A Brief History of Josephine Forsberg and the Players Workshop of the Second City


An Important part of Chicago Theater History

This paper was presented by Eric Forsberg

At The Columbia College THEATER SYMPOSIUM in Chicago – May 20th, 2011


I am here to talk about, my mother, Josephine Raciti Forsberg, and her influence on Chicago Theater. Josephine has been an actress, a director, a producer of new works, and a store-front theater owner. But most importantly, Josephine has been a pioneer teacher of improvisation. From the early 1960s until the day I write this she has guided and empowered thousands of aspiring young talents, training many of them for The Second City stage.

Early life

Josephine was born “Pepina Raciti” on January 28th, 1921. On her fifth birthday she received a Shakespeare picture book and from that point on she wanted to be an actress.

Jo got her first taste of improvisation at DePaul University’s drama department where she studied with David Itkin, a student of Stanislavski. Itkin gave Josephine her very first taste of improvisation – and the idea fascinated her. After DePaul, Josephine continued her studies with Mini Gallitser at “The Actor’s Company”. There she met a leading man and aspiring director named Rolf Forsberg. They got married and went on the road together, performing in Toby Shows, Passion Plays, and the comedy hit, “Good Night Ladies” in which Josephine played a sexy lead. Jo even tried her luck in New York and was quickly cast as a dancer for a show at Carnegie Hall.

Josephine and Rolf had their first child while on the road, Linnea. She was raised in hotel rooms and train cars and put in every child-role available. Soon Josephine’s little nephew, Marty (Martin de Maat) wanted to be in the theater too, so Josephine and Rolf brought young Marty under their wing like a son. Theatre was now the family business.

When Josephine and Rolf weren’t on the road they lived at The Art Circle, touring Chicago with their compilation show called “Moods from Shakespeare” in which they played dozens of roles, sharing seventy-five costumes all made and designed by Jo.


Jo also loved to see new plays. One evening she went by herself to a performance at Playwrights, on the 2nd floor of a Chinese restaurant. Jo was bowled over. Afterwards she met Sheldon Patinkin and Paul Sills and they became friends. When Playwrights later planned to do a Shakespeare Festival they invited Jo and Rolf to join the company and asked them to bring their costumes. At Playwrights Rolf directed plays and Josephine launched a Children’s Theater. Her first show was “The Emperor’s New Clothes” with Sheldon Patinkin in the title role. Then she did one more show and turned the project over to Elaine May. Another person that Jo met at Playwrights was Viola Spolin, Paul’s mother. Josephine had always been fascinated by Stanislavski so when Viola told Jo about her theater games and how improvisation could be used to create characters they hit it off right away. Josephine acted in four of Playwrights productions in 1954 & 1955: Per Gynt directed by Paul Sills, and Shakuntala, Tempest, and “Le Ronde” directed by Rolf. Le Ronde was so risqué that the entire theater was shut down by the fire department.

Sheldon, Rolf, and Jo continued to do shows around town under the “Playwrights” banner – while one of the company’s more radical partners, David Shepherd raced to The University of Chicago to produce his “Living Newspaper”. Then in 1959, Paul Sills, Sheldon Patinkin, Bernie Sahlins, and Howard Alk, created “The Second City”.

The Second City

In 1959 Sheldon asked Jo to join The Second City but she was pregnant and said “ask me in a year”. One year later, after I was born (on December 16th 1959, the opening of Second City no less), Sheldon asked her again, to join the new theater, and this time she said “yes”.

Jo was cast as Second City’s female understudy and for this she needed to take improv classes with Viola Spolin. Viola quickly broke Jo of her need for a script and taught her how to trust herself and improvise. Jo understood the games so well and she was able to articulate their theatrical applications so clearly that Viola made Jo her assistant teacher. Jo worked day and night; learning Viola’s theater games, helping her with classes, rehearsing scenes from the show, working with Sheldon to cast an alternate mainstage company, and being the house manager and hostess in the evenings. But one element was missing – her Children’s Theater. Viola had already done a children’s show at Second City and she wasn’t interested in doing another, so Jo jumped in: It would be Classics for Kids. Sheldon played the piano for Jo’s first production; a Mexican fantasy of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

