Saturday, December 04, 2010
Historians disagree about what happened to Christianity after the Muslim armies swept across north Africa in the late 600's and early 700's, and dominated southern parts of the continent in the following centuries. Was Christianity totally destroyed? Did the Islamic invasions succeed in removing all traces of the faith? Most Christians met one of three fates: they were executed, they converted to Islam, or they fled. But historians debate whether or not there were some who survived and remained in the conquered territories.
The conventional historical view is that the conquest of North Africa by the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate between AD 647–709 effectively ended Christianity in Africa for several centuries. The prevailing view is that the Church at that time lacked the backbone of a monastic tradition and was still suffering from the aftermath of heresies including the so-called Donatist heresy, and this contributed to the earlier obliteration of the Church in the present day Maghreb. Some historians contrast this with the strong monastic tradition in Coptic Egypt, which is credited as a factor that allowed the Coptic Church to remain the majority faith in that country until around after the 14th century.
However, new scholarship has appeared that disputes this. There are reports that the Christian faith persisted in the region from Tripolitania (present-day western Libya) to present-day Morocco for several centuries after the completion of the Islamic conquest by 700. A Christian community is recorded in 1114 in Qal'a in central Algeria. There is also evidence of religious visits after 850 to tombs of Christians outside of the city of Carthage, and evidence of religious contacts with Christians surviving in Muslim-occupied Spain. In addition, calendar reforms adopted in Europe at this time were disseminated amongst the indigenous Christians of Tunis, which would have not been possible had there been an absence of contact with Christians in other parts of the world.
Local Christian communities came under even more pressure when the Muslim fundamentalist regimes of the Almohads and Almoravids came into power, and the record shows demands made that the local Christians of Tunis to convert to Islam. We still have reports of Christian inhabitants and a bishop in the city of Kairouan around 1150 AD - a significant report, since this city was founded by Muslims around 680 AD as their administrative center after their conquest. A letter in Church archives from the 14th century shows that there were still four bishoprics left in North Africa, admittedly a sharp decline from the over four hundred bishoprics in existence at the time of the Islamic conquest. Berber Christians continued to live in Tunis and Nefzaoua in the south of Tunisia up until the early 15th century, and the first quarter of the 15th century, we even read that the native Christians of Tunis, though much assimilated, extended their church, perhaps because the last Christians from all over the Maghreb had gathered there.
By the early 1800's, some regions of Africa persecuted Christians to the extent that these religious communities were secret churches, meeting in homes or remote locations, using codewords to identify themselves to each other and avoid police detection.
Thursday, December 02, 2010
it took a peculiarly flawed process of framing bad policies and reacting to the resulting failures to convince the government of George III and Lord North that the best way to maintain the loyalty of their North American subjects was to make war on them.
Pushed toward the radical step of declaring independence, the Founding Fathers were actually, in the words of John M. Taylor (George Washington University),
two sets of leaders - an older group that led the move for independence, including Washington and the Adamses, and a younger group, including Madison and Alexander Hamilton, who came of age with it.
But both groups shared one characteristic, as Rakove sums it up:
For the revolutionaries of 1776, virtue meant the ability of citizens to subordinate private interest to public good.
This same quality can create hope in the future of any nation, including ours - as we begin the twenty-first century burdened with national government debt and outrageously high taxes, we can still find a good future, if we are willing to accept healthy cuts to government spending. We will have to set aside our "private interest" in getting something "for free" from the government - the pain of which is lessened somewhat by remembering that it isn't really "for free" if every American, from richest to poorest, is paying such high taxes - and work toward the "public good": reducing debt, reducing deficit, and reducing taxes.
But only the careful and detailed study of history can give us the deeper understanding of these thumbnail icons: what are the details of Stalin's villainy, in its historical context, which can give us a clearer understanding of Stalin, of ourselves as humans, and of the philosophical definition of "evil"? Like, what exactly did Mother Theresa do, under which circumstances, and how do those details inform us about her, about what it means to be honorable, and about how humans beings can treat each other ethically?
Only thoughtful engagement with history - the analysis of facts, texts, and people - can yield these types of insight. And here we stand on the borderline between history and philosophy: the philosopher can give us the abstract definition of virtue or vice; the historian can give us detailed examples. Both are necessary if we are to broaden our minds.
Harvard's Aram Bakshian gives us an excellent example in his comments about George Washington. Our first president was, Bakshian writes, one of those
dignified, self-disciplined figures whose very virtues makes us uncomfortable about our own inadequate selves.
Here then we have three concepts worth investigating: dignified, self-disciplined, and virtues. These generalizations need specific examples: for this purpose we study biographies of Washington and learn the details of his life. Yale's Ron Chernow gives us further raw material. He writes that Washington was a man of
unerring judgment, sterling character, rectitude, steadfast patriotism, unflagging sense of duty, and civic-mindedness.
Again a list of categorical qualities which need concrete facts to help us envision them. In addition, we begin to see why this task is important: in the early twenty-first century in which we live, exploring the characteristics of George Washington will point us toward those things which we need to survive. We need "steadfast patriotism" instead of militant nationalism. We need "civic-mindedness" instead of a list of imagined grievances from self-proclaimed victims.
As we explore Washington's writings and biography, we can escape from the prison of viewing events from the narrow perspective of the moment of time in which we happen to live, and begin to explore the richer possibilities of viewing events from a timeless perspective, as we see
an eighteenth-century gentleman living by a clear code of honor that emphasized quiet courage, dedication to duty and stern self-control rather than getting in touch with one's inner child,
as Bakshian phrases it. Only from a narrow perspective would we refer
to Washington's "repressing" or "suppressing" his feelings, as if
this behavior on Washington's part was
a pathology rather than a triumph of character over impulse.
The historical perspective approaches the eternal perspective asymptotically - from which can gain amazing insights into human nature and character. We can find models who are, while not quite perfect, worth emulating - and among their admirable traits is the manner in which they considered their own imperfections:
No one judged himself more constantly or more severely than George Washington. From an early age, he strove to make himself a better person. He was a man of powerful passions and raging ambition, but he conquered his passion and he channeled his ambition honorably. Having mastered himself, he mastered the art of command; a man with no formal military training, leading what began as an armed rabble, he created and held together the first regular America army.
Washington's stellar ability to lead emerged from his ability to first lead himself - to be good at commanding others, one must first be good at commanding one's self.
As presiding officer at the constitutional convention and then as first president, he provided gravitas and a clear, uncluttered vision.
So, then, this is our task: let's go get several biographies of George Washington, study them, and find out why he is an excellent model. Then let's imitate him.
Friday, November 19, 2010
George W. Bush attended public schools, as did Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Dwight Eisenhower and Harry S. Truman - an interesting mixture of liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican.
The only other modern U.S. presidents to entirely avoid public schools were John F. Kennedy and George H.W. Bush.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Perhaps what makes Augustine so easy to follow is the passion of his own convictions. He believes that Christianity is absolute truth. He takes Christianity very seriously and expects all others too as well. There was no compromise between paganism and Christianity as he felt one was right and the other wrong. He found Christianity a clear moral guide for life. God gave him everything. And yet, he was not always so saintly. He was a thief. He had a concubine and a child out of wedlock. He admits to thoughts that were not always so clean. Augustine came across as so human. In his book, The Confessions, he revealed his many intimate and sometimes impure thoughts. Romans could relate to what he was saying because they could identify with his experiences. He was not Christian his whole life. For a long while, he followed the ways of the Manichees, a group that borrowed some elements from Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity. The Manichees believed that there were essentially two worlds, one of light, created by God, and another of evil. The fact that he struggled with inner turmoil about what was the right way, and finding peace when he finds Christianity, was a story that was very persuasive. Phillip Woollcott, a historian, noted, “Augustine had a deep sense of inner unrest to match his times, but in addition, he had the gifts to reify his own inner struggles between good and evil; and in seeking his own creative solution, he gave power and logical cohesion to the youthful church which was largely inspirational at that time.” Romans had turmoil. Would Christianity bring them peace? Augustine certainly felt it could.
