About Corazon

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Aliens Amongst Us? Where are the Men in Black?

Former astronaut and renowned astronomer, Dr. Edgar Mitchell, who was the 6th human being to walk on the moon during the Apollo 14 mission, has some interesting things to say about ALIENS visiting Earth. To be honest, I have no idea what to think of this., I don't typically make posts like this on my blog, but due to the fact that Mitchell isn't some average Joe Shmoe but rather a legitimate astronomer and astronaut, I think it's worth at least listening to. Enjoy!

For those of you who know me, you know that I am NOT a fan of conspiracy theories. This one, however, gives me pause. I'm not saying that I buy into what Mitchell is saying but it does make you wonder...just a little bit. Perhaps it's mostly nonsense and if I were a betting man I would bank on that, but if I am wrong, I would be thrilled to admit so.

"E.T. Phone Home."

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Second Amendment Saga

Of all the amendments to the Constitution perhaps none has created as much controversy as the 2nd Amendment. The "right to keep and bear arms" has caused both grief and comfort for generations of Americans who have fiercely debated the meaning behind these 26 simple words:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

What exactly does it mean? What were the Founding Fathers suggesting? Does it even apply to the 21st century? What is a "militia" and how is it to be "well regulated"? Do all guns qualify as "Arms"? And if not, where do we draw the line?

These are just a few of the many questions that have hovered around the Second Amendment for the past 200 years, and depending on who you ask there are different answers to each of these aforementioned questions. So how are we to make sense of this issue? How can we separate the political/pop-culture jargon from the actual substance? Well, let's look at a recent Supreme Court decision, which I believe helps to illustrate the division that exists between pro and anti-gun advocates, and how they both appeal to history to defend their respective positions.

As you all know by now (unless you have been hiding under a rock) the U.S. Supreme Court passed a very important ruling just a couple of years ago that dealt with one of the basic questions surrounding the 2nd Amendment: do average citizens have a right to own a gun, in their own home, for the purposes of protection? In the case, District of Columbia v. Heller, the court ruled 5-4 that there is a constitutional right to keep a loaded handgun in your personal residence for self-defense. This ruling overturned the D.C. handgun ban, which was one of the strictest gun-control law in our nation's history.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote for the majority opinion, stated that the justices "are aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country...But the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table...It is not the role of this court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct."

In his dissenting opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens stated that the Second Amendment applies only to a militia, and that the Constitution’s framers were afraid that the new federal government would disarm the populace, as the British had tried to do. Thus, the current understanding of the Second Amendment needs a modern interpretation and revision:

The Second Amendment was not written to grant citizens a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. Prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons, and prohibitions on dangerous and unusual weapons is well within the scope of this court's power to enforce and poses no attack on the Constitution.

Ok, fair is fair. Justice Stevens is right when he mentions that the United States no longer has a need for a militia...at least not in the way our founders envisioned. But does that close the door on the Second Amendment? Do we as citizens have no right to bear arms simply because there is no need for a militia in the 21st century?

I say no. Citizens still have a right to keep and bear arms and here's why:

Like every other anti-gun advocate, Justice Stevens tries to argue that the right to keep in bear arms in an archaic law that was established by our founders to ensure that their new colonies had a well armed militia. And now that we have no need for a militia, this law is obviously outdated. He is wrong. The establishment of the Second Amendment was not done for the exclusive purpose of maintaining a militia.

During the debates of the Constitutional Convention, several key founders (most noticeably James Madison) argued that a Bill of Rights was a necessary component for the new American government, a component that would ensure that certain basic rights would never be infringed upon by a local, state or federal government. And when creating the Second Amendment, men like Madison didn't pull their words out of thin air. They relied on other important documents that helped to blaze the trail for America's Second Amendment. In the 1688 English Bill of Rights we read the following:
That the Subjects which are Protestants may have Arms for their Defence suitable to their Conditions and as allowed by Law.
In addition,our Founding Fathers (particularly Madison) appealed to the works of one William Blackstone, who, in his Commentaries on the Laws of England, wrote the following:
"That it is a fundamental right of the people to protect and maintain inviolate the three great and primary rights, of personal security, personal liberty, and private property...and the right of the individual to keep and bear arms to their condition and degree, and such as are allowed by law...is the surest way to ensure our liberties."
So why are these sources significant? Because neither one makes any mention of a "militia." In fact, they both speak of personal protection and the right to "keep and bear arms."

