Nobel for Work on Internal Mapping

Posted by Jim Newman on October 6th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Uncategorized

Old-World-map-1689I spent a day collecting metal from broken or obsolete equipment. I collected about 2,200 lbs of it. There is still much left but it was another chunk. A few years ago another trip collected 8,000 lbs. Metal at $7 a lb means we have a little cash to help with expenses. I am always anxious about removing equipment. Railroad iron that could be made into anvils or used as weights to make equipment more effective; sawn up metal oil tanks that could be cut again and used for other projects; gears, pulleys, and wheels that can be repurposed to new projects. All balanced against the need to not make the farm look like a junk yard or free up storage space. Or there simply isn’t enough labor to keep up with growing infrastructure. *Junk* is both a resource and a liability.

I fantasize about how this or that could be used if there were a global disaster, the economy collapsed, society crumbled, disease wiped out half the population. Then I’d want those muffler bearings. Naww, toss them, waiting for the apocalypse is a fool’s game.

What we do with these things of our material world often relate to what we think is important in separate considerations. A gear, pulley, or mower blade have a built-in designed capability or expected use but someone can explode that with creativity. A tempered mower blade can be made into a knife or a dear hide scraper or support meal for equipment repair.

It seems like we can view this through a lens of singular or manifold use, this gear is for a King Kutter 6′ mower, or manifold use, this gear can be used for many many purposes, including returning it back to its basic material, iron. This mapping of use seems a lot like mapping of position. Many people have seen religion as a kind of mapping, showing the correct direction. Knowledge and morality, or direction of use, are more intertwined than we think.

Anglo-American John O’Keefe and Norwegian couple May-Britt and Edvard Moser won the 2014 Nobel Prize for medicine on Monday for discovering the brain’s internal positioning system, helping humans find their way and giving clues to how strokes and Alzheimer’s affect the brain…

“How does the brain create a map of the space surrounding us and how can we navigate our way through a complex environment?”

When Western explorers met native navigators they could not understand how the natives found their way over vast distances or water or blank jungle, desert, ice. The compass and various types of sextants allowed Western explorers to calculate magnetic and true North as an absolute reference point to direction. They then could triangulate their position and the position of other stars, planets, land masses, and so forth, to create more accurate maps of their world.

Natives often used relative positioning for navigation; where are they in relation to what is immediately around them? Polynesian navigators would use wind, waves, birds, clouds, water motion, fish, and a host of other clues that allowed them to know where to go for awhile upon awhile in what seemed like a blank ocean without reference points.

The Western way is much like the belief in a primary god where direction is found by determining an absolute entity, True North, and every thing moves or is in reference to that. How easy then to think that everything in life is measured by an absolute entity. Entertaining to consider whether this system was found because of an inclination to monotheism or absolutism or if it really was the system that best fit what they were doing at the time. No doubt some combination.

Relative positioning is like the multifaceted lives of native groups with their animism, multiple gods, and constant conversations with their environment. Western explorers found and then imposed upon nature, using a distant star, while natives looked close and followed local clues. Of course the dichotomy of imposition is not real as natives could be just as destructive. The real difference being mobility and familiarity. The less you can move the more likely you are to seek resource balance, or die back to subsistence level, or disappear.

Nearly a decade later, the Moser team discovered cells, in the entorhinal cortex region in brains of rats, which function as a navigation system. These so-called “grid cells”, they discovered, are constantly working to create a map of the outside world and are responsible for animals’ knowing where they are, where they have been, and where they are going.

Animals then have several means of knowing direction. Small internal compasses that detect magnetic North intuitively, internal grids that codify positioning, and conversations with evidence that lead along a local path where ongoing information tells you how to move along. Sounds a lot like brands of world philosophies.

Jim Newman,

Religious Meaning is Not Special

Posted by Jim Newman on October 3rd, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Uncategorized

life cycleFall is a tough time for outdoor work. The days get shorter, the temperatures swing from hot to cold and back again. The summer maintenance projects that got left behind come to the fore as the regular work must continue. As our family gets used to being in school I become more empathetic to their vicious schedules and try to compensate more by doing more house chores until frustration over my growing list drives me to abandon preserving garden food, better meals, and a cleaner house.