Augustine had seen what would finally create peace of mind in a world filled with turmoil. His Roman audience, weary of struggle and meaninglessness, had found all those other religious systems unable to enlighten their minds, and were eager to try Augustine's faith.
Professor Allen C. Guelzo, at Gettysburg College, might have an answer:
America has always been the nations of theory, not practice; it would built around ideas (even upon a "proposition") from the moment the first idea-haunted Pilgrim stepped off onto Plymouth Rock.
America, as a nation, started with ideas. In the Old World, in Europe, the events of history were studied, and general principles were gathered by induction. In America, before we got started, we first set down, in thought and in writing, our guiding principles. Our history is a debate about those principles - what they mean and how they ought to be applied - and so we are fundamentally a nation of ideas. This trend goes all the way back to the earliest years of the founding of America. The
Puritans possessed a university-trained leadership and organized themselves found a university-trained clergy, sunk deeply in theology and medieval scholasticism.
These earliest settlers of Massachusetts wove a seamless progression of thought from academic (mathematics, logic, physics, chemistry) to sociopolitical principles organized in their founding documents. Thus Harvard University was founded six years after the Puritans founded the city of Boston; all this activity emerged from a text, the "Mayflower Compact," the central idea of which is:
Having undertaken, for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honor of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.
Not only had
the Puritans founded Harvard College only six years after settling Boston,
but they shortly afterward founded other colleges and universities, and Puritan leader Jonathan Edwards was the president of Princeton University after it was had already been established by an earlier generation of Puritans.
To be sure, the Puritans were far from perfect, and capable of mistakes, despite their intellectual and academic skills. The first attempt at organizing the Plymouth colony nearly destroyed it, so badly was it designed. On the other hand, the faults of the Puritans are sometimes exaggerated: they did not possess the irrational superstitious fear and loathing of alcohol which some historians attribute to them; on the contrary, they brewed beer, made wine, and consumed both regularly.
In any case, they formed the basis for the ideology of the American Revolutionaries: Locke's political treatises would not have fueled the American Revolution had not the Puritans laid the foundation for their reception. Jonathan Edward's collected works (twenty-six volumes) contain ethical treatises which led to an atmosphere in which the morality of England's imperialism was questioned.
Between the day that the Puritans founded Harvard and the day Edwards began preaching stretches an entire century in which New Englanders wrestled mightily with the impact on the intellectual world of Cartesian epistemology and Newtonian science.
The active intellectual life of America was absorbing these latest developments, sometimes faster than the countries in which they took place. But intellectual life in America would encounter a roadblock:
the revolutionary upthrust of Pragmatism at Harvard after the Civil War. Nothing could represent a more dramatic intellectual break with the moral philosophers' pursuit of truth, hard-wired into the natural order of things, than Pragmatism.
The American intellectual tradition will suffer in these decades, as reason and logic are rejected, and random passions are followed. Academic life tormented by
the fundamental premises of Pragmatism - that no truth exists apart from satisfaction, that no nation or principle is worth dying for, and that all human inequities are merely problems awaiting the application of intelligence.
The first premise reduces life to something very like hedonism; the second deny any rational contemplation of values; and the third enslaves human reason in the service of in impossible Romanticist quest for an impossible utopia.
The darkness which Pragmatism cast on the life of the American mind was lifted by two very different, but simultaneous, phenomena: first,
the rise of a neo-orthodox religious critique (especially as championed by Reinhold Niebuhr in the 1950s) and the persistence of the seriousness with which theology was conducted as an intellectual enterprise in America,
the emergence, in violent fashion, of the New Left in the 1960s.
These two social movements were not only different from each other, but opposed to each other. Yet together, they revealed the intellectual inadequacy of Pragmatism:
both were a puzzle to Pragmatists, because there was no reason they could see for the dogmatic outlook behind both to even exist.
These two survivals, desperately unalike in all respects except the single conviction that there is an unmistakable pattern written into human experience and history, suggest that the moral philosophers' instinct was truer than Pragmatism ever imagined, and that Americans want more from ideas than the Pragmatic assurance that ideas are merely tools for experimentation.
A nation founded on ideas doesn't mean a nation which finds itself in harmonious unity: on the contrary, the more seriously one takes ideas, the more heatedly one will debate about them.
When Jefferson asserted that "we hold these truths to be self-evident," he assumed that not only were there truths, but that everyone was compelled to acknowledge their existence. Lincoln believed that the American order was founded on a "proposition" - not an experience, and certainly not on race, blood, ethnicity, or any of the other Romantic irrationalities.
We may speak of Lincoln's objection to Pragmatism, even though he slightly antedated it. In his opposition to Pragmatism,
he denounced slavery as ethically wrong, as a violation of natural law and natural theology - and would admit to no compromise with, and no scaling back of, his Emancipation Proclamation.
More than anything, to be American is to have an idea and attempt to transform that idea into reality. It is a search to discover the way things ought to be.
Friday, November 05, 2010
Attention quickly focused on a minority group: the Christians. This new religion had been illegal for almost three hundred years, and the Roman government had invested much energy into the activities of arresting, torturing, and executing Christians. Hundreds of thousands had been killed. Gradually, however, the new religion gained some measure of tolerance in Roman society, and, in a stunning reversal of government policy, Christianity was legalized around 313 A.D. by the emperor Constantine.
Although now legal, and to some extent tolerated, the new religion was still a minority, and the pagan majority looked with suspicion upon the Christians. Less than a century after the legalization of the new faith, Rome was sacked. Were the Christians to blame? Were the old Roman gods angered by the new faith, and did they stop protecting Rome from Germanic attacks? Or did the Christians, with their pacifism, weaken Rome's military ability to defend itself?
Fueled by such prejudices, many began calling for Christianity to again be illegal, and for the government execution of Christians to resume. A dangerous time indeed!
At this point in time, Augustine wrote one of his most famous books, entitled "The City of God."
"The City of God" was written in reaction to an event where Rome was sacked. Romans questioned a God that could not protect them from foreign invaders. In 410, Alaric and the Goths invaded Rome. They raped women, burned down houses and public buildings, looted wealth from individuals and the city, and killed those who opposed them. In truth, the sack was one of several on Rome, and could have been worse. However, many believed that if Christianity was a true religion, the Christian God would have protected his followers from this tragic fate. Many Romans believed that by turning their backs on the traditional Roman Gods, the Gods were angry with them and taking it out on them. Peter Brown wrote, “In an atmosphere of public disaster, men want to know what to do. At least Augustine could tell them. The traditional pagans had accused the Christians of withdrawing from public affairs and of being potential pacifists. Augustine’s life as a bishop had been a continual refutation of this charge.” Many suggested converting back from Christianity to paganism. Augustine wrote the City of God to make an argument for staying with Christianity. In it, he argued that Goths live in the City of Man, a city of sin, death, selfishness, and ruled by a love of power. However, since this is God’s world, man should try to live in his city. This city is full of truth, virtue, selflessness, was eternal and ruled by a love of God. As long as people live in this world, the Goths cannot really hurt the Christians. For example, by living in the City of God, one does not really need wealth. They will find happiness in other ways. So a Goth taking their possessions does nothing to actually hurt them. In order to receive God’s Grace, a Christian must live in the City of God. And Augustine’s argument is very emotional, looked to the future, appealed to reason and was firm in his devotion to God and Christianity, despite these terrible events. He told people that God does not protect them from all human misery, and quoted the Bible to show lots of examples of people who had problems. He told the demoralized Romans exactly what they needed to hear. This argument appealed to many Romans, not just the scholars. It will be a reason why Christianity will continue to grow, despite such tough times, and gain even more popularity.
