Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Chuck and Abe (and Sam)

image credit: Freedom from Religion Foundation

On February 12, 1809, two great men were born, Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln. Each would shape the world, challenging accepted wisdom of the day and influencing generations to follow.

But what do they really have in common, other than a shared birthday 200-years ago? ..... Neither man was religious!

Charles Darwin came to reject religious dogma late in his life, after writing On The Origin of Species (1859). By the time his Descent of Man was published in 1871, he could say ....

"For my part, I would as soon be descended from a baboon as from a savage who delights to torture his enemies, treats his wives like slaves, and is haunted by the grossest superstitions."

Darwin's memoirs were published posthumously in 1887 with his controversial views on religion carefully excised. Only in 1958 did Darwin's granddaughter finally agree to publish the original omissions which include this excerpt:

"I can hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so, the plain language of the text seems to show that those who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. This is a most damnable doctrine."

The same thing happened with Mark Twain's Letters from the Earth (link to full 55-pg novella of Satan trying to make sense of The Creator's Pet, Man). It was precluded from publication until some 50-years after his death due to his family's wishes to preserve The Great American Author's lofty perch in the minds of the somewhat less lofty American Public's Belief Structure. Letters from the Earth is usually paired with Twain's The Damned Human Race (link to a short but excellent excerpt) in which he noodles the idea that far from being the Highest Animal or Pinnacle of Creation, humans are in fact the Lowest Animal, and certainly undeserving of any special importance!

Abraham Lincoln was never religious, it seems. Oh sure, he liked to toss around references to "the Almighty" or "Divine Providence", but his closest friends all knew he was strongly rationalist and no fan of conventional religion.

Lincoln's first law partner, John Stuart, observed, "He went further against Christian beliefs and doctrines and principles than any man I ever heard; he shocked me." Colonel James Matheny, Lincoln's one-time political manager, said, "I knew he was an infidel. He attacked the Bible and the New Testament on their inherent contradictions. Sometimes Lincoln bordered on Atheism." David Davis, who rode with Lincoln on the court circuit and later became a Supreme Court Justice said, "He had no faith, in the Christian sense of the term."

Colonel Ward Lamon, author of Life of Abraham Lincoln in 1872, wrote: "Mr Lincoln was never a member of any church ... He showed no sign of that piety which his many biographers ascribe to him. When he went to church at all, he went to mock and came away to mimic ... He consorted with Freethinkers, joined with them in deriding the gospel ... and read Volney and Paine." A lifetime friend of Lincoln who was put in charge of Lincoln's funeral train, Colonel Lamon was a profoundly religious man himself who said he just wanted the historical record to be accurate.

* * * * * * * * * *

All of which makes me admire Lincoln all the more! Considering the rough times he presided over, he resisted the temptation to frame the Civil War as a mandate from God like many Abolitionists of his day were busily urging. Instead, Lincoln saw it as a moral issue, and his attitude showed that morality is not the sole provence of religion.

I credit Darwin with providing the theory a girl would stumble upon in her 14th year. Once she embraced evolution, everything else made sense, and she was thus given the power and inner strength to remove herself from the arms of the church.

That 14-yr old girl was me! However, the years since then have made me somewhat more tolerant. I now see that my way is not everyone's way. And so I respect other people's belief systems as long as they do not impinge on my or anyone else's rights or freedoms.

HAPPY 200th, CHUCK and ABE!

As for Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), I maintain a lifelong affair of the heart, separated only by time. Who could not love the man who wrote in 1902: "What is the difference between a taxidermist and a tax collector? The taxidermist takes only your skin."

Yes folks, I am in still in the throes of tax season woes!


Fran said...

Great post & greetings to you in the dungeon.

* Off topic: Have you heard from Cart lately? He lives down under.... ope he's OK???

Spadoman said...

I was a little older than 14 when I 'saw the light'. I never could accept the man behind the curtain telling us not to eat meat on Friday and if we did, we'd rot in hell for eternity. And to be able to go to church on Saturday night, BEFORE you go out to drink, to get your Sunday, Keep Holy the Sabbath, holy duty done, so you can sleep off the hangover really made sense!

You wrote, as a Mark Twain excerpt, " which he noodles the idea that far from being the Highest Animal or Pinnacle of Creation, humans are in fact the Lowest Animal, and certainly undeserving of any special importance!"

I have been reading Twain's short story works. He certainly was a radical for his day. The Native Indigenous Americans have a story about man and his existance on the Sacred Earth Mother. They say that the world would cease to exist if any of the four legged, the winged creatures, the crawlers or the swimmers went missing, but it would flourish beyond belief if the two-leggeds were gone.

For me? The Flying Spaghetti Monster theory has a lot of weight.

Good to be home. Good to stop by and see what you're thinking.

Annette said...

Great post..the inner thinking of others. Always makes you wonder what others think when they write about them saying things that tell they got inspiration from above and

eProf2 said...

You outdid yourself on this post this morning honoring three very unique historical characters. While listening to NPR today I learned that the Anglican Church issued an apology to Charles "Chuck" Darwin today on his 200th birthday. Whether that means the Anglican Church now believes in evolution or not I do not know.

