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The KKK Mural

October 15, 2017

The Great American Cultural Revolution continues apace, this time at my old alma mater, Indiana University at Bloomington. According to WHAS News, the university will cease holding classes in a room with a controversial mural depicting a Ku Klux Klan rally.

 Indiana University says beginning next spring, it’ll no longer hold classes in a room where a mural panel depicts a Ku Klux Klan rally.

The scene that’s part of a 22-panel Thomas Hart Benton mural created in the 1930s hangs in Room 100 at Woodburn Hall on the Bloomington campus. The mural panels depicting Indiana history are spread over three buildings.

IU Executive Vice President and Provost Lauren Robel said in a statement Friday the room will have other uses beginning next spring semester.

Jacquline Barrie, a former IU student who started a petition calling for the mural’s removal that collected more than more than 1,000 signatures, told The Indianapolis Star she considers the university’s decision a “small victory.” She has said the scene is a symbol of hate.

I do not believe that the artist, Thomas Hart Benton was intentionally creating a symbol of hate or trying to glorify the Ku Klux Klan. He was commissioned to paint the series of murals to illustrate events in Indiana’s history and the lives of ordinary Hoosiers. At the time Benton was painting the murals, the Ku Klux Klan was powerful in Indiana, and his work depicted that unpleasant fact.

It might seem odd that Indiana was a stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan, since Indiana is not usually regarded as a Southern state. Indiana was never a slave state and it did not secede from the union. The fact is, however, that Indiana; at least the southern half of the state, tends to be culturally aligned with the South. The earliest settlers came from Virginia, either directly by travelling down the Ohio River or up from Tennessee and Kentucky. There were men who lived in Indiana who owned land and slaves across the river in Kentucky. During the Civil War, there was a great deal of pro-Confederate sympathy along the northern banks of the Ohio, both in Indiana and Ohio. So it was only natural that the Ku Klux Klan might find it easy to gain influence in the area.

It should also be noted that the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920’s was influential all over the country and not just in the South. This Ku Klux Klan was what historians call the second Ku Klux Klan which was active from around 1915 until 1944, in contrast to the First Ku Klux Klan which existed from 1865 to 1871 and the Third Klan from 1946 to the present. This Second Klan was unlike the First and Third Klans in that it was more widespread across the nation, having branches throughout the midwest as well as the south. There was even a Klan organization in California. The Second Klan did not only support White Supremacy but were anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and anti-Catholic. They also saw themselves as moral guardians, protecting their communities against vice and political corruption, and were in favor of Prohibition. Essentially, they were part of the national desire to return to Normalcy after World War I and the Progressive Era. During the 1920’s the Ku Klux Klan was almost a respectable organization with a membership of around six million at its height in 1924.

Indiana was right at the center of the Second Klan. Under the leadership of its bright and ambitious Grand Dragon D. C. Stephenson, the Indiana Klan dominated the state’s politics. By 1925, over half the members of the legislators as well as the governor,and many other state officials were members of the Klan. It was not possible to have a political career in Indiana without the support of the Ku Klux Klan. Stephenson himself hoped to use his influence to gain control of the Ku Klux Klan at the national level and began organizing his own Klan organization in the states he influenced. At the height of his power, Stephenson claimed, “I am the law in Indiana”.

It turned out not to be the case. It is said that pride goeth before a fall and that was certainly the case with D. C. Stephenson. In 1925, Stephenson committed an unforgivable crime. He abducted and raped a white woman, a state official named Madge Oberholtzer. His treatment of her was so brutal that she committed suicide and Stephenson was tried and convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Once in prison, Stephenson tried to obtain a parole from Indiana Governor Edward L. Jackson and when Jackson declined to grant him leniency, Stephenson began to talk to the newspapers. He released the names of all the Indiana state officials who were members of the Klan and discussed at length the many unsavory and unlawful activities in which the Ku Klux Klan leadership had been involved, More investigations and indictments followed, and the power of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana was broken. Stephenson’s fall was only the beginning of the end of the Second Ku Klux Klan as more financial and sex scandals erupted nationwide, revealing that far from being the public guardians of public morality, as many members had believed, the Klan leadership was corrupt to the core. Membership in the Klan declined precipitously and by 1930 the Klan had only around 30,000 members.

Such is the history of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana. It is not a part of Hoosier history to be proud of, but neither should it be forgotten or whitewashed. If anyone is troubled by a realistic depiction of this unpleasant history, than good, they should be troubled. The fact that Indiana was a stronghold of the Klan in the 1920’s is something that should be troubling, not covered up out of a misguided crusade against “hate”.

But the odd thing is that these contemporary iconoclasts who have been busy trying to rid the country of “racist” statues are not trying to bury or forget the past. Instead they seem determined to bring to life every conceivable grievance or injustice that every group that could possibly claim to be victimized or oppressed. Why do this if they are so concerned about people being triggered or upset?

I believe the activists see history not as the shared story of a people or nation that unites us and teaches us lessons. Instead they seem to see history as a never ending source of grievances to be used to turn us against each other. They do not see historical figures as complex personalities to be understood in their historical context, but as figures of good and evil in a morality play. If this is the case, than the toppling of statues of Confederate generals and similar instances of iconoclasm are being performed not as acts against hate or attempts to ensure social justice, but a campaign to reopen old wounds and turn us against one another for their own purposes. We ought not to let them get away it.

