Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Hound Them From Restaurants

May 7, 2019

Freedom of speech is no longer a priority in academia if this article in Campus Reform is any indication.

A professor claimed Sunday that “vile little sh*tlords” who belong to free speech-themed clubs on campus should lose their jobs and be chased out of restaurants.

University of New Brunswick professor Matthew Sears made the assertion on Twitter in response to the San Diego synagogue shooting Saturday.

“We should name every white supremacist,” Sears said. “Name every writer, blogger, YouTuber, and politician that inspires them. Plaster their faces in public. Fire them from their jobs. Hound them from restaurants. Expose them and those that fuel them for the hateful pathetic wretches they are.”

This is an understandable reaction to a recent shooting at a synagogue, and even a staunch free speech advocate might not particularly like defending the free speech rights of the viler racists and anti-Semites, though it is understood that even the vilest among us have the right to speak out. Professor Sears, however, takes it further.

The professor lumped campus free speech activists into this group in a subsequent tweet.

“And that includes every vile little shitlord in a campus ‘free speech’ club who spends his time platforming white supremacist trolls under the banner of ‘free speech,’ and every grifting liar that goes on about campus ‘censorship’ and the ‘marketplace of ideas,'” Sears stated in a since-deleted tweet.

When lawyer Robert Barnes shared this latter tweet with his own followers, appearing to disagree with the professor’s opinion, Sears said “there’s a difference between free speech, and those who use ‘free speech’ as a deliberate strategy to put hateful and discredited ideas into the mainstream and give them academic credibility. But you know that, you liar.”

The professor told Campus Reform that, when he speaks of campus free speech activists, he means merely those who “invite bigoted provocateurs like Richard Spencer and Milo Yannopoulos,” but Sears has previously advocated for the harassment of a far more mainstream and high-profile figure.

After U.S. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders got kicked out of a restaurant in June, the professor tweeted “forget ‘respectability politics,’ forget the ‘politics of division,’ forget ‘civility.’ Let’s denormalize these folks and their ideas every single chance we get, including throwing them the hell out of restaurants. Like we should have done *from the very beginning*.”

Sears also suggested in April 2018 that a “Make America Great Again” hat was “the functional equivalent of a [Ku Klux] Klan hood or Nazi banner.”

“I suppose I reject the notion that civility is the ultimate goal, especially in the face of what are some pretty outrageous human rights abuses, such as what we see along the US-Mexico border,” Sears said, when Campus Reform asked about his Sanders tweet. “If someone like Sanders provides cover and routinely lies for someone like Trump, even if he is the most powerful person on earth, I fail to see how mouthing off to them in restaurants is beyond the pale. Yes, this could go both ways. But appeals to civility often only manage to maintain the status quo, and benefit those in power.”

So it is not just the people who just about everyone disagrees with who should be harassed, but really everyone who is to the right of Professor Sears, and even those who might agree with most of his positions but who happen to think the other side has the same free speech rights. Professor Sears evidently does not value freedom of speech as something good in itself, but only as a method to effect desired change. Speech which opposes change and social justice ought not to be allowed. People who opposed change are beyond the boundaries of decent behavior and do not deserve to be treated decently. It is acceptable to hound them out of restaurants.

I wish that people like Professor Sears would understand that both sides have fists and guns and both sides can hound the other from restaurants if that sort of becomes acceptable behavior. If harassing people with opinions we do not like becomes commonplace, people like Professor Sears may be surprised to discover that they are not in the majority. They may not like to be the ones fired from their jobs and hounded out of restaurants.

These people do not seem to understand that we do not support freedom of speech and, if not civility, some sort of mutually acceptable boundaries in expressing disagreement with one another, not because we want to be goody-goodies or because we want to tolerate hate and racism, but because the alternative is so much worse. As long as we are talking to, or even shouting at, one another, our differences can be resolved. If we give up talking to start persecuting and harassing the other side, the situation can only escalate as each side remembers grievances and injustices inflicted by the other side. It is only a short step to actual violence to resolve political differences. Petty harassment can escalate to street fighting between factions, assassinations and outright civil war. We don’t want that to happen. We also don’t want a nation weary of political violence to turn to a strongman who promises peace and security at the expense of freedom. It may be ironic that people like Professor Sears, who claim to be fighting Fascism are creating the conditions that would allow a Fascist dictator to seize power.

