Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Palm Sunday

March 29, 2015

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)

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The Rise and Fall of the Akkadian Empire

March 26, 2015

The first great empire builder known to history was Sargon of Akkad who founded the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia. Dates are always uncertain in ancient times, but the best guess for the reign of Sargon seems to be from 2334 to 2279 BC, though some accounts have his death at 2215. He lived in the Sumerian city of Kish, though he was not a Sumerian but a member of the Semitic people later known as Akkadians. Sargon’s actual name, or title, was Sarru-kinu meaning true or legitimate king in the Semitic language he spoke. This name that he apparently adopted, his birth name is unknown, is a good indication that he was not the legitimate king but a usurper, which is indeed the case. According to legends, Sargon was the cup-bearer to King Ur-Zababa of King, also a Semite. Sargon apparently led a coup against Ur-Zababa, with the support of the goddess Inanna, or Ishtar as she was later known, and deposed and killed him.

Bronze head of a king, most likely Sargon of A...

Bronze head of a king, most likely Sargon of Akkad but possibly Naram-Sin. Unearthed in Nineveh (now in Iraq). In the Iraqi Museum, Baghdad. Height 30.5 cm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once secure in power at Kish, Sargon began a series of military campaigns against the other Sumerian city-states, eventually uniting all of Mesopotamia. He led his armies North, East, and West until he had conquered parts of Syria, Iran, and Asia Minor. Not content to rule from Kish, Sargon founded his own city, Akkad or Agade to be the new capital or his new empire. Thus his people came to be known as Akkadians and his empire the Akkadian Empire. The Akkadian Empire lasted a little under two centuries and then fell rather abruptly around 2154. A semi-nomadic and uncivilized people from the Zagros Mountains known as the Gutians invaded and conquered Mesopotamia, ending the Akkadian Empire and disrupting the economy and culture of the region in a century long dark age.

Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This account of the fall of the Akkadian Empire to barbarian invaders seems straightforward enough, but there must be more to the story. Why were the Gutians able to overcome their more advanced and civilized neighbors so easily? The Sumerians and Akkadians had been able to hold them off before. Why did the Gutians decide to leave their homes in the mountains and move to Mesopotamia instead of simply being content with raiding?
Archaeologists have discovered that the soil deposited in this period was dry and sandy, lacking traces of the activity of earthworms. It seems likely that there was a change in climate in the twenty-second century BC causing the entire region to become more arid. Agriculture failed due to the long lasting drought causing famine. The cities were overpopulated by famine and Mesopotamian civilization broke down under the strain. Meanwhile, the Gutians also suffered from the drought and left their homes to seek food and water in Mesopotamia. This change in climate probably affected much of West Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean region. It was during this period that the Old Kingdom in Egypt ended with Egypt falling into chaos.

We like to believe that we human beings are the masters of our destiny both as individuals and as nations. Most historical accounts of the rise and fall of empires attribute the fate of nations largely to human elements, what this or that king or statesman did, or these or those economic and social conditions. They do not like to give credit to nature for its contribution, yet nature in the form of changes of climate and epidemics has surely played a greater role in the course of history than many kings.

About a thousand years after the fall of the Akkadian Empire, around 1200 BC, there was another prolonged period of drought throughout Western Asia and North Africa, causing the collapse of every civilization in the area and vast movements of people. The Hittite Empire in Asia Minor, the Egyptian New Kingdom, the Mycenaean Greeks and others were swept away in the chaos. Assyria and Babylon in Mesopotamia survived but were weakened for more than a century. We perhaps retain dim memories of these dire years in Homer’s poems about the Trojan War and the Biblical accounts from Exodus to Judges.

Plague destroyed Athens’s chance of winning the Peloponnesian War with Sparta. Climate change may have been a leading factor in the decline of the Roman Empire in the West while also explaining the movements of Germans and Huns into Roman territories. Plague and short term climate change, perhaps caused by a volcanic eruption in the tropics during the reign of Justinian made his dream of reconquering the Western Empire impossible. The prosperous period known as the High Middle Ages coincided with the Medieval Warm Period. When the climate cooled and the Black Death appeared, the High Middle Ages ended.

