exactly is the school celebrating in December if not a religious holiday? Are they or are they not observing the National Holiday of Christmas? That holiday falls on Friday this year, which is normally part of the school week. Will the Byam school be holding classes that day, if it does not wish to recognize Christmas?

The original article that alerted me to this is no longer on the Lowell Sun site, but the title was "Happy holidays, Chelmsford kids! (Just leave the Santas and candy canes at home)." Here is a discussion of it from another source:

Moms Fight School Store's Religious Item Ban

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Another Archivist Sworn in with Bible

The United States of America, and the 13 colonies before it, have a rich history in the culture of the Bible (despite some statements to the contrary in recent history). Presidents have been sworn in with their hand on a Bible starting with George Washington and continuing through Presidents today.

But is not a practice limited to the grandeur of Presidential inaugurations.The U.S. National Archives' top leader is the "Archivist of the United States." On the Archives website there is an account of the 9th Archivist being sworn in on a Bible in 2005:

Allen Weinstein takes the oath as the ninth Archivist of the United States during a ceremonial swearing in on March 7, 2005, in the McGowan Theater at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. Ruth Bader Ginsberg, an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, administered the oath. Professor Weinstein’s wife, Adrienne Dominguez holds the Bible. From Prologue (Summer 2005, Vol. 37, No. 2, page 68)

Read more at the National Archives (and see a photo)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

What Items to Embed in a Cornerstone...

I'm not sure that embedding significant items in cornerstones is as common as it once was. At one point it was often done on significant (and not-so-significant) buildings.

One of the former would be the U.S. National Archives building in Washington, D.C.  President Herbert Hoover participated in the ceremony. The ceremony was considered important enough that President Hoover moved the ceremony earlier (before it actually was time to lay the cornerstone) so his name could be on it.

I'm sure most who read this blog know that there are many voices today proclaiming that our nation has no significant religious or Christian roots. Someone forgot to tell President Hoover and the others who set up this ceremony, apparently, because the object placed in the cornerstone included:

  • A Bible
  • copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution
  • an American flag
  • copies of the public acts authorizing the construction of the building
The above list is the entire list of items that the National Archives' article on this event named. Read the article (with photo) here:

National Archives Website

Friday, January 1, 2010

Christianity and Early America

Lately, there has seemed to be an acceleration in the number of voices proclaiming that America has never been a Christian country. Those voices now include the President.

But at least in this blog I have not claimed that America was officially a Christian nation, so obviously voices that say we never had an official national religion would not offend me in the least. I agree. However, when people claim that we have no Christian roots or traditions, I can't agree. Nor, it seems, would the U.S. National Archives. According to one of their publications:

"Religion has always been important in America. During the colonial and Revolutionary eras, religion permeated the lives of Americans. Blue laws kept the Sabbath holy and consumption laws limited the actions of everyone. Christianity was one of the few links that bound American society together from Maine to Georgia. The Bible, in addition to being the divine word of God that would guide people through life's journey to the next world, served as a textbook for history, a source book for morals, a primer for mothers to teach their children how to read, and a window through which to view and understand human nature. With the high death rate, especially among infants, childbearing women, and seafarers. Americans stoically resigned themselves to the will of God. Because religion and morality were seen as necessary components of stable society, colonial and Revolutionary government supported religion. Clergymen were among the most influential members of the community and many of them actively participated in government."

From the National Archives publication Annotation, by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, Vol. 30.1, March 2002, page 1.