Archive for the ‘Philosophy and Religion’ Category

Some Very Different Writing for Me

June 19, 2016

I have published four novels now, most of them historical fiction. So this is something very different for me.

In high school and throughout college, I acted in many school and community theater plays. I also minored in psychology in college. So I decided to combine those two disciplines. SIGI AND CARL explores the questions that plague most of us: Have we done something truly meaningful with our life? Will we leave a legacy? This surrealistic play responds through the life and relationships of Sigmund Freud, with Carl Jung as his major counter-point. Guest figures include Hamlet, Albert Einstein, Anna Freud, and Melanie Klein.

SCHOOLS AND TEACHERS, please note: I am happy to provide text copies at no charge if you would like to read in class or produce any or all of this play. As an educator, I wish to promote knowledge as well as creative thinking.

If you have time, please give this a look.

https://www.amazon.com/Sigi-Carl-Play-Three-Acts-ebook/dp/B01GT3Q5YQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466304510&sr=8-1&keywords=sigi+and+carl

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A Monotheistic View of the Roles of Women (part 2)

February 20, 2016

Because women were clearly prevalent in the practice of medicine before the advent of the god-man, it is perhaps most surprising that such women existed after the ascension of the male monotheism, as opposed to what they achieved. What is probably most significant about the medical school at Salerno, other than being recognized as an institution representing a high, formal standard of medical training, is that it set the stage for medical licensing.

Solerno“It is easy to understand that the attraction which Salerno possessed for patients soon also brought to the neighborhood a number of irregular physicians, travelling quacks, and charlatans. Wealthy patients were coming from all over the world to be treated at Salerno. Many of them doubtless were sufferers from incurable diseases and nothing could be done for them. Often they would be quite unable to return to their homes and would be surely unwilling to give up all hope if anybody promised them anything of relief. There was a rich field for the irregular, and of course, as always, he came. Salerno had already shown what a good standard of medical education should be, and it is not surprising, then, that the legal authorities in this part of the country proceeded to the enforcement of legal regulations demanding the attainment of this standard, in order that unfit and unworthy physicians might not practise medicine to their own benefit but to the detriment of the patients.

“Accordingly, as early as the year 1140, King Ruggiero (Roger) of the Two Sicilies promulgated the law: ‘Whoever from this time forth desires to practise medicine must present himself before our officials and judges, and be subject to their decision. Anyone audacious enough to neglect this shall be punished by imprisonment and confiscation of goods. This decree has for its object the protection of the subjects of our kingdom from the dangers arising from the ignorance of practitioners.'” (Anonymous, 1911)

A century later, in 1240, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II extended and formalized this into law for the entire Holy Roman Empire. Because many countries were still in strife over secular rulers, resulting in the civil authorities being weak, the legal ordering of the practice of medicine was effectively taken up by the Church, and the authority for the issuance of licenses to practice was in the hands of the bishops of the neighborhood. (Anonymous, 1911) Because the Church and temporal rulers were male dominated, this law set the stage for the eventual elimination of women as rivals in the field of medicine. This was bloodily carried out over several centuries. As the “witch trials” of women who practiced medicine (as well as men who practiced chiropractic medicine) is well documented, we will now turn our attention away from the sciences and back to the question of women practicing in the visual arts.

BoccaccioIronically, the very qualities that were desired in a medieval period woman were those that the male artists and their patrons used to degrade female artists. Giovanni Boccaccio (1313 – 1375, right), a famous Italian painter and writer, stated that the ideal woman “must be gentle, modest, honest, dignified, elegant in speech, pious, generous in soul, chaste and skilled in household management.” All areas related to “femininity” were denigrated as not being “high art”.

This view is demonstrated by Adrianna Mena: “Up until the nineteenth century, when women were mentioned in art historical texts, it was a matter of exception. For example, in Vasari’s The Lives of the Most Prominent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, Sofonisba Anguissola is mentioned. However, Anguissola was the daughter of an Italian noble, and sometimes painted self-portraits showing her seated at a musical instrument accompanied by a chaperone, which removed the focus from her artistic ability to her social status and membership to the cultured elite. Her class position rendered her activity as an artist both possible and worthy of notice and comment, not her talent. In an earlier text by Boccacio, several women are mentioned, but he writes: ‘I thought these achievements worthy of some praise, for art is much alien to the mind of women, and these things cannot be accomplished without a great deal of talent which in women is usually very scarce.’ Clearly he holds no regard for these women’s talent, but only mentions them to emphasize their difference from the supposed average woman.” (Mena, 2005)

VessariIt seems that, as long as the artwork did not challenge the confines of what men determined as feminine or proper, then it was sanctioned. As far as the male artists and critics were concerned, if a woman could excel in larger works of art, then the men would have to work harder to prove that they were better or more gifted and more intelligent than women. Being an artistic genius was solely reserved as a male prerogative (Chadwick, 2007). Giorgio Vasari (1511 – 1574, right) was an Italian painter, writer, historian, and architect, who is famous today for his biographies of Italian artists. He proved Chadwick’s assertion by stating: “should women apply themselves too diligently, they risk appearing to ‘wrest from us the palm of supremacy’.” In essence, the prevailing belief was that females should remain “pregnant, barefoot and in the kitchen.”

During this era, most of the women who were allowed to perform art, on very limited subjects, were nuns. “Early Middle Ages art was initially restricted to the production of Pietistic painting (religious art) in the form of illuminated manuscripts, mosaics and fresco paintings in churches. Both monks and nuns were the main artists during the Middle Ages. The women who became nuns were responsible for many illuminated manuscripts.” (The Middle Ages Website, 2011)

EndeEnde of Spain (left) was one of the 10th -11th Century illuminators of Beatus Apocalypse of Gerona. Guda, Claricia, Diemud, and Harrade von Landsberg were 12th Century nuns and manuscript illuminators in Germany. (Many nuns were either anonymous or known only by their first names because nuns renounced all earthly values and possessions, even their born names.) Caterina dei Vigri (1413-1463) was skilled not only in painting, but in music and illumination. She became Abess of the Convent of the Poor Clares and was canonized; she is regarded as the patron saint of painters. Bourgot, while not a nun, was a 14th Century professional French illuminator, and she also produced some of the best miniatures of the period. Maria Ormani, a 15th Century Florentine nun of the Augustinian order, was quite prolific. There are many more women mentioned in connection with religious art during this period, but almost all were nuns.

de_Rossi 2Then it seemed society loosened up a little, but only for very small, limited productions. Properzia de’ Rossi (left) was born c.1490 in Bologna, Italy. She studied drawing under Marcantonio Raimondi. De’ Rossi was at first known for her complex miniature sculptures using an unorthodox medium of apricot, peach or cherry stones. In her thirties, she began to produce normal-sized sculptures like portrait busts, and these helped establish her reputation as a serious artist. She was also commissioned to decorate the altar of Santa Maria del Baraccano in Bologna, and she won a competition to produce marble sculpture for the church of San Pedro in Bologna. Suzanne de Court (c. 1600) was a French enameller; the daughter of Jean de Court, she learned the art of enameling from her father.

Toward the end of the Medieval Period, as both Martin Luther and then Henry VIII were challenging the power of the Catholic Church, a few women artists were allowed to study, primarily thanks to indulgent fathers who did not want their daughters to waste their talent. However, these non-clergy female artists were still very limited in many ways, even as their male counterparts soared to new heights of challenge and creativity.

During the Renaissance period, a period of great cultural change that spanned the period from the end of the 13th Century to about 1600 AD, the new linear perspective form of art developed. Because this new type of art required advanced mathematical skills, it was denied to women. At this time, although it would mean becoming more isolated, should a woman wish to continue her education and still paint, the convent remained one of her two options. It should be noted that many such options were not only denied to women, but restricted in the sense of being the domain of white, upper-class males. “Male privilege and male lines of property and succession were strongly valued.” (Chadwick, 2007)

There was a strong focus on men being able to paint the nude figure, a very difficult task to master as it required knowledge of anatomy and physiology. However, women were barred from studying the nude body. The repeating theme seems to be to “veil their eyes, act with modesty; to know everything is not in accord with chastity.” This attitude is magnified in the ultimate patriarchal religion, Islam. In accord with this attitude, women were only allowed to be educated to become “better wives and mothers, and more virtuous exemplars of the Christian ideals of chastity.” (Chadwick, 2007).

SofonisbaIt was then that Sofonisba Anguissola (1532 – 1625) entered onto the scene. She evidently chose to remain unmarried for a number of years, as it was impossible to reconcile an artistic career with the domestic life: a husband, children, and running a household. Thankfully, her father, Amilcare Anguissola, a minor noble and wealthy land owner, wanted both of his daughters to express their talents, and sought the support of professional tutors. Training for male painters meant at least four years in an artist’s workshop; Sofonisba was trained, with her sister Elena, by Bernardino Campi and Bernardino Gatti for at least three years, and perhaps more with Michelangelo. Still, she did not receive any training with nudes of any kind and was not able to do large-scale works of art. Again within the constraints of her era, she did many images of women.

Her artwork seems direct, her hands and facial expressions are precise and very lovely. Her painting “Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguissola” is wonderful, partly in that she restrains

Click!

herself and acknowledges “the role of a woman as an object of representation.” We see how she places her instructor looking directly at the viewer, while she, being painted, does not quite have eye contact with the viewer. Since she is an unmarried woman, she needs to maintain her modesty. In her paintings, there is always the qualities so valued in this society, and reflects the “Renaissance ideal of the artist as gentleman/woman rather than the artisan” (Chadwick, 2007).

Sofonisba Anguissola’s “Self-Portrait” shows a prim, proper woman playing the spinet, supervised by her chaperone. As an artist in a man’s domain, she brought forth the inner beauty of her subjects. She was a guest at the Spanish court for years. It is hard to imagine her remaining an insider to the royal family and having access to painting the female members with such a special relationship should she have been married, and expected to assume the responsibilities that marriage implies. Also, along with marriage, she would have lost a certain innocence. Being a wife, homemaker and mother is a full-time occupation; Anguissola would not have had the time to be creative, as opposed to a man who would not have to split his time and energy.

