Category : History

(Sightings) Evan Kuehn–Measuring the Apocalypse

The tension between eschatology and banality defines the current moment for many of us who are both reacquainting ourselves with home in a period of shelter-in-place orders, and facing the reality of being laid off, or of having access to our loved ones in prison or long-term care suddenly shut off. The big numbers of COVID-19 are almost a backdrop, even while they determine most of what we do (and don’t do).

This past week, the American psyche has also seen a shift of the object of our apocalyptic fears from the big numbers of COVID-19 mortality to the big numbers of a market economy in crisis. The President is calling for a “resurrection” of the economy on Easter Sunday. This combination of market panic and an aching desire for getting to the truth of the moment has even led one prominent Christian writer, well known for his critique of modern secularism’s supposed “culture of death,” to conclude with no sense of irony that “there is a demonic side to the sentimentalism of saving lives at any cost,” and on this basis oppose public health measures that threaten our commercial wellbeing. How on earth did we get here?

We are flailing because we need the world to be meaningful, but the fact of a pandemic is not something from which we can easily extract meaning and truth. We are awash with data being updated from a global array of regional and local reporting centers in real time, and the smart visualization of this data often fools us into thinking that we are looking at the meaning of COVID-19. These numbers are one way of seeing the virus, and epidemiologists can interpret the data through computational models that give us a picture of what the pandemic means for human populations right now and in the immediate future. Likewise, economists can interpret the human toll of strained social systems as they are modeled from unemployment claims data. All of this is important for policy decisions, and meaningful in its own way, but the pandemic itself resists our attempts to make sense of it.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Eschatology, Health & Medicine, History

The Rector of Saint Philip’s, Charleston, SC writes his parish with perspective in a time of pandemic

Dear St. Philip’s Family,

This past week of social distancing has been a surreal and difficult experience for the majority of Americans. Many are beginning to think that if the coronavirus doesn’t get them, “Cabin Fever” will. Not since World War II or the polio epidemic of the 1940s and ’50s have the American people been so inconvenienced or threatened with long-term confinement and financial ruin. It reminds me of the following story shared by the Very Reverend Laurie Thompson, Dean of Trinity Seminary.

In a series of lectures on preaching, the late D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones recalled an incident from the bombings that took place in London during the fall of 1940. During that time the citizens of London were required to remain in underground bomb shelters for long periods of time while “the Blitz” was carried out by the German Luftwaffe. The experience of being confined in shelters was psychologically difficult, and many people struggled to cope with their sense of helplessness. He tells the story of one fireman who rushed out of a bomb shelter after the Luftwaffe had departed. Using two hammers, he began pounding on a steel pillar at the foundation of a public building. After the police arrived and stopped him, the fireman was asked why he was pounding on the pillar. He said, “I don’t know. I just felt I had to be doing something.”

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, Church History, History, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Theology

C. S. Lewis with perspective for our time in the Midst of a Pandemic–On Living in an Atomic Age

From here (among many places):

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

Posted in Church History, Ethics / Moral Theology, History

(Local Paper) Charleston, South Carolina, has seen epidemics, pandemics with even more pain

Charleston’s first epidemic occurred here more than three centuries ago, in 1699, as yellow fever broke out in the new Colonial city. Butler says at least 160 people perished out of an urban population of 1,600 — a 10% mortality rate.

Even if we don’t flatten the coronavirus curve, no one expects anywhere nearly that level today. Italy, which leads the world with 4,032 COVID-19 deaths so far, has more than 60 million citizens, so its mortality rate remains very small.

Of course, Charles Towne colonists could do little to prevent that yellow fever outbreak since it wasn’t known at the time that mosquitoes transmitted the disease.

In 1738, Charles Towne saw its first smallpox outbreak, and Butler notes the mortality rate there was about 5%, as about 300 people out of the city’s 6,000 residents perished. “In 1760, it was even worse,” he adds. “The urban population was almost 10,000, and there were over 730 deaths, over 7% mortality, from smallpox. They were pretty serious events.”

At the time, there was no centralized health

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, Health & Medicine, History

(New Republic) Alex Shephard–The Pandemic Movie of Our Time Isn’t Contagion. It’s Jaws.

There is nothing fast-paced about the coronavirus. For months, dread has slowly accumulated in my midsection. Every day brings a succession of new anxieties about the virus and the economy; about my family and friends; about my hands and the many, many things they touch, particularly my face. Above all, there is the sense that everything that is bad today will be worse tomorrow. And the movie that best reflects that reality is not Contagion but Steven Spielberg’s Jaws.

