The Garden Of Eden And The Deacon’s Meadow

To early Americans the Old Testament and its scenes, even its speech and names, were as familiar as their own backyard

Polly certainly missed her vocation when she was trained for a servant,” says Miss Mehitable in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Oldtown Folks . “She is a born professor of theology. She is so circumstantial about all that took place at the time the angels fell, and when the covenant was made with Adam in the Garden of Eden, that I sometimes question whether she really might not have been there personally.” Read more »

Home-grown Terror

For a sense of the continuity of the of the terrorist tradition in America, consider this actual sequence of events: The FBI smashes a dead-serious plot to overthrow the federal government and reveals that for more than a year the right-wing militias involved were undergoing army-style training, fired up by inflammatory talk radio. They Planned to use their bombs, rifles, and machine guns to wage guerrilla warfare on American cities, and they claimed friends and allies in government and the military.Read more »

The New Creationists

The foremost student of a belief held by nearly half of all Americans traces its history from Darwin’s bombshell through the storms of the Scopes trial to today’s “scientific creationists”—who find William Jennings Bryan too liberal

The year 1963 brought the death of George McCready Price, whom the science writer Martin Gardner described as “the last and greatest of the anti-evolutionists.” The greatest perhaps, but certainly not the last. That year also witnessed the birth of the Creation Research Society and—more generally—the age of scientific creationism. By the end of the decade battles were being waged over including creationism in public school curricula; the fight culminated in the 1981 court challenge to the Arkansas creationist law. If the proceedings lacked the carnival atmosphere of the 1925 Scopes trial, they compensated by attracting an impressive list of expert witnesses from the ranks of scientists, philosophers, and theologians. Unfavorable court decisions have settled for the moment the issue of equal-time state laws, but creation science as a movement has hardly slowed. Several creation research institutes continue seeking evidence to confute evolution, and the theory’s proponents have evolved new tactics for including special creation in public school curricula. The phenomenon of scientific creationism has evoked a cottage industry of analysts: journalists, sociologists, philosophers of science, theologians, and particularly scientists, who believe they have the most to lose from a theory that denies Darwin. The call to arms that went out among various scientific groups characterized creationists almost uniformly as dangerous quacks who were gulling the public with a specious science.

The Traveler’s Bible

A chance meeting in a raucous hotel lobby nearly one hundred years ago led two drummers to make a spiritual mark on hostelries worldwide

Whatever other surprises might erupt on a trip across the country, one thing you can pretty much count on is the presence of a King James Bible in your hotel or motel room, put there by an organization called the Gideon Association. That’s as much as most of us know.Read more »

The American Christ

He was a capitalist. He was an urban reformer. He was a country boy. He was “Comrade Jesus,” a hardworking socialist. He was the world’s first ad man. For a century and a half, novelists have been trying to recapture the “real” Jesus.

The two most popular novels in nineteenth-century America were Lew Wallace’s Ben Hur (1880) and Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps (1896). (In fact, Sheldon’s book remained the dominant twentieth-century best-seller right up until Peyton Place overtook it in the late 1950s.) Although the first of these two books is set in ancient Palestine and the second takes place in the contemporary American Midwest, they are dominated by the same central character, Jesus.Read more »

Starting Again In San Francisco

No city has more energetically obliterated the remnants of its past. And yet no city has a greater sense of its history.

On the edge of a pond a few blocks from my home, there is a knee-high chunk of granite with a bronze plate on one side, marking the spot where a band of Spanish soldiers commanded by a captain named Juan Bautista de Anza pitched camp on a March afternoon in 1776. They were scouting the site of what is now San Francisco, and like most San Franciscans ever since, they came here hoping to change their lives. Read more »

God, Man, Woman, And The Wesleys

In early Georgia, the founders of Methodism got off to a terrible start

THE SUCCESS OF John and Charles Wesley in founding Methodism is well documented, but what is seldom mentioned is that they started their ecclesiastical careers with a period of unrelieved bungling. It all took place in colonial Georgia in the early eighteenth century when the Wesley brothers, as the colony’s founder, Gen. James Oglethorpe, said, attempted to “unroll their rolled-up rules for England” in this struggling young settlement. John and Charles’s adventure, Oglethorpe concluded disgustedly, should be made “a play or tale of.” Read more »

The Ursuline Outrage

In the shadow of Bunker Hill, bigots perpetrated an atrocity that showed a shocked nation that the fires of the Reformation still burned in the New World

On a sweltering Monday afternoon in July, 1834, Edward Cutter of Charlestown, Massachusetts, was startled by the sudden appearance of a woman in his house. Her hair was closely shorn, she was clad only in a flimsy nightdress, and she was muttering incoherently. Cutter probably surmised that she was from the Ursuline convent a few hundred yards up the hill, then known as Mount Benedict. Read more »

William Randolph Hearst’s Monastery

He could build castles at his whim, but the ancient home of a small band of monks defeated him

During the early summer of the year 1213 Saint Martin of Finojosa was an old man and not in the best of health. Nevertheless, at the age of seventy-three the saintly bishop and abbot left his beloved Burgos for a long and taxing trip to visit a tiny new monastery on a hilltop near the Tagus River. Like all Cistercian monasteries, it was named for the Virgin Mary—in this case, Santa Maria de Ovila. Read more »

Mason Weems, Bibliopolist

To mark the birthdays of our two great Presidents, a new look at the legends that surround their memory …
An admiring re-appraisal of the Cherry Tree Fable and its author, by Garry Wills , together with the
Curious Story of Abraham Lincoln’s Lost Love Letters, by Don E. Fehrenbacher

 

Benjamin Franklin wrote what could be called America s first self-improvement manual. But Franklin trod the world stage, and his autobiography is a classic expression of Enlightenment ideals, too grand a thing to count Dale Carnegie’s books among its offspring. The true father of Carnegie, or of Norman Vincent Peale, was Mason Weems (1759–1825), the itinerant preacher and bibliopolist—he had the salesman’s trick of dignifying his trade with fancy names. Read more »