In all of these times and places, ancient and modern, it is to be noted that the misery was not universal. During the decline of the Roman empire, there were families who established a meaningful existence for themselves; when Greece was losing its clout, and becoming a territory of Rome, there were husbands and wives, sons and daughters, who built a happy existence for themselves, and even managed to make contributions to the lives of others in their communities.
The dynamics which cause the fall of a society, then, do not manifest themselves in every individual in that society. On the other hand, every individual in that society will, in some way, be impacted - negatively, harmfully - by those factors which are causing the fall. But those impacts will not always be of a magnitude which causes them to be devastating - hence the happy family in the midst of the decline and fall of the Roman empire. Materially, perhaps, they suffered some losses of land or property; mentally, the indignity of being later ruled by a Germanic king instead of a Roman emperor (the indignity being merely ethnic; the rights of citizenship under both being very similar).
Because many, or perhaps even most, of the factors causing societal decline begin within the family structure, we see how it is possible for those families who are not affected internally by these factors - i.e., those families not afflicted with the problems which cause both personal misery and societal decline - can on the one hand avoid the intramural grief but still be impacted inasmuch as they live within the larger society which is falling because of such problems.
Prentice Tipton, an African-American leader, identifies these ancient woes in the modern context of America's inner-urban culture:
When mothers lead the family because the fathers fail to lead - either by absenting themselves from the home or by taking a passive role - boys are deprived of the most important natural model of manliness. Growing up mainly under the supervision of women, many experience insecurity over their identity as men.
One tendency for boys growing up in such circumstances is to rebel against women who are authorities over them and become socially disruptive - irresponsible in family and work commitments, overly assertive about their manly prowess, especially in sexual areas, or leading lives characterized by violence and crime, alcoholism, and other addictions.
Another tendency for young men is to identify with the adult women who are authorities in their lives and learn to behave or react in ways that are more appropriate to women than to men. To the extent that young males take either option, they do not learn the discipline, the responsibility, and the character involved in being a man. They are left groping for manhood in a variety of socially disruptive ways.
In the later years of the Roman empire, we see the "absent father" - either physically absent, being away at war, or away watching games and sports, or away drinking and committing adultery - or emotionally absent, being preoccupied with material wealth, substance abuse, or sheer lazy indulgence - and having no meaningful interaction with his children.
We see also in falling empire those social problems catalogued as results of such absent fathers.
However, we must be careful not to over-simplify: there were many different factors leading to the fall of the Roman empire, and certainly not all of them had to do with broken family structures. Bad weather, exhausted farmland, the superiority of Germanic tribesmen, imbalance of imports and exports, etc., all belong to the long and hotly disputed list of possible causes for Rome's fall.
We can, however, safely and sadly say that these same problems are inflicting misery on young people today, thousands of years later, wherever and whenever fathers neglect their children.
Friday, October 15, 2010
Augustine was also able to find connections between Cicero, stoicism and Christianity. Cicero was a lawyer and politician in the tumultuous first century B.C. He was able to distinguish himself through eloquent writing and boldly argued and articulated speeches. Augustine wrote in the Confessions, “Following the usual curriculum I had already come across a book by a certain Cicero, whose language (but not his heart) almost everyone admires.” Finding connections between Cicero’s ideas and Christianity was critical in appealing to the Roman scholars because Cicero had their respect. The book of Cicero he found is called Hortentius, which is unfortunately lost to the modern world except for various quotations Augustine used in his writings. “The book changed my feelings. It altered my prayers, Lord, to be toward you yourself. It gave me different values and priorities. Suddenly every vain hope became empty to me, and I longed for the immortality of wisdom with an incredible ardour in my heart.” Augustine has a very emotional reaction to this book. It changed his perspectives completely. It gave Augustine a love of wisdom. Cicero wrote about ideas that expressed the Greek philosophy of stoicism. Stoics believe in Natural Law, universality of mankind, and a strict adherence a virtuous lifestyle. It’s not hard to see how Augustine could reconcile Stoicism and Christianity. Stoicism had gained quite a following in the Roman Empire, and linking together Christianity and stoicism appealed to a wider group of people.
Augustine had to use these sources – Plato, Stoicism, and Cicero – selectively, because, while he could point to some similarities and thereby persuade the Romans to allow Christianity, he also knew that there some points of difference: Plato’s view of women, for example, did not give them the level of dignity which they attained in the New Testament; Stoicism, despite its moral outlook, was a belief system which was comfortable with suicide and with the mass executions of Christians which the Romans had carried out prior to 313 A.D.; and Cicero, while in some ways an inspirational philosopher, was also a sleazy lawyer connected with various shady dealings, and who also glorified the political and social structure of the old Roman Republic to an extent which was neither plausible to the critical thinker nor acceptable to anyone who wished to avoid deifying the state. Augustine knew that neo-Platonism, Stoicism, and Cicero had failed to offer meaningful correctives to the problems of Roman society, but he still found it useful to refer to them in his explanations of Christianity, because such references were crucial to capturing the interest and favor of the Roman readership.
Code named “Aktion T4,” the Nazi euthanasia program to eliminate “life unworthy of life” at first focused on newborns and very young children. Midwives and doctors were required to register children up to age three who showed symptoms of mental retardation, physical deformity, or other symptoms included on a questionnaire from the Reich Health Ministry.
A decision on whether to allow the child to live was then made by three medical experts solely on the basis of the questionnaire, without any examination and without reading any medical records.
Each expert placed a + mark in red pencil or - mark in blue pencil under the term “treatment” on a special form. A red plus mark meant a decision to kill the child. A blue minus sign meant a decision against killing. Three plus symbols resulted in a euthanasia warrant being issued and the transfer of the child to a ‘Children’s Specialty Department’ for death by injection or gradual starvation.
The decision had to be unanimous. In cases where the decision was not unanimous the child was kept under observation and another attempt would be made to get a unanimous decision.
The Nazi euthanasia program quickly expanded to include older disabled children and adults. Hitler's decree of October, 1939, typed on his personal stationary, enlarged “the authority of certain physicians to be designated by name in such manner that persons who, according to human judgment, are incurable can, upon a most careful diagnosis of their condition of sickness, be accorded a mercy death.”
Questionnaires were then distributed to mental institutions, hospitals and other institutions caring for the chronically ill.
Patients had to be reported if they suffered from schizophrenia, epilepsy, senile disorders, therapy resistant paralysis and syphilitic diseases, retardation, encephalitis, Huntington’s chorea and other neurological conditions, also those who had been continuously in institutions for at least five years, or were criminally insane, or did not posses German citizenship or were not of German or related blood, including Jews, Negroes, and Gypsies.
A total of six killing centers were established including the well known psychiatric clinic at Hadamar. The euthanasia program was eventually headed by an SS man whose last name was Wirth, a notorious brute with the nickname ‘the savage.’
At Brandenburg, a former prison was converted into a killing center where the first Nazi experimental gassings took place. The gas chambers were disguised as shower rooms, but were actually hermetically sealed chambers connected by pipes to cylinders of carbon monoxide. Patients were generally drugged before being led naked into the gas chamber. Each killing center included a crematorium where the bodies were taken for disposal. Families were then falsely told the cause of death was medical such as heart failure or pneumonia.
But the huge increase in the death rate for the disabled combined with the very obvious plumes of odorous smoke over the killing centers aroused suspicion and fear. At Hadamar, for example, local children even taunted arriving busloads of patients by saying “here comes some more to be gassed.’