It is notable that the shark is barely in the movie, appearing for all of four minutes. This was not by design. Initially, Spielberg had three mechanical sharks made, but they looked hokey and frequently broke down. He was forced to embrace his inner Hitchcock, rarely showing the movie’s titular villain. As a result, the shark was more of an invisible threat, which turned out to be even scarier. “The visual ellipsis,” Molly Haskell wrote in her critical biography of Spielberg, “created far greater menace and terror, as the shark is nowhere and everywhere.” Sound familiar? If Jaws had been made only a few years later, we would have almost certainly been burdened with a CGI shark. Forty years after its release, the movie’s great white works as a metaphor as well as it does as a shark.

One of the strangest things about the coronavirus panic is how normal everything seems. Even with few people going out, my neighborhood looks the way it does on a Sunday morning. The difference is that I’m bombarded by a constant stream of push alerts and texts. That is a key part of what makes Jaws work. Even when everything appears fine, you know that terror is lurking just beneath the surface.

Our world is also divided between the types that Jaws establishes. There is Roy Scheider’s Sheriff Brody: apprehensive, well-meaning, but out of his depth. Then there is Richard Dreyfuss’s chatty Spielberg stand-in, Dr. Hooper: jittery, neurotic, a sudden expert on whatever topic is in front of him. The scene in which Brody, a transplanted New York cop who is afraid of boats and open water, comes home to spend the evening reading about sharks, feels particularly relevant. Set in 2020, he would be scrolling Twitter for updates—or, for that matter, watching Contagion.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Health & Medicine, History, Movies & Television

A Quartz article on the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic that provides some important historical perspective

In 1918, the city of Philadelphia threw a parade that killed thousands of people. Ignoring warnings of influenza among soldiers preparing for World War I, the march to support the war effort drew 200,000 people who crammed together to watch the procession. Three days later, every bed in Philadelphia’s 31 hospitals was filled with sick and dying patients, infected by the Spanish flu.

By the end of the week, more than 4,500 were dead in an outbreak that would claim as many as 100 million people worldwide. By the time Philadelphia’s politicians closed down the city, it was too late.

A different story played out in St. Louis, just 900 miles away. Within two days of detecting its first cases among civilians, the city closed schools, playgrounds, libraries, courtrooms, and even churches. Work shifts were staggered and streetcar ridership was strictly limited. Public gatherings of more than 20 people were banned.

The extreme measures—now known as social distancing, which is being called for by global health agencies to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus—kept per capita flu-related deaths in St. Louis to less than half of those in Philadelphia, according to a 2007 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read it all.

Posted in Health & Medicine, History

(TGC) Justin Bass–What’s the Earliest Evidence for Christianity? (The Answer May Surprise You)

Among the oldest evidence for Christianity are manuscripts like Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus from the early fourth century AD. Constantin von Tischendorf—the Indiana Jones of New Testament manuscripts—discovered Sinaiticus at St. Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt in 1859. He later wrote that he’d saved Sinaiticus from being burned by monks who’d already cast two heaps of similar manuscripts to the flames! Tischendorf went on to call Sinaiticus “the most precious biblical treasure in existence.”

Then there are the papyri manuscripts, many of which date earlier than Sinaiticus. Among the earliest is P52, a three-inch piece of papyri with five verses from the Gospel of John (18:31–33, 37–38). This little treasure is currently dated from AD 125–175 (though others argue for a broader range).

But followers of Jesus need to be aware of another revolutionary discovery that is greater than Sinaiticus, greater than P52, greater, in my estimation, than all the archaeological discoveries combined: the discovery of the pre-Pauline creedal tradition in 1 Corinthians 15:3–7. This has been rightfully called the “pearl of great price.”

This apostolic creedal statement is unparalleled in the New Testament. In fact, it’s unparalleled in all of ancient literature. Even if nothing else had survived from the early Christian movement besides this five-verse creedal tradition, we’d still have the essence of the gospel and the historical bedrock on which Christianity stands: “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32).

Read it all.

Posted in Apologetics, History, Theology: Scripture

(CLJ) Jessica Hooten Wilson–Flannery O’Connor Versus the Marvel Universe

In his 2007 Commencement Speech delivered at Stanford University, Dana Gioia proposes an experiment “to survey a cross-section of Americans and ask them how many active NBA players, Major League Baseball players, and American Idol finalists they can name.” He would follow this question with another: “How many living American poets, playwrights, painters, sculptors, architects, classical musicians, conductors, and composers they can name?” While many of us can name celebrities in the former category, our culture has deprived of us of the ability to name prominent artists or thinkers. Gioia argues that the loss is twofold—we neither honor those whose work is long lasting and transcendent nor do we uphold models for “a successful and meaningful life that are not denominated by money and fame. Adult life begins in the child’s imagination, and we’ve relinquished that imagination to the marketplace.”