I spent part of yesterday trying to repair a leaking faucet. The field hydrant needs to be changed but even with the water off there is a leak. The valve has been changed and works yet there is a trickle. Either some other leaking pipe attaches to it in this old make shift maze of farm plumbing or there are two leaks and the only solution will be to shutdown the entire line and lay new pipe. A daunting task in this rocky, hard-clay soil that eats up carbide teeth on ditch diggers.

Living on a farm has meant spending less time backpacking, kayaking, mountaineering, bicycling and other outside pursuits. Working in nature much of the time makes me less inclined to be in more of it for leisure. What makes up my meaning in life is swayed simply by living my life in a different material way.

John Gray’s review of Karen Armstrong’s “Fields of Blood” well reveals the blindness of religious expressionists to secular, or any different, expressionism.

“Neither the Greeks nor the Romans”, Armstrong reminds us, “ever separated religion from secular life. They would not have understood our modern conception of ‘religion’. They had no authoritative scriptures, no compulsory beliefs, no distinct clergy and no obligatory ethical rules.”

This simply isn’t true. The mideast was a polyglot of distinct and competing religions with many syncretic sects becoming locally viable and dominant. Priests, like shamans, medicine men, sorcerers, leaders, and wise men were all distinct and frequently were a separate, and privileged class with their own rules. The name Cohen means rabbi and a rabbi has always been privileged and a sought out status, for example.  The phrase “chosen ones” has significance in most religions as they promote their sacred over other’s profane. “One god,” “jealous god,” or educate to godliness are all distinctions like football jerseys that help create alliance and loyalty.

What’s more insulting is these folks seem to feel that a closely held philosophy is more superior if it is religious. Saying that religion is integral to meaning in life is no more than saying everyone lives by a philosophy, even if unspoken and intuitive. We all bring meaning to life. It’s how we do it and how we resolve clashes between them that matters. It’s not my meaning is more intense than yours because it just feels so much more meaningful. Religious meaning is not special meaning that is above philosophy, world meaning, or life view, or peculiar to godliness.

If one meaning means to bind women’s feat and another meaning means to set them free, when these two groups live together and intermarry or witness each other’s expressionism, this clash of meanings must be met by more than saying my meaning is more real or this meaning has always been so.

Either these separate people can become balkanized again with the inevitable commingling and resultant clash, or syncretism, or another set of meanings are developed that enable them to live together without destroying each other. Civil law is a means of maintaining peace that supersedes a particular group. Rather than insisting that one’s meaning is more real or more integral, time could be spent reasoning to find what is meaningful for both or what can be tolerated by both or not. If not, then, how do we keep them sufficiently isolated from each other that offense doesn’t escalate to war?

Reason and science simply because they are not subjectively solipsistic, and there is a there there, allow people to work through living and growing, through meaning, without isolation or violence.

image source

Jim Newman,

Rape and Nature

Posted by Jim Newman on October 1st, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Women's Rights

it's not sexHalf a day yesterday was spent repairing fences. Sawing fallen trees out of the way was the largest task. Just getting tools out and getting to the fence was a task. Wild rose bushes make the work unpleasant as they claw at everything. Soon my arms are a mess because it’s just too hot to wear long sleeves. I can’t move slowly enough to not engage them as they dangle and spring about with an alacrity that is impossible to avoid.

My daughter springs live trees upright that have been bent over by falling dead ones. Later, on seeing Osage Orange sprouting in a hay field, I comment that the fields need to be free of trees taking over and she responds that trees have rights too. If I were a tree would I want to be removed? I am never sure how to respond to the inevitable clash of life. She is clear that humans have done too much and somehow nature must return. She has big empathy.

It’s difficult to say often what is natural or not. Often it doesn’t matter and is used as a talking point. I never cared politically whether being gay was natural or not. It simply should be supported as a human right.

On another front it is infuriating to see the push back against those trying to prevent rape. And that’s my trigger warning.