For a combination of reasons, one of the stronger woman artists of this era was Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 – 1652/1653). Partly it is because the Catholic Church was losing some of its power, but it was undoubtedly also partly due to the support of her father, Orazio, who seemed to me more interested in her expertise as an artist than his own. He worked in the Caravaggesque style, and passed this on to his daughter. She was expertly taught. Her theme was strong, heroic, sensuous women who triumphed via their virtue. Her first known painting, “Susanna and the Elders” (right), is controversial for several reasons. Some theories state that this was a father-daughter combination. The painting has Susanna in the nude, which women just did not do. Also, Susanna is not in a very graceful position, and is placed in the center of the viewer’s eye; all of this is new and “too masculine” for a woman to paint.

Then came the pivotal event in the life of Artemisia Gentileschi. While her father was encouraging her artistic education, he hired a private tutor for her by the name of Agostino Tassi. Tassi either seduced or raped her, and then went back on his word to marry her. At the heart of the matter was not the rape, but the violation of her father’s “property”, as women in the household were considered the chattel of the man at that time. To add insult to injury, she was forced to undergo a pelvic examination and was tortured by using thumbscrews during the trial to give “true” testimony. Certainly, after her very public trial, she had pretty much been exposed to the general public and did not have much if anything to hide or repress. Having no “modesty” left to lose, her paintings took on more of a vengeful nature. Rumors have it that she used the exposure of her rape to advance her career by painting such work as “Judith Decapitating Holofernes”, where Holofernes strongly resembled Tassi.

Giuditta_decapita_Oloferne

Artemisia Gentileschi decided that she would depict nudes at a time that women were not allowed to study nude figures, and Joachim van Sandart may have asserted that she covertly painted from live nude models (Bissell, 1999). Although she was only allowed to paint women from the Bible, she selected scenes that showed women who sought vengeance against men for vile acts. Her colors are extremely rich, and her characters are quite powerful. Her painting of “Judith Decapitating Holofernes (right)” shows a determined, strong, capable woman, along with her co-conspirator maidservant, both set with purposeful, direct action. This is a painting by a woman who had broken down all of her societal barriers, and she was now free to paint without restriction. The firm hold of Judith on her sword, the spray of the blood that shows the carotid was severed, implies that Gentileschi was resisting the conventions of being unable to study nudes or corpses. Furthermore, just the hint of red in Judith’s dress sleeve and also the one on her maidservant indicated that they were not afraid to have blood on their hands to do what they felt was right. It may be reading too much into the symbolism of this painting, but the fact that the sword is in the middle of the painting cutting off his head could also represent cutting off his penis, and therefore Gentileschi/Judith was emasculating the man who raped her, and perhaps those who would deny her anatomical studies.

Artemisia_GentileschiViewing her “Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting” (left), it is almost as if Gentileschi were thumbing her nose at the male artists and critics to say: “Deny me the males-only club of learning from nudes; I will still show you a true artist in action”. She seems to be completely absorbed in work, the light is on her skin, illuminating her, her hair is disheveled, and yet she is feminine with her gold chain around her neck and her graceful dress swirling about her. She might well have said: “I grant I am a woman, but withal a woman well reputed, Orazio’s daughter”, to paraphrase Portia in “Julius Caesar”. Gentileschi is completely fearless, and frank in her actions.

Gentileschi broke the bounds of the last hurdle that women had to get over by being the first Italian woman able to paint general historical scenes, perhaps because those required many human figures in the work, and nudes in particular. Following her example, Angelica Kauffmann (1741 – 1807), although very shy, challenged the Royal Academicians for their monopoly over historical paintings. Her work, “Zeuxis Selecting Models for His Picture of Helen of Troy” (below), reflects a subdued and graceful art. She was a very hard worker, and she was famous and beloved by the people. She was extremely well-known for her designs in china service, engravings, wall paintings, and portraits. But her love was for historical paintings.

Angelica Kauffmann: Zeuxis Selecting Models for his Picture of Helen of Troy c1778:

While Kauffmann was attempting to pierce the world of male historical painters, she was accused of being unable to have full-bodied work, due to her inability to paint nudes. Of course, this training was denied to her. Consequently, she strove to capture moral content and noble movements in her historical scenes. When viewing “The Beautiful Rhodope in Love with Aesop”, it certainly appears that Kauffmann’s male figures are more effeminate, rather than strongly masculine. But her colors are extremely rich, and the hands and feet are accurate. Her work displays a tenderness and relaxed mood to it. During this era, it seemed as if the critics were looking for more severe, action packed, forceful arenas of history. Not being privy to the same privileges as men, she just had a different style of painting history.

“The Family of the Earl of Gower” is representative of Kauffmann’s neoclassical style. This picture is again very subdued, a calm moment in a family, which is quite restrained. While she may have found it very hard to overcome the restrictions of her sex in regards to painting historical scenes, Kaufmann led the way for female artists after herself. “In 1769, Angelica Kauffman (right) Angelica Kauffmann by Angelica Kauffmann.jpgand Mary Moser helped found the British Royal Academy. After Kauffman and Moser, no woman was allowed membership in the British Royal Academy itself until Annie Louise Swynnerton became an Associate Member in 1922 and Laura Knight was elected to full membership in 1936.” (Mena, 2005) In spite of the leadership and determination shown by Kauffman and Moser, it seems the men were still determined to be sexist in regard to talent. “So long as a woman remains from unsexing herself, let her dabble in anything. The woman of genius does not exist. When she does, she is a man.” (Anonymous, 19th Century art commentator)

While all artists had to traverse obstacles placed in their way by the Church, females had to overcome the male-centric artistic society, and society as a whole. The restrictions placed on women by a limited education was bad enough, but they were still not overtly able to see anything that might further encourage their minds either technically or creatively. Even if a woman was lucky enough to be born of nobility or to a family with money, she could still be excluded from studying and practicing serious art. Other than a few indulgent fathers, the men acted like they were protecting the females in their lives, while actually asserting their dominance.

Where women were concerned, the Middle Ages were truly the “dark ages”. Fortunately, today the patriarchal Christian Church has lost most of its power, and women have regained much of their independence-at least, in the non-Islamic world. They can study any subject they wish. They can enjoy both a family and a profession. They can be both strong and successful and still maintain their femininity. And, if they have the talent, they can also be great artists or scientists.
I would like to give credit to my sister, Ursula Funk, who helped with the research and writing.

A Monotheistic View of the Roles of Women

February 17, 2016

 

Part I of 2

During the untold centuries that polytheism held sway, women and men were essentially equal. Because the population was small and survival was difficult, most cultures accepted the fact that every person in the group had to do whatever work they were capable of to help the clan or tribe stay alive, and perhaps even grow. Those societies often pursued agriculture and animal husbandry as primary food production activities, rather than strictly being nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes.  huntress   While women were occasionally members of a hunting party, they were certainly intrinsic to growing crops and herding animals. Healing the sick and creating art for various purposes were also important tasks, and women either shared or led in both of those endeavors. Religion was certainly very important to primitive humans, and women were also leaders in that facet of life. What changed that balance, and when did it happen? There are a number of factors that diminished the roles of women in society, especially in the arts and sciences, but the primary catalyst was a major shift in religion, from polytheism to a male-dominated monotheism.

As early as the Upper Paleolithic era, some 250,000 years ago, various tools and iconography demonstrate primitive religions existed, and possibly existed up to 250,000 years before that (Campbell, 1988; Gimbutas, 1991; and Jelínek, 1975). Women served vital roles. In addition to sharing equally in the daily work, goddesses were more predominant than gods (both earth goddess/fertility symbols as well as those serving other purposes), and priestesses were just as prevalent as priests. Although no one can ever know, it is presumed that the artwork found in caves and other places depicting various aspects of the lives of early humans could have been created by women as well as men. What is known is that women were the primary healers of the clan.

Throughout various ancient cultures, medical practices were limited to prayers and incantations, and a basic use of plant materials. priestessA large number of diverse cultures, such as the Amazon and Ona of South America, the civilizations of ancient Crete and Eastern Europe, and the oldest of cultures from Sumer, have myths or artifacts from a very early time showing that women were the primary keepers of the healing and magical arts.
(Gimbutas & Campbell, 2001)

The medieval period is generally regarded as beginning in Byzantium during the very early stages of the Eastern Roman Empire, and lasting for more than a thousand years (approximately 3rd Century AD to the 15th Century). Between conquest and forming alliances, the Romans brought the new religion of Christianity to the Byzantine Empire, as well as to more far-flung areas of Europe as the Germanic and Nordic countries, and as far west as the Celtic tribes in the British Isles.

In the very beginning of the medieval period, there was still some equal footing between the sexes since the lives of ordinary Roman men and women revolved around work. Because the “sensibility” of Christian views regarding nudity had not yet impacted society, works of art, both statues and paintings, featured nudes prominently. While marriage was still pretty much expected of women and at the whims of men, women could choose to live alone and work at some sort of profession. Because of the harsh demands of life, women were seen as partners, and strength and intelligence were valued qualities in both sexes. Although their services were unofficial, women were still accepted as healers and were the primary care givers. In addition, medical research was still progressing, as healers had the ability to study the human body regarding diseases and cures. Finally, women were not mere observers of history; they made it, and presumably were allowed to paint it. However, few artists “signed” their work before the Renaissance period, especially woman, so it is difficult to know when they deserved credit for various works.

However, these early medieval values changed quickly. The perception of the qualities valued in women altered to reflect this new role of the weak, submissive, unintelligent, second-class citizen. The desirable qualities in a woman during the medieval period were such “feminine qualities” as tenderness, sweetness, beauty, chastity, purity, obedience, etc. As the qualities changed, so did their roles in society. Women were barred from the trade guilds, and could only participate in education that would be helpful in their new household once they had married. To see how these changes impacted their roles, we will first explore some of their losses in the healing arts. Later, we will look at how the monotheistic society diminished the visual arts.