When political violence takes the place of political debate, it is rarely the people with the best ideas who win out. More often, it is the people who can muster the largest mobs, who have the most guns, and who are the most ruthless who win. In the history of revolutions, more often than not, it is the faction who is most ruthless and cruel, most willing to use violence against the innocent, most extreme in their positions and least willing to compromise with either their opponents or with reality who gain the power in the end. It is the thugs most willing to use the guillotine and the gulag, who end up running things. The intellectuals and professors who first agitated for revolutions usually end up in the gulag or up against a wall, devoured by the revolution they helped create. Professor Sears might want to think about that before he sends out more tweets promoting political harassment.

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The Democratic Electoral College

April 27, 2019

The Electoral College has been under attack quite a lot recently. This method of electing the President of the United States is increasingly being assailed as an archaic and undemocratic provision of the Constitution which desperately needs to be replaced by a more democratic national popular vote, in which the candidate who wins a majority of the popular vote, throughout the nation, is elected president.

I think that electing the president by a national popular vote would be a bad idea for a number of reasons, not least because it would not, in fact, be more democratic. This may seem like a paradox, but we need to consider just what democracy actually is, and why it is a desirable form of government.

First, I have to commit a sort of political heresy and suggest that democracy is not actually the end all and be all of all good government. The essential purpose of government is, as Thomas Jefferson stated in his immortal Declaration of Independence, to secure the inalienable rights given to us by our Creator. Any government derives its powers from the consent of the governed. The best way to create a government that actually secures those rights and has that consent is for the government to have at least a democratic element in its constitution. At some point, the citizens ought to be consulted about policies. More democracy, however, is not necessarily better and even a democratic government can be tyrannical. If it is possible for 51% of the people to vote away the rights and property of 49% of the people, then that government is every bit as tyrannical as the rule of a dictator. Indeed, it would be preferable to live under the rule of a king or dictator who respects the rights of the people, than a democratically elected president who does not.

The men who drafted the constitution were as aware of the dangers of a tyranny of the majority as much as of the dangers of tyranny from other sources. This is precisely the reason they included such undemocratic features as an unrepresentative Senate and the Electoral College. The founding fathers were more concerned with preserving liberty than with creating what we would call democracy.

So, what is democracy anyway? Democracy can be defined as:

1. Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives.
2. political or social unit that has such a government.
3. The common people, considered as the primary source of political power.
4. Majority rule.
5. The principles of social equality and respect for the individual within a community.
Democracy is more than simply holding regular elections. Dictatorships have often held elections. Democracy is a system in which the people govern themselves and play a role in the decisions made by the state. Democracy works best in small communities, the city-states of Ancient Greece or the traditional town meetings of New England. The larger a community is, the less likely it is to be truly democratic, even though it may possess the trappings of democracy such as free elections and elected representatives. A nation, like the United States, with three hundred and twenty million that spans across a continent with an enormous diversity in geography and population cannot really be very democratic at all. It can only be ruled despotically. We may be governed by a democratic sort of despotism, but it is despotism, none the less.
Why do I say this? Because one person out of three hundred million has effectively no voice. Small numbers of people are always diluted or drowned out by the whole and the only way for anyone to have any influence is to organize a large number of people, which invariably takes time and money some people do not have. The individual really has no voice on the national level no matter how democratic the forms of the government might be.
Also, with such a large and diverse population, it is impossible for the national community as a whole to come to any real consensus on policy. Even if the majority makes the decisions, there is a minority of many tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions who feel the policies have been imposed upon them. This is even more the case if the people holding the majority and minority positions live in different regions. It is simply not possible for any government on such a large scale to take into account the opinions of every, or even most people when making decisions.
Consider this map of the 2016 election results by county
I think that it would be fair to say that the red and blue regions are roughly equal in population. Considering that Hilary Clinton won more popular votes than Donald Trump, it is likely that the blue regions slightly outnumber the red regions. If that election had been based on the popular vote Hilary Clinton would now be president. If we switched to electing presidents by popular votes, any candidate would find it easier to campaign in the smaller, more densely populated blue regions rather than travel out to the more sparsely, but wider, red regions. The issues and policies of the blue areas would take precedence over the issues and policies of the reds. Electing the president by a national popular vote would be more democratic in one sense, the majority would be electing the president, but it would be less democratic in a more important sense, large portions of the country would feel themselves ruled by a government not of their choosing and not concerned with them. It would not be long before they began to feel as though they were merely colonies of the coasts. How long before they decided to separate?
If democracy in a large, diverse nation is impossible, should we split the country into smaller, more manageable pieces? Well, in a way we already have. When the founding fathers drafted the constitution, each of the former colonies was meant to be a sovereign state within the larger United States. This is why they are called states, a term normally used to indicate a sovereign, independent political entity, and not provinces. The idea expressed in the constitution was that each state was to be independent, sovereign, and in control of its own affairs, with the government of the United States handling those affairs which concerned all the states; diplomacy, war, coinage, etc.
Over the centuries for various reasons, good and bad, the country has become more centralized, with the federal government gaining more and more power, at the expense of the sovereignty of the states, to the point that the states have almost mere administrative appendages of the federal government. There may be advantages to a more centralized national government, but it is going to be less democratic. Replacing the Electoral College with a national popular vote will be one more step on the road to making the states irrelevant, and the nation less democratic. We need to be decreasing the power of the federal government increasing the sovereignty of the states if we want to live in a truly democratic country in which the ordinary citizen has some influence on public policy. I would even take this a step further and suggest that some of our larger states; California, New York, Texas, among others, ought to be split up to create smaller, more manageable units.
If we really want to live in a democracy, we need to be making our politics smaller and more local. Abolishing the Electoral College is a step in the wrong direction.

Easter

April 21, 2019

We left the story of Jesus of Nazareth last Friday. He had been executed in the most painful and degrading way possible. His closest followers were dispersed and in hiding. It must have seemed that Jesus and his movement had ended in utter failure. But then, something remarkable happened. This something is commemorated by the Easter holiday. Although Christmas is the more popular Christian holiday, Easter is actually the most important holiday in the liturgical year as the celebration of Christ’s resurrection is theologically more important than his Nativity. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The Gospel of Mark has the most concise account on what happened that first Easter.

1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

9 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene,out of whom he had driven seven demons.10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping.11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country.13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.

14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.17 And these sign swill accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons;they will speak in new tongues;18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. (Mark 16:1-20)

Mark 16:9-20 seems to be a later addition. At any rate, the earliest manuscripts do not have those verses. Whether the original ending has been lost or Mark intended to end his account so abruptly is unknown.

Matthew has more details.

1After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

The Guards’ Report

11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

The Great Commission

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:1-20)

Luke and John have more to say of Jesus after His resurrection but I won’t quote them here.

The date of Easter has been a matter of some controversy in past centuries. The date of Easter is related to the date of Passover. The calculations on which the date of Easter is determined is based on a lunisolar cycle like the date of Passover but the cycle is not the Hebrew calendar. Generally Easter falls about a week after Passover but it occurs about a month later in three years of the nineteen year cycle. Various groups of Christians have had different methods of calculating Easter over the years and these differences have led to bitter disputes. There is still a different date for Easter among the Eastern churches since they use the Julian calendar for the liturgical year while Catholics and Protestants use the Gregorian calendar.

Among Catholics and some Protestants, Easter is generally celebrated by an Easter vigil beginning the previous evening. At dawn, a mass or service begins, etc.

And, of course, many people celebrate Easter by finding Easter eggs and eating candy delivered by the Easter Bunny.

