Devil’s Ethics

It’s that time of year when state employees (even part-timers) are subjected to ethics training. Each year the irony of the situation becomes thicker and more viscous. You see, those of us who have part-time engagements are often on the receiving end of ethical violations, and we know better than to make ripples since we are disposable. I’ll say nothing of the well-known (almost infamous) ethical history of New Jersey, but today’s headlines suggest an even higher power when it comes to unethical actions. An Associated Press story bears the headline “U.S. biological horror stories brought before commission.” The report concerns official United States studies conducted on its own citizens by exposing people to and deliberately infecting them with various diseases. This may come as a shock to many, but already in the 1980s it was documented that America’s guinea pigs were its own citizens.

Leonard Cole’s Clouds of Secrecy: The Army’s Germ Warfare Tests over Populated Areas, published in 1988, exposed many documented incidents of biological agent testing on non-consenting, and unsuspecting citizens. The testing was done in the name of national security (for which you may now be groped by any TSA official whose hands are not otherwise engaged). As this report demonstrates, our own government has viewed those of us not in positions of power as manipulable, expendable, and somehow less valuable than those elected by schemes they devise themselves. Democracy, it seems, is not free.

We are expected to heave a sigh of relief (come on now, everybody, it’s okay) since the history exposed is between 40 and 80 years old. That’s ancient history, right? An industrial-military complex today would never violate the rights of citizens. At least not officially. At least not as long as the Freedom of Information Act ensures that citizens have access to records (several years after the fact), and as long as it is not deemed a matter of national security. The color of your underwear and the shape of what is beneath are government assets. Also, so is your immune system. Otherwise you are free to live your life uninhibited. Unless, that is, you are a state employee with an extensive ethics background. Excuse me, but I’ve got to get back to my ethics training.

Sinking Ships

In anticipation of the Academy Awards, last night I revisited Titanic. Since I tend to view art from the perspective of metaphor, I was once again struck by how our society resembles that great ship. In particular, with the current turmoil between plutocratic governors and the average citizens who’ve elected them, the brazen upper-class passengers on the Titanic embody the interests of the self-interested. When Captain Smith leads the privileged first class travelers in “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” in their own private chapel unsullied by the second and third class detritus, the line “for those in peril on the sea” resonates with the Prosperity Gospel. The well-to-do are that way through no fault of their own; God loves them more and made them better off than the rest. And when icebergs float, those unloved by their creator sink.

Over the past few weeks, in the shadow of events unfolding in Egypt and even Libya, we have seen the assertions of the aristocratic governor class assailing the workers. Attempting to make unions illegal, reducing the services offered to the poor, attempting to shorten the lives of the elderly by withdrawing medical programs (let us not ask how much profit pharmaceutical companies make for they are dearly loved by their father who art in Fort Knox), they know the rush of divine power. Indeed, populations are so complacent that as long as we have our MTV (substitute here your favorite media narcotic), that we shrug our collective shoulders and say “whatever.”

Perhaps it is not the metaphor James Cameron intended, but it is the working class Jack who sinks to an icy grave while the privileged but bankrupt Rose remains afloat. Our sympathies are with the young lady abused by privileged society, but the lifeboats should best remain half empty to preserve the upper crust rather than risk all going down together. After all, the Bible informs us that bread cast upon the waters comes back. And those who take up more than their fair share of the lifeboats wager that when that bread comes back it will be docile and subdued after its ordeals in the North Atlantic, and the Carpathia will come and restore society to its proper order. And so perhaps it is only a metaphor that more than a decade later the shoo-in for the Academy Awards is a film about the royal family. I think I see an iceberg ahead.

This is only a metaphor

Be Neith It All

Goddesses have lately been on my mind. Both an occupational hazard and an avocation, study of the divine feminine deflects the trajectory that traditional monotheism traced and places us in the realm of the empowered female. This week my mythology class considered Athena, perhaps the truest embodiment of divinity in classical Greece. I regularly mention that in the ancient world even Plato suggests a connection between Athena and the Egyptian goddess Neith, one of the most ancient of the gods of Lower Egypt. When a friend coincidentally emailed a question about Neith, I realized the goddess was calling out for a blog post.

