Monday, October 31, 2011
"In God We Trust"?
On Tuesday, Nov 1, the US House will debate H.Con.Resolution 13 to "reaffirm 'In God We Trust' as the official motto of the US and support and encourage the public display of the national motto in all public buildings, public schools, and other governmental institutions".
Here we go again. First of all, Rep Forbes seems unaware that we actually have two national mottoes, the other being "E pluribus unum" ("One from many").
Second, this is just another Republican meaningless gesture to placate the pinhead base.
Third, there is no point in wasting time fighting this again as it is a battle that cannot be won in the present climate. We should spend our time fighting battles that can be won.
Fourth, I get tired of pointing out to the uninformed that somehow the US managed to win two world wars before the IGWT second motto was added (in the Cold War '50s), and that our main opponent in those two wars was the country that had "Gott mit uns" ("God is with us") on all its troops belt buckles.
Mayve the whole thing is just a delayed Halloween "trick-or-treat" piece of childishness. Sigh!
Sunday, October 30, 2011
Statues of Freedom and Movements of Freedom: Differing Images
by Gary Berg-Cross
This past Friday, Oct 29, 2011 the iconic Statue of Liberty, Auguste Bartholdi's great work, turned 125 years old. Lady Liberty is based on the Libertas, the Roman goddess symbolizing“ freedom”. The history of the building of the statue is quiet interesting in itself and lots of papers have dusted off histories to refresh our memories including that the Statue was 10 years late in arriving and the arm and torch lay in NY for almost that time waiting for the body to arrive. The snippet below is from the Brooklyn Eagle, which is used to deliver as a boy. (Brooklyn housed many immigrants who poured across the Brooklyn Bridge and flowed in masses around City Hall Park, where the inaugural ceremony was held.)
Bartholdi went to his Paris studio, where he started on the statue’s arm and torch in hopes of having the lady raise her lamp at the start of the American centennial celebration in Philadelphia in 1876. The statue missed the opening, but the arm and torch arrived in time to become a major attraction. Meanwhile, Bartholdi needed an engineer to design his statue’s “skeleton.” Though its copper skin was quite thin, it was clear Lady Liberty would eventually weigh tons. The artist took on railroad bridge designer Gustave Eiffel to build an iron framework. Eiffel arranged the framework so it could be easily taken apart to ship across the ocean.
As the statue neared completion in France, funds for its pedestal ran out. Publisher Joseph Pulitzer, himself a Hungarian immigrant, ran editorials in The World calling for help. The poor and middle class answered, and the $1 and $2 donations mounted. In all, Americans gave $350,000 for the pedestal. Among those who helped were New York artists who organized an exhibition in 1883 and auctioned manuscripts by Bret Harte, Mark Twain and other writers. A poet named Emma Lazarus was asked to contribute a sonnet, which is mounted on a bronze plaque on the statue. She wrote a poem titled “The New Colossus,”…
In NY harbor this October there was lots of celebrate and at Friday's ceremony some125 candidates from 40 different countries, took the oath of citizenship, although some other “immigrants” may have feared attending due to a “papers please” attitude abroad in the lands. One thing the main stream media celebrated was the new high-tech gear - added in the form of five webcams. These are located inside her torch. Four of the cameras now point towards Ellis Island, Governors Island, Liberty Island and the Freedom Tower respectively, while the fifth gives viewers a unique look at the torch itself.
Roman ideas of a free Republic were popular in the founder’s time and so Libertas has served a symbol for some time. It is good to be reminded of her in these time, but the addition of those extra camera does serve to remind us of a few lingering issues of freedom. One is made by Roberto Lovato in his “Of America” blog who noted the increasing surveillance of ordinary citizens and not just at stop lights:
“Much is being made in the media about the “live web cams” that are part of the high-tech makeover of the Statue. Less (or not) reported are the dozens of infrared surveillance cameras, vibration sensors, experimental facial recognition monitors, and other now ubiquitous electronic surveillance devices that capture the image of visitors and send them to databases of national security agencies. The profits from this kind of multi-million dollar makeover of Liberty go to corporations invested in redefining freedom.”
If Big Brother is watching, videos by protestors and observers play an important role in getting the actual experience of current Freedom efforts, like the Occupy movement, out to the citizenry. In the early days of Occupy Wall Street (in the newly named Liberty Park) videos suggested that mainstream, corporate media wasn’t isn’t telling a fair or complete story about its aims, process, ideas or even its general schedule which is available online as shown below:
Occupy Wall Street (OWS) Agenda Sunday, October 30
3:30pm Multi-Faith Service
5:00pm What Is Wrong With Capitalism? Occupy Wall Street Forum w Alex Callinicos
6:00pm Internet Working Group meeting
7:00pm General Assembly
People wonder about what participants are saying and you can read to your heart’s content at OWS article sites like http://occupywallst.org/article/urgent-winter-donation-needs/. But pictures can be more compelling than long arguments, even when cogent. Early on OWS protesters were able to capture detailed and often graphic jarring images of police tactics and even spot violence in what seemed to concerted effort to intimidate citizens who were exercising 1st Amendment rights. Streaming media could show the attempts to speak out for rights by way of what seemed reasonable peaceful and lawful public demonstrations. This was the case in late Sept. when some 60 - 70 armed police officers surrounded the park in which 200 to 300 peaceful Occupy Wall St. protesters were encamped.
You can see some of these videos on truthtransmission.com, but not much appeared on mainstream media at the time. Things have changed a bit with tear gassing and mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge and now the war-like scenes from Oakland.
Such images seem to have advanced the movement which is more popular than the earlier Tea Party movement. But now it seems that there are some efforts to darken the citizen’s eye view of events by removing electrical power, confiscation media etc. We’ll have to see how this struggle over rights to protest and be heard plays out. It’s an open question whether Occupy Wall Street media team will be able to sustain their operation without things like confiscated generators. But for now sites like Global Revolution still bring you live streaming video coverage from independent journalists on the ground at Occupy and other nonviolent protests around the world. And of course you can see images of Lady Liberty, whose generators at least are working fine.
