Peanuts, Sunday School, and Fundamentalism

Posted May 21, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

One of the basic principles of fundamentalist Christianity is the literal interpretation of the Bible. On the first Sunday after my baptism by immersion at the age of twelve, my Sunday school teacher interpreted the role of women in the church to preclude her from teaching a class that included a baptized male member of the class. With permission from everyone involved I began teaching that class. I am grateful for the opportunity it gave me, but I am saddened by her loss inherent in fundamentalism.

I have been reading the history of three major fundamentalist religions—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. There is a common theme of submission to divine will and a sacred governing document from which we learn God’s will.

During the month of May, I have attended two events associated with high school graduation. The first was a long held tradition dating back the 1400s at Oxford of a religious ceremony that we call a Baccalaureate service. This was a student sanctioned event, in a church, including motivational speeches from faculty members, students, and spiritual mentors of the students. The exercise included three prayers and Bible readings from the Old and New Testament. Attendance by the graduating seniors was optional. The other event was the official graduation exercise with presentation of diplomas, awards, speeches, and recognition of completion of secondary education.

Having begun my religious tradition in a small rural congregation, I was blessed with indoctrination of Christian principles and the fellowship of a church environment. I was also taught a mutual respect for the harmony of faith and reason. The Bible and secular education in a public school were dual foundations that shaped my life. I found no contradictions in the law, logic, and love that came with that community of fellowship.

Occasionally, we learn from unlikely sources. I just read a Peanuts comic strip, or it may have been a parody of the strip. Two of the characters, Linus and Lucy, are in a conversation in which one of them suggests, “America should get back to Christian principles.” Linus then offers suggestions, followed by Lucy’s objections:

“Provide food and shelter for the poor. No, I’m not paying for a lazy person. Visit and comfort people in prison. No, they deserve that. Pay our taxes without complaining. No, that’s my money and I want it. We should show love and mercy freely. No, that has to be earned. We have to avoid violence. No, we have to punish the bad guys. We should be gracious to foreigners and strangers. No, they shouldn’t be here. We should oppose social injustice throughout the world. No, that’s not our problem. Then what Christian principles are you talking about? Opposing gay marriage.”

In the 22nd chapter of Matthew, a lawyer asked Jesus a question about what is the great commandment, looking for either a simple definition of religion, or more likely to trap Jesus. Jesus gave the following answer, “Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

We often refer to the first commandment as vertical Christianity and the second as horizontal Christianity. We often think of the first as our reason for being moral, and the second as our reason for being ethical. The current emphasis on conservative evangelical religion may have over-shadowed our attention to the ethics and compassion in the second commandment.

Bigotry, Prejudice, and Intolerance

Posted May 8, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

When the Founding Fathers were writing the Constitution, one of the most contentious disagreements was whether or not the rights with which we are endowed by our Creator should be enumerated in that document. The Bill of Rights, a listing of specific rights, was added to placate the concerns of signers with fears of a potential tyrannical President.

The provision for a bicameral Congress was a compromise with the Senate as equal votes among the states and a proportional direct representation of the people based on a formula of a free and slave population. The Founding Fathers envisioned the House of Representatives and State Legislatures as “government by the people.” As our democracy evolved, the Legislature became the most restrictive of the three branches in human rights and freedoms of speech and religion.

Our history of tolerance, or intolerance, has not come from government, but from other individuals or groups who feel threatened by diversity or the granting or enforcing equal rights for others. We define tolerance as respect for the beliefs and practices of others. Respect for beliefs is protected by freedom of religion, whereas practices are judged by potential harm to others and can be prohibited by law or regulation. Our guarantee of freedom of speech and the press is an extension of our freedom of unspoken or covert belief or thought.

In the play and movie, Inherit the Wind, the characters portraying William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow referred to the “right to think.” Tennessee had passed a law prohibiting the teaching of Evolution in public schools and the “Monkey Trial” in Dayton gave us national attention.