This is part of the reason why I cannot take the warnings and alarmism of the environmentalists too seriously. The Greens seem to believe that nature has been in a state of perfect equilibrium for eons only to be disturbed by the coming of Homo sapiens. Human beings, and only human beings are responsible for any changes in climate or the environment. We are responsible for the degradation of the planet and only we can save the planet. This is all nonsense. The planet Earth has been around long before we appeared on the scene and will be around after we are extinct. The Earth doesn’t need us to save it. The effects of nature on the climate and the environment dwarf anything we could ever dream of doing. It really wouldn’t take much of a change in climate to bring our advanced civilization crashing down just like the Akkadian Empire and we would no more be able to stop it than they were.

That is not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned about the damage we do to our environment. It is never wise to foul one’s own nest, but let’s not deceive ourselves into believing we have more impact than we actually do.

History Denial

March 24, 2015

A little while ago there was a minor controversy when former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani stated that he did not believe that President Barack Obama loves this country. I do not know the president personally and I cannot tell whether he loves America or not. Perhaps he does, in his own way. I think that it would be fair, however, to state that the good people at Watchdog.net do not love America. How could they, when they view American history as nothing more than a sordid tale of oppression and genocide? That is what they want our children to learn in schools and they deeply resent any attempt to set the record straight about this country.

Dear David Hoffman,

A bill in the Florida Senate would make a right-wing revisionist historical documentary required viewing for the state’s 8th and 11th graders.

“America: Imagine The World Without Her” argues that Native American genocide didn’t happen, and that the descendents of slaves are better off as a consequence of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The film claims that America’s indigenous population declined due to disease, not genocide. Nowhere does the film mention the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the incarceration of Native children in religious boarding schools, or the forced sterilization of Native women.

The documentary also claims that, because lots of countries throughout history have had some form of slavery, America’s brutal slave economy wasn’t that big of a deal.

Tell Florida Senators that racist, revisionist history has no place in public schools!

PETITION TO FLORIDA SENATORS: The film mandated by SB 96 has no academic merit and instead offers an inaccurate, racist account of American history. Vote down SB 96!

Click here to sign — it just takes a second.

Thanks,
— The folks at Watchdog.net

The documentary in question is Dinesh D’Souza’s America: Imagine the World without Her. I have never seen the documentary but I do not believe that it is a whitewash of American history. Rather, it seems to argue that despite all of its flaws, the United States of America has generally been a force for good and justice in the world; a concept truly hateful to the left. I believe that Dinesh D’Souza also rebuts the leftwing distortions and lies which are all too often taught in our public schools. As it happens,what the people at watchdog.net consider to be racist, inaccurate, revisionist history  is actually the truth, not that truth has ever mattered very much to people on the left.

First, the great majority of the Native Americans who died during and after the European conquest did indeed die of disease. The European conquest of the New World would not have been possible if large numbers of Indians had not died of the diseases the Europeans brought to the Americas. We read of conquistadors like Cortes and Pizarro conquering empires of millions of inhabitants with only a few hundred Spaniards and attribute this to the superior technology of the the Europeans. The conquistadors did have guns and horses, but they would have been quickly crushed by the Aztecs and Incas, had not their empires been fatally weakened by epidemics and internal dissent. The Spanish conquerors could generally count on the tribes subjugated by the Aztecs and Incas to provide them with help to overthrow their masters. It seldom occurred to the people of Mexico and Peru that they were simply exchanging one master for another. In North America, the English settlers at Jamestown and Plymouth Rock would not have survived had not the natives in the region obligingly died of disease, leaving cleared fields for the settlers to take over.

It was never actually the policy of any of the colonizing  powers to exterminate the Native Americans. Something close to 90% of the Native population of Spanish America died in the century following the Spanish conquest. Mistreatment by the conquerors no doubt accounted for much of this loss of population, yet the Spanish were surely not foolish enough to want to kill off their labor force. The English and later the Americans were not interested in enslaving the Indians but in taking over their land for settlement. Yet, while there were a good many Americans who believed that the only good Indian was a dead Indian, this was not an official policy of the United States government. I do not wish to minimize the injustices and suffering we have inflicted on the Native Americans, but this was not a deliberate attempt at genocide as the Nazi destruction of European Jewry or the Soviet starvation of the Ukrainians were. Neither were the Indians helpless victims. They fought as well as they could for their land and way of life and might have succeeded in fending off the European invaders if their numbers had not been decimated or if they had managed to unite in a federation against their common enemy.