P.S. Some online sites have collected interesting parcels of Lady Liberty related images.
Vietnam’s 50th – Part 2
Last week we saw how a massive Catholic propaganda campaign induced approximately half of northern Vietnam’s Catholics to flee to the south. What happened to those who stayed behind? Were they exterminated? Tortured? Imprisoned? Forced to worship Lenin, Mao, and Ho Chi Minh? Terrorized into abandoning their traditional modes of worship? Forced to pray and take their sacraments in secret?
The correct answer is, none of the above. They were left alone to pray, attend Mass, and receive sacraments in the same manner as any Catholic in Boston or Rome. One problem they did face was a shortage of priests, since so many clergy had obeyed the command from on high by heading south. So the North Vietnamese government reopened seminaries to train priests to satisfy the demand.
Ordinary Catholics didn’t suffer, but the same cannot be said for the Church as an institution. Under French rule, the Catholic Church had been by far the largest landowner in Vietnam. The Viet Minh ended that status pretty quickly, forcing priests to survive on contributions from their flocks. Catholic status had also been the key to bureaucratic advancement under the colonial regime; that pattern ended pretty quickly as well. While memories of the war for independence were fresh, Catholic status was undoubtedly a negative for those seeking positions in the new government – though not an insurmountable one – and the former deference to the views of the Church in carrying out the functions of government virtually disappeared. Thus, it was the prospective loss of money and political status that caused the hierarchy to trigger the exodus to the south.
Which was not a bad move, at least in the short run. Ngo Dinh Diem ran a South Vietnamese government of the Catholics, by the Catholics, for the Catholics. Before the division of the country by the Geneva Accord, the Viet Minh had redistributed Church-controlled land to the farmers who worked it. When Diem took power in the south, he not only restored the land to the Church, he charged the farmers back rent for the period when they controlled it. He filled the army officer corps almost exclusively with Catholics, especially those who had left the north. Those seeking advancement within the army saw the writing on the wall and converted to Catholicism – Nguyen Van Thieu, South Vietnam’s future president, among them.
The 1954 Geneva Accords did not contemplate a permanent division of Vietnam, but simply temporary zones of control until a national election could be held. The Catholics who ran the South Vietnamese government knew they had zero chance of winning such an election, so none was ever held. Instead, they held an election only in the south, and falsified the results to produce an impressive 98.2% of the vote in favor of Diem. A miracle! Legislative elections were held in 1959, and Diem’s most prominent non-communist critic, Phan Quang Dan, won his district by a 6:1 margin. The South Vietnamese police solved that problem by slapping him in jail before he could take his seat.
The real power behind Diem was his older brother, the Catholic Bishop of Hue, who lived with Diem in the Presidential Palace in Saigon, hundreds of miles from his diocese. From there, he used the power of the government to acquire rubber plantations and urban real estate for the Catholic Church, while assigning soldiers to work on his timber and construction projects. Diem’s other brother ran the secret police, which was convenient because it facilitated his numbers and protection racket operations.
All this was cozy, but it created distress among South Vietnam’s much larger God expert contingent, the Buddhist monks. Peace-loving Buddhists had been active in the war against the French, even raising their own private armies to murder Europeans in the Mekong Delta. When American money installed a Catholic regime instead, they were deeply resentful, and launched a campaign of armed resistance. Diem persuaded his American backers that the Buddhists were communists, and received massive aid to help put them down. One useful technique was concentration camps, where thousands of Buddhists were penned up until they learned to obey their Catholic betters.
[Still, Buddhist resentment lingered; rather than co-opt them by bringing them into a big-tent government, Diem and his family used every means at their disposal to humiliate and belittle the Buddhist leadership. A boiling point was reached in May, 1963, when Catholics were allowed to fly the Vatican flag over public buildings in honor of Diem’s archbishop brother. A week later, Buddhists asked permission to fly a Buddhist flag on the Buddha’s birthday, but were turned down. An outraged Buddhist monk named Thich Quang Duc decided to protest this injustice by dousing himself with gasoline and burning himself to death as television cameras rolled. Rioting broke out, and Diem responded by sending in troops to smash pagodas, desecrate Duc’s remains, and throw some 1400 Buddhist monks behind bars.
Diem’s sister-in-law, the flamboyant Madame Nhu, laughed that “If the Buddhists want to have another barbecue, I will be glad to supply the gasoline.” In America, though, people weren’t laughing; people were starting to question why we were spending so much money and losing hundreds of lives to defend what appeared to be one of the most outrageously repressive regimes on the planet. Just as importantly, the largely Buddhist rank and file of the South Vietnamese army was beginning to question why they were risking their necks for the benefit of a tiny-minority Catholic dictatorship. Their Catholic officers, sensing the disaffection, placed themselves in front of the mob by leading a successful coup against Diem in November, with the on-again off-again acquiescence of the American embassy. The quotable Madame Nhu, whose husband was murdered along with Diem, asked: “With friends like the United States, who needs enemies?”
From the standpoint of Hanoi, the Catholic government was the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, basically doing everything it could to drive the population into the arms of the rebels the north was supporting. Even more importantly, when Moscow scanned the world scene, Vietnam jumped out as the ripest target for embarrassing Uncle Sam; sophisticated Russian arms began to pour in. Within a year, the north was on the verge of victory, and the leader of the free world had to decide whether to accept a defeat or to honor the commitment President Kennedy had made, exactly 50 years ago last Monday. Reasonable people disagree, pretty strenuously, about the wisdom of what followed: there certainly is a value to keeping a nation’s commitments, and there is at least some plausibility to the argument that South Vietnam might have survived had not American aid been cut off in 1974. The most avoidable mistake in Vietnam was made much earlier than 1974, though; earlier than the Tonkin Gulf resolution, and earlier than the Kennedy commitment of October 24, 1961. The avoidable mistake was listening to Cardinal Spellman and the Catholic lobby back in 1954, and aligning with a religious group outspokenly intent on maintaining its own privileged position, rather than with humanists trying to deal with problems without reference to the will of God. The same mistake we’ve been making in Afghanistan for the past ten years.
