1. Samuel C. Hyde, Jr., Pistols and Politics: The Dilemma of Democracy in Louisiana’s Florida Parishes, 1810-1899, page xiv:
The heavy-handed direction of the slaveholding elite produced stability in a chaotic territory emerging from an armed insurrection and maintained it through the close of the [pre-Civil War] period. The planter leaders emerged from the destruction of the war and, with the enthusiastic support of the common folk, directed the resistance to federal Reconstruction efforts. Change came in the immediate aftermath of Reconstruction, when the plain folk rejected the governance of their former leaders and turned to new men schooled in the effectiveness and finality of violence. The result was a return to the near anarchy of the colonial period amid an astonishing level of human cruelty. In short, the chaotic circumstances characterizing development in the Florida parishes demonstrated that democracy in eastern Louisiana worked best under oligarchic supervision and that even then, if it was dominated by a self-serving elite, the subsequent failings of democracy could be dramatically amplified.
A few months ago, Joel Watts and I got into a discussion on post-Civil War Reconstruction in the American South (see Will the Texas Textbook Decision Force More to Homeschooling?), and Joel recommended Hyde’s book to me. I had it checked out from the library for a while, but I hadn’t read it. Now that I’ve finished Dale Carnegie, I’ve decided to take a crack at it. And I’ll be doing my usual method of reading books: looking for one quote or idea that stood out to me in a day’s reading, and blogging about it. That helps me to stay focused while I’m reading.
This quote is probably the essence of what Hyde’s book is about: Louisiana’s Florida parishes were violent, yet they were tamed under the “oligarchic supervision” of slaveholders. After Reconstruction, they reverted back to violence. In these particular areas, democracy worked best when there was an elite running the show, and, even then, the elite acting in a self-serving manner could ruin things.
I find that I need to look something up. What are the “Florida parishes” of Louisiana? I mean, Louisiana is Louisiana, and Florida is Florida, right? Wikipedia’s article on the Florida Parishes states:
The Florida Parishes (French: Paroisses de Floride) are those parishes in southeast Louisiana which were part of West Florida in the early 19th century. Unlike much of the state of Louisiana, this region was not part of the Louisiana Purchase, as it remained under Spanish control. After a rebellion, the region formed part of the short-lived Republic of West Florida in 1810. The Flag of the Republic of West Florida was known as the “Bonnie Blue Flag” and was the first use of the lone star motif, a single white star on a field of blue. Later that same year, the region was annexed by the United States and incorporated into the Territory of Orleans. The Bonnie Blue Flag still flies on many public buildings in the Florida Parishes.
That 1810 rebellion must be the “armed insurrection” that Hyde mentions. These parishes sound proud and patriotic: many of them still fly the flag that was their emblem back when they were the Republic of West Florida.
This should be a cool book!
2. Robert Heinlein, Sixth Column, page 239:
“You’ve got me wrong, Chief—I don’t like killing.”
“So? I don’t know that I do, either. Just the same I’m going out and finish Frank Mitsui’s bookkeeping for him.”
Taking a life is a serious thing, yet it occurs so often on television, in movies, and in novels. I mean, think about it: a person’s story is being brought to an end. One’s very self is being snuffed out of existence.
I thought about this last night while I was watching Ted Bundy, a 2008 movie starring Corin Nemec (Harold Lauder from The Stand) as the serial killer. Ted Bundy ended the stories of dozens of women. Yet, he still understood the seriousness of death, for he worked on a suicide hotline. He told one guy who was about to kill himself that death is final, so he shouldn’t go through with the suicide.
Why couldn’t he carry that insight with him when he was interacting with those women? Why didn’t that insight stop him from his acts of murder? Did he allow other things to become stronger—such as his rage against women because his girlfriend dumped him in college? Have you heard the Native American story about the two wolves? A boy asks his grandfather which wolf is stronger: the good one or the bad one. The grandfather replies, “The one that you feed.” The same goes with our thoughts and emotions.
3. Erhard Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part I with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry, page 63:
Confidence in divine help overcomes the dangers of illness and of an unjust society that ignores the weak.
Conservatives have argued that the government doesn’t need to take care of the poor because God is their provider. I thought about this issue during the recent health care debate. Christian conservatives—who knew from their own experience and that of others about the evils of the insurance companies and the high cost of health care—contended that the government shouldn’t intervene in the issue because God will work things out in people’s lives. Does it always work that way?
The Bible presents different perspectives. It warns people about oppressing the poor because that will lead God to punish them (e.g., Exodus 22:22-24). Yet, Job’s problem was that he didn’t see that kind of justice in his experience (Job 21, 24). Then there are the prophets, who describe injustice in Israel. In these works, God doesn’t seem to intervene in these situations on an individual basis, but he will punish the society at some point in the future.
I’m not sure what God does. During my defense of my thesis at a graduate school, a professor denied that God directly intervenes in the world, asking me, “Where is God in Afghanistan?” When I told my dad about that interaction, his reply was, “Well, how do you know God’s not in Afghanistan?” Maybe God’s working in ways that are not apparent to us.
