About Corazon

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Jon Meacham: The Religious Case for Church-State Separation

Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek Magazine and author of the books American Gospel and American Lion (for which he won the Pulitzer Prize last year) has chimed in with an interesting article on the never-ending culture war over church-state separation and why religion should embrace the distinction rather than fight against it. He writes:
Here we go again. On April 15 a federal judge in Wisconsin ruled that the National Day of Prayer, slated for May 6, was unconstitutional. The usual voices have been heard rising in objection (Sarah Palin and Franklin Graham among them) and, proving yet again that President Obama is no radical, the administration announced its own plans to challenge the decision. One can make a reasonable case that the weight of custom puts the fairly banal idea of an occasionless, generic day of prayer (how many of you even knew that we have had such a day every year since 1952?) on the safe side of the Establishment Clause. But the right is, as ever, taking things a beat too far. Lest anyone try to convince you that God should be separated from the state, Palin said, our Founding Fathers, they were believers.

Governor Palin's history is rather shaky. Religious liberty—the freedom to worship as one chooses, or not to worship—is a central element of the American creed. Yes, many of the Founders were believing, observant Christians. But to think of them as apostles in knee breeches or as passionate evangelicals is a profound misreading of the past. In many ways their most wondrous legacy was creating the foundations of a culture of religious diversity in which the secular and the religious could live in harmony, giving faith a role in the life of the nation in which it could shape us without strangling us. On the day George Washington left Philadelphia to take command of the Continental Army, the Rev. William Smith preached a sermon at the city's Christ Church, saying: "Religion and liberty must flourish or fall together in America. We pray that both may be perpetual."

Arguments about the connection between religion and politics, church and state, have surely been perpetual. The civil and legal cases against religious coercion are well known: human freedom extends to one's conscience, and by abolishing religious tests for office or mandated observances, Americans have successfully created a climate—a free market, if you will—in which religion can take its stand in the culture and in the country without particular help or harm from the government.

There is a religious case against state involvement with matters of faith, too. Long before Thomas Jefferson, Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, called for a "hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world," believing, with the Psalmist, that human beings were not to put their trust in princes. The principalities and powers of a fallen world represented and still represent a corrupting threat to religion: too many rulers have used faith to justify and excuse all manner of evil.

The idea of separation began, in fact, with Jesus. Once, when the crowds were with him and wanted to make him a king, he withdrew and hid. Before Pilate, Jesus was explicit: "My kingdom is not of this world," he said. Later in the New Testament, Paul argues that God shows no partiality among nations or peoples, meaning nations cannot claim blessed status, and says that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus," which means the Lord God of Hosts is concerned with larger matters than whether one is an American or a Norwegian. A Christian nation, then, is a theological impossibility, and faith coerced is no faith at all, only tyranny. If God himself gave human beings free will—the choice to love him or not, to obey him or not—then no believer should try to force another to confess a faith.

The Founders understood this. Washington said we should give "to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance"; according to the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, ratified by the Senate and signed by John Adams, "the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." Jefferson said that his statute for religious freedom in Virginia was "meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination." There are many precedents for the National Day of Prayer, but serious believers, given the choice between a government-sanctioned religious moment and the perpetuation of a culture in which religion can take its own stand, free from the corruptions of the world, should always choose the garden of the church over the wilderness of the world. It is, after all, what Jesus did.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Did Jesus Endorse a Separation of Church and State?

And if so, How Far Did
He Want it to Go?

So I realize that this post is likely to ruffle a few feathers. After all, many people have very passionate feelings about the man from Nazareth known to billions of followers as Jesus the Christ. With this in mind, I will try to treat the topic with as much care as I can.

The very question posed in this post probably seems strange. After all, Jesus and his teachings, at least for the devout Christian, seem to transcend trivial political issues like church/state separation. Why would the Savior of mankind care about political ideology, governmental structure, etc. when he himself was called "King of kings and Lord of lords"? Shouldn't that suffice? Why would Jesus waste his time addressing the relatively mundane details surrounding issues like prayer in school, the oaths of the Pledge of Allegiance, the role (if any) that organized religion should play in the halls of government, etc., etc. etc.? Perhaps Gov.Mike Huckabee said it best when asked what Jesus would do as a modern politician:

And perhaps he is right. Surely Jesus would spend his time dealing with more important matters, right?

Not so fast.

While it is true that Jesus' primary goal was to bring people to him as the Savior of mankind, it would be both foolish and inaccurate to state that he cared nothing of the affairs of this world. And even though he made it clear that his "kingdom was not of this world," Jesus was, on occasion, quite vocal and passionate about the affairs this world.