Next, if the people at Watchdog.net have any questions about whether the descendants of the Africans brought to America as slaves are better off, they should take an extended tour of Africa. The trans-Atlantic slave trade was truly one of the greatest crimes against humanity on record, yet the African-American of today has good reason to be thankful for the sufferings of his ancestors. Historically, the descendants of slaves have been freer and have enjoyed a standard of living far higher, not only than those of their brothers who were left behind in Africa, but also of the lower classes in almost every part of the world, even under segregation and Jim Crow. I do not wish to justify either slavery or the discrimination faced by African Americans. The treatment of Black Americans has all too often been terribly unjust. I do want to put matters in perspective. Even in a country as racist as the United States has been, many Blacks were better off than peasants in China, India, or even parts of Europe.

I do not, and I am sure that Mr. D’Souza does not, intend to present a false, whitewashed view of American history. I freely acknowledge that there have been times that we have not lived up to our high ideals. Nevertheless, I still believe that the United States of America is the greatest country in the world, not least because we do acknowledge and try to correct our mistakes. I believe that the Western civilization, of which America is a part, is the highest and noblest civilization on this planet. Slavery has been a part of the human experience since the beginning of history. It is only in the West that anyone challenged the existence of slavery. No one in Africa or Asia spoke out against it. Genocide and wars of aggression have existed for centuries.  America and the West have done terrible crimes, but at least we have come to realize that they were crimes and have sought to put an end to them.

It is too bad that the people on the left feel the need to deny historical facts to justify their pathological hatred of their own country. There is nothing we can do about it, except try to keep them away from our children.

Saint Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2015

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.

 

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Meccania: The Super-State

March 16, 2015

Before George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel of life in the totalitarian country of Oceania, there was a similar book written by, Owen Gregory titled Meccania the Super-State published in 1918. Gregory, like Orwell, was concerned about the growth of authoritarian governments in Europe with the consequent loss of freedom during and after the First World War. While Orwell took the contemporary rule of Stalin as his model for Big Brother’s tyranny, Gregory projected the authoritarianism and militarism of Prussia and Germany to what he saw as a logical extreme. By doing, Gregory was able to predict, with astonishing accuracy, many of the features of the twentieth century totalitarian state, which Orwell could observe.

Meccania

Meccania is set in the year 1970 and is a first person account of the visit of a Chinese man, Ming Yuen-hway, to Meccania, a thinly disguised Germany. After visiting Luniland (Britain) and Francaria (France), Ming decides to make a trip to Meccania to see if the stories about the country are true. His difficulties in getting into Meccania and travelling about the country would be familiar to anyone who has tried to visit Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. It is not easy to arrange to get into Meccania and once inside, Ming is accompanied by conductors. He is not permitted to speak to Meccanians without permission and must follow a prearranged tour. He learns that he will not be permitted to take his diary out of the country, especially since much of it is written in Chinese.

In Meccania, Ming discovers a country in which everything and everyone are precisely and efficiently organized. The people are divided into seven classes, from unskilled labor, to skilled labor, artisans, professionals, businessmen, to the military and noble classes at the top. No one is free in Meccania. Everyone eats the food, wears the clothing, works the job, and even attends plays and concerts prescribed for him by the state. There is no private life; the state even requires its subjects, and foreign visitors like Ming, to fill out diaries account for their location and activities throughout the day. No one reads for enjoyment. Every book and children’s toy is educational.

This system began to be put into place by the great Prince Bludiron (Bismark) in an attempt to counter the influence of Spotts (Marx) among the working class. After Meccania’s defeat in World War I, it appeared that all of Bludiron’s work would be dismantled and Meccania would become democratic. Fortunately, Prince Mechow came into power and refined and extended Bludiron’s policies until Meccania became the Superstate. The Meccanians profess to believe that this system is superior to all others and look forward to the day when the whole world is ruled by a superstate.

