Midnight Heathen Philosophes.
In the last couple weeks, USA Today ran a poll and found that something like 55% of Americans "BELIEVE" that the Constitution set the United States of America up as a Christian Country [emphasis mine]. Wow, that makes me crazy.
Ayn Rand wrote "facts exist independently of anyone's fears, beliefs or wishes."
I am reading Richard Dawkin's "The God Delusion" [thanks, Tim]. I highly recommend it. I've also been listening a lot to the BBC. I've practically stopped consuming news based in this country. There are times when our present administration and that of Iran are indiscernable. Simply switch out Fundamentalist Muslim for Fundamentalist Christian.
My Ex Wife used to be flabbergasted that I almost always got the bible questions from Jeopardy right. I credit Doctor Anderson at Michigan State University and my father.
Dr. Anderson was a terrific guy. He was an ordained Methodist Minister, Distinguished MSU Humanities Faculty, and a world renown expert in Samaritan literature [more on that in a minute].
I had a personal philosophy when registering for classes at MSU: No classes before 10:00 AM. Ever. This usually meant that I had to take one evening class each semester; typically Mon/Wed or Tues/Thur. Dr. Anderson's class was unique because it met once a week, but for three hours. At the time, I was also interested in his series; two semesters on the Old Testament, and one on the New. I was in the middle of my long journey to where I am.
Dr. Anderson had an amazing memory. He had us fill out a 3x5 Card the first day of class; Name, Major, some interesting fact. At the beginning of each hour of class, he would call out about a third of the stack of cards. We were to raise our hand. It was a modified form of attendance for the large class. By the third week, he was looking at you as he called your name. I was taking the class with a girlfriend and her roommate. We tested him by sitting somewhere else. He looked where we had sat, scanned, found us and called our names. There were about 300 students in this class! 300!!
I took his two Old Testament classes in succession and then, because of a professional internship I did, the New Testament class the next year. Two or three years after I had finished his series, I met Dr. Anderson on the street in East Lansing.
"Hi, Dr. Anderson," I said.
"Well, Hello," he answered, "Wait, you're Thomas or Thompson or . . ."
"Todd Townsend," I offered.
"Why, yes! And you were studying Packaging, I believe." His eyes twinkled like a sage. "You should be ready to graduate almost. How did that internship go? It was here in Michigan. Automotive, I believe."
Right on all five counts. Amazing.
From Dr. Anderson I learned that there are many different authors in most of the books of the bible; especially the gospels. You can watch the transition from one to the next by their vocabularies and style. He taught the allegorical rather than literal bible. OK, 299 students. One night this girl stood up in the middle of his lecture. At the top of her lungs shouted "The bible is NOT a fairy tale!" and walked out never to return.
I think I meat her Aunt a few weeks ago at a truckstop in Tuscaloosa, AL. I am still deciding if I should ever go back there. It is one of my fuel stops. Anyway, I walked in early one morning and there was a driver laid out on the floor. One of the fuel desk ladies was heaving on his clammy chest doing CPR. Apparently the guy had had a heart attack and dropped right there in the store.
I was waiting for a load so I was milling around. A couple hours later, back in the store, I asked at the fuel desk about the guy. This buxom patrician looking big ol' southern woman gently placed a hand to her breast, fluttered her eyes up into their lids and said, "The lord was watching over him. He was breathing before the paramedics arrived."
To no one in particular, I said, "You'd think if the lord was watching over him, he wouldn't have had a heart attack in a truckstop."
"Don't you blaspheme," she shouted. "Don't . . . you . . . blaspheme!" And waved a hand skyward.
Back to Dr. Anderson. He had a friend in the Athletic Department at MSU, way before the 'doctor' in Dr. Anderson.
Well, even before that. Imagine in the 30's or 40's, Michigan State had an Indiana Jones of its own. Apparently, someone from MSU traveled to the Middle East. I can see the trench coat, the fedora, the foggy night at the wharf boarding a rusty tramp steamer. The steamer is bound for the Suez with a mysterious crew. The Captain will have a scar, a black greek fisherman's cap and an outrageous Mediterranean accent.
So this intrepid explorer finds this large cache of Samaritan writings somewhere. I always like the Good Samaritan story. He 'one-ups' the pious and steals their thunder; almost like Prometheus and his fire. Apparently there are Samaritan books that didn't make the bible and early versions of books we're familiar with.