If that's so, then where did this "militia" talk come from? Well, it's actually more simple than you might think. Recent experience had told the colonists (now Americans) that citizens keeping and bearing arms was both a good and prudent thing to do. The experience of Lexington and Concord, where the British tried to disarm American colonists, had struck fear into the hearts of many. It was only natural that such a fear would make its way into the law. The important caveat to note here is that whether or not there is a militia is irrelevant to the issue of keeping and bearing arms. It's simply an argument over semantics.

In my opinion, the Second Amendment is much more than a simple law to create a militia. As Justice Scalia notes, the right to keep and bear arms is not a suggestion, a good idea, or an outdated law. It's a RIGHT!

And our Founders knew it.

Thomas Jefferson: Creationist?

At the Publick Occurrences, 2.0 blog, Jeff Pasley posts an interesting/mind boggling article on the "Creation Museum" outside of Cincinnati. The "Creation Museum" was established in 2007, mostly through the efforts of the controversial group Answers in Genesis, and the highly criticized Christian speaker/"scientist," Ken Ham. The museum's mission is to to try and bridge the gap (or destroy the gap) between science and the Bible, thus proving that the infallibility of the Bible reigns supreme over modern scientific theory (and proving evolution as a fraud) As the Creation Museum's website states:

The state-of-the-art 70,000 square foot museum brings the pages of the Bible to life, casting its characters and animals in dynamic form and placing them in familiar settings. Adam and Eve live in the Garden of Eden. Children play and dinosaurs roam near Eden’s Rivers. The serpent coils cunningly in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Majestic murals, great masterpieces brimming with pulsating colors and details, provide a backdrop for many of the settings.
In addition to its emphasis on dinosaurs roaming the earth only a few thousand years ago and Noah riding the waves in his arc during a global flood, the Creation Museum "paves the way for greater understanding of the tenants of creation and redemption" by refuting the "traditional" understanding of science (it is worth noting here that a recent poll by the American Association for the Advancement of Science revealed that 99.85% of the material presented in the Creation Museum is refuted by the scientific community).

So what does this have to do with Thomas Jefferson? Well, as Jeff Pasley points out in his article mentioned above, these idiots with the Creation Museum are crediting none other than THOMAS JEFFERSON as being one of the museum's "intellectual progenitors." Pasley writes:

The Creation [Museum] is an expensive, high-tech send-up of modern scientific thought about natural history, devoted to presenting the text of the Bible as literal scientific fact and instilling visitors with a fear and loathing of the post-Enlightenment world. Yet guess who gets named by the article’s author (Joseph Clarke) as one of the museum’s intellectual progenitors? Poor Thomas Jefferson, whose liberal religious views and avid interest in Enlightenment science were constantly ridiculed and condemned during his life-time. He clipped all the miracles and supernatural references out of the Gospels for nothing, apparently.
In this post, Pasley mentions an article by Joseph Clarke, who defends the Creation Museum's "scholarly" pursuit of scientific truth. In addition, Clarke pathetically attempts to include Thomas Jefferson as a supporter of the Creation Museum's mission. He writes:

But while the Creation Museum undoubtedly reflects these recent trends, moralistic distrust of city life has a rich history in America. When, in 1925, John Scopes was tried for teaching Darwinism to a high school science class in violation of Tennessee law, the case against him was argued by William Jennings Bryan, a luminary of the young fundamentalist movement and a staunch agrarian. In Bryan’s view, urban industrial capitalism was inextricable from the social Darwinist credo of survival of the fittest and the cultural ills to which it gave rise. Before Bryan, Thomas Jefferson argued against Alexander Hamilton that the cold rationality of economic development would lead to social waywardness unless held in check by a thriving agrarian culture: “Corruption of morals…is the mark set upon those, who, not looking up to heaven, to their own soil and industry, as does the husbandman, for their subsistence, depend for it on casualties and caprice of customers.” Jefferson’s proposed design for the Great Seal of the United States depicted the nation of Israel journeying through the wilderness in search of the Promised Land.
Yes, even the religious skeptic, Thomas Jefferson, who not only doubted the legitimacy of Christianity but also removed a number of stories from his own Bible, is now being linked with hard-core creationism! This is a bizarre attempt at linking modern creationism with America's founding history, especially when we consider Jefferson's own words on the "infallibility" of the Bible:

The religion-builders have so distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesus, so muffled them in mysticisms, fancies and falsehoods, have caricatured them into forms so monstrous and inconceivable, as to shock reasonable thinkers...Happy in the prospect of a restoration of primitive Christianity, I must leave to younger athletes to encounter and lop off the false branches which have been engrafted into it by the mythologists of the middle and modern ages.
I guess some people will go to any lengths to prove their nonsense.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dueling: A "Sport" of "Honor"

If you were to ask any average American about what terms such as "honor" or "gentleman" meant, chances are they would give you a definition that is far different from the one shared by our founding generation. Our 21st century social conceptualizations are incapable of recreating the world of early America, and as a result, are incapable of fully understanding just how important words like "honor" and gentleman" were for men of that time. For this reason, when we think about the practice of dueling, most of us in the modern world shutter at the apparent stupidity and insanity that would be required to participate in such a practice. For colonial America, however, opinions were quite different.