Camille Paglia is back in the news with a Time piece that advises us that rape is natural. I’m sure some men are pleased to hear this. Paglia lambasts the current campus drives against rape–presumably all rapes, though date rape (used to be spousal rape) seems to be the litmus test of whether one is really for or against rape as natural. Luckily, no one seems to support the rape of dead people, or rape in war, or rape combined with violence. But all sides do seem to say that rape is rape whether the subjective experience of it defines its horror, to a point. Some women seem to be less affected by their rape while others are never whole again. Men talk about being assaulted and meh, others say it defined their sexuality. Consensus is that more people, by far, are affected negatively by rape. And yes it affects nonraped men because men must help the survivors and help resolve the issue, since men are by far the largest instigators of it.

Paglia harkens back to Hobbes by saying there is great evil in the world and we all are a wisp away from outright war to whatever human elimination can be technically managed. Like animals we are. Indeed, Jane Goodall was disappointed that her seemingly pleasant chimps could become quite aggressive. Yet, bonobos seem to engage in near constant sex to sway aggression while the retiring gibbons use distance to maintain peace. The harem-oriented gorilla hides away but nevertheless maintains size, on many levels, to keep other males in their place.

I am not sure how all of this relates to human rape. Nature only provides inspiration of what has become natural because of cultural survival or what has become cultural because of natural tendencies. Humans are indeed competitive but how that expresses itself is rich with variety, including becoming less competitive. Wars have a way of rewarding the returning-valiant in more food and women. I suppose in isolated combinations of warring groups there would be changes of valiance that are favored. But this is a bit like saying that since men are naturally bigger, they are naturally aggressive to women when in some human groups the size difference is minimal, if not the opposite. Which group when, how, and why? And does that relate to another group?

Laws in democracies and republics are created precisely because people determine a behavior must stop. It really doesn’t matter whether it’s natural or not. Restorative or punitive justice decisions may be affected but not the elimination of the behavior. Law simply doesn’t care if people are naturally murderous, thieverous, dishonest, or all of the other negative behaviors we prohibit. Why a law is necessary certainly involves research and observation but in some cases not. Do we really need research to support we don’t want murder or that we would prefer consent? Well, OK, we do to some as some really do believe that war is required for human thriving. They think preserving competitive and predatory behavior ensures sufficient will to provide aggressive self-defense should war happen to occur again. That would be Paglia when she is not apologizing but promoting. Nor is it true. A peaceful warrior is less likely to go overboard, encouraging negative pushback and spiraling, escalating wars.

Science does inform that sexual crimes have a high recidivism so there is good reason to continue remediation of those who are convicted of sexual crimes. Perhaps even to restrict some who would not be recidivistic (how would we know in the individual until too late) simply because mass human management is difficult. But we haven’t returned yet to castration for sex crimes or death for murder–though some see that as a solution too.

Demonstrating that patriarchy is still alive and well helps. That men still hold the most power in our society should be obvious. Yet men feel they are oppressed too. This binary view on these issues belies the spectrums and probabilities that are part of statistics. Perhaps statistics should be taught instead of precalc in high school as that seems far more useful in life. More importantly would be bridges showing how everyone is affected as well as those who are the worst.

Paglia’s notion that men return to predatory hunting, warring, and the capturing of women does condone that behavior. Rape in war is an often used tactic. That men can rape and physically harm screaming, wounded, women is indeed a tough thing to believe is possible at all. Surely it must be some biological thing of conquest? Who could be trained to that? No. Inculcation works to any level. It’s not a good and evil thing. It’s an adaptability and malleability thing.

To say rape is normalized in some wars should not mean that it is then somehow tolerated at their homes. It’s tough enough to get veterans to not be sound shy, trigger happy, angry, reclusive, or free of nightmares. We don’t resolve those issues by leaving them untreated, as being a natural result. To further the nonsense and say that all men have these problems because of an inherent evilness in people is too much like all people are full of unresolvable sin. It continues the religious notion that sin is inevitable, a thing, and humans can’t ever change.

