Friday, December 08, 2006

Persia or Iran?

We tend to think of Iran as one of the large Islamic countries in the Middle East, but that perspecitve is relatively recent in history. The area has been known as Iran for only a few years, but for centuries it has been called Persia. For 600 years, its most popular religion was Christianity.

Persia is home to two large groups of Christians, the Assyrian Church of the East and the Syriac Orthodox Church. Although these churches were originally maintaining ties with the Christian churches in the Roman Empire, they were indeed quite different from the churches in the Roman Empire. One reason for this is language.

Another factor that the churches within the Persian Empire did not maintain such close ties with their counterparts in the Roman Empire, was also the continuous rivalry between these two great empires. And quite often, Christians in Persia were (often falsely) accused of sympathizing with the Romans, even though the Roman Empire was persecuting and killing Christians, while the Persian Empire embraced Christianity. In Persia, unlike Rome, it was both legal and popular for people to leave Zoroastriansim (the mythological belief system of Persia prior to Christianity).

But it was not until the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. that the vast majority of Christians in Persia broke their ties with the churches in the Roman Empire.

Most of the Christians in the Sassanid empire lived on the western edge of the empire, predominately in Mesopotamia, but there were also important communities on the island Tylos (present day Bahrain), the southern coast of the Persian Gulf, the area of the Arabian kingdom of Lakhm and the Persian part of Armenia. Some of these areas were the earliest to be Christianized; the kingdom of Armenia choose the Christian faith sometime before 100 A.D., and became the first independent Christian state in the world in 301 A.D.; while a number of Assyrian territories had almost become fully Christianized even earlier during the 1st century, they never became independent nations.

Most Christians in the Persian Empire belonged to a number of predominately Christian ethnic groups. Some of these groups were the Assyrians, the Arabs of southern Mesopotamia, the Armenians, as well as some smaller ethnic groups such as the Syriacs. The latter group was taken to Persia as prisoners of war from the many conflicts with the Roman Empire. Conversion was common among ethnic Persians and other ethnicities residing in the empire. Among them were certain small Caucasian and Kurdish tribes which had converted to Christianity.

For approximately 600 years, these groups lived as Christians. In 651 A.D., the first wave of "jihad" from the Islamic Caliphate swept across Persia in a fourteen-year-long bloodbath. Christians could flee, convert to Islam, become enslaved, or be killed. Eventually, the name "Iran" would replace "Persia" as the usual name for the region.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

What Does Wikipedia Have to Say about the Renaissance?

Giorgio Vasari was the first to coin the term Renaissance, in 1550, though an awareness of the ongoing rebirth in the arts had been in the air earlier. Since that time, historians have differed in their interpretations of the meaning of Renaissance. Many historians now view the Renaissance as more of an intellectual and ideological change than a substantive one. Marxist historians, for example, hold the view that the changes in art, literature, and philosophy affected only a tiny minority of the very wealthy and powerful, leaving the lives of the great mass of the European population unchanged.

Many historians now point out that most of the negative social factors popularly associated with the "medieval" period - poverty, ignorance, warfare, religious and political persecution, and so forth - seem to have actually worsened in this era which saw the rise of Machiavelli, the Wars of Religion, the corrupt Borgia Popes, and the intensified witch-hunts of the 16th century. Many people who lived during the Renaissance did not view it as the "golden age" imagined by certain 19th century authors, but were concerned by these social maladies. Significantly, though, the artists, writers, and patrons involved in the cultural movements in question believed they were living in a new era that was a clean break from the Middle Ages.

Johan Huizinga (1872–1945) acknowledged the existence of the Renaissance but questioned whether it was a positive change. He argued that the Renaissance was a period of decline from the High Middle Ages, destroying much that was important. The Latin language, for instance, had evolved greatly from the classical period and was still a living language used in the church and elsewhere. The Renaissance obsession with classical purity halted its natural evolution and saw Latin revert to its classical form. Robert Lopez has contended that it was a period of deep economic recession. Meanwhile George Sarton and Lynn Thorndike have both argued that scientific progress was slowed.

Historians have begun to consider the word Renaissance as unnecessarily loaded, implying an unambiguously positive rebirth from the supposedly more primitive Middle Ages. Many historians now prefer to use the term "early modern" for this period, a more neutral term that highlights the period as a transitional one that led to the modern world.

Friday, December 01, 2006

A 4,000-Mile Journey to Nowwhere - The Harrowing Journey of Exile under Stalin

Josef Stalin is known as the brutal Soviet ruler, responsible for the deaths of millions of Russians, Poles, Ukranians, Jews, and Germans. What is not so well-known is that also arranged for the deaths of millions of Koreans, long before the Korean War. Researchers at the University of Michigan have made a documentary film about Stalin's mass killing of Koreans.

In 1937, Vladmir Tyan watched as soldiers shot his father and older brother. He had no time to mourn. Chased from their house, the rest of the family lived on the street for three days. Then they boarded a train.

“You’d hear in the neighboring car the cries of children, the elderly, and the sick,” Dekabrina Kim recalls. “They took out the dead, and no one knew where they were buried.”

“The train went to a dead halt, and we were told it was our stop,” says Sergei Yun. “Each family dug a hole to live in. There were no trees or charcoal. We lived that way for two or three years.”

The victims’ stories describe what occurred when Stalin deported some 180,000 Soviet Koreans that he dubbed “unreliable people.” Evicted from their homes and farms and locked into crowded cattle cars headed for Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan - remote destinations nearly 4,000 miles and one month away - they found themselves on desolate lands without housing.


These stories are largely unknown outside of Central Asia, and only a small number of scholarly documents have shed light on this chapter of Stalin’s Great Terror. “Few knew that this 1937 episode served as the opening salvo for a series of similar
ethnic cleansings and deportations that involved Germans, Jews, Ukranians, Poles, Tartars, and Chechens,” says Meredith Jung-En Woo, an LSA political science professor. With David Chung, co-director of LSA’s Archive of Diasporic Korea and lecturer at the U of M, Woo is making this historical event better known to the world. Determined that LSA would be the site of the world’s first digital archive on the history of these Soviet Koreans, Woo and Chung traveled to Kazakhstan. The team bought Soviet and Kazakh newsreels and film footage, and scanned family photos, letters, and official documents. They did extensive interviews with survivors and their children, exploring the memories of the old and the challenges the young still face.

“Time was running out,” says Woo, “because the last survivors of the deportation, well into their seventies and eighties, were dying.” “With materials as compelling as these, a documentary film practically forced itself on us,” says Woo. With seed money from the U of M, they expanded the project.

The film is the harrowing saga of Koreans who were deported from the Soviet Far East, where they had lived in farming and fishing villages, enjoying their own theater, schools, and Korean language newspaper. Told through the eyes of deported Koreans, the film is also a story of multiethnic and multicultural Kazakhstan struggling to forge a new national identity in the aftermath of independence from the Soviet Union - and the place of the Korean-Kazakhs in this struggle. “We have our own soul, our own aura, and you can’t confuse us with anyone,” second-generation deportee and musician Jacov Khan says in the film. “We certainly all feel some envy when looking at Korean-Koreans or Kazakh-Kazakhs,” adds second-generation deportee Svetlana Nigai, who now lives in Almaty. “They have their own mother land. When people ask us what our native language is, we say Russian. But when they ask our nationality, that is a tougher question to answer.”

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Progress with Stem Cells?

Stem cells are producing promising results these days. Adult stem cells, that is. For people with blocked arteries, a growth factor called GMCSF, when injected into the body, stimulates bone marrow to release more stem cells and enables new arteries to be grown. Tests have shown a 60 percent improvement in blood-vessel function as a result.

Blindness caused by outside factors often cannot be repaired with corneal transplants, yet stem cells offer new hope. While not yet producing perfect vision, patients can become self-dependent again. They are able to see well enough to do the basic tasks of life.

Tests in mice have yielded a way to spur the growth of neural stem cells in the brain - possibly paving the way to treating or curing Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis. Key in all three of these stories is that using one's own stem cells, rather than those of another, prevents the body's immune system from rejecting them, much like a transplanted organ. It is becoming clear that the hope for an Alzheimer or Parkinson cure comes from adult stem cells, not embryonic ones.

Outside the U.S., in Portugal, physicians have actually succeeded in partially regenerating various internal human organs, using adult stem cells.

Meanwhile, we're still waiting for a any success story from the use of embryonic stem cells. We'll try to keep you posted.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Roman Civil War

The late Roman Republic was plagued with civil wars for approximately a century. What made these bloody conflicts possible?

The Roman civil wars were very different than the civil war in the United States. The Roman internal conflicts were not about political issues or moral principles. The Roman civil wars were about personalities.

The typical Roman soldier had a primary loyalty, not to the Roman Republic, but to his general and officers. If two generals decided to compete for power, a civil war arose. This pattern culminated in the Battle of Actium.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Movies and History

For better or worse, Americans gain a significant and increasing percentage of their knowledge of history from movies.

Learning history from movies can be helpful, but there is an even greater need for critical thinking than when learning from books.

Certainly, history books can be loaded with "spin" - history is told in a certain way to advance the author's political agenda.

But movies are subject to double spin - they have the same political spin as books, and then a second layer of spin is added because the movie needs to be entertaining. Movies may contain historical inaccuracies, not only beause of the filmmaker's political views, but also because the filmmaker may change the events simply to make them more entertaining. People going to see movies demand to be entertained, but they don't care if they're accurately informed. Recent films about the Trojan War and Alexander the Great demonstrate this sufficiently.