Owen Gregory displayed a good deal of prescience in this book, at least in so far as the way in which totalitarian states attempt to impress foreigners. There is much that Ming is not allowed to see, but he is a perceptive observer and is able to deduce much that the Meccanians don’t want him to know. Gregory’s predictions are not perfect, however, though when he errs it is usually in underestimating the viciousness of such regimes. He wrote before the Holocaust or the Gulag, so perhaps that is expected. Dissidents in Meccania are not shot or sent to concentration camps. Instead, Meccanian psychiatrists claim to have discovered a mental illness, “chronic tendency to dissent”. Dissenters are placed into mental hospitals until they recover (recant). This is, in itself a remarkable forecast of Soviet psychiatric methods, but Gregory is apparently unable to imagine that a superstate dedicated to efficiency would be so irrational as to seek to eliminate sections of its own population for political reasons.
This Meccanian efficiency is Gregory’s greatest blind spot. He, through Ming, laments the loss of freedom of the Meccanian people and fears that other states might be forced to adopt Meccanian methods in order to compete with Meccania’s military and economic power. If the adoption of a totalitarian superstate really resulted in an increase of industrial and military efficiency, such that the standard of living of even the poorest was improved, then it might be worth the bargain. As it is, the results of command economies, such as the Soviet Union show that a superstate would be anything but efficient. No planners, however sophisticated can easily anticipate the needs of a modern economy and no citizen, however docile, will work as hard doing what the state requires as he would doing what he wants.

Overall, Meccania is a surprisingly enjoyable book to read, better than most dystopias, including 1984. It is a more pleasant book, since the main character is a visitor to the dystopian state not a subject trapped in it. It might is still a timely warning. Communism, Fascism, and other totalitarian systems may have been discredited, except on American college campuses, but the desire to create a super state, for our own good, is still very much in evidence among the do-gooders, the nanny statists, the Bloombergs, and they still bear watching.

Pi Day

March 14, 2015
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. This year is a very special Pi Day. The first digits of pi are 3.1415 so this year 3/14/15 is the Pi Day of the century.

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 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

 

Eunuchs for the Kingdom

March 9, 2015

An Indian guru is alleged to have somehow persuaded some 400 men to have themselves castrated in order to be closer to God. I am not sure exactly how that was supposed to work out, perhaps some variation of Jesus’s admonition in Matthew 18:8-9.

If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

Anyway, I read about this sacrifice in this article in the Independent.

A man has been accused of encouraging hundreds of followers to be castrated in a promise for them to become closer to God.

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, an Indian pop-star and telepreacher with a reported wealth of more than $50 million, is being investigated after he allegedly manipulated around 400 men to get their testicles removed – according to India Today.

One of his former followers who underwent castration seven years ago – named Hans Raj Chauhan – is one of the few to break the silence to speak out against him and the group.

“[The victims] were told that only those who get castrated will be able to meet God,” said Chauhan’s lawyer, Navkiran Singh, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Chauhan, 35, filed a petition against the guru in 2012 and the Central Bureau of Investigation has started looking into claims dating back as far back as 2000 in preparation of charges of grievous bodily harm. However many followers are believed to be in fear of speaking out.

I wonder if he underwent the procedure.

I wonder if he underwent the procedure.

The practice of castrating oneself of religious purposes seems rather extreme, yet this sort of thing has been around for long time. One of the earliest of these castration cults of which we have records are the Galli, priests of the Phrygian goddess Cybele and her consort Attis. Cybele was a mother goddess associated with fertility who was worshiped throughout Asia Minor. Cybele’s cult spread into Greece and Rome, where shewas identified with the goddesses Demeter, Gaea, and, strangely, Artemis. The worshipers of Artemis (or Diana) of the Ephesians who gave Paul such trouble in Acts chapter 19 were actually worshipers of Cybele. Cybele’s consort Attis, was a god of vegetation. Like many such gods, Attis’s mythological story was that of a god who died and then was reborn, symbolizing the death of winter and the rebirth of spring. In Attis’s case, he was also castrated before being killed. His priests, the Galli, would castrate themselves in emulation of their god. On a certain day in spring, initiates would work themselves into a frenzy with dancing and celebrations, and probably alcohol and mutilate themselves. Afterwards, they would dress in women’s clothes and lived as women, begging and telling fortunes for a living, much like the Hijras in India.

cybeleattis

Although Christians preferred a celibate priesthood and many early Church Fathers had an ambiguous view of sexuality, Christianity has never endorsed religious castration. There were some Byzantine clergymen who were eunuchs, and even at least one Patriarch of Constantinople. This was because, under the Byzantine system of Caesaropapism the higher clergy were as much government officials as religious leaders and the Byzantine Emperors believed that eunuchs were safer to employ since they were not able to overthrow the Emperor and establish a dynasty. The Church Father Origen was reputed to have had himself castrated and this was held against him. In the Western Roman Catholic Church, eunuchs were generally not allowed to join the clergy. Perhaps it was felt that castration was cheating.