On August 3, 1941, a Bishop, Clemens von Galen, delivered a sermon in Münster Cathedral attacking the Nazi euthanasia program calling it “plain murder.” The sermon sent a shockwave through the Nazi leadership by publicly condemning the program and urged German Christians to “withdraw ourselves and our faithful from their (Nazi) influence so that we may not be contaminated by their thinking and their ungodly behavior.”
As a result, on August 23, Hitler suspended Aktion T4, which had accounted for nearly a hundred thousand deaths by this time.
The Nazis retaliated against the Bishop by killing three parish priests who had distributed his sermon, but left the Bishop unharmed to avoid making him into a martyr.
However, the Nazi euthanasia program quietly continued, but without the widespread gassings. Drugs and starvation were used instead and doctors were encouraged to decide in favor of death whenever euthanasia was being considered.
The use of gas chambers at the euthanasia killing centers ultimately served as training centers for the SS. They used the technical knowledge and experience gained during the euthanasia program to construct huge killing centers at Auschwitz, Treblinka and other concentration camps in an attempt to exterminate the entire Jewish population of Europe. SS personnel from the euthanasia killing centers, notably Wirth, Franz Reichleitner and Franz Stangl later commanded extermination camps.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Dualism also appealed to the Christians. There are several different dualisms, or different axes of dualism, in Plato's thought: mind/body, material/idea, physical/metaphysical, and in the neo-Platonic schools, good/evil, man/god. Augustine played off of these concepts through the semi-metaphorical talk of two cities.
Plato also had another theory that Augustine argued in his famous work, The City of God. Here he argued that the two worlds exist concurrently. The city of earth is corrupt, full of self-love and sinners. But the city of God, which exists on earth, is a city of good, god-fearing people who love humanity. The link between Plato and Augustine is unmistakable. “Yet there are no more than two kinds of human society, which we may justly call two cities, according to the language of our Scriptures. The one consists of those who wish to live after the flesh, the other of those who wish to live after the spirit; and when they several achieve what they wish they live in peace, each after their kind,” writes Augustine, espousing a Christian dualistic theory of humanity, which was very similar to Plato’s view. Augustine was the one who made the connection clear to the Platonists. “As a Christian theologian, he puts to grateful use the Platonic concepts of ‘spiritual substance,” of evil as the privation of the good, of intuition as the basic mode of knowledge and the duality of body-soul,” writes Albert Outler. Because Augustine is able to make such a close tie between Platonic philosophy and Christianity, he made Christianity more appealing, especially to the Platonist.
Monday, October 11, 2010
Augustine’s education also gave him a more cosmopolitan viewpoint. At fifteen, he was sent to Carthage, a big city with theaters, universities, intellectuals, and, in his opinion, great temptations. He wrote, in Confessions, his dynamic autobiography, “I came to Carthage and all around me hissed a cauldron of illicit loves.” Augustine even got caught up in a more worldly and sinful lifestyle. He was in close contact with a lot of different groups of people and many different religious groups. This experience would prove invaluable in appealing to different groups and understanding their viewpoints.
Technically, Carthage had schools, not universities, because the first universities wouldn't appear for another five hundred years. But Augustine's experience was one which reflects the universal human nature.
Philosophers like Abelard and Aquinas did not work in isolation. They were in dialogue with Arabic philosophers. Despite political and religious tensions between the Europeans and empires of the Near East, the philosophers corresponded. Neither side had any difficulty in simultaneously calling the other "godless heretical infidels" and yet respecting the intellectual and academic accomplishments of the other.
The beginnings of Arabic philosophy came with the translation of large numbers of philosophical works into Arabic from Greek. The works were primarily those of Aristotle, Plato, and the later Neo-Platonists. Curiously, many of these works were translated by Christian Arabs, at the end of era of Arabic Christianity and the beginning of the era of the hegemony of Islam in Arabic culture. We need to remember that, prior to the Islamic invasions, Christianity was the most popular religion in the Arabic regions, as well as in non-Arab territories like Persia. Arab philosophers were confronted with the divergent lines of thought represented by Aristotle and the Neo-Platonists. Presented with these two different perspectives, the early Arabic philosophers had to choose one, or the other, or try to harmonize both.
One of the earliest Arabic philosophers was Al-Kindi (who died around the year 870 A.D.). Al-Kindi, like the Islamic philosophers who followed him, sought to harmonize a rational philosophical system with the teachings Islam. His teachers, and the authors of many of the books he studied, were Christians. He wanted the tradition of philosophy to continue under Islamic rule.
He was followed by Al-Farabi, who based his thought primarily on Plato's Laws and Republic. Al-Farabi, who was either a Turk or a Persian, and therefore not an Arab, represents a quite developed system of philosophical terminology; he died around 950 A.D. His teachers were Christians, and therefore he was exposed to Greek philosophy, which was less tolerated in purely Islamic circles. He carefully distinguished between philosophy and theology, and placed philosophy in the service of theology. He introduced formalized logic into the Arabic world, and began producing arguments for the existence of God, which were strikingly similar to Thomistic arguments for the same. Like Aquinas (who was familiar with Al-Farabi's works) and his followers, so Al-Farabi and his followers were often mis-understood in their arguments for the existence of God. Neither the Islamic nor the Thomist philosophers were trying to prove the existence of God, even though they wrote "proofs". Much rather, because both were surrounded by a community of their respective faiths, each group took the existence of God as something which did not need to be proved. Why, then, write such proofs? The "proof for the existence of God" was a literary form for philosophical discourse; by writing such a proof, a philosopher could exhibit his skill, demonstrate the particular kind or argumentation which he thought to be most powerful, and en passant make certain assertions about other issues in philosophy. Thus, many Aristotelian arguments for God (Islamic or Thomist) were written as a way to make assertions about physics and metaphysics. Scholars debate whether he grew up in Turkey or in Persia, but in either case, Al-Farabi's native land still offered him more intellectual freedom at the time, because it was on the fringe of the Islamic region, and not yet as thoroughly dominated by Muslim control.
The high points of Arabic thought began with Avicenna (Abu Ali ibn-Sina), who based himself upon Aristotle, but strove to either further refine or change Aristotle's system in order to harmonize it with some of the teachings of Islam. It is an interpretive question whether Avicenna's work is a natural development of Aristotle's system, and thus represents an internal and organic application of the system to itself, or whether Avicenna subjected the Aristotelian system to the external pressures of Islamic orthodoxy and so introduced additions to the system which were not inherent to the organic whole of the system itself. In either case, Avicenna replaced Aristotle's two-fold basis (matter and form) for metaphysics with a three-fold basis (matter, form, and being). According to Avicenna, God (qua necessary Being) provides the underlying support for the ongoing process of these three constituents; hence, the existence of the world depends on God. Avicenna was deeply influential in the work of Aquinas; Avicenna's impact is evident in the Thomistic doctrine of God as the underlying support for the existence of the world. Avicenna also indicated that the fundamental metaphysical distinction between necessity and contingency was parallel to, and based upon, the distinction between existence and essence. Avicenna's distinction of existence and essence again shows both how he studied Aristotle and how he modified Aristotle's system - cf. Aristotle's distinction between accident and essence. Avicenna has had an influence on the development of modern formal logic, which works with such modalities. Quite notable is his assertion that the mind necessarily apprehends the idea of being, although it is normally acquired through experience; but even without experience, he says, the mind would have this idea: here he is quite ahead of his time, anticipating themes which would occupy modern philosophers. Avicenna distinguished between two kinds of necessity: contingent beings were not necessary of themselves, but necessary as the result of a determining cause; truly necessary beings were necessary of themselves. Avicenna lived from 980 until 1037.
