28 March 2011

Quotation of the Day

The Senate has killed Mr. Windom’s foolish Bill for the “suppression of obscene literature,” to which we made reference some time ago, by simply letting it die, without notice—for lack of the bottle out of which tender infants are often fed. This is well—and what we expected. But how about those reformers who hold meetings to urge an Amendment to the Constitution, which shall insert the names of God and Christ therein?

Every once and a while this old beldame Earth has a fit of morals, which jerk some people like St. Vitus’s dance; and when it subsides, having the tendency rather to retard than promote the exalted aims of Christianity. Moral excesses become ridiculous. Ridicule cheapens. And when Christianity is lampooned by well meaning Bigotry, even that Holy Faith cannot entirely escape harm from contact with the keen sene of humor which is so universal in the human mind.

To see a breach of this “moral” sort made in the Constitution, and then to behold the struggle of the Sects for additional “Sectarian Amendments!” What Satirist could withhold his pen, what Cartoonist his pencil, in view of a spectacle—in this age of the world—like to that? And yet just such a precedent is sought after by the folks whom we are criticising.
Weekly Mercury, Salem, Oregon, 28 March 1873, p.2

10 March 2011

Springtide for Himmler

Not feeling well, here. I don’t know why; there’s probably some good reason for it. Blame it on old age, maybe—my sixtieth birthday is fast approaching, but I don’t really think that’s it. The weather is uncertain and changeable, alternately threatening and inviting, and that could be darkening my emotional landscape too, but again, I don’t really think that’s it. Life here is imploding fast as well; the foreclosure grinds on, with no end in sight, taking its emotional toll, my one brother is rapidly approaching the end of his financial rope, and taken as a whole things continue rapidly to deteriorate. This isn’t even van-by-the-river time; my van’s in the shop, and everything looks chancy and uncertain.

Which makes it hard to concentrate on anything. I spent some time today organizing books, mainly getting stray volumes back on the shelves where they belong, which has something of the deck-chairs-on-the-Titanic feel to it, truth to tell. The thing is, nothing is that urgent, probably. Resolution on the house is likely to be months away, as I understand it, and my family is generally resourceful; even if we crash and burn, we’ll probably do it with a certain degree of dignity. And I’ve had other birthdays. I’ve never had a sixtieth before, but then, I never had a twenty-seventh, or a forty-second, until I actually had one. Honestly, I never really thought I’d get past thirty-three.

And so springtide cometh, where the days are more nearly equal to the nights than not, and flowers start blooming and the grass becomes ragged and in need of a mowing. A chancy, uncertain time of year at best. Storm clouds are as likely as sunshine, and sometimes both come at once. The news abroad fits with the season—gloomy and indecisive. I read how some Army commander found fifty thousand dollars and change to host a third-class hillbilly revival on government facilities with his full endorsement, but could only spare a tiny venue and no financial wherewithal to bring Richard Dawkins and an all-star lineup to the same base. I can’t say I’m disappointed; I expected no less from the customarily two-faced US military. And chaos reigns in Wisconsin, where a venal governor is determined to cut the pay for public employees, forbid future union negotiations over work conditions and benefits, apparently in order to pay off his financial backers. (My hope is that this will prove a pyrrhic victory, as the American people wake from their long slumber to fight back against the mad tea-partiers and other business-as-usual crazies—but the American people seem to be perfectly capable of long-time survival despite having their heads firmly in the sand. Or rather up their collective rectums.) Elsewhere Alan Abel wannabe James O’Keefe is promoting is latest hoax, this time aimed at PBS, though why anybody is still paying him any attention beats me. How many times are the mainstream media (Fox in particular) going to cash this guy’s bad checks? Once bitten and all that, right? Middle-East meltdown goes on. Afghanistan deteriorates. Gaddafi threatens to jump ship (jump, baby, jump!). Some guy in Portland calls 911 to report himself as a house-breaker—seems the owners have returned and he’s afraid they might be armed. None of it makes much sense—but then that’s what one would expect in this chaotic and uncertain universe.