The word tolerance also implies leeway for variation from a standard. We hear media references to playing “the race card” or “the religious card.” This if often followed by references to prejudice or bigotry. Variations from a standard have many areas of difference, some derived at birth by genetic replication with minor variations or severe impairment. Thereafter, variations are the result of education, religion, politics, geographic traditions, and patterns of thought, advocacy, and behavior.

Prejudice is defined as adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand without knowledge of the facts. In contrast, bigotry can relate to intolerance in matters of religion, race, or politics, without reference to preconceived opinion. Bigotry or prejudice can be taught, or acquired, by ancestral or regional influences.
We like to believe we live in a “post-racial” and a “post religious intolerance” period. We like to believe we have by law, logic, and compassion adopted equal rights in gender, sexual orientation, religious freedom, voting rights, and all other variations from standards. In retail, some businesses have asked for the right to refuse customers based on strongly held religious opinions.

To accuse someone of bigotry or prejudice for inflexibility on strongly held religious or political ideology is unfair. These would be considered intolerant only if someone were to question another person’s right to think or believe or not believe something. Strongly held acquired views are derived from television, reading, peer influence, or from that most cherished right, the right to think.

We have recently discussed the right of a student to think in our discussion of Common Core State Standards, textbook adoption, methodology of teaching, and testing that includes critical thinking skills.

I think most of us defend the right of bigotry and prejudice, unless it impedes or denies the rights of others, or if it leads to violent acts. Violence is indefensible. Bigotry and prejudice are part of our religious and political freedoms. They are inviolable in our Bill of Rights, as is the right to think.

The Military Takeover of Texas

Posted May 7, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

Staunchly Republican and Conservative Texans have been highly suspicious of the federal government since Americans elected Barack Obama as President. It seems Texas hardly considers itself part of the United States and often floats the idea of seceding from its own nation, even under Governor Perry before Governor Abbott.

Jade Helm 15 is the designation of a planned military training operation of 1,200 elite forces from all four branches of the United States military in seven states across the southwest. This has fueled a new level of paranoia. A few Texas citizens and their governor, Greg Abbot, are certain the Obama Administration, in concert with the United Nations, is planning a military takeover of Bastrop County, a few miles east of the capitol at Austin.

An Army spokesperson met with a group of people at the Bastrop County Commission to assure the overflow crowd there would be no gathering of intelligence, no Texans’ property would be confiscated, and no psychological operations would be conducted. The participants in the town hall meeting were suspicious of the Obama Administration and demanded to know why they had not been individually notified. After six years of conservative, armed militia activity, tea party fear-mongering, and conspiracy theories, some of the overflow crowd had to watch downstairs on closed-circuit television.

Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria probably thought he was going to give a regular briefing, but instead, the 200 patriots in the room shouted him down. They told him he was a liar and grilled him about the imminent federal takeover of Texas and subsequent imposition of martial law. In the video of the meeting, Colonel Lastoria pointed to his name tag on the chest of his camouflage fatigues and asked the audience to trust him.

Instead of ignoring the wave of distrust, Governor Abbot sent a letter instructing the Commander of the Texas State Guard to monitor the military movements of the exercise. He then issued a message further exacerbating the Texans’ paranoia about federal tyranny, “I’ve ordered the Texas State Guard to monitor Jade Helm 15 to safeguard Texans’ constitutional rights, private property, and civil liberties.”

To extend the insanity of the accusations of martial law, another conspiracy theory emerged. The empty Wal-Mart buildings in West Texas, closed for six months for renovation, were going to be used as staging grounds for FEMA and processing camps for political prisoners. Prisoners were going to be transported by train cars that had already been equipped with shackles. Some Texans believed the closed Wal-Mart buildings were being converted to detention centers with secretly linked underground tunnels to transport large numbers of troops undetected.

