According to some Christians, today is The Rapture so we’re having a garage sale at our house. I wonder exactly what time the Rapture arrives? I plan to spend the day standing next to wealthy Christian men about my size. That way, I can just pick up their wallets and clothes.
Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category
Monday night and early Tuesday morning feature a total lunar eclipse, visible throughout all of North America. This eclipse falls on the winter solstice, a coincidence that has not happened for more than 300 years and will not happen again in the lifetime of anyone reading this blog on the date of its posting. (The next time falls on December 21, 2094 and I expect to be gone as will you.)
In the old days people would have greeted an event like this with all manner of pagan observances. Bonfires would have been lit and danced around, entire communities would have suspended – for one night – the rules about sexual intercourse outside of marriage, and whatever consciousness-altering substances available would have been consumed in copious amounts. Oracles and priests would have been busy forecasting the future and explaining what the omen meant. Bacchanalia, neighborhood orgies, drunken feasts, and Dionysus’s Maenads, would have filled this night when the sun is reborn and the moon suffers its little death.
But now? Things are different and more boring. That’s the price we’ve paid for intellectual progress. Oh, a few people still believe and will build their bonfires, a few more don’t believe, but will build a bonfire anyway, and some neighbors may get together for a party, but not an orgy. Mostly the night will pass as any other winter night. Most everyone will be asleep in their warm houses and apartments and will wake up the next morning none the wiser and go off to work or go do their Christmas shopping.
Winter, by the way, probably was not the time of the year that Jesus was born. Shepherds would not have been tending their sheep in the hills around Bethlehem in the winter. They did that in the spring and summer. Most likely, the ancient and persecuted Christians celebrated their holiday during the Roman winter solstice celebrations to hide it. Carousing Romans mistook them for ordinary people celebrating the winter solstice.
The Romans, being Europeans, were not as uptight about sexual matters as current North Americans are. We are the spiritual and, often, the genetic descendants of the Puritans and, as a wit once noted, the only thing harder and more implacable than the rocky, cold, forbidding New England coast where the Pilgrims landed was the Pilgrims themselves. Few Americans have yet recovered from that grim Puritan heritage. H.L. Mencken once defined a Puritan as someone haunted by the belief that somewhere, someone may be enjoying themselves.
Some Americans have recovered. Here is the late A.J. Liebling of the New Yorker writing about sex,
The one thing about the glorious diversion that is no longer written, or if still written never published, is that it remains the most amusing as well as the most instructive of human activities, and one of the most nearly harmless.
But the Puritans disagreed and as a result, your neighbors won’t be coming over for an orgy Monday night.
I assume that most readers of this blog are, like me, children of the Enlightenment, which means we are skeptics. We know, for instance, that a human sacrifice is unnecessary to make spring return this year and that Constantinople did not fall to the Ottomans because of the 1453 lunar eclipse.
But despite its unquestioned advantages for humanity, our enlightenment has come at a cost. Much of the magic and some of the mystery of the universe fade away in the light of reason. Certainly we know that this year’s winter solstice and contemporaneous total lunar eclipse are nothing but an orbital coincidence of the long eons in the ceaseless dance of moon, sun, and earth with no intrinsic meaning other than its physical beauty. We know there is nothing masculine about the energy of the sun, it’s just a thermonuclear furnace. And the moon? Nothing feminine about it. It’s just a cold lifeless ball of matter caught in the earth’s gravitational field. No mystical energy exists to be absorbed from her reflection of sunlight.
But what would be wrong with a willing suspension of disbelief for one night? We do it all the time when we read a work of fiction or when we watch a movie. So pour yourself a glass of wine, get outside Monday night/Tuesday morning, build yourself a little fire, and at least meditate, even if you don’t feel like dancing around the blaze and fornicating with your neighbors. Like Dickens’s Monsieur Defarge, perhaps no vivacious Bacchanalian flame will leap out but you might discover “a smouldering fire” burning in the dark, hidden in the dregs of the wine.
