About Corazon

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Funny Kid Videos

I took these videos a few months back so they aren't new.  Just posting them so family and friends can see them.

Breaking News:


Jaxson v. Robot:

Zakary v. Robot:


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Diseases of the Middle Ages

Anyone with even an elementary understanding of the history of the Middle Ages is aware of the fact that disease and sickness was a reality that literally infected the whole of society.  Try as they did, the people of the Middle Ages were ill equipped to combat the various illnesses that perplexed even the brightest of Medieval physicians (if you can even call them that).

We all recognize the fact that Medieval Europe lacked even a basic understanding of many important health and wellness practices.  Simple concepts like hygiene (i.e. washing your hands with soap and water) were only understood by a select few, and even in such cases their understanding would be considered woefully inadequate by today's standards.  These deficiencies were, in most cases, the result of honest ignorance.  How could Medieval society be expected to understand how microorganisms like bacteria and viruses infected the body?

Despite their obvious disadvantage, Medieval practitioners of medicine did their best to diagnose and treat the various mystery illnesses that came their way.  And though we may find their methodology for treating the sick to be barbaric or downright strange, it is important to recognize how Medieval medicine set the tone for future generations.  The following are some of the more bizarre (or "unique") illnesses/diagnoses that many Medieval patients experienced:

1.) "St. Anthony's Fire": At the end of the 10th century, many citizens of the Medieval world (particularly in France and Spain) fell sick to "St. Anthony's Fire," which was an illness that primarily resulted in painful sores that grew on the legs and groin.  It was believed that the only cure was to seek aid from a monastery or church where the blessings of God (along with whatever home remedy that particular church employed) would cure the patient.  In reality, St. Anthony's Fire was Ergot poisoning.  Ergot is a fungus that grows on rye, particularly in wet and cold conditions.  If the rye is not cleaned before it is ground up to make grain, the fungus infects the body, resulting in painful sores on the body.  The reason Medieval patients experienced relief when traveling to churches may be due to the fact that they were no longer eating the infected rye from home.

2.) "The King's Evil":  was a disease in which the patient experienced severe chest pain, along with black masses on their neck and chest area.  It was believed that the disease was the result of either witchcraft or poor blood circulation in the body.  Medieval doctors believed that it was the liver that was responsible for blood circulation, while the heart circulated "vital spirit" (the blood of the soul?).  And since the liver is black, it was believed that the black sores on the neck and chest were evidence of a sick liver. Treatment for this disease was, interestingly enough, for the patient to receive the touch of royalty.  But since a king/queen couldn't be expected to touch every sick peasant, royal leaders elected to touch special coins that had been blessed by the hand of the crown.  The sick would then place the coins on their neck and chest, which would supposedly cure the patient in a matter of hours.

Reality is that "The King's Evil" was a rare form of tuberculosis called scrofula, which infects the lymph notes of the human neck resulting in black masses.  Mortality for this disease was estimated in some countries at 40%.

3.) "The Ague": was a disease common in the low-lying areas of Europe and eastern England. The disease resulted in fever, chills, profuse sweating and severe headaches.  "The Ague" was believed to be the result of "bad air" and an imbalance of the "four humors" of the body (i.e. blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile).  Treatment included everything from bloodletting (cutting and bleeding the patient) to an assortment of strange herbs and potions.

Truth of the matter is "The Ague" was nothing more than malaria carried by the mosquito. Obviously the Medieval world was not aware of how insects could transmit disease to humans.

4.) "The Bloody Flux": was another illness believed to be the result of imbalance of the four humors.  Interestingly enough, it was also believed that the "Bloody Flux" was a possible punishment from God for adultery and other sexual impropriety.  "The Bloody Flux" resulted in diarrhea, dehydration, bloody stools, and stomach cramps.  In reality, "The Bloody Flux" was nothing more than Dysentery, which was caused by contaminated food and poor hygiene.

5.) "Water Elf Disease": was an illness that resulted in painful red sores on the body, watery eyes, itchy skin and severe fatigue.  It was believed that "Water Elf Disease" was the result of witchcraft, particularly a witch's spell.  Treatment for the disease was usually a combination of various herbs and other local potions.  In addition, it was believed that chanting certain songs could remove the curse of the witch who had made the patient sick.  The most common song went something like this:
I have bound on the wounds the best of war bandages, so the wounds neither burn nor burst, nor go further, nor spread, nor jump, nor the wounds increase, nor sores deepen.  By may he himself keep in a healthy way.  May it not ache you more than it aches earth in ear.  May earth bear on you with all her might and main.
Medical practitioners today, along with most kindergarten children, know this illness quite well. Today we call it chickenpox or the measles.

And though we may laugh at the silly names, remedies and alleged causes that the Medieval world gave to these (and many other) medical conditions, remember that this was no game for those who lived it.  In their minds, witches were real, spells had actual power, the divine touch of a king could heal, and sometimes God was simply manifesting his wrath.  The Medieval world was no pick nick.
Maybe all the Renaissance Festival nerds and wannabe knights who pretend to be great Medieval warriors would do well to remember this.  The next time you get sick, just bleed yourself, have your buddy give you a spell, or ingest some strange potion.  Don't dare go to a hospital!