Neith is difficult to define partially because of the nature of Egyptian religion and its evidence, but also because of her great antiquity. She is a predynastic goddess, dating from before the founding of a united Egypt (back in the days when Egypt was united). She is represented by symbols of both weaponry and weaving (thus associated with Athena), and since she is so ancient, she became a creator. She is occasionally regarded as the mother of the gods. A question that naturally arises for all creators is from whence did they come – the classic chicken-or-the-egg conundrum. Mythology offers a number of options for self-generation, but most often creator gods simply bring themselves into being without many details being supplied. After all, no one was there to witness the miracle of the first birth.

Like most Egyptian creator gods, Neith represented preexistence and creation. She is occasionally androgynous – a necessary precondition for being an initial creator – and is said, by Proclus to have claimed, “I am all that has been and is and will be.” In short, nobody knows where she originated. Like many pre-biblical gods, Neith practices creation by speaking aspects of the world into existence, a technique called creation by divine fiat. This is something that Yahweh will later borrow in Israel. Although the Egyptian myths do not directly address the coming into being of Neith, she represents what every observer of nature knows: monotheism loses an essential element when it supplants one gender instead of embracing both.

Carrie That Weight

When it comes to keeping up with the classics, I have a lot of catch-up to do. This even applies to classic horror films – I’ve been a fan since college but slipped out of the groove for a decade or so and now I’m working my way back in. Recently I watched Carrie for the first time. Considering that it came out in 1976 (I still remember the original trailers), it has held up remarkably well. The story of the child struggling to become an adult against the wishes of an overweening parent never goes out of style. In keeping with a long-term theme on this blog, the religious element was fully represented as well.

The portrayal of Margaret White as a religious fanatic included incongruous elements that had clearly been selected for their ability to set a creepy mood. The statue of St. Sebastian with an abdomen full of arrows seems a strange fit for a Christianity that is apparently Protestant. Mrs. White’s veneration of the Bible settles better in a Protestant milieu than the Catholic background of director Brian De Palma. The decidedly unnerving scene where Carrie returns home from the prom to find hundreds of candles burning recalls a more Popish atmosphere, but the prayer closet resonates better with reformed traditions. This unholy mix creates a disturbing lack of specificity, as if religion itself is the danger.

Writers and movie-makers attempting to scare audiences have long drawn on the stock character of the over-zealous religious believer. One reason may be the lack of understanding such characters demonstrate towards those who do not share their views. While it would be comforting to suggest that this is a mere caricature, experience unfortunately belies this assertion. Religions around the world all have adherents who brook no rivals and claim victory only in convert manifests or body counts. Truly classic horror films draw their power from a deep honesty. And many people are honestly afraid.

Skullduggery

Perhaps it’s just what I deserve for reading Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, or maybe it is just one of the perks of living in New Jersey. On the front page of today’s New Jersey Star-Ledger is a story of grave robbery. Two recent graves, one eerily reminiscent of King’s novel, have been plundered for what officials are calling a “non-traditional religious practice.” If the locally popular magazine Weird NJ is to be believed, the state hosts many religious groups that fall into the non-traditional category. This is a predictable by-product of religious freedom; some people find religious fulfillment in idiosyncratic rituals. And all religions are concerned about death.

“Some religious sects use human remains in ceremonies,” the journalists state matter-of-factly. The concept has an ancient pedigree, even in orthodox varieties of religion. The macabre practice of keeping a bone, or occasionally a whole body, of a saint for veneration is cut from the same cloth. In King’s novel, the darker side of resurrection is explored. We miss our dead, but do we really want them back here with us? The use of human bones is disturbing because it suggests the rest and sanctity of the dead has been violated. Perhaps a Halloweenish horde of restless deceased will be unbound among us. We prefer our dead to be left in peace.

Perhaps it is that lives filled with the turmoil of our frenetic scramble to stay ahead of tragedy look forward to death’s eternal slumber. Anything that suggests the dead have been disturbed sends ripples through the psyche of the living. While visiting an ancestral plot some years ago, I discovered that vandals had tipped over the tombstone where my great-grandfather and several great uncles rested. No caretaker was on duty at the remote cemetery, so I found the address and mailed a request to have the stone set back in place. The image of that fallen stone distressed me for several days. Those who rob graves likely do not take the distress of family into account – their religion requires human remains and we attach great significance to the inert matter that used to be one of us. It is an impasse. Religions make demands and those who get in the way, either living or dead, often end up violated.