I hope that God is my provider, for human beings are not always a solid bedrock. Still, God wants us to be his hands and his feet, in some sense. Why else would God command us to help the poor, or require rulers to execute justice?
4. R. Pfeiffer, History of Classical Scholarship, pages 255-256:
[Apollodorus] accepted Eratosthenes’ earliest date, the fall of Troy in 1184/3 B.C….but in dating Homer 240 years later in 944/3 B.C. he followed Ephorus, not Eratosthenes, who had assumed an interval of a hundred years.
One of my classes discussed different ideas on when Homer lived, but I’m not in the mood right now to look through my notes. I remember reading a Time Machine book, though, which was like a “Choose Your Own Adventure”. In this particular one, I went back to the time of Homer. But I don’t remember what that time was. The Time Machine must have made the correct historical judgment, though!
5. Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion, pages 24-25:
We have now to give a brief enumeration of the phenomena in which the oriental wave manifests itself in the Hellenistic world from about the beginning of the Christian era onward. They are in the main as follows: the spread of Hellenistic Judaism, and especially the rise of Alexandrian Jewish philosophy; the spread of Babylonian astrology and of magic, coinciding with a general growth of fatalism in the Western world; the spread of diverse Eastern mystery-cults over the Hellenistic-Roman world, and their evolution into spiritual mystery-religions; the rise of Christianity; the efflorescence of the gnostic movements with their great system-formations inside and outside the Christian framework; and the transcendental philosophies of late antiquity, beginning with Neo-pythagoreanism and culminating in the Neoplatonic school.
I thought Hellenism was the mixture of Greek philosophy and the native cultures. In any case, this quote gives examples of that.
6. Richard Sarason, A History of the Mishnaic Law of Agriculture: A Study of Tractate Demai, pages 54-55:
T. 1:22-23 ask whether untithed Israelite oil may be used to benefit gentiles, and gentile oil used to benefit Israelites. An Israelite may not pour untithed oil onto the wound of a gentile…Why not? Because it is forbidden to derive benefit oneself or to benefit others through the destruction of certainly untithed produce…But he may pour onto the wound oil that is doubtfully tithed. It is permissible to use dema’i oil for medicinal purposes to benefit a gentile…D is concerned with a different issue. What happens if dema’i oil accidentally falls onto the Israelite’s skin? May he rub it in? This is a problem because the Israelite is forbidden to anoint himself or to benefit from the oil until it has been tithed (M. 1:4H). D states that he may rub in the oil since it fell on him accidentally, and he does not intend to anoint himself with it.
This reminds me of something Jacob Neusner argues: that the rabbis were not as concerned with a person’s act, as they were with his intention (see Right to Left, Death, Intention). Here, a Jew couldn’t benefit himself or a Gentile with oil that he knew was untithed, but he could help a Gentile with oil that might be untithed, meaning he was unsure. And, if oil fell on the Jew accidentally, he could rub it on his skin, since he didn’t intend at the outset to anoint himself.
The main concern here is intention. Did the Jew defiantly help himself or a Gentile with produce that he knew was untithed? Did he desire to help somebody else in a medical situation? Did he intend to anoint himself with oil that might be untithed, reflecting a lack of conscientiousness about God’s rules, or did the oil fall on his skin by accident? Our intention reflects our attitude: are we defiant against God, or do we want to honor God and help others? God’s aim is for us to be better people, and that’s probably why Judaism and Christianity emphasize intent.
7. My church bulletin, published by J.S. Paluch Company, states the following for today:
Our vocation as Christians is not the simple love of friendship or the courteous love extended for a brief time to strangers. Our vocation is the terrible love that isn’t always returned, the generous love that gives without counting the cost. To love as Jesus loved us, we must extend ourselves beyond those who are familiar. We must reach out to heal, to feed, to teach, to listen, and even to give our lives. Those who have the courage to love in this way are Jesus’ true followers.
I don’t care a great deal for this quote, for I feel that I am showing love when I’m nice to my friend or extend courtesy to a stranger. My God (as I understand him) doesn’t say, “That’s not good enough—you’re only my disciple when you become a missionary to people you don’t even know.” It’s this sort of mindset that made me beat up on myself for so many years, since I’ve always been a shy person.
Plus, once you’re out there healing, teaching, listening, etc., what are you doing? You’re practicing the sort of everyday courtesy that you showed to your friends and strangers, only in a different context. Some Christians like to dramatize things that aren’t really that dramatic. Rather than feeling as if I’m not good enough or that I’m not practicing true love when I show courtesy to people, maybe I can see such courtesy as preparation for other things, in which courtesy will still be the foundation. In common courtesy, I’m practicing love—showing concern for people other than myself. That love can carry over into greater acts of love.
I wouldn’t say that common courtesy doesn’t count as true Christian love. In my opinion, it does count. But I like what C.S. Lewis said: God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy. There’s always room for growth and improvement. But God is still happy when we think of others and do something to help them. Unfortunately, there are Christians who like to make the perfect the enemy of the good.