To understand dueling, we must understand what the revolutionary generation (not that dueling was limited exclusively to this time period) understood about its practice. First off, to be a "gentleman" meant much more than good manners. It was the social standing of an inherently "superior" individual. Gentlemen were educated, sophisticated, and brave. They worked tirelessly at cultivating the highest of social graces. Being a gentleman was almost like being a colonial version of a knight from the Medieval ages (though not as dramatic). It was an obsession that infected the entire upper class of colonial society. As Gordon Wood put it, to be a gentleman meant “having leisure in an era of labor, being educated in a time of semi-illiteracy, and above all else, defending one’s honor.” Defending one's honor was at the core of dueling. For example, the most famous duel (that of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton) was due to the fact that Hamilton had undermined Burr's campaign to become Governor of New York, while Burr attempted to brand Hamilton as a wannabe British noble. The feud lasted for months. At the conclusion, Burr was defeated in his political bid for New York, while much of Hamilton's reputation had been damaged almost beyond repair. To settle their grievances, both men agreed to a duel.

In reality, the overwhelming majority of duels ended without incident. First off, the weapons of the era were terribly inaccurate. Since pistols and muskets lacked rifling it was almost impossible to get an accurate shot off. The most important reason why duels rarely ended in tragedy was because most participants purposely missed or never fired. This was because honor, not death, was at stake. The mere attendance of both participants at a duel served to demonstrate how "honorable" the individual truly was. In essence, merely showing up at one's duel was sufficient evidence of the person's "gentleman" qualities and was more than a satisfactory defense of one's honor. Usually this act of "bravery" would end the feud between rival parties.

This does not mean that dueling never ended in death. As we all know, America's first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, lost his life by participating in a duel with Aaron Burr. Hamilton's oldest son was also killed in a duel five years prior to his father's death. Usually those responsible for killing another in a duel had their reputations tarnished. They were rarely seen as "gentleman" of "honor." Just look at Aaron Burr. Killing Hamilton was the worst thing he could have ever done for his reputation. In fact, he lamented it for the rest of his life.

In conclusion, let us not forget the social aspects that went into dueling. Instead of seeing it as a barbarous practice we must recognize its influence on a society that was literally obsessed with honor and status. Though we have (thankfully) moved past dueling, the practice wasn't totally irrelevant. It served to settle grievances (I guess simply setting down and talking was out of the equation), it defended honor and it settled old scores.

Truly the "gentleman" thing to do! =)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Erie Canal and the "Burned-over District"

One of the largest achievements of the early 19th century was the completion of the Erie Canal. Thanks to this monumental feat of engineering genius, New York was able to quickly surpass New Orleans as the favored port of entry for shipping and trade, which made New York a financial juggernaut in the infant American republic. The canal turned out to be such a huge success that the debt for the project was paid off within the first year of the canal's operation!

The Erie Canal brought a tremendous amount of wealth and commerce to the state of New York. In fact, it is because of the Erie Canal that New York earned the nickname "The Empire State."