 

Good Friday

April 19, 2019

Today is Good Friday, the day of Jesus’s crucifixion. It may seem strange to call it “Good” Friday since being crucified wouldn’t normally be considered as part of a good day but the word good is used in an obsolete sense meaning holy. Good Friday is generally celebrated with fasts and vigils. In the Roman Catholic church no mass is held on this day.

Once again, I will be using the Gospel of Mark to tell the story.

Mark 15

1Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.

2 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

3 The chief priests accused him of many things. 4 So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”

5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

6 Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.

9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, 10 knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.

12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.

13Crucify him!” they shouted.

14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. (Mark 15:1-15)

It would seem that this meeting of the Sanhedrin at night and before Passover was highly irregular and some have questioned the historicity of the Gospel accounts on that basis. I think that if the elders and priests of the Sanhedrin believed Jesus to be on the point of declaring himself the Messiah and leading a rebellion, they might not have been too concerned with fine points of legality in the face of a national emergency. Little is known of Pontius Pilate but in the historical accounts of Josephus and others, he does not seem to be the sort of man who had any scruples about putting a trouble maker to death even if he wasn’t certain of the man’s guilt. It is possible that he was impressed by Jesus’s force of personality. On the other hand, Josephus makes it clear that Pilate was a tactless man who did not like the Jews much. He was eventually recalled because his actions seemed likely to cause rebellions. Perhaps Pilate resented having the High Priest and others, who he might have considered semi-barbarians, insist on his crucifying a man. He might have refused just to be obstinate.

16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

The Crucifixion of Jesus

21 A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.

27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. [28][a]29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.(Mark 15:16-32)

Luke has one of the thieves taking Jesus’s side.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[d]

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

Crucifixion is probably the most painful method method of execution ever devised. The victim is slowly asphyxiated as he hangs on the cross. It was not uncommon for a man to linger for days writhing in pain the whole time. In addition to the pain, crucifixion was meant to be a humiliating, shameful punishment. Only the lowest of the low were crucified, which might have been a stumbling block to early Christian proselytizing.

33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[b]

35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died,[c] he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph,[d] and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

Those words were the first verse of Psalm 22. Matthew’s account parallels Mark’s but Luke and John report different last words.

46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”[e] When he had said this, he breathed his last.  (Luke 23:46)

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.(John 19:28-30)

John adds another detail.

31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”[c]37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” (John 19:31-37)

Strange as it may seem, the breaking of their legs was an act of mercy since they would die sooner. It was surprising that Jesus had died after only being about six hours on the cross.

42 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid. (Mark 15:42-47)

To anyone on the scene, this must have seemed the end of the matter. Jesus of Nazareth was dead and his followers scattered. It would seem that, at best, he would only be a minor footnote in history.

 

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Palm Sunday

April 14, 2019

 

Today is Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem and the beginning of the climax of his earthly ministry.

Jesus Comes to Jerusalem as King

1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

5 “Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matt 21:1-11)

 

Palm Sunday is often celebrated by palm leaves to worshippers in churches. If palm leaves are not available locally, than other tree branches may be substituted. In many churches the priest or other clergy blesses the palms and they are saved to be burned at Ash Wednesday the following year.

The actual date of Palm Sunday, like Easter varies from year to year because the date is based on a lunisolar cycle like the Hebrew calendar. The date differs between Western and Eastern Christianity because most Eastern churches still use the Julian calendar for their liturgical year, even though the Gregorian calendar is universally used for civil purposes.

Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, or the last week of Lent.

 

Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey

Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

 

St. Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2019

Today is St. Patrick‘s day and I thought it might be appropriate to write about St. Patrick. So, who is St. Patrick and why does he get a day? Not very much is known for certain about his life. It is possible that his story has been confused with one Palladius, a missionary who became the first bishop of Ireland. Still, Patrick wrote a short autobiography called “The Declaration” or “The Confession” as part of a letter which seems to be genuine.

Get out snakes!