Even the dead mourn

Origins of Evil

The Bible might have benefited from a good editor. The final product is a world classic, of course, but contemporary people with their busy lives prefer straight and simple answers. These, often, the Bible refuses to yield. During a discussion of prophecy in class the other night the question of the origin of evil arose. I incidentally made reference to Isaiah 45.7 where God casually drops the line, “Forming light and creating darkness, making peace and creating evil, I am Yahweh making all this.” Many English translations attempt to mask the bald use of ra‘ “evil,” in this passage with nicer words such as “woe” or “calamity.” As I explained to my students, however, in a truly monotheistic system all fingers must point the same way for the ultimate responsibility. In this passage of Isaiah, Yahweh is presented as causing evil.

Now the editing of the Bible was never undertaken with the intention of creating uniformity, despite the railing of Fundamentalists. There are plentiful internal inconsistencies and disagreements. We should expect no less of a book written over a period of about a thousand years by several different writers grappling with life’s big questions. Inevitably students ask about the Garden of Eden. Genesis 2.17 has Yahweh state that newly created people must not eat of the “tree of knowledge of good and evil (ra‘).” Here the evil grows on a tree. Who planted that tree? It’s like blatantly laying the keys before your teenager and saying, “now don’t take the car.” Who is the source of that tree? (And, less frequently noted, the eating of the fruit in Genesis 3 is never called “sin.”)

The quintessential problem with a compilation is lack of uniformity. This did not bother ancient people as much as it does modern Fundamentalists. One reason is that many people equate the Bible’s value with it being a book that has all the answers from a single viewpoint. This the Bible lacks. According to the Bible there are various sources of evil. According to a strict monotheism (late in the Hebrew Bible) there can only be one. Enter the devil. To save the goodness of God a Zoroastrian anti-God had to be introduced. But the devil must stand in line to make his patent claim on evil.

Vindication

Back in the summer of 2009, I chose the name of this blog on a whim. Relatives had been encouraging me to provide a platform for podcasts and the occasional post and asked me what I would call such a blog. The pun of sects and violence initially drew some good humored interest, but there was a serious subtext beneath the choice. Nature has now published an article declaring that violence and sex are related. (Sects and violence is a no-brainer; just look at the newspaper.) The connection has been established satisfactorily only in the brains of mice so far, but what is the real difference between mice and men?

Yes, men. The studies focus on the male brain, that organ that continues to confound those of us who daily try to use one. Certain circuits in the mouse hypothalamus trigger either a violent or loving response when stimulated certain ways. Aggression is almost an automatic response. My mind tied this in with the Singularity article in last week’s Time. As we race forward with technological mergers between artificial intelligence and the human machine, do we really understand what that brain is that we are attempting to emulate electronically? Biology, according to many theorists, does not bow to the rules of reductionism. What happens when the violence of natural circuits (fight or flight) kick in with titanium feet?

I commented on a friend’s post when he cited the Singularity article in Time. Others responded to my remarks suggesting I did not take the reality of this seriously enough. Those who are familiar with Sects and Violence in the Ancient World will have no such questions. The minds that have given us both gods and guns are machines that can not be replicated precisely. Their function is to keep a degenerating biological mass alive. Electronic brains with replaceable parts (think Wall-e) have no such concerns. The missing limb syndrome is a very human response that is well recognized by those who understand the human psyche. And that psyche, it seems, is ready to fight as long as it is properly stimulated.

A boy's eye-view of the world

Washington’s Birthday

Today’s post is an excerpt from an unpublished tween book I wrote on the origin of American holidays a few years back. Other excerpts are available on the Full Essays page of this blog.

Our founding father, a little worse for wear

Today is the earliest of only three government holidays devoted to an individual, specifically George Washington. Also called President’s Day, this holiday comes on the third Monday in February. Washington was born February 11, 1731. In an interesting twist of fate, when the Gregorian calendar was finally accepted in the United States in 1752 Washington found his birthday shifted to February 22. Washington died in 1799, but the idea of national holidays for a single person had not yet been invented. It took almost a century for someone to do something about it. When Washington’s Birthday was first observed in 1880 only the government offices in the District of Columbia (named for Washington, of course) got the day off. Naturally, they celebrated it on February 22. Five years later, in 1885, all federal offices took the day off.