The man in the fedora packs up the Samaritan stuff and ships it back to Michigan State, but he never returns.
I figure he met a woman. Another outrageous accent; this one french or russian. I can see the slinky dress, the high heels, the hose with a seam up the back. She's the kind of woman who never takes off her pearls and makes you forget why it would even matter. Samaritan Who?
So these crates, that no one is looking for, get shifted around the buildings at MSU. Remember the ending of the first Indiana Jones movie?! The Ark of the Covenant in an anonymous crate in a government warehouse that no one ever inventories. Exactly like that.
Michigan State Stadium is a big bowl with tiers of concourses under it. Some of these are used at game time; souvenirs, hot dogs, the johns. Some tiers are just used for storage. Professor Anderson was a fresh faced, wet-behind-the-ears graduate student. He had a friend in the Athletic Department. This friend is in charge of cleaning out some of the crap that has collected in university storage. He is working on cleaning up the stadium when he comes across a crate or two piled with dust. He sends someone for a hammer and a crowbar. Dust flies everywhere as they clean enough to crack it open. The hollow squeak of nails being pulled out of old wood echoes under the stadium. No one know why, but they're all kind of quiet. Cleaning the sawdust and straw off the top layer, they see scrolls [might have been tablets, I don't recall]. There is odd writing.
"I've got a friend over in Humanities," says the Jock, "He'll know if we should throw this out or not. He's a minister working on his masters."
If I remember right, when Professor Anderson came over to the stadium, he was looking at the world's largest collection of Samaritan Literature. Dormant for years. Plenty enough for a Masters and PhD thesis [what the heck is that plural?]. In the process, he became a world renown expert in Samaritan Writing. This is the guy who recognized me on the street two years after the fact. Amazing.
I remember a poor Sunday School Teacher. I think we made her cry. She was so prepared for the Eighth Graders. Very early in the hour, she presented her gem. She had done the math. He created the heavens and the earth and all of us and the flora and fauna in 144 hours! Isn't that spesh-ell [SNL church lady accent]. You see 6 days times 24 hours; why that's just 144 hours for all this. We asked "Who are you to tell god his day is only 24 hours." It pretty much ended there.
Contrast that with the time my Dad taught a few Sunday School classes. I think it was the High Schoolers. He came equipped with poster board maps. The movements of people and armies were set against the land they had or wanted. Geopolitical back stories and deeper understanding. Context. I don't remember the specifics of the lessons but it was a completely different approach. I was still having those my-Dad's-the-coolest-smartest-guy moments when I was in high school.
Both my parents brought all of us up to think for ourselves. Mom was a Renaissance woman herself. She is a strong independent woman who worked, took care of the four of us [Dad included], and was on the School Board for many years. Her work with emotionally and physically handicapped kids was way more work than most anyone did, let alone what other moms did. Holding her own with some rough kids too.
So this USA Today thing is so frustrating. Americans are so frustrating sometimes.
In my opinion, the formula is simple. Facts are facts. Just as actions speak louder than words, the consequences of a system - the outcome of a system - is more important than who built it or how it was made.
Throughout history, governments of all varieties sought to protect their power from the people. The Unites States of America, at birth, was explicitly built to protect the people from the government. A historical first that we have defaced, defamed and bastardized in the last 250 years.
It does not matter whether any of the Founding Fathers were religious. It doesn't matter that they used words and phrases, like "endowed by their creator," in the founding documents. A nearly perfect system was built. These men were toiling to make something that had never existed.
You cannot square "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" with Original Sin, "Turn the Other Cheek" or "Love your neighbor as yourself." It just isn't in there.
And don't send me Paul's Letter to the Thessalonians. That is a bunch of end times hooey taken out of context in lame attempts to justify capitalism.
The beauty of our country at its birth came in spite of "anyone's fears, beliefs or wishes." Just as the whole is greater than the sum of parts, our Founding Fathers built something with timeless elegance that was bigger and better than they knew.
They also built in the freedom to practice any or no religion without the fear of persecution or prosecution. Even today, a rare luxury in the world. The only freedom left ungranted is to bring this nation down by calling it a Christian Country.
PS: The Midnight Heathen Philosophes were a group of us in John Holmes Hall at MSU that stayed up late into the night solving the world's problems. Jim C., Pisser, Eric Z. and many others.