The informed viewer can exercise critical thinking by watching two different films about the same historical events.

Cleopatra, for example, was the subject of a 1963 film by Elizabeth Taylor, and a 1934 film by Claudette Colbert; view them both, and you'll hopefully "cancel out" the spins of the various screenwriters.

Likewise, Marie Antoinette was the subject of a 1938 film by Norma Shearer, and a 2006 film by Kirsten Dunst. Both are informative.

In either case, it helps to read even a brief, half-page encyclopedia article about the people and events concerned. Reading even a little before the film not only makes you understand it better, it helps you to enjoy it more, because you understand.

More recent events in film include the movie "End of the Spear" (made in 2005), which depicts the murders in the Amazon Basin of several Americans; the same situation was filmed as "Beyond the Gates of Splendor" in 2002. Both films seem fairly accurate.

Women Enter American Politics

In 1917, Jeannette Rankin, a Montana Republican, became the first woman to serve in the House. Committed to her pacifist beliefs, she was the only member of Congress to vote against entry into both World War I and World War II.

Shortly after Ms. Rankin's election to Congress, the 19th Amendment was passed in 1919. This means that the first woman was elected to Congress before the right to vote was even given to women! The amendment's journey to ratification had been a long and difficult one. Starting in 1896, the Republican Party became the first major party to officially favor women's suffrage. That year, Republican Sen. A. A. Sargent of California introduced a proposal in the Senate to give women the right to vote. The proposal was defeated four times in the Democratic-controlled Senate. When the Republican Party regained control of Congress, the Equal Suffrage Amendment finally passed (304-88), over the objections of the Democrats.

When the amendment was submitted to the states, 26 of the 36 states that ratified it had Republican-controlled legislatures. Of the nine states that voted against ratification, eight were controlled by Democrats. Twelve states, all Republican, had given women full suffrage before the federal amendment was finally ratified.

The Origins of an American Political Party

The Republican Party was born in the early 1850's by anti-slavery activists and individuals who believed that government should grant western lands to settlers free of charge. The first informal meeting of the party took place in Ripon, Wisconsin, a small town northwest of Milwaukee. The first official Republican meeting took place on July 6th, 1854 in Jackson, Michigan. The name "Republican" was chosen because it alluded to equality and reminded individuals of Thomas Jefferson's party. Jefferson had called his political party the "Democratic Republican" party. The name "Republican" also reminded voters of the grand era of Rome, before it became an empire. At the Jackson convention, the new party adopted a platform and nominated candidates for office in Michigan.

In 1856, the Republicans became a national party when John C. Fremont was nominated for President under the slogan: "Free soil, free labor, free speech, free men, Fremont." Even though they were considered a "third party" because the Democrats and Whigs represented the two-party system at the time, Fremont received 33% of the vote. Four years later, Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican to win the White House.

The Civil War erupted in 1861 and lasted four grueling years. During the war, against the advice of the Democrats, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves. The Republicans of the day worked to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery, the Fourteenth, which guaranteed equal protection under the laws, and the Fifteenth, which helped secure voting rights for African-Americans.

The Republican Party also played a leading role in securing women the right to vote. In 1896, Republicans were the first major party to favor women's suffrage. When the 19th Amendment finally was added to the Constitution, 26 of 36 state legislatures that had voted to ratify it were under Republican control. The first woman elected to Congress was a Republican, Jeanette Rankin from Montana in 1917.

Presidents during most of the late nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century were Republicans. The White House was in Republican hands under Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush. Under the last two, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, the United States became the world's only superpower, winning the Cold War from the old Soviet Union and releasing millions from Communist oppression.

Republicans have supported these ideas: Individuals, not government, can make the best decisions; all people are entitled to equal rights; and decisions are best made close to home.

The symbol of the Republican Party is the elephant. During the mid term elections way back in 1874, Democrats tried to scare voters into thinking President Grant would seek to run for an unprecedented third term. Thomas Nast, a cartoonist for Harper's Weekly, depicted a Democratic jackass trying to scare a Republican elephant - and both symbols stuck. For a long time Republicans have been known as the "G.O.P." And party faithfuls thought it meant the "Grand Old Party." But apparently the original meaning (in 1875) was "gallant old party." And when automobiles were invented it also came to mean, "get out and push."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Anti-War Protest?

The Crusades were not popular among the Christians of Europe, even if they were considered a military necessity as a counter-attack against the home base from which surprise attacks and invasions had been launched against sleepy and unsuspecting places like Spain, France, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Austria.

During the Middle Ages while the Just War Theory - a debate about when or if a war was ever part of "justice" - was becoming more developed and Crusades were happening. Peace movements among Christians flourished. Francis of Assisi may or may not have been a pacifist, but he lived as if he were. A peace movement known as the "Great Alleluia" involving thousands of people took place in northern Italy in the 13th century, lead by an energetic priest who went from town to town, preaching in public. In 1233 the movement had grown to such proportions that 400,000 people gathered to demonstrate for peace and reconciliation. Another Italian peace movement known as the "Bianchi" moved about in thousands from city to city. Peacemaking was their major work. One chronicler notes that by the time one of these processions reached Rome its numbers had swelled to 200,000. Various groups of monks and priests opposed the Crusades, sometimes with words, and sometimes with actions.

Popular opposition to the Crusades spread, sometimes for these spiritual reasons, and sometimes for more worldly reasons: the Crusades cost money, and the soldiers who were part of them behaved like pagans. Yet the public tolerated these Crusades, even if they didn't like them, because it was understood that the alternative was a massive invasion by the Islamic armies into Europe.

People remembered how a Muslim army took over almost half of France, burning the wheatfields and houses, raping and killing the villagers, before Karl Martell and his army were able to turn them back. Those horrifying memories made the Crusades seem like a necessary, if unpleasant, defensive move.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

War in Ireland

The Irish seem to have been at war, off and on, forever, or at least for the last few centuries. Certainly, in the last few years, there have been periodic terrorist or guerilla-style attacks between the those in the northern part of the island, and those in the southern part.

The newspaper and TV routinely report these conflicts as the struggle between the Protestant and Catholic parts of Ireland. To be sure, southern Ireland is largely Roman Catholic, and northern Ireland is mainly Anglican. But is that really what the conflict is about?

Remember, Christianity in Ireland split into the two group in 1532, when Henry VIII started the English Reformation.

But the warfare in Ireland has been going on since the 1100's, and perhaps even earlier, when there was no religious division on island.

The fighting is Ireland is about the same things that most other wars are about: land, power, and money. It is not a religious war.

Sampling Errors

When we study the culture of a different time or place, we read their books, view their paintings, hear their music, and so form for ourselves a concept of what that society was like.

But how much material do we need to form an accurate view? Consider the following:

Shakespeare wrote approximately 154 sonnets, give or take. If I've read only one of them, can I make generalizations about them? What if I've read ten? Or twenty? He wrote around thirty-eight plays; if I've studied one of them, is that enough to form an impression of what his plays are like?

Sophocles penned about 123 plays; if I've read only two of them, can I make categorical statements about what the average Sophocles play is?

The statue of the Minoan Snake Goddess, with her eye-catching topless outfit, is much studied. But that is only one single statue, from a culture that made thousands of statues. Can I make generalizations about their statues from only this one? Or make generalizations about their religions, or about the roles which women played in their society?

Think of it this way: imagine yourself studying history 4,000 years from now, and reading about life in a typical North American city in our era. If you were to read only one magazine from this time, and use it to try to form a general idea about our culture, what would happen if that one magazine were Sports Illustrated? Or Vogue? Or Playboy?

Clearly you need several samples, and various samples, to gain a more accurate concept of society.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Gospel of Whom?

The manuscript known as “The Gospel of Judas” has recently been featured in TV shows. Although researchers have studied this document for decades, it has suddenly become popular in the electronic media, after the technical scholars in the university have concluded that it contains little historical information about the actual events of the first century.

The life of Jesus took place in a Hebrew culture in the first century, and the most reliable documents about that era are written by first-century Hebrews; the “Gospel of Judas” is a Greek document, written several centuries later.

Clearly, Jesus remains a controversial and influential figure in history; but whatever their personal beliefs, historians simply seek the most reliable texts about the life of any famous person. There are always plenty of spurious sources concerning any historical event or person.

In recent lectures and articles, James Voelz (Cambridge University, England) and Jeffrey Kloha addressed four aspects of the gospel of Judas manuscript:

1) How the manuscript is portrayed in the media: the “popular media” of TV, radio, and internet isn’t allowed to take the time to do a careful historical analysis of the manuscript, because people want “entertaining” news.

2) Basic features of the manuscript: written much later than the historical accounts of the life of Jesus, it couldn’t possible have been written by an eyewitness to the events. Instead, it relies upon tradition.

3) Gnosticism as a point of reference for the manuscript: “Gnosticism” is belief system, a mixture different Greek philosophical ideas, combined with a few ideas from Judaism and Christianity – interesting ideas, but they can’t be the ideas which were being discussed in Jerusalem in first century, because they are ideas from a later era.

4) The manuscript and canonicity: this manuscript, known to ancient authors and modern scholars, was never taken seriously because of its obvious flaws. Rejected by serious researchers, the TV industry picked it because it is entertaining, if untrue.