I leave you in the company of Niels Bohr, one of the greatest scientists who ever walked on this earth and, along with Einstein with whom he disputed often, a father of modern physics. This preeminent physicist, scientist and rationalist kept a horseshoe above the entrance to his home. A guest once said to him, “Dr. Bohr, surely you don’t believe that a horseshoe can bring you good luck?” Dr. Bohr responded, “No. But I’ve heard it works for those who don’t believe too.”
Disappointingly, President Obama’s Administration failed to take the high road in the Indian Tribes’ religious case against the ski business on the San Francisco Peaks which we have discussed here before. (Part I, Part II, Interim Update. )As is often the case in American law and politics, capitalism trumps religion; money beats faith.
The Forest Service, which had the opportunity with the change of presidents, to change sides in the case, did not. It filed its brief in opposition to the Supreme Court taking the case and is in lock step legally with the businessmen who run the ski area. Both argue, on narrow technical grounds, that the Court should not hear the case.
And, just a reminder, everyone in the case — including the Forest Service and the ski men — accept that the Tribes’ “subjective” experience of their religions will be seriously harmed by spraying treated effluent on the mountain in order to make fake snow.
But, they argue, harming someone’s “subjective” experience of their religion is not a “fundamental” burden on that religion. Which is exactly what the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided.
We’ll keep you posted on developments. It now looks like the Supreme Court will not make the decision as to whether it will hear the case until next fall, although it is possible they could decide before leaving for the summer at the end of June.
UPDATE – JUNE 1, 2009
The Tribes have filed their response to the government’s and the ski area operator’s opposition to the Supreme Court taking this case. The Court is scheduled to decide whether to take the case in a private conference this Thursday, June 4th. Often the Court waits until the following Monday to announce its decisions about which cases to accept. The Court takes less than 4% of the cases it is asked to hear.
Although it will probably have no bearing on the decision whether to accept the case, the Tribes ventured into eloquence in the last paragraph of their final response, “It is worth remembering that our government took the Peaks from petitioner tribes. It placed the tribes on reservations and pledged to respect their cultures and traditions. It is hardly implausible that Congress passed a law in 1993 providing under these rare circumstances that the tribes’ religious liberty should be respected.”
Here is the entire response.
As we noted the last time we blogged ( here and here) about this important religious freedom case, in which a majority of the judges on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that defiling the San Francisco Peaks of Arizona wouldn’t cause any harm to the people who believe the Peaks are sacred, we noted that the Native American tribes involved in the case have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case. (No one has the automatic right to take a case to the Supreme Court and the Court hears only about 2% of the cases that it is asked to hear.)
Since we last blogged. several religious organizations have joined in asking the Supreme Court to take the case. Their “Friends of the Court” briefs make for interesting reading. One grouping of Native American tribes take the time to list just a few of the mountains around the world considered sacred by non-Native Americans.
The response to the requests for the Court to take the case, from the Forest Service and from the owners of the ski area, was first due February 9, 2009 but has now been extended by the Court twice and is now due on April 9th. It is not a stretch to imagine that the Forest Service, with a new boss in the form of President Obama, is reviewing its position in the case. The Forest Service could reverse itself, ask the Court to take the case and overrule its victory in the 9th Circuit. That would leave only the owners of the ski area asking the Supreme Court to let the lower court’s decision stand.
UPDATE: The Supreme Court granted yet another extension to the government and the ski slope operators to respond to the Tribes’ Petition for Certorari, now due May 8 2009.
As loyal readers. . . . Wait. That’s the only kind of readers this blog has. . . . As all our readers remember, we discussed the awful decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals allowing the Snowbowl Ski operation north of Flagstaff, Arizona to spray treated sewage water on the San Francisco Peaks. (Part I, Part II)
That was the case in which the court held, at the request of the U.S. Forest Service, that religious freedom from government action does not include the “subjective” experience of religion. As we noted in those blog entries, “subjective experience” of religion is just a longer way of saying, “faith” which is the entire object of the religious experience.