Cart said...

I had my say a few weeks ago on CD so I will respond to Fran’s kind enquiry. My south Pacific paradise is well removed from both recent flooding in the north and the current fires in Victoria. But like all Aussies I’m not distanced from the enormous grief sweeping this country.
I haven’t blogged the fire issue because there are just too many aspects to do justice to the whole story. What I can tell you is that across this country we feel bound together n a way only disaster seems to generate.
Like most Aussies I’ve experienced my share of bushfires, lived through the loss and suffering firsthand. Like most I didn’t need to be there to feel the very real pain.
An example – the flood victims in the north are donating their assistance money to the fire victims who actually lost homes and family. The flood victims say they can clean up their mess, but at lest they still have homes to clean up.
I should also say that the outpouring of love and support from around the world is more comforting than you could ever know. So at least I can shout thank you from all Aussies. The danger has not yet passed, but we know we are not in this on our own.

an average patriot said...

Hey Red
That was your best, I don't think I knew any of that. It is obvious you are enamored, Excellent!
I am Christian since birth but a free thinker and love what Darwin said and agree:
"I can hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so, the plain language of the text seems to show that those who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. This is a most damnable doctrine."

D.K. Raed said...

****** Note to all:
I am so sorry! Been working like a fiend to finish my corporate taxes. Almost forgot I had set this post up about 10-days ago to auto post for Chuck and Abe's B-Day! Had to finish the corp taxes so we can take off for our Local Home Show starting tomorrow. It promises to be a whirlwind week of profligate greed. I'm sure to be TSK-TSKing a lot!

Fran: I see Cart left you a response.

Spado: not being raised catholic, I never had the advantage of being able to pre-sabbath! and yeah, the NA's are onto something about the earth flourishing if us 2-leggeds would disappear.

Annette: inspiration is where you find it!

Eprof: some churches must embrace evolution by now. of course they still want to track back to the original spark. all those centuries of repressed science ... Gallileo being shown the instruments of torture ... Copurnicus publishing posthumously ... the lost opportunities of aristotle and algebra!

Cart: I have thought about you down there everytime we hear or see the wildfire news. The paths of death of destruction are terrible. No stranger to wildfires myself, I worry about the people and the animals, too. What happens to the slow moving koalas? Don't the 'roos get all disoriented and sometimes flee right into the flames?

Avg Patriot:
Nice to see ya! I hope to be around more next month & get caught up. Good to know that Free Thinking and Christianity are not mutually exclusive!

Cart said...

DK, in the worst of this there hasn’t been time for confusion for people or animals. We’ve seen the footage and heard the stories now and clearly the firestorms were hurricane strength and at times fire tornados. Mountain ash fires create their own weather systems.
But there are strange pockets of survival for homes, people and critters. Nothing that can be explained and survivors are often in need of help – disoriented as you say. It’s amazing to see wild and domestic animals approaching people for help. I guess you saw the koala drinking water from a bottle. They don’t drink water buy take it from leaves but their kidneys shut down quickly why they dehydrate and that koala did what it had to do.
It always amazes me how animals survive fires and quickly repopulate as vegetation returns.
It is just so bloody emotional on every level, but dumb people and clever animals continue to confound us with great examples of behaviour.

Border Explorer said...

I think some of my very favorite blog posts are those like this of yours, D.K., where the author takes a couple of ideas I've never put together and connects them. This one is lovely. Good luck on your taxes!

Fran said...

It's great the church issued an apology. They really did hang the *burn in hell* if you do not subscribe concept- some still do, even today.
It's a wonder angry villagers with torches & pitchforks did not take Darwin out!
The church was not very forgiving to those who dissented.

Hope you have quelled the tax demons.

D.K. Raed said...

B. Explorer:
Thanks, but you know I didn't have to search too hard for a connection after Clyde showed me the way (my post below).

Darwin's theory was certainly not greeted enthusiastically here in the U.S. (gross understatement). He had much better reception in England where the more liberal churches saw Natural Selection as an instrument of God's will. It's still up for debate in the Intelligent Design and Creation "Science" circles today. And of course, at least 3 of our recent repub prez candidates proudly flung up their arms in a non-embrace of evolution!

ps, these corp taxes will be the death of me yet ... I'm taking tomorrow off to clear my head & cleanse my palate (have you ever licked a federal government return envelope? DON'T ... unless you are into horse hooves!)

Ingrid said...

DK, Brava! In this country (and don't forget, I live in TX still and YOU in Utah) people live in this 'dream' of religion. And a deep down psychological insecurity (some call it 'death') keeps them from truly questioning. Like some children need to believe in fairy tales and need them in order to learn morals etc, some adults do not shed that immaturity and they need religion in order to give them boundaries or 'rules of living'. It's sad and I have circled out of faith accordingly.
Fascinating research, excellent!



D.K. Raed said...

Hey Ingrid, good to see not everyone in states like TX or UT has swallowed the "dream" (I love that observation, thanks!) ...