Category : History

(WSJ) David Hollinger–Christian Missionaries Against Colonialism

Critics of Christian missionaries often write them off as pawns of imperialism, destroying native cultures as they spread their religion and their racist beliefs. There’s a grain of truth to this: Protestant missionaries throughout American history did promote colonialism and prejudice. But then upon returning home many did the opposite. Men and women sent abroad to make the world look more like the U.S. wound up, paradoxically, trying to make the U.S. look more like the world.

During the first half of the 20th century, American missionaries began developing relatively generous attitudes toward the people they had been taught to regard as heathen and backward, if not inferior. Deep and sustained immersion in foreign communities challenged inherited stereotypes. Missionaries and their children eventually became some of the most conspicuous opponents of colonialism and racism.

As early as the 1920s missionaries were telling their sponsors back home that they wanted to cut back on preaching and focus instead on social service. This idea sharply divided the community of faith. Fundamentalists treated any weakening of the program of conversion as heresy. Yet the better-educated liberals who later came to be known as “mainline Protestants” voiced increasing respect for Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and other faiths. These Congregationalists, Methodists and ecumenical groups applied their cosmopolitanism to national and world affairs. The women’s missionary boards were persistent critics of Jim Crow at home and colonialism abroad.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Church History, History, Missions

(New Yorker) Jill Lepore–What Do We Do With Our Dead?

Throughout the nineteen-forties, most American cemeteries were subject to the same racially restrictive covenants as housing, and were just as resistant to integration, even after courts deemed this practice a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Black graves were more likely to be unmarked, their occupants buried in the old ways, a traditional “homegoing.” In the fifties, consumer conformity drove the conventions of burial; the rising cost of dying outpaced the rising cost of living. Black funeral directors sold the same wares. “Negro undertakers gross more than $120 million for 150,000 funerals each year,” Ebony reported in 1953, in an article titled “Death Is Big Business.” “If a person drives a Cadillac, why should he have a Pontiac funeral?” one funeral director asked Jessica Mitford, as she reported in “The American Way of Death,” in 1963. What sounded like a hoax worthy of Barnum had become by then the way a great many Americans buried their dead—on satin sheets in stainless-steel caskets, with hymns piped in their crypts through high-fidelity stereo, beneath vast, manicured lawns. “The desirable crypts are now in the new air-conditioned section,” another funeral director told Mitford when she updated the book.

There were, nevertheless, dissenters, a cadaver counterculture. In 1971, the “Last Whole Earth Catalog” offered instructions for a “Do-It-Yourself Burial” that you could arrange for fifty dollars. Cremation is generally cheaper than burial, and it makes a certain sense if you have no intention of maintaining the geraniums on the family plot. Long forbidden in the Jewish and Muslim faiths, and disparaged by Christians, it slowly became more acceptable. By 1980, the cremation rate in the United States, which had been virtually zero, had risen to nearly ten per cent. For people with no religious faith, cremation proved particularly appealing. (That number is growing, fast: one in three younger millennials has either never or rarely attended a religious service.) In the Gilded Age, the rich were the ones who wanted to be cremated; in the Second Gilded Age, cremation is the only kind of end the poor can afford. Stagnant wages and the financial crisis of 2008 appear to have accelerated the flames: people who’d lost their homes could hardly afford mahogany coffins. In 2013, Time declared cremation “the new American way of death.”

Ashes scatter. In 2016, for the first time, more than half the American dead were cremated, marking a change to the landscape of every city and town—tombstones uncarved, graveyards abandoned—and a weakening of the ties that bind the living to the dead. The dead are a people and the past is a place that half of Americans no longer visit, except to topple stones.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Death / Burial / Funerals, Eschatology, History, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture

(BNN) Jon Erlichman–‘Better than humans’: Vanguards of the AI arms race

The artificial intelligence revolution has arrived, setting in motion the most powerful technological transformation of our lifetime.
“AI is going to be more impactful than the invention of the personal computer and the spread of mobile phones into your pocket,” AI expert and Google Senior Fellow Jeff Dean told a TEDx Los Angeles crowd last December.
So-called machine learning – where computers find their own insights without being directly programmed to do so – is set to fundamentally change the relationship between humans and robots. A reality that is both exhilarating and terrifying.
As millions ponder whether AI will replace their jobs, Tesla CEO Elon Musk is warning AI could cause World War III, responding to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s comment that AI’s eventual leader “will become the ruler of the world.”
Against that backdrop, an AI arms race has been triggered between tech Goliaths such as Apple, Amazon and Google.
McKinsey Global Institute, a leading think tank, estimates the tech giants invested as much as US$30 billion in artificial intelligence last year in a combination of R&D spending and startup acquisitions. McKinsey estimates venture capitalists and private equity investors plowed another US$9 billion into AI startups, particularly those focused on machine learning.