In concert with Gioia, I wonder if the curators of our imagination are not training us away from virtuous living towards autonomous evaluations of value. Last year, acclaimed filmmaker Martin Scorsese lit into the Marvel industry:

Many of the elements that define cinema as I know it are there in Marvel pictures. What’s not there is revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger. Nothing is at risk. The pictures are made to satisfy a specific set of demands, and they are designed as variations on a finite number of themes . . . That’s the nature of modern film franchises: market-researched, audience-tested, vetted, modified, revetted and remodified until they’re ready for consumption.

In other words, the industry that shapes the American imagination the most caters to the lowest common denominator, our bank account, selling us what we want versus challenging us towards higher questions, deeper thinking, or richer emotional responses. We are being catered to like domesticated animals by a film industry that wants to exploit our basest instincts and capitalize on them financially. James Matthew Wilson, in speaking about licentious poetry that cares nothing for form or content but is published in mass quantities, refers to the problem as “shopping in bulk.” There may be one taste of an indulgence that was pleasurable on its own—not that it validates the taste necessarily— but when the example is proliferated over and over again, the series of similar mundanities anesthetizes us to any taste for something more. Scorsese foresees his critics: “If you’re going to tell me that it’s simply a matter of supply and demand and giving the people what they want, I’m going to disagree . . . If people are given only one kind of thing and endlessly sold only one kind of thing, of course they’re going to want more of that one kind of thing.” It is a frightful thing to imagine we are being cultivated without our discernment.

What is it about the Marvel Universe that enraptures us?

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Books, History, Poetry & Literature

(TLC Covenant) John Bauerschmidt–Sympathetic Imagination

We need the capacity for sympathetic imagination, and not just if we are historians or novelists, or students of these genres. We live in a time of stunted imagination, in the midst of the clash of civilizations and the culture wars of our own society, where the virtue of sympathy itself languishes. Imagine the novels of Dickens, peopled by the caricatures of each other that populate our political discourse! Oliver Twist would be tedious and unreadable, containing a succession of stick-figure bad guys, instead of being full of three-dimensional evil doers like Bill Sikes and Fagin and their associates. Aren’t we glad that the Artful Dodger survives his brush with the law? These figures are tragic precisely because we have sympathy with them. Dickens himself recognized and countered the criticism that came with a sympathetic treatment of what was morally disturbing. Sympathy does not make us sympathizers in the sense of political dupes or fellow travelers, but it does allow us to connect.

Sympathetic imagination is not only historical and literate; it is humane. Christians ought to be seasoned practitioners of the art of imaginative insight, able to make connections with others and to imagine their lives and values. A sympathetic imagination doesn’t make us traitors to our own fundamental commitments as human beings, or as Christians, but it does allow us to extend ourselves to others in ways that make for graceful connection. We must not settle for disconnection. A sympathetic imagination is essential to understanding, not only distant times and places, but also to living with our neighbors here and now.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, History, Psychology

(FT) Ebola co-discoverer Peter Piot on how to respond to the coronavirus

I want to hear his views on the outbreak that is happening right now: coronavirus. I wonder if we are not overreacting. After all, so far it has killed a fraction of those who die from seasonal flu.

“I’m not the scaremongering type,” he says. “But I think this is serious in the sense that we can’t afford not to consider it as a serious threat.

“It could be that, indeed, it’s going to be over in a few months,” he continues, crunching into a tempura-covered sage leaf. “But just take the counterfactual. We say, ‘OK, it’s fine and we don’t do anything.’ I bet that we would already have had far more cases in Singapore, the UK, Germany. Let’s not forget, we are already well over 1,000 deaths. That’s not a detail….”

“It’s clearly not Sars,” he continues, referring to severe acute respiratory syndrome, which killed nearly one in 10 who contracted it 17 years ago. “That’s the good news. But the bad news is, it spreads much faster. The Sars virus sits deep in your lungs. With this virus, it seems that it’s in your throat and that’s why it’s far more contagious.

“Secondly, we have no vaccine. All we have is medieval ways of containment: isolation, quarantine, contact tracing.”