Sheldon also did the role of Caliban in Jo’s version of “Tempest”. And at the end of each performance the kids were invited up onto the stage to play theater games – birthday kids danced under the Maypole – and then everyone did “Lion Hunt”. By the time Jo helmed “Charlie’s Aunt” and “The Mikado” it was clear that her “Children’s Theatre of the Second City” was firmly entrenched: she would produce kid’s shows at Second City non-stop for more than thirty-five more years. If you were raised in Chicago (especially on the North Side), the chances are that one of your first experiences with live theater was at Jo’s Children’s show – which was iconic-ly referred to by the Second City main stage cast as “Sunday, Sunday, the little Bastard’s Fun-Day”.

watching Jo’s kid’s show at Second City on Wells St

In the mid 1960s, Viola left Chicago and Josephine took over her workshops. She began modifying many of Viola’s games and adding her own exercises. She wanted to make the work as applicable as possible to developing sketch material and doing a show. By the time that The Second City moved from Clark Street to its current location at 1616 North Wells, Jo had turned much of her attention to directing the very first Touring Company: it was a milestone for Second City and there have been touring companies ever since.

Jo as director of the first Touring Company at Second City

Then, in 1969, Jo got the very hippy notion to move to Crested Butte, Colorado to bring the mountain folk there improv and bagels. She left Linnea and Martin in Chicago to teach her classes – but me, she took with, driving there in a VW bus. However, after 6 months in the mountains eating wild game and getting altitude sickness, Jo realized that nobody in Crested Butte wanted improv or bagels – so she came back. However things had changed at Second City while she was away – other instructors had ascended, including the formidable Del Close. Class space there was getting mighty tight, so in the spirit of Jo’s hero from Little Women, she rented a space from the Buddhist Temple around the corner, built a stage in it, and decided to open her own school of improvisation, with a course log, a teaching staff, and diplomas. She organized her hundreds of exercises, some of them Viola’s, some of them Jo’s, and many of them a hybrid of the two. This became the improv course that she taught for the next thirty years: she called it “Players Workshop”.

Chicago Tribune article naming Jo “Second City’s Den Mother” – 1974


Players Workshop was incorporated in 1971 – the first school of its kind. It’s charter was to teach people how to improvise over a course of five terms, prepare them for The Second City stage, and offer them opportunities to perform. With a space of her own, Jo was now able to hold classes in the evenings when people who worked during the day could come. Suddenly a new influx of student started to enroll: working people who just wanted to have fun. Jo saw this as an opportunity to turn masses of people on to the stage. And that was her ultimate goal. Jo would often say “I want a theater on every corner”. Even though she had her own space Josephine was still an integral part of the Second City family. Joyce Sloane, Sheldon Patinkin, and Bernie Sahlins were very loyal and gracious to her over the years; and they included her, as well as Linnea, Martin, and me, in every opening night and all major Second City events. Josephine continued to teach many of her more advanced classes on the main stage there; her Players Workshop sign was hung on the Second City wall by the stairs for all to see; and her Children’s Theater was going strong every Sunday, offering original plays and musicals with audience participation and free birthday parties. But most of all, Jo’s students and graduates were being selected over and over to be in the Second City companies – because they were talented and because Jo trained them well.

On the Second City website listing the alumni members of all the main stage casts between 1965 and 1989 –

SIXTY-ONE of them are JOSEPHINE’S STUDENTS – including:

Bill Murray    Harold Ramis     Peter Boyle    Betty Thomas    Joe Flarity    Dan Castellaneta

David Rasche    Shelley Long    Tim Kazurinsky

Bob Odenkirk      Ken Campbell     Bonnie Hunt    George Wendt    & dozens more

So if a person wanted to get on the Second City stage, they often went straight into Jo’s classes at Player’s Workshop.

Jo also had students who made great strides outside of the Second City. One person she nurtured was a young playwright that she hired to play the piano for her kid’s shows. His name was David Mamet. Her box office manager was a young man named Brandon Tartikof, who later became the head of NBC. Another student who she encouraged to “just go out and do it” was Robert Townsend, who later made his first feature film using credit cards. Jo dug deep into her student’s wants and needs, deep into their lives and dreams, taking on her student’s growth with delight. She studied psychology, Transactional Analysis, EST, and many other venues for self improvement and personal growth. She became not only a teacher, but a mentor and a friend.