Render to Caesar

During his ministry, Jesus was, from time to time, confronted by some of the more prominent members of Jewish society in an effort to confront him or catch him in a lie of sorts, all in an effort to discredit the man whom they esteemed as an enemy to their agenda. On one occasion, two different groups (the Pharisees and Herodians) confronted Jesus in an effort to "entangle him in his talk." Both the Parisees and Herodians hated Jesus (for different reasons) and believed that entangling him in his words, especially on hot-button political matters, might discredit him in the eyes of his followers. We read of what happened in Matthew 22:
15. Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.

16. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.

17. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?

18. But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?

19. Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.

20. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?

21. They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.

22. When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.
There's a great deal to dissect in these eight verses. First off, the Pharisees and Herodians attempt to trap Jesus by appealing to his teachings regarding the supremacy of god. In Roman society, Caesar was esteemed to be a deity and those who rejected such teachings were often met with ridicule and scorn. Taxes were the predominant way in which homage to Caesar was acknowledged and as a result, any attempt to avoid them was met with severe consequences. So, in the minds of the Pharisees and Herodians, Jesus was trapped. If he answered that man should not pay tribute to Caesar he would be seen as an enemy of the state. But if he agreed with paying tribute, he would come off looking like a hypocrite, since Jesus had emphasized the supremacy of the kingdom of god to that of man.

So what was Jesus to do? Blast their argument to oblivion of course! Matthew tells us that Jesus "perceived their wickedness" and got right to the heart of the matter. By using a mere penny (most certainly a denarius in Roman coinage) Jesus completely and totally surprised (or as Matthew states "marveled") his audience by uttering the now famous phrase, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." This simple phrase completely baffled the Pharisees to such a degree that they simply walked away with their tail between their legs. Jesus came away the clear victor.

Church/State Separation as a Christian Concept

So why where the Pharisees and Herodians so baffled by Jesus' seemingly simple remark? After all, this wouldn't sound that profound of a rebuttal to politicians or theologians today. Well, let's keep in mind that we are speaking of the ANCIENT world; a world that had long fused the political and theological worlds together by establishing kingships, Caesars and other "divine" rulers. The notion of an independent church, separate and sovereign from the secular world, was more than just a novel concept. It was revolutionary. As a result, we can logically and rationally proclaim that a separation between church and state is very much a CHRISTIAN concept. As my blog buddy Brian Tubbs points out by quoting Dinesh D'Souza's bestselling book, What's So Great About Christianity:
D'Souza argues that the "separation of religion and government" was a "Christian idea" and that Jesus was the "first one who thought of it." D'Souza points to Jesus' confrontation with the Herodians and Pharisees in Matthew 22 as the birth of the concept.

D'Souza explains that, for the ancient Greeks and Romans, the "gods a man should worship were the gods of the state." Accordingly, "patriotism demanded that a good Athenian make sacrifices to the Athenian gods and a good Roman pay homage to the gods of Rome."

Well, along come the Christians, who refuse to worship the Roman gods. This was unacceptable to Roman authorities (at least prior to Constantine)...

In Matthew 22, Jesus clearly teaches that Caesar is entitled to certain "things" (and he implies taxes as being among those "things"), but draws a line of distinction. Caesar is NOT entitled to everything, only
some things.

Likewise, Jesus implies a limit in the other direction. While God is sovereign and all-powerful, Jesus nevertheless explains (later to Pilate): "My kingdom is not of this world."

According to D'Souza, "God has chosen to exercise a limited domain over earthly rule, not because He is limited, but because He has turned over part of His kingdom to humans for earthly supervision."
Jesus of Nazareth was clearly in favor of a separation between church and state not because he wanted a secular society but because he wanted a moral one, and the best way to ensure that was to take religion out of the hands of the politicians. Jesus and his apostles had seen first hand what religious politicians (Pharisees, Herodians, etc.) had done to religion and Jesus clearly wanted no part of it. Rarely if ever did Jesus "trash talk" anyone but he certainly did with these types. As he stated in Matthew 12:34:
O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
And throughout his ministry, Jesus would continue his insistence on church/state separation:
"My kingdom is not of this world." (John 18:36)

"You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world." (John 8:23)

"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve god an mammon." (Matthew 6:24.)

"The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me." (Luke 22:25–26, 29)

"He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" (Luke 18: 9-14)
And Jesus didn't stop there. Even when tempted of the devil and the masses to be made a king (a physical, worldly king since he was presumably already "King of kings") over all the land, Jesus flat-out refused:
"And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve." (Luke 4: 5-8)

"Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" (Luke 12:13–14)

"Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone." (John 6: 13-15)
But with all of his apparent disinterest (or insistence in a separation between church and state) in secular matters, Jesus was quick and fierce in his defense of religious sovereignty. In the only account of his resorting to violence, Jesus was more than willing to "throw down" with those who made a mockery of the temple:
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" (John 2:13–16)
For Jesus, the pollution of worldly distractions had defiled the Lord's temple; an offense that was far worse than the introduction of religion into government. Simply put, the temple of the Lord was to be free of secular distractions, political rhetoric and worldly wealth. It was a house of sacrifice and prayer. Politicians and greedy capitalists be damned! =)

In light of such evidence, it is abundantly clear that a separation of church and state was, and still is, a CHRISTIAN concept. The very founder of the faith saw tremendous advantages to both church and state when both are put in check and denied the right to overpower the other. Under such a system, religion and government would mutually flourish not as opposing forces but as equal partners in creating a free and moral world. One could not exist without the other, and one could not exercise dominion over the other.