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Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Science & Technology, Theology

(NYT) Richard Wilbur, Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Winner, Dies at 96

Richard Wilbur, whose meticulous, urbane poems earned him two Pulitzer Prizes and selection as the national poet laureate, died on Saturday in Belmont, Mass. He was 96.

His son Christopher confirmed his death, in a nursing home.

Across more than 60 years as an acclaimed American poet, Mr. Wilbur followed a muse who prized traditional virtuosity over self-dramatization; as a consequence he often found himself out of favor with the literary authorities who preferred the heat of artists like Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg.

He received his first Pulitzer in 1957, and a National Book Award as well, for “Things of This World.” The collection included “A Baroque Wall-Fountain in the Villa Sciarra,” which the poet and critic Randall Jarrell called “one of the most marvelously beautiful, one of the most nearly perfect poems any American has written.”

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Death / Burial / Funerals, History, Poetry & Literature

(Economist) Today’s historians have a higher opinion of Ulysses S. Grant

Ron Chernow’s 1,100-page biography may crown Grant’s restoration. The author of defining books on George Washington and Alexander Hamilton—the latter formed the basis for a hit Broadway musical, after Lin-Manuel Miranda read it on holiday—Mr Chernow argues persuasively that Grant has been badly misunderstood. The corruption in his administration never touched him—the soul of integrity—personally. Sometimes portrayed as an ignorant drunk, he was in fact a profound thinker with a sensitivity to suffering that underlay his kindness to vanquished armies and people of other races. His bibulous reputation was exaggerated by his opponents, Mr Chernow believes, and indeed with discipline and the support of his beloved wife, he abstained from drinking almost fully during his presidency.

Grant may have been America’s most improbable president. His early military career showed flashes of brilliance before he resigned from a post in California amid accusations, almost certainly justified, of drunkenness. He then failed at various business ventures, a lifelong tendency that accompanied a penchant for trusting swindlers. Not long before the civil war he was virtually broke, walking the streets of St Louis in shabby clothing selling firewood.

War brought salvation. The Union army was afflicted with generals who hesitated to engage, or failed to follow up victories by chasing vulnerable opponents. Not Grant. “I can’t spare this man; he fights,” Lincoln supposedly said of him, a year before the general engineered a landmark victory at Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1863. Robert E. Lee, his chief opponent, concurred: “He is not a retreating man.”

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, History, Military / Armed Forces, Office of the President, Politics in General

A Picture is Worth 1000 words–The baby Boombers are Reaching Retirement

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Aging / the Elderly, America/U.S.A., Budget, Children, Economy, Health & Medicine, History, Marriage & Family, Medicaid, Medicare, Pensions, Personal Finance, Politics in General, Social Security, Taxes, Young Adults

(Telegraph) Neil MacGregor: why Britain stands alone when it comes to religion

Religion provides a “narrative” that explains our place in the world, [Neil] MacGregor said, and it is the rituals that bind people together.

Its decline is “a striking phenomenon across Western Europe” and nowhere more so than Britain, where Christianity has been on the wane for decades.

“In a sense, we are a very unusual society. We are trying to do something that no society has really done. We are trying to live without an agreed narrative of our communal place in the cosmos and in time,” MacGregor said.

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in England / UK, History, Religion & Culture

(CSM) Amid Evangelical decline, growing split between young Christians and church elders

For Andrew Walker, the current “post-Christian” state of American culture has posed a serious challenge to the faithful.

For a variety of reasons, fewer and fewer Americans now have a grasp of the fundamentals of orthodox, biblical teachings, says Mr. Walker, director of policy studies for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Like many who keep attuned to the country’s religious landscape, he notes, too, the dramatic rise of the so-called “nones,” especially among the young, who may believe in God, but have begun to refuse to identify with a particular religious group.