“Women have always been healers. They were the unlicensed doctors and anatomists of western history. They were abortionists, nurses and counsellors. healerThey were pharmacists, cultivating healing herbs and exchanging the secrets of their uses. They were midwives, travelling from home to home and village to village. For centuries women were doctors without degrees, barred from books and lectures, learning from each other, and passing on experience from neighbor to neighbor and mother to daughter. They were called “wise women” by the people, witches or charlatans by the authorities. Medicine is part of our heritage as women, our history, our birthright.” (Ehrenreich and English; 1998-2011)

Naturalistic, non-scientific medicine started early in Egypt and Mesopotamia (perhaps around 2500 BC) and, in the west, with Hippocrates (5th Century BC). Both Greece and Rome had “schools” of medicine, and Rome established hospitals for its soldiers. “Deriving knowledge from the medical treatises and methods of the Greeks, the Etruscans, the Egyptians, the Persians and other conquered peoples, the Romans came up with one of the best and most sophisticated medical systems of the ancient world. The science of medicine and the human body was evolving. Ancient Roman medicine was a combination of physical techniques using various tools and holistic medicine using rituals and religious belief systems.” (Prioreschi, 1991)

Due to the military societies of both of those powerful cultures, the roles of women began to diminish in general. However, the decreasing role caused by large, organized military forces was not as important to women as the “God-man” diminishment in their power to pursue the arts and sciences, much more so in medicine than in art. After all, this coincided with an abrupt halt to virtually all medical research in the Roman Empire, which did not change until the 16th Century: “It is commonly agreed that scientific medicine started with Vesalius (1514-1564)” (Prioreschi, 1991). What happened during that period that caused such a lapse in the advancement of medicine? And why was it suddenly jump-started once again?

anatomy“For eight long centuries, from the fifth to the thirteenth, the other-worldly, anti-medical stance of the Church had stood in the way of the development of medicine as a respectable profession. Then, in the 13th century, there was a revival of learning, touched off by contact with the Arab world. Medical schools appeared in the universities, and more and more young men of means sought medical training. The church imposed strict controls on the new profession, and allowed it to develop only within the terms set by Catholic doctrine. University-trained physicians were not permitted to practice without calling in a priest to aid and advise them, or to treat a patient who refused confession. By the fourteenth century their practice was in demand among the wealthy, as long as they continued to take pains to show that their attentions to the body did not jeopardize the soul. In fact, accounts of their medical training make it seem more likely that they jeopardized the body.” (Ehrenreich and English; 1998-2011)

In the 5th Century, the entire Roman Empire was in political and religious upheaval. Emperors rose to power and were deposed or killed within a year, and the three primary religions-paganism, Judaism and Christianity-vied in equally bloody battles for supremacy. Then in the 6th Century AD, the Emperor Constantine sought to reunite the empire. He embraced Christianity-an offshoot of the highly patriarchal Jewish religion-while incorporating many of the accepted pagan traditions.

Upon Constantine’s death, the Roman Empire degenerated once more into the many warring factions he had briefly reunited. While that highly militaristic version of the Empire may have fallen, it gave birth to a new Phoenix: the Holy Roman Empire, which gradually regained most of all the old territory, but was now controlled by religion and supported by the still powerful military force, in combination driving the new kingdom of heaven.

However, even as the Christian religion was overcoming both paganism and Judaism as the primary monotheism, a new religion was rising in the east that would soon challenge it for the loyalty of the faithful, and utterly establish the patriarchal society to the complete subjugation of women. Muhammad ibn Abdullah, born in 570 AD in the Arabian city of Mecca, began preaching his new religion at around the age of forty-three. The Qur’an gives credit to all of the Jewish patriarchs/prophets (including Jesus) as inspiring Muhammad to found Islam, an ultra-fundamentalist, ultra-patriarchal religion that took on many of the conservative tenets of Judaism. In the 6th and 7th centuries, Muslim armies conquered the Sassanid (Persian) Empire and most of the Byzantine territories, or Eastern Roman Empire. In the former Eastern Empire, women no longer had any societal positions.

As the Catholic Church became dominant in the west throughout the dying days of the Roman Empire, the patriarchal culture also subsumed all equality, and women’s roles became very limited. Mary was elevated to an ethereal saint, Magdalena was portrayed as a repentant whore, and all women (other than a few of the nobility who wielded power indirectly) became subservient to males. Where early medieval art had celebrated both sexes and allowed for many temporal works, later western art became virtually dedicated to a celebration of religious motifs with male-dominated scenes, showing women only in weak or corrupting roles (especially Eve).

 
One means of controlling females was to formally restrict education. While certain teachers (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, et alia) had conducted “classes”, thessocratese were primarily for small groups of children of the wealthy and politically powerful families. While boys gathered most of the benefit of these famous educators, many wealthy families also had their daughters receive instruction. Virtually the only formal centers of education up until this time were the churches, whether that meant the temples of various gods or goddesses, the newer Jewish temple classes, or the informal “churches” (the gatherings of believers) that were springing up under Christianity. However, eventually the abbacies were not available for women to go to for an education, and the abbots were placed in charge. No more training was given to women in the sciences (especially medicine) or the arts, and even nuns became very second-class clergy. When the Catholic Church began to yield under the pressure of a demand for the advanced medical treatments of the Arab physicians, it still ensured that women were even more excluded from acquiring such knowledge.

doctors“At this time, the role of women as healers was threatened as a result of two roughly parallel developments. The first was the evolution of European universities and their professional schools that, for the most part, systematically excluded women as students, thereby creating a legal male domination of the practice of medicine. Ineligible as healers, women waged a lengthy battle to maintain their right to care for the sick and injured. The second development was the campaign – promoted by the Church and supported by both clerical and civil authorities – to brand women healers as witches. The Church may have perceived these women, with their special, often esoteric healing skills, as a threat to its supremacy in the lives of its parishioners. The result was the persecution of unknown numbers of mostly peasant women.” (Minkowski, 1992)

When the Roman Empire fell and various monarchs battled to gain control across Europe, the Catholic Church was the only unified force. In these turbulent times, one hand washed the other: the Vatican assured the masses that the monarchs ruled “by divine will” (no matter how often the crown changed hands …), and the monarchs ensured the wealth and supremacy of the Vatican. The power of the Church was so great during this period that even kings dared not defy the Vatican on “peril of their mortal souls”. Thus, the entire male structure-political and religious-used every means at their disposal to keep the women under their heavy thumbs. Perhaps thus policy helped to mollify the masses of men, who were subject to every whim of the nobility and the clergy, by giving them a clear superiority over women. This especially went for any woman who dared to challenge a profession set aside for men, and most especially medicine.

One of the shining exceptions was Hildegard von Bingen (c. 1098 – 1179), who was a prolific writer, composer, philosopher, and poly-mathematician. While her contemporary, Ende of Spain, stuck to illustrations and did not rise above the rank of nun, Von Bingen rose high in Catholic ranks. She wrote a text on the natural sciences, Physica, as well as Causae et Curae. “She was well known for her healing powers involving practical application of tinctures, herbs, and precious stones. In both texts, Hildegard describes the natural world around her, including the cosmos, animals, plants, stones, and minerals. She combined these elements with a theological notion ultimately derived from Genesis: all things put on earth are for the use of humans. She is particularly interested in the healing properties of plants, animals, and stones, though she also questions God’s effect on man’s health.” (Wikipedia, 2011) Why was von Bingen allowed to create such diverse works, and not be prosecuted as a witch? Partly because she did not openly practice medicine, but rather studied it much as a research scientist might. Primarily, however, it is because she was a famous Christian mystic, a visionary who was later canonized as a saint. A German Benedictine abbess, she founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and Eibingen in 1165.

As an important member of the Church, one who worked well within the confines of Catholic dogma, von Bingen was honored by the Vatican. For women who were not within the boundaries of a nunnery, however, such work would have been a totally different matter.

“The establishment of medicine as a profession, requiring university training, made it easy to bar women legally from practice. With few exceptions, the universities were closed to women (even to upper class women who could afford them), and licensing laws were established to prohibit all but university-trained doctors from practice. It was impossible to enforce the licensing laws consistently since there was only a handful of university-trained doctors compared to the great mass of lay healers. But the laws could be used selectively. Their first target was not the peasant healer, but the better off, literate woman healer who competed for the same urban clientele as that of the university-trained doctors.

“Take, for example, the case of Jacoba Felicie, brought to trial in 1322 by the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Paris, on charges of illegal practice. Jacoba was literate and had received some unspecified “special training” in medicine. That her patients were well off is evident from the fact that (as they testified in court) they had consulted well-known university-trained physicians before turning to her. The primary accusations brought against her were that she would cure her patient of internal illness and wounds or of external abscesses. She would visit the sick assiduously and continue to examine the urine in the manner of physicians, feel the pulse, and touch the body and limbs.” (Ehrenreich and English; 1998-2011)

Six witnesses affirmed that Felicie had cured them, even after numerous doctors had given up, and one patient declared that she was wiser in the art of surgery and medicine than any master physician or surgeon in Paris. Regardless, Felicie was barred from practicing medicine on peril of imprisonment or her life. (Ehrenreich and English; 1998-2011)

A much more controversial figure is Trotula de Ruggiero. The Schola Medica Solernitana, or Salerno School of Medicine, was a famous combination of medical knowledge and treatment gathered from throughout the known world, and it flourished between the 10th and 13th centuries. It is believed that Trotula de Ruggerio lived sometime in the 11th or 13th century, and that she occupied the chair of medicine at the School of Salerno. Some scholars dispute that de Ruggerio was a woman, or that such a person even existed. Even though the school was established from the dispensary of a monastery founded in the 9th Century and remained a close collaboration between the clergy and secular physicians, it is rumored that many women were trained as physicians and some became professors of medicine (Bois, 1996). In that age, and in that setting, such an occurrence would have indeed been miraculous.trotula

The story has it that de Ruggerio was the author of many medical works, the most notable being Passionibus Mulierum Curandorum (The Diseases of Women), also known as Trotula Major. She allegedly wrote it to educate male physicians about the female body. The book comprises sixty-three chapters and gives information about menses, conception, pregnancy, and childbirth, as well as general diseases and their treatments. As the Church forbade direct study of the human body, it is quite reasonable that such knowledge could have come from a woman, although the information might also have come from the Arab, Greek, or other foreign physicians who flocked to Solerno and taught in their native languages. Another influential book, De Aegritudinum Curatione, is credited to Trotula de Ruggerio.