Our Founding Fathers (both the ultra-pious and "infidel" types) had a perfect understanding of this concept. They saw that the establishment of a joint church/state government had brought nothing but misery to the world, and they were hell bent on ensuring that it wouldn't happen in the "land of the free":
"I am persuaded, you will permit me to observe that the path of true piety is so plain as to require but little political direction. To this consideration we ought to ascribe the absence of any regulation, respecting religion, from the Magna-Charta [Constitution] of our country." (George Washington, 1789, Papers, Presidential Series, 4:274).

"The Christian god is a three headed monster, cruel, vengeful, and capricious. If one wishes to know more of this raging, three headed beast-like god, one only needs to look at the caliber of people who say they serve him. They are always of two classes: fools and hypocrites

I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature. Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law." (Thomas Jefferson, February 10, 1814).

"What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not."

"Experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution." (James Madison, "A Memorial and Remonstrance", 1785).
These quotes, and the thousands of others like them, do not illustrate an abhorrence of religion on the part of the founders, but instead illustrate the incredible depth of understanding they possessed with regards to Jesus' true teachings. In other words, the founders were able to cut through the B.S. and get at the core of the matter. A separation of church and state was THE FUNDAMENTAL COMPONENT to ensuring a free republic. Losing sight of this all-important concept was to lose sight of freedom itself, to lose sight of Jesus himself.

And, thank God, the founders didn't lose sight of either.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Brief Music Break

My apologies for not posting in a while. Life, work, etc. has been busy as of late. I hope to post something later tonight, but for now, here's a brief time out from the traditional (and perhaps boring) history, religion, political stuff that I normally do.

One of my all-time favorite bands on the planet is a Mexican group called Maná. Being that I lived for two years in South America, I developed a love for latin rock, and these guys are the very best. I actually got to see them live in Las Vegas, along with Alanis Morissette, Pearl Jam and AC/DC (yeah, it was a cool concert) and to be honest, Maná was the best of the four.

Anyway, here is, in my opinion, Maná's best song entitled, "Si No Te Hubieras Ido" (If You Had Not Gone):

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tea-Bagging Stupidity at its Best

Conservatism is fracturing between two opposing forces: rationalism and stupidity. On the one side, you have the intelligent voices of reason from people like Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and the Late Milton Friedman, while on the other you have the ignorance, hype and downright stupidity of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and 99.9% of the tea-bagging, Paul Revere wannabe, Gadsden Flag-waving idiots of the "Tea Party."

Case in point: Therese Cooper, an eighth-generation descendant of Revolutionary War leader and orator Patrick Henry and devout Tea Party activist. She is "100% certain" that her ancestor would be leading a tea party demonstration if he was alive today:
If Patrick Henry were alive, he would be coordinating a Tea Party today...I remember my great-grandmother talking about our family history. I am very proud. Patrick Henry gave everything to fight for his freedom. Why should it be any different now? We all need to be willing to give everything for the country we love.
Yes, Ms. Cooper's chest-thumping, tear-jerking sense of devotion to her country is inspiring but sadly, her history and understanding of her ancestor's heritage has much to be desired. As Ed Brayton points out on his blog:
[Cooper] apparently suffers from irony deficiency. With all the grandiose talk from the tea baggers about upholding the constitution, does it not occur to them -- or to those descendants themselves -- that it's a bit strange to be claiming the legacy and mantle of a man who refused an invitation to attend the Constitutional Convention and then vociferously opposed the passage of the constitution?

Patrick Henry is the one who said of the passage of the constitution, "I conceive the republic to be in extreme danger." The new constitution, he said, would mean the "utter annihilation of the most solemn engagements of the States." If Henry had had his way, Virginia would not have ratified the constitution and it would likely have failed.
And if that's not enough, take the case of Mr. Bill Whittle who believes that modern day tea nuts are the "direct heirs to the founding generation" and that the Founding Fathers would "all be marching with us." Mr Whittle goes on to suggest that George Washington would have declared war on Barack Obama for his economic bailout and that Jefferson would have joined him, based on Thomas Jefferson's infamous quote that, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it's natural manure."(A quote, incidentally, that inspired the likes of Timothy McVeigh)

Well, sadly Mr. Whittle's history is every bit as lacking as Ms. Cooper's. First off, it's unlikely that Washington would "declare war" on Obama for the bailout since he himself allowed his Secretary of Treasury, Alexander Hamilton to do something similar. And as for Jefferson's infamous "Tree of Liberty" quote that Whittle tosses around, well, he forgot to mention this part:
The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them.
Gee, what a novel concept. Set people right as to the facts. Sounds like something the tea freaks are desperately lacking.