The southwestern Indian tribes to whom the mountains are sacred filed a petition for certiorari in the Supreme Court this week. You can read it here. A petition for certiorari is simply a request of the Supreme Court that it hear the case. The Court declines about 95% of the cases it is asked to hear. (Appeals are automatic only to the level of the 12 circuit courts around the country. The Supreme Court takes only the cases it wants to hear and it doesn’t want to hear very many.)
I suspect it will choose to hear this one ,although we won’t know for awhile. Next, both the Forest Service and the ski slope operators have an opportunity to file responses telling the Court why it should decline to hear the case.
The possibility exists that the incoming administration will adopt a more enlightened position. But the owners of the ski operation will are entitled to state their position no matter what the Forest Service might decide.
UPDATE – June 8, 2009
Regrettably, the United States Supreme Court refused to take the case. Your “subjective” experience of your religion is not protected, at least in the Ninth Circuit.
This is the end of the current legal trail for the tribes. Presumably, the political trail remains open to them and one hopes for a more enlightened climate now. In the meantime, we are still exacting our revenge for the battle at the Little Bighorn. The majority seldom allows the religious beliefs of minorities to stand in the way of capitalism. See generally, The Long Death by Ralph Andrist.
The latest post in the series, May 18, 2009, is here. The Supreme Court will decide on Thursday, June 4, 2009, whether to take the case. The Court may not make public its decision until Monday, June 8th.
We ended last time on the strange words of eight judges of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The “sole effect” of spraying treated sewage water on the holiest mountain in several religions will be to diminish the “subjective spiritual experience” which “will decrease the spiritual fulfillment” of the adherents to those religions.
Wait a minute.
I thought “subjective spiritual experience” and “spiritual fulfillment” was the whole point of religion.
Apparently I was wrong. Despite the court’s recognition that using sewage to make artificial snow at the Snowbowl north of Flagstaff Arizona will diminish and lessen the religion of the Native Americans to whom the mountain is sacred, the 8 judges allowed it. Ethnocentrism is alive and well in the American West.
In the beginning, water covered the earth. The People put a young girl on a log and floated her off so the species would survive. All the People except the young girl died. But the girl lived and her ship landed on the Mountain called Wik’hanbaja—Hwal`bay by the Hualapai. She washed in the water of the Mountain and conceived a son. She washed again and conceived another son. One of these twins became sick and his brother went to the San Francisco peaks as Anglos now call them and collected plants and water and saved his brother’s life and all the Hualapai are descended from the two twin warriors. Today they collect the water from the Peaks for use in their religious ceremonies. Healing ceremonies include using the water for sweat lodges and for purification by drinking the water.
Or, if you prefer: In the beginning, the earth was submerged in water and our Grandmother floated on a log which landed on the Peaks. She lived on spring water there and begat the Havasupai people to whom Hvehasahpatch (The Peaks) are holy. The spring water that comes them flows into Havasupai Creek is a living, life-giving, pure substance. They use it for sweat lodges because the steam becomes the breath of their ancestors. They drink it to purify themselves. They give it to their dead to carry on the journey of after-life.
Or, if you prefer: In the beginning of this world, the People came up through a Sipapu in the canyon of the Little Colorado not from where it joins the Colorado River, the beginning of the Grand Canyon. The People traveled to Nuvatukyaovi (The Peaks) where they entered into a spiritual covenant with God to take care of the earth. The Peaks are the home of the Katsinam, called “Kachinas” in the language of the Anglos. The Katsinam are the Holy Spirits and spirits of Hopi ancestors. If the Katsinam are not treated with respect, they will not form clouds and deliver water for the Hopi lands. They live on the Peaks which is where the souls of dead Hopis go.
Heaven, for the Hopis, is where the Court has now allowed treated sewage to be used to create faux snow for the pleasure of skiers. There are 14 separate holy Hopi shrines up there. No matter. It’s only their “subjective spiritual experience” that is harmed.