Piot remembers hearing about the first cases of a mysterious virus in Los Angeles in 1981. “The first report of HIV was six or seven gay men in California. Cumulatively, now we have, like, 75m people who have been infected. Who would have thought that then? Nobody. I’d rather be accused of overreacting than of not doing my job.”

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in Globalization, Health & Medicine, History

(Telegraph) Inside Eyam, the village of the damned that self-isolated during the plague

It may seem a strange badge of honour but, Joan Plant says, Eyam will always be proud of its plague history, especially with its reputation now resonating across the globe for communities who have cut themselves off in the face of a new virus.

“It helps to know that this horrible time our ancestors endured is making a difference today,” she says. “That is so powerful for us as a village.”

Read it all.

Posted in England / UK, Health & Medicine, History

A S Haley–The Brand New TEC Diocese in South Carolina Attempts an End Run by filing a request with the SC Supreme Court in their lawsuit vs. the historic Anglican diocese of SouthCarolina

By invoking the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction over its inferior courts, the ECUSA parties at this point are demonstrating outright that they no longer have any confidence in Judge Dickson’s integrity to reach an impartial resolution of the puzzle presented to him by the five scattered opinions that came from the Court. Just as they requested the Court last June, ECUSA’s attorneys want to have the Court step in now and put an end to further delay in implementing what they claim was the Court’s “clear mandate.”

The problem is, the Supreme Court’s membership has changed since it rendered its fractured decision. Two of the then Justices (Toal and Pleicones) have retired from the Court, while a third (Hearn) belatedly recused herself from taking any further part in the case. That leaves only Chief Justice Donald Beatty and Justice John Kittredge out of the original panel, and those two were at odds with each other: the Chief Justice supported the official ECUSA line about the Dennis Canon, while Justice Kittredge was having nothing to do with any sort of remote trust that could be imposed on a parish’s property without its written consent.

Under those circumstances, the success of the petition filed by ECUSA will at the outset turn upon the view of it by the two new appointees to the Supreme Court: Justice John Cannon Few and Justice George C. James, Jr. If they agree between themselves on how to deal with the petition, their votes will carry the day by making the tally 3-1 (whether to deny the petition or to grant it). And if they disagree? The result (presuming that the C.J. and Kittredge are still at odds) would be a 2-2 tie, with the result that the writ could not issue.

Long and short of it: The Court will issue the petition restraining Judge Dickson only if the two new appointees both vote with the Chief Justice to grant the writ.

After all, there is nothing compelling the Court to be as impatient as ECUSA is to get a result; the Justices will each still collect their paychecks regardless of how they rule. And after all the time and effort Judge Dickson has expended to get to the point where he is now ready to take up ECUSA’s motions, one would think that the Court will be in no great hurry to take the case away from him, either.

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Stewardship, TEC Conflicts, TEC Conflicts: South Carolina

(NPR) Listen: The Sound Of The Hagia Sophia, More Than 500 Years Ago

ROMANA: (Singing in non-English language).

HARNETT: Now imagine – it’s the early 13th century. You’re sitting inside the Hagia Sophia. Marble pillars rise up around you. Dusty light filters into the windows in the massive dome above. And this is how you might hear Cappella Romana.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROMANA: (Singing in non-English language).

HARNETT: This transformation is possible because of two scholars at Stanford University in two very different fields. Bissera Pentcheva is a professor of art history.

BISSERA PENTCHEVA: A lot of my work is focused on reanimating medieval art and architecture.

HARNETT: Jonathan Abel is in the computer music department.

Listen it all.

Posted in Church History, History, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Science & Technology

Washington’s Birthday Documents (IV)–George Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it – It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it ? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue ? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Office of the President

Valerie Strauss–A Washington’s Birthday quiz on the office of President

Here are a couple of sample questions:

What is the president’s annual salary?
a) $200,000
b) $250,000
c) $400,000
d) $500,000

Who was the first president born in a hospital?
a) George Washington
b) Jimmy Carter
d) John Quincy Adams
c) Theodore Roosevelt

Read it all and see how you do (it needs slight updating on the first question).

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Office of the President

Washington’s Birthday Documents (III)–His circular letter to the States, June 8, 1783

I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection; that he would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the field; and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.

I have the honor to be, with much esteem and respect, Sir, your Excellency’s most obedient and most humble servant.

