About Corazon

Monday, January 11, 2016

Santa Fe, Catholicism, and the Pitfalls of Fundamentalism in America's Founding

A few weeks ago, my wife and I decided to take advantage of an extended weekend by traveling to Santa Fe, New Mexico. In addition to the unbelievably awesome Mexican food, Santa Fe is also home to a number of fascinating historical monuments that predate the founding of the United States by more than a century.

Many Americans are probably unaware of the fact that Santa Fe is the second oldest city in the United States (St. Augustine, Florida is #1). Founded officially in 1607, Santa Fe became a haven for Catholic colonists who were determined to convert the local Pueblo Indians and extend the church's influence to the New World. Early Spanish settlers saw Santa Fe as an important outpost that served as an important launch pad into the rest of the North American continent. A number of relics from this time period still remain even today, to include the oldest church in the United States: La Mision de San Miguel.   Here are just a few pictures from our weekend excursion:

The outside of La Mision de San Miguel, which is the oldest church in the United States.

Inside the church

The altar of the church, which is built directly over a number of older Native American holy sites.  The altar itself and the artwork were built in 1735, since much of the original church was destroyed by Indians during the Pueblo Indian Revolt of 1680.

This bell was the most interesting artifact (IMHO) of all. Casted in 1356, the bell was originally intended to be used in a church under the control of the Moores. Somehow it made its way to Mexico and then later to Santa Fe in the late 17th century.  The bell is more than 100 years older than even Christopher Columbus.

And here is a short video of the church:

Our trip to Santa Fe caused me to think about how different the roles of Catholicism and Protestantism were in shaping the "New World." While Catholic Conquistadors like Cortes were busy conquering and converting in Mexico, men like Martin Luther were posting lists of grievances on church doors and pushing for reform. Spain's long war with the Moores had created a violent and even fundamentalist brand of Catholicism, while the emergence of Gutenberg's printing press was liberally spreading the message of Protestant reform far and wide.

It was the religious plurality of the British colonies in the New World that created a rich and vibrant soil. With Puritans, Anglicans, Quakers, Baptists, Methodists, etc. finding new havens in America in which to grow and nourish their brand of Christianity, America's religious experience evolved to become more like Baskin Robbins than Levi Jeans; 31 flavors instead of one size fits all.  The simple fact that American colonists (at least in the 18th century) now had a choice of religion meant that faith had become a democratic and (dare I say it) a capitalist enterprise.

Catholicism, while flourishing in Mexico, South America and parts of Canada, stood no chance in the British colonies. Though it is true that Maryland, founded by devout Catholic George Calvert, was created to be a refuge for English Catholics, the colony eventually came under Anglican rule in the beginning of the 18th century. What is surprising, however, is the fact that Protestants in Maryland itself accepted their Catholic neighbors, despite the massive anti-Pope sentiment that existed in the British colonies. Clearly America's Protestant diversity was liberal enough for even Catholics to find safe haven. This is no small thing, since the anti-Catholic sentiment of many Founding Fathers is a well known fact.

Why Catholicism did not flourish in the English American colonies is simple: it was far too conservative and allowed no wiggle room for the diversity of faith that was fundamental in American Protestantism.  As historian Mark Noll states in his book The Old Religion in a New World:
The religious situation that results in the United States reverses the pattern of Europe.  The only way for a denomination to become confessionally conservative is for it to become sectarian -- that is, to actively oppose marketplace reasoning; to refuse to abide by the democratic will of the majorities; to insist upon higher authorities than the vox populi; and to privilege ancestral, traditional and hierarchical will over individual choice.
In short, Catholicism fell victim to the same fate that currently infects many fundamentalist faiths today.  Instead of embracing the plurality of faith, fundamentalism doubles down on its rhetoric. It closes its borders, shuts its doors and secludes itself from the world.