What a lot of people don't know when it comes to the Erie Canal is that its construction helped to spark the fires of religious revival throughout the state. The area of western New York, which evangelist Charles Finney dubbed "the Burned-over district," was a particular hot bet for religious fanaticism scarcely seen in any other part of the American republic. Though the construction of the Erie Canal cannot be given full credit for this surge of religious enthusiasm, it should be credited for being one of the major factors that led to this phenomenon. Mormon founder Joseph Smith, who lived in this region, illustrated just how passionate this new zeal for religion was when he wrote:
There was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of the country, indeed the whole district of the Country seemed affected by it and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division among the people…Priest contended against priest, and convert against convert so that all their good feelings one for another were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions (Joseph Smith, Jr., “1839 History,” The Papers of Joseph Smith, vol. I, 269-270).
In his work The Market Revolution, historian Charles Sellers suggests that the construction of the Erie Canal brought an infusion of market capitalism that literally transformed the region. And as is often the case with any major change, a large percentage of the American populace began to see the Market Revolution as a destructive force. The communal subsistence culture, which had tied family members and neighbors together in a tight web of economic and social interdependence, was quickly being replaced by the profit-driven mentality of the Market Revolution. As a result, hundreds of American families sought to reclaim the "lost" communal dependence and purity of the pre-Market Revolution era by turning to religion. And while many of these religions embraced the Market Revolution in western New York, others fought against it. A sudden surge in new religious communal societies, each embracing a communistic economy and the hope of a rapidly approaching millennium, became the antithesis to the capitalist changes enveloping New York. These societies saw capitalism as an evil to be avoided. The various religious leaders that emerged from western New York at this time (Ann Lee, Charles Finney,and Joseph Smith just to name a few) labored to protect their "flocks" from the clutches of capitalist enthusiasm, each gaining different degrees of success. As historian Charles Sellers states:
For intensely pressured Yankees, this New Divinity's apocalyptic utopia was an irresistible fantasy of surcease from market pressures. Amid "universal peace, love, and general and cordial friendship." These new churches promised "no unrighteous persons" would "invade the rights and property of others." Invoking one of the subsistence culture's favorite Biblical images, they declared that "every one shall securely sit under his own vine and fig-tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid." Lawsuits, luxury, and waste would cease. There would be "such benevolence and fervent charity" that "all worldly things will be in great degree common, so as not to be withheld from any who may want them"
These new communal denominations were not the only ones interested in "The Burned-over district." Many of the established religions (Methodists, Quakers, Baptists, Catholics) also flooded the region with missionaries, as the expansion westward marked a change in how religions addressed the need for new converts. By appealing to their need for "old school" communal subsistence as opposed to the emerging market economy, several of these faiths experienced a dramatic increase in new devotees who were happy to use their newfound faith to castigate market economics as the tool of the devil.

But what interests me most about the "Burned-over district's" abhorrence of market capitalism in the name of God is the fact that the religions of this region were themselves participating in a form of ecclesiastical capitalism. The heated competition between the emerging faiths of this region and the established religions of the time caused both to clash in a passionate quest for the souls of western New York. As a result, these churches turned to newer methods of preaching and conversion, which were tailored to the needs and desires of the people. Each promised to deliver bigger and better things than their competitors, while at the same time insisting that the "other guy" would surely deliver their followers to the fires of hell.

And though these competing faiths shared in their condemnation of market capitalism, they themselves invoked one of capitalism's most basic components: competition. The Market Revolution didn't simply transform how the exchange of services and goods were conducted but it also changed the way religion was preached. As a result, western New York became a hotbed for economic and religious revival. It's no wonder why Charles Finney chose to call it the "Burned-over District."

Friday, June 18, 2010

David Holmes and the Faiths of the Founding Fathers

Every once in a while a friend will ask me to recommend to them a book on the Founding Fathers and religion. Usually they will add that they have looked long and hard for a book that is objective and avoids all of the current culture war crap that the Glenn Beck/Howard Zinn/David Barton works rely on, but have been unable to find such a book. In frustration, they express their desire for an author with historical integrity who doesn't have an agenda to portray the Founders as Democrats, Republicans, Christians, atheists, etc. In addition, they want a book that is both user friendly and free of the "deep" scholarly jargon that can be so difficult to endure. Well, I am happy to report that such a book does exist!

In his book The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, author David Holmes (who is a professor of Religious Studies and William and Mary) has created a simple, concise and informative work that explains in detail, using historical context, what the beliefs of our Founders really were. Holmes uses a simple four-point litmus test to illustrate what each individual Founder said and did on the topic of religion. His four points are:

1. Church Attendance
2. Approach to the Sacraments and Ordinances
3. Level of Church Activity and Involvement
4. The Type of Religious Language Used

Holmes states that, "An examination of history cannot capture the inner faith of any man. But in the case of the Founding Fathers of the United States, readers can use these four indicators to locate the founders on the religious spectrum with some confidence." Based on these four simple points, Holmes effectively guides the reader on a journey of understanding that relies exclusively on the history of the Founders, rather than what pop-culture tells us.