Player’s Workshop flyer circ 1977

Jo also knew that her students needed more opportunities to perform so in the mid 1970s she transformed her workspace into a coffee house theatre called The Players Oe. There she produced and directed everything from scripted plays to sketch comedy revues. George Wendt did his first sketch shows there. Jo also created a touring children’s theatre company which performed her original shows like Land of the Stage and the award winning, Comedia”. Josephine also held annual “theater seminars” for a couple of weekends every summer up in Bennet Lake, Wisconsin. It was the stuff of legend.

     Jo’s theatre seminars were the Woodstock of acting workshops

Then Jo came up with her brain-child: a graduation show on the Second City main stage. She would add a sixth term that would focus totally on show creation. It would be performed in the mornings on Sundays before the children’s show started. The idea was a hit with her students and they packed the house. Graduation shows had a side benefit too: hundreds of improvisers with produced comedy revues who all wanted to continue performing their shows. Jo just told them to find a stage and do it; so her graduates spread throughout the city and suburbs performing in their local bars and stages like Sylvester’s Sneak Joint Pub, Zanies, Shubas, and The Theater Building. It was a renaissance of grass roots theatre and it has contributed to Chicago’s healthy love of live performances.

Theatre Shoppe

In 1981 Josephine purchased a three story building at 2636 North Lincoln Avenue. She called it “The Theatre Shoppe” and it was a place to teach classes and direct shows. There was a seventy seat theater and a forty seat theater as well a classroom.

The Theatre Shoppe façade – mid 1980s

This pic of Jo’s lobby was used by WTTWs as a promo for its Chicago Improv special

In the early 1980s Jo gave up her class times at Second City keeping only Sunday for the grad shows and the Children’s Theater. Jo and her children, Linnea and Eric then founded a not for profit theater company called Performer’s Arena as a production body for experimental shows. One of the plays Performers Arena produced every year was “The Gathering”, a dramatization of the last supper that Jo developed through improv. Performer’s Arena also produced scripted works like Rhinoceros, What the Butler Saw, and Marat Sade, all directed by me; as well as classics adapted by Linnea into improvised epics like “On the Road to Canterbury” and “Hunchback of Notre Dam”. Jo’s Performer’s Arena also produced the Joseph Jefferson Award nominated, “A Tenth of an Inch Makes the Difference”, written and directed by her ex-husband, Rolf. One of the most experimental shows produced by Performer’s Arena was a poetry performance cycle, about the birth and death of a world, titled “A Dozen Idiots”. After the show each night there was an all-are-welcome late night, Keith Johnstone style team improv sports competition. It packed the house until the wee hours of the morning and was a ton of fun. If you were just breaking into the improv scene in Chicago and you wanted to get on stage, Jo’s Theatre Shoppe was the place to be: it had a great energy just like her.

One of Josephine’s unexpected contributions to the improv world happened in 1982 when Josephine brought her old friend and socialist improv guru, David Shepherd to Chicago to help him develop his idea for an event called The Improvisational Olympiad. She set up a class for him filled with eager Players Workshop students wanting to study with the legend. One of those Players Workshop students was Charna Halpern. David modeled elements of his Olympiad event after the improv competitions at The Theatre Shoppe, formed teams, and, with Charna as his producer, David’s Improvisational Olympiad was born. It had its first competitive Olympiad at The Theater Shoppe and was an instant hit. Even as David and Charna trained other teams, the Players Workshop crowd made up the bulk of the early supporters. And in the late 1980s the first city wide Improv Olympiad championships were held on The Second City main-stage, with dozens of teams competing: The winning team – Oral Majority – from Players Workshop.