Now, the problem with government holidays is that Post Offices, which are run by the government, are also closed. That means no mail. For businesses that used to mean an interruption of work – believe it or not, before the Internet was invented nearly all business relied on snail mail! It is hard for a business to take a day off in the middle of a week, so in 1971 George Washington’s birthday was moved again so that it would always be on a Monday. Washington, being long dead, said nothing.

When I was a kid I always thought Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (February 12, 1809) was a holiday too. It came before Washington’s birthday, but still in February. Since junk mail hadn’t yet been invented, I didn’t notice whether the mail came or not. Lincoln’s birthday was printed on the calendar, but it has never been an official federal holiday. Now, here’s a funny thing: individual states have the right to set state holidays or even rename federal holidays. Lincoln’s Birthday, for example, is a state holiday in Illinois.

In the 1980s Washington’s Birthday underwent another transformation. Noticing that Lincoln’s Birthday was ten days before Washington’s (remember, on the Julian calendar Washington’s birthday was February 11) businesses could call it President’s Day and stores could offer sales. So, wait, what is this holiday called and when is it? Its official, federal name is Washington’s Birthday. Many people, and some states, call it President’s Day. It is always observed on the third Monday in February. And George Washington would have been just as confused as anybody, because he is the only president with three different birthdays!

Wayward Ninevites

“Come listen to my tale, of Jonah and the whale, way down in the bottom of the ocean;” a children’s song with a catchy tune that has a way of becoming a lifetime companion. Among the earliest Bible stories many children learn is the remarkable story of Jonah and the whale. And since the Bible is God’s word, it must be historical, right? Many modern readers have a difficult time fathoming that Jonah is not a book of history. As if living three days underwater isn’t enough of a stretch, stalwart bibliolaters ignore the tons of archival material from Nineveh itself and claim that the entire city spent a day, or a week, worshiping Yahweh. It stretches the imagination.

Too close for comfort

While working at Gorgias Press I discovered, in an entirely unexpected way, just how seriously some otherwise rational adults take this tale. I had to postpone an important meeting with an influential client because it had fallen on “the Rogation of the Ninevites.” As a lifelong biblical scholar and student of ancient religions, this was a festival I’d never before encountered. A web search refused to yield too much information for as long as my curiosity lasted, but I did find out that the date is difficult to nail down (apparently sometime a week or two ago), and that it predominates among Orthodox Christians of Iraq and Syria. These believers claim the heritage of the fictionally converted Ninevites. Even if the book of Jonah were intended as history, the conversion would have been to Judaism, not Christianity.

As I tried to find a new date with our lucrative associate, I realized once again just how far faith is willing and able to stretch. The story of Jonah is a cautionary tale, almost a fable, reminding post-exilic Jews of the occasional righteousness of the other. While other interpretations have been ceaselessly floated by serious scholars, I have never discovered anyone outside the putative descendents of the fabricated Ninevites who take this non-historical event to be important enough to jeopardize an essential business deal. Anyone who attempts to introduce logic into such an equation may well find him-or-herself, Geppetto-like, slowly digesting in the enormous gastric cavity of a whale that has a taste for prophets.

Fruits of the Dearth

Religions developed out of universal concerns. While I can’t hope to compete with the masterful insight of Pascal Boyer, I do have a gut feeling that as soon as humans evolved the ability of foresight we began to worry. Where is that next meal coming from? Will we survive another day? Is there any way to hedge our bets? In ancient times mortality’s unblinking stare would have been much closer to our faces. Even as recently as the Middle Ages death was much more on the mind, much more frequently seen.

One way to ensure survival is to propitiate those gods who control the productivity of the soil. Long before Demeter lost Persephone ancient people mourned the death of gods who ensured fertile soil, hoping against hope that they might come back each spring. I recall the seriousness with which Rogation Days were taken in the Midwest. At Nashotah House the earth itself was blessed. I recall a priest from Central Illinois who gleefully recounted that the University of Illinois crop experiments were always a little skewed because each year he blessed them on Rogation Days, giving Ceres a boost. CPR for mother earth; give us our daily bread.

The picture of a South Korean boy spinning a can filled with glowing embers over a field on the first full moon of the Korean New Year reaffirms that concerns are the same everywhere. In our sterilized, indoor, urbanized lives where food is grown, harvested, processed and packaged by others for simple consumption of the vast majority, we have lost one of the most poignant aspects of religion. People pray for survival against the devious plans of terrorists, or the insidious diseases that threaten those who make a living simply moving electrons from place to place. Meanwhile somewhere in a country teetering on the brink of nuclear winter, a young boy swings a bucket full of hope.