Using these four criteria, Holmes states where each of the Founding Fathers rank on the religious spectrum. First off, it is important that we recognize the role that the Enlightenment and the Great Awakening played in shaping the religious beliefs of colonial America. As Daniel Walker Howe states in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book What Hath God Wrought, religious ideology, especially Christian ideology, was very different during the colonial era than it is today.
We cannot make the mistake of viewing the belief systems of America's founding generation through the lens of modern American religion...the rise of Evangelical Protestantism, Christian conservatism and a post-modern God whose role is less intrusive than our forefathers...makes any comparison to 18th century American Christianity an impossible chore to complete without immersion in the historical context.
There are, of course, many other factors than these simple four points, which shaped the individual beliefs of our Founding Fathers. These points, however, can help us see the impact of deism and Christianity on the individual. A deist would be more likely to attend church less frequently, would strongly oppose sacraments and ordinances, would have a low level of church involvement, and would use very neutral religious language when referring to deity. An orthodox Christian, however, would be the exact opposite. With that said, let's look at one example of how Holmes' four-point litmus test can help us better understand the religion of our Founders:

George Washington: Obviously George Washington is the most popular of the Founding Fathers, and there is a great deal of religious myth that surrounds him. There is perhaps more written on the religious views of Washington than any other Founding Father. His legacy has been used by secularists and religious zealots alike, in order to shape their respective agendas. But what were his religious beliefs? Here is what Holmes states:
1.) Church Attendance: Washington, though not as devout as the typical orthodox of his day, did attend church with some regularity, and as Holmes states, “held organized religion in high regard, and was known to pray privately.”

2.) Approach to the Sacraments and Ordinances: Washington was known for regularly leaving church services before any and all sacraments. Washington strictly refused to partake in any other religious ordinances.

3.) Level of Church Activity and Involvement: Washington was a vestryman in both the Anglican and Episcopal churches, but was never confirmed in any church. Washington strongly opposed any orthodox allegiance to any one church, and remained a non-ordained, non-confirmed churchgoer.

4.) Religious Language Used: Washington’s religious vernacular was mixed with Deist and Christian phrases. Though he regularly referred to deity as “Providence” and “the Grand Architect” Washington also used the words “God” and “Christ” on a regular basis as well.
So where does Holmes rank Washington? He calls him a “Christian Deist.”

Thomas Jefferson

This one is almost too easy. Thomas Jefferson attended very little church, he never participated in sacraments and ordinances, was never ordained or confirmed (in fact he believed such practices were morally reprehensible), and his religious language was VERY common for a Deist (just look at the Declaration of Independence where Jefferson uses phrases like "Providence" and "Nature's God"). Jefferson also regularly denied the divinity of Christ, but referred to him as "the greatest philosopher." In his Bible, Jefferson even removed all references to Jesus being a savior figure.

Holmes states, and I strongly agree, that Jefferson was a non-Christian Deist. This one is pretty easy.

Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin is an interesting figure. He donated a large amount of money to virtually every religion in Philadelphia and even attended most of them. Franklin, however, was never confirmed, nor did he participate in sacraments and ordinances of any church. Franklin even states in his autobiography that he denies the divinity of Jesus. Holmes also calls Franklin a Deist.

So where are the Orthodox Christians? Here is just a small list:
Patrick Henry
Samuel Adams
John Jay
Martha Washington
Charles Carrol
Elias Boudinot
John Q. Adams

And Christian Deists? Here again is another small list that Holmes mentions:
George Washington
Abigail Adams
Alexander Hamilton
John Hancock

And here is Holmes's list of non-Christian Deists:
Thomas Jefferson
James Madison
James Monroe
John Adams
Benjamin Franklin
Thomas Paine

So, if you are looking for an objective, concise and fun book on the Founding Fathers and religion, I strongly recommend The Faiths of the Founding Fathers as your starting point. It will give you a firm baseline on which to begin your study of early American religion and the founding generation. I hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Our Finest Moment Since Bunker Hill???

This made me laugh:

The Decline of Jefferson and Rise of Adams

Over the past few years, I can't help but take note of the fact that there seems to have been a major shift in the way both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams are perceived by the general public. In a nutshell, John Adams has surged in popularity while Jefferson is being left in the dust. Obviously the hit HBO drama on the life of John Adams has done much to bolster this one time self-defeating founder (as Adams himself put it, "History will remember very little of me...I will have no monuments.") while Jefferson is being removed from textbooks because he "wasn't Christian enough."

While it is true that John Adams was once considered a "lesser" of the Founding Fathers, recent events and research have propelled Adams to a higher level of recognition and appreciation. On the flip side, the once prominent Thomas Jefferson (personally speaking, my favorite Founding Father) has witnessed a decrease in his popularity. The man who was once hailed as the greatest political mind of his era is now being remembered more for his views on religion and slavery. Jefferson's lack of Christian orthodoxy, combined with his views on slavery (not to mention the huge impact of the Sally Hemmings affair) have caused Jefferson to slip a little.

Is this fair? Should we promote Adams at the expense of Jefferson?