Tomorrow: Part 2

I would like to give credit to my sister, Ursula Funk, who helped with the research.

Part 3: “Romeo and Juliet” as a Warning to Elizabeth.

January 26, 2016

The last part to my essay explaining why Shakespeare may have had a much deeper message for Queen Elizabeth concerning her rule over her Catholic and Protestant subjects than writing a simple play about love and death.

A Couple of Other References from the Play


Although this is somewhat of a non-sequitur for this essay, it is not surprising to me that in his poem “Queen Mab”, Percy Bysshe Shelley channels the wild, chaotic sense of independence of Mercutio in his famous speech to Romeo. I think Shelley picked up on many of the religious questions in Mercutio’s speech and used them as a springboard for his atheistic arguments. Needless to say, I do not think Shakespeare was being any worse than a trifle irreligious, as he was criticizing the (to him) senseless battle between the two Christian sects, and not Christianity itself.

Then, the play essentially ends with these lines from the prince:

“And I for winking at your discords too
Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punish’d.”

As a writer, I wonder why the prince also lost a couple of kinsmen. As a moral tale for the reason stated in his prologue, it would seem that Mercutio might better have been related to Romeo, say his brother or first cousin, than the prince, because it would have been more of a family tragedy if all of the deaths had been to members of the family. For that matter, if Paris had to die to heighten the dramatic irony, he could have been a cousin to Juliet, as those marriages were quite common in that society. Such relationships would have heightened the grievous loss to the families as a result of their ridiculous feud. For me, it adds no dramatic tension that the prince lost relatives as a result of a limited feud between two families, no matter how rich and powerful they were in his city.

However, as a political statement, it makes perfect sense to me. Rather than being limited to the proverbial “others”, the ruler of this little fiefdom suffers personal loss from the violent bickering going on under his jurisdiction and control. As I understand this play, this message is a direct appeal to Elizabeth to stop the persecution and bloodshed amongst her subjects and her own “relatives”, whether or not those were actual blood relatives. As the prince says, all are being punished.

Juliet’s Famous Line

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.” (Act II, scene 2)

A wonderful pun, I believe. There are many metaphors he could have used, but I think Shakespeare is referring back to the War of the Roses, the White Rose of York and the Red Rose of Lancaster. When the followers of Mary of Scots rebelled against Elizabeth, they wore a red cross, while the Protestant followers of Elizabeth wore a white cross. Later, the Tudor rose was combined with a red outer rose and a white inner one.


Juliet is, of course, asking why Romeo had to have been born a Montague, as they were at odds with the Capulets. She may as well have been asking why he had been born, say, a Catholic instead of a Protestant, as both were good Christian faiths, and as sweet as any other religion.

A Note on Sonnet 29

There have been many interpretations of this poem. I will also speculate on its meaning, more as a writer than as a scholar.

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee-and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Sonnet 29 is a member of the “Fair Youth” sequence, in which the poet supposedly expresses his love towards a young man. This is one of the poems that led some scholars to believe Shakespeare was homosexual, or that someone else wrote the poems. However, I don’t even necessarily believe the poem alludes to anyone other than the author himself. Yes, the ending definitely sounds like a love poem, but why those specific analogies? The use of the pronoun “one” in the line “wishing me like to one more rich in hope” could simply be a use of the generic, especially given the line “desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope”, which would imply that the author is simply regretting his own circumstances and wishing he could have the best traits of certain other people.

There exists an interpretation that Shakespeare was despondent after having recently been severely criticized for his work by fellow playwright Robert Greene, and that would seem to make a lot more sense to me than homosexuality. However, I get a different reading given all of the other evidence I have presented in this essay.

A poet always writes from his/her own background and experiences, and often uses thoughts and observances from their past as metaphors for other things. I do not know enough about William Shakespeare’s early life to clearly evaluate why he is “in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,” nor has fallen into an “outcast state”. Perhaps it is because he had been forced to leave school and seek his fortune without the aid of a father who was fairly wealthy and influential. Or is he actually alluding to John, whom he may have perceived as despairing about having fallen totally out of favor in Elizabethan society because he would not renounce his papist beliefs?

In my mind, the fact that someone’s love is a tonic to the writer is quite secondary in this poem to the despair that is much more completely described. The phrase “then I scorn to change my state with kings” was certainly common enough, especially in a society under a monarchy, to simply be a descriptive metaphor for personal values. However, it may actually have been a direct allusion to the Queen, claiming that the Crown could not heap such disgrace and poverty on Shakespeare as to make him lose all pride and sense of inner worth. In either case, there is a definite sense of “rising above” the adversity caused by having somehow become a societal outcast that would be consistent with resentment at how Elizabeth treated devout Catholics.

Conclusion

In the first place, Romeo and Juliet is not a simple love story, even if read as a piece of literature rather than a political statement. The main topic is actually uncontrolled passions, as the hatred expressed in the play is equally as violent as the love portrayed. The choices that are made by all of the characters — certainly not least by the nurse and the friar — lead to the inevitable deaths of the two young lovers. As in life, not everyone can control the fate of a nation, but each person has control over their own choices to act or not to act, to do good or to do evil. Religious persecution cannot exist without the masses condoning and even participating in the emotional and physical actions of persecution, or, as on the part of many of the Catholics, the attempts to overthrow or assassinate Elizabeth. When seen in the context of the historical and political realities of Elizabethan England, Romeo and Juliet is a true masterpiece of subtle messages.

Part 2: Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”: A Warning to Elizabeth?

January 16, 2016

Part 2 of my article on why Shakespeare may have had a much deeper message in this play than the perils of love.

Presentation1

Prologues in Shakespeare

As a writer, I wonder why Shakespeare wrote a prologue to Romeo and Juliet. This is not an historical drama, where the audience would need to understand the history of the play to better understand the current action. If taken as a love story, it is certainly not so subtle that the message would not come through without a prior explanation. So one asks: Is this just a normal device that Shakespeare uses in his plays?

None of Shakespeare’s comedies has a prologue, an actual introduction. Taming of the Shrew has an “Induction”, which is two short scenes that precede the actual play, but are set in a lord’s house to set up the play; I have never seen them actually performed. Of the histories, Henry IV, Part II also has an induction, which is a short speech that sort of bridges the gap from Part I. Henry V has a prologue, which is primarily to set up the historical aspects of the play, which in and of itself acts as an introduction to Henry VI. The prologue to Henry VI essentially says the play is going to be very sad, and if a person bought a ticket expecting to watch some sort of comedy, they are going to be very disappointed. Frankly, I’m not sure why Shakespeare bothered with such a prologue, although I have not tried to analyze it as I did with the prologue of Romeo and Juliet. Pericles, Prince of Tyre has a prologue that explains the background of the play so that the audience can understand the current action. The play begins where the prologue leaves us; it does not simply repeat the plot and message of the play, as does Romeo and Juliet. Likewise with Troilus and Cressida.

Frankly, I would have thought that Othello, the Moor of Venice might have done with a prologue, as Shakespeare was also sending a strong political message. This has already been discussed by many scholars, and a posting by AIWASS documents this information (his footnotes are noted, but not included):

In 1596, Queen Elizabeth issued an “open letter” to the Lord Mayor of London, announcing that “there are of late divers blackmoores brought into this realme, of which kinde of people there are allready here to manie,” and ordering that they be deported from the country. (1) One week later, she reiterated her “good pleasure to have those kinde of people sent out of the lande” and commissioned the merchant Casper van Senden to “take up” certain “blackamoores here in this realme and to transport them into Spaine and Portugall.” (2) Finally, in 1601, she complained again about the “great numbers of Negars and Blackamoors which (as she is informed) are crept into this realm,” defamed them as “infidels, having no understanding of Christ or his Gospel,” and, one last time, authorized their deportation. (3)

Othello, the Moor of Venice is believed to have been written in approximately 1603, based on the Italian short story “A Moorish Captain” by Cinthio, first published in 1565. In the opening scene, Iago and Roderigo describe Othello by using racist insults, and Iago invariably refers to Othello as “the Moor”, constantly reducing him to a racial stereotype. Their hatred of him is entirely based on racial prejudice. Yet when Othello actually appears, he is sympathetically portrayed as an articulate, intelligent and introspective human being. His downfall comes from the typical human frailties of trusting his friends too much, being too jealous of his beautiful wife, and acting before learning all of the facts. It has nothing to do with the fact that he is a Moor. It seems clear that Shakespeare has decided, once again, to thinly disguise his thoughts about Elizabeth’s opinions and policies behind the curtains of a play.

Romeo and Juliet

Of all the comedies or tragedies, only Romeo and Juliet has a prologue and epilogue (the latter often delivered by the Prince), both of which directly repeat the message of the play. Thanks to the prologue, the ending is definitely anti-climactic. Why does Shakespeare detract from this dramatic conclusion by giving it away in a prologue that serves no other purpose than to tell us both the ending and the message of that ending? He is not that bad of a writer. Is that a slip, or was Shakespeare trying to implicitly convey his message to Elizabeth without offending her as his contemporaries had done?

Act I Prologue

Two households, both alike in dignity,

In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes

A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;

Whole misadventured piteous overthrows

Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.

The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,

And the continuance of their parents’ rage,

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes

A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;

Whole misadventured piteous overthrows

Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.

