Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

New Meeting House For Society Of Ethical Culture

From October 16, 1910

NEW MEETING HOUSE FOR SOCIETY OF ETHICAL CULTURE

NEW MEETING HOUSE FOR SOCIETY OF ETHICAL CULTURE: Unusual and Interesting Features About the Edifice That Will Be Dedicated Next Sunday. Simplicity the Keynote — The Seats are Arranged Radially Around Slightly Elevated Platform. (PDF)

Over the previous two weeks, the Sunday Magazine had published several articles about religion. First, they had a front-page story in which Thomas Edison declares there is no soul or afterlife. The following week, they published articles in which experts claim that there surely is an afterlife. This week, they approach the topic from a different vantage, announcing the opening of a new meeting house for the Society of Ethical Culture, a non-theistic congregation led by Felix Adler.

For the unfamiliar, here is some of what Felix Adler has to say about ethical culture:

“Moral training is necessary for every one; religious training is another matter. Not every one is born with a religious nature; there can be unreligious persons just as there are unmusical persons.

“It is a gift, given to many and omitted almost entirely in the case of others.

“Very great harm is done by trying to force religion on people who are not by nature religious. They are not attuned to it, they do not grasp the real significance of it, and they inevitably degrade it. Much of the tragedy of history has arisen from no other cause than insistence in forcing religion on persons irreligious by temperament, and their consequent misconception of it.

“Therefore, in my own training of children I assume with regard to religion the attitude of ‘You may take it or leave it.’ A child of religious temperament may be trained in religious thought, but others may need only moral training, and would be better for not having the religious side forced on them.”

Today, the Society of Ethical Culture continues to have regular Sunday services for the unreligious community, and houses the Fieldston School, a notable private school whose alumni include Diane Arbus, Sofia Coppola, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Walter Koenig.

The article describes the building’s architecture, including its auditorium, which is used today not just for the Society’s services, but for other community events, too. I attended a Lydia Kavina theremin concert there in 2000, and a panel discussion on civil liberties after 9/11 moderated by Phil Donahue in 2002. You can find a calendar of events at the Society’s website

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Written by David

October 15th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Posted in Education,Religion

Readers Of The Times Take Issue With Edison’s Statements

From October 9, 1910

READERS OF THE TIMES TAKE ISSUE WITH EDISONS STATEMENTS

READERS OF THE TIMES TAKE ISSUE WITH EDISON’S STATEMENTS (PDF)

100 years ago last week, the Times Magazine ran a front page article in which Thomas Edison states his belief that there is no soul, and no life after death. This week, the Magazine printed several articles in response.

Here, the Times prints several letters to the editor in response to the article. They show a cross section of views from the public.

Some readers, like Adele Malette, disagreed with Edison. She says, “I firmly believe there is a supernatural being, and I thoroughly believe of life after death, life in this same world; that the soul reappears in the shape of another body, and that the soul is in the brain.” She also believes that animals have souls, but she doesn’t believe there is a heaven.

But a reader named Lurana Sheldon wrote to praise Edison for speaking out:

The “amazing” part, it seems to me, is that Mr. Edison is willing to give his views to the world and take the petty furor of undeveloped minds that will doubtless rage at his statements.

This is not an age of martyrdom, and few people will bother to expound their faiths, especially if by so doing they are bound to joggle the pedestal of some mythological belief, unless in the words of commercialism “there is something in it.”

Mr. Edison does not need to preach even the most intelligent faith; he can go right on eating, without telling any one what he thinks, but the fact that he has “put himself on paper” so fearlessly is certainly “amazing” — delightfully so, in fact — now who else in his rank and file will follow his example?

If Lurana were around today, she might be interested in the Celebrity Atheist List, a wiki that chronicles notable individuals who have publicly stated their own lack of belief in deities.

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Written by David

October 8th, 2010 at 10:30 am

Posted in Debate,Religion,Science

Author Of “Brain And Personality” Replies To Edison

From October 9, 1910

AUTHOR OF BRAIN AND PERSONALITY REPLIES TO EDISON

AUTHOR OF “BRAIN AND PERSONALITY” REPLIES TO EDISON: Dr W. H. Thompson, Whose Book the Inventor Quoted, Says That Any One Denying the Immortality of the Soul Is Either Abnormal or Pathological. (PDF)

100 years ago last week, the Times Magazine ran a front page article in which Thomas Edison states his belief that there is no soul, and no life after death. This week, the Magazine printed several articles in response.

In the original article, Edison said that our brains are nothing more than bundles of cells. In reply, Dr W. H. Thompson, author of a book called “Brain and Personality” (Google Books), says that Edison doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He correctly points out that “the fact that he is prominent in one branch of science does not entitle him to pass on other branches of science.” Often a person who is an expert in one area oversteps their bounds by speaking authoritatively in another area. So it’s good of Thompson to call out Edison on that point. But with no concrete evidence of immortality, does Thompson, an expert on the brain, commit the same infraction when he states, “People who do not believe in immortality are abnormal, if not pathological”? Where did he get his expertise on immortality?