Saturday, October 29, 2011
If you liked Joseph C0nrad's novel Nostromo, about late 19th century Colombia, which Conrad calls "Costaguana", you will also like Colombian novelist Juan Gabriel Vasquez's novel The Secret History of Costaguana, recently published in English (Riverhead, $26.95).
Vasquez' novel, which I read in Spanish before it same out in English, plays off of the Conrad novel in an utterly fascinating way, which would spoil matters if I revealed any more. It delves into Colombian history, includes Conrad in the story in a big way, and touches on US and French involvement in the development of the Panama Canal.
I give the novel five stars.
Friday, October 28, 2011
An Opportunity to Visit and Understand the Jefferson Bible
By Gary Berg-Cross
At a recent secular humanist meeting I heard from Steve Lowe, he of the great DC Ingersoll tour, that Thomas Jefferson’s Bible, aka “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,” is set to return to public display. It will be unveiled in an exhibition (November 11-May 28, 2012) at NMAH’s Albert H. Small Documents Gallery. In 2009 a preservation team led by Janice Stagnitto Ellis, paper conservator at the National Museum of American History (NMAH), discovered that the book’s binding was damaging its fragile pages. To save them she temporarily removed it and in March started a conservation treatment of the text to ensure its preservation.
The exhibition will tell the story of the Jefferson Bible and explain how it offers insights into Jefferson’s ever-enigmatic mind. Visitors will see the newly conserved volume, two of the New Testament volumes from which Jefferson cut passages and a copy of the 1904 edition of the Jefferson Bible requested by Congress. Visitors to the exhibit will also be able to view each page, as well as videos about the Bible’s meticulous conservation. Others may want to see a very small video snippet of Chris Hitchens citing the TJ Bible in a debate on Religion.
This is an event many of us will enjoy and indeed Steve in looking into arranging special docent tours for members of the WASH community.
Smithsonian Books will also release the first full-color facsimile of the Jefferson Bible on November 1, and the Smithsonian Channel will air a documentary, “Jefferson’s Secret Bible,” in February 2012. You can to purchase a copy of the facsimile.
I had heard a little about Jefferson’s cut-down and de-miricalized version on the Good Book, but the anticipated resurfacing has sparked a number of articles that updated my knowledge base in the topic. The Wikipedia and other sources have articles on the history, from which I learned the following.
When he was in his 70s, ex-President Thomas Jefferson had time to complete a project that had occupied to him some two decades. We know a little a bit about his early thoughts from an 1803 letter sent to Joseph Priestley, dissenting clergyman and natural philosopher, who believed that a proper understanding of the natural world would promote human progress.
In the letter Jefferson states that the idea of writing his own view of the "Christian System" grew out of a conversation with Dr. Benjamin Rush just before he became President, sometime around 1798–99. Jefferson had long been convinced that the original words of Jesus written into the New Testament had been contaminated over time to serve pressing needs. Early Christians, he reasoned were motivated to sell their religion. They needed to make it appealing to the any pagans” such as the Romans, Gauls etc. But in doing this they may have conflated the words of Jesus with the philosophy of the ancient Greeks and the teachings of Plato that were a basis for Roman and European thinking. These "Platonists" he believed had thoroughly muddled Jesus' original message. Jefferson assured his friend and rival, John Adams, that the authentic words of Jesus were still there and could be unmuddled. The task, as he put it to Adams, was one of “abstracting what is really his from the rubbish in which it is buried, easily distinguished by its luster from the dross of his biographers, and as separate from that as the diamond from the dung hill.” For more see: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/jesus/jefferson.html#ixzz1c72fDPcj and also the Jefferson Bible
For the 1803 project Jefferson proposed reviewing the morals of the ancient philosophers, and then moving on to what he called the "deism and ethics of the Jews. " From there he would conclude with what he called Jesus’ "principles of a pure deism. This would be the unmuddled message. We see a bit into Jefferson’s mind when he added a note on "omitting the question of his deity." With the project laid out Jefferson explains that he really doesn't have the time to do a proper job and urged Priestley to take on the task as the person best equipped to accomplish the task. But Priestley didn’t take up the task so Jefferson scaled back to a more limited goal. Around the time of his 2nd term in 1804 he finished "The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth". This was the predecessor to Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Alas no copies of this 46 page Octavo are known to exist.
What we do have is the later construction of a book he entitled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. That is what the Smithsonian has a copy of and which is now known as the Jefferson Bible. In it moral lessons are drawn from the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, Mark and John. With his usual precision Jefferson cut verses from editions of the New Testament in English, French, Greek and Latin. He then pasted these onto loose blank pages, which were then to be bound into a book. In his 70s Jefferson apparently found this project fulfilling saying to a few friends that he read a bound version before retiring at night. But he realized that this was a project that might stir emotional responses in traditional religions, so he kept the work private.
Jefferson’s views on religion were private and complex. He was clearly reluctant to express them publicly and said to a friend:
“I not only write nothing on religion, but rarely permit myself to speak on it.”
He also provided this Source: "Jefferson's Religious Beliefs", by Rebecca Bowman:
"I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know."
For all of these reasons he kept the book a secret & only mentioned the book to a few friends. He never allowed it to be published during his lifetime. How did we find it?