And while skeptics will point out that these are just two random examples of stupidity that hardly represent the "mainstream" Tea Party movement, I would remind you of the COUNTLESS number of examples of misspelled signs, ignorant protests, misguided ideas and demonstrations of pretended patriotism that permeate the movement at its core. Besides, one really cannot call himself/herself a patriot without a basic understanding of this country's history and heritage. Like the fanatical religious zealot who is so certain of his/her church's validity without having ever read or understood the church's basic doctrine, these Tea Party fanatics insist that they are the sole guardians of America's history and the heritage of the Founding Fathers by simply throwing out obscure quotes and dressing up in old colonial robes. But sadly, their patriotism is hollow and shallow.

As Martin Luther King once stated, "There is nothing more dangerous to the world than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hail Columbia: America's Original National Anthem

And How it Illustrates the
Evolution of American Nationalism

I know I am going to catch a lot of crap for this but I'm going to say it anyway: I really don't like our national anthem that much. Don't get me wrong, it's a pretty song and all and does invoke patriotism in the hearts of many. With that said, I simply dislike the fact that our nation's official anthem is nothing more than a poem commemorating a bombardment we barely survived, put to the tune of an old British drinking song. Hardly the inspiring anthem so many make it out to be! But hey, that's just me and I realize that many Americans love the song. So be it.

But whether you like "The Star-Spangled Banner" or not, everyone should recognize the fact that it doesn't have the patriotic history everyone assumes. In fact, the "original" national anthem of this fair land, which was in place from roughly the time of George Washington to FDR, was muscled out by Francis Scott Key's over-dramatic drinking song. That's right folks, the "Star-Spangled Banner" has a relatively recent history as America's national anthem; a history that illustrates the evolution of American nationalism.

Before Francis Francis Scott Key ever witnessed the "rockets' red glare" and the "bombs bursting in air" America (a name that you will see not everyone was sold on) marched to a different patriotic tune. It was "Hail Columbia" that initially served as America's unofficial but very popular anthem:

Hail Columbia, happy land!
Hail, ye heroes, heav'n-born band,
Who fought and bled in freedom's cause,
Who fought and bled in freedom's cause,
And when the storm of war was gone
Enjoy'd the peace your valor won.
Let independence be our boast,
Ever mindful what it cost;
Ever grateful for the prize,
Let its altar reach the skies.

Immortal patriots, rise once more,
Defend your rights, defend your shore!
Let no rude foe, with impious hand,
Let no rude foe, with impious hand,
Invade the shrine where sacred lies
Of toil and blood, the well-earned prize,
While off'ring peace, sincere and just,
In Heaven's we place a manly trust,
That truth and justice will prevail,
And every scheme of bondage fail.

Behold the chief who now commands,
Once more to serve his country stands.
The rock on which the storm will break,
The rock on which the storm will break,
But armed in virtue, firm, and true,
His hopes are fixed on Heav'n and you.
When hope was sinking in dismay,
When glooms obscured Columbia's day,
His steady mind, from changes free,
Resolved on death or liberty.

Sound, sound the trump of fame,
Let Washington's great fame
Ring through the world with loud applause,
Ring through the world with loud applause,
Let ev'ry clime to freedom dear,
Listen with a joyful ear,
With equal skill, with God-like pow'r
He governs in the fearful hour
Of horrid war, or guides with ease
The happier time of honest peace.

Firm, united let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find.
Now, it probably sounds strange to some when they discover that "Hail Columbia" was America's "original" anthem. After all, what does Columbia have to do with America?

Well, first off, we're not talking about the Columbia where all that lovely "mota" and cocaine come from. This Columbia is quite different. The Columbia of America's earliest generations was the female personification of her "discoverer," Christopher Columbus. Columbia's role as a symbol became obvious to all Americans. Whether she served as the title of a city, a river, a college or a monument, Columbia's role in American culture was ever-present. Much in the same way that Britannia became the female personification (and Roman goddess) of Britain, Columbia was the feminine guardian of the new American republic. In other words, she was sort of the Uncle Sam before Uncle Sam.

And Columbia's influence didn't stop with the founding. She can be seen throughout the course of America's history. From the very name of our capitol city (Washington, District of Columbia) to the very first space shuttle ever commissioned by NASA. She was present in American artwork like the one above depicting Columbia's divine protection to western settlers on their quest to secure the country's "Manifest Destiny," and she even graces the opening credits of several modern movies. Heck, many Americans have (incorrectly) suggested that she was even the inspiration for "Lady Liberty" herself. Bottom line, Columbia's role as a symbol in America's growth and development is as important (if not more so) as any other symbol of American providentialism.