David Barton as a U.S. Senator???

Yeah, you heard me right. America's favorite pseudo-historian and Glenn Beck's nearest and dearest doomsday buddy is seriously considering making a run for the U.S. Senate.

According to insiders close to Barton, Tea Party officials met with the Texas Looney Tune to discuss a potential run against John Cornyn in the Texas Republican Primary. A Facebook group with nearly 1,500 supporters has also been created to help convince Barton to take up the challenge.

If you have followed my humble little blog at all, you are more than aware of the fact that I strongly detest Barton's work as a self-proclaimed American "historian."  Simply put, David Barton is to history what Tim Tebow is to being a quarterback: nice guys with good morals who suck at their respective jobs.

Let me be clear on one thing: I do not think that David Barton is a bad man.  From everything I have seen and learned about him I believe that Barton is probably a very good man.  The problem, however, is that Barton is woefully ignorant of the basic realities of American history.  Barton has made a career out of twisting the truth for political reasons, and as a result, I believe he would be a serious liability as a U.S. Senator.

Historian John Fea sums up the problem of Barton becoming a U.S. Senator best at his personal blog. Fea quotes from the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, Gordon Wood, who stated, "If someone wants to use the past to change the world, he should forego a career as a historian and run for public office."  Amen to that!  Perhaps Barton is a better fit for the fiasco that is Congress than I originally thought!  If you want a man who can twist the truth without batting an eye then Barton is your man!

The following are a few of the many David Barton (and Glenn Beck) "highlights" that I have commented on over the past few years:

Barton on why the Lincoln movie was a fraud...even though he never actually saw it: Link
Barton lying about George Washington and the history of the Valley Forge prayer story: Link
Barton's nonsense about the "Black Robe Regiment" (which, incidentally, went nowhere): Link
Barton's idiotic belief that Thomas Jefferson supported prayer in public schools: Link
Barton confronted and destroyed by Chris Rodda: Link

Stay tuned, I'm sure there will be many more "hits" to come!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Book Review: The God Who Weeps

The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life. By Terryl and Fiona Givens (Salt Lake City: Ensign Peak, 2012. Pp. 160).

In recent years, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) has experienced a sudden exodus from the faith on the part of many of its rank-and-file members.  Thanks in large part to the Internet, many Mormons have discovered a number of historical and theological issues that has caused a great deal of doubt and concern for many Latter-day Saints, who originally believed that their faith was impenetrable to such things.  As former Church Historian Marlin K. Jensen recently stated:
Maybe since Kirtland, we've never had a period of -- I'll call it apostasy, like we're having now...It's a different generation.  There's no sense kidding ourselves, we just need to be very upfront with [members] and tell them what we know and give answers to what we have and call on their faith like we all do for things we don't understand.
This crisis of faith, that has already claimed a number of former members in its wake, has gone relatively unopposed.  Little has been said (other than the traditional "don't you dare doubt" or "just pray about it" responses) to help remedy the situation.

That is until now.

In their book, The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life, the husband and wife team of Terryl and Fiona Givens offer us a concise but extraordinarily eloquent overview of the profoundly complex yet extremely basic theology that is found within Mormonism, and how said theology answers some of life's most difficult to answer questions. The Givens challenge many of the preconceived ideas held by both Christian and Mormon supporters and detractors by resting their thesis on the idea that God's strength and ultimate sovereignty rest in his infinite loving vulnerability rather than his divine dictatorial supremacy.  In consequence, The God Who Weeps reveals a god who mourns for his creations when they sin, as opposed to a god who arbitrarily consigns the sinner to an eternity in hell.

The book is essentially divided into five sections (chapters) that each emphasize a separate and unique concept that the Givens believe are both unique to the Mormon faith and worthy of our further inquiry.  In the first chapter (His Heart Is Set Upon Us), Terryl and Fiona Givens develop their concept of the "weeping God" and how such a deity is both worthy of our devotion and fully capable of coming to our aid:
There could be nothing in this universe, or in any possible universe, more perfectly good, absolutely beautiful, worthy of adoration, and deserving of emulation, than this God of love and kindness and vulnerability. That is why a gesture of belief in His direction, a decision to acknowledge His virtues as the paramount qualities of a divided universe, is a response to the best in us, the best and noblest of which the human soul is capable. But a God without passions would engender in our hearts neither love nor interest. In the vision of Enoch, we find ourselves drawn to a God who prevents all the pain He can, assumes all the suffering He can, and weeps over the misery He can neither prevent nor assume.
The Givens further develop the idea of the "suffering" or "weeping" god by pointing to the writings of early church patriarchs like St. Augustine and Origen, along with modern writers such as C.S. Lewis and Emily Dickinson, all of whom insinuated, in one way or another, that God's strength and ultimate sovereignty rested in his love and vulnerability for mankind as opposed to his supremacy as some sort of cold and distant dictator.