Back in 1895, a Smithsonian librarian purchased the original Jefferson Bible, a collection of these clipped documents which now are assembled as the text, from Jefferson's great-granddaughter Carolina Randolph for $400. They were preserved and collated by Cyrus Adler. By 1904 we had assembled what we call the Jefferson bible. which was put on display in the United States National Museum. Congress was able to buy the rights to it. In the Progressive era of 1904 the Government Printing Office printed 9,000 copies for the Congress (3,000 for the Senate and 6,000 for the House). This began a nearly 50-year tradition of giving copies to new senators. This is perhaps not so popular a thing for Pols now, but the book remains in the public domain and you can access a copy in bookstores, museums and libraries. The Jefferson Bible is available through SmithsonianStore.com.
Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/Jeffersons-Bible.html#ixzz1c1DvJDXz
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Hot Button Flare Ups and Opportunities for Extended National Conversations: Religion in Politics
There’s always a swirl of topical conversations flaring up in the news. They clamor for our attention in the modern news cycle of impressionistic info. Some of it is serious with aha moments and useful dialog to help understand issues. Some are trivial and distracting with hot button issues that inflame passions without evoking critical thought. They are more like combat engagements than salon discussions. Most topics of national discussion combine both poles and the vast, mixed territory in between.
Serious, positive and frank conversations provide a basis for real problem solving. They need quality time and thus we need to avoid the distractions of sideshows & carnival like barking. The recent celebration of the King memorial provided some useful conversation about movements and how we get change. The Occupy movement-protest has rattling some cages & spread some interesting talk across the nation. There’s a good argument to be used that it’s changed the national conversation for the better. At least we are hearing something about the relation of financial institutions and government and the nature corporate power in America (see Occupy Wall Street Changing the National Conversation). Occupy has a broad range of topics, but it’s not the only national conversation that had sparked up and arced across the news. These things happen when political debates abound. Several topics have flared up around the MLK monument celebration and the question of which side of issues he would he be on. Some believe that he would have been at an Occupy event rather than his own monument ceremony. As Clarence B. Jones, author of “What Would Martin Say?” argued:
“One of the first things I observed as I watched and listened to various speakers is how few of them emphasized or articulated Dr. King's unshakable consistent commitment to non-violent conflict resolution to improve the quality of life and secure equal justice and economic opportunity. To recite a litany of our current problems and issues without connecting their solutions to non-violent direct civil disobedience to address those problems contradicts the letter and spirit of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr….”
Dr. King would have been among the first to publicly support "Occupy Wall Street." He would not have waited to gauge public opinion as to whether it was "politically" right or appropriate to embrace and support its objectives.
The Herman Cain campaign has served to stir up a number of discussions on race in politics – always a sensitive issue. Facing the possibility of 2 Black men competing for the Presidency one topic some suggest we are what conservative voices call a post-racial era. Of course as we hear birthers questioning Obama’s legitimacy. When combined with Tea-party signs comparing Obama to Hitler and shouts of taking their country back this is a bit hard to believe. Melissa Harris-Perry is wonderfully rank in her conversations and offers insights on the discussion of race in American. She suggests that the idea we are in a post-racial society is ridiculous. The details of our current conversation serve as a reminder that there is a long history to the Black experience and that Black political ideas are complex and multi-layered with a broad range of prominent Black “voices” from Clarence Thomas to Cain to Obama to Cornell West.
Polls continue to show that a large segment of the population does care about a candidate’s faith. Still religion is a hot button topic so you know with confidence that one of the conversations stirred up by our political campaigns the role of religion in selecting our leaders. Rev. Robert Jeffress, a backer of Gov. Perry sparked a heated conversation by arguing that a candidate’s faith is not only a permissible topic for discussion, but a key one. To Jeffress a candidate’s faith is big time important and it should be Christian. But he really sparked a response when he suggested that Mormons aren't Christians (contrary to what they “believe” about themselves) and called Mormonism a cult. Cult is a pejorative term in religious circles and we've had a previous posting on this topic, but I like Tom Wolfe’s take on it – “A cult is a religion with no political power. “
Whatever it is a cult is one of those inflaming labels implying something we just can’t tolerate. And others have fired back with a mix of emotion and reason and strong claims. One sign of inflaming conversation is the increasing use of emotionally charged words like “idiot” and “jerk”. Bill Bennett sounds a bit emotional when he referred to Jeffress as a “bigot” & Jon Huntsman called him a “moron” after Jeffress “cult” comments on Mormonism. Jeffress fired back a bit more gently when he called Bill Bennett “Mitt Romney’s surrogate voice”. While some called for civility and tolerance in public discourse, the incendiary rhetoric leaves less space for it.
In a later WaPo article Jeffress tried a clamer approach. He cited John Jay, the first chief justice of the Supreme Court and co-author of the Federalist Papers, as a supporter of the idea that:
‘” a candidate’s religious beliefs should be a primary consideration in voting. Jay wrote, ‘It is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.’ According to Jay, preferring a Christian candidate is neither bigoted nor unconstitutional.”
This is a less passionate argument about some trying to marginalized candidates' religious affiliations. People can respond to this claim in a reasoned way. And they have advancing the national conversation. Some pointed to Article VI of the Constitution, which prohibits religious tests for public office. This is a virtue of secularism in its political sense. Secularism excludes religion from state decision-making and endorsement to protect everyone's freedom to believe in whatever they like. Without that the State gets to endorse a particular religion, which includes the general idea of preference of religion over non-religion. The founders recognized that this can create a climate of distrust of non-adherents. That's what happened to non-Anglicans in colonial days. The worry is that from there religion becomes a tool of a religious-culture based nationalism. Then anyone not in the favored belief may be thought of as “unpatriotic.” We see a mild case of this in the Jeffres' discomfort with Mormonism. In Israel Palestinian citizens are not seen by some as trustworthy patriots, in Saudi Arabia, well that cultural conflct story goes on.