Blessed Virgin (Not)

What’s not to like about Aphrodite? Hesiod’s first Olympian, she represents the exuberance of life itself in the pursuit of love. In our patriarchal world her erstwhile consort Cupid has come to represent that strange and compelling force that drives so much of what mere mortals spend their time on. A colleague has pointed me to a new documentary that is being produced on Aphrodite (trailer available on YouTube). In addition to fascinating footage illustrating modern Cypriot rituals to the goddess, the film contains what many would consider a sacrilege: on Cyprus the virgin Mary and Aphrodite are viewed by many as two forms of the same entity.

While the modern, monotheistic sensibility bristles at any notion of shared divinity, it seems perfectly natural that when the “mother of God” was introduced to the island that gave the world its Venus, “its desire,” a mental connection became inevitable. Unlike many “virgin goddesses” of the ancient world, Aphrodite had no false modesty regarding matters of love. Even the mighty Zeus, so powerful that he might be called simply “God,” was unable to resist her draw. Ancient peoples often celebrated the gift of love without the embarrassment that the Victorian Age has so generously bestowed on much of the western hemisphere.

Pressing the point even further, when monotheism emerged the equality of genders became an impossibility. The one god must, by the standards of all human imagination, possess a gender. And since men dominated the societies that embraced monotheism the divine feminine was lost. Orthodoxy replaced humanity, and thus it remained until only recent years when women finally managed to make their voices heard. Aphrodite, unlike Hera, is not under the control of a lordly king. The film by Stavros Papageorghiou offers viewers a chance to see what has been lost by the western world keeping half of the human race silent.

Agenda in Pink

One advantage of the technological revolution is that it is a lot easier to look things up in the Bible now. As a biblical scholar who cut his teeth the hard way by reading and rereading Holy Writ until great swaths were committed to memory, now I find it much easier to visit BibleGateway.com rather than haul out the old print concordance and crack my knuckles before straining a muscle to lift the thing. The other day while looking up a passage for class on BibleGateway, I saw an advertisement that made me cringe. Zondervan, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, is now offering a “Precious Princess Bible.” I did a literalist double-take at the banner. My imagination began to spin: does this edition offer all the misogynistic passages in pink letters? Should not the owner of all FOX News do all that is possible to keep women in their place?

Even a short list will serve to make the point:
Exodus 21.7: And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.
Leviticus 27.3-4: And thy estimation shall be of the male from twenty years old even unto sixty years old, even thy estimation shall be fifty shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary. And if it be a female, then thy estimation shall be thirty shekels.
1 Corinthians 11.3: But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.
1 Corinthians 14.35: And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
1 Timothy 2.12-13: But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve.

The Bible is hardly a tome to affirm the “precious princess” concept that many modern parents believe they are fortunate enough to claim. No matter how much we candy-coat it, this is salvation with a double standard. One of the truly remarkable aspects of Christianity is the number of women who adhere to it despite the secondary status the foundation document lends to them. Despite a few harsh words, Jesus is depicted as treating women well. But the Bible tantalizingly refuses to tip even his hand in favor of feminism. The Bible is a man’s world. I am personally awaiting the He-Man Combat edition. It would fit many parts of the Scriptures remarkably well.

When Machines Fall in Love

When I want to have a good scare, I seldom think to turn to Time magazine. This week’s issue, however, has me more jittery than a Stephen King novel. One of the purest delights in life is being introduced to new concepts. Those of us hopelessly addicted to education know the narcotic draw of expanding worldviews. Once in a while, however, a development changes everything and leaves you wondering what you were doing before you started reading. A change so profound that nothing will ever return to normal. Singularity. The point of no return. According to the cover story by Lev Grossman, we are fast approaching what theorist and technologist Raymond Kurzweil projects as the moment when humanity will be superseded by its own technology. The Singularity. Noting the exponential growth of technology, Singularitarians – almost religious in their zeal – predict that computing power will match and then surpass human brain speed and capacity by 2023. By 2045 computers will outdistance the thought capacity of every human brain on the planet (more challenging for some than for others, no doubt). The software (us) will have become obsolete.