In the second chapter (Man Was in the Beginning With God), the Givens focus on a point of Mormon doctrine (pre-existence) that they believe is dramatically underplayed by both critics and supporters of Mormonism.  It is worth nothing that the majority of this chapter's material is drawn from Terryl Givens' other book, When Souls Had Wings, which is almost exclusively devoted to the concept of pre-mortal existence and it's development in Western thought.  In this chapter, the Givens turn to the writings of the ancient Greeks, Babylonians Jews, etc. who all maintained an interest in the idea of a pre-mortal world/existence.

In the third chapter (Men Are That They Might Have Joy), the books highlights the importance of human choice and how said choices can determine our happiness and illustrate what we as individuals value most in our mortal lives:
Whatever sense we make of this world, whatever value we place upon our lives and relationships, whatever meaning we ultimately give to our joys and agonies, must necessarily be a gesture of faith. Whether we consider the whole a product of impersonal cosmic forces, a malevolent deity, or a benevolent god, depends not on the evidence, but on what we choose, deliberately and consciously, to conclude from that evidence.  To our minds, this fork in our mental road is very much the point.  It is, in fact, inescapable. 
In other words, the Givens remind us that joy, faith and hope really are in the eye of the beholder. They do so by pointing to biblical figures like Adam and Eve, and the apparent quandary they experienced while in the Garden of Eden.  Partaking of the fruit meant introducing pain, hurt, grief and despair into the world, but it also brought about joy, happiness, love and charity.  In short, life becomes a quest to put off the "natural man" and experience for ourselves (and through our own choices) the joy that is available to all.

Chapter 4 (None of Them Is Lost) is, in my opinion, the most important chapter of this work.  In this chapter, the Givens challenge many of the erroneous cultural beliefs that Mormons have with regards to salvation. Too often members of the Mormon faith (and Christians in general) make the incorrect assumption that salvation will only be attained by a select few and that heaven will be a relatively underpopulated place while hell will be full to the brim.  This is nonsense.  As the Givens point out:
God is personally invested in shepherding His children through the process of mortality and beyond; His desires are set upon the whole human family, not upon a select few. He is not predisposed to just the fast learners, the naturally inclined, or the morally gifted. The project of human advancement that God designed offers a hope to the entire human race.  It is universal in its appeal and reach alike. This, however, has not been the traditional view.
We are not in some contest to rack up points. We will not someday wait with bated breath to see what prize or pain is meted out by a great dispenser of trophies. We cannot so trivialize life that we make of it a coliseum where we wage moral combat like spiritual gladiators, for a presiding Authority on high to save or damn according to our performance. Where would be the purpose in all that? He might take the measure of our souls at any moment and deal with us accordingly, saving Himself, not to mention us, a great deal of trouble. How much more meaningful is a life designed for spiritual formation, rather than spiritual elevation.
In other words, heaven isn't a prize to be won but a state of being to be attained.  The value of this concept is infinitely important for Mormons and the world as a whole.  God wants to save everyone, not just a few.  As a result, Mormonism is NOT a small tent faith of exclusivity but is a big tent UNIVERSALIST religion.  As Joseph Smith himself stated, "God will fetter out every individual soul."

In their 5th and final section (Participants in the Divine Nature), the Givens essentially sum it all up and illustrate the Mormon belief that God wants the best for all of his children.  As a result, we can, through our own merits and God's grace, achieve a state of full happiness and joy, surrounded by those we love most.  In short, the Givens suggest that heaven will be, for those who choose it, a continuation of all the special relationships we experience here on Earth, except that the joy can be infinite.  Though our own vulnerability, we too can become "joint heirs" with Christ.

In summation, The God Who Weeps is a welcomed and invaluable response to those who believe that Mormonism has nothing to offer the modern world.  It presents a theology that is fully developed, complex and worthy of scholarly inquiry and soul-searching meditation.  The authors of this work demonstrate an exceptional ability to sift through centuries of material to find the perfectly pitched quotations and evidence needed to prove their argument.  The depth and breadth of their knowledge of world literature, theology, philosophy, art and history is astounding, and serves to support their thesis that Mormonism is a deeply rich and fulfilling religion with a great deal to offer the world.  All current and former Mormons would do well to realize that trivializing the faith, or reducing the argument to the smallest possible denominator, does little to help increase our understanding.  There is nothing to be gained from picking fun at the low-lying fruit of Mormonism As Terryl Givens states:
Mormons have largely left others to frame the theological discussion.  In opting to emphasize Mormon culture over Mormon theology, Mormons have too often left the media and ministers free to select most esoteric and idiosyncratic for ridicule.  So jibes about Kolob and magic underwear usurp serious engagement, much as public knowledge about the Amish is confined to a two-dimensional caricature involving a horse and buggy.  But members of a faith community should recognize themselves in any fair depiction.  And it is the fundamentals of Mormonism that should ground any debate worth having about Mormon beliefs or Mormon membership in the Christian community.
And for the Givens these fundamentals are:

1.) God's strength is found in his vulnerability.  His Heart is set upon us.
2.) We are eternal in nature and were in the beginning with God.
3.) We can, through our own choices and God's eternal grace, have eternal joy.
4.) Salvation is universal and open to all who want it.  Mormonism is Universalist in nature.
5.) We can be participants and joint heirs in the divine nature.