Classic mindscum—I started with nothing in particular to say, and I ended up nowhere in particular. Pile up enough words together and sense emerges—sometimes. I don’t think this was one of them. Put it down to the weather. Maybe I’ll feel better in a day or two.

04 March 2011

Quotation of the Day

If someone needs ancient literature for explicit moral guidance, they cannot reasonably think of themselves as able to make moral decisions. They have surrendered their moral responsibility to their holy book.

01 March 2011

Quotation of the Day

There is one reason and one reason only to read the comments on a random news site. If, for some reason, you are having a high level of hope for humanity and decide you just want to squash that right away so it doesn’t fester, go find yourself a nice Web 2.0 outlet and read away to your heart’s content.

Were They Reading the Same Book? pt. 2

Sunday’s observation about the Bible presenting “the grandest characters in all history” came from one James Wingate, Schenectady County (New York) Commissioner in 1902. The issue was mandating Bible-reading in the schools, a position favored by State Superintendent Charles R. Skinner at that time. Information was gathered from principals and superintendents and various other officials about the practice in their respective districts, along with their recommendations as to policy. Skinner supported mandatory Bible-reading “without note or comment” and saw no conflict with the New York Constitution:
The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship without discrimination or preference shall forever be allowed in this state to all mankind…
How reading from a religious text, as part of a religious service involving the recitation of a prayer, with or without note or comment, could possibly be done “without discrimination or preference” he never explained, but rather seems to think that it is somehow self-evident:
There is a wide distinction between the opening of schools with religious exercises taken from the catechism of some church according to a formula prescribed by some sect or denomination and the reading of portions of the Bible without note or comment. The first may be decidedly objectionable to parents of other denominations, while to the other it would seem no reasonable objection could be raised. … Religious freedom consists in a man’s professing and enjoying what religious faith he pleases, or in the right of rejecting all denominational beliefs. This freedom is in no degree restricted when the Bible is read in the public school.
Not everybody agreed with Skinner. Charles E. Gorton, Yonkers school superintendent, wrote:
I am quite content with the present status of the Bible in the public schools, and suspect that an attempt to do more with it would lead to endless trouble, and very likely properly so. We have children of every faith in the schools. The Bible is the foundation of the Christian religion, and the King James version is the foundation of Protestantism. The Catholics would object to the reading of that version; the Jews would object to the New Testament; other religious sects would object to any reading whatever. Except so far as relates to ethical instruction, I believe we had better let the Bible alone in the public schools, and even as a code of ethics there are many other religious sects who claim that their writings are just as sound as the Bible, and quite likely they are. In my judgment it is quite right to maintain the separation between secular and religious education.
But many administrators favored preaching the Bible. They offered a bewildering variety of not necessarily consistent reasons for this choice. One that jumped out at me—as it still does when offered by modern-day Bible-pushers—is the strong desire to proselytize other people’s children, whose parents, perhaps, did not see the value of it. Some examples:
Many argue that religious teaching should be left to the homes and churches, but statistics prove that these two agencies are not fully performing this important function and that a large number of the children of our state do not come under any religious influence whatever.—C. F. Walker, Superintendent, Elmira

As a matter of fact very many of our students would grow up with no knowledge whatever of this book were it not for what they heard read from it in the public schools.—W. C. Franklin (no location given)

Some of the children in that way may hear the precious word, who never would hear it at any other time.—E. Everett Poole, Commissioner, Chenango county, first district

Every day the teacher should impress upon the minds of the pupils the importance of leading a Christian life.—Charles B. Hanley, Commissioner, Hamilton county, sole district

I believe the Bible should be used daily in the public schools, because … [m]any children will not learn the truths of the Bible unless it is used in the public school.—Libbie J. Sweetland, Commissioner, Tompkins county, second district