Maybe those religions today that are experiencing the exodus of its membership could learn a lesson here and avoid the same fate.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Sleep in the Medieval World

There are two eras of history that I love most: early colonial America and early Medieval Europe. I can't get enough of them! For whatever reason, I find both time periods absolutely fascinating.

One of the reasons I adore Medieval history so much is due to the fact that it is so very misunderstood and so very saturated in fable/mythology. What we of the modern era depict as being "Medieval" in our Renaissance Fairs, video games and on Game of Thrones is usually more a reflection of modern day beliefs than of actual Medieval history. When one actually studies the time period we call "Medieval," an entirely new and different story emerges.  And just when you think you've "heard it all," you discover something new and fascinating you never considered before.

Such has been the case for Yours Truly.  Just this week, I was reading an absolutely fascinating article that discussed sleep customs in Medieval Europe. It was an idea I had never thought of before and simply took for granted.  After all, how could the practice of sleep be all that different for humans of any era?

Truth be told, they can be quite different.  In his book At Day's Close: Night in Times Past, historian Roger Ekrich illustrates just how different sleep patterns could be for those of the Medieval World. For Europeans of this era, sleep was usually broken into two separate time periods, each lasting roughly 3-5 hours (naturally, more time was given in the winter for sleep) He writes:
Both phases of sleep lasted roughly the same length of time, with individuals waking sometime after midnight before returning to rest. Not everyone, of course, slept according to the same timetable. The later at night that persons went to bed, the later they stirred after their initial sleep; or, if they retired past midnight, they might not awaken at all until dawn. Thus, it ‘The Squire’s Tale’ in The Canterbury Tales, Canacee slept “soon after evening fell” and subsequently awakened in the early morning following “her first sleep”; in turn, her companions, staying up much later, “lay asleep till it was fully prime” (daylight).
Usually there was a period of activity (anywhere between the hours of midnight and 4:00 a.m.) between sleep cycles which many Medieval "experts" considered to be some of the most effective hours for prayer, meditation and even sex.  Even renowned French physician Laurent Joubert would advise his royal clients to take advantage of this particular time of the night because it was, in his mind, more enjoyable and more likely to cause pregnancy of male offspring.

Ekrich adds:
Although in some descriptions a neighbor’s quarrel or a barking dog woke people prematurely from their initial sleep, the vast weight of surviving evidence indicates that awakening naturally was routine not the consequence of disturbed or fitful slumber. Medical books, in fact, from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries frequently advised sleepers, for better digestion and more tranquil repose, to lie on their right side during “the fyrste slepe” and “after the fyrste slepe turne on the lefte side.” And even though the French historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie investigated no further, his study of fourteenth-century Montaillou notes that “the hour of first sleep” was a customary division of night, as was ‘the hour halfway through the first sleep.” Indeed, though not used as frequently as expressions like “candle-lighting,” the “dead of night”, or cock-crow,” the term “first sleep” remained a common temporal division until the late eighteenth-century. As described in La Demonolatrie (1595) by Nicholas Remy, “Comes dusk, followed by nightfall, dark night, then the moment of the first sleep and finally dead of night.”
The evidence for these two separate sleeping cycles is more abundant than one might think. Even the now infamous (thanks to Walt Disney) Brothers Grimm tale of Sleeping Beauty (originally called La Belle au bois dormant or The Beauty who Sleeps in the Woods), contains references to duel sleeping periods. The story, which is likely based on the earlier Medieval romance known as Perceforest, relates the tale of the beautiful Princess Zellandine, who has fallen madly in love with a man named Troylus.  To prove his love, Troylus must leave on a lengthy quest, but he promises the young Zellandine to find her in the enchanted forest. Zellandine, who anxiously waits night after night for her love to return, falls asleep under an enchanted spell, but is then awakened in the middle of the night by Troylus, who impregnates her (as mentioned above, during the best hours of the night to produce such results). Zellandine then falls back asleep but is unable to be awakened due to the pregnancy.  It isn't until the return of Troylus from his quest that Zellandine is awakened by true love's kiss...and to go through labor of her child!