Evolution shows that to be wrong and the incredibly diversity of individuals within groups shows just how much so. We will most definitely change over time whether we like it or not. But by rewarding behaviors we create incentives for success that do affect how we change and who will thrive.

Carol Tavris gave a talk on the apparently too-common case of where both parties are so drunk that no one knows whether consent was asked or made. It becomes impossible to prove rape when no one can remember? Is it fair to try? That’s not really true and some courts have a lower bar of evidence for rape and sex crimes. Hell the bar is even lower in drug laws where police can forfeit your possessions-money on your person and in your vehicle until you can prove they were not gained by drug deals. By this bar a man would have to prove it wasn’t rape simply because penetration occurred. I don’t think that’s what we want in both cases for different reasons. Well, on the other hand, rape is a worse problem than drug use.

Unconscious date rape is resolved by education, law, and social cohesion. We teach not to steal or murder. What makes rape less educable? Other people simply should not tolerate what appears to be oblivious rape as it happens and they see it. Further, men (all) must be educated that getting drunk on their part is worse than a woman getting drunk. Alcohol as a date rape drug is a problem and frankly I would say men should not get drunk if undiscussed sex is even remotely an issue. If a woman is drunk the guy can still know he shouldn’t go after her. I mean really, why in hell would you want to capture-rape a drunk woman? If that’s satisfying competitive urges then buying food at the store is hunter-gathering.

Saying that men are weak provides legitimacy to isolating women and reducing their freedom. Women can well counter that they are so blinded by male sexuality that men should never be bare chested or have even a bump in their pants displayed. That dancing is too much. That seeing their eyes is too much. That simply never being in the same room would guarantee there would be no rape. Paglia is returning us to this state where genders are balkanized because there just isn’t another way.

But there is a much better way. We can educate and we can treat each other with care. We can root out ancient traditions and values that encourage negative behavior. We can reward good behavior.  Women’s studies. Sexuality classes. Morality and ethics classes. Critical thinking and statistics classes.

Jim Newman,

The Myth of Religious Violence

Posted by Jim Newman on September 30th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in religion

religious violenceRebuilding windows yesterday, a neighbor came over and said our horses had got out again. Our fences are difficult to maintain with deer breaking through them, trees crashing down, and lightning strikes destroying fence charges. I got them back without using halters. They are like little kids prancing around me, fighting for position close to the snacks I brought. I wish I had the time to spend with them. They enjoy the company and like to work. Today I must go chainsaw up the fallen trees and repair fence. Yet, I linger on this device unhappy that Karen Armstrong’s big reviews are almost always positive.

With 2-3 politicians openly atheist, it’s hard to imagine that atheists are such a cultural problem. With so much damnation that if secularism were true it would catch on like a smart phone… With popular atheists acting as wrongly sexist, and more so than the general population, her arguments will no doubt appeal.

It is quite unlikely that I will read “Fields of Blood” by Karen Armstrong. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t agreed with what she has said so far. Perhaps, it is because I am on a limited budget or what seems limited to me. The reviews of her book appear in the Guardian, the Spectator, Kirkus, the Telegraph, the Scotsman, and whyevolutionistrue. The Scotsman states her premise

Armstrong is right – very right – to point out that all societies are founded on theft and intimidation, and that a systemic violence underpins and upholds the concept of civilisation itself. That we have science, art, culture, engineering, cities and philosophy at all is bought by the blood of billions of anonymous humans who died tens of thousands of years ago.

The growing trend of excusing religion and attacking secularism often pins on the insistence that cultural, political, material, and biological reasons create the massive violence, xenophobia, misogyny, and general dishonesty in the world.

The difficulties ensue. If religions don’t foster violence, or provide cover to violent urges, how do we begin the discussion with those who say their violence is most definitely for religious reasons?

Relating that religions were never separate from culture before the axial age is a bit like saying there has always been science even in hunter-gather culture because they saw things and made hypotheses, tested them, and then kept what was true or useful. It’s true but doesn’t describe the evolution of science in culture. Perhaps we should eliminate the word religion and call the phenomenon “world view” and religion an industrial world view or commodified world view or politicized world view or what? It really doesn’t matter in helping decide whether modern or old religion is a cause of human violence and suffering. Certainly the trust in a shaman or sorcery that caused harm still caused harm just as the trust that a jealous god demands no competition creates harm.