He goes on to say interesting things about the brain and how it relates to personality, as was understood in 1910. I’d like to see a recent look at the subject for comparison. How much more do we know about the brain and personality now than we knew a hundred years ago?

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Written by David

October 8th, 2010 at 10:15 am

Is There A World Of Spirit Behind Matter?

From October 9, 1910

IS THERE A WORLD OF SPIRIT BEHIND MATTER?

IS THERE A WORLD OF SPIRIT BEHIND MATTER? (PDF)

100 years ago last week, the Times Magazine ran a front page article in which Thomas Edison states his belief that there is no soul, and no life after death. This week, the Magazine printed several articles in response.

In this one, Dr. Isaac Heysinger recounts the evidence for life after death as he published in his book “Spirit and Matter Before the Bar of Modern Science” (Google Books). If what he says in the article is any indication, it seems to be just a lot of anecdotal evidence.

He starts by listing a full page of scientists who believe in the spirit world. He goes on to say:

“The basis of all religions,” he declares, “of whatever race, country, or age, is the same, and this basis is precisely identical with the claims and practices of modern Spritualism” — meaning by that term the Spiritualistic conception of the universe. “This universal belief,” he goes on, “in all times and ages, and among all people, is valid evidence of its truth.”

In other words, if enough people believe in something it must be true!

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Written by David

October 8th, 2010 at 10:00 am

Posted in Debate,Religion,Science

Illiterate Man Becomes A Doctor When Hypnotized

From October 9, 1910

ILLITERATE MAN BECOMES A DOCTOR WHEN HYPNOTIZED

ILLITERATE MAN BECOMES A DOCTOR WHEN HYPNOTIZED: Strange power Shown by Edgar Cayce Puzzles Physicians (PDF)

Edgar Cayce was a self-professed psychic who is today regarded as an early influence on the New Age movement. He is most known for putting himself into a trance and answering questions about health, although he also answered questions on everything from reincarnation to Atlantis.

For a great bit of reading on the subject, start with this article. Then read his biography at the Edgar Cayce Association for Research and Enlightenment. Finish with the Edgar Cayce entry at the Skeptic’s Dictionary, which explains how Cayce and others like him appear to do what they claim to do.

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Written by David

October 8th, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in Nature,Religion,Science

“No Immortality Of The Soul” Says Thomas A. Edison

From October 2, 1910

NO IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL SAYS THOMAS A. EDISON

“NO IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL” SAYS THOMAS A. EDISON: In Fact, He Doesn’t Believe There Is a Soul — Human Beings Only an Aggregate of Cells and the Brain Only a Wonderful Machine, Says Wizard of Electricity. (PDF)

On the occasion of a Harvard Professor’s death, Edward Marshall asked Thomas Edison about his views on life after death.

Searching the inner structure of all things for the fundamental, Edison told me he had come to the conclusion that there is no “supernatural,” or “supernormal,” as the psychic researchers put it — that all there is, that all there has been, all there ever will be, can or will, soon or late, be explained along material lines…

“I cannot believe in the immortality of the soul,” he said to me.. “Heaven? Shall I, if I am good and earn reward, go to heaven when I die? No — no. I am not I — I am not an individual — I am an aggregate of cells, as for instance, New York City is an aggregate of individuals. Will New York City go to heaven?

“No, all this talk of an existence for us, as individuals, beyond the grave is wrong. It is born of our tenacity of life — our desire to go on living — our dread of coming to an end as individuals. I do not dread it, though. Personally I cannot see any use of a future life.”

“But the soul!” I protested. “The soul–”

“Soul? Soul? What do you mean by soul? The brain?”

“Well, for the sake of argument, call it the brain, or what is in the brain. Is there not something immortal of or in the human brain — the human mind?”

“Absolutely no,” he said with emphasis. “There is no more reason to believe that any human brain will be immortal than there is to think that one of my phonographic cylinders will be immortal. My photographic cylinders are mere records of sounds which have been impressed upon them…

“Yet no one thinks of claiming immortality for the cylinders or the phonograph. Then why claim it for the brain mechanism or the power that drives it? Because we don’t know what this power is, shall we call it immortal?”

If you’re guessing that this article, which appeared on the front page of the Times Magazine, caused some controversy among the Times readers, you’re guessing correctly. In this weekend’s entries, I’ll publish letters from Times readers in response to this article.

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Written by David

October 6th, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Posted in Debate,Religion,Science

Sunday Schools That Teach Children Anarchy

From May 8, 1910

SUNDAY SCHOOLS THAT TEACH CHILDREN ANARCHY

SUNDAY SCHOOLS THAT TEACH CHILDREN ANARCHY: A Thousand Young Persons Are Being Trained in New York to Be Successors of Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkmann (PDF)

I saw this headline and I thought it was just some overblown sensationalism. But then I read the article, and it turns out they’re literally talking about anarchist-run schools. In particular, they point out the a particular Sunday School on Avenue A, run by Alexander Berkmann, a “leading member of the anarchist movement in the 20th century” (quoting Wikipedia).

