A Civilization Built on Slavery

May 18, 2018

Responding to Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities, by Craig Steven Wilder (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2013.

In the final paragraph of the prologue to Ebony and Ivy, Craig Steven Wilder makes a statement that could be looked upon as his thesis: “American colleges were not innocent or passive beneficiaries of conquest and colonial slavery. The European invasion of the Americas and the modern slave trade pulled peoples throughout the Atlantic world into each other’s lives, and colleges were among the colonial institutions that braided their histories and rendered their fates dependent and antagonistic. The academy never stood apart from American slavery—in fact, it stood beside church and state as the third pillar of a civilization built on slavery” (p. 11).

The portion of the Americas that this book treats is the eastern seaboard of North America, from New England through Georgia, the West Indies, and the eastern-most sections of the country across the mountains in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. The civilization discussed in the book was essentially English-speaking, Christian, Protestant (with strong rivalries between Puritan and Anglican colonies), and white. The academies included virtually all within this territory that were founded prior to the beginning of the Civil War: among them the most prestigious, including Harvard, Yale, and Princeton; some that became state universities, including University of Virginia and University of North Carolina; and smaller colleges such as Amherst, Dartmouth, Washington and Lee, and Transylvania.

Wiley mentions Hanover, a church college in Indiana close to the Ohio River, noting that its president was a slaveholder and that in 1836, when an antislavery association had begun meeting on campus, the trustees declared that it was “incompatible with the culture of the school [and] opposed by ‘at least nine-tenths of the students associated with the institution’” (p. 268).  The enslaved people whom Wiley discusses were primarily persons of African descent, but he gives some attention to the place of Native Americans in his historical account. He also shows that until late in the 1700s owning and working slaves was commonplace among northern and middle Atlantic academics and clergy (including John Cotton, Increase and Cotton Mather, Ezra Styles, Jonathan Edwards, and John Witherspoon).  Read more Ebony & Ivy


Home-Front Letters during the Civil War

April 17, 2018

Responding to Affectionately Yours: The Civil War Home-Front Letters of the Ovid Butler Family, edited by Barbara Butler Davis, with a Foreword by Alan T. Nolan (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2004)

Ovid Butler (1801–1881) was a successful attorney in Shelbyville, Indiana, when, in 1836 he moved to the fledgling city of Indianapolis to form a law partnership with Calvin Fletcher. His legal practice prospered, and Butler soon became a prominent community leader as the city developed. He was an active church leader, committed to the Disciples of Christ movement that was being shaped by the theological and social ideas of Alexander Campbell in Bethany, [West] Virginia.

As soon as Butler came to Indianapolis, he became a member of the Central Christian Church and quickly was elected to be a bishop (elder) of the congregation. Following the death in 1850 of John H. Sanders, a physician and community leader, who had been president of the church’s board of officers for many years, Butler was elected his successor and served in that capacity until his death in 1881.

Because of declining health, Butler retired from his legal partnership in 1847 but he continued his active role in public life and church leadership. He was deeply committed to overcoming slavery, which he referred to as “the great national sin” (Davis, 42), and became one of Indiana’s most vigorous proponents of the nation’s struggle to create a new social pattern. In a letter dated January 22, 1865, to his son Scott, who was a volunteer in the Union Army, Butler commented on the appearance that the rebellion would soon be over.

“But there is a Power higher and more potential than the power of the Social Good or of the President or of both combined. Who holds in His own Hand the issues of this conflict and He will dispose of them for the accomplishment of His own purpose. The whole history of the war so far shows that God is in it—controlling its events and that His purpose is not or at least has not hitherto been the purpose of either the North or of the South. But it is written in letters of blood upon the unrolling canvas of the conflict and whenever the Nation shall be willing to accept peace upon His terms—it will come and will be abiding. As I read His purpose those terms are the utter abolition of Slavery—the putting away of that sin—the blotting out that stain. Then—in the language of inspiration shall “our peace be as a river” and a future will open before us—more brilliant and more glorious than any Nation as yet enjoyed” (Davis, 141).