“There is nothing of the historical Jesus, the Jesus that walked the earth, in this document,” commented Kloha. “It is important that we know about this document since people are watching and reading media reports about it and being influenced by them.” Instead of a factual account of the actual events that happened during the life of Jesus, this document presents a series of Greek philosophical idea that flourished during the later years of the Roman Empire. Modern archaeology and ancient texts give us some core facts about events in Jerusalem during the first century; the “Gospel of Judas” is clearly a combination of later traditions.

The gospel of Judas was featured in a National Geographic Society television documentary. It is dramatically different from the four gospels that are contained within the New Testament and purports to provide a secret account of a revelation that Jesus spoke with the disciple Judas Iscariot.

“Jesus is never described as ‘the Christ’ in this manuscript,” commented Kloha. “Instead, an individual named Seth is referenced as the Christ.”

In describing the media’s portrayal of the document, Voelz stated, “They are conveniently omitting a lot of information that would put the manuscript in a bad light. It is important for people to know how odd this document is.” The ideas presented in the “Gospel of Judas” are not the ideas of either Jews or Christians in the first century; the concepts of “Messiah” are different.

There are other documents about these events which are simply more reliable, more accurate, and older, having been written by eyewitnesses to the events in question.

The Gospel of Whom?

The manuscript known as “The Gospel of Judas” has recently been featured in TV shows. Although researchers have studied this document for decades, it has suddenly become popular in the electronic media, after the technical scholars in the university have concluded that it contains little historical information about the actual events of the first century.

The life of Jesus took place in a Hebrew culture in the first century, and the most reliable documents about that era are written by first-century Hebrews; the “Gospel of Judas” is a Greek document, written several centuries later.

Clearly, Jesus remains a controversial and influential figure in history; but whatever their personal beliefs, historians simply seek the most reliable texts about the life of any famous person. There are always plenty of spurious sources concerning any historical event or person.

In recent lectures and articles, James Voelz (Cambridge University, England) and Jeffrey Kloha addressed four aspects of the gospel of Judas manuscript:

1) How the manuscript is portrayed in the media: the “popular media” of TV, radio, and internet isn’t allowed to take the time to do a careful historical analysis of the manuscript, because people want “entertaining” news.

2) Basic features of the manuscript: written much later than the historical accounts of the life of Jesus, it couldn’t possible have been written by an eyewitness to the events. Instead, it relies upon tradition.

3) Gnosticism as a point of reference for the manuscript: “Gnosticism” is belief system, a mixture different Greek philosophical ideas, combined with a few ideas from Judaism and Christianity – interesting ideas, but they can’t be the ideas which were being discussed in Jerusalem in first century, because they are ideas from a later era.

4) The manuscript and canonicity: this manuscript, known to ancient authors and modern scholars, was never taken seriously because of its obvious flaws. Rejected by serious researchers, the TV industry picked it because it is entertaining, if untrue.

“There is nothing of the historical Jesus, the Jesus that walked the earth, in this document,” commented Kloha. “It is important that we know about this document since people are watching and reading media reports about it and being influenced by them.” Instead of a factual account of the actual events that happened during the life of Jesus, this document presents a series of Greek philosophical idea that flourished during the later years of the Roman Empire. Modern archaeology and ancient texts give us some core facts about events in Jerusalem during the first century; the “Gospel of Judas” is clearly a combination of later traditions.

The gospel of Judas was featured in a National Geographic Society television documentary. It is dramatically different from the four gospels that are contained within the New Testament and purports to provide a secret account of a revelation that Jesus spoke with the disciple Judas Iscariot.

“Jesus is never described as ‘the Christ’ in this manuscript,” commented Kloha. “Instead, an individual named Seth is referenced as the Christ.”

In describing the media’s portrayal of the document, Voelz stated, “They are conveniently omitting a lot of information that would put the manuscript in a bad light. It is important for people to know how odd this document is.” The ideas presented in the “Gospel of Judas” are not the ideas of either Jews or Christians in the first century; the concepts of “Messiah” are different.

There are other documents about these events which are simply more reliable, more accurate, and older, having been written by eyewitnesses to the events in question.

Friday, September 22, 2006


Historians and scientists love to surprise people. For example, most people know that Cleopatra was the queen of Egypt, but did you know that she wasn't Egyptian? She was actually Greek, the descendant of one of Alexander's Macedonian generals; she and her family spoke Greek, and didn't consider themselves Egyptians, although they would engage in the traditional ceremonies of the Pharaohs in order to get the popular support of the Egyptians.

But some reporters go too far in their desire to surprise readers, when the actually falsify sources, and create fictions, merely so that they can say something unexpected. For exampel, the actress who played Jan Brady in the famous TV series did not die of a drug overdose; she's alive and well. But the story about her was created those desiring to surprise an audience.

More serious examples have been uncovered by The Washington Time, in January of 2002:

Hoping to close two national forests, government scientists planted evidence that the forests were inhabited by an endangered species of lynx.

The scientists' dishonesty undermined a three-year study and confirmed suspicions that some government scientists fake studies is order to control environmental policy.

Another example from American history:

Emory University historian Michael Bellesiles apparently believes so strongly in gun control that he invented a history for the purpose of undermining the Constitution's Second Amendment, the right of citizens to own guns.

Professors Bellesiles' politically correct book, Arming America, was awarded the Bancroft Prize, a prestigious award for historians. But scholars examining the work say Mr. Bellesiles' conclusions are based on made-up and nonexistent sources.

Mr. Bellesiles aruges that gun ownership was so rare among early Americans, even on the frontiers, that no one would have cared enough about the right to give it constitutional protection. He claims to have studied many wills and to have found scant evidence of guns being bequeathed to heirs.

When skeptical scholars checked his sources, they found he claimed to have studied wills of people in Colonial Rhode Island known to have died without wills! He also claims to have studied probate records in San Francisco for the years 1849-59. However, the city's librarians say no such records exist. They were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake.

Most historians and scientists are honest. But we need to think critically, especially when they are writing about issues related to modern politics. They might be so interested in keeping tourists out of national forests, or in eliminating the Second Amendment, that they falsify data to support their points. When science meets politics, look for fake evidence; when history intersects with controversial issues, watch for falsified sources.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Which Sargon?

The Ancient Near East included three different rulers, all named Sagon:

The first reigned from approximately 2350 until 2300 B.C., and gained control of both Sumer and Akkad; he united them to form Babylonia, and his empire included all of Mesopotamia, and had significant influence to regions well beyond that area.

The second reigned around 1850 B.C., ruled Assyria early in its heyday.

The third also ruled Assyria, between 722 and 705 B.C., and was responsible for the final wave of attacks on the North Kingdom of Israel, conquering its capitol city Samaria; the Hebrew author Isaiah gives us information about him.

Three men, with the same name, in different countries, living over a thousand years apart!

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Many Sides of John Locke

The writings and ideas of John Locke stand as some of the most brilliant in English history. They are marked by, among other things, their variety.

One aspect of Locke's thought is political; he is famous for his significant influence on the Founding Fathers and their creation of the United States Constitution. A different side of Locke is seen in his purely philosophical essays, in which he ponders questions of human consciousness, perception, and knowledge; his formulations of empiricism and the process by which the mind turns sensations into ideas remain influential to this day.

These two facets of Locke are connected by a third and a fourth.

One connection is the legal implication of Locke's empiricism; if each human being is indeed born as a "blank slate", then the legal defense - used by, e.g., a kleptomaniac caught stealing - of "I was born that way" is illegitimate. Locke denies the existence of innate ideas.

A second connection between Locke's politics and his purely philosophical ideas is the implication of religious belief. Locke took great pains to show that the majority (not all) of humans arrive at their religious beliefs rationally, and that, therefore, we can also rely on the majority to vote on laws that are, on average, good laws. Locke said that, because religious beliefs are most central and essential to human thought, then their rationality ensures the rationality of other human thought. He also pointed out that those occasional instances of irrational religious belief are usually due to a lack of information or a lack of study, and can be corrected by exercise of the rational faculties of the mind upon substantial bodies of fact.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The REAL Martin Luther King

It is most appropriate for students in the Humanities to note a national holiday, Martin Luther King's birthday, because Rev. King was a diligent student of the humanities.

Originally born as Michael King, Jr., in 1928 (his father was named Michael King, Sr.), the father and son both changed their names to "Martin Luther" after studying the works of the German Reformer. One can only imagine how profound the impact of Luther's books was, if they caused father and son to change their names. This is truly a gigantic historical leap - from Germany in 1517 to Atlanta, Georgia in the 1940's.

King went on to do graduate research at Boston University. His dissertation, over 200 pages long, was an analysis of the writings of a German philosopher named Paul Tillich. King's research required him to have reading knowledge of German, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. King analyzed Tillich's concept of God, and compared it to the way other philosophers viewed God. King was looking for the perfect balance between a "transcendent" view of God and an "immanent" view of God; the transcendent view is more cosmic and eternal, and immanent view is more personal and relational. King believed that a balanced view of God - not moving to either extreme - would improve both individuals and societies.

Too often, the television gives us the impression that King's main activity was giving speeches and marching. In reality, he spent years of his life in libraries. King's ideals of equality and non-violence came from studying texts.