Patrick, or Patricius was a Roman who lived in Britain. He may have been born around 387 and lived until 460 or possibly 493, so he lived during the twilight of the Roman Empire in the West. At the age of 16 he was captured by raiders and enslaved. He worked as a shepherd in Ireland for about six years. He managed to escape and return to his home, but then he became a priest and returned to the land where he was a slave and worked to convert the pagans to Christianity. He seems to have been very successful during his lifetime, though there were many other missionaries in Ireland. He helped to organize the Church in Ireland and is supposed to have traveled to Rome to seek the Pope’s assistance in this endeavor.

According to legend, Patrick died on March 17, so that date has become his feast day. He has never been officially canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. He became known as a saint long before the modern procedure for canonization was developed. He is, obviously, the patron saint of Ireland, and also Nigeria, Montserrat, engineers, paralegals, and the dioceses of New York, Boston, and Melbourne.

There are many legends about St. Patrick. The most widely known is that he chased all the snakes out of Ireland, thus ruining the local ecology. Another is that he used the example of the three-leaved shamrock to illustrate the trinity.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all the Irish, and Irish at heart, out there!

Sorry about the green text. I couldn’t resist.

Pi Day

March 14, 2019
English: Pi Pie, created at Delft University o...

English: Pi Pie, created at Delft University of Technology, applied physics, seismics and acoustics Deutsch: Pi Pie (π-Kuchen), hergestellt an der Technischen Universität Delft (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For all of the nerds out there, including me, today is international Pi Day, the day when we celebrate our favorite mathematical constant. Pi Day is best celebrated by pi memorization contests, walking in circles, and, of course, eating pies, or is it pis? I think I will celebrate by writing a little about pi.

Pi or π is, as everyone should know, the ratio between a circle’s diameter and its circumference. Pi is an irrational number. By this, they do not mean that pi makes no sense but rather that pi is a constant that cannot be expressed as a ratio of two integers. Numbers like 2 or .445 or 1/2 can be expressed as a ratio of two integers and so are rational. Numbers like pi or the square root of any number that is not a perfect square, the square root of 2 for instance, are irrational. An irrational number expressed in decimal form never ends or repeats but continues to infinity. Thus, there can never be a last digit of pi.

The symbol π was first by the mathematician William Jones in 1706 and was popularized by another mathematician, Leonhard Euler. They chose π, the Greek equivalent of the Latin letter p, because it is the first letter of the word periphery. Π, by the way is not pronounce “pie” in Greek but “pee”, just like our p. I don’t think that international “pee” day would be nearly so appealing.

Although the symbol for pi is relatively recent, the concept is very old. The ancient Egyptians and Babylonians knew about it. Pi is even mentioned in the Bible.

23 He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits[o] to measure around it. 24 Below the rim, gourds encircled it—ten to a cubit. The gourds were cast in two rows in one piece with the Sea. (1 Kings 7:23-24)

Properly speaking, the line around the “Sea” should have been 31.5 cubits but the ancient Hebrews were not very knowledgeable about geometry and measuring techniques were crude.

There is no particular reason to calculate pi to so many digits. No conceivable application of pi would possibly take more than 40 digits. Still, the challenge of calculating pi to the farthest digit possible has been an irresistible one for mathematicians over the years.

Around 250 BC, Archimedes was the first mathematician to seriously try to calculate pi. He used a geometric method of drawing polygons inside and outside a circle and measuring their perimeters. By using polygons with more and more sides he was able to calculate pi with more precision and ended determining the value of pi as somewhere between 3.1408 and 3.1429. Archimedes’s method was used in the west for more than a eighteen hundred years. The Chinese and Indians used similar methods. The best result using the geometric method was the calculation of pi to 38 digits in 1630.

With the development of calculus by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz in the 1660’s it was possible to calculate pi using infinite series, or the sum of the terms of an infinite sequence. The best calculations with these methods were done by the mathematician Zacharias Daze who calculated pi to 200 places in 1844 and William Shanks who spent fifteen years to calculate pi to 707 digits. Unfortunately he made a mistake with the 528 digit. Meanwhile, in 1761 Johann Heinrich Lambert proved that pi is irrational.