Butler was committed to establishing a college that would educate leaders for the new society that was emerging in the new states of the former Northwest Territory. With other Disciples leaders from Indiana, he developed plans for this new academic institution and they created North Western Christian University. Butler “wrote the charter, shepherded the bill through the legislature, and procured the necessary financial backing” (Davis, 4). They had to break with Alexander Campbell who had already established a college for Disciples, Bethany College in the village where he lived.

A major factor in the dispute was that Campbell, while not endorsing slavery, was willing to accommodate himself and his church to this social and cultural practice. “Breaking with Campbell, [Butler] and other members of the charter committee succeeded in seeing North Western Christian University become the first private, nonsectarian Christian college in the country to allow men and women, regardless of race, to pursue the same degree in the same four-year study of the classics” (Davis, 4). Because of Butler’s continuing importance in the development of this school, the trustees later named it in his honor.

From 1862 through 1865, Scott Butler served as a signalman in the Army of the Cumberland, participating in the battles of Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Franklin, and Nashville. “His Signal Corps unit also marched with Sherman to the sea” (Davis, xi). During this time his family wrote him frequently and sixty-five of these letters survive. Barbara Butler Davis, a great-great-granddaughter of Ovid Butler and Elizabeth Anne McOuat Butler, has transcribed and annotated these letters. She has added eighty pages of additional material about the several families that are intertwined in the Butler lineage. This book provides a window into an important period in American history and culture.

[Personal note: My interest in this book is heightened by my family’s nineteenth-century Indiana heritage. I am a Butler graduate and for many years our family lived near the university’s modern campus, and two of my children are Butler graduates. I currently am a member of Central Christian Church in which Butler worshiped and worked for forty-six years.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


What should cyclists eat so they can ride long and hard?

April 5, 2018

Reviewing Proteinaholic: How our obsession with meat is killing us and what we can do about it, by Garth Davis, M.D. (HarperOne, 2015)

Garth Davis, M.D., describes himself as “a weight-loss surgeon who runs a large surgical and medical weight-loss clinic [and is] on the front lines of the battle against obesity.” In 2008 he published a book entitled The Expert’s Guide to Weight-Loss Surgery, with every chapter “meticulously researched,” except the one on nutrition.

Seven years later, Davis published Proteinaholic: How our obsession with meat is killing us and what we can do about it. The reason for the second book: Davis realized that the patients who followed his advice about nutrition got sicker.

Perhaps more important was the deterioration in his own health. He was developing a big belly and could hardly drag himself out of bed in the morning. He was also developing seriously high cholesterol readings, elevated triglycerides, high blood pressure, and irritable bowel syndrome. Time for more research! (The bibliography of studies, in small type, is forty-six pages long.)

“I reviewed thousands of original studies, and hundreds of meta-analyses and reviews. And all of my research kept pointing to the same conclusion: Consuming animal protein is linked to chronic disorders and premature death. Eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes is associated with staying healthy” (p. 7).  Acting on this conclusion, Davis changed the way he ate.

He also developed a new pattern of physical activity when a friend introduced him to triathlons. He prepared for his first one in 2009 by running twenty miles a month. After doing a triathlon and several marathons, he competed an Ironman: a 2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run in a single day.

Instead of getting fatter, he now is getting stronger. “At forty-five I set a personal record in the marathon of 3 hours and 35 minutes, which is 21 minutes faster than the last two marathons I ran when I was forty” (p. 282).

In Part Two of this book (pp. 57–111), “How We Became Proteinaholics,” Davis gives a history of research and medical practice that in the early 1900s focused attention upon the positive effect that eating animal protein had upon impoverished, malnourished people who lived and worked in unhygienic conditions.

Even with the improvement in their health, they still were likely to die at early ages because of infectious diseases that had not yet been brought under control. Although animal protein is a causal factor in developing chronic diseases like diabetes, people were dying at too early an age for these problems to develop.

Conventional wisdom, supported by poorly conducted or misunderstood research, led most people to believe that animal protein was essential to good health and physical vigor. Medical providers and publishers of nutritional books followed this same line of thought and action.