–George Washington
Head-Quarters, Newburg,
8 June, 1783.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Office of the President

Washington’s Birthday Documents (II): George Washington’s First State of Union Address

Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives:

I embrace with great satisfaction the opportunity which now presents itself of congratulating you on the present favorable prospects of our public affairs. The recent accession of the important state of North Carolina to the Constitution of the United States (of which official information has been received), the rising credit and respectability of our country, the general and increasing good will toward the government of the Union, and the concord, peace, and plenty with which we are blessed are circumstances auspicious in an eminent degree to our national prosperity.

In resuming your consultations for the general good you can not but derive encouragement from the reflection that the measures of the last session have been as satisfactory to your constituents as the novelty and difficulty of the work allowed you to hope. Still further to realize their expectations and to secure the blessings which a gracious Providence has placed within our reach will in the course of the present important session call for the cool and deliberate exertion of your patriotism, firmness, and wisdom.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Office of the President

Washington’s Birthday Documents (I): George Washington’s First Inaugural Address

By the article establishing the executive department it is made the duty of the President “to recommend to your consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” The circumstances under which I now meet you will acquit me from entering into that subject further than to refer to the great constitutional charter under which you are assembled, and which, in defining your powers, designates the objects to which your attention is to be given. It will be more consistent with those circumstances, and far more congenial with the feelings which actuate me, to substitute, in place of a recommendation of particular measures, the tribute that is due to the talents, the rectitude, and the patriotism which adorn the characters selected to devise and adopt them. In these honorable qualifications I behold the surest pledges that as on one side no local prejudices or attachments, no separate views nor party animosities, will misdirect the comprehensive and equal eye which ought to watch over this great assemblage of communities and interests, so, on another, that the foundation of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality, and the preeminence of free government be exemplified by all the attributes which can win the affections of its citizens and command the respect of the world. I dwell on this prospect with every satisfaction which an ardent love for my country can inspire, since there is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; between duty and advantage; between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity; since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained; and since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered, perhaps, as deeply, as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Office of the President

(National Archives) George Washington’s Birthday

Washington’s Birthday was celebrated on February 22nd until well into the 20th Century. However, in 1968 Congress passed the Monday Holiday Law to “provide uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays.” By creating more 3-day weekends, Congress hoped to “bring substantial benefits to both the spiritual and economic life of the Nation.”

One of the provisions of this act changed the observance of Washington’s Birthday from February 22nd to the third Monday in February. Ironically, this guaranteed that the holiday would never be celebrated on Washington’s actual birthday, as the third Monday in February cannot fall any later than February 21.

Contrary to popular belief, neither Congress nor the President has ever stipulated that the name of the holiday observed as Washington’s Birthday be changed to “President’s Day.”

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Office of the President

(IFS) Kay Hymowitz–Yes, David Brooks, the Nuclear Family is the Worst Family Form—Except for All Others

However, the premise of this narrative can’t survive the cold light of history. Scholars now pretty much agree that the nuclear family household has been the “dominant form” in Western Europe and the United States since the dawn of the industrial era. In fact, demographic realities made extended families an impossibility. Brooks, citing family historian Steven Ruggles, states that “[u]ntil 1850, three-quarters of Americans older than 65 lived with their kids and grandkids.” That’s true, but it slides past the fact that there simply weren’t many 65-year-olds above ground; U.S. life expectancy stood at only 40 in 1850. In data published in a 1994 paper, Ruggles estimated that as of 1880, more than two-thirds of white couples, the large majority with children, lived in independent households. The anomaly was the extended family, not the nuclear family.

What about the black family, often held up by nuclear family doubters as a resilient alternative to the nuclear “white family?” True, after the Civil War, extended families made up a larger percentage of black households than they did white. But those families were still the minority: Ruggles estimates that extended families were only 22.5% of black households in 1880; the number climbed till about 1940, but it never went above 26 percent. Far more prevalent among blacks was the nuclear model: 57% of black households were married couples, the large majority of them with children.

As demographics changed, the dominant family form did not. Rising life expectancy and falling fertility starting in the latter half of the 19th century meant more surviving grandparents available for a smaller number of couple households. But the share of households with extended families stayed more or less the same. It seems that people preferred the privacy and independence of the nuclear form—despite all its disadvantages.

Brooks doesn’t talk about marriage in “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake,” yet the inextinguishable human urge for pair bonding (and its associated childbearing) helps explain both the persistence of the nuclear family and the problems that plague its alternative communal forms.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Marriage & Family

(Atlantic) David Brooks–The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake

“In my childhood,” [ Barry] Levinson told me, “you’d gather around the grandparents and they would tell the family stories … Now individuals sit around the TV, watching other families’ stories.” The main theme of Avalon, he said, is “the decentralization of the family. And that has continued even further today. Once, families at least gathered around the television. Now each person has their own screen.”