Armstrong maintains there are secular wars that have nothing to do with religion, which is true in some cases. But saying Germany and Hitler had nothing to do with Judaism or religion is just plain false. Based on the belief that the Jews had a disproportion of wealth and intellectual accounts doesn’t mean Hitler and others did not see this religion as both a means of identity and a scourge. He certainly didn’t forgive marginalized, disenfranchises, or Jews that were by relation only. He certainly didn’t go after wealth, the means of achievement, or the basic support of the system that created the wealth. He went after a people, and a religion, because they were religious, and the people followed that hook.

Too many say that it is the action that is unsupported and the knowledge-base is irrelevant. Thievery is bad and whether they do it for need, religion, or life-vitality is most relevant. It is convenient to do this to allow some sort of acceptance of contrary views, or those who have left a view but value its tradition, but at some point you have to acknowledged that it is the knowledge base that empowers, delineates, and formalizes the action. Would Christians have gone for Jerusalem if they didn’t have a Christ they thought born there? More importantly what other outlet would there have been for their cultural and political issues? Certainly more peaceful outlets could occur. An individual, when losing their temper, can beat their spouse, kick the cat, go for a run, chop wood for the fire, meditate, or seek their therapist. Which you do makes all the difference in the world, and which you do depends on the culture that uses their religion or world view to define what is appropriate. Much like TV may not create violence but violent acts are copycated. If they had known a positive resolution they likely  have imitated that.

Religious rituals can embrace material causes. Marvin Harris rightly noted that pigs were hated after their habitat was gone. The aggressive and surviving animals wrecked havoc on cities, and became so great a nuisance, and so quick to replenish, that some massive cultural change was needed to prevent any outliers from starting the whole problem over again. A modern example would be to use religion to create universal vaccination without exception, or climate change prevention. This is why religious people call big tent issues religious. They seem all embracing, and evidence of a basic world view.

But this isn’t what secularists are saying. They do not say religion is bad because everyone follows one to create universal change. If the manifold and many religions of the world collide together there must be some sort of means of resolution to get things done that must be available to to all. Democracy requires a majority to agree, and that the balance of that tyranny is met by rights. The only way to do this with modern mobility is to not allow any one religion, culture, or politics to dominate. Does it matter if you call it a religion? If the people who vote say they are voting because their sacred text says so or their religious culture says so you do have to take them at their word. Yes, the religious view can be deconstructed to other causes to help the case; your religion says to stone adulterers, we don’t do that now. But there had better be some good reasons not to other than it just seems better not to, or my religion says no to stoning. Discussion has to center around whether stoning is effective or desired, and why, in a way that everyone can relate to, or make some sort of effective opinion, or create change. Reasoning must have a place or we might as well stop talking.

Reasoning itself is an antidote to outright violence. Religions deny the value of reason for sorcery, magic, and the primacy of the subjective experience as universal.

The push against essentialism and biology holds to a point. We wish to avoid stereotyping and not treat individuals as such. Why? It is easy to mistake the motivations and reasoning of the person(s) involved. If there are 10, 20, or 100 variables that make up a person’s decision process, focusing on the ones you think they may be jumps to conclusion. Yet, acknowledging that biological anger (if it exists) or patriarchy (if it is cultural) are very real systemic or endemic problems helps inform remediation and restoration. If a culture shows great evidence that sexual predation has a high recidivism then those crimes and restitution would be different than thievery which shows to have low recidivism. That this is a state or dynamic issue acknowledge that it could eventually be different and require knew rules and processes. It is also wrong to assume that every sexual predator will be recidivistic. If you don’t know the actual reasons you have to have multiple resolutions until you do. And some things become so serious they monopolize the conversation.