Paul Tillich was a major influence on King. King also read books by Ghandi; Ghandi, in turn, had been educated in England. It was from England that Ghandi brought to his native India ideals of non-violence and equality, and began to criticize India's "caste" system. Ghandi wanted a "Magna Carta" for India. It's ironic that to get from England to America, these ideas went through India. Ghandi wanted to import the British ideas about the dignity and value of every human life, and about civil justice, into India. He probably did not foresee, at least initially, that they would be then exported to other countries, especially to the USA.

King had also read Thoreau and Emmerson, who in turn had been educated in the seminaries of New England, mainly at Harvard, where the Bible was studied in the context of its original Greek and Hebrew grammar, and in the context of rise and fall of the major ancient empires. This mixed approach - a personal commitment to valuing each human life, a geo-political context of major world powers, and the careful examination of text - would be formative.

So we see what a wide range of texts and authors are wrapped up in the influences which enabled King to take his remarkable place in American history. We see, in his words and writings, how a Humanities education can be powerful.

Statistics, Statistics!

Most of us, at one time or another, have heard something like this: "in the Middle Ages, the average life span was shorter than forty years; today, life expectancy often reaches as high as the mid seventies."

Makes us sound pretty cool, right? I mean, with all our modern technology and science, and good medical care, we're much better off!

Well, not really.

Notice the slightly different wordings: "average life span" and "life expectancy". These are, to statisticians, two very different things.

Average life span is simply the arithmetic mean of a group of human beings, for example, those living in Europe in the Middle Ages. Some of them died as small babies, others lived to be 100 years old or more, and most were between those two extremes. Add them up, divide, and you have the average. You learned to do that in some math class.

But "life expectancy" is a little trickier. For example, the generation of Americans who fought World War Two is now over eighty years old. We look around, and see many of them still living; others have died only recently, having made it into their seventies. And so we say that this generation had a pretty good "life expectancy". But their average life span was much shorter. We forget about the hundreds of thousands who actually died in the 1940's, fighting in the Pacific against Japan. When they are factored into the group, we find that the average life span is much shorter than the life expectancy. Remember, many of those soldiers who died were under twenty years of age.

Your life expectancy is defined, roughly, as how long you can expect to live if you have already made it to a certain age, say 20 or 30, and if there are no major unforeseen catastrophes, say like a war or an earthquake.

It's not meaningful to compare a modern life expectancy to a medieval average life span. That's comparing apples to oranges.

Given that the modern life span is shorter than the modern life expectancy, maybe we're not so much better off than those folks in the Middle Ages after all.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Backwards Revolution

Sometimes, revolutions fail to make things better; in 1959, the Cuban Communist revolution rejected American-style democracy, and promised to make things better for the "common working" man. What happened after that?

Many economic and social indicators have declined since the 1959 revolution. Pre-Castro Cuba ranked third in Latin America in per capita food consumption; today, it ranks last. Per capita consumption of cereals, tubers, and meat are today all below 1950's levels. The number of automobiles in Cuba has fallen since the 1950's - the only country in Latin America for which this is the case. The number of telephone lines in Cuba also has been virtually frozen at 1950's levels. Cuba once ranked first in Latin America and fifth in the world in television sets per capita. Today, it barely ranks fourth in Latin America and is well back in the ranks globally.

Cuba's rate of development of electrical power since the 1950’s ranks behind every other country in Latin America except Haiti. Cuba is the only country in the hemisphere for which rice production today is lower than it was four decades ago.

Cuba's infant mortality rate of 32 per 1,000 live births in 1957 was the lowest in Latin America and the 13th lowest in the world, according to UN data. Cuba ranked ahead of France, Belgium, Germany, Israel, Japan, Austria, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, all of which would eventually pass Cuba in this indicator during the following decades. Cuba's world ranking has fallen from 13th to 24th during the Castro era, according to UN Data.

Japan, with four cars per 1,000 inhabitants in 1958, was far behind Cuba (24) that year, but by 1988, Japan's number had grown to 251, whereas the figure for Cuba remained frozen at its 1958 level. Similar comments could be made for Portugal (increased from fifteen in 1958 to 216 in 1988), Spain (increased from six to 278), and Greece (increased from four to 150). Indeed, Italy's 29 cars per capita was not far ahead of Cuba's 24 in 1958, but by 1988, Italy boasted 440 cars per capita, whereas the figure for Cuba was unchanged from the 1950's.

Today, Cuba has only three telephone lines per 100 people, placing it 14th out of twenty Latin American countries surveyed in 1994 and far behind countries that were less advanced than Cuba in this measure in 1958, such as Argentina (today 14 lines per 100 inhabitants), Costa Rica (13), Panama (11), Chile (11), Venezuela (11), and several others.

During the late 1950's, Cuba ranked second only to Uruguay in Latin America, with 169 radios per 1,000 people. (Worldwide, this put Cuba just ahead of Japan.) At that time, Argentina and Cuba were very similar in terms of this measure. Since then, the number of radios per capita in Argentina has grown three times as fast as in Cuba. Cuba also has been surpassed by Bolivia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, and Brazil in this indicator.

Cuba had 45 television sets per 1,000 inhabitants in 1957, by far the most in Latin America and fifth in the world, behind only Monaco, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. In fact, its closest competitor in Latin America was Venezuela, which had only sixteen television sets per 1,000 people. Today, Cuba has 170 televisions per thousand, behind Uruguay (232 per capita), Argentina (220), and Brazil (209). Of these three countries, Uruguay in 1957 had less than one television per 1,000 people, and Argentina and Brazil each had five per 1,000 people.

Although Cuba has never been a regional leader in public electricity production per capita, its relative ranking among twenty Latin American countries has fallen from eighth to 11th during the Castro era. In fact, in terms of the rate of growth for this measure, Cuba ranks 19th of twenty countries in the region, with only Haiti showing less accelerated development.

Cuba is the only country in Latin America whose production of rice has fallen since 1958, when it ranked fourth in the region in production of this staple.

Cubans had a choice of 58 daily newspapers during the late 1950's, according to the UN statistical yearbook. Despite its small size, this placed Cuba behind only Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico in the region. By 1992, government controls had reduced the number of dailies to only seventeen.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

A Short Snooze for a Short Emperor: Napoleon's Naps

From the time of his self-appointment to the first consulship in 1799, Napoleon had constructed for himself folding field-bed out of iron. On all campaigns and field manouvers, he took one along: either a small one on the back of a mule, or a larger one on a supply wagon. But even when he slept on something more comfortable, Napoleon slept only a short time. Allegedly, he never remained in bed for any longer than four hours at a time. He didn't like those who slept for long periods of time. Sleep experts celebrate him today as a pioneer of the "power-nap", an energizing short snooze. Accordingly, Napoleon is supposed to have slept briefly several times a day - for example, when commanding. Sometimes even during a battle!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Peace in the Middle East?

The recent "heating up" of military action in the area of Israel and Lebanon has brought the ancient conflicts of the Middle East to the forefront again.

Many American politicians are debating about the best way to make peace - but their debates are founded on the presupposition that peace is possible in this situation, and that is an assumption which we must examine more carefully.

First, let's define peace. If, by that word, we mean merely the absense of violence, the lack of shooting, then, yes, peace in the Middle East is possible. Either by diplomacy or by force, it is possible to create a cease-fire, an uneasy and tenuous truce; this can be done by the involved parties themselves, or by external forces. It has been done before.

But if we mean, by the word peace, something more than an imposed restraint on military action, if we mean, perhaps, the creation of a political stable equalibrium, and the conviction on the parts of all involved parties that an even-handed solution to the underlying conflicts has been reached, then one begins to wonder if "peace" is at all possible in the Middle East.

Remember that this recent round of fighting is simply a continuation of fighting that has been going on since 1948. Remember that the fighting that began in 1948 is merely a continuation of the fighting that has been going on since around 1500 B.C.; indeed, the ancient accounts are shockingly similar to today's headlines: the same towns and countries are mentioned, armies move along the same roads.

For those who want to reduce all Middle Eastern conflict to the Israeli situation, remember that this part of the world has hosted nearly ceaseless conflict over the last fifteen centuries between Arab nations, between Islamic nations, even when there was no Jewish state present, even when the number of ethnic Jews living in the region was insignificant, and even when Europe and America didn't intervene in any way.

This part of the world is used to constant warfare as a way of life. They have fought for centuries. One wonders if any rational articulation of the reasons is at all still possible.

Thus it may be foolish to think that the United Nations, or the United States, can intervene with a "peace plan", and resolve the tensions and create a non-agressive co-existence.

Why has a reasonable and fair peace been possible in Europe following WWII? Europe has enjoyed sixty years of peace, interrupted only by the civil war as Yugoslavia disintegrated into six or seven separate nations. The periodic attacks by Soviet soldiers on unarmed civilians were not military wars, but massacres, and fall into a different category. Why the stability and peace in Europe, but not in the Middle East? For the answer, we must examine the underlying cultures and worldviews.

Tristan and Isolde

The ancient story, and recent film, about Tristan and Isolde is one well worth studying. This narrative has inspired poets, composers, and painters over the centuries, leaving us with many different versions of the same basic plot.