Several elected officials in Texas voiced their concerns. A former state representative wrote, “I am horrified that my governor actually believes this stuff and doesn’t have any backbone and is pandering to idiots.”

As a small child during World War II, I remember convoys of Army trucks on the highways of Tennessee in something we called “maneuvers.” We waved and cheered as the trucks passed on their way to locations for training for eventual deployment to Europe. That was a different time, and we could not have imagined this level of disrespect for our military, our country, or our President.

There is no argument that after the 2014 election, Texas politics took a further step to the right. The Texas State Legislature has given unquestioned truth to that. But the reaction to the Governor’s proposition that these soldiers and sailors constitute a threat to the citizens of Texas certainly is a new unprecedented political dimension for the leader of the Texas Republican Party to endorse.

Public and Non-public Schools and Poverty

Posted May 5, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

As the voucher bill moves through the legislature, I don’t understand some of the terminology. In referring to schools, we usually separate them by using the dichotomy of public and non-public schools. I grew up associating the word parochial with the Catholic Church and different from the elite private academies or “college preparatory schools” as we called them. I don’t know if parochial today applies also to Protestant schools. I avoid the words Christian or faith-based schools which give a false inference of exclusion to the majority of Christian parents who send their children to public schools taught by teachers who are also more likely Christian. Many “private academies” are supported by a Parish or Church.

Also, I don’t understand the relationship between home schools and church schools and standards for compliance within church school standards for home-school students not accountable to the local school district. Also, I don’t know if students home-schooled within a religious school umbrella would qualify for a voucher if the voucher bill were to pass. There is also the question of whether a religious school has the option to deny admission to a child of parents who chose to leave public schools with access to a voucher if the child is not a member of the church which supports the school. Also, I don’t know if public funds are transferred to non-public schools would the schools then be held to similar curriculum or teacher certification standards as public schools.

I just looked at a map of the United States showing the states in which more than 50% of students in public schools are “in poverty” or on free and reduced lunches. Public schools are funded primarily by sales tax and property tax. Very little money comes from the federal government. Many state legislatures resist taking money from the federal government.

I watched interviews with public school teachers who spend their mornings “parenting” and addressing the social needs and student’s recovery from trauma of living in broken homes, domestic violence, unemployment, and overcrowded households. I have not seen the comparative statistics on children in private or religious schools in the South and Southwest where the poverty figures are highest. Percentage of students in poverty would increase if and when parents with economic advantage chose to leave public schools, which reduces community involvement in public schools.

The voucher bill has been depicted by members of the Legislature as designed to benefit children from the lowest performing schools in the poorest counties in Tennessee. We also have been told the vouchers would benefit students with special needs. However, the voucher bill is being supported by out-of-state groups which promote private schools and for-profit schools. Parents in Tennessee who chose private or religious schools are more likely to be Republican while public school parents tend to be a more diverse population.

If we provide public money to parents to send their children to private or religious schools that leaves behind an even greater percentage of children from poverty and homes with limited parental care and places a greater burden on teachers. These are the primary concerns about vouchers. Some state legislatures and local school boards struggle for state or local autonomy, by declining money for school lunches and opting out of standards. Some regional, ethnic, religious, and political groups frequently object to approval and purchase of new textbooks. We are a nation of States Rights, but children have no choice about where they are born, and we are a nation culturally, regionally, and economically divided. We have to provide quality public schools where the children live.

The Right of the People Peaceably to Assemble

Posted April 29, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

I spent two days last weekend in a crowd of over 100,000 people, in the downtown of a thriving city. At our Main Street Festival, our group of authors greeted the potential buyers of arts and crafts who stopped at our table. None of them were looting or burning our retail stores. I did not see anyone being handcuffed by our police because they were black, Muslim, Evangelical, Christian, or had tattoos, piercings, or ugly and ill-fitting clothing. No one was carrying signs protesting any rights they thought they had lost or been denied. A few were wearing message t-shirts, not protest messages, just random phrasing clever at some level, some school logos, or Abercrombie & Fitch.