The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,

And the continuance of their parents’ rage,

Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,

Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;

The which if you with patient ears attend,

What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

First, it is interesting that nowhere in the play, especially this prologue, does Shakespeare give the cause of this feud. He leaves it to the imagination of the audience to think of some deed that might have been terrible enough to have caused such intense hatred and on-the-spot bloodshed to occur over a prolonged period of time. This is not particularly significant, but most literature tries to provide some sort of background for the action so that the reader/audience can have a better understanding of the action.

The “ancient grudge that breaks to new mutiny” may well refer to the Wars of the Roses being reprised in the new battle, in this case not only for succession, but for the conflict over religions. I think Shakespeare, although ostensibly a Catholic, showed many times in his plays that he was very tolerant of religion, race, and even the equality of the sexes (I am writing a play that discusses feminism in many of Shakespeare’s plays), and may have really wondered why there had to be a dominance of one over the other (“Two households, both alike in dignity”), especially as they both represented Christianity.

The line, “Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean,” is certainly a clever pun, but I believe it is also a direct reference to the civil wars of the past and present. The people of England, and especially the aristocracy, should be civil towards each other, but instead they are soiling their hands with the blood of their countrymen, neighbors, friends, and even relatives. The play opens with the servants of Lord Capulet discussing the feud, and immediately leads to a physical confrontation. Sampson states that “A dog of the house of Montague moves me,” meaning he gets angry at the Montagues even if he only sees one of their dogs, and he and Gregory prove that by deliberately insulting servants of the Montague household in order to provoke a fight, which is quickly joined by everyone in those clans right up to Lords Montague and Capulet. No one in the city-or country-is exempt from the impacts of the feud.

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes

A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;

Whole misadventured piteous overthrows

Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.

The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,

And the continuance of their parents’ rage,

Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove

While Shakespeare may be referring to Mary and Elizabeth, I think he is more probably including the churches themselves, with those two Queens representing the parent figures of the warring churches within England. The children of England are definitely “star-cross’d”, because they have no control over which household they are born into, nor over the political infighting going on at the top levels. How many deaths will it take until England sees the folly of this conflict, and Elizabeth stops “winking” at the efforts of many of her lords to eradicate the offending Catholics? Elizabeth enjoyed a great general popularity, especially during the early days of her reign, and Shakespeare may have been urging her to put aside this persecution of those she believed were “mutinous” and end the rage. (After all, most of the actual treason was being fomented from outside of England’s borders.) In many ways, civil war is a form of suicide, in that the country is killing itself, and the most innocent victims are usually the young.

Act II, Scene iii

Shakespeare loves long soliloquies, but those usually deal with character exploration and/or the message of the play. The following soliloquy by Friar Lawrence, which is all about the diverse nature of plants, seems to be a non-sequitur. Yes, it introduces a special potion by which Juliet can be put into a “seeming death”, but it would seem to me that Shakespeare could have approached it much differently if that was his sole aim. For example, the friar could have been sitting at a bench stirring up a potion, and the speech could have been much shorter. The focus really should have been on his skills as an apothecary (which he was not, so why not send Juliet to one, as Romeo needed to visit one later for a simple poison?) in that he was able to concoct such a complicated potion, not on the virtues or vices of these various plants.

On the other hand, if we read this passage as a complicated, very clever metaphor rather than actually being about plants, we do indeed find a soliloquy dealing with the true message of the play. Once we get past the time of day, we find these lines:

The earth that’s nature’s mother is her tomb;

What is her burying grave that is her womb,

And from her womb children of divers kind

We sucking on her natural bosom find,

Many for many virtues excellent,

None but for some and yet all different.

The first two lines describe the fact that the earth gives birth to life, and yet all things return to the earth on their death. The Catholic faith also embraces this view, calling itself the “mother church” with all people being her children. The Church of England also retained this view, still calling its religious leaders “father”, “mother”, “brother” and “sister”. In this metaphor the “children” represent plants, yet could easily also mean real children. Those children are extremely diverse, some have excellent virtues, and all are good for something, although all are quite different. Perhaps all churches, all faiths, also have their virtues which they offer their followers.

O, mickle is the powerful grace that lies

In herbs, plants, stones, and their true qualities:

For nought so vile that on the earth doth live

But to the earth some special good doth give

This works well to describe many plants, although we have certainly not found uses for even the majority of plants. However, it is probably true that there are no humans — or not many — so vile that they cannot in some way contribute to the good of mankind. No matter what religion a citizen of England may embrace, I believe Shakespeare was saying that they could still be loyal and useful to England.

Nor aught so good but strain’d from that fair use

Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse:

Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied;

And vice sometimes by action dignified

If plants have the capacity for both good and evil uses, then how can they be judged to “revolt from true birth”? Is Shakespeare implying that there is an inherent good or evil to plants? However, if we look at this as the intent of religion, then we can certainly understand that the good intents, being “strain’d from that fair use”, truly does revolt from its original intent, and more than stumbles “on abuse”. The purpose of religion should be to comfort and unite people, not to incite them to violence against others simply because they do not share the same beliefs. Yet many churches have indeed dignified despicable vices in the excuse that they were attempting to bring the “true religion to all people.

Within the infant rind of this small flower

Poison hath residence and medicine power:

For this, being smelt, with that part cheers each part;

Being tasted, slays all senses with the heart.

Two such opposed kings encamp them still

In man as well as herbs, grace and rude will;

And where the worser is predominant,

Full soon the canker death eats up that plant.

Again, I believe the “flower” is religion, which holds the capacity to be used for great ill or for great good. If one smells it delicately, treating it as a delicious bouquet, it can enrich society. If one ingests it, gorges on it, then it does indeed slay “all senses with the heart”. That is what can lead to such extremes as the Inquisition and conversion by torture, to blanket condemnation of anyone who worships in the least differently, even if they are worshipping the same god and the same savior! In England, religious zealotry had already led to great persecution, and Shakespeare was afraid that, if unchecked, it could become a religious pogrom.

While “Two such opposed kings encamp them still” is typical Shakespearean metaphor, it is interesting to note that the literal allusion is to two opposing monarchs at war. The abstract allusion is to the great opposing forces that war within both these supposed plants and all humans, that of “grace and rude will”, or good and evil. Although all people must choose which will rule them, Elizabeth has the choice of which will eventually take precedence in the country. If she allows hatred and persecution to rule, the country will be shortly devoured by its self-generated cancer.

To come: Part 3, the conclusion

Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”: A Warning to Elizabeth?

January 9, 2016

For most readers, “Romeo and Juliet” is a lesson to overly-passionate lovers. But Shakespeare may have had a much deeper message for Queen Elizabeth concerning her rule over her Catholic and Protestant subjects.

Cover  Part one of a three-part article

For writers of real literature there are two inalienable truths. First, a writer wants to get out a certain message, which they hope the predominance of readers will either believe or at least consider. Second, the writer must write about what he or she knows. This usually means borrowing from their own background and personal experiences, although a writer may do a tremendous amount of research to make a story believable.

This essay is an attempt to explore the motivation behind William Shakespeare writing Romeo and Juliet. Yes, he was the resident playwright for The Globe and its players, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (called the King’s Men after the ascension of James I in 1603), so he was charged with producing manuscripts. Believed to be written between 1591 and 1595, Romeo and Juliet was one of Shakespeare’s first plays. Perhaps because he was still young and fiery, it is clear he had certain messages in mind when he took earlier works (the poem “The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet” by Arthur Brooke in 1562, based on one of the stories in Matteo Bandello’s Novelle, (Zakharov and Gaydin, 2008) and later as a story in Palace of Pleasure by William Painter in 1582, all of which were based on the Greek tale of Pyramus and Thisbe) as his basic story and revamped it completely.

The Thesis

When Elizabeth I came to power, England was still suffering from the aftershocks of the War of the Roses. Like her father, Henry VIII, who had been forced to deal with a long and bloody civil war not of his making, Elizabeth found herself inheriting a new civil conflict that Henry had created. This one was also partly due to a question of succession, but was greatly complicated by a “holy war” between the traditional Catholic Church and the upstart Protestant sects. Throughout Elizabeth’s reign, this uncivil infighting was perhaps less bloody, but much more pervasive as to a “witch hunt” type of persecution of Catholics who refused to convert to the new religion of the realm.

According to many scholars, one of those stubborn Catholics was John Shakespeare. A self-made man, John lost virtually all of his position and fortune during the latter period of his life. His son, William, also suffered personally from Elizabeth’s anti-Catholic policies. When he later became a famous and very wealthy member of the entertainment community in London, William was in a position where he could use his intellect and his access to the public to voice many of his social and political thoughts.

However, as Elizabeth could easily decide to imprison or execute anyone who voiced their opposing viewpoints too loudly and too directly (and did exercise that power on many occasions), William was intelligent enough to mask most of his opinions behind the thin curtain of the stage. In his “Response to Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel”, E.A.J. Honigmann points out that “Shakespeare’s two greatest rivals, (Christopher) Marlowe and (Ben) Jonson, both were Catholics with underground contacts, and both experienced interrogation and imprisonment — and in Marlowe’s case probably murder.”

Because of Shakespeare’s background, I believe that Romeo and Juliet was a veiled warning to Elizabeth of the dangers and evils of continuing this policy of allowing persecution of her own citizens to go on in her name merely because of a difference in the way people chose to worship Christ. This was a rather silly feud, and if Elizabeth did not end this civil strife in some way that would show that all of her subjects were truly one nation, then all would be “punish’d”. Needless to say, this is all speculation, but I hope that historical evidence and some clear interpretation of his work may lend it some credence.

A Little History of the Church of England

In his article “Martin Luther in the England of King Henry VIII”, Charleston C. K. Wang tells us that, “From 1515 to 1520, Martin Luther, a German who was a Catholic priest, published three works that attacked the Catholic church, and the pope in particular. He and his followers broke away from the church and started the protestant religions.”

Henry VIII was raised a sincere Catholic and even authored a book strongly criticizing Luther (ibid), but he later found it expedient and profitable to break with the Papacy. The separation of the Church of England from Rome began under Henry in 1529 and was completed in 1536. It was driven initially by both his lust and certain political necessities.