But don't be confused: this is not merely a love story. This is an account of the political upheavals caused by the fall of the Roman Empire, and of the beginnings of English national identity. The effort to unite a handful of independent tribes into what would become England, and the struggle between these collected tribes and the Irish, formed the geo-politics of Europe for several centuries. Understanding this story is understanding what England is, how it arose, and what the authentic English identity was prior to 1066. But 1066 is another story.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Going Native

When the British oversaw an empire "on which the sun never sets" - meaning that, because it had large territories around the world, it was always daylight somewhere in the empire - they used the phrase "going native" to describe a certain phenomenon: when an Englishman, sent to work in one of the colonies, would be begin to adapt himself to the ways of the local cultures. An British man who began to dress according to local fashions, converse with the natives, eat their type food, perhaps marry a local woman, learn their languages, and - the ultimate step - begin to identify with them instead of with his fellow Englishmen and to see things from their point of view, they said that he had "gone native."

Now, to be sure, this was sometimes a negative evaluation, and sometimes merely a neutral observation.

The British Empire has faded away, but this concept can help us to understand a current situation.

The politics of the Middle East are very complicated, and it would be foolish to think that they could be completely explained in one small blog posting. How can one ever completely analyze the intricacies of Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Syria, Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, and Egypt, with their various languages, cultures, religions, and histories? No, I will not present a comprehensive examination of the entire political situation in the Near East.

But I will examine one small part of this big puzzle.

In 1948, when the modern state of Israel was organized, it was done for several different reasons: one of them a hope to transplant a handful of European Jews, and with them, the western concept of democracy, and of a democratic republic; the hope was that these concepts would take root in the Middle East, and spread the notion of this type of government and society. The dream was that the Near East would begin to look like Europe, and that the nations there would begin to operate on a basis which would allow them to make peace with each other, and with the rest of the world, and to enter into a more normalized relation with the states in the rest of the world. The modern state of Israel was supposed to be a "seed" of a modern democracy republic in the region.

That was one thought behind the founding of the nation. There were others, perhaps more important, or at least more dominate, which we will not discuss here.

How did matters fare? Well, there will be different interpretations of the last fifty years of world history, but one interpretation is to say that some of those European Jews, who were to plant democracy in the region, "went native" - that is to say, instead of changing the region, the region changed them. They may have adopted the ancient attitudes of the Near East, attitudes alien to democratic republics, even alien to the peculiar way in which western civilizations value human life, and value peace over war.

The Middle East, at war for centuries, is, or has become, comfortable with war as a way of life; this is a a worldview which is at odds with Eurocentric ideologies, a worldview in which human life is not necessarily extremely valuable.

Have some of the citizens of modern Israel adopted this viewpoint - have they "gone native"?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Definitions are Everything!

What do Jesus and Karl Marx have in common? Well, to start with, they were both Jewish, and they both were Communists. That may startle you, but this shocking statement also depends on how you define "Jewish" and "Communist" - and reminds us that definitions are the key to understanding confusing episodes of both history and philosophy.

Jesus was spiritually, culturally, and genetically Jewish; Karl Marx merely happened to have Jewish grandparents; so they were both "Jewish", but in very different senses of the word. Jesus inspired his followers to put their money and material possessions into a common treasury, and share equally from it; this would qualify him as a "Communist" - but in a very different sense than Marx. Marx's version of Communism relied on the government as the ultimate power, on material objects as the ultimate reality, and on atheism as the ultimate belief. Jesus, to say the least, was not an atheist.

Many politicians are debating about "immigrants" now - but we must first define whether we are talking about legal or illegal immigrants.

Biologists are discussing "stem cells" these days - but are they examing those taken from adults, or from unborn babies?

It is precisely in these topics - the most emotional, passionate, and political themes - that we must focus most carefully on the definitions of words. Only then can we speak more rationally.

An atheist once attacked a philosopher with the often-repeated question, "can you really prove that God exists?" The philosopher, tired of the game, returned with a question, "can you even define the word 'God'?"

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Patterns in History

Over the years, different historians have found - or have claimed to find - recurring patterns in world history. Alexander Fraser Tyler, also known as Lord Woodhouselee, a Scottish history professor, writing in the 1780's, examined the rise and fall of Athens, and concluded: "A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship."

Tyler continued, noting that civilizations tend to develop until they hit their high points, and remain at that high point for an average of two centuries: "The average age of the world's greatest civilizations, from the beginning of history, has been about two hundred years. During those two hundred years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:

1. From the bondage of supersition, myth, and pagan magic into the freedom of spiritual faith.

2. From spiritual faith into great courage, motivated by that faith.

3. From courage to liberty, bought and protected by that courage.

4. From liberty to abundance, attained by diligent application of that liberty.

5. From abundance to complacency.

6. From complacancy to apathy.

7. From apathy to dependence.

8. From dependence back into bondage."

Do you agree with Tyler's analysis? Can you think of specific, concrete examples in ancient or modern history to support his general conclusions?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Evaluating a Pope

For more than a thousand years, popes have been playing an influential role in world history. From the Reformation to the Fall of the Iron Curtain, the top officer of the Roman Catholic church is a player in culture and civilization. Some popes are very famous, others almost unknown. But how do you evaluate a pope?

Well, if you happen to be an actual, practicing Roman Catholic, as opposed to those millions who merely called themselves Roman Catholics, you'll have to figure this out on your own. Because as an "insider", you will evaluate a pope as an internal matter, from within the framework of the Roman Catholic church. I can't help you on this one.

I, the author of this blog, happen to be an outsider, i.e., I am not a Roman Catholic, and so have an external perspective on a pope. So, if you happen to be an outsider as well, how do we evaluate a pope?

The first step is to gather information. This is not easy, because almost everyone who writes about a pope has a "spin" which they are trying to inflict on the reading public. Anything written from within the Roman Catholic church will give us glowing reports about the pope, making him seem like Superman, talented and skilled in every manner, and seemingly without flaw. Most articles written from outside the Roman Catholic church are from organizations, like Time, Newsweek, or The New York Times, which have the clear purpose of opposing the pope, and so will make each of his actions seem like a blunder or mistake, and interpret every speech as proof of either ignorance or ill will.

How, then, can we accurate information about a pope, if the sources are explicitly skewed, either for him or against him?

The clearest picture of a pope can perhaps be gained by letting him speak for himself. Every recent pope has written a number of books, both before and after becoming pope. These texts will show us what was on his mind, and will show us if he changed his mind in any way after becoming pope. Admittedly, such documents may difficult to read, but getting to an actual, objective truth is usually hard work. Reading propaganda is easy.

So, ignore the books written by monks and nuns, designed to make a pope look good; and ignore The Chicago Tribune, USA Today, and the TV reports on ABC, NBC, CNN, and CBS, which are composed to make the pope look bad. Both are equally biased. Instead, see what he himself has written.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Jus Primae Noctis

From opera (Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro) to Hollywood (Braveheart), the notion of jus primae noctis has been a great dramatic device, because it inspire's the deepest sense of outrage at injustice in the viewer, and the dramatic energy is enough to propel the plot forward. It is part of the larger pattern of many great dramas to posit a horrific injustice, which energizes the forward action of the storyline as the protagonists attempt to restore justice.

For those who don't know, jus primae noctis is a legal term for the right of the local nobility (usually a count, or a duke, or a baron; originally a feudal lord in earlier times) to be the first man to sleep with any girl on the night of her wedding before she is allowed to sleep with her husband.

Despite the depth of the outrage which this phrase invokes, and despite the high profile which it has attained in literature and other art forms, one question remains: did this ever actually happen in real life?

According to most historians, the answer is no. Although history knows many examples of aristocrats who used their influence to seduce, or rape, girls in their territories, there seem to be no recorded examples of a royal who attempted to codify this as law, or who attempted to systematically carry out this idea. It seems to be a powerful, but ficticious, literary invention. Sociologists have noted that, if anybody had ever actually tried to institute this as a legal practice, he probably would have been quickly assassinated.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Home of Modern Science

What we call science, or, more properly, natural science, has been around at least since Aristotle started organizing categories of animals and thereby founded biology.

But science was re-started, and what we call modern science arose and found its home in Europe during the late Middle Ages and Early Modern Era. Astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, and the mathematical infrastructure needed to form them constituted a new era in scientific thinking, an era which continues to this day. But why did this happen in Europe, and not somewhere else in the world?

European culture in the late Middle Ages had reached a point, after several centuries, at which it could clearly formulate six ideas which contributed to a scientific mindset:

[1] The physical world is real, not an illusion. Many non-European cultures had embraced a philosophy which taught that the physical world is an illusion. Eurpean philosophers taught that the world is real and can be known. This assumption primed Western thinkers to value the physical world and to consider it worthy of study.

[2] Nature is good but not divine. Many primitive cultures held animistic beliefs, which taught that the world is the home of the divine or an emanation of God's own essence. Consequently, they believe that nature is alive with sun gods, river goddesses, and astral deities. Eurpean philosophers taught that the sun and the moon are not gods; historians call this the "de-deification" of nature; nature is not to be worshipped, it is to be studied.

[3] Nature is orderly and predictable. Another unique contribution of European thought was the ideas of the laws of nature. Nobody had ever before used the word "law" in relation to nature. Many other cultures had regarded nature as mysterious, dangerous, and chaotic. Early scientists acted on the belief that nature is orderly, before they had amassed enough evidence to prove it. Modern physics is based on the ideas that the universe is rational because it is understandable, uniform because law like gravity operate in the same way on different planets, and organized according to the laws of mathematics.