In Part Three of Proteinaholic (pp. 115–236), “Death and Disease by Protein,” Davis provides a thirty-page primer on medical research and how we can evaluate its accuracy and reliability. He then outlines the evidence for animal protein’s role in developing diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, obesity, cancer, and premature death. He also presents evidence for the positive effects of plant-based foods in keeping people healthy and living long lives.

Part Four (pp. 239–327), “The Proteinaholic Recovery Plan,” can be understood as a shorter and more practical presentation of the ideas that Davis discusses in the earlier sections of the book. Conclusions that I am taking away from this chapter include: (1) “For our systems to function, and muscle to be built, we need protein and its metabolites but also energy from carbs and fat” (p. 240). (2) A vegetarian diet with enough calories, even with lower protein intake, is sufficient for the human body to produce all of the protein and nutrients that we need to function at a high level (p. 241). (3) Most people already are getting more protein than government guidelines recommend (pp. 247–8). (4) Athletes and the elderly may need more protein than other people, but even here the evidence is not clear (pp. 249 ff).

Although I’m in my eighties, I continue to be an endurance bicyclist and thus fit into two of the groups whom Davis suggests may need slightly more protein. My diet already consists largely of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, but I have also continued to use dairy and poultry products despite my growing ethical uneasiness about how they are produced.

I probably will not become a full vegan as Davis has chosen to be, but I am already increasing my dependence on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, and I’m cutting back on dairy. Davis’s forty-page meal guide has lots of interesting ideas.


Evangelicals and Climate Change

February 21, 2018

Caring for Creation: The Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment, by Mitch Hescox and Paul Douglas (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2016)

Paul Douglas describes himself as “a Christian, serial entrepreneur, meteorologist, Eagle Scout, and staunch Republican.” He forecasts the weather on Minneapolis-St. Paul TV. He believes that people “should be open to the facts, even when they make us squirm.”

Mitch Hescox comes from a coal mining family. In college he “encountered the truth, relevance, and mystery of the Bible.” He spent eighteen years pastoring a local church and then entered a national ministry centered on evangelism. He now heads the Evangelical Environmental Council.

These two authors believe that “there’s a place for science and a simultaneous faith in real absolutes, like a sovereign, all-powerful God. We believe in God. Science we test. And careful observations in the real world confirm that our actions are having unintended and profound consequences.” Their goal is “to turn down the volume of rhetoric, antagonism, and name-calling and focus on finding common ground: faith-based solutions that elevate personal responsibility and conservative values to tackle problems that face us” (p. 17).

Ideas discussed in this 169-page book (plus notes) can be summarized under three recommendations.

First, pay attention to what is happening to the weather, our climate, and the well-being of people and creation. They list six trends that got their attention and that readers should keep in mind; 1. Heat Waves, Droughts, and Wildfires; 2. More intense precipitation events; 3. Sea Level Rise; 4. More Intense Hurricanes; 5. Ocean Acidification; and 6. More “Weather Whiplash.”

Second, reaffirm the biblical doctrine of creation by a loving God and recover the God-given responsibility to care for creation.

Third, make creation care a major part of your life, thereby expressing your love of God and doing your part to bequeath the world to generations still to come.

The authors refer positively to Pope Francis’ Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality. These two books have much in common, which means that people whose religious commitments differ significantly can find value in reading both books. The Pope’s analyses and proposals are more comprehensive that those given by Hescox and Douglas, but their book, Caring for Creation, is more focused on environmental challenges in the United States. Both volumes can be recommended as religiously sensitive and complementary studies of the environmental crisis facing the world.

For many readers, the most important chapter is the one entitled “We Can Do It—With God’s Help.” Its thesis is: “By working together with God as our guide, we can rebuild our land with unpolluted air, pure water, healthy kids, and good jobs powered by new energies. All of which can also be shared with all of God’s children around the world. . .Government can’t do it, business can’t go it alone, and we won’t be able to do it by ourselves. But we can do it together” (p. 141).

The chapter abounds with examples of actions now under way that are making the kind of difference that will accomplish the hopes that Hescox and Mitchell recommend. Although the author’s do not include a reading list, their thirteen pages of notes provide leads to a significant number of studies, reports, and statements of opinion.