Sleep, in whatever the era, is a beautiful thing! Whether we choose to partake of it in portions or all at once, I still believe we all crave to have more of it than we already enjoy.  Perhaps Earnest Hemingway said it best:
I love my sleep!  Life has a tendency to fall apart when I am awake, you know.  So I will sleep on!   
Sleep well my friends!!!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Moroni's "Title of Liberty," Jefferson's "Tree of Liberty," and Armed Insurrection

A self-proclaimed "freedom loving" band of insurrectionists grabbed headlines this past weekend by storming the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon. They are, even at this hour, occupying the federal building in protest of what they call "tyranny over land and its resources."

The group is led by Ammon Bundy, a self-styled patriot and Mormon who has fused both his love of God and country into a means of justifying what he calls "a willingness to kill or be killed for my God and my countrymen." Bundy is also the son of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who defied federal restrictions on cattle grazing and is more that $1 million dollars delinquent in fees and penalties for having violated such laws.

Ammon Bundy, like his father, is a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and like his defiant father has used his religion as a means to justify his actions and to even give them divine sanction.  "The main reason we're here is because we need a place to stand," Bundy stated. "We stand in defense, and when the time is right we will begin to defend the people of Harney County."  During that same interview, at least one follower of Bundy invoked Mormon teachings when he told the reporter, "I am Captain Moroni."

The reference to Captain Moroni is no small or trivial thing. After all, Captain Moroni is, according to Mormon scripture, the man who was "angry with the government, because of their indifference concerning the freedom of their country" (Alma 59:13) and as a result threatened to "take my sword to defend the cause of my country" (Alma 60:28). Permit me just a moment to explain this incredibly important and popular figure from Mormon scripture to those unfamiliar with him:

In the Book of Mormon (one of four books that comprise LDS scripture), the story of Captain Moroni appears roughly half way through the book (in the Book of Alma to be exact). Moroni is made Captain over the armies of the Nephites, a group of God and freedom-loving people who have been involved in repeated conflicts and wars with their distant relatives, the Lamanites, who are determined to wipe them off the face of the earth. Captain Moroni, who assumes command of the Nephite armies at the age of 25, is an exceptional figure to say the least.  As the Book of Mormon itself states:
Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men. Behold, he was a man like unto Ammon, the son of Mosiah, yea, and even the other sons of Mosiah, yea, and also Alma and his sons, for they were all men of God (Alma 48:17-18).
To make a long story short, Captain Moroni struggles not only in his battle against the outside threat of the Lamanites, but he also struggles against the government of the Nephite nation itself, which has become corrupt over time. To help combat this evil, Captain Moroni, in his finest hour, stood defiant against the political leaders of his day.  One particular political figure, by the name of Amalickiah, desires to make himself king of the Nephites and to destroy their Christian religion. In response, Captain Moroni becomes a symbol of Christian and patriotic liberty to his people, causing them to reject the evil intentions of Alalickiah.  Again from the Book of Mormon:
7. And there were many in the church who believed in the flattering words of Amalickiah, therefore they dissented even from the church; and thus were the affairs of the people of Nephi exceedingly precarious and dangerous, notwithstanding their great victory which they had had over the Lamanites, and their great rejoicings which they had had because of their deliverance by the hand of the Lord.
8. Thus we see how quick the children of men do forget the Lord their God, yea, how quick to do iniquity, and to be led away by the evil one. 
9. Yea, and we also see the great wickedness one very wicked man can cause to take place among the children of men. 
10. Yea, we see that Amalickiah, because he was a man of cunning device and a man of many flattering words, that he led away the hearts of many people to do wickedly; yea, and to seek to destroy the church of God, and to destroy the foundation of liberty which God had granted unto them, or which blessing God had sent upon the face of the land for the righteous’ sake. 
11. And now it came to pass that when Moroni, who was the chief commander of the armies of the Nephites, had heard of these dissensions, he was angry with Amalickiah.
12. And it came to pass that he rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it—In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children—and he fastened it upon the end of a pole. 
13. And he fastened on his head-plate, and his breastplate, and his shields, and girded on his armor about his loins; and he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty) and he bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren, so long as there should a band of Christians remain to possess the land— 
14. For thus were all the true believers of Christ, who belonged to the church of God, called by those who did not belong to the church. 
15. And those who did belong to the church were faithful; yea, all those who were true believers in Christ took upon them, gladly, the name of Christ, or Christians as they were called, because of their belief in Christ who should come. 
16. And therefore, at this time, Moroni prayed that the cause of the Christians, and the freedom of the land might be favored.
And a short LDS Seminary video that depicts these events:

This "Title of Liberty," which serves as a quasi-"Star-Spangled Banner," stirs the hearts of the people to the point of remembering God and rejecting the evil of their day,  In short, Moroni wins.

It shouldn't take a Mormon to see just how easy it would be for a family like the Bundy Clan to make Captain Moroni a symbol of modern conservative Christian pride.  Lesser minds usually twist the words of others to fit their respective perverted agendas,

The Bundy fiasco and their misunderstanding of Mormon scripture has reminded me of others who have done the same with similar declarations, which in their minds, are used to sanction violence and/or insurrection of government.

 In 1787, Thomas Jefferson -- who was then living in France -- wrote a letter to his friend William Smith. In the letter Jefferson wrote the following words, which have, from time to time, been quoted to affirm the right of the people to rebel against one's government:
The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it's natural manure. 
Simple enough, right? Well, not quite. And while Jefferson's "tree of liberty" quote has become a favorite of many who oppose the direction of government, the quote has an important and often forgotten context.

As mentioned before, Jefferson was still living and working in France in 1787. At the time, Jefferson was deeply concerned about some of the proposals for the new United States Constitution -- particularly the role of the executive branch, which he saw as being far too powerful. In addition, Jefferson believed that the recent rebellion in Massachusetts -- which became known as Shays' Rebellion -- had heightened the fears of the American elite, causing them to throw their weight behind a stronger executive government.

Shays' Rebellion was essentially an armed rebellion against taxes being levied on Massachusetts farmers. It's leader, Daniel Shays -- who had served as a soldier during the American Revolution -- used the legacy of the American Revolution to garner support for his cause. As a result, scores of patriotic Massachusetts men, most of whom were farmers themselves, resurrected the legacy of the "liberty tree" to fight the perceived injustices of the newly created government. As a result, America's governing class -- and yes, it was a class -- believed that a strong centralized government was the only surefire way to ensure America's future security.

For Jefferson, this was a textbook example of how passions could cloud judgement, creating an atmosphere of panic and fear. As Jefferson states in his letter to William Smith:
Yet where does this anarchy exist? Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusetts? And can history produce an instance of rebellion so honourably conducted? I say nothing of it's motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had 13. states independent 11. years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half for each state. What country before ever existed a century and half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? 
Simply put, Jefferson understood Shays' Rebellion to be a common and important component of republican government. Without it, the people could not be effectively represented and the communal "lethargy" would eventually destroy the nation. On the flip side, however, Jefferson also notes that the people are rarely if ever well informed (i.e. the Bundy Clan) and as a result will oftentimes make hasty and stupid decisions (again, i.e. the Bundy Clan). It is this communal ignorance -- Jefferson emphasises ignorance and not wickedness -- that Jefferson believes the government must endeavor to remedy. He continues:
 The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. 
The remedy is not suppression or rejection of public discontent, rather persuasion and public discourse.