Perhaps more importantly, Columbia illustrates just how complicated the concept of the American nation was for our founding generation. Contrary to what we are often let to believe, America's founding was far from a united effort where all parties saw eye-to-eye on the direction the country should go. In reality, it was a complicated mess of clashing ideas and beliefs. As historian Gordon Wood points out in his newest book Empire of Liberty, a book that is the surefire winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize (on a side note, it's worth mentioning that the Pulitzer Prize is awarded by none other than COLUMBIA University. The irony is striking):
Despite the ratification of the Constitution, most Americans knew that they were not yet a nation, at least not in the European sense of the term. At the end of the Declaration of Independence the members of the Continental Congress had been able only to "mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor." In 1776 there was nothing else but themselves that they could have dedicated themselves to -- no patria, no fatherland, no nation as yet.


The fact that most Americans were of British heritage and spoke the same language as the subjects of the former mother country created problems of national identity that troubled the new Republic over the next several decades. Indeed, almost to the movement of independence the colonists had continued to define themselves as British, and only reluctantly came to see themselves as a separate people called Americans. The colonists were well aware of the warning of John Dickinson, the most important pamphleteer in America before Thomas Paine, had given them on the eve of independence. "If we are separated from our mother country," he asked in 1768, "what new form of government shall we adopt, and where shall we find another Britain to supply our loss? Torn from the body, to which we are united by religion, liberty, laws, affection, relation, language and commerce we must bleed at every vein."

Could the colonists who had been British and who had celebrated their Britishness for generations become a truly independent people? How could one united people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, and professing the same Protestant religion differentiate themselves from the people of the mother country? These questions, perhaps more than any others, bedeviled the politics of the early decades of the new Republic's history.

If there were to be a single national people with a national character, Americans would have to invent themselves, and in some sense the whole of American history has been the story of that invention. At first, they struggled with a proper name for their country. On the tercentenary celebration of Columbus's discovery of America in 1792 one patriot suggested "The United States of Columbia" as a name for the new Republic. Poets, ranging from the female black slave Phillis Wheatley to the young Princeton graduate Phillip Freneau, saw the logic of the name and thus repeatedly referred to the nation as Columbia. With the same rhythm and number of syllables, Columbia could easily replace Britannia in new compositions set to the music of traditional English songs.
As illustrated above, early Columbians...er...Americans had a difficult time understanding what their new nation was supposed to look like. The pull of tradition from the Old World and the allure of new possibilities brought on by the Enlightenment, obscured America's sense of itself. This is the precise reason why Columbia became such a popular symbol. While so much was still up in the air, Columbia was, at the very least, the embodiment of what it truly meant to be American.

But alas, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. With the onset of nationalism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, America's sense of itself began to change. And with that change, Columbia's presence in American culture began to fade. "Hail Columbia," which had never been made an official national anthem, found itself in a contest with other popular songs like, "My Country Tis of Thee," "America the Beautiful," and yes "The Star-Spangled Banner." Like most nations of this era, the creation of official anthems became an important component of surging nationalism, and in the United States, the "Star-Spangled Banner" was gaining ground. Thanks in large part to the attention given it a professional baseball games, the "Star-Spangled Banner" became a quasi-national tradition. Long story short, the song's popularity grew over the next thirty years, until finally in 1931 when President Hoover and Congress officially made "The Star-Spangled Banner" America's anthem. In addition, Key's suggestion that the national motto be changed from "E Pluribus Unum" (From Many, One) to "In God We Trust" (inspired from the 4th verse of his song/poem) was later accepted and made law in 1956. In short, the rise of nationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries led to many of the changes we now accept as a part of the American culture.

But Columbia wasn't completely lost. Her presence, though very limited, is still around. All you have to do is look for her. And who knows, maybe she'll return one day! As for her song, "Hail Columbia," well, it went from being the unofficial anthem of a nation to the entrance song for the Vice President, in a similar fashion as "Hail to the Chief" is for the President.

And just in case you were curious, it's not that I hate "The Star-Spangled Banner." Rather, I simply believe there are better songs out there. For my money, "America the Beautiful" is the song I would select as our official anthem. Perhaps it is a personal bias, being that the song was written in my back yard, but I don't care. It simply sounds more "American" (or Columbian) than the rest. And to help prove my point I give you the one and only Ray Charles. Take us home, Ray:

Friday, April 9, 2010

10 Greatest Catchers of All-Time

Baseball season is upon us! Personally speaking, baseball has always been near and dear to my heart. And as America's pastime, I believe baseball is an important component to our culture. It is fused with so many important milestones of the past century. From World War I and II to 9-11, baseball has served as the medicine of the masses; a chance to unplug and root, root, root for the home team!