I scoffed at first because I typically think of schools as places with strict rules to follow. How could anarchists run a school? But the more I read, the more the school sounded pretty good. It’s just on Sunday, so the students presumably attended a normal school during the week, and it seems like it probably provided thought provoking counterpoint. Here is some of what Berkmann told the Times about the curriculum:

The pupil of the Anarchist Sunday school is taught to reason. The teacher only serves to direct their attention to a problem.

“One child,” said Berkmann, “wanted to know whether he should pray. ‘My mother wants me to pray,’ said the child, ‘but my father says that it is not necessary.'”

“Did you answer the problem?” he was asked.

“No,” he said. “I try to keep back my own views and develop the mentality of the children that they may form their own opinions and arrive at their own conclusions. The question was answered by a little girl, who said, ‘Praying is good because it relieves the soul.'”

Another attempt of a Sunday school pupil along this line was made when a youngster requested to know if it was possible for people to know what God wants them to do.

These occasional inquiries as to the spiritual life have generally ended in the Anarchist Sunday schools with the proposition that some of the remarkable things in life can be understood and that there are questions which never can be settled. The mental attitude of the children might be put in this way: We are not certain whether there are grounds for the belief that we should pray.

That, of course, leaves the question well in the field of agnosticism. The teacher of anarchy does not, with the children, declare that there is no God. Nor does he say that there is a God. The Sunday school class goes frequently to the Museum of Natural History, to Central Park, to the Zoological Gardens, and other places where, with the teacher, nature is studied.

That sounds pretty good to me. At least until the part later where Berkmann speaks against having laws. But in general, I like that the students were being taught to think for themselves and not just blindly follow authority on at least one day a week.

Wikipedia has more to say about the anarchist schools here.

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Written by David

May 7th, 2010 at 9:05 am

Mark Twain’s Secret Book Gives Startling Views

From May 1, 1910

MARK TWAINS SECRET BOOK GIVES STARTLING VIEWS

MARK TWAIN’S SECRET BOOK GIVES STARTLING VIEWS: The Humorist Wrote His Serious Thoughts on Religion and Life and Had Them Printed for Private Circulation Among His Intimates (PDF)

This issue of the Times came out about 10 days after Mark Twain died. The article excerpts a book called What is Man? that Twain had written and only shared with his close friends. Just 250 copies were printed, and were attributed to his personal secretary. Even his most knowledgeable biographer had never heard of it.

The article says, “The book is in the form of a dialogue between an Old Man and a Young Man. The Old Man had asserted that a human being is merely a machine and nothing more. The Young Man objected and asked him to go into particulars and furnish his reasons for his position.”

Having only ever read Twain’s famous works, I’d never heard of this book before. The article includes several excerpts that are thought-provoking and philosophical. You can read the entire text for free at the Gutenberg Project. A free edition is also available for the nook. I couldn’t find a free copy for Kindle but this one is only 95 cents.

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Written by David

April 30th, 2010 at 9:01 am

Baden Powell’s Boy Scout Plan Invades America

From April 24, 1910

BADEN POWELLS BOY SCOUT PLAN INVADES AMERICA

BADEN POWELL’S BOY SCOUT PLAN INVADES AMERICA: W. B. Wakefield, Who Has Charge of It in England, and Ernest Thompson Seton Will Help Establish It Throughout America (PDF)

I associate the Boy Scouts of America so strongly with Americana in general that I never suspected that scouts began anywhere but in the USA. It turns out that the Scouting Movement was started in England by Baden Powell, the man depicted in the center illustration.

Today the Boy Scouts are the subject of several controversies. For example, they don’t allow atheists or homosexuals as members, and yet they receive support from the Federal Government. The BSA’s ban on gay members is more interesting considering recent speculation that Powell himself may have been a repressed homosexual.

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Written by David

April 23rd, 2010 at 9:02 am

No Flood If Noah Had Known Hydraulics

From April 10, 1910

NO FLOOD IF NOAH HAD KNOWN HYDRAULICS

NO FLOOD IF NOAH HAD KNOWN HYDRAULICS: Old Testament Story Viewed in the Light of Recent Surveys of the “Garden of Eden” in the Euphrates Valley (PDF)

Let’s just pretend for a moment that the stories in the Bible are literally true, and there really was a flood that happened exactly as described. This article suggests that “the skill of modern engineers… could readily have prevented the inundation.”

Wasn’t the flood supposed to have covered the whole planet? We can barely contain floods today with modern engineering, so that would be a big feat for 1910 hydraulics. The article says, “The Bible records that the flood rose to a height of 15 cubits, or 22½ feet.” That’s it? Just 15 cubits? I always thought the waters rose 15 cubits above the highest mountain. So I looked it up. Genesis 7:20 says “Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered” (KJV). I guess they were small mountains.

For comparison, the maximum height of a New Orleans levee in 2005 was 23 feet.

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Written by David

April 9th, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Nature,Religion,Science