The modern difficulty is the abstraction of knowledge of the individual to laws that apply to all. In once case Jill makes a bad mistake, really knows better, and will unlikely do it again. In another, Joe may be going to do it again without question. It’s one of the reasons that analysis of character applies in sentencing and even in assessing guilt. In societies where people no longer closely associate with each other it is near impossible to provide good analysis. The easiest solution is the demand to follow authority, whether it’s a person, a people, a law, or a culture. Indeed the current trend to virtue ethics is just that. To divorce the individual from having to reason, which is time consuming. It makes sense as a way of treating people as whole units and not judge by ether personality, situation, or motivation. We simply don’t care because it’s about building a character that generates good action.

But that may not be helpful in the long run. Virtue of care, healing everyone becomes dust when care is met by retaliation, destroying the caregiver. People, need their reasons and so called emotions. Change also creates outliers and outlier communities that are going to create friction. Mobility has to give way to creating consensus for decisions that affect multiple disparate groups and some will not be pleased. A misogynist being told they are naturally that way, or that their sacred text caused them to be that way, is not going to create the change until they recognize themselves that they are even misogynistic. You have to sling a bunch of causes to them and assume that what sticks is at least a start. We have to deal with individuals, their individual reasons, and somehow create a coherent, effective,  society that spans across religions, cultures, politics, biology, situations, and environment.

If a religion says to do something for some reason we must address that just as secularists must address their own issues of, for example, embedded sexism. If atheism really means “no gods” and nothing more that is as vapid as saying everything is field and energy. How are you going to grow corn with that? There is a way. It means understanding the structures entailed by the ideology as it is experienced now and observed by others.

Jim Newman,


“Me and Dog,” Moral Atheism

Posted by Jim Newman on September 29th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in religion

me and dogThe Concord Monitor reviews the children’s book “Me and Dog.” It includes parts of an interview of its author Gene Weingarten.

Q: How did you come to write this book?

A: I stepped on my dog’s foot. That actually happened. The whole book was created in four seconds of insight. My dog – like the one in the book – is named Murphy. I stepped on her foot, she howled and then asked me, clearly: “What have I done wrong? What did I do? I won’t do it again.” The whole idea flashed in my mind: I am her God!

The allegory sprung to mind. That there is a controlling presence. That we can importune him with favors. That all things happen for a reason. We may not understand the reason, but somebody up there does. This is a book that is a sweet little book. It’s not hectoring anyone, but it’s trying to start a conversation with a very young person: What if things happen just because? Is that something to fear? And the book says: No, we have each other, we have love and the world is full of endless possibilities. Why should that be frightening?

Much of my life involves working and being with animals. I have often wondered if the god-human relationship came from this differential in power and lack of understanding. More easy has it been for me to see how humans could be animists considering themselves and animals to be on a more level field of consciousness and sense of  interchangeable identity. This has long been pushed aside as anthropomorphism but many have to acknowledge the growing evidence that humans really aren’t so different.

But when that god becomes all powerful then I have to wonder if that isn’t the result of oppression. It works both ways. You can either feel arrogant that you’re master of all or you can feel puny and just a small cog. And all of the steps in between.

…One of the best-selling books today is Todd Burpo’s Heaven Is for Real, about Burpo’s son who claims he went to heaven. Why are we troweling that kind of crap into the heads of our kids? This book is an alternative to that, it is an antidote to Heaven Is for Real. . . . I hate the fact that Heaven Is for Real is a runaway best-seller.

Atheists always get this question: How can you be an ethical, moral person? Which is annoying and insulting. It demonstrates a fundamental disconnect. Do you really need fear of hell to make you do good, moral things? I don’t need to fear the devil to do good. I know that it’s fundamentally right to do good. And that’s what I tried to teach my children. I have ethical and moral children.

For me and animals it has meant spending more time communicating, trying to make myself clear, while trying to listen to them. It really has nothing to do with religion but more to do with relationships with those who are sufficiently different than you as to make communication, understanding, and empathy difficult.

Q: You say you “want to start a conversation.” Is this advocacy? Is that you?