There were some Christian sects that did encourage or require castration for membership, citing Matthew 18:8-9 above and Matthew 19:12.

12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.

One of these sects was the Valesians, founded by an Arab named Valens in the second century. They believed not only in self-castration, but attacked and castrated travelers. More recently there were the Skoptsy of Czarist Russia. This sect was founded in the eighteenth century by two Russian peasants Andrei Ivanov and Kondratti Selivanov. These two taught sexual desire was the root of all evil and resorted to mutilation to end any temptation to commit sin. Male adherents were completely castrated while females had their breasts removed as well as undergoing female circumcision. Despite fierce persecution by the Czarist authorities, the numbers of the Skoptsy grew to around 100,000 followers by the twentieth century. The Soviets were more systematic in their attempts to eradicate the cult and it is believed that the Skoptsy have been eliminated.

Boston Corbett was another man who took the two verses in Matthew more literally than Jesus intended. Corbett lived in the United States in the nineteenth century and was most famous as the man who killed John Wilkes Booth. He had worked as a hatter in his early years and it is likely that the mercury compounds used by the hatters of the time affected his mental health. He became very religious to the point of fanaticism after the death of his wife and child and prayed and proselytized while working as a hatter. He served in the Union army during the Civil War and frequently was disciplined for his eccentric and disruptive behavior. In 1858, Corbett castrated himself with a pair of shears and then went to dinner and a prayer meeting before seeking medical attention.

Boston Corbett

Boston Corbett

There was also the Heaven’s Gate Cult. These were not Christians but a UFO cult. They believed an alien spaceship was hiding in the tail of Comet Hale Bopp in 1997 and committed mass suicide in order to be beamed up. According to some reports, several male members of the cult, including the founder Marshall Applewhite, had had themselves castrated.

Marshall Applewhite

Marshall Applewhite

I don’t suppose it is much consolation to the men whom Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh persuaded to be castrated, that their sacrifice is part of a long tradition of becoming eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven, but perhaps they should feel somewhat lucky that the operation that they underwent was at least done in a modern hospital with the aid of anesthesia and antiseptics. Most of the men throughout history who were castrated suffered extreme pain and a good chance of death or permanent disability as a result of infection. It passes comprehension that any great number of men would be willing to suffer and risk so much, no matter how devout, but maybe they felt whatever reward in this life or the next that they would receive from their god was worth it.

Christian Revival in France

February 22, 2015

It is a commonly held viewpoint in our times that history moves in only one direction, from the benighted past to the enlightened present. This viewpoint is justified in the fields of science and technology. We obviously have much greater knowledge of the natural world and far better tools and machines than our ancestors could have dreamed of. This progressive view of history is less justified in politics and culture. In those fields it is less clear what really constitutes progress and whether history is really moving in a straight line toward some end. What I am trying to get at is that our ideas about what is right and wrong, or true and untrue, or desirable and undesirable are not necessarily superior to the ideas of our ancestors nor is it certain that we are forever moving in a certain direction toward the truth or the good, etc.

I mentioned, in passing, in a recent post that the idea of our time being uniquely liberated in its sexual mores while all past ages were repressed and puritanical is not really true. These sorts of cultural movements seem to go in cycled. A similar idea is held about the status of religion in society. It is often believed that religion is a relic of past ages in which people were ignorant and superstitious. In our more enlightened times, in which we have solved many of the mysteries of the universe, religion is no longer needed. As people become more educated, the influence of religion must fade. Europe is held as an example of this phenomena. The continent has become steadily more secular over the last two centuries and surely before long the people of Europe will be entirely free of religion. The fact that the United States is just as advanced as Europe in science and technology but has remained consistently more religious than Europe may seem to disprove the rule that societies become more secular as they advance, but the US is, in some ways,culturally backward compared to Europe, especially in the Red States. After all, those ignorant Americans still don’t have nationalized medicine or strict gun control. In twenty years, the US will be just as secular as Europe. After all, that is the way history is moving. So goes the argument.