[4] Humans can discover nature's order. Early scientists acted on the hypothesis that the order in nature can be discovered by the human mind. The ancient Chinese, by comparison, believed that the order of nature was inscrutable to the human mind; so they never developed science as a self-correcting, experimental enterprise.

[5] We need to experiment. The ancient Greeks had organized natural sciences, like Aristotle's biology, as a largely reflective effort. They thought about biology, but they did not investigate biology.

[6] The order in nature is mathematically precise. Modern science depends on the idea that the order in nature is precise and can be expressed in mathematical formulas; European thought did not see nature as random or haphazard, but rather structured and organized by equations.

These six ideas formed a culture which was the ideal place for a new set of scientific breakthroughs. This is how culture relates to science.

The Most Superlative

It is not unusual to hear or read statements like, "Alexander the Great was an excellent tactian and strategist" or "the Magna Carta was formative" or "the Thirty Years War was devastating." These types of propositions are routine in history, and are no problem, if you can support them by citing specific facts: "Alexander the Great was an excellent tactician and strategist because he managed to invade and conquer Greece, Persia, and Egypt" or "the Magna Carta was formative because it has shaped not only the government of England, but also the governments of several other nations (USA, Canada, Australia), and has exerted this influence continually over the last 800 years" or "the Thirty Years War was devastating because more people died in it than in any other war prior to 1914." General statements are fine, if they are supported by specific facts.

What are, however, much more problematic, are superlative generalizations. To say that "Alexander the Great was the most excellent tactician and strategist" is very hard to prove: what about Napoleon or Ulyses Grant? To write that "the Magna Carta was the most formative political document every written" is difficult to support: what about the Ten Commandments, or the Declaration of Independence?

So be very careful when using superlatives: "the most" or "the greatest" can get you into trouble. Much safer are "one of the greatest" or "one of the most"; but they still need to be supported by citing details.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Queen and the Philosopher

One of the most famous rulers of Sweden was Queen Kristina (often spelling in the English way, "Christina"). She not only governed Sweden during an era that was historically important, but she also interacted with some of the most important people of her time.

In 1646, she began to write letters to Rene Descartes, the French thinker who almost single-handedly began modern rationalist philosophy. They discuss love, ethics, God, and creation; she is interested in his Roman Catholic views: she is, like 99% of Swedes, Lutheran.

In 1648, she will play a leading role in the negotiations which bring an end to the Thirty Years War, and bring peace to Europe. The negotiations are held in a church in Germany. Some people praise her for bringing peace; others will condemn her, because the war ended badly for Sweden. Until this time, Sweden had been very powerful in European politics and economics; after this time, Sweden will be less significant.

In 1650, Queen Christina invites Descartes to Stockholm, so that they can discuss philosophy together. She wants to meet with him every morning at 5:00 am in a poorly-heated room in her palace; in order to do this, he must arise at 3:30 am, because the house where is he staying is more than an hour's journey away. He contract pneumonia and dies.

After a series of secret letters to Jesuits, discussing the Roman Catholic faith, she abdicates in 1654, and travels to Rome, where she officially converts to Roman Catholocism and meets with the pope in 1655. She will remain active in European politics, travelling through France, Sweden, Italy, and elsewhere. She will continue her interest in philosophy, and the impact of philosophy on astronomy, carrying with her the influence of Descartes.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Jewish Women - Makers of History

To consciously scan history for women who made a difference is a project worth doing; whether or not there is some patriarchal bias in history, the point stands as valid that history has been shaped by men as well as women. This is true in all areas of history; today we'll draw our examples from Jewish events. Some reminders:

It was a woman who ...

Risked her life to protect Moses at a time when Egyptians were engaging in "ethnic cleansing" by killing Hebrew baby boys.

Protected the Israelite spies in the city of Jericho, gave them information, and helped them to escape, making possible the Israelite invasion.

Led the Israelites to victory in battle, advising and eventually replacing the military leader Barak.

Kept the prophet Elijah alive by giving him provisions when there was no other food to found.

Crystalized the concept of devotion in the words, "wither you go, I will go, and your God will be my God."

Risked her life, confronting the Persian king to whom she was married, to save her nation from destruction.

Was cited by Jesus as demonstrating altruism when she donated an absolutely small, but relatively large, sum.

Shattered an alabaster container to pour perfume on Jesus, a radical act at the time.

Wetted the feet of Jesus with her tears, in a symbolic gesture.

Embraced the concept of mystery and elucidated the concept of the divine incarnation.

The women listed above changed history, and had they not played the roles they did, our culture and civilization today would different beyond recognition - all manner of art, music, philosophy, and politics would have taken radically divergent paths without the influence of these historic Jewish women.

Categorizing Worldviews

Different scholars develop various systems for keeping track of beliefs; here's one:

You can picture this as a 6 x 10 grid, with six worldviews on one axis, and ten topics on the other. Each cell in the spreadsheet would then contain a statement about what one of those worldviews has to say about the topic.

The six worldviews are: Christianity, Islam, Secular Humanism, Cosmic Humanism, Marxism-Leninism, and Post-Modernism.

The ten topics would be: theology, philosophy, ethics, biology, psychology, sociology, law, politics, economics, and history.

Try to sketch this chart for yourself, and fill in the cells. Then ask yourself: Could there be more worldviews? Who are the authors and texts that define each worldview? Are there better ways to keep track of worldviews?

Judging the Quality of a Speech

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address, a speech which is not only significant because of its historical context at the turning point in one of the most important wars in the history of the world - and the single most noteworthy war in the history of the United States - but which is also a masterpiece of language.

Lincoln was sandwiched between several other speeches which were given that day by other politicians. These other speakers each spoke for approximately an hour, making a long day of it. Lincoln, by contrast, probably took about two minutes for his oration!

Editorializing about the event, The Chicago Sun wrote: "The cheek of every American must tingle with shame, as he reads the silly, flat, and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States."

Today, textbooks around the world cite Lincoln's work as a paradigmatic example of the English language!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Playing Victim

One distinctive aspect of our civilization is its concern for those who are vulnerable in society. Our culture has been marked by this trend ever since Moses, who gave special legal advantages to the weaker classes: widows, orphans, the poor, and the foreigners. This is the basis for many aspects of modern social structures, including welfare systems, and extends even to sports: American love to "root for the underdog" when a lesser-known team takes on a powerful opponent.

As Nietzsche pointed out, other cultures do not share this inclination: other cultures consider it appropriate to exploit the poor and weak, and to take advantage of those who are vulnerable. Outside of our civilization, it is considered an unusual thing to want to help those in need. Some varieties of Hinduism and Buddhism even reject the idea of relieving the suffering of others, because they have been fated to endure such suffering to pay off the sins of their previous lives. By helping them, you would be helping them to unjustly escape their punishments, and condemning them to suffer more in the next life because they didn't suffer enough in this one.

Although it is generally a good thing that our society wants to help those who are defenseless, there is one drawback: our society can be fooled into helping those who merely claim to be victims, but who in reality suffer no disadvantage.

To be sure, it is not really a big problem if a man takes a meal from a homeless shelter when he's actually not so poor. It may be immoral, but society isn't harmed by his deception. He has exploited our society's desire to help the weak, but the damage to society at large is not great.

Another example of this principle is the trend of faking "hate crimes". Desiring to help those who are oppressed by racism or cultural prejudice, our society wants to prevent crimes based on a person's skin color or nationality. But some individuals have seen a chance to exploit this system by filing reports of crimes which never took place, in order to gain sympathy for themselves and their political causes.

In U.S. News and World Report, the University of Georgia revealed that a resident assistant in a dormitory had filed nine police reports, claiming to have been the victim of nine separate attacks because he was a homosexual. When the police began to investigate the incidents, he confessed that he had faked them, because he wanted to create the impression that homosexuals were victims.

The French newspaper Le Groupe National carried the story of Edward Drago, a student at the College of New Jersey, sent death threats to himself, and to a homosexual student group to which he belonged. He confessed to faking the death threats, trying to get publicity for his student club.

At St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, a lesbian student used a razor blade to cut her own face; she reported to the police that she had been attacked. When the police discover that she had faked the attack, she told the U.S. News and World Report that she had done it in order to help raise funds for a pro-homosexual student group.

The same article revealed that a lesbian at Eastern New Mexico State University told the police that her name had been posted by an "anti-gay hate group", and that she had then later been physically attacked because her name was publicized. The police discovered that she had posted the list herself, that there was no "anti-gay hate group", and that she had faked the physical assalt as well.

In joint reporting between World magazine and AZcentral web news, it was revealed that a lebsian had hired a homosexual man to beat her, so then she could tell the police that she was the victim of a "hate crime".

In a California high school, a student faked a series of "gay-bashing" incidents, including grafiti on lockers and cars, and eggs being thrown at students and their houses. The Los Angeles Times discovered that these actions had actually been done by the school's Gay-Straight Alliance.

Because this tactic of gaining sympathy is based on our culture, it is found outside the U.S. in other countries which share our cultural roots. In England and Europe, the police have reported faked hate crimes.

One of our civilization's strengths is its conern for the down-trodden, and we should not give up this precious aspect of our society. But we must be aware that it can be exploited by political groups, who present themselves as vicitms in order to gain sympathy - and power.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Other Van Gogh

Most of us are familiar with Vincent van Gogh, the Dutch painter. Less famous is his relative, Theo van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker, who was brutally murdered on November 2, 2004.