This is the story of our times—the story of the family, once a dense cluster of many siblings and extended kin, fragmenting into ever smaller and more fragile forms. The initial result of that fragmentation, the nuclear family, didn’t seem so bad. But then, because the nuclear family is so brittle, the fragmentation continued. In many sectors of society, nuclear families fragmented into single-parent families, single-parent families into chaotic families or no families.

If you want to summarize the changes in family structure over the past century, the truest thing to say is this: We’ve made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families. We’ve made life better for adults but worse for children. We’ve moved from big, interconnected, and extended families, which helped protect the most vulnerable people in society from the shocks of life, to smaller, detached nuclear families (a married couple and their children), which give the most privileged people in society room to maximize their talents and expand their options. The shift from bigger and interconnected extended families to smaller and detached nuclear families ultimately led to a familial system that liberates the rich and ravages the working-class and the poor.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Marriage & Family

(Church Times) Church of England General Synod apologises to Windrush generation for C of E racism

The Church of England is still “deeply institutionally racist”, the Archbishop of Canterbury told the General Synod on Tuesday.

During a debate on the Empire Windrush legacy (Features, 29 June 2018), Archbishop Welby said: “Personally, I am sorry and ashamed. I’m ashamed of our history, and I’m ashamed of our failure. I’m ashamed of our lack of witness to Christ. I’m ashamed at my lack of urgent voice to the Church. . . It is shaming as well as shocking.”

The debate was triggered by a private member’s motion tabled by the Revd Andrew Moughtin-Mumby (Southwark) which called for the Synod to “lament, on behalf of Christ’s Church, the conscious and unconscious racism experienced by countless BAME Anglicans in 1948 and subsequent years”, and to “stamp out all forms of conscious or unconscious racism”.

The motion — subsequently amended to add an apology to the lament, and to commission further research — was carried unanimously.

In his introduction to the debate, Mr Moughtin-Mumby, a priest of British-Jamaican heritage, said that he did not have a personal connection to the Windrush generation; but he was raising the motion as “a matter of simple Christian solidarity with a group of people who have fallen victim to the injustice of discrimination at the hands of our Government and our Church”.

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Posted in Church History, Church of England (CoE), Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture

(Christianity Today) Philip Jenkins reviews Tom Holland’s new book–Did the teachings of Jesus launch a sweeping revolution in human consciousness? Maybe, but we need better evidence

Tom Holland’s Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World is a substantial work that makes a straightforward case. In Holland’s view, the teachings of Jesus constituted an ethical revolution that would gradually transform human consciousness, to the extent that we today find it hard to imagine credible alternative systems. When we see Christians, past or present, behaving in ways we may find abominable, in matters such as war, slavery, colonialism, or patriarchy, our disgusted attitudes must themselves be understood as products of that sweeping revolution. Without the existence of Christianity, it would not occur to us to abhor such things, whoever the perpetrators might be.

Beyond any single policy or attitude, Christianity mattered because it taught respect (or even veneration) for the poor and the oppressed. That implied the historically unprecedented exaltation of humility, forgiveness, and love. Moreover, the faith created the practical urge to offer aid and relief, to assist the poor, and (among other things) to reject infanticide. Christianity is the essential foundation of the liberal West, of democracy, and of notions of human rights. As the book’s jacket copy proclaims, “Concepts such as secularism, liberalism, science, and homosexuality are deeply rooted in a Christian seedbed. From Babylon to the Beatles, Saint Michael to #MeToo, Dominion tells the story of how Christianity transformed the world.”

These are bold claims, to which I will certainly offer some caveats. What is not debatable is the very high quality of the book as a whole, and its appeal to anyone interested in Christian history. Rather than offering a straightforward narrative, Holland tells his story through 21 vignettes, each representing a particular historical moment, which he uses to advance his larger argument. Those together constitute three distinct eras of the church: Antiquity, Christendom, and a period he calls Modernitas, extending from roughly the middle of the 17th century to the present day.