“They grew up in a nominal Christian culture, where it’s no longer of a cultural or social benefit to identify as a Christian,” he says. “To add to that is, there’s often not only no social prestige to gain, there’s also social prestige to lose, if you say you are a Christian in our society.”

It’s one piece of a cultural shift that has begun to affect even the nation’s most vibrant religious groups. The Southern Baptist Convention, one of the more conservative evangelical Protestant denominations, has lost more than a million members over the past decade. Still the largest single Protestant group in the nation with more than 15 million members, its network of churches nevertheless haven’t baptized so few a number of people in 70 years, the denomination’s research shows.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Evangelicals, History, Religion & Culture

(Macleans) The odd, complicated history of Canadian Thanksgiving

This time last year, the New York Times—and its many readers—discovered a quaint little tradition that many Americans had never heard of: Canadian Thanksgiving.

Some of the confusion over our version of the holiday stems from the fact that we celebrate it six weeks earlier than they do—and on their Columbus Day holiday, to boot. Most of it, however, is surely owing to the fact that Americans feel ownership over this holiday, believing it grew, organically, out of a specific historical event that took place on “American” soil. After all, the Plymouth Rock story, which frames a congenial harvest feast shared by Wampanoag peoples and the Pilgrim settlers in November 1621 as America’s first Thanksgiving, is taught early and often.

In response, on occasion, some defensive writers and apologists have countered the implication that we are pale imitators of the U.S. or mere holiday rip-off artists, and people have pointed to Canadian antecedents to demonstrate our authentic connection. Some cite a celebratory meal held by Martin Frobisher upon his arrival in 1578, but since that involved tinned beef and mushy peas, that feels like a stretch. More germane than this story is the meaty celebration hosted by Samuel de Champlain in Port-Royal on Nov. 14, 1606, which saw Europeans and Indigenous peoples breaking bread together. It was organized as part of the “Order of Good Cheer” dinner party series that was invented to make sure the colonists ate and drank enough to stave off scurvy and malnutrition.

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Posted in Canada, History, Religion & Culture

(CT) A federal judge (again) has declard that the longstanding clergy housing allowance violates the 1st Amendment

Once again, a federal judge has declared that the longstanding clergy housing allowance violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Offered only to “ministers of the gospel,” the 60-year-old tax break excludes the rental value of a home from the taxable income of US clergy. It’s the “most important tax benefit available to ministers,” according to GuideStone Financial Resources.

It’s also the biggest: American ministers currently avail themselves of the tax break to the tune of $800 million a year, according to the latest estimate by the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.

Wisconsin district judge Barbara Crabb first ruled against the housing allowance in 2013, finding that the second part of Section 107 of the IRS tax code provides “a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise.” Her ruling “sen[t] shockwaves through the religious community,” the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability stated at the time.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Personal Finance & Investing, Religion & Culture, Taxes

(1st Things) Rusty Reno–revisiting, updating and renewing Michael Novak’s ‘The Spirit Of Democratic Capitalism’

And what about the third leg, the Judeo-Christian religious and moral tradition? Here First Things has a long record of vigorous and unstinting advocacy. I can’t think of another significant journal that has been as relentless during the past generation in its warnings about the dangers of a naked public square. Yet we’ve seen setback after setback, and the corporate tsunami that recently swept through Indiana after it passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act made clear the link between global capitalism and progressive clear-cutting of traditional religious culture and morality. There are many business leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, and others who sympathize with our mission, of course. But they know they will be punished “by the market” if they speak up. “Bigotry is bad for business,” we’re told by management consultants and corporate gurus, and “diversity” brings greater innovation and success. As we know, “diversity” does not mean a richly textured and open society. It means agreeing with progressive cultural commitments to “openness,” which in turn means accepting the authority of a rigid, punitive ideological system.