But, perhaps not. Religious observance too tends to run in cycles. Periods of great fervor,even fanaticism in religion alternate with periods of laxity and skepticism. Atheism is by no means a new phenomena. There were atheists in ancient Greece and Rome, and curiously enough, they used the very same arguments against religion that the so-called New Atheists use. The current period of secularism in Europe may be followed by a religious period and there is no reason to believe that the US must inevitably follow in Europe’s footsteps.

Consider this article from The Week, about a possible religious revival in France.

On a recent Sunday, my family and I only showed up 10 minutes early for Mass. That meant we had to sit in fold-out chairs in the spillover room, where the Mass is relayed on a large TV screen. During the service, my toddler had to go to the bathroom. To get there, we had to step over a dozen people sitting in hallways and corners. This is business as usual for my church in Paris, France.

I point this out because one of the most familiar tropes in social commentary today is the loss of Christian faith in Europe in general, and France in particular. The Wall Street Journal recently fretted about the sale of “Europe’s empty churches.”

Could it be, instead, that France is in the early stages of a Christian revival?

Yes, churches in the French countryside are desperately empty. There are no young people there. But then, there are no young people in the French countryside, period. France is a modern country with an advanced economy, and that means its countryside has emptied, and that means that churches built in an era when the country’s sociological makeup was quite different go empty. In the cities — which is where people are, and where cultural trends gain escape velocity — the story is quite different.

This is not an isolated phenomenon. My wife and I now live in an upper-crust neighborhood with all the churches full of upwardly-mobile professionals. When we were penniless grad students, we lived in a working class neighborhood and on Sunday our church was packed with immigrant families and hipster gentrifiers.

It was only recently that I was struck by the fact that, imperceptibly, the majority of my college and grad school friends who were Christmas-and-Easter-Catholics when we met now report going to Church every Sunday and praying regularly. On social media, they used to post about parties; now they’re equally likely to post prayers for persecuted Middle East Christians or calls to help the homeless over the holidays.

My friends live all over town; some of them are young singles who move around a lot; all of them report looking for those mythical “empty churches” we hear so much about — and failing to find them. In fact, it’s closer to the other way around: If you don’t show up early, you might have to sit on the floor — and people are happy to do it.

The massive rallies in France, underwritten by the Catholic Church, against the recent same-sex marriage bill stunned the world: Isn’t France the poster child for sexually-easygoing secularism? Perhaps more than a million people took to the streets, and disproportionately young ones, too. (Compare Britain’s “whatever” response to its own same-sex marriage act, passed around the same time.) But they forgot that a century of militant secularism didn’t kill the Old Faith — it merely drove it underground. And perhaps by privatizing faith, the secularists unwittingly strengthened it; after all, the catacombs have always been good to Christianity.

There is more.

I hope that this is really the case, that there is a revival of Christianity in France and ultimately Europe, with the difference that there will be no more state sponsored churches. The melding of church and state that took place in the late Roman Empire and afterwards has been very bad for Christianity. Most of the bad behavior attributed to Christianity, which has served to discredit the church in the eyes of many, has been the result of an institution backed by the state, and employing coercion. Whatever form a possible revival of Christianity in Europe might take, it would certainly be better than the alternatives. I believe that secularism is a dead end. Man does not live by bread alone. He needs something higher to believe in. If people do not have religion, they will find something else, or they will cease to live. As it is, Europe is dying.

The are many who believe that the future of Europe is in Islam. They project a future in which thanks to a higher birthrate and conversions, the Muslim population of Europe will come to be a majority and impose their culture and values on Europe. I am not so certain of this, myself. It is unwise to take current demographic trends and project them in a straight line into the indefinite future. People do react to events and it may be that the Europeans will wake up to the threat to Islamization. Whatever happens, the influence of Islam is not a good one, and the less such influence Islam has on Europe and the world, the better. Secularism cannot really counter Islam. You can’t fight something with nothing. If the Europeans do not want to descend in the poverty and barbarism of the Islamic world, they will have to find a competing ideology, and what better than their Christian heritage.