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Posted in Books, History, Religion & Culture

(New Criterion) Keith Windschuttle–Gertrude Himmelfarb & the Enlightenment

In 1983, Himmelfarb published The Idea of Poverty: England in the Early Industrial Age, and in 1991 the sequel Poverty and Compassion: The Moral Imagination of the Late Victorians, arguing that, instead of imposing unregulated Dickensian institutions and dark satanic mills on the lower orders, the Victorians had redefined poverty as a moral issue that demanded both compassion from society at large and a sense of responsibility from the poor themselves. In describing the latter, she made an important intervention in the language of morality. She did not use the term “Victorian values,” as almost every historian of the subject did at the time. The Victorians themselves, she pointed out, did not use the word “values.” This anachronism only arose in the mid-twentieth century as a way to relativize morality. It implied that anyone’s values were the moral equivalent of anyone else’s. Some values could not be better than others, only different. Instead, she insisted on using the term “virtues.” In a much-quoted passage Himmelfarb wrote:

Hard work, sobriety, frugality, foresight—these were modest, mundane virtues, even lowly ones. But they were virtues within the capacity of everyone; they did not assume any special breeding, or status, or talent, or valor, or grace—or even money. They were common virtues within the reach of common people.

To the Victorians, she argued, virtues were fixed and certain, not to govern the actual behavior of all people all the time, but to serve as standards against which behavior could be judged. When conduct fell short of those standards, it was deemed to be bad, wrong, or immoral, she said, not merely misguided, undesirable, or, that weasel-word, “inappropriate.” From the historical record, she could point to the consequences of today’s misuse of moral principles:

In recent times, we have so completely rejected any kind of moral principle that we have divorced poor relief from moral sanctions and incentives. This reflects in part the theory that society is responsible for all social problems and should therefore assume the task of solving them; and in part the prevailing spirit of relativism, which makes it difficult to pass any moral judgments or impose any moral conditions upon the recipients of relief. In retrospect, we can see that the social pathology—“moral pathology,” I would call it—of crime, violence, illegitimacy, welfare dependency, and drug addiction is intimately related to the “counterculture” of the 1960s that promised to liberate us from the stultifying influence of “bourgeois values.”

As well as detecting profound consequences from small manipulations of language, Himmelfarb’s historical eye also allowed her to understand the broad intellectual contours of the periods she studied better than almost any of her peers. She went on to use that understanding to illuminate the basis of ideological divisions with her own time. This was best demonstrated in her daring but highly successful history of the Enlightenment in Britain, France, and the United States.

In 2005, she published The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments. It is a provocative revision of the typical story of the intellectual era of the late eighteenth century that made the modern world. In particular, it explains the source of the fundamental division that still doggedly grips Western political life: that between Left and Right, or progressives and conservatives. From the outset, each side had its own philosophical assumptions and its own view of the human condition. Roads to Modernity shows why one of these sides has generated a steady progeny of historical successes while its rival has consistently lurched from one disaster to the next.

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Posted in Books, History

(NYT Op-ed) Ross Douthat–The Age of Decadence

The farther you get from that iPhone glow, the clearer it becomes: Our civilization has entered into decadence.

The word “decadence” is used promiscuously but rarely precisely. In political debates, it’s associated with a lack of resolution in the face of threats — with Neville Chamberlain and W.B. Yeats’s line about the best lacking all conviction. In the popular imagination, it’s associated with sex and gluttony, with pornographic romances and chocolate strawberries. Aesthetically and intellectually it hints at exhaustion, finality — “the feeling, at once oppressive and exalting, of being the last in a series,” in the words of the Russian poet Vyacheslav Ivanov.

But it’s possible to distill a useful definition from all these associations. Following in the footsteps of the great cultural critic Jacques Barzun, we can say that decadence refers to economic stagnation, institutional decay and cultural and intellectual exhaustion at a high level of material prosperity and technological development. Under decadence, Barzun wrote, “The forms of art as of life seem exhausted, the stages of development have been run through. Institutions function painfully. Repetition and frustration are the intolerable result.” He added, “When people accept futility and the absurd as normal, the culture is decadent.” And crucially, the stagnation is often a consequence of previous development: The decadent society is, by definition, a victim of its own success.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., Canada, Economy, England / UK, Europe, History, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(Christian Today) Ben Bradshaw MP warns Church of England its established status is at threat over civil partnerships stance

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw today told the House of Commons that “serious questions” will be asked about the Church of England’s established status if it stands by its position on opposite-sex civil partnerships.

In the Commons on Thursday, Mr Bradshaw grilled Andrew Selous, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, on the guidance….

“It is bad enough that the Church still treats its LGBT+ members as second-class Christians, but to say to the child of a heterosexual couple in a civil partnership that they should not exist because their parents should not have had or be having sex is so hurtful,” he said.

“Will he tell the bishops that unless this nonsense stops serious questions will be asked in this place about the legitimacy of the established status of the Church of England?”