Or, if you prefer: In the beginning, the Mother of Humanity — Changing Woman, lived on the Peaks. There she went through her puberty ceremony, the kinaalda, after which she gave birth to the Hero Twins from whom all Navajos descend. Like a Christian confirmation or a Jewish bat mitzvah, the kinaalda is celebrated by young Navajo women to this day because that is how human life is continued. Water especially collected after a pilgrimage to the Peaks is used in the ceremonies.
For life on the planet to continue, Nature must be pure. The nochoka dine (People of the Earth) are put on the surface of this planet to care for the lands. Medicine bundles, consisting of materials gathered from the four holy mountains, embed the unwritten way of Navajo life. First used by the Hero Twins, the bundles are necessary for horzo, that beautiful concept of living in harmony with nature, one’s community and one’s self. Without it, the center cannot hold.
But now up to 1.5 million gallons of sewage effluent per day from November through February will be sprayed on the Peaks. That “reclaimed water” will be free of detectable fecal coliform bacteria for at least four out of every seven days it is sprayed on the mountain. However on every day it is sprayed, it will contain detectable levels of enteric bacteria, viruses, Cryptosporidium, Giardia, other protazoa and “many unidentified and unregulated residual organic contaminants.”
Humans should not drink the stuff. Nor swallow any snow made from it. And I suspect the judges of the Ninth Circuit would not be happy for their grandchildren to be baptized with it.
To the Native Americans we say, modern science counsels you to take the long view, as your people always have. The Peaks are volcanoes and aren’t finished erupting; they’re only napping. It’s just a matter of time until Nature reconfirms the holiness of your mountains by wiping that ski area off the face of the planet.
UPDATE – March 16, 2009
The San Francisco Peaks, — named by Spanish settlers after St. Francis of Assisi in 1629, a century and half before the City of San Francisco was also named after him — rise out of the Arizona Sonoran desert about two hours north of Phoenix and an hour south of the Grand Canyon. They are, if you accept modern science, the eroded remains of a stratovolcano which began erupting about 6 million years ago and last erupted about 1,000 years ago.
Of course, if you accept that view of modern science, you may accept also that the Dome of the Rock is just another old building and Golgotha just a nondescript little geologic hill outside the old city of Jerusalem.
But if you are a religious Navajo or Hopi or Havasupai or Hualapai, you don’t accept it. To you, the San Francisco Peaks (The Peaks)are not only sacred; they are holy. They are as holy as the Dome of the Rock is to a Jew or a Moslem and Golgotha is to a Christian.
But to eight judges on the supposedly “liberal” 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and to a few Gringos stupid enough to pay $4 million to buy a ski resort in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, the San Francisco Peaks are just mountains and the Indian tribes of the Southwest have a silly religion which must not stand in the way of the true religion: Commerce.
If you are an citizen of the United States, you own the San Francisco Peaks and the land where the ski area squats. Over the vehement objections of the citizens of Flagstaff, Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt placed the peaks in a national forest. Your United States Forest Service, guardian of the “multiple use” concept, issued a Special Use Permit to the operators of the ski area way back in the 1930s. The current owners still have that permit to operate a ski area.
But now they want to make artificial snow from Flagstaff’s treated sewage. The plan is to build a pipeline up the mountain to carry the treated sewage water up to the ski area which will turn it into artificial snow.
The San Francisco Peaks, also called Sierra sin Agua, (“Mountains without water”) get more moisture than the surrounding desert. 11,000 feet higher than Phoenix, only 120 miles to the South, they stand in a direct line of the Pacific storms that make it over the Sierra in central California which results in some snow. At the Snowbowl ski area in a good year they can get up to 460 inches of snow. But in a bad year, say 2001-02, they may get as little as 87 inches, which can make a huge difference in how much money the owners take in. In the bad years they may get fewer than 3000 skiers, but in a good one, may get 200,000. The ski area, until now anyway, relied solely on natural snow. Not enough water is available to make artificial snow.