This most productive period of Islamic thought continued with Averroes (ibn-Rushd), who lived from 1126 until 1198. Averroes represented an attempt to return to a purer form of Aristotelianism, in contrast to the modified Aristotelianism of Avicenna. Averroes also marked the beginning of the decline of Arabic philosophy, as Muslim control of cultural life became complete.
The Islamic philosophers of the Middle Ages bore a strong resemblance to their Christian European counterparts, which whom they exchanged information. The era of Arab philosophy came to an end as Islam made further inroads and eventually eliminated the tradition of philosophical reflection.
Wednesday, October 06, 2010
Over the last decade or two, charter schools have grown in popularity, but they remain controversial. They funded by taxpayer dollars, but managed by private entities. Ironically, they have been criticized both for being "private schools in disguise" and "public schools in disguise."
Being fueled by government money, they have been required by courts to refrain from any religious instruction or organized religious activity. Regular supervision by litigation-minded public interest groups has enforced those court orders - with one exception.
While keeping charter schools scrupulously free of Judeo-Christian spirituality, this scrutiny has overlooked a growing number of charter schools which are allegedly centered around Middle Eastern culture, but which are in fact functioning as vehicles of Islamic instruction.
Muslim leader Fethullah Güllen has organized a network of approximately 100 charter schools, instructing almost 35,000 students, with an emphasis on Turkish culture. It is notoriously difficult to determine where culture ends and religion begins.
Some critics have noted that the Turkish charter schools have imported not only their teachers, but in some cases also other employees. It will take some work to show that this is educationally or economically necessary.
Most questions center around Friday prayer services offered in the Islamic charter schools. Just as in a public school, students are allowed to gather for prayer during non-instructional time. But if the services are led and organized by school employees, that would seem to be a violation of standard policy.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
We're at a restaurant in Brighton, Mich., 40 miles from the center of Detroit, having brunch. There are 10 of us at the table — a group of cops, firefighters, emergency responders and a few lawyers put together by Kevin Gentry, a deputy fire chief and adjunct law professor at Michigan State — and all but one of them think that their mortgages now surpass the value of their homes.
They have stories about friends and neighbors gaming the system. They are angry about the Obama Administration's giving aid to people facing foreclosure while they're playing by the rules and struggling. A lawyer named Carla Testani tells a story about a neighbor who had a brief, scheduled layoff and was able to parlay that into mortgage-rate relief from the government. "It was like she got a raise. She bought her kids a swing set." And Pless, the deputy police chief, is infuriated by his neighbors, some of whom were friends of his, who are just walking away from their mortgages — which means the banks will foreclose on their homes and lower his property's value. "It's immoral," he says. "But where's the payback? I hope the banks hunt them down."
People are freaked out. They're frustrated and anxious. They're not too thrilled with Barack Obama's policies, and the anti-incumbent, anti-Establishment mood is palpable. They can diagnose the problems, but they don't have any strong ideas about solutions. Most of the people at brunch say the government is spending too much.
Even devoted Obama supporters are frustrated with the President. "After he didn't get a single Republican vote on the stimulus package, why did he spend all year trying to get Republican votes for health care?" asks John McGraw, the former president of a small division of a power-tool company that was closed down by its European owners. "He's a smart guy. Didn't he understand what he was facing?"
McGraw has been laid off for 17 months. His wife Sally, a clerical worker, has held five jobs in the past two years and was laid off from four of them. "I've sent out maybe 4,000 to 5,000 resumes, all over the world," McGraw told me. "This is my full-time job. I do it seven days a week. I've got 2,300 rejection letters sitting in my computer; the rest didn't even bother to respond. I understand. I'm 61. They can hire someone 20 years younger than me for less money... But you wonder where this country is going. You wonder how the kids will find jobs and buy houses." Illinois is in a fiscal crisis; its deficit is nearly half the size of its budget, largely because of pension and health obligations to public employees. Taxes keep rising to close that gap. "I could go to work three days a week at Walmart, and my salary would just about cover my tax bill," McGraw says. "With all these jobs going overseas, you wonder how anybody who isn't a genius nuclear physicist is going to find work. I can't believe we're letting this happen to our country."
Introspection seems the order of the day. When you scratch just a bit beneath the surface, people stop lacerating politicians and start talking about American values. "You've got to figure that our parents wouldn't have walked away from a mortgage," Pless says. "I'm not walking away from mine. But people I know well, friends, are taking a hike, and I wonder, What has happened to us as people?"
Monday, September 27, 2010
National security officials and federal law enforcement argue their ability to eavesdrop on terror suspects is increasingly "going dark," as more communication takes place via Internet services, rather than by traditional telephone.
The bill, which Obama plans to deliver to Congress next year, would require communication service providers be technically capable of intercepting and decrypting messages, raising serious privacy concerns, the Times said.
The proposal has "huge implications" and poses a test to the "fundamental elements of the Internet revolution," vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, James Dempsey, told the Times.
"They basically want to turn back the clock and make Internet services function the way that the telephone system used to function," he was quoted as saying.
Officials contend, however, that without new regulations their ability to prevent attacks could be hindered.
"We're not talking expanding authority," FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni told the Times. "We're talking about preserving our ability to execute our existing authority in order to protect the public safety and national security."
Internet and phone networks are already required to have eavesdropping abilities thanks to a Clinton administration law called the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act, but the mandate does not apply to communication service providers - like Research in Motion, maker of BlackBerry devices.
Essentially, this move is the Obama administration's attempt to bring the Clinton-era "Carnivore" program up-to-date. In 1994, the main source of such data was email. Now we have cell phone texting and other data transmission protocols which do not fall under the email heading.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
The too-brief life of the German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been the subject of much film and literary interest in recent year, and Eric Metaxas's insightful biography of this heroic figure helps us understand why. Bonhoeffer's life vividly demonstrated the natural and indeed inevitable tensions between the individual and the modern state, and it pointed toward a response based firmly in Christian thought.
Bonhoeffer is, of course, fascinating because he was part of the heroic German resistance movement which undermined Hitler's power, slowed the Nazi military advances, and saved the lives of thousands of Jews. But beyond that, Bonhoeffer is of interest because he represents the general concept of an individual human being in the face of modern statism. He specifically resisted Hitler's Naziism, but shows us also how one would resist Stalin's Leninism, Mao's Marxism, or Castro's Communism - and, less obviously, any government which absorbs more and more of the society into itself. Karnich continues:
There are two powerful presences throughout the book: Bonhoeffer himself and Adolf Hitler, as the two head for the great confrontation in which the theologian engaged in an ambitious conspiracy to kill the Führer and topple his regime. Metaxas's book make the reader acutely aware that the same nation that produced Hitler engendered this heroic opponent and many other of similar integrity.
The great irony is that one of history's most cruel dictators took power in a country which gave birth to so many defenders of freedom. Unlike Russia or China, which had no long-standing tradition of liberty, or of valuing the dignity of every individual human being, Germany's philosophical and literary heritage had boldly stated the worth of every person and every life. Hitler's militarism, his genocide, and his assault on society's freedom were a direct violation of the traditional German ethic - the ethic which gave birth to large resistance movement.
His family's unusual religious life was a huge formative influence on Bonhoeffer. The Bonhoeffers seldom attended church, Metaxas writes, but their "daily life was filled with Bible reading and hymn singing, all of it led by Frau Bonhoeffer." In addition, the children learned that a real love of God must be manifested in one's actions. "Exhibiting selflessness, expressing generosity, and helping others were central to the family culture."
Only a child raised in such a family could become an adult brave enough to face Hitler. Only a person formed by this lifestyle would have the nerve to oppose the Nazis.
Bonhoeffer went on to study theology at Berlin University, earning his doctorate in 1927, at age 21. The theological faculty was then dominated by proponents of the "historical-critical method." They had concluded "that the miracles [the Bible] described never happened, and that the Gospel of John never happened," Metaxas notes. Bonhoeffer courageously refused to accept their thinking, arguing against them politely but confidently, "on positive theological grounds," as a fellow student described it.