In a mere 160 pages, The God Who Weeps does what no other book has been able to: present to the world a concise yet complex narrative of why Mormonism matters.  My advise to all who read this is simple: if you love being a Mormon and have never questioned your faith, read this book.  It will give you a better understanding of those who do.  If you are a Mormon and have doubts or have already left the faith, read this book.  It may give you a better understanding/perspective of why Mormonism matters and the value that can be had by living the faith.  If you are not a Mormon and want to know what the faith is all about, read this book.  It will give you a better understanding of why Mormonism is a unique and valuable faith that is worthy of more than both its members and critics have given it.

Walter Raleigh Loses His Head

On this day, 395 years ago, the great English explorer, writer, governor (and conspirator?) Sir Walter Raleigh was put do death.  He was beheaded on charges of treason, due to his alleged involvement in a plot to remove King James I from the English Throne.

Raleigh is a fascinating character to say the least. As an explorer, his role in charting a large portion of what is now the eastern coastal lands of the United States (particularly Virginia and the Carolinas) catapulted him to fame.  His achievements (or perhaps better put his charisma) also drew the attention of one Queen Elizabeth I, who was, on more than one occasion, quite taken with the young Englishman's  prowess as an explorer and writer. Because of these accomplishments, Queen Elizabeth rewarded Raleigh with an assortment of titles, honors, lands, and government positions, all of which elevated Raleigh to the highest echelon of English society.

Despite these achievements, Raleigh found it difficult to live a life that was completely free of reproach.  While serving in the English Parliament, Raleigh was also secretly married to "Bess" Throckmorton, one of the Queen's Lady's-in-Waiting (personal assistant).  This affair, which was punishable by death, infuriated the Queen, who ordered Raleigh to be arrested.

But the affair would not spell the end for Raleigh.  His charisma and talent were simply too much for the English Crown to ignore.  As a result, Raleigh was freed from prison and sent on an unsanctioned expedition to attack and pillage the Spanish coast; a skill that Raleigh had perfected during his exploring days in the "New World."  After returning with a shipload of Spanish jewels and goods, Raleigh's previous improprieties were, needless to say, forgotten.

Having already escaped one brush with royal justice and the potential loss of his life, one would think that Raleigh would choose to live a more "virtuous" life.  That wasn't his style.  After the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, Raleigh's stock began to drop.  Gone were the days when he could enjoy having the ear of the Crown (Raleigh's heyday was undoubtedly during the Elizabethan years).

Queen Elizabeth's successor, James I, was, in many respects, like his predecessor.  He was intelligent, thoughtful and determined to see England forward to a new era.  Unlike Elizabeth, however, James was far more militant in his application of policies to ensure England's prosperity. For example, when it came to religious matters, Elizabeth adopted a hands off approach, whereas James was more "passionate."  James helped to push Parliament into passing the Popish Recusants Act (which required citizens to swear an oath of allegiance to the Church of England and against the Catholic Pope), along with laws that enforced strict conformity from emerging Puritans.  James also advocated for laws against witchcraft, which became a bit of a personal obsession of his at least during the early years of his reign.  And, of course, no discussion of James and religion could be complete without at least a brief mention of his role in the Hampton Conference, which eventually led to the completion of a new translation of the Christian canon, known today as the King James Bible.  All of this is relevant to Walter Raleigh because it helps to illustrate the alleged reasons he chose to rebel (I say alleged because some historians argue that Raleigh was unjustly accused and murdered with little to no evidence. With recent historical discoveries, however, I think it is more than evident that Raleigh was indeed involved in the plot to remove James from the throne).

Walter Raleigh was not a religious enthusiast.  Sure, he jumped through the appropriate hoops in order to keep up social graces but he did so for political necessity as opposed to any internal desire to please the divine.  In many respects, Queen Elizabeth and Walter Raleigh were birds of a feather.  They knew religion was important and both advocated for English sovereignty from Catholic authority.  But this was primarily motivated out of political expediency than anything else. In their minds it just made good sense and was in England's best interests.

When James ascended to the throne and began enacting newer and tougher laws, Raleigh must have been upset. Raleigh's sentiments in this regard are best illustrated in his famous poem "The Lie":

Say to the court, it glows 
And shines like rotten wood; 
Say to the church, it shows 
Whats good, and doth no good: 
Of church and court reply, 
Then give them both the lie. 

Tell men of high condition, 
That manage the estate, 
Their purpose is ambition, 
Their practice only hate: 
And if they once reply, 
Then give them all the lie.

As stated earlier, Raleigh's involvement in what became known as the Main Plot was a source of debate among historians for centuries. Recent discoveries, however, have all but proven Raleigh's role in the plot.  Historical records reveal that while serving as Governor of Jersey, Sir Walter Raleigh, along with co-conspirators Henry Brooke and Lord Cobham, had secretly made deals with the Spanish Crown (who financed their endeavors) to create sedition (particularly among the ranks of those who were monetarily and religiously disenfranchised by James' ascension to the throne), which would ultimately force James to abdicate the throne.