Theo van Gogh was murdered because of his art. He had made a documentary film about the treatment of women in Islamic societies. He questioned whether it was appropriate for Muslim leaders to continue to repeat advice, found in the Qur'an, that husbands should beat their wives if they wives fail to obey. Theo van Gogh also documented how Islam prevented women from attending school and gaining an education.

On the morning of his death, Theo was riding his bicycle to work. Muslim gunmen, who were waiting for him, opened fire; he was hit several times, and fatally wounded. Not content with killing him, the assassins stabbed him with a knife, and then used the knife to attach a five-page note to Theo's body. The note stated that the governments of Europe were the object of "jihad", and listed specific government leaders in Holland who would be targeted for assassination.

It seems that more than one member of the van Gogh family produced turbulent art, and faced a tragic death.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Arguing about Darwinism

Most of us are by now familiar with the usual discussions about evolution: the hard-core Creationists dogmatically assert that the universe as we know was created in six twenty-four hour days, six thousand years ago; the hard-core Darwinists dogmatically assert that life was spontaneously generated out of lifeless random chemicals billions of years ago. This type of debate has been going on for approximately two hundred years now.

Is there a third option? Increasing numbers of professors are embracing a view which, through observation and induction, frames the hypothesis that life is not the result of random coincidences.

At universities and colleges like Princeton, Stanford, Berkeley, MIT, Vanderbilt, Duke, Tulane, and all eleven of the Big Ten schools, professors in departments such as Astro-Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Genetics, Embrology, Dendrology, Bio-Chemistry, and Quantum Mechanics are being attacked by university presidents and administrators because they are skeptical about Darwinism.

Five hundred of them signed a petition, stating that they "are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged."

Althought they are being punished for questioning the claims of Darwinism, this group of researchers may be opening up a "third option" in a debate that has been locked up between two sides.

Who Are You?

When asked, "who are you?", many people will reply with "I work at IBM," or "I live in Detroit," or "I write software," or "I come from Wisconsin." But these answers don't really address the question. (You may recognize the comedy bit from the movie "Anger Management".) If you tell me what you do, or where you live, that doesn't really tell me who you are.

In Denmark, in the 1840's, the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard struggled with this question. He decided that the real answers to these questions lay in the meaningful and significant choices you make. Who you are is shown by how you make decisions, and the most consequential decisions are made in the context of relationships. Kierkegaard would happily grant that, if you are standing by yourself in front of a machine, faced with the question of "Coke or Pepsi?", you can indeed make a free choice; but it is not a significant choice. The meaningful decisions are those which impact other humans, and which impact your relationship to those other humans. Those decisions reveal who you are.

So Kierkegaard would answer the question "who are you?" by saying, "I am a friend, a brother or sister, a son or daughter, a neighbor, etc." The answer to "who are you?" is not found in your education, your job, or your athletic record. It is found in the way you interact with other humans. Granted, you may interact with them in the course of your job, your education, or your athletic involvement.

Kierkegaard also points out that the ultimate relationship is one's relationship to God. The manner in which you deal with God shows something about who you are. Kierkegaard is known as the founder of existentialism.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Avoiding Fascism

In the course of analyzing fascism, we noted that fascism avoids free market capitalism. This kind of laissez-faire economics is not compatible with the fascist's desire for control.

We also learned that fascist politics are dominated by militarism; instead of the political process directing the military, the military controls the political structure. In the words of the famous French leader during World War One, "war is too important to be left to the generals."

These two general principles can be applied to the United States. If we continue to allow our economy to function freely, without interference or regulation by the government, and if we make sure that our politicians direct the military, instead of the military directing the politicians, then we can avoid fascism.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Edmund Burke and Richard Nixon

What does the U.S. president from 1969 to 1974 have to do with the Irish-English political philosopher who analyzed the American and French Revolutions? Nixon's administration was brought down in a scandal, and he became the first - and, so far, only - president to resign.

Reflecting on Nixon's demise, one of his aides later commented that these events evoked from him a "frank acknowledgement that of the human disposition to make wrong moral choices and inflict harm and suffering on others." The official concluded that this observation is "empirically validated by thirty-five centuries of recorded human history."

Responding to those who hope to refine our political system so that such scandals never happen again, he said, this "worldview has proven to be utterly irrational and unlivable. The denail of our sinful nature, and the utopian myth it breeds, leads not to beneficial social experiments but to tyranny. The confidence that humans are prefectible provides a justification for trying to them perfect ... no matter what it takes. And with God out of the picture, those in power are not accountable to any higher authority. They can use any means necessary, no matter how brutal or coercive, to remold people to fit their notion of the perfect society."

Not only can we not fine-tune our system in order to avoid all future mis-uses of power, but it is exactly such an attempt which leads to the abuse of power, because this attempt to protect people from bad rulers is carried out by giving total control to the rulers.

The notion that humans and human society are perfectible entails, and is entailed by, the denial of any concept of natural law and the rejection of any standards of good and bad. But it is exactly this concept and these standards which have "historically proven to be the most dependable defender of human liberty," according to Nixon's assistant. "The commitment to a higher law," he continues, puts one "on the front lines in resisting laws or actions contrary to that law." It was Nixon's belief in the ultimate value of his own ability to organize a good society, his belief that his programs would be a great step forward for the nation, which caused him to decide to violate laws; if Nixon could truly create a little piece of utopia, then it would be OK to break a law or two to achieve this, right?

This "view was argued eloquently by the British statesman Edmund Burke during a famous 1788 debate in the House of Lords over the impeachment of the governor general of India. The governor general had claimed a right to arbitrary authority over the unruly nationals, arguing that they were, after all, used to despotism. Burke replied with these wonderful words: 'My lords, the East India Company have not arbitrary power to give him [the governor general]. The king has no arbitrary power to give. Neither your lordships, nor the Commons, nor the whole legislature, have arbitrary power to give. Arbitrary power is a thing which no man can give ... We are all born, high as well as low, governors as well as governed, in subjection to one great, immutable, preexisting law ... This great law does not arise from our combinations and compacts; on the contrary, it gives to them all the sanctions they can have.'"

Burke, and Nixon's aide who here quotes him, points out the two-fold danger of utopian thinking: first, it justifies "by any means necessary" thinking, for if we can truly create a wonderful utopia here and now on earth, then it would certainly be worth breaking a few rules to get there, or even killing a few people to create a paradise for the human race; second, it places absolute power in the hands of a few people, or even one person, who has the alleged vision and knowledge about how to create this utopia, because that person has to control all the variables of society carefully and precisely in order to form the perfect organization.

Behind this kind of thinking, Nixon's aide continues, is the "notion that human nature is essentially good ... Utopianism says: if only we create the right social and economic structures, we can usher in an age of harmony and prosperity. But Christians can never give their allegiance to utopian projects."

Burke had a realistic view of human nature. Humans are wonderful, rational, skilled, and creative, but they are not perfect. Humans will, from time to time, fail. They will sometimes choose evil instead of good. They will sometimes seek to harm instead of help, sometimes be selfish instead of selfless.

Burke rejected the type of view held by Hobbes, in which human nature is only selfish and violent; but he also rejected the views of Rousseau, which said that humans are naturally good. Burke saw humans as a mixed picture, sometimes doing good, and sometimes evil.

If we lose sight of the fact that humans are limited, if we trust too much in human plans and project, we end up at Watergate: Nixon's aide momentarily lost sight of those basic principles we call "rule of law" and "natural law", and followed the president into the scandal; when it all came undone, he commented that "the human propensity to evil and disorder must be hemmed in by law and tradition." Burke would have agreed.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Procter and Gamble and Racism and Class Warfare

Before we go any further, this posting is NOT asking anybody to boycott anything. I am not writing about the Procter and Gamble corporation; I am writing about the private activities of the owners and operators, and their families. You may go ahead and buy your soap in peace.

One of the founders of P&G was Clarence Gamble. In addition to selling soap, Mr. Gamble was also a hard-core racist. Having made his millions, he sought ways to fund his quest for racial purity. Enter Margaret Sanger and her organization, Planned Parenthood. She devised a scheme known as the "Negro Project", with the stated goal of reducing the birthrate among African-Americans. Gamble funded it generously.

This was part of a larger social movement at the time known as "Eugenics", the desire and attempt to control human breeding so that only the "best" and "fittest" people would procreate. There were various forms of Eugenics, from state eugenics (controlled by the government in the interests of the state), to vicious quests for "racial purity". Margaret Sanger would go on to be invited by the KKK to speak at one of their rallies; she happily accepted the invitation, and considered her speech there a success.

The Gamble family's racist quest continued into the next generation: Sarah Gamble Epstein, Clarence's daughter, publicly defends and supports the government of mainland communist China and its program of forced abortion against the will of pregnant women. She states that Americans should be "praising China for looking forward", and that Chinese women should know that it is "both patriotic and beneficial" to cooperate with the government's program of involuntary abortions.

Other financial leaders were involved in funding racist schemes: the Carnegie Institute, founded by industrialist Andrew Carnegie, funded the work of Charles Davenport, who took eugenics into the sphere of government policy. Following the ideas of Francis Galton, who first proposed the intentional breeding of humans, Davenport, and his assistant, Harry Laughlin, encouraged the U.S. government to reduce the immigration quotas for those seen as "racially inferior", including Jews. This was during the 1930's, when Hitler was gearing up for the Holocaust, which would begin in 1938. Jews who might have lived were denied admission to the U.S. and forced to remain in Germany. Laughlin praised the Nazi policies of enforced sterilization and breeding, and received an honorary doctorate in eugenics from the Nazi government.