The intellectual honesty and integrity which Bonhoeffer demonstrated as a student would fuel his opposition to the Nazi government. At the university, Bonhoeffer's opponents had to at least respect his brilliance and genius, but the Gestapo would not care about his intelligence.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
A very substantial portion of the German immigration to America occurred when there was no Germany. It was not until 1871 that Prussia, Bavaria, Baden, Mecklenburg, Hesse, and other Germanic states were united by Bismarck to form the nation of Germany. However, the German language is recorded as far back as 750 A.D. and Germanic peoples - who do not include the Huns - as far back as the first century B.C.
It can be noted that the Goths, a Germanic group, left extensive written documents as far back as the 380's A.D. (The Huns from Asia invaded Germanic regions.) Sowell's point, however, is that there is a rich and ancient linguistic and cultural heritage at work:
In the early days of the Roman Empire, the Germans were among the barbarian warriors on the northern frontier described by Julius Caesar. Over the centuries, through the shifting fortunes of war and politics, as well as migrations, some Germanic people acquired the civilization of the Romans, and ultimately influence in the Roman Empire. In the later empire, German soldiers replaced Romans in the Roman legions, which were not often commanded by German generals, who were sometimes de facto rulers behind figurehead Roman emperors. At the same time, other German peoples on the northern frontiers of the empire continued to be a major menace to its existence. Many of the great battles in the declining phase of the Roman Empire were battles of Germans against other Germans. Within the empire, Germans were never fully accepted or fully assimilated. Intermarriage between Romans and Germans was forbidden. The Roman aristocracy referred to Germans as "blond barbarians" and denounced them for "the nauseating stink of the bodies and clothing." To some extent, Germans themselves were apologetic about their racial origins. For example, a tombstone among the Germans buried in Gaul referred to their ancestry as "part of the stain that baptism has washed away." Other Germans simply returned the resentment and hatred that Romans felt toward them.
While Sowell's interpretation of the inscription can be disputed - it was more probably the common imperfections of human nature which were "washed away," not the peculiar ethnicity - his broader point is valid: the Germans made to feel inferior and ashamed. Roman arrogance left a collective emotional wound which would take centuries to heal, if indeed it ever did heal.
More than a thousand years of history - and the evolution of language, culture, and peoples - elapsed between these early Germans and the people who began immigrating to colonial America. Modern Germany - even before it became a nation - was in the forefront of Western civilization in science, the arts, music, literature, and philosophy. It was the home of Goethe, Beethoven, Kant, and Leibniz. Technology and craftsmanship were German hallmarks. Zeiss and Voigtlander were renowned names in optics long before they (and other German names) became famous in the later era of photography.
Was it the anguish of Roman racism and hatred which drove the Germans to excel? Did they bring that focused perseverance with them to America, and thereby create America's leading role in technological progress and scientific discovery?
Germans, once disdained as inferior barbarians by the Romans, now easily surpassed Italy, where "the glory that was Rome" had become only a memory and a bitter mockery of Italian weakness, disunity, and lagging technology and economy. In a still later era, the German ancestry that some had felt ashamed of in Roman times was to become an object of fanatical worship under Hitler and the Nazis.
The Roman geo-political dominance during the first century A.D. served only as a painful contrast during the Middle Ages, when Germany took the lead in technology and culture. One need only think of Gutenberg and his printing press, Kepler and his orbits, the Fugger family and their economic conquest of the Medici, Luther and his destruction of the Papal monopoly, and other such examples, to see how the early Roman hegemony gave way to Germanic inventiveness. It was this creativity which came to America:
Emigration from the German states (and later the German nation) ebbed and flowed with historic event.
The earliest documented German presence in North America is probably the families who came to New York around 1620. There were almost certainly earlier Germans here (probably sailors), but written evidence has been lost. A steady stream of Austrians and Swiss followed as well, but in every decade, the reasons changed.
The German states of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were separately ruled by petty princes and were in a state of turmoil. The Reformation and the Counter-Reformation had created religious refugees in both Catholic and Protestant German states, and the Thirty Years' War disrupted their economies, as well as reduced the total German population by about one-third. A sever winter in 1708-09 destroyed the German wine industry for years to come. In short, the domestic problems that often stimulate emigration were present in the German state. However, there were also restrictions and prohibitions on emigration, which led to much internal migration instead.
The three classic causes of emigration (politics, economics, and religion) led some of the most skilled and talented people to bring Germanic creativity and innovation to America.
Thursday, September 02, 2010
Freedom to Choose Our Businesses: In this country, the decision whether or not you should go into computer services or any other kind of enterprise (business) is basically yours alone to make. You will decide what fees to charge and what hours to work. Certain laws prohibit you from cheating or harming your customers or other people. But, in general, you will be left alone to run your business as you see fit.
Right to Private Property: Private property is a piece of land, a home, or a car owned by an individual, a family, or a group. It differs from a public building, or public property, such as the city hall, a park, or a highway, all of which provide a government service for all citizens. In the U.S. economic system, people's right to buy and sell private property is guaranteed by law. People must use the property in safe and reasonable ways, of course. In setting up computer systems for your customers, for example, you do not have the right to interfere with the electrical, telephone, or computer systems of other people.
Profit Motive: The main reason why you or any enterprising person organizes a business is to make money. You do this by earning more money than you spend. The amount of money left over after subtracting your business expenses from your business income is known as your profit. In the free enterprise system, business firms try hard to keep costs down and increase their income from sales. The better they succeed at this, the higher are their profits. Economists describe the efforts by business firms to earn the greatest profits as the profit motive.
Competition: Just as you are free to start a computer business, so is everyone else. The rivalry between sellers in the same field for consumers' dollars is called competition. If your business is profitable, it is likely that others will enter the same business hoping to be as successful as you are. They will be competing with you for the same customers. To win a share of the computer business, other sellers may try to offer more and better services, or services at lower prices. Because of the pressure of competition, business firms must constantly try to provide the best services and create the best products at the lowest possible prices.
Consumer Sovereignty: In the end, it is the customers, or consumers, who determine whether any business succeeds or fails. In the U.S. free enterprise economy, consumers are said to have sovereignty-the power or freedom to have final say. Consumers are free to spend their money for Product X or for Product Y. If they prefer Y over X, then the company making X may lose money, go out of business, or decide to manufacture something else (perhaps Product Z). Thus, how consumers choose to spend their dollars causes business firms of all kinds to produce certain goods and services and not others.
Among the many organizations targeted was the Boy Scouts. By the mid-1930's, all traces of the Scouting organization had disappeared. Why? The Nazis would not tolerate the Scouts; the reasons for this are several.
First, Scouting is an international organization. Every year, Scouts from many different nations gather at large festivals: Poland, Hungary, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, France, Holland, Luxembourg, Finland, etc. Scouts observe a total equality between nations, and cooperate in their wilderness adventures as partners. Hitler would not allow an organization which would teach young people to form constructive plans with people from other countries; the Nazis could not tolerate a spiritual of peaceful cooperation.
Second, the Scouts take an oath to "help other people at all times," the laws of Scouting state that an individual should strive to be "kind, courteous, friendly, helpful, and cheerful." But Hitler wanted young people to be aggressive, hostile, and violent.
Finally, the Scouts promise to do their "duty to God" and be "reverent." But the Nazis wanted to remove all forms of faith and religion from German society, making the Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler into the highest authorities. The Nazis knew that any form of faith in God would undermine the total control of their party, and would undermine the hatred and oppression which Hitler wanted to spread through the nation.