The plot failed when Brooke's brother implicated those involved.  Raleigh and others were imprisoned and the plot was squashed. Several years later, on October 29, 1618, Sir Walter Raleigh, the great English poet, explorer and statesmen, found his neck on the chopping stump. After requesting to be able to see and handle the axe that would claim his life, Raleigh's final words were (allegedly): "This is a sharp medicine, but it is a physician for all diseases and all miseries."

Raleigh's contributions and legacy were polarizing in his day, but with time they have become a source of pride for Englishmen (and Americans).  The capitol city of North Carolina (the land he himself explored) is his namesake and he has been voted #41 out of 100 in a recent poll of the 100 most influential Britons in history (King James I was #76).  Raleigh was the epitome of an explorer and a poet at heart, as one of his final poems helps to capture:

Give me my scallop-shell of quiet,
My staff of faith to walk upon,
My scrip of joy, immortal diet,
My bottle of salvation.
My gown of glory, hopes, true gauge;
And this I'll take my pilgrimage.

Blood must be my body's balmer;
No other balm will there be given;
Whilst my soul, like quiet palmer,
Travelleth towards the land of heaven.

Over the silver mountains,
Where spring the nectar fountains;
There will I kiss
The bowl of bliss;
And drink mine everlasting fill
Upon every milken hill.
My soul will be a-dry before;
But, after, it will thirst no more.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Why We Must Sue Native Americans This Columbus Day

521 years ago, Cristóbal Colón stepped off his ship and onto the shore of San Salvador (Bahamas). This first step, which was arguably the most influential "first step" in world history (rivaled only by Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon), inaugurated a new era of European settlement and discovery in what became known as the "New World." It also sparked a debate that has, for good and for bad, continued with us for over half a millennia.

The paradox that is Christopher Columbus is one of the most polarizing and puzzling in all the annals of human history.  He is loved and hated by millions across the world who hail him as both a brave explorer and a cruel tyrant.  Speaking for myself, I have, over the years, had my own struggles when trying to reconcile Columbus with my own interpretation of what is right and wrong (you can read a couple of older posts here and here).  But regardless of how we may feel about Columbus, the truth of the matter is that none of us will ever truly be able to know or understand the man who has become synonymous with controversy.

Over the past five centuries, Christopher Columbus has been accused of a plethora of crimes ranging from theft to genocide.  Columbus' prowess as a navigator was matched only by his ineptitude as a governor.  And make no mistake; Columbus' inability to effectively lead is a catalyst for much of the controversy that surrounds his legacy today.

But there is a far deeper and uglier controversy that has gone overlooked these past five centuries. It's a controversy that has evolved to become a corporate conspiracy involving billions of dollars in revenue, at the cost of millions who have died horrible deaths.  It is a conspiracy that ushered in centuries of slavery and addiction and despite our best efforts, has no apparent end in sight.  

In his journal entry of October 15, 1492, Columbus wrote:
We met a man in a canoe going from Santa Maria to Fernandina; he had with him a piece of bread whice the natives make, as big as one's fist, a calabash of water . . . and some dried leaves which are in high value among them, for a quantity of it was brought to me at San Salvador (my emphasis).
A few days later a landing party Columbus had sent ashore returned to report that the natives "drank the smoke" of those curious dried leaves. This was astonishing to the Europeans who had never seen anything like smoking before. For a long time they were puzzled and disgusted by this strange habit. But soon they, too, would be drinking smoke from those leaves, and spreading the plant and the habit of smoking it all over the known world.

Yes, it was the innocent Native Americans (whom Columbus later pillaged and subjugated to the yoke of slavery), who first introduced tobacco to the European world, inaugurating an era of chemical dependency and lung cancer.  For future generations of European settlers, it was tobacco that became the dominant cash crop that sustained these communities, many of which employed imported Black slaves to plant and care for this new found addiction.

And, as we are all aware, tobacco has remained to this day, evolving to become a multi-billion dollar a year industry.  Thanks to the Native Americans, more than 5 million Europeans die every year due to tobacco use.  Tobacco-related illnesses cost the American economy, on average, $193 billion a year ($97 billion in lost productivity plus $96 billion in health care expenditures). Yes, thanks to these first Native Americans, who clearly bamboozled an innocent and naive Christopher Columbus, we today must suffer from the physical, financial and psychological impact caused by their poisonous product!

It is for this reason that I call for an unprecedented class action lawsuit against all Native American people.  If they would have only kept those dried leaves to themselves instead of sharing them with our guiltless ancestors, we today would not have to suffer from the bondage that is tobacco addiction! Clearly the fault rests with them and compensation for this atrocity is more than overdue.

Let's Keep It Real Now

Ok, hopefully my tongue-in-cheek commentary won't be taken literally by too many people.  I'm not advocating that we sue Native Americans, nor do I blame them for the millions of cases of tobacco addiction that have plagued humanity over the centuries.  But I do hope that this ridiculous argument will help to highlight some of the nuances of the history of "first contact" between Columbus and the native people of the "New World."