 

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Trump and the NFL

October 2, 2017

Say what you will about President Donald Trump, he is certainly a master at controlling the national narrative, not to mention driving his opponents crazy. The leading news over the weekend ought to have been the Republican failure to repeal and replace Obamacare once again, news which does not reflect well on either Trump or the Republicans in Congress. Instead, by inserting a remark in a speech, that the NFL players who refuse to stand for the National Anthem ought to be fired, Trump changed the subject on everyone’s mind to an issue he can’t lose, placing his enemies in the media and in politics in the position of defending behavior that a great many Americans find indefensible.

This is not to say that Donald Trump is some sort of political genius. Since the Democratic Party has moved more and more to the extreme left and the cultural divide between the progressives and ordinary Americans has grown ever wider, it ought to be easy for any Republican to maneuver the opposition into such untenable positions. The fact that the Republicans have generally been unable to do so demonstrates Republican fecklessness more than Trump’s tactical genius.

The left has been trying to reframe this issue as a free speech issue. “How dare”, they exclaim, “this president infringe upon these athletes’ sacred right to peacefully protest injustice by suggesting they ought to be fired.” It is more than a little odd that the same people who have had no problem with tech companies firing workers who express dissenting views, social media censoring conservative opinions, or Antifa thugs rioting against certain conservative speakers on college candidate, and who called the peaceful Tea Party protests “political terrorists” are now concerned with freedom of expression, but let it pass. No one is arguing that these players do not have the right to protest. They absolutely do have that right. The issue is that there are appropriate times and places to conduct a political protest. Among the times and places where it is not appropriate to conduct a political protest is when you are on the job.

I have a right to express my political opinions on this blog and elsewhere, as long as I am on my time. If I am at work, however, I do not have an absolute right to express my opinions on social media when I am on my employer’s time. I am being paid to work, not express my opinions. In like manner, these athletes are being paid to play football, not engage in a political protest.  The people in the stands and watching on television want to watch a football game. They want to get away from politics. The athletes have ample opportunities to protest on their own time.

Not only is their protest inappropriate, but also counter-productive. Disrespecting the American flag or the national anthem is going to be offensive to many Americans, particularly the people most likely likely to be following football.  Refusing to stand for the national anthem is not easy to interpret as a protest against a particular issue, such as the treatment of African-Americans by the police. Most people are going to interpret such an action as protesting or disrespecting American in general. By not standing or kneeling for the national anthem, these football players are projecting contempt for their country, whether they intend it or not.

I cannot believe that offending people is a very good way to gain sympathy for a cause, no matter how noble or just. They could be kneeling to protest against mistreating puppies and kittens and people would still be angry. The fact that the leadership of the NFL had allowed the players to conduct these protests without considering the reaction of the fans demonstrates the growing divide between the elites who run our politics and entertainment and the great mass of deplorables who live in flyover country.

This is a divide that Donald Trump has been uncommonly good at exploiting for his own purposes. What is amazing is that his enemies keep walking into the trap, over and over.

This matter of athletes and the national anthem is not really a very important issue compared to the possibility of war with North Korea or the aftermath of Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico, but it is sad to see how something, like sports or entertainment, that should be bringing Americans together and away from politics is now being used to pull us apart. Can there be no part of life that can simply be enjoyed for its own sake and not be part of the Great American Cultural Revolution? I hope so.

Jesus Never Existed, Religion is False

September 29, 2014

Those are the conclusions made by one Nigel Barber writing at the Huffington Post. He bases this claim on a recently published historical survey by Michael Paulkovich in a magazine called Free Inquiry.

 

As someone raised in a Christian country, I learned that there was a historical Jesus. Now historical analysis finds no clear evidence that Jesus existed. If not, Christianity was fabricated, just like Mormonism and other religions. Why do people choose to believe religious fictions?

Given the depth of religious tradition in Christian countries, where the “Christian era” calendar is based upon the presumed life of Jesus, it would be astonishing if there was no evidence of a historical Jesus. After all, in an era when there were scores of messianic prophets, why go to the trouble of making one up?

Various historical scholars attempted to authenticate Jesus in the historical record, particularly in the work of Jesus-era writers. Michael Paulkovich revived this project as summarized in the current issue of Free Inquiry.

 

I am sure the article is thought provoking, but unfortunately I cannot read it. Access to the articles at Free Inquiry is limited to print subscribers only. So much for Free Inquiry.

 

Paulkovich found an astonishing absence of evidence for the existence of Jesus in history. “Historian Flavius Josephus published his Jewish Wars circa 95 CE. He had lived in Japhia, one mile from Nazareth – yet Josephus seems unaware of both Nazareth and Jesus.” He is at pains to discredit interpolations in this work that “made him appear to write of Jesus when he did not.” Most religious historians take a more nuanced view agreeing that Christian scholars added their own pieces much later but maintaining that the historical reference to Jesus was present in the original. Yet, a fudged text is not compelling evidence for anything.