Computers made the calculation of pi much faster so pi could be calculated to more digits. ENIAC calculated pi to 2037 places in 1949. This record didn’t last long. A million digits were reached 1970. As of  2011, pi has been calculated to 10,000,000,000,050 places.

Pi is not just used in geometry. There are a number of applications of pi in the fields of statistics, mechanics, thermodynamics, cosmology, and many others. Here is a list of just some of the formulae that use pi. It seems you can find pi everywhere.

With that in mind then, happy pi day! For your enjoyment here are the first thousand digits of pi.

3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510
  58209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679
  82148086513282306647093844609550582231725359408128
  48111745028410270193852110555964462294895493038196
  44288109756659334461284756482337867831652712019091
  45648566923460348610454326648213393607260249141273
  72458700660631558817488152092096282925409171536436
  78925903600113305305488204665213841469519415116094
  33057270365759591953092186117381932611793105118548
  07446237996274956735188575272489122793818301194912
  98336733624406566430860213949463952247371907021798
  60943702770539217176293176752384674818467669405132
  00056812714526356082778577134275778960917363717872
  14684409012249534301465495853710507922796892589235
  42019956112129021960864034418159813629774771309960
  51870721134999999837297804995105973173281609631859
  50244594553469083026425223082533446850352619311881
  71010003137838752886587533208381420617177669147303
  59825349042875546873115956286388235378759375195778
  18577805321712268066130019278766111959092164201989

 

What’s the Matter with Britain?

February 24, 2019

I am an Anglophile. I love Great Britain and particularly England. I am a great fan of English literature, English history, English culture, and the English language. Although I am a patriotic American, there are times when I when a certain regret over the misunderstandings of 1776 that led to our separation from the mother country. The world might be a better place if America, Britain, and the other English-speaking countries were all part of a globe spanning Anglo-American Empire.

But then, I read stories like this one in the Telegraph and am grateful that we did separate from Great Britain, and write a constitution that includes the first amendment. England seems to be even more in the grip of political correctness than we are and they have no first amendment to keep the Fascists from throwing thought criminals in jail.

A docker from Humberside has been investigated by police over a limerick he posted on Twitter after an officer claimed it constitutes a ‘hate incident’ against transgender people.

Harry Miller, 53, from Lincoln was contacted on Wednesday by a community cohesion officer following a complaint that had been made about the plant and machinery dealer’s social media posts.

Citing 30 potentially offensive tweets, the PC singled out a limerick Mr Miller had retweeted which  questioned whether transgender women are biological women. It included the lines: “Your breasts are made of silicone, your vagina goes nowhere.”

Even though no crime was committed, sharing the limerick online was recorded as a ‘hate incident’.

PC Mansoor Gul told Mr Miller: “I’ve been on a course and what you need to understand is that you can have a foetus with a female brain that grows male body parts and that’s what a transgender person is.”

After Mr Miller questioned why the complainant was being described as a “victim” if no crime had been committed, the officer told him: “We need to check your thinking”.

“I can’t believe what is happening in the UK in the name of transgenderism and, worse still, we’re not even allowed to think never mind talk about it,” Mr Miller said.

The married father of four was alerted to the investigation by his company directors after they were approached by officers trying to make contact with Mr Miller.

The complainant had managed to identify Mr Miller’s place of work, despite there being no reference to his business or his full identity on his Twitter account. As part of the complaint to police it was alleged the firm was an ‘unsafe environment’ for transgender employees because of Mr Miller’s comments on social media.

Let’s get this straight. Mr. Miller did not commit any crimes. He did not assault or even make any disparaging remarks to anyone in person. He did not even compose the allegedly offending tweet. He simply liked or retweeted tweets that someone found offensive. The only reason the police were involved was because it was a “hate incident” and they needed to check his thinking.

What is the matter with Britain? Why are they putting up with this petty tyranny over there? What has happened to the liberty loving English of the past, the people who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, who chopped off Charles I’s head for being an overbearing tyrant, who fought the good fight against Hitler? When did the British people become a herd of sheep?