It is both easy and convenient for us to place all of the blame for the atrocities committed against Native Americans at the feet of Christopher Columbus.  After all, he's a PERFECT scapegoat. Like any significant figure from history, Christopher Columbus was a complicated character.  He exudes characteristics that are both admirable and appalling.  As stated earlier, Columbus' prowess as a navigator is only matched by his ineptitude as a governor.  He is both fire and ice; saint and sinner; hero and villain.  The hero who "discovered" a new world and ushered in an era of exploration and colonization was eventually destined to die as a poor and destitute scoundrel whose legacy was never fully understood by his contemporaries or by subsequent generations of scholars who both revere and rebuke his accomplishments.    
Much of the problem with understanding Columbus' true nature and legacy has to do with the historical sin of "presentism."  To project modern day standards of morality and conduct onto those of the past is akin to contaminating a crime scene.  Our desire to play Monday Morning Quarterback with Columbus' legacy actually does more to distort true history than anything.  In the same way that each individual is to blame for his/her own tobacco addiction, we must judge Columbus by the standards of his time and according to the world as he saw it.

Columbus was a religious fanatic.  He believed that the end times were just around the corner and that it was his job (and the job of all other good Christians) to vehemently defend the Kingdom of God.  His quest for a new route to the "Indies," which he effectively sold to Queen Isabella, was also motivated by his desire to finance a new crusade to recapture Jerusalem from the infidel Muslims (who had just been kicked out of Spain a year earlier).  Columbus was also a man who happened to be in the right place at the right time.  The pious Spanish crown was eager to take advantage of his zeal, and a newly-invented Gutenberg press was more than ready to spread his story far and wide.

Columbus represents the end of Medieval thinking rather than the dawn of early Enlightenment thinking.  His mystical world must be understood through the lens of his quest to do God's will more than anything else.  And make no mistake, Columbus believed he was on a mission from God.  As he stated in a letter to Queen Isabella:
With a hand that could be felt...the Lord opened my mind to the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies, and he opened my will to desire to accomplish the project. This was the fire that burned within me when I came to visit Your Highnesses...Who can doubt that this fire was not merely mine, but also the Holy Spirit who encouraged me with a radiance of marvelous illumination from his sacred Scriptures.
During his 3rd and 4th voyages, Columbus composed his "Book of Prophesies" which he believed proved his role as "Christ-bearer."  Many historians dismiss these writings as proof of Columbus' insanity but such a dismissal is irresponsible.  These writings help us to better understand the man v. the cultural myth. As Historian De Mar Jensen points out:
The Book of Prophecies was not the ranting of a sick mind. It was the work of a religious man who was not afraid to put his ideas into action and his own life into jeopardy. Columbus knew the scriptures as well as he knew the sea, and he saw a connection between the two. The central theme of his book was that God had sketched in the Bible His plan for the salvation of all mankind and that he, Columbus, was playing a role assigned to him in that plan.
In the book’s first section, Columbus presents a collection of sixty-five psalms that deal with his two major themes: the salvation of the world and the rebuilding of Zion. He calls special attention to several verses in the writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zephaniah that speak of the Gentiles as a people chosen to inherit the Holy Temple, their conversion in the last days, and the gathering to Zion. The inheritance of the Gentiles is further cited from St. Augustine, whose quoting of Ps. 22:27 is paraphrased by Columbus as “All the ends of the earth and all the islands shall be converted to the Lord.” After quoting Matt. 24:14, Columbus comments that the gospel has been preached to three parts of the earth (Asia, Africa, and Europe) and now must be preached to the fourth part. The second section of the Book of Prophecies concerns prophecies already fulfilled. The theme is the ancient greatness of Jerusalem and its subsequent fall.
In the next section, Columbus deals with prophecies of the present and near future, emphasizing the theme of salvation for all nations. Isaiah is cited frequently. Columbus then furnishes several texts from the New Testament: Matthew 2:1–2; 8:11 [Matt. 2:1–2; Matt. 8:11]; Luke 1:48; and notably John 10:16, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”
The final section of the book deals with prophecies of the last days, which Columbus introduces by calling attention to Jeremiah 25 [Jer. 25], where the prophet predicts the restoration of Jerusalem prior to the Final Judgment. Finally, he quotes twenty-six scriptures that refer to the islands of the sea and their part in the last days.
With this construct in mind, I believe we can better understand why Columbus was the way he was and why both his successes and failures carried with them so much weight.  Whenever you invoke the name of God and hold yourself up as one of His chosen servants, you carry with it serious and long-lasting repercussions.  It also help us to see that painting Columbus with wide (and modern day) brush strokes is about as idiotic as blaming Native Americans for tobacco addiction.

I for one am grateful for the legacy and contributions of Cristóbal Colón, for they remind us that the line between success and failure, hero and villain is thinner than we think.  Columbus Day serves to remind me that judgement really is in the eye of the beholder.  It is easy (and perhaps in some instances appropriate) to cast stones at Columbus for his mistakes, but in the end, it was he who had the foresight to cross a frontier that all others saw as too daunting.  Such is the case with heroes.  Heroes receive all the praise and acclaim when they make the last second shot, but also reap all the blame when they miss; a reality that Columbus understood all too well.