So would Captain Moroni and Thomas Jefferson support the actions of the Bundy family?   I doubt it, but even if they did I highly doubt that this guy would:

Friday, January 1, 2016

My 2015 Person of the Year

Another year is successfully behind us and with it another opportunity to reflect upon the people and events that made 2015 unforgetable.  In addition, I now have another opportunity to present to my half dozen blog readers the newest installment in my Person of the Year series.  This is my 4th installment (you can see previous winners for 2011, 2012 and 2013 by clicking those years).  Sadly, 2014 was left in the dust due to my lack of interest in blogging that year (my blogging has gone down dramatically but hopefully that will change). So, without further delay I present to the world the Brad Hart 2015 Person of the Year!

5.) Donald Trump
First, let me say for the record that I am NOT a Donald Trump fan.  Far from it.  With that being said, there can be little doubt that Mr. Trump has had a dramatic impact on American politics. The American electorate (especially on the right) has grown tired of "politics as usual." The traditional Washington politician is a tiresome and annoying presence that most Americans no longer trust. Trump, for better or for worse, has presented himself as an alternative to the traditional American politician.  Love him or hate him (and there is little in between when it comes to the Donald), Trump has been the biggest newsmaking figure in the 2015 American political arena.

4.) Pope Francis
What can I say...I LOVE this guy!  Pope Francis is rapidly becoming my all-time favorite Catholic Pope (he actually won one of my previous "Person of the Year installments).  The Catholic Pontiff had another big year in 2015.  Not only did he follow through on his promise to open the financial books of the the world's largest church to the world, but Francis also reformed the financial practices of the faith.  Francis has hired independent accounting agencies to oversee the church's finances.  He has dismissed a number of Catholic leaders (to include 2 Cardinals) for financial indiscretions.  He continues to enact changes to the bureaucracy of the Vatican that promote honesty and transparency. His visit to the United States was met with excitement by millions of Catholic Americans.  In short, Pope Francis continues to breathe new life into a church that was literally saturated with scandal. Catholicism is back in large part to the man at the helm.

3.) American Pharoah
This may seem like a silly pick (hey, 2015 didn't exactly have the biggest or best selection) but American Pharoah was a noteworthy figure in 2015. American Pharoah became the first race horse in 37 years to win the Triple Crown of horse racing (that means he won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes). American Pharoah proved to be faster than any previous Triple Crown horse to include even the legendary Secretariat.

2.) The Return of the Jedi
There can be no debate that one of the biggest stories of 2015 was the return of Star Wars to the big screen. You don't need a Ph.D. to fully realize and appreciate the incredible cultural significance that Star Wars has had in not only the United States but most of the world. It can be easily argued that no other film franchise has had the impact that Star Wars has had over the past 40 years, and its newest installment is likely to catapult the legend of the Jedi even further into the stratosphere.  J.J. Abrams not only hit a home run in 2015 (along with the cast of the film) but he has endeared himself to millions of nerdy Star Wars geeks who have a stronger cult following to The Force than most religions.  Make no mistake, Star Wars is back!

And the winner of the 2015 Brad Hart Person of the Year Award is..................[cue the drumroll].............................................................................................................................



1.) Pluto
Yes, yes, I realize that Pluto is not a person so stop already! It doesn't matter because in 2015, no story was bigger or more important than our furthest neighbor in the Solar System.  On July 14th of this Year, NASA's New Horizons space probe made its closest fly by of the dwarf planet, capturing scores of important pictures and data that are still being analyzed by scientists here on Earth.  This achievement is remarkable not only for the pictures taken but for the advances in science that are still breaking records.  New Horizons is, to date, the fastest man-made vehicle in history.  It has gone further in a shorter amount of time than even thought possible even 10 years ago.  Pluto itself is telling us more about the nature of our Solar System (and the Universe in general) than scientists anticipated.  This small, seemingly insignificant little dwarf planet, which sits on the outskirts of our humble little Solar System, is now on center stage. Astronomers and scientists of all molds have grown to appreciate the immense significance of not only this tiny world but of our ability to both travel to and analyze our most distant cosmic neighbor.

There you have it...the 2015 person of the year!  Thanks, 2015!  Now, R.I.P.