A: I’m not that earnest. I wanted to do a really entertaining book that didn’t patronize children and that made a very gentle statement. If there is no deity, and that’s what we have, that’s not a frightening thing. The world is full of beauty and hope and we should treat one another with respect and love, and that’s a pretty great situation.

Empathy and tolerance are popular words these days as is love but it doesn’t address the very sticky issues of moral choices that define ourselves and the future. I am sure climate deniers and vaccine deniers are sincere they are saving mankind from unnecessary pain. Decisions of great consequence must be made.

In the various atheist circles a tremendous amount of energy is being spent to deal with the higher than average amount of sexism in their groups. Too many say atheism is nothing more than no belief in gods. If that is so then how can they possibly also say that being atheist does’t make you immoral, atheists are moral too. You simple wouldn’t know either way. Not a good position statement. Nor particularly accurate. Atheists would do well to abandon the “no gods only” definition and begin to reason just which morals atheism entails.

Jim Newman,

Texas Textbooks, Moses Founding Father

Posted by Jim Newman on September 26th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Church and State

texas textbookDifficult few days replacing windows in a residence. Not terribly complicated  but inconvenient to resident so rushing through them. The old windows are perhaps 100 years old, except for on new wing. Big Box store windows flimsy but what can be afforded, better than old. I doubt they can possibly last 100 years.

Texas in its typical fashion has incorporated an alternative universe in their school textbooks. One would think with on-demand printing so viable now that Texas would no longer dominate the text book industry. Even if this were possible, schools should not have their own standards. We no longer live in autonomous communities with little mobility between them. Economic survival for many requires moving several times in one’s life. For these reasons, need to create effective opportunities, national standards help people succeed, and prevent welfare dependence or job stagnation, decline.

Careful analyst by Justine Esta Ellis (a scholar who was not part of the TFN group) finds the strategy of starting with Moses is aimed at presenting the United States as a unique “redeemer nation,” predestined among all others to act out God’s will. Arch-conservative David Barton, who has no historian’s credentials but who nonetheless has had a huge impact on TEKS, maintains that verse after verse from the Bible is quoted “verbatim” in the Constitution. Checking Scripture demonstrates quickly that this is just not so. The language and the ideas do not match. Any professor of history teaches history majors not to make that kind of mistake.

David Barton, one of history’s greatest liars is still in the thick of it… In typical fashion Texas has no interest in academic integrity.

But the State Board of Education wanted nothing to do with professors. More than a dozen from Texas colleges and universities volunteered to take part in reviewing texts this past summer. Almost all were turned down.

One of those historians, my colleague and former Southern Methodist University department chair Kathleen Wellman, testified at the SBOE public hearing this month. She told the SBOE that the effect of the TEKS requirement to find biblical origins for the Constitution would be to make Moses the “first American.” Some historians give that honor to Benjamin Franklin. Whoever might merit it, Moses definitely does not qualify.

Would be nice if we even knew Moses existed. Of course it is in extremist Texas Christian’s best interest to ignore history.

“It is not pretended,” Madison wrote in April 1787, that professed religion could provide a “sufficient restraint” on individuals bent on doing wrong. He knew as well that “kindled into enthusiasm … by the sympathy of a multitude,” or even in “its coolest state,” religion can just as readily become “a motive to oppression as … a restraint from injustice.”

Madison knew directly how colonial-era Anglicans had persecuted Baptists. He had read about Europe’s post-Reformation wars of religion. Nobody who knows the tragic history of 20th century Ireland, let alone the Middle East now, could disagree with his judgment then.

Whether the Framers were ardent evangelicals, cool Episcopalians and “Old Lights,” or outright doubters, they accepted Madison’s point. They had wrestled with the problem of political religion in the original state constitutions after independence. Their answer on the national level was to exclude religion altogether from the Constitution and from national politics.

The push back against arrogant atheism from recovering or apologist religious people seems to forget the need is to prevent theocracy which is not a small matter. Liberals and moderates seem to think no one would really believe that stuff literally or wish to promote it. After all, they had the sense to quit or know the difference, so must everyone. Some say it’s a matter of freedom. As if school kids, parents, could choose.

Jim Newman,