Needless to say, Michael Novak did not foresee these outcomes when he wrote The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism any more than I did when I thrilled to his insights more than three decades ago. This should not surprise us. As Yuval Levin outlines in The Fractured Republic, America came out of the Great Depression and its mobilization for World War II with a consolidated economic, political, and social system. There was a closed, sealed quality to a great deal of social and economic life, which is why Michael and so many others were attracted to motifs of creativity and openness. Seventy years on, however, the project of deconsolidation has done its work. We now live in a fluid world in which the very idea of borders—between nations as well as between the sexes—seems more and more tenuous. In this context, which is our context, the genius of capitalism as Michael described it—creative, open, innovative, and dynamic—seems less benign. Those qualities liquefy our social relations, and even our sense of self.

In his last article for First Things (“The Future of Democratic Capitalism,” June/July 2015), Michael summed up his spiritual endorsement of capitalism: “Free markets are dynamic and creative because they are open to the dynamism and creativity intrinsic to our humanity.” This anthropological assessment of capitalism follows the lead of John Paul II, and it’s a profound reason to cherish economic liberty. But Michael did not give due emphasis to an equally important aspect of our humanity, which is our desire to give ourselves in loyalty to permanent things. As a man of faith, he certainly knew and affirmed this dimension: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. But in his enthusiasm for open, upward transcendence—a constant theme in his work—he lost sight of our need for anchors. As a consequence, he described the anthropology of capitalism in a one-sided way. Its fearsome dynamism speaks to part of our soul, but it neglects and even works against the part that cherishes permanence.

This one-sidedness needs to be corrected, for our challenges are quite different from the legacy of postwar consolidation that Michael responded to with such élan.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(Carolina Compass) Diocese of South Carolina Canon Jim Lewis– Justice for all?

The Diocese of South Carolina filed two motions on September 1 with the State Supreme Court, requesting a rehearing of our case and the recusal of the justice casting the deciding vote. Both are unusual steps and legal counsel for The Episcopal Church (TEC) has now responded to our motions. Because the issues at stake in this case have implications far beyond our Anglican family, they merit public comment.
Ownership of church property

The Diocese of South Carolina and its 54 congregations provide a place of worship for 23,000 faithful members across the Lowcountry of our state. Most of those congregations will lose their place of worship to TEC if the current ruling of the court stands as is. Many of those affected are colonial parishes like St. Philip’s and St. Michael’s whose existence predates TEC by more than 100 years. How can an unincorporated, New York association claim ownership here?

The majority in this case has made multiple legal assertions, among the most problematic of which is that a church body can lay claim to another’s property simply by saying it is so. The General Convention of TEC asserted such a unilateral claim in 1979. The problem with affirming such a claim in South Carolina is that it requires ignoring 300 years of clear legal precedent for how to establish an ownership interest in property.
The well-established legal principal is that the party granting anyone an interest in their property must do so in a clear, unambiguous written form. TEC failed to establish a trust interest in our property, of any sort, that can be recognized under existing S.C. legal precedent. To grant TEC such an interest now is to grant it favored status over the diocese and its parishes, establishing one church body over another. This is inconsistent with opinions of the U.S. Supreme Court that truly “neutral” principles of state law must be applied here as they would in any other case.

If you belong to any religious body, this ruling should concern you. It establishes the precedent that your property interests are not subject to the same rules as everyone else and you can be treated differently. In this particular case, it means any group you are associated with can make a legal claim to your property, simply because they say they have decided they have one. As Justice Kittredge noted in his dissenting opinion on this ruling, “The message is clear for churches in South Carolina that are affiliated in any manner with a national organization and have never lifted a finger to transfer control or ownership of their property — if you think your property ownership is secure, think again.”

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Posted in * South Carolina, Church History, History, Law & Legal Issues, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Stewardship, TEC Conflicts: South Carolina

(PRC) Many Countries Favor Specific Religions, Officially or Unofficially

More than 80 countries favor a specific religion, either as an official, government-endorsed religion or by affording one religion preferential treatment over other faiths, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of data covering 199 countries and territories around the world.

Islam is the most common government-endorsed faith, with 27 countries (including most in the Middle East-North Africa region) officially enshrining Islam as their state religion. By comparison, just 13 countries (including nine European nations) designate Christianity or a particular Christian denomination as their state religion.