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Posted in --Civil Unions & Partnerships, Church of England, Church/State Matters, England / UK, History, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture

(WSJ) Charlotte Allen–God Goes Missing in ‘Little Women’: The Oscar contender is distinctive, but leaves out a critical part of the story

This weekend director Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” is up for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It is the seventh feature film to be made from Alcott’s book and perhaps the most distinctive. Unfortunately, the latest film leaves out an important theme from the original text: faith.

The previous six movies hewed more or less to Alcott’s strictly chronological narrative structure, which follows the four March sisters—Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy—from their teen years to their late 20s. Ms. Gerwig’s film instead offers a deconstructed version. The events in Alcott’s book are presented as flashbacks in a deliberately scrambled order that reflects not chronology but the thematic aims of Ms. Gerwig, who also wrote the screenplay.

By violating Alcott’s narrative structure Ms. Gerwig also undermines the writer’s framing of the story as a tale of moral growth in a world at odds with living a Christian life. In particular, Alcott tied her story through explicit references to “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” John Bunyan’s entertaining and hugely successful 17th-century allegory of the journey of a man named Christian—and later, his wife and sons—through the travails of this world to the Celestial City. Bearing the burdens of their sins, they encounter such colorful characters as Mr. Worldly Wiseman and Giant Despair, and pass through such traps for the soul as Vanity Fair, the Slough of Despond, and the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Well into the 20th century “Pilgrim’s Progress” was, after the Bible, the most-read book in many Anglophone Protestant households.

In Alcott’s “Little Women” each of the March girls has besetting sins that she must overcome through constant striving.

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Posted in Books, History, Movies & Television, Religion & Culture

(AP) Not Guilty: Senate acquits Trump of impeachment charges

President Donald Trump won impeachment acquittal Wednesday in the U.S. Senate, bringing to a close only the third presidential trial in American history with votes that split the country, tested civic norms and fed the tumultuous 2020 race for the White House.

With Chief Justice John Roberts presiding, senators sworn to do “impartial justice” stood at their desks to state their votes for the roll call — “guilty” or “not guilty” — in a swift tally almost exclusively along party lines. Visitors, including the president’s allies, watched from the crowded gallery. Roberts read the declaration that Trump “be, and is hereby, acquitted of the charges.”

The outcome followed months of remarkable impeachment proceedings, from Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s House to Mitch McConnell’s Senate, reflecting the nation’s unrelenting partisan divide three years into the Trump presidency.

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I will take comments on this submitted by email only to KSHarmon[at]mindspring[dot]com.

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Office of the President, President Donald Trump, Senate

(PD) Allen Guelzo–The Irony That Our Creed Is Our Culture: On Reno, Lowry, and National Conservatism

For these arguments to succeed, especially with other American conservatives, Reno and Lowry have to convince us of three things:

  • That the American republic was not, as Tom Paine claimed, a project that “began the world over again”; that we were instead an evolution of English norms, culture, and language, so that the Revolution (in Lowry’s words) “sought to protect the traditional rights of Englishmen”; and that the invocation of the Declaration of Independence’s preamble, with its universalistic appeal to natural rights shared equally by all humanity, has been exaggerated.
  • That (in Reno’s words now) “the free market promises spontaneous order” but in actuality promotes a self-satisfied swamp of “dissolution, disintegration, and deconsolidation,” and then calls these “openness”; that the liberal interest in economic deregulation is in fact the mirror image of the progressives’ cultural deregulation; and that capitalism and technology have reduced society to a collection of “little worlds” that imagine they have no need for virtue.
  • That no polity can live by the bread of “rights” alone, but requires love—love of country, of family, of truth, of transcendence (these are what Reno, following Durkheim, describes as the “strong gods”); that nations cannot be merely accumulations of self-interested parties; and that there is a “common interest” in the life of the nation that (as Lowry puts it) “is deeper than any specific power struggle” and which “makes possible the social trust that lubricates everyday life.”

These are no small concerns, and they are fed in many hearts by the sneers of a thin-souled and contemptuous cosmopolitanism, by educational systems that aspire feebly to little more than “critical thinking,” and by immigration policies that cannot seem to distinguish between huddled masses yearning to breathe free and outright colonization. Indeed, there were many moments in reading both books when I resonated with the losses they so tellingly itemize.

Yet their arguments must also come to terms with the reminder, on the back of every one-dollar bill, that the American republic is a novus ordo seclorum

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology

Today in History

Posted in Germany, History