Training Center & Retirement

In 1987, Players Workshop was the largest improv school in the city, and maybe the country, with around 400 students. Jo’s school not only produced children’s theater and grad shows at The Second City but also shows for Taste of Chicago, The King Richard’s Faire, The Chicago Symphony, Candlelight’s Forum, and her two stages at The Theatre Shoppe. But the writing was on the wall for all that to change. Jo was talking about retirement, the Theater Shoppe was in need of remolding, and the Improv Olympic began offering classes which made Jo have to market herself and she was never very good at that. Also, Jo’s nephew Martin deMaat who had been teaching at Players Workshop for almost twenty years was hired as the workshop director of The Second City’s new Training Center, which began as an advanced course in creating sketch shows for those who already knew how to improvise. Martin looked for students who had completed at least a year of training, preferably at Players Workshop, so the relationship actually had some huge benefits. Jo’s sign came down and she started sending all of her graduates to Martin and The Training Center – and nearly 50% of them went. It was like the early days all over again – with Jo’s students filling the seats and class spaces at The Second City itself. Soon The Training Center was clearly the best place to prepare for an audition for The Second City stage. Josephine was sorry to see her school lose its unchallenged foothold but she accepted that things change over time and she and Martin made sure that Players Workshop and the Training Center moved into the future hand in hand. Jo was brought on by Martin as a consultant for the training center and I was hired as a teacher and level five director. And this cooperation was great for both schools. As the Second City Training Center grew so did Players Workshop, reaching over 500 students in 1989. But fewer and fewer Players students were making it into the Second City companies and before long it was clear that Jo’s school had seen its day. New life was breathed into it as Linnea brought on Emerald City to help produce the Children’s show and I brought in huge casting contracts for Six Flags Fight Fest. Also, for a while, Players Workshop shifted focus to the corporate world – which opened a new student base. But the school was not as young and vital as IO or the Training Center, and Theatres like The Annoyance were shaking up the space in a way that Players Workshop was just too venerable to compete with. Jo removed the phrase “of the Second City” from her letter heads and her ads, then she sold the Theater Shoppe and moved Players Workshop first into the Athenaeum in 1993 and then to a performing arts center in 1999. For a brief time we opened a Players Workshop West in Los Angeles, run by me. But soon the Second City Training Center also opened in LA, with Martin as its artistic director, and I decided to be a founding member of that school instead, directing one of the LA Training Center’s very first shows.

By turn of the millennium, Jo was more than ready to retire. Linnea, who had been running the workshop for years, had finally accepted a position as a college professor, and I had already moved to Los Angeles to make feature films. Then, Martin deMaat died, so long before his time, and it truly felt like Josephine and her entire family had come to the end of an era. So, wisely, and reluctantly, Josephine decided to close the doors on her school and let it slip into history.

However Josephine is still an honored guest at Second City functions and not forgotten by her students or by this symposium. Andrew Alexander, Kelly Leonard, and the late Joyce Sloane, have shown her great respect over the years. Jo has also been honored by other institutions in the City that she loves. Josephine has been honored by numerous improv councils including a lifetime achievement award from the Chicago Improv festival in 2007, a honor from the Funny Lady’s Fest, and numerous awards for her children’s theater. She was also honored by Mayor Daley for her children’s theater with a plaque in 1993.

Even though Players Workshop is a thing of the past, Jo’s influence still exists in every institution in this city that she helped to empower. She contributed to the construction, to the very foundations of American improv – and she has touched, even changed, thousands of lives. Josephine is one of the oldest members of her generation of improv pioneers that is still alive. And my hope is that she and her family will always be welcome at The Second City as well as the entire Chicago Theater establishment that she loves and to which she has given so much.

But like her hero in Little Women, Jo is not through yet. Just a few years ago her former student Bill Murray flew Jo to the east coast to teach improvisation to the New York Giants. She did workshops with members of the team for three days. She was tiny in the photos compared to the team members, but with a personality as big as anyone’s.

And just a few months ago her college text book “Improvisation for speech and theater”, which she wrote with her daughter, was published by Kendal-Hunt Press. So, even though Josephine Raciti Forsberg will be 91 next January, she is still going strong – with plans for another book in the future.

And oh, by the way, the Giants won the super bowl that year.