Our founding fathers drafted our Constitution to guarantee rights they had been denied by the King of England, included the right to peaceably assemble for redress of grievances. This provision followed listing the freedoms of faith, speech, and the press. I came home from the Festival and watched the protesters and looters in Baltimore, and the demonstrators for and against marriage equality in front of the Supreme Court in Washington. I thought about the retail business that I ran for forty-one years in the building I owned on Main Street. I thought about my grandchildren safe in their homes and my daughters safe in the schools where they teach. I watched television in the room with my marriage partner of 50-plus years. I am blessed to have been able to serve on the boards of our local public school districts; our public housing authority; and our downtown retail association.

The First Amendment includes the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. The concept of a “government of the people, or by the people” was an unknown and maybe untried system in 1787. The thought of any formal request or entreaty was to be directed at a tyrant, a king, or a President who exercised undue authority. Our Senate provided equal status to all states, and our House of Representatives was made up of persons elected by “the people.” Certain rights were reserved to the states, with a Governor and legislators chosen from among friends and family.

We saw in Baltimore the tragedy of a city in decline, and protests and violence directed at the local police, the mayor, and the governor. Somewhere among those voices were pleas for help from the federal government, including deployment of a well-regulated state militia, not a quartering of a standing army, or a band of armed local citizens in the streets. We saw neighborhood volunteers cleaning up the streets the morning after. We saw ministers and pastors offering the refuge in their church buildings, and a young man handing bottled water to the police. There has been much critique of the mother who saw her son throwing rocks at the police and retrieved him from the young trouble-makers and marched him home while slapping his face and beating him on his head. She was praised by some as potential “mother of the year” and decried by others as a failed welfare single mother.

In a more peaceful scene, I watched the divided Supreme Court, hearing arguments from several states, including Tennessee, for marriage equality. Some protesters carried signs defending marriage only for a man and a woman, while others argued for a court decision to allow same-sex marriage equality. Our Declaration of Independence avows that our rights are endowed by our “Creator.” Some are enumerated within the Bill of Rights; some are permitted or taken away by legislators or the Supreme Court.

Religious Establishment, Freedom, and Political Trivia

Posted April 24, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

There is a proposed bill in the Tennessee Legislature that simply reads, “The Holy Bible is hereby designated as the official state book.” The bill may have stalled before the session ended. There was significant opposition from a large group of Middle Tennessee clergy concerned that it trivialized the Bible.

Tennessee has a number of adopted state symbols that have been approved by the state legislature. The tomato was designated as the state fruit by the General Assembly in 2003. The Eastern box turtle was designated the state reptile in 1995. We all agree that the square dance is the state dance, as adopted by the Legislature in 1980. Most residents of Middle Tennessee have very limited affection for Rocky Top as the official state song, and prefer Tennessee Waltz, if for no other reason than comparative artistic dignity.

One of the legislators from East Tennessee responded, “I just don’t feel like we are serving any purposes. This is not going to save one soul or feed one child or give hope to one person. It is just an effort to glorify the things of the world, and I just shiver at the thought of devaluing or diminishing the value of the Holy Bible in that matter, so I passed on voting.”

A group of ministers sent a letter to the Legislature questioning the introduction of trivial religious legislation during the same session in which they voted down enabling medical coverage for some 280,000 uninsured, low-income Tennesseans and putting many local hospitals in financial risk.

The Tennessee Legislature has traditionally paid little attention to the argument for separation of church and state. Many conservative politicians insist that the establishment clause of the First Amendment only refers to restraint on Congress in establishing an official religion. The First Amendment was adopted in an environment in which most states had an official state religion. Separation of church and state has served us well in ensuring us freedom of religion. Other state legislatures have tried in past years to pass similar Bible bills. Last year, Louisiana lawmakers tried and the sponsor decided to pull the bill. A bill in Mississippi failed to make it out of committee.