 

Just the Facts About Vaccination

February 17, 2015

I read this open letter on the rejection of the proven, life saving technologies vaccination and genetically modified organisms.

Dear Every American Who Doesn’t Believe in Science:

I know you are smart.  I know you care about your kids, your family, your pets.  I know you are a basically decent human being who wants to do right and contribute to society.  And because I know these things, I’m going to try very hard to understand why you refuse to believe in scientific fact, rather than berate you and call you names.

The funny thing is, I actually think I’m reasonably good at seeing the other side of any issue.   There are a few issues where I struggle, but even then, if I’m honest with myself, I can intellectually understand the other side of the issue and why my friend or colleague has positioned himself on that side.

Regarding immunizations and genetically modified organisms, I can’t.

Yes, I view these two issues – though they are definitely in different industries – as intertwined.  Why?  Because the people who are anti either of them have a blatant disregard for science and I just don’t understand that.

Scientific consensus on both of these issues is that both are safe.  Immunizations are safe for the vast majority of people.  GMOs are safe for everyone.

Do you understand what scientific consensus is, my friend?  That means that most of the scientists (maybe even those who don’t usually agree) believe the safety of GMOs and immunizations to be fact.  It’s beyond dispute.  The data has proven safety beyond a shadow of a doubt so that scientists no longer squabble over this issue.

I appreciate what this writer is trying to do and agree with her positions, yet I cannot help but consider that her arguments are somewhat flawed, or perhaps insufficient is a better way to put it. Basically, her argument is that Science has decreed that vaccines and GMO’s are safe because there is a consensus and all the scientists say they are safe. In my view, this is a misunderstanding of what science really is and how it should work.

Science is not a body of lore handed down on stone tablets at Mount Sinai by God or some famous scientist. Science is a method of inquiry used to learn facts about the natural world. It does matter what Einstein or Newton or some other famous scientist says, no matter how great their contributions to science. They can be wrong. It does not matter what the consensus is. The consensus could be mistaken. Not so very long ago, the scientific consensus was that disease was caused by imbalances of bodily humors and bleeding was the most effective treatment. The only thing that matters, or should matter in science is the observations that are made and the logical inductions that are made from those observations Ideally, scientist should be interested in “just the facts”. I think the best arguments on any subject are those based on just the facts.

So, what are the facts about vaccination. Before the widespread introduction of vaccination, people fell sick and even died from a variety of infectious, contagious diseases’ smallpox, measles, whooping cough diphtheria, to name just the ones that spring immediately to mind. These diseases have been virtually wiped out since vaccines for them have been developed. Smallpox, the deadly disease that people feared, is now extinct. Only in backward regions, filled with ignorant and superstitious people, such as the darkest regions of California do these diseases continue to plague humanity.

There have been no credible studies linking vaccination with autism or any other chronic illness. The one study that did propose such a link has been discredited and retracted. This does not mean that there isn’t such a link.There could well be one that has not yet been discovered. But, consider the fact that millions of children have been vaccinated with no ill effects. There may be some danger in being vaccinated, nothing in this world is completely safe, but the dangers associated with not being vaccinated are far greater and more certain. Any rational consideration of the risks and benefits of vaccination must come to the conclusion that the benefits outweigh the risks. If you do not get your children immunized, you are putting them at risk of catching  preventable diseases that could cause permanent damage to their health, or even death. Those are just the facts.

 

 

The Earl of Clarendon

February 15, 2015

I have noticed that US history textbooks tend not to spend a lot of time on the Colonial Period. Generally, there is a chapter on Columbus and the Spanish Conquistadores, followed by a chapter on Jamestown and the Pilgrims. By the third or fourth chapter, they are at the Boston Tea Party and the Revolution, effectively skipping over the hundred and seventy or so years of the English colonies in North America. At least that was the situation when I was in school. Today, I suppose the textbooks teach about the evil whites who oppressed and exterminated the innocent Native Americans who lived in harmony with the Earth and each other.

This habit of skipping over so much of the Colonial Period is unfortunate, I think, since quite a lot happened during that time. The almost two centuries before Independence was the time in which the English colonists became Americans and learned the arts of self-government that served them so well during and after the Revolution. The colonists were forced to learn to govern themselves because England mostly neglected its North America colonies until the French and Indian War. Unlike the Spanish and the French, the English government did not exert much control over the internal affairs of its colonies and didn’t limit colonisation to approved populations. The English thought of their colonies as a source of resources, a place for adventurers to get rich and a dumping ground for undesirables. The royal governors who were appointed tended not to be the best and brightest of the English aristocracy.