Political Necessity: the root cause for separation of Church and State

       The argument that the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of religion, was solely a product of the Age of Enlightenment  and its commitment to liberty, is an oversimplification of a complicated and provocative issue. There were many additional factors contributing to the late 18th century’s religious debate, including: a growing and diverse population, increasing criticism of the established clergy, and a legacy of Covenant Theology in which the Puritan leadership called for America to be God’s chosen “City on a Hill”. In the later 1700s, Americans found themselves facing rampant religious pluralism, with numerous sects calling for a Christian nation to be established. And after two centuries of violent conflicts in Europe between religious sects there was no assurance that those conflicts would not be exported to America if the newly formed government committed the USA to a single state-sanctioned church. But by granting every US citizen equal religious freedom, and assuring the separation of Church and State, the Founding Fathers addressed both the practical political problems of the day and their deeply held beliefs in Enlightenment philosophy.

        At the heart of the first amendment are the concepts of liberty and human rights, both clearly ideas taken from the Enlightenment. For instance, Enlightenment philosopher Thomas Hobbes writes in his work Leviathan, that the natural state of man is war against all other men and that “everyone is governed by his own reason,” so to survive men must enter into a contract together forming a political organism, the Leviathan, where there is no “rule from above” (Hobbes, 110/intro xi). Rule from above could refer to a king or an imposing government authority or even the tyranny of church rule, all of which would limit Enlightenment inspired liberty. In John Locke’s work, The Second Treatise of Government, chapter IV on Slavery, he writes that the natural state of man is freedom from rule by “any superior power on earth” including legislative authority; and that man is ruled by the “law of nature” alone (Locke, 15). The concept of natural law is prevalent in Enlightenment philosophy and was certainly adopted by Thomas Jefferson who used Enlightenment terms like the “Laws of Nature” and “Nature’s God” in his preamble to the Declaration of Independence (Bernstein, 81). If it were one hundred years earlier, any term referring to the creator would have had to have been scriptural; but Thomas Jefferson did not refer to scripture in any of it, which indicates that he was clearly born of the Enlightenment.

John Locke also suggested, as Hobbes had done, that men should join into a unanimous “social contract,” establishing a “commonwealth” through which each man would consent to be governed in so far as it protected him and did not infringe upon him (Locke, Peardon-intro, xv). Locke speaks of man’s inalienable rights to life, liberty, and property, all guided by “Rational Self-Interest” (Kerze: lecture & Enlightenment PP).  This had such an effect on Thomas Jefferson that these words of Locke’s were incorporated into the preamble for the Declaration of Independence: “…that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (Bernstein/Constitution, 81).

Jefferson was not alone in his admiration of Enlightenment philosophy: Ben Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Paine, and James Madison were all Enlightenment figures in America, as was George Washington who was also a Free Mason; a secret society similar to Rosicrucians (Booth, chap on Masons). Many of the Founding Father’s, like Franklin, were also Deists, who believed that God was the ultimate engineer and the universe was like a great clock that God designed and then stepped away from to let it run on its own (Kerze, lecture). However, the Enlightenment was only part of the recipe that formed America’s national identity during the 18th and at the turn of the 19th century. At the very inception of the thirteen colonies there was the Biblical GOD. And God seemed to have his own plans for America.

In 1630, just as the Puritans were about to arrive in Massachusetts, the soon to be governor, John Winthrop, delivered a sermon titled “A Model of Christian Charity.” In it Winthrop laid out God’s plan for the Puritans in the New World, charging them, in covenant with the Almighty, to create a society in New England that would achieve such a state of grace that the world would see it as a “City on a Hill”, and follow its model (Winthrop, 1). From that point on, divine providence was a gift from God to America, as long as the devout wove devotion to God’s will into everyday life; including how and by whom they were governed. Steven Waldman supports this in his book, Founding Faith, in which he describes how the Anglicans in the south and the Puritans in the north both “viewed church and state as fully entwined” and as “a Holy Commonwealth;” quoting one forefather, John Cotton who states “Theocracy, or to make the Lord God governor, is the best form of government” (Walden, 8). The Puritans may have wanted God to rule them, but as can be seen in today’s Theocracies this is tantamount to tyranny: a far cry from John Locke’s or Thomas Jefferson’s visions of a perfect state of liberty.