After learning of the plan to make artificial snow from sewage, the Native Americans of the region, to whom the mountains and the water which flows from them are holy, sued to stop it. They asked the federal courts to forbid the federal government from allowing the ski area owners to use treated sewage to make artificial snow.
The legal issue in the case is whether using sewage to make snow on a holy mountain “substantially burdens” the free exercise of religion. Suppose, said the Indians, you are a Christian and your church is required by the federal government to use treated effluent in its baptismal font; you might feel that your free exercise of your religion was burdened.
But that self-evident proposition did not sway eight members of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Conceding that the Indians’ arguments accurately reflected sincere religious beliefs, the court wrote:
. . . [T]he sole effect of the artificial snow is on the Plaintiffs’ subjective spiritual experience. That is, the presence of the artificial snow on the Peaks is offensive to the Plaintiffs’ feelings about their religion and will decrease the spiritual fulfillment Plaintiffs get from practicing their religion on the mountain.
Those have to be the two strangest sentences ever uttered by a court in the United States of America. We’ll discuss why next time.
The next stop in our quick survey of religion in American life and law is the religious debate about slavery. Every major church in the United States split apart over the issue. The Presbyterians were first in 1838, followed by the Methodists in 1844 and the Baptists in 1845. These were long-lasting splits. The Presbyterians did not fully reunite until 1983; the Methodists not until 1939; and the Southern Baptists – of whose churches only 11% were allowing Black members as late as late as 1968 – did not formally renounce its defense of slavery until 1995. Here is a brief sampling of the religious views of some ministers supporting slavery.
One of the more famous of the religious defenders of slavery was Benjamin Morgan Palmer, the first leader of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America which split from its northern brethren in 1837-1838 over slavery. Here is Palmer in 1863 on the question of slavery and the Civil War, “The question of negro slavery being the occasion at least, if not the cause, of these commotions . . .” Calling the Civil War a “commotion” is an understatement of biblical proportions. Slavery, according to Palmer, “. . . may be discussed in the light of divine revelation or in the light of the law of nature or in the light of the political and municipal institutions of the countries where it exists.” And any attempt to interfere with slavery where it exists is, “immoral in itself and revolutionary in its tendency.”
And, should you think human freedom is an argument against slavery, listen to the Reverend Palmer, “The common impulse of the soul towards freedom is no evidence that restraint is wrong.” Because slavery, the good Reverend held, actually existed meant that it was, “. . . allowed by God, considered and treated in His law, regulated by His providence wholly indifferent as concerning His grace.” Because God and Jesus allowed slavery to exist, slavery was part of the Great Design and it was, “for ever the duty of the South in the discharge of a great historic trust to conserve and transmit the same.” The South must, “contradict and rebuke the insufferable arrogance of those who assume into their hands the prerogatives of Divine legislation.”
Palmer wasn’t alone. Another preacher, George Fitzhugh, published a little pamphlet calmly called, “Cannibals All! Or, Slaves without Masters.” In it, Fitzhugh promised to, “to treat the subjects of Liberty and Slavery in a more rigidly analytical manner.”
Or there was Thornton Stringfellow. He was rigidly analytic. Here is his outline for his discussion of the Bible:
I propose, therefore, to examine the sacred volume briefly, and if I am not greatly mistaken, I shall be able to make it appear that the institution of slavery has received, in the first place,
1st. The sanction of the Almighty in the Patriarchal age.
2d. That it was incorporated into the only National Constitution which ever emanated from God.
3d. That its legality was recognized, and its
relative duties regulated, by Jesus Christ in his kingdom; and
4th. That it is full of mercy.
After establishing that the Hebrews tolerated slavery, Stringfellow asks, “. . . whether Jesus Christ has abolished it, or recognized it as a lawful relation, existing among men, and prescribed duties which belong to it, as he has other relative duties; such as those between husband and wife, parent and child, magistrate and subject.” I’ll leave it to you to imagine how Stringfellow answered his own question.