If there is one thing I have learned from studying Jefferson and Adams it is that their legacies are joined at the hip. Their on again, off again, on again friendship is a highlight of the revolutionary era. Like Batman needs the Joker, Jefferson and Adams often needed each other. The fact that they were polar opposites on virtually every political (and sometimes religious) issue serves as a template for later social and political struggles the United States would face. When we compare Adams and Jefferson, we are often comparing North v. South, Puritan v. Anglican, Federalist v. Republican, aristocrat v. farmer, passionate v. reserved, tall v. short, sophisticated v. crass. As a result, I guess it would only be natural for one man's stock to go down as the other's went up. As the American political/social pendulum swings from left to right, so does the general public's approval of Jefferson v. Adams. As historian Joseph Ellis states, Jefferson and Adams really were "the head and the heart of the Revolution...a brotherhood that illustrates America's diversity of thought." As a result, it is only natural that Americans today will, from time to time, see Jefferson and Adams in different ways...as representations of America's continually shifting pendulum.

In conclusion, I couldn't help but include my all-time favorite Jefferson quote. In one of his final letters to John Adams (who had earlier written Jefferson to complain about the current course of American politics in the typical Adams doomsday style) Jefferson responded with this. Enjoy:

"We shall have our follies without doubt. Some one or more of them will always be afloat. But ours will be the follies of enthusiasm, not bigotry. Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. Education and free discussion are the antidotes of both. We are destined to be a barrier against the returns of ignorance and barbarism. Old Europe will have to lean on our shoulders and hobble along by our side, under the monkish trammels of priests and kings."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Date Night to Cave of the Winds

Last night, my wife and I went on a much needed date. And since all the movies that are currently in theaters are crap, we decided to do something a little more adventurous. Even though we have lived in Co. Springs for almost three years, we haven't found the time to visit the famous Cave of the Winds. I know, living in Co. Springs and not seeing Cave of the Winds is like living in Paris and not visiting the Eiffel Tower...ok, maybe it's not that bad. Anyway, we had a blast. Cave of the Winds is definitely worth seeing. Here are a few pics:

***Note: the quality of some of the pics is a little poor. Obviously lighting in a cave is a problem. Don't let the semi-rough nature of these pictures deter you from going to Cave of the Winds for yourself. In this case, the pictures don't do it justice***

Entrance to the caves. No matter the season, the caves are always at the same temperature.
Elizabeth hanging out with her new boyfriend.
And me trying to fight off the new B.F.
While waiting for our tour, we found a few t-shirts in the gift shop that we thought were funny. Here are just a few:
If you haven't seen South Park, this one won't make sense.
And here we go...off to the caves!
In the upper left corner of this picture you can sort of see two ropes hanging from the roof of the cave. These are part of an old rope latter, which the earliest tourists (in the late 1800s) had to climb. Back then the tour took over 5 hours to complete and guests were forced to crawl on their bellies through a good part of it.
These "straw stalactites" are basically stalactites in their infancy. It takes 1,000 years for them to grow 1 inch. Sadly, many of them have been broken off by stupid tourists.
Some of the narrow passages in the cave.
The ceiling in one of the "rooms" of the cave. Some of the black marks are from candles made long ago by tourists. Other marks are stupid people leaving graffiti.
Another narrow passage.
Cave of the Winds is also the site of several weddings every year. Here is where most of them are performed.
This collection of coins, hairpins and other metal objects dates back to the late 1800s. Supposedly, two young single women threw their hairpins onto this rock for good luck. Months later, they were married to rich and successful men. Since then, those looking for good fortune will toss something metallic onto the pile. If it stays on the rock, you will have good luck for a year. If it falls off, you will have two years of bad luck.
The ceiling at the exit of the cave.

And here is a short video of the latter part of the tour. Sorry for the semi-poor quality. The lighting was bad. It's a cave...go figure

As you can see, Cave of the Winds is a wonderful experience. Check it out if you are ever in the area!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Cooking With Corazon: Episode XX

Baked Pork Chop w/ Mango Salsa
and Cold Italian Asparagus

I know, I know. It's been FOREVER since my last installment of "Cooking with Corazon." What can I say...life just happens sometimes. I will try to be more committed to this in the future now that I plan on cooking more for my family. Anyway, here was tonight's dinner:

Here's the recipe:

For the salsa...

-2 Mangos (diced)
-1 Avocado (diced)
-1 Tsp. cilantro (diced)
-2 Tsp. red onion (diced)
-1/2 Roma Tomato (diced)
-1 squirt hot sauce

*Mix ingredients together to make a salsa and refrigerate.*

- Four 1 or 1/2 inch thick pork chops.
- Butterfly pork chops and lightly season with garlic powder, chipotle powder, basil and S & P.
-Seer chops for 1/2 minutes
-fill chops with salsa
-bake at 350 for 1 hour.