A corollary to this technological paradise is that by advancing medical techniques (for those who can afford them) and synching tissue with silicone chip, we may be able to make humans immortal. We will have finally crossed that line into godhood. Kurzweil notes laconically, death is why we have religion. Once death is conquered, some of us will be left without a job. (Those of my colleagues who actually have jobs, that is.) We have empirically explained events as far back as the Big Bang, and no deities need apply. The evolution of life seems natural and inevitable with no divine spark. And now we are to slough off mortality itself. O brave new world!

There was a time when mythographers created the very gods. They gave us direction and focus beyond scraping an existence from unyielding soil. We have, however, grown up. There are a few problems, nevertheless. Scientists are no nearer explaining or understanding emotion than they were at the birth of psychology. We might explain what chemicals produce which response, but we can’t explain how it feels. Emotion, as the very word indicates, drives us. Until Apple comes out with iMotion and our electronic devices feel for us we are stuck falling in love for ourselves. Computers can only do, we are told, what they are programmed to do. The mythographer steps down, the programmer steps up as the new God designer. Having dealt extensively with both, I feel I know which I trust better to provide an emotionally satisfying future.

Zadoc P. Dederick's Steam-Man

Devils and Mooncussers

New Jersey is an easy state to caricature. Some of the most remarkable aspects, however, are those that seldom find their way into the popular media. An unseasonably warm spell led my family to a sudden awareness of cabin fever that sent us seeking diversion over the weekend. We ended up at Tuckerton Seaport. To get to the museum from our location meant a long drive through the pine barrens. This unique ecosystem is impressive for its size (over a million acres) as well as for its unique plant-life and relative lack of population. And, of course, the Jersey Devil.

A relatively harmless Jersey Devil

Even serious museums such as the Seaport can be expected to play up the heritage a bit. In a corner of the wildlife diorama is tucked a little sculpture of the Jersey Devil. The diabolical aspect comes only from the folklore of its birth as an accursed child. Far more dangerous were the human elements in the maritime history. Mooncussers were those who set out false lights for ships, hoping to lure them into the shore where the vessels would run aground, leading to easy plundering. The lighthouse has long been a religious symbol, a metaphor ready-made for illumination, safety, and solidity. This very reputation led the way for mooncussers to steal the signs of security to enhance personal gain.

The devil of personal gain unfortunately haunts more than the remote pine barrens of New Jersey. Those who use religion to attain that gain are the modern mooncussers who draw the unwary too near to the rocks and shoals. And mooncussers encourage others to participate in their sham, as long as there are gullible captains who are uncertain of the shore. The early church liked to compare itself to a ship. This image inspired many a nave ceiling to be designed as the hull of an upturned boat. Unfortunately, the hull often appears to have been capsized and the mooncussers appear in the role of diabolical captains set on wrecking the very vessel they command. Who needs a devil when human greed is far more than adequate to lead even the upright to opt for easy gain at others’ expense?

In the Name of Hate

Saint Valentine’s Day: a minor holiday that no one gets off work or school, but which has both naughty and nice aspects to it. A day with long pre-Christian associations (sorry St. Valentine), the celebration has become an icon of love in the Hallmarkian holiday world. It is a welcome change to the weariness of winter that drags on around the northern hemisphere, reminding lovers and curmudgeons alike spring is on its way. A holiday of hope.

At the same time, an editorial in Saturday’s New Jersey Star-Ledger raises the ghosts of less pleasant times. The Mississippi Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans is attempting to sponsor state license plates honoring General Nathan Forrest, first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. While pointing out that Forrest eventually distanced himself from the movement, state officials want to acknowledge his contribution to their state’s history. License plates advertise to the nation as a whole what states uphold as their most attractive traits. In a world where the Klan is still seething under the surface, with active groups in nearly all states, it is not hard to see that hate can not lead us forward. It has failed in the past and it has no hope of success in the future.

Among the most distressing, if not revealing, features of various hate groups is their outspoken adherence to “old time” Christianity. Religion is but one tool in their arsenal, but what makes it so deadly is that even “peaceful” religions such as Christianity have a violent heritage. The Bible can be used to justify genocide as well as rescuing the widow and orphan. Christianity has a long history of being used for political, often hateful, ends in America. It is a trend that is dressed up in its Sunday best for glib talk-show hosts and windbag politicians who claim that “old time” values (read “white privilege”) are what America needs. Do we really need more hate? It’s Valentine’s Day. Let’s give it a break on the rhetoric of hate for at least a day. Who knows? It may become a habit.