Friday, July 30, 2010

Joel Osteen...I am your father.

Meet Russell Conwell, a Baptist minister and the founder of Temple University.  Conwell served in the Civil War before becoming a lawyer then pastor of a church in Philadelphia.  In the late 19th century, he was the "self-appointed spokesman for the Gospel of Success" (Howard P. Chudacoff, Review in American History 10.4).  His main shtick was a sermon/speech called Your Best Life Now  "Acres of Diamonds" which he gave on around 6,000 occasions.  The main point of Conwell's message was that being rich was a good thing, and that everyone had an opportunity to get rich if they would only apply themselves, work hard, and pull themselves up by the bootstrap.  Here is an excerpt from his famous speech to give you a taste of Conwell's philosophy:
Social Progress and Religious Faith
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I say that you ought to get rich, and it is our duty to get rich. How many of my pious brethren say to me, “Do you, a Christian minister, spend your time going up and down the country advising young people to get rich, to get money?” “Yes, of course I do.” They say, “Isn’t that awful! Why don’t you preach the gospel instead of preaching about man’s making money?” “Because to make money honestly is to preach the gospel.” That is the reason. The men who get rich may be the most honest men you find in the community. “Oh,” but says some young man here to-night, “I have been told all my life that if a person has money he is very dishonest and dishonorable and mean and contemptible.”
My friend, that is the reason why you have none, because you have that idea of people. The foundation of your faith is altogether false. Let me say here clearly, and say it briefly, though subject to discussion which I have not time for here, ninety-eight out of one hundred of the rich men of America are honest men.  That is why they are rich."

The more things change...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Lucian's description of 2nd-century Christians

Lucian was a satirist who lived in the Roman Empire in the 2nd century AD.  Today, he is most well-known for writing The Death of Peregrinus, a satirical biography of a man named Peregrinus Proteus.  The book is well-known mainly because it is one of the earliest accounts we have today of the pagan perception of this new religious group called "Christians."  Below are the excerpts from Lucian's book that talk about the protagonist's time spent living with Christians.  You'll quickly notice that Lucian does not have a very high view of the Christians.  And yet, many of the traits that Lucian pokes fun of are seen today as badges of honor for Christians; things like their selflessness, sense of community, charity, and generosity.  You'll also notice that Lucian's descriptions of the Christians seem to reference specific Jewish practices.  He refers to the synagogue, and mentions "forbidden meats", seemingly a reference to Jewish dietary restrictions that by the 2nd century were not found in many Christian circles (it is possible, however, that Lucian is referring to the eating of meat that had been dedicated to a Roman god or the emperor...eating this was tantamount to idolatry to some Christians).  But enough chit-chat.  Check out the text for yourself.

"It was now that he came across the priests and scribes of the Christians, in Palestine, and picked up their queer creed. I can tell you, he pretty soon convinced them of his superiority; prophet, elder, ruler of the Synagogue--he was everything at once; expounded their books, commented on them, wrote books himself. They took him for a God, accepted his laws, and declared him their president. The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day,--the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. Well, the end of it was that Proteus was arrested and thrown into prison. This was the very thing to lend an air to his favourite arts of clap-trap and wonder-working; he was now a made man. The Christians took it all very seriously: he was no sooner in prison, than they began trying every means to get him out again,--but without success. Everything else that could be done for him they most devoutly did. They thought of nothing else. Orphans and ancient widows might be seen hanging about the prison from break of day. Their officials bribed the gaolers to let them sleep inside with him. Elegant dinners were conveyed in; their sacred writings were read; and our old friend Peregrine (as he was still called in those days) became for them "the modern Socrates."
In some of the Asiatic cities, too, the Christian communities put themselves to the expense of sending deputations, with offers of sympathy, assistance, and legal advice. The activity of these people, in dealing with any matter that affects their community, is something extraordinary; they spare no trouble, no expense. Peregrine, all this time, was making quite an income on the strength of his bondage; money came pouring in. You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on trust, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property. Now an adroit, unscrupulous fellow, who has seen the world, has only to get among these simple souls, and his fortune is pretty soon made; he plays with them.

...Proteus now set out again on his wanderings. The Christians were meat and drink to him; under their protection he lacked nothing, and this luxurious state of things went on for some time. At last he got into trouble even with them; I suppose they caught him partaking of some of their forbidden meats. They would have nothing more to do with him, and he thought the best way out of his difficulties would be, to change his mind about that property, and try and get it back."

Monday, July 12, 2010

Discordant quotes from the past

Nearly every book I read is nonfiction, and most of it trends towards being a book about history, or being a famous book in the past that is now considered a primary source of history.  Most of my reading includes the thoughts and opinions and cultures that are separated from today's world by hundreds or thousands of years, and as such, I often run across quotes from historical figures that simply jar with my 21st century, American mindset.  They strike such a discordant note that I often write them down to have them for reference.  Other times, I will run across quotes do not necessarily jar with my mindset as much as they simply surprise me.  I'll be posting these collections of quotes from time to time as I come across them.  Other than providing some background and context for the quotes, I will simply let them speak for themselves. 

Malachy Postlethwayt, 18th century English author/economist, defending the English slave trade in the colonies:
  • "We shall take things as they are, and reason from them in their present state, and not from that wherein we could hope them to be...We cannot think of giving up the slave-trade, notwithstanding my good wishes that it could be done."
St. Augustine, expressing amazement at how God allows him to know things about his infancy from the stories his family tells him even though he can't remember those years:
  • "You have endowed men so that he can gather these things concerning himself from others, and even on the words of weak women believe much about himself."
Editorial from the September, 1912 edition of The Biblical World, referring to prostititution:
  • "Some of the men and women who know most about the facts, and who are our representatives in this task, express their confident hope that this century may be known in history as the time when this dark blot was removed from human life."
Written in The New York Herald in 1893.
  • "Thanksgiving Day is no longer a solemn festival to God for mercies given.  It is a holiday granted by the State and Nation to see a game of football."