And for the asparagus...

- Add asparagus to boiling water for 3-4 minutes.
- Remove and blanch asparagus.
- Marinade asparagus in Italian dressing and refrigerate.

LOVELY and simple dinner!

Buen Provecho!

Reviewing Peter Lillback's Book

Over the past couple of weeks, pseudo historian and doomsday practitioner Glenn Beck has been plugging a book entitled, George Washington's Sacred Fire. The book is written and published by a man named Peter Lillback, who passes himself off as a quasi-expert on all things relating to George Washington and religion.

I first encountered Lillback's Sacred Fire a couple of years ago while in graduate school. Having read the book and debated it with several other historians, I am convinced that this book is an utter waste of time. Not only does it fall short of proving that Washington was a devout Christian (the basic goal of the book) but its prose is hard to follow, difficult to read and frankly boring. For those out there who may be interested in learning about George Washington's religion, this is NOT the book for you.

But don't take my word for it. Here is an excellent and brief review of Sacred Fire by historian Gregg Frazer:
I received my copy of Lillback’s book in the mail today. Obviously, it will take some time to do it justice, BUT: I turned to the chapters on communion to get a glimpse of his argument in that area. I am profoundly UNimpressed. It seems to me to be much smoke and not much “sacred fire.”

His arguments are supposition based on 3rd & 4th hand accounts decades after the fact. So-and-so’s grandson told of what his mother told him of what his grandmother told her 50 years after the fact. And then Lillback says they had no motivation to make it up – no motivation? Has he missed the whole hagiography associated with GW and the mythologization? Is he not familiar with (for example) post-election poll results which show that thousands more people report voting for the winner than the number who actually did? Or people remembering non-existent personal contact with people with whom they went to college – once that person becomes famous? His argument for oral history is actually (unbeknownst to him) hurt by his reference to Homer and Herodotus. No historian of ancient Greece considers Homer’s accounts to be historically reliable – especially in details – but as myth. Likewise, even Herodotus warned: “my duty is to report all that is said; but I am not obliged to believe it all alike – a remark which may be understood to apply to my whole history.” Herodotus used much oral history, as Lillback suggests, but he understood the profound limits of its value – which Lillback apparenty does not (unless it’s Boller using it).

Dr. Abercrombie & Bishop White are the ones who had no motive to “sully” the reputation of the Father of the Country – and they wrote 1st-hand accounts at the time. Nelly Custis had no motive to sully the reputation of her beloved “grandfather.”

As to references to a “bitter cup”: there are plenty of other allusions which might be apt for that time and culture. Especially, a reference to TEA, which was often referred to as a bitter cup. Lillback desperately wants the reference to be to communion – and it would be such a reference for him (and therefore reasonable to him), so it must be that. But, even if the reference is to the communion cup, that says nothing about whether he partook or not – only that he was familiar with that cultual allusion (which ANYONE would have been in that culture/time). I may refer to doing surgery or to a sports metaphor for a sport I do not play or many other cultural allusions – but that says nothing of whether I’ve done surgery or played the sport. In particular, I’ve used war metaphors hundreds of times, but I’ve never been in the military!

Finally, almost all of the footnotes (if one can find them and read them in pt. 2 font) are to secondary sources and 19th-century sources – often those of the hagiographers to which I referred above! One gets the impression that he would consider Parson Weems to be a reliable source!

There’s also a significant amount of circular logic. To wit: we may not have any real evidence of GW taking communion or giving a reasonable explanation for why he didn’t; but, from what we’ve already supposed and imagined about his piety – doesn’t this creative idea sound plausible? And, if it’s plausible and fits with what we’ve already decided (without demonstrating), then it must be true. He falls victim to that of which he accuses Boller, in particular.

At first blush, it appears to me to be argument by intimidation: “I bet I have more pages and more footnotes than you.” The issue is quality, though, not quantity. So far I don’t see much of that.
In addition, click here to read an excellent and thorough review of Sacred Fire done by my friend and fellow blogger Jon Rowe.

And finally, here is my brief take on Sacred Fire and some of the problems that Lillback doesn't address:

Perer Lillback, author of the book George Washington's Sacred Fire, makes the assertion that America's first President and Commander-in-Chief was, "an orthodox, Trinity-affirming believer in Jesus Christ" (27). Lillback, who received his Ph. D. in Theology from Westminster Theological Seminary, is only the latest in a series of religious figures who have crossed over into the field of history, in an effort to "save" American history from the hands of secularists.