The colony of New York seemed to have the worst luck with its governors. Probably the worst of the lot was Edward Hyde, the Third Earl of Clarendon. Hyde was reputed to be corrupt, incompetent, dissolute and a cross dresser. Hyde was appointed to be the Royal Governor of the colonies of New York and New Jersey by Queen Anne from 1701 to 1708. He was not a popular governor. According to some accounts, Hyde took bribes and stole from the public treasury, and he dressed in women’s clothes.

There are several stories about Hyde’s cross dressing. According to one, a constable noticed a woman loitering in one of the seediest parts of New York and arrested her on suspicion of being a prostitute only to discover he had arrested the governor. Another story, has Hyde addressing the New York Assembly in 1702 in a gown reminiscent of the style Queen Anne preferred. When questioned about his choice of attire, he replied that in his capacity as Royal Governor he represented the Queen, a woman, and so he ought to represent her as faithfully as possible. When his wife died in 1707, Hyde is said to have attended her funeral dressed as a woman. There is even a portrait purported to be of the the governor in drag.

Lord_Cornbury

There is, of course, some question over whether this is really a portrait of Hyde. One might think that since any politician wouldn’t allow himself in our more liberated times to be photographed in drag, surely no one in the more restrictive eighteenth century would sit in front of a painter to have his portrait done while wearing a dress.

Then again-

New York mayor Rudy Guiliani

New York mayor Rudy Guiliani

Actually, the idea that our times are more sexually liberated while all past eras were prudish and puritanical is not really true. The truth is that  periods of relatively liberal sexual mores alternate with more restrained times. The eighteenth century happened to be one of the more libertine centuries, at least among the aristocracy. The more prudish Victorian nineteenth century was a reaction against the looser morals of the previous century, just as much of the twentieth century has been a reaction against the Victorians. In fact, there was even a lively gay subculture in London and perhaps other large cities of Britain, complete with gay bars, which they called “molly houses” In eighteenth century slang, a “molly” was an effeminate, perhaps homosexual, man and a molly house was where they could congregate for companionship and sex with their more masculine lovers. They would dress as women and take on feminine identities. They even held mock marriages just as homosexuals today have mock marriages. These marriages were, of course, not recognized by the state as such mock marriage often are today. In that respect, the people of the eighteenth century were saner and had a better grip on reality. You must not think that homosexuality, or cross-dressing, was in any sense tolerated, though. Sodomy was a crime punishable by death. Most of what historians know about the molly houses is from court documents of trials persons captured in raids and the testimony of undercover police.

So, was Edward Hyde a molly? Did he frequent the colonial equivalent of a molly house, if any existed? Probably not. There is no reason to believe that he was a homosexual, and really no reason to believe the stories of his cross dressing. Upon closer investigation, the stories seem to have originated from his political enemies, of which he had made many, and to have dated some time after his tenure as governor. They always seem to have been something someone else had seen or heard about the governor. Even the supposed portrait of the governor is more likely to have one a painting of a woman with masculine features. The label on the frame of the portrait may only date to 1867. Even if Hyde did wear women’s clothing, he was probably heterosexual. Contrary to what is still often believed, most cross dressers are straight, and Hyde seems to have been genuinely fond of his wife. The stories of his corruption may also have been exaggerated by his enemies.

Edward Hyde was recalled to England in 1708 and promptly put into debtor’s prison, until his father died the following year and he inherited the title and properties of the Earl of Clarendon. He died in obscurity in 1723 and since his son had already died, the title passed to a cousin, Henry Hyde, Fourth Earl of Clarendon. The title died with his son, Henry Hyde, who died childless in 1753, but it was revived in 1776 with a son of a daughter of the Fourth Earl. Edward Hyde’s descendants include the present Earl of Clarendon, Sarah, Duchess of York, and the actor Cary Elwes. Edward Hyde himself is only remembered for his alleged cross dressing, perhaps not the legacy he might have wanted, but how many colonial Royal Governors are remembered at all?


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