On Wall of Separation, the official blog of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Joseph L. Conn thanked the Rev. Robert Jeffress for igniting a conversation on: why a “candidate’s faith matters or not”. Conn observed that Jeffress “just won’t shut up, and for that, I thank him.”
Conn and others took it as an opportunity to explore the ideas inherent in Jeffress’ main claim that:
“[O]ur religious beliefs define the very essence of who we are” and so evangelicals should vote in the GOP primary for a man who is “both a competent leader and a committed Christian.”
The idea of essential American Christian identity is a divisive topic and needs to go beyond talking points. A little bit of history and reasoning can be added to the conversation. There are many places where this has already been discussed including the idea of claims of moral superiority such as in Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation. If this topic comes up in a neighborhood near you these are the types of things to elevate the conversation and knock back claims of religious marginalization. Ever see the numbers on religious affiliation in Congress??
In this climate we need to avoid emotional conversational mêlées. There a real opportunity to show the defects in the religeo-centric idea of being governed by biblical principles. It helps to frame the conversation around reasoned ideas of law and governance. It can include pointing to the obvious defect of being subject to something analogous to Talmudic or Sharia law. Far better to have political leaders who govern by reason and respect majority views. People on the whole see the wisdom of keeping narrow religious values out of the political conversations. In this they follow the idea of Democracy as envisioned by the founders. They followed the Enlightenment in looking to reason and not the Bible for political principles.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Catholics vs the Vatican
Stereotypes abound when people discuss religion. One is that all Catholics march in lockstep to Gregorian chant from the Boys Club on the Tiber. Well, 't'aint so and never has been. The latest demonstration of this truism is the report on the polling of 1445 Catholic adults titled Catholics in America: Persistence and change in the Catholic landscape, by Catholic University sociologist William D'Antonio and colleagues, released on October 24.
Here is a hasty summary: only 28% think a celibate male clergy is important; only 30% accept Vatican authority; only 35% oppose same-sex marriage; only 36% see merit in praying the rosary; only 49% oppose abortion; 67% believe in helping the poor, while only 64% believe Mary is the "mother of God"; 86% say that "you can disagree with aspects of church teaching and still remain loyal to the church"; weekly mass attendance has declined from44% in 1987 to 31% in 2011, while those who attend less monthly increased from 26% to 47%; 83% say that the sexual abuse scandals have hurt church leaders' credibility. (Other polls have shown that over 90% of Catholics disagree with the Vatican's position on contraception; Catholic private school enrollment has dropped from 5.5 million to about 2 million today and a majority of Catholic voters oppose tax aid to church-related private schools; Catholics in the US Senate have been strongly pro=choice and anti-school-vouchers; the Catholic divorce rate is similar to the non-Catholic rate.)
And of course this survey did not count the large number of people who have left the church entirely. I have had personal contact with Unitarian-Universalist congregations in which a majority of members are former Catholics.
The point I wish to make is that there are commonalities between a great many Catholics and humanists or freethinkers, and that in these troubled times, with one political party practically taken over by anti-choice, anti-public-education, climate change and evolution denying, plutocracy-loving fundamentalists, naturalistic humanists need to build bridges to other Americans who may wear religious labels but who share a good many of our core values.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
Vietnam’s 50th – Part 1
Reasonable people have different opinions about the date on which the Vietnam War began, at least from the American standpoint. My pick is October 24, 1961, exactly 50 years ago tomorrow. That’s the day on which President Kennedy wrote to South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem that “the United States is determined to help Vietnam preserve its independence ... to prevent a Communist takeover of Vietnam.” There were already a handful of American advisers there, but Kennedy ordered in troops – more than 16,000 of them – including helicopter units to ferry Vietnamese soldiers into battle, thus involving Americans themselves in the fighting.
Nearly 400 Americans died in Vietnam during the Kennedy years – more, for example, than during the first war against Iraq. What isn’t well understood is the central role that religion played in the Vietnam War, a war that ultimately cost 58,000 American lives and ten times that many Vietnamese lives.
Vietnam presents the classic colonial example of the flag following the cross. French Jesuits began proselytizing there in the 17th century, claiming 6,000 converts by 1630. One of these Jesuits developed the alphabet used in written Vietnamese today. By the late 18th century, French missionaries were deeply involved in Vietnamese politics, which often spilled over into bloodshed; naturally, they called in armed help from back home to shore up their party’s position. In 1833, an army commanded by a Catholic priest kicked off a revolt that took three years to suppress.
Just as naturally, the large majority of non-Catholic Vietnamese resented outside interference, and took occasional delight in murdering Catholic missionaries. The French government, anxious to throw its weight around under Emperor Napoleon III, began its campaign to bring all of Indochina under the colonial yoke in 1858; after 25 years of close cooperation with the Catholic minority, it finally succeeded. French rule was Catholic rule; for any young Vietnamese anxious for a government job, step number one was to convert to Catholicism.
The Japanese overran Vietnam with little difficulty in World War II; when they departed in 1945, the Viet Minh resistance group, led by Ho Chi Minh, declared independence and quickly established de facto control over the country. The Viet Minh was an umbrella organization that included both Communists (such as Ho) as well as decidedly non-Communist Catholics. Ho even named a Catholic bishop as one of his “supreme advisors.”
The Vatican, though, had for decades maintained an adamant stance against all cooperation with Godless communists. A Church that had vigorously supported the rise to power of Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco precisely because of their militant anticommunism was not about to play nicely with the likes of Ho Chi Minh. Moreover, the wounded pride of the French government after the ignominy of 1940 disinclined it to surrender an inch of former colonial territory. Once again, the Church worked hand in glove with the military to back up minority Catholic control over Vietnam, but this time the outcome was different, when the French suffered a decisive defeat at Dien Bien Phu.