But an additional 40 governments around the globe unofficially favor a particular religion, and in most cases the preferred faith is a branch of Christianity. Indeed, Christian churches receive preferential treatment in more countries – 28 – than any other unofficial but favored faith.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Globalization, History, Religion & Culture, Sociology

(Economist) America might see a new constitutional convention in a few years. If it did, that would be dangerous thing

The I’s had been dotted; the T’s were crossed. The 55 delegates to America’s first and so-far-only constitutional convention had hammered out compromises on the separation of powers, apportionment of seats in the legislature and the future of the slave trade. But on September 15th 1787 George Mason, a plantation owner from Virginia, rose to his feet to object.

Article V of the draft text laid out two paths by which future amendments could be proposed. Congress could either propose them itself, or it could summon a convention of representatives from the states to propose them. Mason warned that if the federal government were to become oppressive, Congress would be unlikely to call a convention to correct matters. To protect the people’s freedom, he argued, convening power should instead be vested in the states. Should two-thirds of their legislatures call for a convention, Congress would have to accede to their demand: a convention they should have.

The constitution was signed two days later, with Article V changed as Mason had suggested. Since then 33 amendments have been proposed, with 27 subsequently ratified, a process which requires approval in three-quarters of the states (see chart 1). Whether the issue was great (abolishing slavery) or small (changing the date of presidential inaugurations), all 33 of the proposals came from Congress. Mason’s mechanism for change driven by state legislatures has never been used. Even politically informed Americans often have no idea it exists.

That could soon change.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Politics in General

(HDSB) Marilynne Robinson–Old Souls, New World

The long-prevalent belief that what is proposed as truth or reason can only be credited in the degree that it is consistent with the strata of physical reality by any means available to our experience is mistaken. It is mistaken in its conception of the nature of the physical, and, therefore, in the nature of everything else. It has insisted that what it offers as the sole model of reality is exhaustively pertinent to every meaningful question about reality, dismissing as not meaningful every question to which it is not pertinent. But, for some time now, science has been fetching back strange reports, about the radical apparent discontinuity between volatile reality at the subatomic level and the stolid lawfulness of reality at the scale of our experience, for example. The fathomless anomalies of the infinitesimal present as any ordinary day, any transient thought. We know now that physical being as we experience it is wildly untypical in cosmic terms. Reality as we know it now does not yield or legitimize a narrow or prejudicial vocabulary. Science has given us grounds for a liberating humility. We need not continue to encumber our thinking with strictures it has long since put aside.

We should instead be finding language that is capable, capacious, and responsive. The expectations induced by any fixed approach should be relaxed, in pondering history as surely as in considering human nature or the depths of physical reality. Ideology has been a terrible mistake, theory another one. Both mimic positivism in their stringencies and exclusions. There is no writer, and so on. Why should any given thing have happened? No theory, no convention or prejudice, should take precedence over the fact that, if it did happen, it arose out of the endless complexity of human life, human lives. The Puritan Thomas Shepard, generally credited with founding Harvard, remarked that a man with a wooden leg could trim his foot to fit his shoe, but in the case of a living limb this would not be advisable. Those who think about history should avoid such trimming, since they deal with living flesh, specifically those human swarms whose passage through the world is the sum and substance of history.

We have not yet absorbed the fact that history has fallen into our laps now. We hardly know what it is, let alone what we should do with it. We have been busy destroying the landmarks that might otherwise help us orient ourselves. We have impoverished ourselves of every sense of how, over time, a society emerged that we and most of the world have considered decent and fortunate. Could we save this good order from a present threat? If it collapsed, could we rebuild it? These are real questions.

The stringencies and inadequacies of positivism in all its forms have sent me to the literature of early modern, pre-positivist thought, where its attritions were not yet felt. I have been reading some old sermons and treatises by sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English and Anglo-Americans. I have been reading the Puritans. I confess to being drawn to orphan figures, movements, and periods. My reward is in the discovery of their frequently remarkable value and significance. It was no doubt inevitable that I would come finally to the Puritans, among the most effectively dismissed of all historically consequential movements. They are seldom mentioned except as a pernicious influence on our civilization, both early and abiding. Few grounds are offered to support this view of them, and those that are offered are ill-informed.

Read it all (hat tip:AH).

Posted in America/U.S.A., Church History, England / UK, History, Religion & Culture, Theology