What exactly is a “hate incident”? If a hate incident occurs whenever one person says something that another person does not like, than no one is safe saying anything at all. Any comment, no matter how innocent could be taken as offensive. In fact, such rules against “hate” cannot be applied objectively and even-handedly. They are almost always applied in favor of “marginalized” groups against less favored groups. If a White, cisgender, heterosexual, Anglican had complained about a hate incident, I doubt anyone would have cared, no matter how hateful the tweet.

Does anyone really believe that banning hate speech will actually eliminate hate? It seems to me that it would only succeed in driving it underground. The people who are silenced will not change their opinion. They will only have the additional grievance of being silenced, and if the silencing is not objective or even-handed, as in fact it cannot be, the censorship may have the effect of increasing resentment against any favored groups.

There is also the problem of what actually constitutes “hate”. All too often, hate is defined simply as an opinion someone doesn’t like, especially if there happens to be some truth in the silenced opinion. The tweet that Mr. Miller shared may have been crude and not very nice, but it does express a truth. Gender is a biological fact, not a matter of personal choice. It is not possible to change gender, no matter how strongly a person feels as though they are really the opposite gender. A transgender man is not a woman, no matter what hormones he has taken or operations he has had. By punishing such sentiments as hate speech, the authorities in Britain are in the position of punishing a man for speaking a truth anyone can see and coercing people to affirm a lie, they cannot really believe.

If truth or a widely shared opinion becomes “hate”, than this blurs the lines between unpleasant pr inconvenient truths and statements that really are hateful. Punishing hate speech might have the unintended effect of making real hatred more acceptable, not to mention putting both the dissident stating unpleasant truths and the hater in the same position as defenders of free speech and free thought.  In general, I think the best way to deal with hate is to have everything out in the open rather than to let in fester in darkness.

I guess it was just as well we had that disagreement back in 1776. I prefer to live in a country where free speech is protected by the first amendment. Maybe the US should annex Britain as our fifty-first state so the people there can have the benefits of the first amendment.

Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2019
English: Saint Valentine kneeling

Valentine?

Today is Valentine’s Day, or St. Valentine‘s Day. Who was Valentine and why does he get a day named after him? The truth is, nobody really knows.Valentine or Valentinus was the name of an early Christian saint and martyr. The trouble is that nothing is known of him except his name. He may have been a Roman priest who was martyred in 269. There was a Valentine who was bishop of Terni who may have been the same man. St. Valentine was dropped from the Roman calendar of Saints in 1969 because of these uncertainties but local churches may still celebrate his day.

It is also not certain how Valentine’s day became associated with love. Some have speculated that the holiday was a Christian substitute for the Roman festival of Lupercalia. However, there is no hint of any association of Valentine’s Day with romance until the time of Chauncer. The holiday seems to have really taken off with the invention of greeting cards.

. Valentine postcard, circa 1900–1910

The Decline of Christianity and Reason

January 14, 2019

Organized religion, especially Christianity has been declining in influence in the West for at least the last century and this decline only seems to be accelerating. The most recent generation of Americans, the millennials, tend to be the most secular, or least conventionally religious, generation of Americans in history, One might expect that this decline in traditional religion would be accompanied by an increase in the influence of science and reason. Certainly, that is what the so-called New Atheists would have us believe. Men like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and others have held that debunking religion, especially Christianity, would lead to a new golden age of enlightenment and reason, in which the human race, freed of all its past religious superstitions, would move forward into a bright future of reason and logic.

This isn’t happening. In fact, the most secular, least religious generation in American history rather than embracing science and reason, seem to be turning to pseudoscience and superstition, witchcraft and neo-paganism, as this article I read at Marketwatch, found courtesy of Hot Air, seems to demonstrate.

When Coco Layne, a Brooklyn-based producer, meets someone new these days, the first question that comes up in conversation isn’t “Where do you live?” or “What do you do?” but “What’s your sign?”

“So many millennials read their horoscopes every day and believe them,” Layne, who is involved in a number of nonreligious spiritual practices, said. “It is a good reference point to identify and place people in the world.”