In Sacred Fire, Lillback presents to the reader a large collection of sources, which he feels help to prove his thesis that Washington was a devout orthodox Christian. In addition, Lillback presents evidence to counter the argument that Washington was a Deist. And while I am in complete agreement with Lillback's assessment that Washington was far from being a Deist, I still remain unconvinced of his orthodox Christian leanings.

In "Appendix Three" of Sacred Fire, Lillback puts together a collection that he calls "George Washington's Written Prayers." In reality, this collection of documents are not actual prayers but instead are an assortment of letters, general orders and presidential declarations, which Lillback passes off as Washington's "written prayers." Lillback then asserts that these "prayers" serve as concrete proof that Washington was indeed a Christian. As Lillback states at the beginning of this appendix:
One of the elements of the Christian faith that was suspect, and eventually abandoned by Deists, was the practice of prayer. This was logical since there was little purpose in speaking to a Deity who on principle had abandoned all contact and communication with his creation.

Given this understanding, Washington's lifetime practice of prayer, illustrated by these more than one hundred written prayers, is an undeniable refutation of his alleged Deism...The sheer magnitude of the umber of prayers, coupled with the expansive topics included in his prayers, give substantial credence to the universal testimony of Washington's contemporaries of his practice of corporate and private prayer.

This underscores how misplaced contemporary scholars have been in claiming that Washington was a man of lukewarm religious faith
With this in mind, I decided that it would be worthwhile to dissect the various "written prayers" that Peter Lillback sites in his book. After all, the language that Washington used in these prayers should be a valuable tool in determining Washington's actual beliefs.

Here are the actual phrases that Washington used in his "written prayers" to describe divinity, along with the number of times they were used:

"Providence" - 26 times
"Heaven" -25 times
"God" - 16 times
"Almighty God" - 8 times
"Lord" - 5 times
"Almighty" - 5 times
"Author of all Blessings" - 3 times
"Author of the Universe" - 3 times
"God of Armies" - 3 times
"Giver of Victory" - 3 times
"Great Ruler of the Universe" - 2 times
"Divine Protector" - 2 times
"Ruler of Nations" - 2 times
"Particular Favor of Heaven" - 2 times
"Divine Author of Life and Felicity" - 2 times
"Author of Nations" - 1 time
"Divine Being" - 1 time
"Allwise Dispenser of Human Blessings" - 1 time
"Supreme giver of all good Gifts" - 1 time
"Sovereign Dispenser of Life and Health" - 1 time
"Source and Benevolent Bestower of all good" - 1 time
"Power which has Sustained American arms" - 1 time
"Allwise Providence" - 1 time
"Infinite Wisdom" - 1 time
"Eye of Omnipotence" - 1 time
"Divine Author of our Blessed Religion" - 1 time
"Omnipotent being" - 1 time
"Great Spirit" - 1 time
"Glorious being" - 1 time
"Supreme being" - 1 time
"Almighty being" - 1 time
"Creator" - 1 time
"Jesus Christ" - 0
"Messiah" - 0
"Savior" - 0
"Redeemer" - 0
"Jehovah" - 0

With such a large assortment of phrases, I find it amazing that Lillback does not provide a single example of where Washington prayed to Jesus specifically or directly. In fact, the only time the word "Christian" is mentioned in all of appendix three is on page 775. In a letter to the king of France, Washington begins the letter by writing, "To our great and beloved Friend and Ally, his Most Christian Majesty." [My emphasis added].

Despite these obvious discrepancies in his argument, I must also point out the fact that Lillback provides AMPLE evidence to support his claim that Washington was NOT a Deist. The simple fact that these prayers exist is sufficient proof of this fact. Regardless of who Washington was praying to, the fact remains that he did, in the end, pray regularly.

In addition, there are a number of statements in Washington's "written prayers" that seem to suggest at least a possible allegiance to Christian philosophy. For example, Washington regularly issued thanksgiving and fasting proclamations, which seem to petition God for a forgiveness of sin. Phrases like, "we may unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions" (Source here). Or other instances where Washington states, "Instant to be observed as a day of 'fasting, humiliation and prayer, humbly to supplicate the mercy of Almighty God' that it would please him to pardon all our manifold sins and transgressions" (Source here). Clearly there is AT LEAST a remnant of Christian belief, and possibly a sincere devotion to Jesus as the savior of mankind.

Regardless of what we may insinuate from these various statements, the fact remains that there are NO specific public or private records showing Washington in prayer to the Christian God. While I will agree that Washington is far from a Deist and that he did pray and believe in a great deal of Christian doctrine, I remain unconvinced that he was an ORTHODOX Christian as Lillback suggests.