In order for Hitler to eventually plan the Holocaust and launch brutal wars against most of the neighboring countries, he first had to reshape the beliefs of the German people, and that meant getting rid of the Scouts.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Hobbes sided with Charles I against Parliament; translated Homer’s books into English; spoke with Descartes and Galileo about science; spent a few years in Paris; and was friend and teacher of Charles II. His books were misunderstood to be anti-royal or anti-Anglican. He had, in any case, a long and eventful life. He was energetic and productive.
One of his summarizing texts states that human nature has three laws: we seek peace to preserve our lives; we mutually give up rights to preserve peace; we must keep the contracts we make. These lay the foundation for this political and social systems of absolutism: having made a "social contract" in order to secure peace and preserve our lives, we are morally bound to obey royal authority, having traded away our rights.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
The number of abortions performed in Michigan decreased in 2009, according to recently released statistics from the Michigan Department of Community Health. The report from the Michigan Department of Community Health states that 22,357 abortions were performed in Michigan during 2009 compared to 25,970 Michigan abortions reported in 2008, a drop of 13.9 percent or 3,613 abortions. Since 1987, there has been a 54.4 percent decrease in the number of abortions performed in Michigan annually. Abortions in Michigan have decreased in four of the last six years and the number of abortions performed in 2009 represents the lowest annual total of reported abortions in Michigan since abortion providers were required to start reporting information in 1979.
Why this result? Various explanations have been proposed: during a difficult economy, people's minds may turn more toward home and family, and children may be more desirable, even if they represent a cost. On the other hand, some see racial explanations: abortion is an industry in which white, middle-age male surgeons make money primarily from young African-American females, and Obama presidency has given Black hopes a new impetus. A third possible explanation is that the next generation of ultrasound technology enables mothers to see their children much more clearly than the older, fuzzy, black-and-white images of early ultrasound equipment, and these newer images may influence the decisions of mothers. Finally, in difficult economic times, children, though initially expensive, may represent security for the parents, as pension funds and Social Security start to crumble.
Right to Life of Michigan President Barbara Listing said, "We are extremely grateful for the continuing decrease in Michigan abortions despite the hard economic times we've faced in Michigan. The fact that fewer mothers are having abortions in Michigan shows more and more women are coming to the realization that abortion is not the answer for an unplanned pregnancy."
In any case, increased birth rates historically predict economic recoveries. A lower abortion rate may be the harbinger of higher birth rates, but not necessarily.
Recently released polls from CBS and Gallup show our nation is turning its back on the idea that abortion is the solution to unplanned pregnancy. A CBS poll, conducted in April of 2010 found that 61 percent of Americans favor either stricter limits on abortion (38 percent) or that abortion should not be permitted (23 percent). A Gallup poll, released in May 2010, found that a plurality of Americans consider themselves "pro-life." For two years in a row, more Americans have called themselves "pro-life" than "pro-choice."
It will be important to watch this trend over the long-term. In the old Soviet Union, for example, prolonged economic hardship led to sustained higher abortion rates. How long will the current American economic malaise last? And what will it mean for abortion trends?
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Evil exists. It is real, and it means to harm us. When you work in the news business, you deal with the ugly side of life. Every day across your desk comes story after story about man's inhumanity to man, from mass murderers to child molesters to mothers who drown their children to husbands who murder their pregnant wives. These stories push the limits of our ability to imagine man's potential for depravity, and yet they are horrifically true.
Because these events are so repulsive, troubling, and shocking, we want to imagine that there is some explanation for them - we don't want to accept the reality that evil is alive and well and roaming through our world. Denial is for more comfortable.
But if we acknowledge the painful fact there are evil actions, we can then enjoy the clear knowledge that there are also good actions, and we begin to see the rational structure of the universe: artists reveal the beauty of goodness and the ugliness of evil in their poetry, music, and painting; philosophers patiently untangle the details of good and evil; religious leaders seek the source of the distinction between good and evil; governments work to discourage evil and clear the path for good; parents teach their children about good and evil.
James Madison, explaining the structure of the Constitution, wrote that
If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
Historically, when evil has run amok on a large scale, we see principles at work: first, totalitarian governments are the breeding ground for evil, because even if you give power to a political structure with the best intentions, it creates the opportunity for abuse, and sooner or later, someone will use that opportunity. Second, the most horrifying examples of evil are not insane, although we are tempted to call them that: the genocides of Nazi Germany, Pol Pot's Cambodia, Stalin's Soviet Union, and Ortega's Nicaragua were not insane, but rather quite rationally organized. Third, if we fail to confront evil, and try instead to appease it, it will merely grow: one need merely mention the name Neville Chamberlain.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Such images were, at one time prior to 1991, true. But the political leaders of India, like Manmohan Singh and Narasimha Rao, created a financial revolution by deregulating markets and industries, and by lowering taxes and simplifying tax codes. The result has been a power surge in Indian businesses, creating millions of upwardly-mobile jobs for people who previously had dead-end employment at the bottom of the service sector.
By any measure, the country of India has improved its monetary well-being.
Can America learn from this? Over the last twelve months, starting in mid-2009, the federal government has issued a long series of bad decisions, and has, by means of inane economic policies, created a toxic environment for economic growth. Can the USA save its economy from the ineptitude of its current leaders, both in Congress and in the White House?
Yes, we can, if we learn from India. America needs economic wisdom, not from Washington, but perhaps from Mumbai and New Delhi.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Of those who failed to complete high school, 59% voted for Al Gore, while only 39% voted for George W. Bush.
Of those who graduated from high school, but had no further education, 48% voted for Gore, and 49% for Bush.
Of those who had attended college, but did not complete a four- or five-year degree, 45% voted for Gore, and 51% for Bush.
Of those who completed a degree (bachelor's or equivalent), the same numbers held.
In 2004, after Bush had been in office for four years, and had a chance to demonstrate how he would conduct himself in office, CNN noted a similar pattern when the voters went to the polls in November of that year:
Of those who failed to graduate from high school, 50% voted for John Kerry, while 49% voted for Bush.
Of those who graduated from high school, but did not go to a college or university, 47% voted for Kerry, and 52% voted for Bush.
Of those who attended college, but did not graduate, 46% voted for Kerry, and 54% for Bush.
Of those who graduated from college, the ratios remained the same.
Finally, four years later, in 2008, the CNN data shows a continuation of the trend:
Of those who failed to graduate from high school, 63% voted for Obama, and 35% for McCain.
Of those who graduated from high school, but did not attend college, 52% voted for Obama and 46% for McCain.
Among those who attended a college or university, but did not graduate, 51% voted for Obama, and 47% for McCain.
Finally, among those who graduated from a college or university, 50% voted for Obama and 48% for McCain.
Placed in the form of a table or chart, these numbers reveal a clear tendency.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Historical accounts of Squanto's life vary, but historians believe that around 1608 - more than a decade before the Pilgrims landed in the New World - a group of English traders, led by a Captain Hunt, sailed to what is today Plymouth, Massachusetts. When the trusting Wampanoag Indians came out to trade, Hunt took them prisoner, transported them to Spain, and sold them into slavery. One of the captured Indians was a boy named Squanto.
The church, in its opposition to slavery, would purchase slaves, educate them, and set them free. Squanto was bought by a well-meaning Spanish monk, who treated him well and taught him the Christian faith - Squanto was probably the first Native American to read and write English, or any language. Squanto eventually made his way to England and worked in the stable of a man named John Slaney. Slaney sympathized with Squanto's desire to return home, and he promised to put the Indian on the first vessel bound for America.
It wasn't until 1619-ten years after Squanto was first kidnapped - that a ship was found. Finally, after a decade of exile and heartbreak, Squanto was on his way home.
But when he arrived in Massachusetts, more heartbreak awaited him. An epidemic had wiped out Squanto's entire village.