Wesley Smith, an opponent of eugenics, writes that "eugenics springs from a poisoned intellectual well. The very idea that we have the right to decide which human traits to enhance and which to eradicate is what leads to trouble. Social pressures can oppress even without formal government actions. Besides, if the new eugenics became popular, it wouldn't take long for politicians to get into the act." The "new eugenics" to which Smith refers are the attempts at genetic engineering, combined with decisions based on pre-natal testing.

Author Harry Brunius asks, "what is the foundation of human dignity ... ? Or, more precisely, what is the ... basis for individual rights ... ?"

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Massacre at Chios

The French painter Eugene Delacroix immortalized the Massacre at Chios; this is one of his most famous paintings. The painting was originally exhibited in 1824, and purchased at that time by Charles X, king of France, for the Louvre museum. As a work of art, the painting has earned a place in history.

The picture also serves as a history lesson. The Massacre at Chios occurred in 1822. The Islamic armies of the Ottoman Empire were attacking Greece. These armies, launched from Turkey, encountered the small island of Chios on their way to Greece. Here, it became clear what their intent was. The island was not only a military objective, but also an example of the kind of human subjugation envisioned by the Muslim attempt at expansion. The women of the island were subjected to systematic mass rape; large numbers of the population were executed.

The events at Chios awakened Europe to the inhumane terror which was threatening, once again, to invade. Delacroix's painting was a wake-up call.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Pretzels, Bagels, and Culture

Approximately two thousand years ago, central Europe was the home of the Germanic tribes. The Roman expansion in Europe never succeeded in establishing a permanent foothold in the area north of the Danube and east of the Rhine, leaving this region as one of the few truly independent cultural centers of Europe.

These Germanic tribes - they were not Germans, though some of them would later be - gave us many cultural treasures, including literary masterpieces like the Icelandic Sagas, or the Nibelungen; they also gave us the basis of the English language. English, as students of Beowulf know, is derived largely from Germanic dialects like Saxon and Frisian, and only a few English vocabulary items came from Latin.

These founders of what would later become several nations - Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, Prussia, Austria, Flanders, Iceland, and kingdoms like Saxony, Bavaria, Hessen, etc. - were innovators and experimenters. One interesting practice which they began was the boiling of a solution of lye and water. Lye is a caustic and dangerous chemical, sodium hydroxide, NaOH. This boiling mixture is toxic if consumed, and causes chemical burns on human skin. But into this liquid, they tossed lumps of bread dough. Scooping them out of vat, these lumps were then baked, often with salt. The lye was rendered non-toxic by the baking and by reacting with the bread dough, but it left a distinctive and pleasurable taste, and a glossy brown surface.

A few centuries later, the Germanic tribes would be exposed to the belief systems of Christianity and Judaism. This caused them to give up their habit of sacrificing humans on stone altars to the Germanic pagan divinities. But they didn't give up their lye.

Those Germanic tribes who converted to Christianity began to form their bread dough into the distinctive shape we now know as a "pretzel"; the Jews who settled in the area learned the practice from their Germanic neighbors, but opted for a simpler, circular shape - a bagel, from the Germanic word meaning "circle".

Friday, March 17, 2006

Newton vs. Leibniz

The intense debate between Leibniz and Newton about the nature of space-time has impacted the nature of physics to this day.

Leibniz said that "space-time" (i.e., space and time) does not have an independent, real existence of its own. Rather, it exists only relative to objects. If we removed all energy and matter from the universe, there would be no space or time, Leibniz says.

Newton says that space-time is real, that it has an existence all of its own, independent of material objects. So Newton says that if we removed all matter and energy from the universe, we would be left with empty space and empty time.

Leibniz says that there is no such thing as "empty space-time", and produces the following argument for this view. If, Leibniz says, we moved everything in the universe five feet in one direction, there would be no discernable difference between the state affairs before the move and the state of affairs after the move. Thus, Leibniz continues, there is no absolute location, but rather, location is merely relative. Therefore, space-time exists merely relative to objects, and does not have a real independent existence of its own.

Newton disagrees. Newton says that, if we removed all matter and energy from the universe, and in its place we placed a bucket of water, and then we gradually begin to spin that bucket of water, eventually the water would spill over the edge. This would prove that the bucket is spinning. But, if the universe were devoid of all matter and energy in this experiment, the bucket would have to be spinning relative to something, and, Newton continues, that "something" would be the absolute, independently-existing space-time matrix.

Newton later revised this thought experiment to go as follows: in a universe emptied of all matter and energy, place two rocks connected by a string. If we spin these rocks around an axis point between them, tension will be detected on the string. This would prove that the rocks are indeed spinning. But they must be spinning relative to something, which would be the absolute independently-existing space-time matrix.

A very good account of this debate, describing both sides, can be found the following book:

Author: Sklar, Lawrence
Title: Space, Time, and Spacetime
Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1974, 1976, 1977
ISBN 0-520-03174-1

The book was written by a professor at the U of M, and is used in U of M physics courses. I strongly recommend this book. The section on the Leibniz-Newton debate is only part of the book; it discusses many other topics.

If you are taking a physics course this semester, you might ask your physics teacher about this.

So, who was correct? Leibniz or Newton?

J.S. Bach in Michigan?

Once, when an acquaintance praised Bach's wonderful skill as an organist, he replied with characteristic humility and wit, "there is nothing very wonderful about it. You have only to hit the right notes at the right moment, and the instrument does the rest."

Bach had twenty children. The love he felt for his large family is evident in a heartrending letter Bach wrote on behalf of an erring son who had incurred large debts and then left his town: "What can I do or say more, my warnings having failed, and my loving care and help having proved unavailing? I can only bear my cross in patience and commend my undutiful boy to God's mercy, never doubting that He will hear my sorrow-stricken prayer and in His good time bring my son to understand that the path of coversion leads to Him."

As Dr. Ingram demonstrated in lecture, Bach is one of the most productive, gifted, and seminal genius-composers in the history of music. One can easily devote years of study in order to fully explore Bach's music. We can only have the briefest of introductions to him now, so please consider examining him more fully on your own later.

There is a book entitled, "Gödel, Escher, and Bach", which explores the relations between the music of various composers on the one hand, and the concepts of algebra, artificial intelligence, and visual patterning in art on the other. This book is worth reading, because it shows the algebraic algorithms which various composers used in their works, and how those equations also show up in the visual arts (painting, drawing, etc.) and in literature.

Bach borrowed, e.g., the literary structure of chiasmus and created a musical analogue to it.

But Bach also has a Michigan connection!

Several years ago, a man was looking through some old used books in Frankenmuth, Michigan. He found and purchased some old German books. When he took them home and began to read them, he realized that these books were from the personal library of J.S. Bach! Bach had written many comments and notes in the margins of these books, just as most students do. The notes have been carefully copied from these books and published in a book of their own. "Bach's Marginalia" is an example of the kind of discoveries you can make if you have a good education and spend your time paging through old books!

At first, it might seem odd that Bach's book would end up in Michigan. But in the decades after Bach's death in 1750, millions of Germans came to the United States. In fact, more people came from Germany than from any other country. Naturally, these people brought all kinds of personal possessions with them, including a few old books!

Goethe, Faust, and Religion

How can we make sense of Goethe's seemingly self-contradictory views on religion? On the one hand, he makes no pretense of being a Christian, and yet on the other hand, he views the Christian Bible as the source of ultimate spiritual truth. Faust is filled with Biblical allusions. Christianity has both spiritual doctrines and moral doctrines, and Goethe endorses some of both. What is he up to?

One possible way to interpret Goethe would be to say that he is making the historical distinction between Christianity and the church. Christianity is a set of concepts and the actions entailed by the belief in those concepts. The church, on the other hand, is an institution. Goethe rejects both Christianity and the Church, but he rejects them separately, and differently. His rejection of the Church is absolute. His analysis of Christianity is more tentative and wavering. He seems attracted to some facets of Christian spirituality, but unable to embrace them.

We can trace these two through history, and see that often, Christianity opposed the church in many situations. In other situations, Christianity clearly sided with the church. Can you think of concrete historical examples?

So perhaps this was what motivated Goethe's somewhat schizophrenic views. Was Goethe trying to embrace the some of the views of Christianity, reject others, and at the same time distance himself from the church? Which sentences in Faust would be evidence for this?

Goethe had, in the final analysis, an inability to commit, either to a woman, or to a system of belief. He rejected both Christianity and atheism, used the word "pagan" to describe himself, and was nevery quite able to formulate a specific statement of what he actually did believe.

When we study about Goethe, we can take two approaches:

on the one hand, we can study about Goethe's life, his friends and business acquaintances, the influential thinkers of his day, and look at photographs of his house and how he decorated it, and then see how these things influenced, or are reflected in, the text of "Faust".

on the other hand, we can strictly ignore all the background information about Goethe and the times he lived in, and instead focus on the text of Faust alone, examining it carefully for clues about what Goethe thought and what he meant.

Which approach is the correct one?

What do the words "isogogics" and "hermeneutics" mean?