Major Taylor: The World’s Most Popular Athlete

February 8, 2018

Major Taylor: The Inspiring Story of a Black Cyclist and the Men Who Helped Him Achieve Worldwide Fame, by Conrad Kerber and Terry Kerber; Foreword by Greg LeMond (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2014)

The cycling life of Marshall W. “Major” Taylor is inspiring, as the authors of this biography claim in the subtitle to their thoroughly documented and graphically written biography. He was born November 28, 1878, on a farm near Indianapolis, at a time when racist antagonism toward African Americans was at a high point and lynchings were public spectacles. At home he experienced love, developed good work disciplines, and learned to play the piano.

His father, a Civil War veteran and horse trainer, often took his eight-year-old son with him to the home of a wealthy Indianapolis family where he worked as coachman. Marshall played with Daniel, the owner’s son, and his friends, and the owner bought Marshall a bicycle, which had become the rage everywhere, so he could ride with the other boys.

Marshall quickly outperformed his companions. He also taught himself how to do trick riding. Along with Daniel, he was privately tutored and learned the rudiments of reading and writing.

When he was thirteen, Marshall took his bike to a bicycle shop, one of several along Pennsylvania Street in Indianapolis, and was given a job that paid a little more than his paper route. A couple of years later, at another bike shop, he met Louis Munger, a thirty-year-old racer whose legs were giving out. Impressed by the scrawny teenager’s abilities on a bicycle, Munger became his trainer and friend, helped Marshall enter amateur races, and prepared him for the professional circuit.

About the same time, he met Arthur Zimmerman, one of the most celebrated cyclists of the era, who also befriended the young, inexperienced black athlete. With help from Munger and Zimmie, Marshall became an aggressive cyclist, specializing in short distance sprint races in which he clearly surpassed virtually every other rider. Taylor’s distinctive and powerful riding style won races, endeared him to spectators, and drew ever larger crowds, much to the delight of promoters.

The cycling establishment and most cyclists were opposed to allowing black people to compete in their sport. Much of this book details the terrible odds that Marshall faced. Other racers conspired against him, so that he would be boxed in, forced off course, and sometimes injured. A low point was when an enraged cyclist jumped on Taylor who was still lying on the track after an accident and came close to choking him to death. Despite the criminal character of the event, the assailant’s attack received only a modest penalty. Read more. . . . The World’s Most Popular Athlete


Saving the Planet: a short list of books with a hopeful point of view

January 30, 2018

It may be that people talk about the environment and climate change even more than about politics. Newspapers and electronic media run feature articles with vivid photography, and new titles show up on book lists, it seems, every day. Which should we read? How can we develop a point of view and course of action that make sense and offer hope? In connection with a seminar on this topic at my church, I developed a short reading list. These books are keyed to what I, along with many others, believe to be one of the most persuasive publications on this subject in recent years, which is the book that tops the list below. The books that follow are happily consistent with the “integral ecology” that is key to Pope Francis’ book.

On Care for Our Common Home: Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality by Pope Francis (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2015). Pope Francis describes the crisis now facing creation and outlines a biblical doctrine of creation to point to a new future. He says that wisdom from many sources is needed and he describes the future we should develop as an “integral ecology,” a world in which both people (especially the poor) and the natural world prosper.

 

Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet, by Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017). An “unrepentant capitalist” and the former executive director and chairman of the Sierra Club write paired essays on seven topics and a unified conclusion in which they state their belief that a better future can be achieved as people everywhere, and especially in cities, take doable action now.

 

Stitching the West Back Together: Conservation of Working Landscapes, edited by Susan Charnley, Thomas E. Sheridan, and Gary Nabham (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014). It includes essays by ranchers, environmentalists, and government officials in the southwest who discuss “community-based collaborative conservation” that protects land and waterways from abuse while making it possible for people to live in these regions and prosper.

 

Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization, by Steven Solomon (New York: HarperCollins, 2010). The availability, utilization, and control of water has from ancient times until now been one of the most important factors in human life, both of individuals and the larger communities in which they live. Solomon presents a detailed history of this history and of the current state of affairs. He believes that the societies that find the most innovative responses to the crises related to water now facing the world will most likely come out as winners, while the others will fall behind.