Anyway, I thought that since the 2010 season is upon us, this might be a good time to introduce a new series on my blog: the top 10 best players at each position. And to start us off, let's look at the guys behind the plate:

10.) Bill Dickey
In the 30s and 40s, Dickey was the rock behind the plate for the Yankees. His durability and consistency were all overshadowed by the flamboyant Joe DiMaggio who stole all the headlines in New York. But Joe D. and the other Yankees would have been up a creek without Dickey. He finished his career with just under 2,000 hits, 202 home runs, and a career average of .313. He was also a force to be reckoned with for anyone wanting to steal 2B.

9.) Mike Piazza
Piazza was arguably the greatest hitting catcher of all-time. He finished his career with over 2,100 hits, 427 home runs, 1335 RBI and a career average of .308. So why isn't he ranked higher? Well, playing catcher is more than being effective with the lumber. One must be able to pin down base runners, and Piazza sucked at that.

8.) Gary Carter
During the 80s, the Mets were anchored by Carter's solid play behind home plate. His stick might not have been as good as Piazza's, but his glove and arm were light years ahead. Carter won three Gold Gloves during his time as a Met and was an eleven-time all-star.

7.) Carlton Fisk
Arguably the most durable man to squat behind a plate. Fisk holds the record for most games played by a catcher (2499). He also won 3 Silver Slugger awards and 1 Golden Glove. He finished his career with 2356 hits, 376 home runs and a career average of .269.

6.) Ted Simmons
Simmons is, in my opinion, the most underrated catcher ever. The switch-hitting catcher spent 21 years in the big leagues, and retired with more RBI than Johnny Bench, more runs scored than Gary Carter, more hits than Carlton Fisk, and a higher batting average than Yogi Berra. But like Piazza, he sucked at defense.

5.) Roy Campanella
This three-time MVP, Campanella was a dominant force for the Dodgers. Sadly, a car accident cut him short (a career that started late due to segregation), prohibiting his ability to further his awesome legacy. Campanella finished with 1,161 hits, 242 home runs and a .276 average. But he could have had MUCH more.

4.) Mickey Cochrane
Mickey was the quintessential "coach" on the field. In his day, Cochrane ran the pitching squad and controlled most of the on field issues. His bat wasn't amazing. He hit only 119 home runs but finished with a .320 career average. What Cochrane lacked in lumber he made up for with his arm and glove.

3.) Ivan Rodriguez
When it comes to defense, he was one of the best. Even the greatest base runners thought twice when Rodriguez was behind the plate. This eleven-time Gold Glove winner (he won 10 in a row), Rodriguez was a fourteen-time all-star and won the MVP in 1999. He finished his career with 2711 hits, 305 home runs and an average of .299.

2.) Yogi Berra
Berra was the epitome of consistency. As the MVP in 1951, 54 and 55, Berra anchored a dynasty that won him ten World Series rings. He also finished his career as the all-time leader in RBI's for a catcher (1430). When it comes to overall consistency, it's hard to find anyone better.

1.) Johnny Bench
No doubt about it, Bench was the best. As a ten-time Gold Glove winner, MVP in 1970 and 72 and fourteen-time all-star, Bench's resume speaks for itself. He finished his career with 2048 hits, 389 home runs and 1376 RBI. Bench's balance of consistent offense and defense was a rare mix for anyone playing catcher. Usually a catcher is good at either hitting or defense but not both. Bench, however, is the exception, which is why he was the greatest catcher of all-time.

Next installment: Top 10 Greatest First Basemen

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The (Socialist) Pledge of Allegiance

In today's political world, words like "socialism," "fascism" and "communism" have become popular "scary words" used by extremists to vilify their political rivals. These "scary words" have been used in such a way that it has become extremely difficult to separate the true meanings behind these words from the nonsense associated with them. After all, when idiots like Glenn Beck label everyone from Obama, Alexander Hamilton, Stalin, Hitler, McCain, Oprah, etc. as "socialists" it becomes very difficult to take anything these extremists say seriously. Usually it is these same extremists who insist that the very fabric of America's "Christian" heritage is eroding below our feet, thanks to the "evil, fascist, Nazi, Maoist, socialist" meany-heads that are now in power. Often they appeal to obscure and random quotes from the Founding Fathers (or Ronald Reagan) to prove their point, which usually invokes a powerful emotional response from fellow radicals (tea-baggers) who quickly rally behind some misspelled and misinformed protest sign:

Yes, truly Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert will never run out of material so long as the tea-baggers keep pretending that they are modern day Minutemen and Sons of Liberty!

But when it comes to dramatic demonstrations of public devotion to God and country, the "tea parties," political rallies and even Glenn Beck's daily nonsense circus take a back seat to the "crown jewel" of patriotic liturgy: the Pledge of Allegiance. And though I am a fan of the Pledge of Allegiance, I do find it ironic that these same tea-bagging, sign-waving, Obama-hating, socialist-loathing, intellectually challenged "MORANS" are at the vanguard of supporting such a socialist institution. Yep, you heard me right, the Pledge of Allegiance is...wait for it...SOCIALIST!!!