The legacy of Christopher Columbus will probably always be shrouded in controversy and mystery. In no way is my humble little blog post going to fix that.  But I do hope it helps to illustrate that the true history of Columbus is found in the nuances of history as opposed to the grandiose claims of heroism and villainy.  To throw out blanket claims of genocide, racism and brutality is akin to blaming Native Americans for all tobacco addiction.  It's our luxury to analyze the man with 500+ years of history at our disposal, but in the end, it was Columbus who had the vision to venture out into the undiscovered country. As Columbus himself stated:
You cannot discover a new world unless you first have the courage to lose sight of the shore. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an

A new book by historian Denise Spellberg explores the possible influence that the Qur'an had on shaping the mind of one of America's most important Founding Fathers.

Roughly eleven years before penning the words to the Declaration of Independence, the always curious Thomas Jefferson purchased a copy of the Holy Qur'an and began at least a casual study of the Muslim religion (Jefferson's Qur'an still survives in the Library of Congress).  Jefferson's curiosity about the Muslim religion was originally inspired by one of his heroes, John Locke, who also maintained an interest in studying what was a very mysterious and misunderstood faith for most Europeans of the 18th century.

Spellberg's book does not necessarily suggest that Islam's doctrine helped to establish the American republic, but it does suggest that Islam served as a litmus test of sorts in determining religious freedom in the infant nation.  Spellberg writes:
Amid the interdenominational Christian violence in Europe, some Christians, beginning in the sixteenth century, chose Muslims as the test case for the demarcation of the theoretical boundaries of their toleration for all believers. Because of these European precedents, Muslims also became a part of American debates about religion and the limits of citizenship. As they set about creating a new government in the United States, the American Founders, Protestants all, frequently referred to the adherents of Islam as they contemplated the proper scope of religious freedom and individual rights among the nation’s present and potential inhabitants. The founding generation debated whether the United States should be exclusively Protestant or a religiously plural polity. And if the latter, whether political equality—the full rights of citizenship, including access to the highest office—should extend to non-Protestants. The mention, then, of Muslims as potential citizens of the United States forced the Protestant majority to imagine the parameters of their new society beyond toleration. It obliged them to interrogate the nature of religious freedom: the issue of a “religious test” in the Constitution, like the ones that would exist at the state level into the nineteenth century; the question of “an establishment of religion,” potentially of Protestant Christianity; and the meaning and extent of a separation of religion from government.
In my opinion, this is an appropriate estimation of how Islam influenced the founding of America. Anything more than this would be a gross overestimation of Islam's nominal impact on a founding that was largely secular in nature.
This isn't to say that other historians haven't tried (and failed in my opinion) to connect America's founding doctrines with the Muslim faith.  I've written in the past about a few such attempts that fortunately have not gained any traction in the historical community.  All religions have, at one time or another, tried to connect their faith to the founding of the United States, and Islam is no exception.

As far as Jefferson was concerned, his study of the Qur'an and Islam was not an endeavor to glean pearls of wisdom to help establish a new nation, but rather was a quest to gain understanding. Jefferson never read the Qur'an in order to learn how to create a republic; he was reading it to learn how to defend a republic.  If Islam could become a tolerated and appreciated faith in America, then the religious test of the republic would be a resounding success.  Again from Spellberg:
What the supporters of Muslim rights were proposing was extraordinary even at a purely theoretical level in the eighteenth century. American citizenship—which had embraced only free, white, male Protestants—was in effect to be abstracted from religion. Race and gender would continue as barriers, but not so faith. Legislation in Virginia would be just the beginning, the First Amendment far from the end of the story; in fact, Jefferson, Washington, and James Madison would work toward this ideal of separation throughout their entire political lives, ultimately leaving it to others to carry on and finish the job.
Should be an interesting read.  Only $11 on Kindle!!!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

"A Land Choice Above All Other Lands."

The Mormon Perspective 
on American Providentialism

***Cross-posted at American Creation***

Over the years, one of my favorite topics in all of history has been the ongoing debate over America's founding heritage. Was America founded as a "Christian" nation? And if so, what does that mean? Whose brand of Christianity is the American Christianity? Where does its influence start and end in relation to government? And what exactly is the American "nation?" These are just a few of the many questions that I have had over the course of my studies on the matter, all of which have led me to the conclusion that America's "Christian nation" debate is mostly a debate over semantics. After all, the term "Christian nation" would mean something very different depending on who we are talking to, and how they define "Christianity." A congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, for instance, would present a very different perspective on the matter than would a congregation of American Evangelicals. Heck, even American Evangelicals would differ on this question depending on where and when in America they live(d).

And when it comes to Christian Nationalism, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) makes for a unique case study to say the least.  Since its inception, the Mormon Faith has held the American founding in higher esteem than arguably any other religion on the planet. It's very origins (in the heartland of the "burned-over District" of New York and at the peak of the Second Great Awakening) essentially demanded that Mormonism wed itself with the idea American providentialism.