England had gone through the Wars of the Roses between 1455 and 1485, a conflict between rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: Lancaster and York, whose heraldic symbols were the “red” and the “white” rose, respectively (Gormley, 2010). As his wife, Catherine of Aragon, bore him only a single living child, Mary, Henry feared that his lack of a male heir might jeopardize his descendants’ claim to the throne. Henry wanted an annulment in order to remarry with a younger woman. However, Pope Clement VII denied his request, so Henry decided to remove England from the authority of Rome. In 1534, the Act of Supremacy made Henry the Supreme Head of the Church of England, which was Protestant. Between 1535 and 1540, under Thomas Cromwell, the policy known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries was put into effect. Many Catholic icons and ceremonies were banned. Monies that had gone to Rome now went to Henry, and huge amounts of church land and property passed into the hands of the crown and the nobility. This vested interest of many lords created a powerful force in support of the dissolutions.

When Henry died he was succeeded by his son Edward VI (by Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour), who had been raised as a Protestant. Edward was only nine years old at his succession (and not quite sixteen at his death), so the Duke of Somerset and the Duke of Northumberland seized power as his “protector and councilors”. Through them, Edward ordered the destruction of images in churches and the closing of the chantries. While the reform of the Church of England was firmly established by many greedy lords, the majority of ordinary citizens remained faithful to Catholicism.

Because Mary lived with her mother after the divorce, she was raised as a very devout Catholic. The children that stayed in Henry’s household, Edward and Elizabeth (the daughter of Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn), were raised as devout Protestants. Religion being an extremely serious business in that era, the battle over which religion would prevail was just as divisive to England as the question of who would rule the country. Obviously, these two questions were intertwined. Simply because Edward was a male, not to mention he was the obvious heir to the throne, the problem undoubtedly would have been resolved with a lot less conflict had he lived.

For better or worse, Edward did not recover from his illness. Upon his death, there was a very brief interval (nine days) when Lady Jane Grey took the throne. Then Mary marched into London with an army and reclaimed her birthright. From 1553 to 1558, Queen Mary forcibly tried to restore Catholicism as the national religion, becoming known as “Bloody Mary” in the process. Upon her death, she was succeeded by her half-sister, Elizabeth, and the fate of England as a Protestant country was sealed.

The Influence of Religion in Shakespeare’s Early Life

In his essay, “John Shakespeare: A Papist or Just Penniless?”, Robert Bearman points out that: “William Shakespeare’s religious beliefs (are based) on the very reasonable supposition that the faith in which Shakespeare was reared would have had a significant, perhaps profound, effect on him.” In fact, Bearman makes a very strong case that John Shakespeare may well have been persecuted by the Crown because Elizabeth was very insistent on all of the nobility and societal leaders (especially the clergy) of England embracing the Protestant faith from early on in her reign.

Although obviously subject to interpretation by various scholars, Bearman demonstrates that the “evidence is plentiful” regarding “John’s religious convictions”, but that recently “there has been a vigorous development of the view that he remained true to the Catholic faith until his death in 1601.”
One of those scholars is Amanda Mabillard, who wrote a treatise entitled “William Shakespeare of Stratford”. In that article, Ms. Mabillard does not ascribe any reason for the rise and then fall of John’s fortunes, although she describes them in some detail. The timing coincides very closely with the “purging” of the Catholic faithful from England during the early years of Elizabeth’s reign. I will add a few editorial comments to some of the information (I have edited this to deal directly with John, not William) which she provides:

“John came to Stratford from Snitterfield before 1532 as an apprentice glover and tanner of leathers. John Shakespeare prospered and began to deal in farm products and wool. It is recorded that he bought a house in 1552, and bought more property in 1556. John Shakespeare owned one house on Greenhill Street and two houses on Henley Street. Sometime between 1556 and 1558 John Shakespeare married Mary Arden, the daughter of the wealthy Robert Arden of Wilmecote and owner of the sixty-acre farm called Asbies. The wedding would have … been a Catholic service, since Queen Mary I was the reigning monarch.”
We assume neither John nor Mary could write … but it did not prevent them from becoming important members of the community. John Shakespeare was elected to a multitude of civic positions, including ale-taster of the borough in 1557, chamberlain of the borough in 1561, alderman in 1565, (a position which came with free education for his children at the Stratford Grammar School), high bailiff, or mayor, in 1568, and chief alderman in 1571. Due to his important civic duties, he rightfully sought the title of gentleman and applied for his coat-of-arms in 1570. However, for unspecified reasons the application was abruptly withdrawn, and within the next few years, for reasons just as mystifying, John Shakespeare would go from wealthy business owner and dedicated civil servant to debtor and absentee council member.

Well, perhaps it’s not all that mystifying. Following her ascension to the throne, the Queen created “The Act of Supremacy”, which gave Elizabeth ultimate control of the Church of England, and “The Act of Uniformity”, which attempted to establish a set form of worship that would meld the two churches. While not eradicating the Catholic Church, these acts were certainly meant to diminish its hold on the English people. The “religious settlement” began to be implemented in the summer of 1559 (Lee, 1916). During the first decade it was enforced, Elizabeth tried to be fairly tolerant of all of her subjects, including the Catholics. In those days, it would have taken several years for its mandates to be enforced in every town, including Stratford.

The Act of Supremacy also included an oath of loyalty to the Queen that the clergy were expected to take. If they did not take it, they would lose their office. A High Commission was established to ensure that the oath was taken, which stipulated that “the Queen’s Highness is the only Supream Governor of this Realm … in all Spiritual or Ecclesiastical Things or Causes, as Temporal; and that no foreign Prince, Person, Prelate State or Potentate, hath or ought to have any Jurisdiction”. The clergymen had to “utterly renounce and forsake all foreign Jurisdictions, Powers, Superiorities and Authorities” (ibid).

This is pretty stringent stuff. Needless to say, it incensed the Pope. There was strong opposition to the Elizabethan settlement from the English Catholics, especially after Pope Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth in 1570. This, along with the Catholics sending many Jesuit priests into England to stir up anti-Elizabeth sentiments, created terrible dissension. Throughout the latter part of her reign, there were many Catholic rebellions and assassination plots. In 1569 the Northern rebellion occurred, and there was an Irish Catholic rebellion in 1579. The Ridolfi Plot (1571), the Throckmorton Plot (1583), and the Babington plot (1586) were attempts to replace Elizabeth with the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots. Many English noblemen urged Elizabeth to crack down much harder on the Catholics, and to a certain extent she did. The authorities relied on spies and informers to identify suspected Catholic rebels, and naturally most of those arrested denied all charges. “Church papists,” who attended services in their parish church and also went to mass when they could, were not easy to identify. Ms. Mabillard continues:

“By 1578 (John) was behind in his taxes and stopped paying the statutory aldermanic subscription for poor relief. In 1579, he had to mortgage Mary Shakespeare’s estate, Asbies, to pay his creditors. In 1580 he was fined 40 pounds for missing a court date and in 1586 the town removed him from the board of aldermen due to lack of attendance. By 1590, John Shakespeare owned only his house on Henley Street and, in 1592, he was fined for not attending church. However, near the very end of John Shakespeare’s life, it seems that his social and economic standing was again beginning to flourish.

ws  “He once again applied to the College of Heralds for a coat-of-arms in 1596, and, due likely to the success of William in London, this time his wish was granted. The coat-of-arms’ … motto was “Non sanz droict” or “not without right”.

The message seems pretty direct and clear.

Under the Act of Uniformity, church attendance on Sundays and holy days was compulsory, with a twelve pence fine to be collected if people did not attend. Did John refuse to attend because he was devoted to the Catholic Church, or because he had really become slothful? Note that his rise back to respectability came as Elizabeth’s health was failing and she was only a few years away from her death. Did the country begin to persecute its Catholic citizens less, or was William’s fame really that powerful? We can only speculate. It is also interesting to speculate on what prompted John to choose the motto “not without right” after having been persecuted for so long for so seemingly little of a cause, and having finally received what he felt was coming to him.

Shakespeare’s Education

I do not include information about William’s education to foster the argument that “Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare”. I think that has been pretty well proven by now, especially in “Shakespeare: A Life”, by Park Honan. Instead, I again cite Ms. Mabillard because the circumstances of his education would give additional motivation to resent the anti-Catholic treatment under Elizabeth’s reign. I have edited out a lot of very interesting information because I want to focus on my own thesis.

“Shakespeare probably began his education at the age of six or seven at the Stratford grammar school. Although we have no record of Shakespeare attending the school, due to the official position held by John Shakespeare it seems likely that he would have decided to educate young William at the school which was under the care of Stratford’s governing body. The Stratford grammar school had been built some two hundred years before Shakespeare was born and, in that time, the lessons taught there were, of course, dictated primarily by the beliefs of the reigning monarch. During the years that Shakespeare attended the school, at least one and possibly three headmasters stepped down because of their devotion to the Catholic religion proscribed by Queen Elizabeth. One of these masters was Simon Hunt (b. 1551), who, in 1578, according to tradition, left Stratford to pursue his more spiritual goal of becoming a Jesuit, and relocated to the seminary at Rheims. Hunt had found his true vocation: when he died in Rome seven years later he had risen to the position of Grand Penitentiary.

“Like all of the great poets and dramatists of the time, Shakespeare learned his basic reading and writing skills from an ABC, or horn-book. Shakespeare would have studied primarily Latin rhetoric, logic, and literature. In The Merry Wives of Windsor, there is a comical scene in which the Welsh headmaster tests his pupil’s knowledge, who is appropriately named William. There is little doubt that Shakespeare was recalling his own experiences during his early school years. One can see that Shakespeare absorbed much that was taught in his grammar school, for he had an impressive familiarity with the stories by Latin authors, as is evident when examining his plays and their sources. Even though scholars, basing their argument on a story told more than a century after the fact, accept that Shakespeare was removed from school around age thirteen because of his father’s financial and social difficulties, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that he had not acquired a firm grasp of both English and Latin and that he had continued his studies elsewhere.”