Results on the battlefield led to the political settlement of the 1954 Geneva Accords. The French agreed to withdraw completely, leaving the northern zone of the country under the temporary administrative control of the Viet Minh and the southern zone under the nominal control of the French puppet emperor, Bao Dai. Elections would then be held in 1956 for a unified national government. Simple enough – except for the fact that the Catholics, numbering less than 10% of the population, had not the remotest chance of maintaining a stranglehold on any government freely elected by the Vietnamese people.
New York’s Cardinal Spellman, at the time perhaps the most powerful Catholic in the world, immediately went on a rampage against the Geneva outcome. He warned the assembled thousands at that year’s American Legion convention:
If Geneva and what was agreed upon there means anything at all, it means that the trumpet which we heard over the fallen garrison at Dien Bien Phu last May sounded taps and not reveille. Taps for the buried hopes of freedom in Southeast Asia! Now the devilish techniques of brainwashing, forced confessions, and rigged trials have a new locale for their exercise. ... We shall risk bartering our liberties for lunacies, betraying the sacred trust of our forefathers, becoming serfs and slaves to the Red ruler’s godless goons.Working closely with a lobbying group that included a young Catholic Senator named John Kennedy, Spellman persuaded Secretary of State John Foster Dulles to secure the installation of one of his protégés, Ngo Dinh Diem, as the emperor’s prime minister. Diem had been a minor official under the French administration; his bigger claim to fame was that his older brother was the Bishop of Hue, who had studied with Spellman in Rome during the 1930s. Ho had offered Diem a position in his government, but was turned down; instead, Diem headed for New York, where he lived in a monastery while Spellman pulled strings on his behalf.
Upon his return to Vietnam, the largely unknown Diem quickly bit the hand that fed him, deposing Bao Dai and proclaiming a republic. Far more significant, though, was the massive Catholic and American propaganda blitz that led to the exodus of over half a million Catholics from the Viet Minh sector to the south.
From a Catholic standpoint, the partition of Vietnam was upside down. The French capital had been at Hanoi, in the north, so that’s where the Catholic minority was concentrated. There were very few Catholics in the southern sector handed to Diem. Thus there ensued a psychological warfare campaign to whip up enough hysteria to drive Catholics away from their ancestral homes so that Diem could have a bigger power base. Leaflets were dropped from planes, proclaiming that “Christ has gone to the South” and “The Virgin Mary has departed from the North.” Enormous posters sprang up in Hanoi and Haiphong showing evil communists closing a cathedral and forcing the congregation to pray to a picture of Ho Chi Minh; the caption read “Make your choice.” Rumors spread that America was planning to incinerate the north with atomic bombs. Along with the sticks came the carrots: Catholics would run the show in the south, just like in the good old days under French rule. Each Catholic who made the trek was given a cash grant greater than the average per capita income to help set up a new life in the south. More effective than the printed propaganda was the one-on-one persuasion of individual priests; in many cases, entire Catholic villages chose either to flee or to remain as a unit. The American Seventh Fleet deployed 41 vessels to assist in the evacuation.
Still, around half of the north’s Catholics decided not to follow Christ to the south. What happened to them? And how did Diem’s religious policy result in the American military campaign launched 50 years ago tomorrow? Tune in next week for another exciting episode.
Monk turned into Humanist-His lecture
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Bork and "Ugliness"
In today's (10/22/11) New York Times columnist Joe Nocera, with whom I generally agree, blamed the "ugliness" of today's Republican politics on the Democrats' defeat of the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987. I profoundly disagree. Bork was, and remains, an unpleasant, eccentric ultraconservative ideologue totally out of sync with our country's best traditions and values.
I spent the summer of 1987 campaigning against the Bork nomination in at least 30 speeches and media appearances around the country, and Americans for Religious Liberty was one of the large number of organizations that opposed Reagan's Bork nomination. As soon as the Senate made Bork's papers available after the nomination I spent a whole day going over them and found his reputation for profundity or wisdom unfounded.
In 1984 I attended an American Enterprise Institute lecture by Bork on "Tradition and Morality in Constitutional Law" and took notes. I remember thinking at the conclusion of his talk that "Bork is just a Jerry Falwell in striped pants", as I wrote in Voice of Reason at the time.
Bork, like his idol Chief Justice Rehnquist, dismissed the constitutional principle of church-state separation as a "useless, bad metaphor". He disagreed with the Supreme Court's precedents that there is a constitutional right to privacy that protects access to contraception and abortion. He said that the First Amendment's freedom of speech and press is limited only to political expression. He made it very clear that permanent or transient majorities have the right to trample and limit the rights of individuals and minorities.
Joe Nocera owes his readers an apology for his defaming of the Democrats who kept Robert Bork off our country's highest court.
(I would have posted this comment in the NY Times had it not truncated the time for such responses.)
Friday, October 21, 2011
Lakoff’s Framing Advice to Occupy Wall Street (#OWS) - We love America & are here to fix it with your help
by Gary Berg-Cross
My past blogs have included references to George Lakoff’s idea on Frames - cognitive-metaphorical structures (such as geospatial words) routinely used to organize thought and interpret the world. So we conceptualize well-being as wealth, both of which plug into pre-existing notions that trigger emotional responses. It is easy then to see wealthy people as good, healthy folks.
I've also blogged on the Occupy movement and Oct2011. In a recent Truthout Op-Ed Lakoff provided advice (by request) on how the protester movement occupying Zuccotti Park near Wall Street can avoid being framed by others with differing political interests. Lakoff believes that framing is epistemic – it influences the methods we use to understand the world and our concept of truth. In combination with language it central to making clear says what the character of something like a movement is. A proper frame may help solve that criticism that others don't know what the movement’s ideas and objectives are. But to do this effectively we need some principles by which a movement can properly frame itself. I found that some of these principles suggestive of ways that Secular Humanists might employ frames (We are all Citizens of the World or We are part of nature) to help with a wider understanding of our values. Perhaps that will be a topic for another time.