I would not question the sincerity of someone’s fundamentalist or conservative religion. Ronald Reagan declared 1983 the national “Year of the Bible.” We have frequently cited our founding Fathers to advance the premise that we are a Christian nation. Reagan offered the following reasoning:

“Many of our greatest national leaders—Presidents Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, and Wilson—have recognized the influence of the Bible on our country’s development. Andrew Jackson referred to the Bible as no less than ‘the rock on which our Republic rests.’ Today [1983] our beloved America is facing a decade of enormous challenge. There could be no more fitting moment than to reflect with gratitude, humility, and urgency upon the wisdom revealed to us in the writing that Abraham Lincoln called the best gift God has ever given to man.”

I might question one statement from President Reagan and our conservative political ideology that “without the Bible we could not know right from wrong.” Students of ethics and philosophy recognize the Old Testament as the religious history of the Jewish people, and the New Testament as the founding document of the Christian religion and traditional ethical behavior. We are governed by a secular Constitution, with no establishment of religion and no provisions for mandate or prohibition of the content of our heart and mind in matters of religion. Faith tempered by reason is stronger, as is reason reinforced by one’s faith.

Thinking About Things We Don’t Think About

Posted April 18, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

Somewhere in the world of the internet, I found an article in which someone made the statement that 50% of Americans are stupid. I try to avoid the word, because I don’t think of it as a scientifically certifiable condition. It is more frequently used as an epithet to demean someone who disagrees with us in politics, religion, and organized team sports. Also, the people who comment on an article like that may not include the opinions of Americans who spend less time commenting on social media.

The fallacy of usage is in our inability to differentiate when it is directed at a fellow human, rather than at a “pointless or worthless” idea, statement, or action derived from a single error in judgment or a strongly held prejudice or harmful ideology. I find no moral justification for using the word in reference to a person.

I heard a story of a prominent psychologist who was unable to start his car in the parking lot of the mental institution at which he worked. One of the patients watched as he repeatedly turned his key with no success at ignition. The patient approached the car and asked him to unlock the hood. After some time in diagnosis and undefined activity, he said, “Now, try it.” The doctor thanked him as he was about to drive away, and expressed some surprise at the mechanical skills of the patient, who replied, “I’m here because I’m crazy, not because I’m stupid.”

In our political correctness, we limited our defamatory language to adults in public life and positions of prominence who appear to be “in a dazed or stunned state.” While it may have some degree of accuracy, the word often loses its validity in the ensuing dialogue between individuals with similar incoherent verbal skills.

In the field of education we sometimes use the designations “failing schools or failing students.” Our State Legislature targets inner city or remotely rural school districts designated within the lowest 5% based on standardized tests. One of the definitions of stupid is “slow to learn or understand.” This label has no place in the discussion of the merit of standardized tests, which measure a percentage of correct recall of information on specific subject material. Nor should it be part of the evaluation of the educators employed by one of those school districts.

Nobody would suggest that we are born stupid, but we all agree that the acquisition of intelligence is incremental, and over our lifetime is also cyclical. Having forgotten is very similar to not knowing, but more likely to be forgiven by your spouse and children. Also, intelligence is inversely proportional to the infusion of misinformation. This might come from network television, religious fanatics, a crazy relative, or conditioned resistance to new information or innovative ideas.

Intellect refers to the ability to “learn, reason, and understand.” We like to believe we teach all three skills in public schools. I remember a time when, “reading, writing, and arithmetic” were the measurable factors that defined public education. Success was measured by our need to learn what we needed to know in order to succeed at what we were destined to do in life.

Intellect is not easy to measure. It includes pragmatic skills essential for career objectives and economic success, and also has contemplative or aesthetic value. We tend to assign disproportional value to the information or belief system which validates our worldview. We still have a distrust of abstract or philosophical thought, or exploring “what we think about the things we don’t think about.”


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