In regards to that continued education, Hammerschmidt-Hummel speculated that, “The Shakespeares were strict Catholics and continued as such for the rest of their lives. It is unlikely that they did not make use of the only available Catholic [higher] education at Allen’s college at Douai, i.e. Rheims”. There is no evidence I know of to support that theory. However, it is interesting to note that one of William’s early teachers, Simon Hunt, was such a devout Catholic that he later became a very successful Jesuit priest. Whether or not he attended university, William had a very strong education under Catholic dogma. However, the documented evidence about Simon Hunt demonstrates that certain prominent Catholics were indeed persecuted in the town of Stratford-Upon-Avon, and gives great credence to the possibility that John’s sinking fortunes might indeed have been under such circumstances.

I included this second paragraph of Ms. Mabillard’s essay because it showed two significant pieces of information: first, William was an avid student, as proven by the fact that he became a versatile and erudite writer. Second, he was removed from grammar school before finishing because of his father having fallen into disgrace, although he undoubtedly would have preferred to finish. The natural assumption, if all of this is correct, is that he would at least have resented the circumstances that prevented him from gaining his full education, as well as all of the other dramatic impacts in his life that his father’s fall from grace would have caused.

To come: Part Two

Life Lessons I Learned From Traffic Signs: Part I

October 30, 2012

Lots of people are constantly looking for “signs” in life. They want to know the way, they want to be guided by some divine inspiration, they want the road of life to be smooth. They’re tired of bungling around in their careers, their relationships, and their general place in the cosmos, without a gigantic hand reaching down from the clouds and placing them in the right place and the right time – or even having a decent road map to steer by.

Well, there are signs all over the place. We see hundreds of them on the street and highways every day. The problem is, we generally ignore them.

In the first place, I’m talking about actual traffic signs, not something “inspired” by a god, or even a great philosopher. In the second place, they are short, and so obvious as to be insignificant. Or are they? A great haiku can be fraught with meaning.

Therefore, perhaps it’s only the interpretation that’s missing. After all, traffic signs are definitely symbols, and symbology can be extremely difficult to understand even if you’re Carl Sagen. So, not having Carl around to interpret things for us, I thought I would pass on a few of the simplistic lessons I gained, after many long minutes of contemplation, from studying a few of our most interesting traffic signs.

For today, only a few of the most common signs. More to come!

Stop

After you stop at this sign, what next? You look both ways, both for other traffic and people crossing the street. You decide when it’s safe to proceed.

This is something we often fail to do in life. We move ahead like we’re wearing blinders, charging toward a goal that may or not be where we really want to end up. We don’t look for dangers.

Sometimes, we need to come to a complete halt in our life, look around, count to three thousand, and reassess the situation. Maybe we’re going in the wrong direction but did not realize it. Maybe there’s another vehicle headed straight for us, and we would not have seen it if we had not been forced to pause for just a moment. Perhaps there’s a child rolling a ball right in our way, but we didn’t notice, and that child might have been badly hurt because we were ignoring him or her.

Sometimes we hear very distinctly someone tell us to stop. Our spouse, a teacher, a boss or colleague, a good friend. Maybe it’s because we’re having an argument and they want a timeout. Maybe they see us going (in their opinion) in the wrong direction, and think we should pause, look around, and evaluate before moving again. Maybe even it’s our child just wanting some attention. Did we pay attention to the warning?

Sometimes there’s a physical stop sign. We have a heart attack. We’ve been drinking and driving and we swerve off the road. We have several relationships end quickly, or we get fired from work. Do we just keep charging ahead blindly, doing the same things that prompted the stop sign?

On rare occasions, while we are driving we will be so oblivious as to miss seeing the stop sign. In life, we miss them quite often, either because we were oblivious or because we just decided to ignore them. As with being on the road, driving through a stop sign can get us seriously injured or even killed.

When things go wrong repeatedly in the same essential situation, there’s a stop sign in front of you, possibly even a red light. It can be hazardous to your health—physically and emotionally—to ignore it. Learn to recognize the stop signs, and act as if you were at a red light, patiently waiting for it to turn green.

Yield

You don’t have to stop, but you must slow down and consider the situation. Remember, a car moving in the through lane has right-of-way, so you don’t want to be the cause of an accident. When it’s safe, we can keep moving, but how long did we think about the situation to have really evaluated that it’s safe?

We come to many yield signs in our life. They may involve our spouse, some other family member, a friend, a colleague or our boss. Is someone else in the right? If so, did we fail to yield, and thereby cause a terrible collision, one that was totally avoidable?

Sometimes, we see the yield sign, and it applies to cars coming in from the side. But maybe that car has not seen the yield sign and plows right on through. Even though we are in the right, is it worth it to be “dead right” just to insist on having your way?

In a car, it can be very irritating when someone violates your right-of-way. But, in life, it can actually be quite satisfying to yield, to let the other person have their way when the consequences do not involve life or death, especially if that other person is a loved one. In the case of a boss, it can be politically expedient!

Whether you know you are in the wrong or believe you are in the right, when you see a yield sign, be prepared to give way. Sometimes, it can make you much happier in the long run. Sometimes, it can save your life.

Slower Traffic Keep Right

This is one I often see disobeyed, on the road and in life. On the road, there are two reasons I ascribe to this, based on observed behavior. First, the driver looks straight ahead, never to the right or left or even in their rearview mirror. They are totally oblivious to traffic around or behind them. Second, the driver looks at the cars behind, or as they pass to the right, and gives a smug smile. This indicates they feel they are doing the “safe or legal speed”, and believe themselves to be a regulator of proper traffic condition.

In life, this is generally the case with the old getting in the way of the young. Quite often, we are just too absorbed in our own direction, and unwilling to bother to look around to see if we are impeding somebody else’s progress. We might think of this as just minding our own business, while those around us would consider it selfish. Frankly, life moves on. The pace of life has increased; the amount of knowledge young people have these days is amazing because of the information influx in the media and especially the Internet, and other technologies move virtually every aspect of daily life along just a tiny bit faster every generation. Are you one of the old folks who are resentful that you can’t keep up anymore? You don’t have to. Just move over to the slower lanes and let them whiz by.

Or are you a self-satisfied traffic regulator? Some older folks like to drive at exactly the speed limit or below on the motorway and never obey the signs that tell them to move to the right, and are deliberately trying to slow down everyone else around them. They feel they are morally superior to everyone else. Kids are in too much of a hurry these days, they have no respect for the older generation and society’s conventions, and they are very rude about wanting to pass you by. Why can’t things be like in “the old days”?

I’ve got news for them: things were exactly like that in their generation. Their parents complained about the same things. I know that, when I was a young man, I was very impatient with adults who “just wanted to get in my way” and not let me go at the speed I wanted. After all, if I ran into problems, that was my concern, wasn’t it? As long as the hot-rodders don’t cause an accident on the road that involves you, it’s sort of the same deal.

Whether we like it or not, music gets louder and less coherent, art gets wilder, literature gets lighter and faster paced, and car engines become more powerful. One man’s passion is the next generation’s poison, and all that jazz – or rock, or heavy metal, or hip hop. It’s the job of the police to regulate traffic, not yours. Do what you’re supposed to do: Move over to the right if you don’t want to keep up with the pace.

A Response to a Reader’s Criticism of My Articles on “Truth” – Part 2

May 8, 2012

One reader who very kindly responded to my posts on “What is Truth” a few weeks ago brought out some very interesting suppositions contradicting my assertion that there was no such thing as a “universal truth”. For an in-depth explanation of this, please read those two blogs.

A quick refresher from those blogs: There are certain facts, that is, things that can be proven over and over under all circumstances, but I claimed that “the truth” is what you believe it to be, simply because your personal truths are the guiding principles in your life.

Here is her comment: “The pursuit of/yearning for love is a universal truth. The desire to know a higher being/consciousness is a universal feeling and therefore truth; that fear motivates one way and love motivates another way is a universal truth; the desire for security is a universal truth; the need for self-esteem is a universal truth; that men/people will ignore wisdom to carve out their own flawed philosophies is a universal truth.”

In my first response, I only dealt with the topics of love, fear/love motivation, security, and self-esteem. Because that “higher being” topic, and the last comment about “wisdom”, were much more involved and subjective, I said I would write an answer in another posting. Here it is.

A Higher Being/Consciousness vs Philosophy

While there can are many definitions of this, I’m going to try to simplify it a bit so that this article can actually get finished. I absolutely concede that all monotheisms (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) are searching for a “higher being”, as are all polytheisms (although, to my knowledge, the only strong polytheism still in practice is Hinduism, with Shinto, Taoism, etc., comprising very small populations).

One of the problems westerners have in conceptualizing Eastern life philosophies (as opposed to such Western philosophies as existentialism, nihilism, and others that are blatantly atheistic) is that they assume (incorrectly) that all Eastern philosophies are religions. In fact, all of their definitions and texts list Confucianism and Buddhism as religions, when they are nothing of the sort.

Confucius taught that when societies operate under laws, people are punished by authorities after having committed illegal activities. People generally conform to the laws, often without necessarily understanding the rationale behind them. He promoted a different way: to internalize behaviors so that actions are controlled beforehand. Because relationships are central to Confucianism—particular duties arise from one’s particular situation in relation to others—people will then behave properly because they wish to avoid feeling shame and want to avoid losing face. In theory, the result is a reduction in the number of coercive laws required for smooth functioning of the society. “Social harmony — the great goal of Confucianism — therefore results in part from every individual knowing his or her place in the social order, and playing his or her part well.”

You will notice this is actually a philosophy of social behavior, having nothing to do with a being more supreme than the head of state, and nothing to do with a world consciousness. While Confucianism does not necessarily negate religion, most adherents do not find religion necessary to attain this “proper” behavior toward others.