Or at least its creator was. In 1892, in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' "discovery" of America (whether Columbus deserves his own holiday is a topic for another day, one that I have written about here and here), Francis Bellamy, a popular Baptist minister and Christian socialist, was asked to draft words for a flag pledge that would be used to bolster the schoolhouse flag movement. The recitation of the pledge was also to be accompanied by the "Bellamy Salute" (as depicted in the picture at the top of this post), but was later changed during World War II to simply placing ones hand over their heart for obvious reasons.

The original words to Bellamy's first pledge are very interesting and would surely horrify every wannabe Paul Revere tea fanatic:
I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with equality and fraternity for all.
Equality and fraternity are a noteworthy selection of words. After all, they are two of the three words (Liberté, égalité, fraternité) used in the national motto of France; a motto that originated in their revolution. In addition, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity were also key words (scary words to the tea-sippers) in the Christan socialist movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Bellamy was a passionate voice for socialism and advocated for complete government control of education in America. In addition, it was his hope that the pledge would become a standard practice in all public schools. His wish was granted in 1940 when the Supreme Court, in Minersville School District v. Gobitis ruled that all students, including Jehovah's Witnesses who detested the pledge on the basis that it was idolatrous and made a graven image out of the flag, were required to swear the pledge.

Now, it should go without saying (contrary to what some of those tea lovers may say) that the phrase "under God" was not a part of the first pledge. In fact, "under God" was not officially added to the pledge until 1954, when President Eisenhower and Congress passed a joint resolution making it the official pledge of the nation.

And while I revere the pledge for its basic principles of devotion to God and country, I cannot help but chuckle at the fact that so many fanatics, who find socialism lurking under every rock in the same way that McCarthy found communism in the 50s, support the pledge with such blind loyalty. You'd think that the pledge of a devout Christian socialist would turn them off. Heck, even their fearless "brainiac" leader, Glenn Beck, has convinced many to leave churches for the preaching of "social justice." Just imagine what Beck would think of Bellamy's "Jesus the Socialist" and "The Bible Teaches Socialism" sermons.

Now, in fairness to Bellamy, there's a lot of crap out there on the net which suggests that Bellamy "inspired" Hitler and the Nazi Party. This is simply spaghetti being tossed at the wall to see what sticks. There's no evidence for such a stupid conclusion, so please spare us the socialist, Marxist, fascist, Nazi conspiracy theories. Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater!

Here are a few video clips of the PoA from the past. Notice what has changed? What is missing?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Cartoon Propaganda/Racism: Volume XV

Looney Tunes cartoon from 1943 entitled, "Tokio Jokio":

Book Introduction, Pilgrims: New World Settlers & the Call of Home

Almost everyone knows the basic story of the Pilgrims, the Mayflower and the settlement of the "New World." This brave tale of pious Puritan paupers making a new home in a strange land is as American as apple pie.

But not everyone who came to the New World found happiness, as Susan Hardman Moore's newest book, Pilgrims: New World Settlers & the Call of Home points out. From Yale University Press:
This book uncovers what might seem to be a dark side of the American dream: the New World from the viewpoint of those who decided not to stay. At the core of the volume are the life histories of people who left New England during the British Civil Wars and Interregnum, 1640–1660. More than a third of the ministers who had stirred up emigration from England deserted their flocks to return home. The colonists’ stories challenge our perceptions of early settlement and the religious ideal of New England as a "City on a Hill." America was a stage in their journey, not an end in itself.

Susan Hardman Moore first explores the motives for migration to New England in the 1630s and the rhetoric that surrounded it. Then, drawing on extensive original research into the lives of hundreds of migrants, she outlines the complex reasons that spurred many to brave the Atlantic again, homeward bound. Her book ends with the fortunes of colonists back home and looks at the impact of their American experience.

Of exceptional value to studies of the connections between the Old and New Worlds, Pilgrims contributes to debates about the nature of the New England experiment and its significance for the tumults of revolutionary England.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Trip to the Zoo

This weekend, our family finally took the plunge and renewed our membership with the Colorado Springs Zoo. It's been at least a year since we last visited the zoo, so this was a long-anticipated trip for all of us. In addition, Elizabeth's aunt, uncle and cousin came with us and made it an even more memorable experience. Here are a few pics:

The Family getting ready to go in.
Arguably the zoo's #1 attraction is the giraffes. They come right up to you and eat out of your hand.
Baby giraffes. Only 7 days old.

The train ride is always a highlight for Jaxson and Zakary.
The Grizzly Bear exhibit has always been my favorite. They come right up to the glass.
This trip was a ton of fun! If you are ever in the Co. Springs area, you will, of course, probably want to check out Pike's Peak, Cave of the Winds, the U.S. Olympic Training Center and the Air Force Academy. But don't forget the Co. Springs Zoo (Cheyenne Mountain Zoo). It really is worth the time!