But, since he was apparently the best known of the religious defenders of slavery, let’s get back to Reverend Palmer. He spoke to the Legislature of South Carolina in 1863 and published a pamphlet of the speech. (Today he would have started a blog.) The legislators in attendance first learned that, “The negro race, for example, has never in any period of history been able to lift itself above its native condition of fetishism and barbarism.” The “commotion” of the Civil War resulted from, “. . . the fashion of the world to go periodically mad upon some wild scheme, which contrives to enlist in its support a misdirected religious zeal. This is far from being the first instance where a religious fanaticism has stirred the depths of the human heart, and brought the world in fearful collision with the grand and fixed purposes of Almighty God.”
Slavery, you see, was, “. . . clearly ordained of God, and that there is no more sin intrinsically in it than in the subordination of parent and child, I feel no compunction of conscience in the holding of slaves.” Slavery would continue until, “God will sufficiently indicate [its end] by evincing his aptitude for a new and independent career.” But since God talked to him, “I confess frankly that I have no expectation of such a result.”
Into that religious swamp stepped Abraham Lincoln.
Her name was Jenny and she was a fine animal. She was a border collie and we nicknamed her Jennifer Dimaggio because, just like Joe Dimaggio, she was always there when the ball came down. Dimaggio caught baseballs in his glove and then tossed them back from out in centerfield so the game could continue. Jenny lacked arms and opposable thumbs, so she caught the tennis ball in her mouth and brought it back personally.
As she trotted toward me, she always looked up at me with a little sparkle in her eyes which said, “I caught it. Of course I caught it. I always catch it. That is what I was made to do.”
Her sister is a pretty good ball player too but even when I tried to throw the ball directly to her, Jenny often would intercept it. It was never clear to me whether Jenny always knew in advance where I was going to throw the ball or whether she just had me trained to throw it where she planned to be. All I know for certain is that she was beautiful and I miss her.
She gave us no notice when the time came for her to die. I doubt that she had any notice either. We had been to the mountains, just Jenny, her brother Romeo and me and had had a fine ball game. The next day she was fine too, but sometime during that night she went outside to the backyard, curled up in a hole that the dogs love to nap in and died. Alone. She hadn’t been sick, wasn’t old and so it was an anguishing surprise to find her dead that next morning. I have no idea why she died when she did. All I know for certain is that she was beautiful and I miss her.
She should have lived for several more years – as should I. Once, when I was younger, I assumed that by this time of my life I would have formed a coherent idea about death, the hereafter and theology. But it hasn’t worked out that way. Death’s timing, like the universe, seems arbitrary and capricious.
My earliest doubts about heaven and the hereafter and theology began with a question about dogs. A Sunday school teacher told us that dogs don’t go to heaven. I remember thinking, “Well, then I’m not going either.” Now, older and better educated, mostly I expect death to be a step into oblivion. Born in a culture of scientific materialism, nothing else really seems logical. But sometimes, as when I think of Jenny, I sure want there to be an afterlife. I want to believe. I’d like to see her again. I’d like to throw the ball for her again.
That is her in the photo, headed up into the forest ahead of me and I want to believe that she is up there waiting for me. But all I know for certain is that she was beautiful and I miss her.
I’ve been taken to task for beginning this series about Religion in American law and politics without first disclosing the true rule of law about religion laid down by the First Amendment. After some thought I decided two things: first, I should disclose, as succinctly as possible, that rule; and, second I should do it in as few words as possible. That led me to Walter Dellinger’s marvelous “Five Minute Constitutional Law” course. Here, in its entirety, is Professor Dellinger’s statement of the Religion Rule:
Establishment of religion is really simple: government prayer, bad; private prayer, good. (The only hard cases come when a citizen uses government property or public funds for religious purposes, and the facts make it difficult to tell whether it’s the government or the private citizen actually making the religious choice.)
There you have it. But please, stay tuned for all the other great stuff that is coming. Abraham Lincoln is next and we’ll eventually get all the way up to this year’s Supreme Court term which begins next Monday. We’ll end with a discussion about whether the United States is a “Christian Nation” or not.