But Confucianists are a pretty small group, so let’s move on to Buddhism. According to buddhanet.net, the generally agreed minimum number of Buddhists is estimated at around 350 million (6% of the world’s population).  The numbers range up to 1.5 billion. By any reckoning, that’s a significant amount. So what is Buddhism?

Between 563 B.C. and 483 B.C. a man named Siddhartha Gautama lived who taught that life is suffering, and that we must each find our way to ultimate enlightenment, at which time we will also become a Buddha. While it’s difficult to summarize Buddhism succinctly, moral conduct is an important part of the beliefs because it promotes harmony with all living things. Karma, a concept that states that a person’s actions have consequences over him/her in the future, is an intrinsic part of this morality. A person’s basic essence (the “soul” for you monotheists) can experience either rebirth or reincarnation (not the same), which gives a person the opportunity for attaining enlightenment through meditation, loving kindness and compassion towards all human beings.

http://www.ehow.com/info_8198007_major-beliefs-buddhism.html#ixzz1uDtQIzPM

Note two important factors: nowhere is a supreme being/consciousness mentioned. The first Buddha was a man; he never claimed to be a god or even a prophet. Further, every human has the potential to become a Buddha. Second, there is no heaven, hell, or life other than on this planet. The phrase “one with the universe” is very literal, in that every little dust mote is a particle of all others, which is a very scientific concept, not one given much credence by any monotheism. While Buddhists chant, perform meditation, and do other activities that Westerners perceive as religious, they are actually contemplating their own flaws, attempting to focus on what they personally need to do to improve themselves as a person. Yes, they often do these things in a group with a ritual, but the same could be said about political parties, social organizations, and even sports enthusiasts. That doesn’t make those things a religion. Well, with the possible exception of the Green Party, but that’s another story. If there is a “supreme being/consciousness” in Buddhism, it is the potential enlightenment each person might achieve for themselves, with the ultimate goal of reaching such perfection that will make them into a Buddha.

Is “The Search” Universal?

In my personal studies of religion and philosophy, it was this belief in the potential enlightenment of each individual—including myself—that attracted me to Buddhism. As I cannot accept the concept of rebirth or reincarnation of the “life essence” within each person, however, I ultimately rejected that philosophy as well. However, I was not searching for a god, I was searching for a way to make myself a better person.

Therefore, I will give you all the monotheists and polytheists. I will even give you most of the agnostics—after all, being “in doubt” means the person is searching for something. Many agnostics say they are “spiritual” (which often means some flavor of pantheism), although they don’t subscribe to any formal religion. However, I suspect a lot of people who identify as agnostic are hedging their bets, and many who identify as theistic don’t want the social stigma (especially in the United States) of admitting they are atheists.

Nevertheless, there are a lot of people in the world who openly state they are atheists. In fact, in many countries they are the majority! Look at these figures: http://www.adherents.com/largecom/com_atheist.html

It’s very difficult to estimate, but combined I would say at least 15 percent of the world’s population are openly not hunting for any supreme being/consciousness. Never mind that any child born into a religious household is instantly indoctrinated into that religion and only emerges from that life-long submersion if they are of a very strong mind and willing to do a lot of “seeking” (see my blog on Holy Smoke). But let’s just use that conservative figure.

On March 12, 2012, the US Census Bureau estimated that the world population exceeded 7 billion. That would mean more than a billion (1.05) people are in no way deistic. The search for a supreme being is a “Universal Truth”?

On a somewhat separate note, I find it highly ironic that these two major Eastern philosophies, which are truly founded on the concept of “moral” behavior in the sense of society, have never as an organized force waged war. They have never used any form of force to convert others to their beliefs. On the other hand, every single monotheism has a history rife with physical coercion. (While Judaism never to my knowledge forced conversion, since escaping bondage in Egypt they have never shrunk from killing those of other cultures and faiths. They still have a pretty damn good military force.) Therefore, being a highly religious person does not necessarily make one a “good” person, in the sense of being tolerant, considerate and compassionate to other members of the human race.

Ignoring “The Truth”

The second point I wanted to address was her comment that “men/people will ignore wisdom to carve out their own flawed philosophies is a universal truth”. This is an argument that goes back at least to the Persian Empire before Greece became united, when the Persians claimed that their religion was “the truth”, and all other people ignored this truth because they were not wise enough to recognize the obvious. To sum it up: “I know the TRUTH, and if you don’t believe me you’re an idiot!” This is almost too smug, self-serving and ludicrous to address. But I will.

How do they know the truth? Because their holy book (Torah, Bible, Qur’an) tells them what the truth is. Never mind the book was written by the hand of mere mortals. They were all “inspired” by god, weren’t they? In the case of the Prophet Joseph Smith, a resurrected Moroni visited Smith and kindly delivered engraved plates to him (The Book of Mormon), which he simply had to copy before they made their way back up to heaven. And every single one of the books is the absolute truth.

But, because I’m a little skeptical about this divine inspiration—or at least which version to believe—and am indeed searching for my own “flawed philosophy” based on truly being kind and considerate of others rather than killing them in the name of god for being unbelievers, this makes me stupid. Okay, I can live with that.

I believe in the theory of evolution because there is a tremendous amount of scientific evidence in support of it, and more comes in every day. It’s still a theory. Every single religion throughout the history of Mankind has developed a creation myth for both the universe and for man. Yet there is not one shred of evidence, in spite of every religion looking for that proof, which supports creationism.

Who is being wise here, and who is ignoring wisdom (i.e., logic based on evidence) in order to cling to their terribly flawed beliefs?

“Holy Smoke, I’ve been blasted into belief!” Or: Deprogramming the Indoctrinated

May 3, 2012

Image

I was watching a movie the other night called “Holy Smoke”. A young Australian woman (Kate Winslet) travels to India with a friend. Ruth (notice the nice OT name?) attends a religious ceremony, becomes enthralled with the spirituality, and decides to stay with the guru in a “spiritual marriage”.  Alerted by the friend, her good Christian mother contacts an Australian anti-cult psychotherapist. Ruth’s mother travels to India where she psychologically blackmails her daughter to follow her home. Back in Australia, the girl is taken to a remote farm where a hired “deprogrammer”, Harvey Keitel, waits to begin “exit counseling”, as he calls it.

Naturally, this got me thinking: where had she been programmed? She traveled to India with a friend as a holiday, and chose to attend the service. At the age of 20, she knowingly studied this religion and chose to become an initiate.

But I actually know where she got programmed. It is the same with all monotheisms. Within days of her birth, without her knowledge or consent, a child will undergo indoctrination; the specifics will only change according to the religion.

With Christian sects, the rituals vary. In Catholicism, naming and christening follow within a few days after birth. While most Protestant sects postpone baptism, the baby dedication is a challenge to parents and grandparents to raise the child to serve God. God parents are appointed, certificates accompany the naming ceremony, bibles are often placed in the hand of the child, crosses, prayer books, etc.

With Judaism, naming ceremonies and ritual baths are also prevalent. Jewish boys undergo a brit milah (covenantal circumcision ceremony) on the eighth day after birth, or a brit bat (covenant ceremony for girls) where they are named. These “welcoming acts” involve scripture readings, prayers, songs, etc. and may include candle lighting, footwashing, or being wrapped in a tallit as part of the rituals.

In Islam, immediately after the new-born baby is bathed, the Adhan is recited in the right ear of the baby, and the Iqamah in the left ear. Shortly after, the sunnah is fulfilled: a date or some other sweet is applied to the child’s palate. While this is done so that the child may easily suck milk from the breast of its mother, a “pious and God-fearing scholar or a venerable saint may be invited to do Tahneek”; thus, it is a religious ceremony. The hair on the head of the new-born must be shaved (Aqeeqah) on the seventh day. The child is then named, and then comes the sacrifice: two goats on behalf of a boy and one goat for a girl, or their equivalent. Some Muslims believe that circumcision is obligatory, others that it is a sunnah.

In all cases, throughout their infancy the children are taken to the church, synagogue or mosque constantly where they are subjected to prayers, religious music, sermons, and the teachings of whatever holy book is used by that religion. There are more ceremonies as they get older. The dangers of lack of faith or other “evils” are carefully described to them.

What would any of these religions think of some professional “deprogrammer” kidnapping and psychologically badgering their children out of the indoctrinations they had to undergo from the first day of their lives? In the movie (and in real life), Ruth chose to adopt the religious beliefs of the Indian guru out of the full consciousness of an adult. Do they ever consider the irony–or hypocrisy–of their actions?

Therefore, which of these groups are really the brainwashers and coercers? Which of these groups are really dangerous to the mental health of young children?

Jews for Jesus – A California Thing, or is Religion Going “Crossover”?

April 25, 2012

I was driving home today when I spotted a mini-van sporting the door sign “Jews for Jesus”. Now, call me simple minded (as I admit others have done…), but that’s a little like a sign saying “Catholics for Martin Luther”. I mean, it’s just plain weird. At this point, I must confess that I live in California, so it just goes to prove what many of you think anyhow: California is so weird by nature that nothing seems strange.

Anyhow, it seemed so odd to me that I immediately looked them up on the internet. They are not local! They are at least national. So I looked at their doctrine. To make a long story short, they believe that Jesus was indeed the savior that the Jewish religion predicted, and subscribe to every single belief that Christianity believes in. SO, is that like a song trying to be country and R&B and soft rock all at the same time; you know, the “crossover” flavor of the month?

It seems “The Jesus Movement” started in the late 1960s, and some guy named Moishe Rosen (oi vey! Sounds like a radical rabbi, but they called him a “veteran missionary”) developed what he called “broadside-style gospel tracts” in New York City. See? We’re not so weird out here! Blame it on those whacko New Yorkers.

So, my next question was the obvious: How can they call themselves Jews for Jesus? If they have accepted Jesus as the savior, which no self-respecting Jew would ever consider, then they are no longer Jews! They are Christians.

Maybe they’re “reformed” Jews. Many “recovering” Jews. But they are not Jews.

So, what’s up with that?