We can only imagine what must have gone through Squanto's mind. He had returned home, only to find his loved ones dead. He dwelt utterly alone in the wilderness: no friends, no family.
But Squanto lived on, and soon found a new community: a shipload of English families arrived and settled on the very land once occupied by Squanto's people. Squanto went to meet them, greeting the startled Pilgrims in English.
According to the diary of Pilgrim Governor William Bradford, Squanto "became a special instrument sent of God for [our] good ... He showed [us] how to plant [our] corn, where to take fish and to procure other commodities ... and was also [our] pilot to bring [us] to unknown places for [our] profit, and never left [us] till he died." Squanto literally saved the lives of the settlers, and they provided him with a community. How amazed the Englishmen were, to find an "Indian" who spoke and even read their language!
Long afterward, when Squanto lay dying of a fever, Bradford wrote that their Indian friend "desir[ed] the Governor to pray for him ..." Squanto bequeathed his possessions to his English friends "as remembrances of his love." He had adopted them as his new community, and they had adopted him as their guide.
Tuesday, June 08, 2010
From 1976 to 2005, 18- to 24-year-olds – both male and more gentle females – committed homicide at a rate of 29.9 per 100,000. Twenty-five- to 35-year-olds committed homicides at a rate of 15.8 per 100,000. The murder rate for the general population includes both males and females. Inasmuch as males commit nearly 90 percent of all murders, the rate for males in those age groups is probably nearly double the male/female combined rates, which translates to about 30 to 55 murderers per 100,000 males aged 18 to 35. This gives us a baseline murder rate. Can we find demographic subgroups in which the murder rate is either significantly higher, or significantly lower, than this baseline rate?
The homicide rate among veterans of these wars 7.6 per 100,000 – or about one-third the homicide rate for their age group (18 to 35) in the general population of both sexes. But given the gender skew, the homicide rate among veterans is actually about one-tenth of the national average. The marks them as a safe group - perhaps because of strong respect for law and order.
On the other hand, the strongest predictor of whether a person will end up in prison is that he was raised by a single parent. By 1996, 70 percent of inmates in state juvenile detention centers serving long-term sentences were raised by single mothers. Seventy percent of teenage births, dropouts, suicides, runaways, juvenile delinquents and child murderers involve children raised by single mothers. Girls raised without fathers are more sexually promiscuous and more likely to end up divorced.
A 1990 study by the Progressive Policy Institute showed that, after controlling for single motherhood, the difference in black and white crime disappeared.
A study cited in the Village Voice found that children brought up in single-mother homes "are five times more likely to commit suicide, nine times more likely to drop out of high school, 10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances, 14 times more likely to commit rape (for the boys), 20 times more likely to end up in prison, and 32 times more likely to run away from home."
Many of these studies are from the '90s, when the percentage of teenagers raised by single parents was lower than it is today. In 1990, 28 percent of children under 18 were being raised in one-parent homes – mother or father, divorced or never-married. By 2005, more than one-third of all babies born in the U.S. were illegitimate.
That's a lot of social problems in the pipeline. Who's safe? Who's dangerous?
Friday, June 04, 2010
Dr. Wright saw the government's attempt to regulate, manage, and fund the health care system as the direct result of racism. He argued that those who desired the government to limit the freedom of both patients and medical professionals would not desire such intervention if society and the medical system were free of racism: federal control of health care was desired to counteract the effects of unjust discrimination.
In an open and published letter to the AMA, Dr. Wright urged the organization to direct its attention to the issue of equality in the medical system. Achievement of racial equality, he concluded, would bring the additional benefit of ending legislative attempts to allow the federal government to control both patients and medical professionals: the blossoming of civil rights "will make the government's efforts unattractive and unnecessary" in Wright's words.
As an African-American, Dr. Wright worked for the civil rights of citizens to vote, to speak freely, and to exercise their economic choices; as a physician, he worked for the rights of patients and health care professionals to make decisions without government regulation or management.
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
There is a common bond which spiritually unites these people, which is that attitude of cultural radicalism carried over from the 1960's. Theirs is an anti-American credo, which abhors American political and governmental institutions and this nation's capitalistic economy. Their value system is at war with the Judeo-Christian tradition upon which this country was founded and is centered in secular humanism and moral relativism.
Note the connections with Marx, inasmuch as modern Utopians are "anti-capitalistic", and the connections with Rousseau, inasmuch as they desire to destroy our culture and replace it with their envisioned ideal culture. Observe also the desire to destroy humanism, as we know it in Erasmus and T.S. Elliot, as we see it in Da Vinci and Michelangelo, as we hear it in Bach and Haydn - to be replaced by their idealized "secular humanism," a world view of mechanized determinism which denies that humans can make meaningful or significant choices in life.
Theirs is the me generation, which seeks immediate gratification, presumably because there is no spiritual tomorrow. Their God is not spiritual or personal. Their God is in every fiber of nature and is impersonal. He is just as much a part of the plant and animal kingdom as He is a part of the human soul; thus, their pantheistic devotion to animals and the environment. Their God did not give them dominion over nature and the animal kingdom, positioning them at the top rung on the hierarchy of creation.
If one regards all of nature as God, one is then obliged to view a human being as nothing special. Despite their talk of "human rights," Utopians essentially believe that a human is no more special than a flower or a fish.
As their emphasis is on this world, they cling to the belief that man is morally perfectible and that Utopia on earth is achievable.
In various forms, this drive toward Utopia needs the coercive force of an authoritative government to accomplish its social engineering. These idealists believe that, if only everyone will cooperate with their plans, a perfect society is right around the corner. Yet not everyone will cooperate, and they feel themselves justified in forcing compliance from those unwilling citizens who cling to their personal freedom. Surely, the Utopians think, it is worth it to temporarily remove the rights of a few people in order to create a perfect society for everyone. From this seemingly innocent sentiment, it is but a few short steps to using the guillotine to execute thousands of French women and children, because they didn't seem enthusiastic enough about the latest instructions from the revolutionary government. Thus ever ends Utopian hopes.
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
Instead, he asserted that the major purposes of education were clustered around the concept of becoming a member of the community. He wrote: "What nutrition and reproduction are to physiological life, education is to social life."
The impact, then, of Dewey's popularity was to de-emphasize a teacher's concern for curriculum ("knowing that" and "knowing how to"), and instead emphasize those aspects of education which are social in nature. The direct result is that American high schools have clubs and sports teams, counselors and student councils, and classes about health and parenting.
It is difficult for us, living in the twenty-first century, to imagine a time when the average American high school had none of these things - so deep is Dewey's influence on our educational institutions.
But how do we evaluate Dewey's contribution? Has it been good or bad? Critics note that since Dewey's time, American students have mastered fewer and fewer of the core concepts of higher mathematics, fewer of the central works of world literature, and fewer foreign languages. In the words of a 1991 report from the Excellence in Broadcast Network, schools are teaching students about condoms and recycling
instead of Aristotle. We're not teaching anything else very well. Our kids get lower scores on math and English tests every year. As a result, kids from backwater European and Asian countries are outperforming our kids left and right in school because we're hung up on teaching feel-good history and worthless social gobbledygook.
That was twenty years ago. In which direction have we gone since then? Have American schools continued to do the jobs of parents and neighborhoods, or have they returned to serious education? During the typical school day, is learning interrupted by forays into counseling, peer relationships, sexuality, relationships, environmentalism, etc.?
Dewey's influence caused the schools to perform the tasks of parents and neighborhoods, which meant first that parents and neighborhoods had nothing to do (the schools having taken over their roles), and second that the schools weren't doing much educating (because they were busy raising children instead of instructing students).
The question for education in the twenty-first century, then, is this: are we moving further into Dewey's influence, or beginning to escape from it?