In the rural districts a great many children never have a Bible lesson read, or even attend a Sunday school, and a few moments spent in the morning are not lost, but lay before the child and student a new field of thought.—Charles C. McCall, Commissioner, Wyoming county, second district
How does this square with the child’s right of free exercise of his or her religion without discrimination or preference? As is almost always the case in these discussions the rights of the child go unmentioned. Parental objections are noted, however. We saw above how Skinner steamrollered over objections by parents of other persuasions by saying that “no reasonable objection could be raised” by say Jews or Muslims to readings from the Christian sacred writings. (Would he have felt the same if the passages in question had been from the Quran or Tao Te Ching?) Some joined in blaming the parents who objected.
This recognition of the Bible as a standard of morals and as an aid in character-building cannot be reasonably criticised.—James M Crane, City Superintendent, Newburgh.

While it is not the business of the public schools to teach religion, I am firmly convinced that they fall far short of their duty if they fail to inculcate morals, and in no way can this be done so efficiently as by the use of the Bible.—D. E. Batcheller, City Superintendent, Olean

A diploma from a high school should be a guarantee that the possessor has a reasonable familiarity with the Bible.—J. E. Massee, School Superintendent, Watervliet

...as long as we are Americans and our institutions are founded on Christian ethics let us teach our children the fundamental principles of righteous living as taught in the Bible.—Charles D. Niver, Commissioner, Albany County, first district

The preamble of our [New York] constitution recognizes God, our courts use the Bible in administering oaths and the United States is recognized as the great Christian nation. Protestants and Catholics alike accept the Bible as the word of God. What harm then can come to our children from having the Bible in the public schools?—E. B. Whitney, Commissioner, Broome county, second district

Spite of assertions to the contrary, this is a religious state, since the preamble to our constitution explicitly recognizes “Almighty God”; and since the whole tenor of our constitution is framed in accordance with the principles of the New Testament, and is at variance in many respects with the principles of any of the other religions of the world, it is also a Christian state.—J. Irving Gorton, Superintendent, Ossining
Take that, non-religious and non-Christian parents. Screw you, and screw your children too, as far as J. Irving Gorton et al were concerned. More rational observations came from other officials:
In my judgment it is hardly probable that the Bible could be taught in the public schools of the state without the instructor coloring his teaching with his personal belief. I have no sympathy with the notion that has been put forward that it is not possible to teach morals without teaching religion at the same time. It seems to me that the safe thing to do is to keep church and state work pretty clearly separate.—H. H. Snell, Superintendent, Hoosick Falls

I think it is not wise to attempt to teach any form of religion in our public schools. I question the desirability of such teaching in public schools. I certainly believe the public schools should be kept free from any religious teaching by sectarian ministers or teachers.—George Griffith, Superintendent, Utica

...controversy over its teaching is the basis of much of the most violent and destructive antagonism of the world’s history, and for this reason, and this only, it has been excluded from the public schools, which, admittedly, must be secular only.—C. B. Gilbert, Superintendent, Rochester

I believe that the Bible should not be read in the public schools, but should be left to special classes, special schools and the home.—J. C. Van Etten, City Superintendent, Dunkirk

It is my observation and belief that no moral benefit is derived from it. It antagonizes some of the patrons of the public schools. Morality and right living can better be taught by the example of upright, honest, conscientious teachers.—William R. Tremper, Commissioner, Dutchess county, second district

In my opinion the reading of the Bible in the public schools would be an occasion for dissatisfaction among the parents of the children. In as much as Bibles differ, and the schools are made up of children of different religious denominations, the home is the more satisfactory place for such instruction, where they may be allowed to follow the dictates of their own conscience.—John S. Bizel, Commissioner, Franklin county, first district
Given the difficulties at hand, you’d think there had to be a pretty compelling reason for trying to shoehorn the Bible in. And various administrators put in their two cents worth on that. Literary excellence, moral example, historical importance—these are some of the reasons given. With any luck I’ll get a chance to examine these in a later section. Uh, in view of my track record, don’t hold your breath, mmm-kay?

[Since I inadvertently published the introduction to this piece on Sunday, I figured I’d keep it up, publishing sections until I come to an end, or get tired of it.]
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