One need not find a greater illustration of Mormonism's deep allegiance with American providentialism than the Book of Mormon.  As Mormonism's holiest book of Scripture, the Book of Mormon (in a nutshell) is essentially a story of God bringing a select group of people (Israelites) to a select land (America) in order to establish a select faith (the true gospel of Jesus Christ).  In so doing, the narrative of The Book of Mormon is saturated with references to America being a "choice land" that God himself esteemed "above all other lands."  A few examples:
And inasmuch as ye shall keel my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; a land which is choice above all other lands. (1 Nephi 2:20) my emphasis.
Notwithstanding our afflictions, we have obtained a land of promise, a land which is choice above all other lands; a land which the Lord God hath covenanted with me should be a land for the inheritance of my seed...and also all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord. (2 Nephi 1:5) my emphasis.
And never could be a people more blessed that were they, and more prospered by the hand of the Lord. And they were in a land that was choice above all lands, for the Lord had spoken it. (Ether 10:28) my emphasis.
Unlike the Hebrews of the Bible, the "Promised Land" of Mormonism is not so much Jerusalem or Israel but America.  Of course, that isn't to say that Mormons don't revere the Holy Land (the contrary is actually the case.  Mormons have a deep love for Jerusalem, as evidenced by their commitment to the BYU Jerusalem Center). But there can be no doubt that America holds the pole position when it comes to being a "choice land...above all lands."  From a few former Mormon Presidents:
"The Constitution of the United States is a glorious standard; it is founded in the wisdom of God. It is a heavenly banner; it is to all those who are privileged with the sweets of liberty, like the cooling shades and refreshing waters of a great rock in a thirsty and weary land. It is like a great tree under whose branches men from every clime can be shielded from the burning rays of the sun." -Joseph Smith 
"I want to say to every man, the Constitution of the United States, as formed by our fathers, was dictated, was revealed, was put into their hearts by the Almighty, who sits enthroned in the midst of the heavens; although unknown to them, it was dictated by the revelations of Jesus Christ, and I tell you in the name of Jesus Christ, it is as good as I could ask for." -Brigham Young 
"Those who laid the foundations of this American government and signed the Declaration of Independence were the best spirits the God of Heaven could find on the face of the earth.  They were choice and noble spirits before God." -Wilford Woodruff 
And from The Doctrine and Covenants (another canonized book of scripture of the Mormon faith):
Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another. And for this purpose have I [God] established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood (Section 101:79-80).
And if this isn't enough proof of Mormonism's deep roots in American providentialism, let us return to the Book of Mormon. In the First Book of Nephi (Chapter 13), we read of a remarkable vision that Nephi (one of the first BoM prophets) experiences. Nephi, who allegedly lived in 600 B.C., is shown by an angel the discovery of the New World, the migration of the European nations to the "promised land," and the establishment of the United States:
12. And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.

13 And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.

14 And it came to pass that I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise; and I beheld the wrath of God, that it was upon the seed of my brethren; and they were scattered before the Gentiles and were smitten.

15 And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance; and I beheld that they were white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful, like unto my people before they were slain.

16 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity did humble themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was with them.

17 And I beheld that their mother Gentiles were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them.

18 And I beheld that the power of God was with them, and also that the wrath of God was upon all those that were gathered together against them to battle.

19 And I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations (1 Nephi 13:12-19).
The Book of Mormon goes on to relate how these chosen people, once established on the chosen land, went on to establish a government that, on the surface, appears to resemble the one established by America's founders.  This connection, however, is superficial and does not take into account many of the nuanced references made in the story itself.  As Mormon Historian and acclaimed Joseph Smith Biographer, Richard Bushman states:
The Book of Mormon can be read as a nationalistic text.  The book gives the United States a deep past, reaching back centuries beyond any known history of the continent to 600 BCE and through the Jaredites even further back to the Tower of Babel, millenia before Christ.  Embedding America in the Bible necessarily hallowed the nation, but The Book of Mormon also created a subversive competitor to the standard national history. 
But the American story does not control the narrative.  The Book of Mormon allots just nine verses to the deliverance of the Gentiles, and the rest of the book concentrates on the deliverance of Israel.  The impending American republic is barely visible...Book of Mormon governments are monarchies and judgeships, Old Testament governments, not democratic legislatures and elected presidents (Rough Stone Rolling, Chapter 4).
Regardless of how the Book of Mormon narrative is interpreted by both skeptics and believers, what is clear is that Mormons of virtually every generation have adopted the aforementioned references (and many others like them) as evidence for America being the supreme stage in God's human drama (***I have even written in the past about one generation of Mormons who went so far as to "convert" America's founders to Mormonism via the doctrine of vicarious baptism***).

And today's generation of Mormons is no different.  Current Latter-day Saint leadership has made the doctrine of American providentialism and religious freedom a top priority.  Here is a short clip from Mormon Apostle L. Tom Perry:

And a video on religious freedom released just last month by the church:

So how do Mormons feel when it comes to the question of America being established as a Christian Nation?  Heck, there is no more Christian nation in the world!  Even the Garden of Eden was in America.  As a result, how could there be a more Christian nation than the good ol' U.S. of A....at least according to most Mormons (though I tend to object).

Born out of America, with doctrinal roots in America (both modern and believed to be ancient), there can be NO DOUBT that Mormons make the strongest claim for American Providentialism. Nobody else even comes close.