Green LivingGreen Living: The E Magazine Handbook for Living Lightly on the Earth, by the editors of E/The Environmental Magazine (New York: Plume, 2005). The book consists of thirteen chapters on topics ranging from “smart food choices, natural-fiber clothing, socially responsible investing, the healthy home, planet-friendly cars, using transit and bikes, and the rewards of reuse and recycling. Each chapter is arranged in short discussions of basic ideas, practical suggestions, and further reading. The book focuses on what people can do rather than on what they should do.


Caring for Creation: Spiritual Wisdom that Can Save the Planet

January 24, 2018

A recent book I can’t set aside is Pope Francis’ on Climate Change and Inequality: On Care for Our Common Home, which was published in 2015. In this book, one of the world’s most respected spiritual leaders describes the environmental crisis that threaten people everywhere, explains ways in which human activity contributes to changes in the environment, and casts a vision of the transformed world that people like us can help to create. He declares that many kinds of wisdom are needed, but as a representative of a biblically-based Christian faith community, he offers his guidance from that perspective. His ideas can be summarized under five headings.

God’s design for creation: God’s love has brought creation into existence and every creature is enfolded by God’s love. God has given a special responsibility to humankind, to care for creation. We are to respect its laws and the “delicate equilibria existing between the creatures of this world (¶ 68). “A fragile world, entrusted by God to human care, challenges us to devise intelligent ways of directing, developing and limiting our powers” (¶ 78).

The human response: Human beings misunderstand our original assignment to care for the world and its creatures so that each part lives in ways that are consistent with God’s design. Instead, we act as though we are in control, with the right to dominate all things for our own good. Pope Francis talks about the cult of unlimited human power and the “technocratic paradigm.” We master natural processes and do with them as we will.

The results: Some of the results of our technological prowess are good and lead to better lives the world over. Even so, our manipulation of nature also gives us power which often we do not use well. The exercise of this power can lead to suffering, destruction, and death. “When human beings place themselves at the centre, they give absolute priority to immediate convenience and all else becomes relative. Hence we should not be surprised to find, in conjunction with the omnipresent technocratic paradigm and the cult of unlimited human power, the rise of a relativism which sees everything as irrelevant unless it serves one’s own immediate interests. There is a logic in all this whereby different attitudes can feed on one another, leading to environmental degradation and social decay” (¶ 122).

Vision for the future: Pope Francis uses the term “integral ecology” to describe his vision of the world we can help to create. “Ecology studies the relationship between living organisms and the environment in which they develop.” Since all aspects of life are interrelated, he continues, the term “integral ecology” describes the world we hope to live in. The Pope discusses environmental, economic, and social ecology; cultural ecology; and the ecology of daily life. He affirms the importance of “the principle of the common good,” and the fact that this principle extends to future generations. If we face these issues courageously, we will be led to a deeper understanding of our purpose in the world and be able to live with greater dignity (¶ 160).

The response by people of faith: One of the strengths of the Pope’s encyclical in his emphasis upon the need for insights from all sources of wisdom: religious, scientific, philosophical, economic, political, artistic, and all the others. He also urges dialogue at all levels—individual, local, national, and international. As is appropriate for a leader of the Christian faith, he concludes his book by discussing “ecological education and spirituality.” He writes that “we have too many means and only a few insubstantial ends,” and encourages people to develop simpler life styles. Doing so, he continues, could have a positive effect upon businesses and lead then to give more consideration to the environmental impact of how they do business. In our faith communities we need to provide education and encouragement to help people live in simpler, gentler, and more peaceful ways.

The Pope concludes the encyclical by reaffirming the value of Christian sacraments in leading to a way of life that is right for us and for the world. He discusses baptism and the live-giving qualities of water; eucharist (the communion service) and the way that food and drink connect us to God and one another; and the Sabbath (weekly day of rest and gladness) that helps us live a slower and more fulfilling life.

Other people also are publishing books that provide solid information and persuasive recommendations for how people in developed countries can live their way into a new future. A later column in this series will give a short list of those that I find especially helpful. The encyclical is published online by the Vatican and also is available in several trade editions from book dealers.