In advice to OWS Lakoff first notes that in charting political & financial action frames often evoke competing moral systems. In short, a movement that seeks some political and financial system influence needs to understand politics as part of a moral dimension that is framed in its language. Political figures, as well as movements and their spokes people, tend to make policy statements/recommendations with implied or explicit claims about what is the right thing to do. Appeals to the benefits of Capitalist System or a Democratic System claim to do more good than harm and are thus moral statements. You can see this in the OWS movement's statements with an implied sense of the common good. The lead one is "Democracy Should Be About the 99 Percent". Others are aimed at progressive causes such as the idea that strong Wages & Unions Make a Strong America and related grievances - middle-class wages have not gone up significantly in 30 years and there is conservative/corporate pressure to lower them. In criticizing the top 1% an implied claim is that they are just in it for themselves and can get away with unfair gains it since they have power.
Implied in such things are values and principles fit the common sense claim that “Some moral principles or other lie behind every political policy agenda.” We might ask broadly what are they for the OWS folks and what are they for their “opponents” (just as we might for Secular Humanists and our opponents).
Broadly Lakoff sees “Two Competing Moral Framing Systems” each with political slants and differing idea of democracy. The bulk of American conservatives have a particular moral system that you see in the actions and mentality of Wall Street. Lakoff’s list of these includes:
1. The primacy of self-interest 0 yes they are in it for themselves but this is seen as moral
a. Of course financial folks want big bonuses – well all do.'
2. There is Individual responsibility, but not broad social responsibility outside the core group. It’s OK if I can game the system to advantage
3. Hierarchical authority based on wealth or other forms of power.
a. A moral hierarchy of who is "deserving," defined by success within the system.
b. We in Wall Street are on top. You are just jealous.
And the highest principle is the
Rigid primacy of this particular moral/truth system itself, which goes beyond Wall Street and the economy to other arenas: family life, social life, religion, foreign policy and especially government.
Derived from these we have the idea of Conservative governance in their version "democracy" - a system of governance and elections that fits this model. Strong leaders who see decisions and moral judgement in system of black and white, devalue compromise which is seen as surrender etc.
The alternative view of democracy has a progressive with more of a social frame:
1. Democracy starts with citizens caring about one another and acting responsibly on that sense of care, taking responsibility both for oneself and for one's family, community, country, people in general and the planet.
2. The role of government is to protect and
empower all citizens equally via The Public: public infrastructure, laws and enforcement, health, education, scientific research, protection, public lands, transportation, resources, art and culture, trade policies, safety nets, and on and on.
3. Nobody makes it one their own.
a. As Elizabeth Warren said, if you got wealthy, you depended on The Public and you have a responsibility to contribute significantly to The Public so that others can benefit in the future.
b. Moreover, the wealthy depend on those who work and who deserve a fair return for their contribution to our national life. We’re in this together
4. Corporations exist to make life better for most people.
a. Their reason for existing is as public as it is private.
OK so we have 2 frame systems. What should the Occupy movement do? Lakoff suggests that OWS should take an approach to policy that follows from its own moral focus. Thus OWS should frame the following types of messages:
1. We Love America. We're Here to Fix It
That is OWS is a patriotic movement, based on a deep and abiding love of the Public, that is the country. This combats the idea that patriotism that just about the self-interests of individuals. There is a level of the Public Good.
“Do Americans care about other citizens, or mainly just about themselves? That's what love of America is about. I, therefore, think it is important to be positive, to be clear about loving America, seeing it in need of fixing and not just being willing to fix it, but being willing to take to the streets to fix it. A populist movement starts with the people seeing that they are all in the same boat and being ready to come together to fix the leaks.”
Publicize the Public
Get the word about The Public out. Democracy being about the 99 Percent is in this frame.
“nobody makes it purely on their own without The Public, that is, without public infrastructure, the justice system, health, education, scientific research, protections of all sorts, public lands, transportation, resources, art and culture, trade policies, safety nets ... That is a truth to be told day after day. It is an idea that must take hold in public discourse. It must go beyond what I and others have written about it and beyond what Elizabeth Warren has said in her famous video. The Public is not opposed to The Private. The Public is what makes The Private possible. And it is what makes freedom possible. Wall Street exists only through public support. It has a moral obligation to direct itself to public needs.
There is also a more practical political message to formulate based on the recent Tea Party experience. They:
“solidified the power of the conservative worldview via elections. OWS will have no long-term effect unless it, too, brings its moral focus to the 2012 elections. Insist on supporting candidates that have your overall moral views, no matter what the local issues are.”
The message is that money directs our politics and that is not for the common good. In a democracy, that must end to move towards the common good. A long tern solution is that we need publicly supported elections.
Proper framing will help us get there.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
This letter was published in the October 19, 2011, issue of Education Week, in response to an article heaping over-the-top praise on Catholic private schools.
"Writer Raises Questions About Catholic Education Essay"
"As an honors graduate of a leading Catholic high school in Indiana and as a former teacher in public and private schools, I found Philip Robey's Commentary on Catholic schools interesting ('What Catholic Schools Can Teach About Educating the Whole Child', Oct. 5, 2011). But several questions went begging.
"If Catholic schools are so good, why has their enrollment dropped from 5.5 million in 1965 to slightly over two million today? Why do a majority of Catholic voters reject vouchers and similar plans to provide tax aid to private schools in state referendums on the subject? Has this anything to do with the fact that Catholics donate only half as much to their church and its schools as do Protestants with slightly lower average incomes?
"How does one square Mr Robey's rosy view with that of Kirsten Goldberg's reporting in Education Week on April 29, 1987, about a study of 16,000 high school seniors in public and private schools ('Catholic Educators Surprised by Data on Student Values') that 'significantly greater percentages of Catholic school seniors said they used alcohol, cocaine and marijuana than public school seniors', conclusions backed by Michael Guerra, Michael Donahue, and Peter Benson in the book The Heart of the Matter: Effects of Catholic High Schools on Student Values, Beliefs and Behavior (National Catholic Educational Association, 1990)?