Interest in spirituality has been booming in recent years while interest in religion plummets, especially among millennials. The majority of Americans now believe it is not necessary to believe in God to have good morals, a study from Pew Research Center found. The percentage of people between the ages of 18 and 29 who “never doubt existence of God” fell from 81% in 2007 to 67% in 2012.

Meanwhile, more than half of young adults in the U.S. believe astrology is a science. compared to less than 8% of the Chinese public. The psychic services industry — which includes astrology, aura reading, mediumship, tarot-card reading and palmistry, among other metaphysical services — grew 2% between 2011 and 2016. It is now worth $2 billion annually, according to industry analysis firm IBIS World.

Melissa Jayne, owner of Brooklyn-based “metaphysical boutique” Catland, said she has seen a major uptick in interest in the occult in the past five years, especially among New Yorkers in their 20s. The store offers workshops like “Witchcraft 101,” “Astrology 101,” and a “Spirit Seance.”

“Whether it be spell-casting, tarot, astrology, meditation and trance, or herbalism, these traditions offer tangible ways for people to enact change in their lives,” she said. “For a generation that grew up in a world of big industry, environmental destruction, large and oppressive governments, and toxic social structures, all of which seem too big to change, this can be incredibly attractive.”

Like the existence of God, however, there’s no actual scientific proof. Astrology has been debunked by numerous academic studies, but Banu Guler, co-founder of artificial intelligence powered astrology app Co—Star said the lack of structure in the field is exactly what drives young, educated professionals to invest their time and money in the practice.

“It’s very different from the way we usually work and live and date, where everything is hyper-mediated and rational,” she said. “There is a belief vacuum: we go from work to a bar to dinner and a date, with no semblance of meaning. Astrology is a way out of it, a way of putting yourself in the context of thousands of years of history and the universe.”

The New Atheists are wrong. Human beings are not rational creatures. We seem to have a strong need to believe in the irrational, to believe that the universe around us makes some sort of sense, to believe in something greater than ourselves. Whether from some quirk of evolution or the intention of our divine creator, we humans are dissatisfied with the materialist outlook. We tend to reject, as if by instinct, the idea that all that exists are atoms and the void, or that we are nothing more than crude matter. For this reason, if one seemingly irrational belief system or religion is debunked or discredited, the result will not be a golden age of reason, but the ascension of some other irrational belief system, perhaps one worse than the previous one. It is not a coincidence that the rise of such quasi-religious political movements such as Fascism or Marxism only occurred after the decline of belief in Christianity among the intellectual classes of Europe.

It also may not be a coincidence that as the influence of religion declines, our politics have been more contentious and divisive. Politics requires consensus and compromise to be functional, but if politics takes the place of religion and people begin to view their own side as representing goodness and light with the other side being the side of darkness, than every political debate becomes a holy war. The other side is not just made up of patriots with different ideas but devils. This might explain why so many secular people on the left are so intolerant and hateful.

It is also not true that Christianity and science are opposed to one another, as the New Atheists and secularists assert. This idea of an eternal struggle between science and religion was largely developed by certain nineteenth century secularist thinkers and is largely discredited by modern historians of science. In fact, Christianity was instrumental in the development of science. It is not a coincidence that the intellectual discipline we call science arose in Christian Western Europe, and no where else. The Medieval Scholastic philosophers built up much of the intellectual foundations for modern science with their integration of Christian theology with Ancient Greek philosophy, particularly with by asserting that the world God created is reasonable, and follows natural laws which can be discovered through the use of reason, as opposed to pagans who viewed the world as arbitrary or the eastern religions, which saw the world as illusionary. It might not be too surprising that the decline of the influence of Christianity in the West is accompanied by the decline of scientific thinking and the rise of pseudoscience.

These millennials are looking for something to fill the void inside them. If traditional religion is not there to fill it, they will turn elsewhere with perhaps disastrous results for themselves and for the country. Christians really need to work harder at reaching these young people.


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