Paulkovich consulted no fewer than 126 historians (including Josephus) who lived in the period and ought to have been aware of Jesus if he had existed and performed the miracles that supposedly drew a great deal of popular attention. Of the 126 writers who should have written about Jesus, not a single one did so (if one accepts Paulkovich’s view that the Jesus references in Josephus are interpolated).

Paulkovich concludes:

When I consider those 126 writers, all of whom should have heard of Jesus but did not – and Paul and Marcion and Athenagoras and Matthew with a tetralogy of opposing Christs, the silence from Qumram and Nazareth and Bethlehem, conflicting Bible stories, and so many other mysteries and omissions – I must conclude that Christ is a mythical character.

He also considers striking similarities of Jesus to other God-sons such as Mithra, Sandan, Attis, and Horus. Christianity has its own imitator. Mormonism was heavily influenced by the Bible from which founder Joseph Smith borrowed liberally.

 

There is more on the origins of Mormonism which is irrelevant to the question of whether Jesus existed as a historical person, so I’ll let it go and go straight to the question.

 

I have to wonder that the Huffington Post sees fit to waste the time of its readers with such nonsense. The idea that Jesus is a mythical construct from pagan deities is one that few, if any, historians familiar with the first century Roman Empire would endorse. Skeptical historians naturally do not believe that Jesus was the son of God, but even the most skeptical concedes that there was a person named Jesus of Nazareth who lived during the time of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. The mythical Jesus concept is an example of pseudohistory, on par with Dan Brown’s ideas about Jesus’s descendants or or whether the lost continent of Atlantis really existed.

 

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Yes, he really existed.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The truth is that the existence of Jesus of Nazareth is better attested than many figures of ancient history. Josephus did mention Jesus, even if the statements claiming his divinity were added by later Christian copyists. Tacitus and Pliny the Younger both referred to the early Christian movement, writing around AD 100, within 70 years of his crucifixion. Even better we have biographical material written by his followers, the Gospels, from perhaps AD 70-100, although the Gospel of Mark may have been written before 60 and the passion narratives were certainly composed before the rest of the Gospels. Paul refers to Jesus as a historical person in his letters which were written from around 50-65. in other words, we have materials written about Jesus within living memory of eyewitnesses to his life. That is far better than we have for many historical figures of ancient times.

 

The earliest biography of Mohammed was written about 150 years after his death. That work has been lost but is extensively quoted in later biographies of the prophet. Because much of what is known of Mohammed is from the oral transmission of his sayings and deeds,we cannot be certain to what extent the traditions of his life are accurate or if Mohammed even existed. The earliest biographies of the Buddha were not written down until 500 years after his death. His teachings were also not written down for centuries and there is no way to know to what extent the Buddhist religion actually reflects the teachings of the historical Buddha. Even a secular figure like Alexander the Great had to wait about two hundred years before a biography was written about him. We are lucky to have as much material on an obscure person like Jesus as we do.

 

But perhaps Mr. Barber would counter that the Gospels ought not to be relied upon. They were clearly works of fiction written by the early Christians. But, on what basis should we dismiss the historicity of the Gospels? Much of what we know of many persons of ancient times is derived from the writings of their admirers. We know of Socrates from the writing of his pupils Plato and Xenophon. We know if Confucius by his successors. These writings may be biased but no one would suppose that Socrates or Confucius were fictitious. Ought the New Testament be held to a different standard simply because billions of people consider it to be a sacred text? Why?

 

The Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles do not seem to be fictitious. There are no major anachronisms. Many of the people mentioned; the various Herods, Pilate, Gamaliel, Festus, Felix, Annas, Caiaphas,and many others were real people, attested in non-Biblical sources and the depictions of them in the New Testament seem to be accurate. The places mentioned are real locations that one can visit today. If you take away the miracles and the resurrection, you have a completely credible account of a Jewish preacher who managed to offend the religious and secular authorities and ended up being crucified, and whose followers somehow believed, had risen from the dead. The men who wrote the Gospels really believed what they were writing. This does not make the Gospels true, but they are not forgeries or fiction. If it were not for the prejudice against Christian scripture shown by certain secular humanists, no one would doubt they were as reliable historical documents as any produced by Herodotus or Plutarch.

 

It is understandable that someone wouldn’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God. I wouldn’t expect anyone but a Christian to believe that. After all, believing in the divinity of Jesus Christ is what makes a Christian. I do not understand why this idea that he never even existed crops up about every twenty years or so. It seems like overkill to me. Perhaps they hate Jesus, and by extension God, so much, they would rather he not exist at all.

 

I want to say something very briefly on the related idea that Christianity borrowed the idea of Christ from pagan myths, like Horus, Attis, Mithra, and the like. If you really examine these myths, you find only the most superficial resemblances between these mythological figures and Christ. The god who dies and comes back to life is rather common in mythology, but none of these gods suffered a humiliating death by crucifixion, nor do the stories of their lives resemble the story of Jesus in detail. I should also note that much of the historical information we have about these ancient cults derives from sources after Christianity began to be established so there is some question which way the influence really went.

 

 

 


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