"Some answers would be useful."
"Edd Doerr, President, Americans for Religious Liberty, Silver Spring, Md."
Monday, October 17, 2011
Senator Joe Lieberman had an op ed in the Wash Post on 10/14/11 on the Romney/Mormon flap (of which I will write more later). Below is the comment I posted on the Wash Post blog about Lieberman.
"Senator Lieberman rightly notes that the Constitution prohibits religious tests for public office, a prohibition reinforced by the Supreme Court in 1961 in the Torcaso v Watkins ruling. But Mr Lieberman's column made at least three serious errors.
"1. He writes that the First Amendment prohibits 'establishment of an official religion'. Wrong. The First Amendment prohibits any ';aw RESPECTING an establishment of religion'. This goes far beyond what Mr Lieberman wrote. Indeed, Mr Lieberman himself has thumbed his nose at the First Amendment by pushing for the diversion of public funds to discriminatory church-related private schools, which would violate every citizen's right not to be compelled by government to contribute to the support of religious institutions.
"2. Mr Lieberman writes that the Founders promised 'freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion'. Again, he seems not to grasp that one's freedom OF religion means one's freedom FROM someone else's religion being imposed on him or her. We might note that at least Mr Lieberman shows more respect for women's religious liberty and freedom of conscience with regard to reproductive choice than does the Republican Party in Congress and state legislatures.
"3. Mr Lieberman writes that our country 'was and is a faith-based initiative'. He is not clear on that point. It would be better to say that our country is the first secular (i.e.. religiously neutral or religiously pluralistic) initiative. He should be reminded of our 1797 Treaty with Tripoli, ratified unanimously by the Senate and signed very visibly by President John Adams, which states that 'The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion'.
"Edd Doerr, President, Americans for Religious Liberty, arlinc.org"
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Martin Luther King’s Inspired (Humanist) Life and Thoughts
By Gary Berg-Cross
Today marks the official opening of the MLK monument and it is a suitable time to reflect on the life, work and thought of this great moral, American voice. The Memorial, like the FDR complex, sits astride the Tidal Basin, across from the Jefferson Memorial and near to the Lincoln Memorial. It celebrates another step in our progress from the time of the Founders but also reminds us of these four giant’s unfinished dreams. I know that we’ll never get a Monument, but as Norm Allen and others have pointed out long before Martin Luther King, our Robert Ingersoll uttered similar words:
"I have a dream that this world is growing better and better everyday and every year; that there is more charity, more justice, more love every day. I have a dream that prisons will not always curse the land; that the shadow of the gallows will not always fall upon the earth; that the withered hand of want will not always be stretched out for charity; that finally wisdom will sit in the legislatures, justice in the courts, charity will occupy all the pulpits, and that finally the world will be governed by justice and charity, and by the splendid light of liberty...." (The Works of Ingersoll, (The Dresden Edition), Volume IX, p. 186)
King’s Monument involves both a “mountain of despair” and a “stone of hope” in which MLK’s likeness partially emerges dreamlike. In the context the Occupy movement the moment reminds us of unfulfilled democratic dream and King’ legacy as a polarizing figure in support of inconvenient truths. His has won begrudging support over time while the Occupy movement is still in its early phase. See my blog on the DC Occupy and Occupy the issue of objectives.
We all know that as a Christian King drew ethical inspiration from the Bible, and his speeches are full of these ideas and phrasing. An example is "We are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream."
But non-believers joy in his Humanist spirit as well. As freethinkers, such as Susan Jacoby, have pointed out, King's moral appeal, while rooted in his own faith, transcended all religions and open to the participation of all. He was highly influenced by Humanists. One of these was the black humanist movement and several black atheist leaders of the late 19th and early 20th century. Norm Allen, in his speech for the Center for Inquiry entitled Martin Luther King, Jr. from a Humanist Perspective, argues that only later did churches provide organizational capacity that nurtured its form of Black activism. Jeff Nallin Remembering the Humanism of Martin Luther King provides several key quotes showing King’s pluralistic & religion-neutral positions. When asked how he felt about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision ruling school prayer unconstitutional his response was:
I endorse it. I think it was correct. Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in God. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom? Legally, constitutionally, or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right. I am strongly opposed to the efforts that have been made to nullify the decision.
Another declaration on church-state relations was that the church "is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool."
As a truth seeker King was not hesitant to blame organized religion where it was due, one case being support of violent resolutions:
In a world gone mad with arms buildups, chauvinistic passions, and imperialistic exploitation, the church has either endorsed these activities or remained appallingly silent. During the last two world wars, national churches even functioned as the ready lackeys of the state, sprinkling holy water upon the battleships and joining the mighty armies in singing, "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition." A weary world, pleading desperately for peace, has often found the church morally sanctioning war.
These are not the type of passages that earned a space on the Monument but 14 select passages are
enshrined there. As a humanist I find inspiration in the words and ideas which I find reflected in much of the discussion by the Occupy movement, starting with the idea of ultimate goals of things like Justice and Fairness in a Moral World:
"True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice." And
"We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."
The Goals of a Moral Society
"We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience."
But other values that Secular Humanists might agree with, and sometimes make up topics on this Blog, include:
Generosity Towards and Love of Fellow Humans
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
The Value and Role of Truth & Reality
"I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant."
Opposition to War and Militarism
"I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America. I speak out against it not in anger but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and above all with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as a moral example of the world."
"It is not enough to say, 'We must not wage war.' It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace."
Cosmopolitarianism’s Role in Peace
"If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective." and
"Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies."
"I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits."
The Virtues of Conviction, Fortitude and Thoughtful Action in Support of Inconvenient Truths
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."