Book Review: Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency

Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India. By Ranajit Guha. (London: Duke University Press, 1999. Pp. 215).

The historiography surrounding Indian peasantry and rebellion has been a source of ardent debate for historians. Being able to add clarity to the labyrinth of Indian peasant history is no small task for any writer. Ranajit Guha, however, effectively provides strong and convincing evidence that adds a new perspective to the time period and the historiography of Indian studies. In this book, Guha focuses on the critical formative development and understanding of subaltern studies to convince his audience that the elementary aspects of peasant historiography are to be found in the subaltern themselves, and not the traditional British colonial history of years past.

In defense of his work, Guha points out that the traditional understanding of peasant historiography has generally come from a very Eurocentric position, which labels Indian peasants and their rebellions as being wild, ferocious and violent outbursts that required the strong arm of European might to control. In this sense, the “discourse of power,” as Guha put it, places an emphasis on the “rebel conscience” and not the “liberated conscience” (11). To support such a claim, Guha makes special note of several Indian rebellions (ranging from the 18th century to the 20th) and how each rebellion demonstrated a unique consciousness and development, which, for Guha refutes the notion that these various rebellions were the acts of impulsive warmongers (4). And since the rebellions indicate that a strong sense of development and planning went into them, Guha insists that a continued Eurocentric understanding of Indian peasantry and its rebellions will render an incomplete history and continue to deny the subaltern a voice.

It is Guha’s emphasis on the role of the subaltern that renders his work to be highly praised. Instead of automatically labeling the actions of peasant rebels as ferocious, violent, etc., Guha is left free to uncover the psychology behind the burnings and lootings of British homes, stores, etc. In so doing, Guha uncovers the methodical, predetermined objectives behind these rebel attacks (144). It therefore comes as no surprise that Guha’s focus on the subaltern involves the role of class division, which was taken advantage of by the British at every opportunity. However, as the subaltern became more aware of his place in society, the desire to “fight for prestige” and “abolish the marks of his own subalernity” became the principle motive behind the revolts themselves (75). And as Guha continually reminds us throughout the book, this is a reality that cannot be discovered through a continued Eurocentric view of Indian history.

And while Guha’s central thesis rests upon the notion that the subaltern (in this case, Indian peasants) have a discernable voice that is to be recognized by historians, it is interesting to note that much of his research and defense rests upon Western concepts and perspectives. For example, Guha sites and draws upon Marxist ideas to support the dichotomy that existed in the social classes (165-166). However, in so doing, Guha seems to distance himself from his original thesis, which is that a subaltern should be taken at face value, without the influence of (in this case) Eurocentic concepts and ideas, which tend to distort the historical record. By using Marx as a source for his illustration of class distinction in India, Guha draws in the very Eurocentric ideology he claimed to shun.

Yet, this apparent flaw in Guha’s thesis actually adds a measure of credibility to the book’s argument. As Guha points out, the traditional understanding of subalterns tends to be from the perspective of the “dominant” civilization, in this case the British (219). However, by using a traditionally Eurocentric source like Marx, Guha is able to illustrate to a European audience how the subaltern came about seeking an improvement in their social status, which, in turn, helps his audience understand the elementary aspects of peasant insurgencies.

In summation, Guha’s Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency is a striking summation of the “behind the scenes” events that triggered a plethora of peasant rebellions in India. By focusing on the subaltern, Guha presents his audience with an alternative perspective to traditional, Eurocentric Indian historiography. The appeal of his work should therefore be seen through the lens of the often-voiceless subaltern, who, according to Guha, have left behind and indelible impression on Indian history. And though many of his conclusions are likely to be challenged, Guha’s work is sure to remain relevant to the discussion of Indian peasantry and subaltern studies for many years to come.

Book Introduction: The Myth of American Exceptionalism

The following is a brief introduction to an interesting and controversial book that was recently published by Yale University Press. The Myth of American Exceptionalism by Godfrey Hodgson, a Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford, takes a quasi-antagonistic stance against the idea of American povidentialism and its alleged impediment of America's true heritage and purpose. From Yale University Press:
The idea that the United States is destined to spread its unique gifts of democracy and capitalism to other countries is dangerous for Americans and for the rest of the world, warns Godfrey Hodgson in this provocative book. Hodgson, a shrewd and highly respected British commentator, argues that America is not as exceptional as it would like to think; its blindness to its own history has bred a complacent nationalism and a disastrous foreign policy that has isolated and alienated it from the global community.

Tracing the development of America’s high self regard from the early days of the republic to the present era, Hodgson demonstrates how its exceptionalism has been systematically exaggerated and—in recent decades—corrupted. While there have been distinct and original elements in America’s history and political philosophy, notes Hodgson, these have always been more heavily influenced by European thought and experience than Americans have been willing to acknowledge.

A stimulating and timely assessment of how America’s belief in its exceptionalism has led it astray, this book is mandatory reading for its citizens, admirers, and detractors.