As the population of America grew the Protestant sects transformed, giving rise to new sects. In Catherine Albanese’s book America, Religion and Religions, she describes how the Puritan’s restructured themselves as the Congregationalists, the Presbyterians and the Baptists; explaining that they were all considered the “old dissent” of England and had a great deal of “unity in diversity, and denominationalism” thus becoming “the framework of American Protestantism” (Albanese, 110). To everyone but the Native Americans and the slaves, America was the land of opportunity, where communities of new religious zealots found room to prosper, like those already mentioned as well as Anabaptists, Quakers, and Mennonites. Circuit riders combed the countryside seeking converts while radical preachers like George Whitefield wailed like a rock star to eager crowds, with 25,000 congregants in the Boston Commons alone (Kerze, lecture). Americans’ often embraced what was new [the New Lights], turning their back on the old establishment [the Old Lights], lapping up ideas like being “born again,” adult baptism, and speaking in tongues while writhing on the ground. Soon, Methodists, like Whitefield, were the most abundant new sect on this side of the Atlantic. People labled America “a Christian Nation” and some were calling for a Protestant-Republic, but which religious sect would rule, and so, would they rule fairly because they hadn’t in the past.

Theocracy and religious oppression had already reared its ugly head in at least one American colony; the result of the dominant religious sect stripping the minority faith of its rights and property. The persecution took place in Maryland, which was founded by Catholics, with a charter from the king, as a colony especially for Catholics. The Catholic leadership of Maryland passed the “Act of Toleration,” a law that guaranteed religious liberty to all who settled there. Soon after that the Anglicans began to move in. Then, when enough Protestants had settled in Maryland to become the majority, they overturned the Act of Toleration, outlawed Catholicism, and refused the Catholics their right to vote; and it stayed that way until the revolution (Albanese pg 75). Similar nasty results occurred in other colonies that had one sect as dominant, even among the Protestants themselves, like when the Puritans of New England “forbade the Anglicans to settle in their midst” (Lambert, 18). In 1755 the city of New York (formerly New Amsterdam) was the most religiously diverse settlement in the colonies, with Jews, Catholics, Arminians, converted slaves, and numerous Protestant sects filling the streets and houses of worship. One can only imagine what a Puritan or Anglican style religious purge would have done to it. But the city was able to maintain its practice of toleration in the face of many hardships and it remains one of the most diverse cities in America to this day.

However, prior to the revolutionary war, devout Christians did not all sit quietly as the American colony’s leaderships grew more secular. In the mid 1700s, Reverend Samuel Sherwood proclaimed that God was “the supreme ruler of all things,” and that America “seemed to be reserved in providence as a fixed and settled habitation for God’s church,” calling America “the New Israel” (Lambert, 14). The Deists were likewise accused by Jonathan Edwards of “wholly casting off the Christian religion and of denying [it] in favor of humanist notions” (Lambert, 26). And yet many of the forefathers themselves were Deists, believing that man, not God, was ultimately responsible to form a more perfect government.

Not long after Edwards’ and Sherwood’s complaints, these forefathers were making the laws and writing the Constitution for the new nation. They would have had to face catastrophic problems if they declared America a Protestant-Republic, to be governed by Christians with a single state sanctioned church. The most conclusive solution was to remove the issue of religion from the government completely; and that’s just what the framers did. When the Constitution was completed in 1787 there was “no hint of Protestant America” in it; and the Congress was granted “no powers regarding religion,” due in part to fears of “sectarian strife and church state oppression” (Lambert, 15).

Many Americans were appalled at the lack of acknowledgement of the nation’s divine providence in the Constitution, or any recognition of the hand of God in the making of the United States. According to Bernstein in his commentary on the Constitution, the document was supported by the Federalists as well as most of the wealthy in America and the city dwellers, whereas it was opposed by the Anti-Federalists, the farmers, and the poor (Bernstein, 18). Seeing as the poor and the farmers constituted the majority of those most drawn-in by the “born-again” revivals, one might conclude that the pros and cons followed religious lines as well as economic. However the Enlightenment ideals of human rights, including the right to worship or not to worship, continued to develop as Thomas Jefferson helped write the freedom of religion clauses into the “Declaration of Rights” for Virginia; and James Madison began working on a Bill of Rights to amend the Constitution. Both of these documents further guaranteed the rights of man, either to follow their own religion in their own way, or not follow one at all.

In Madison’s paper, “Memorial and Remonstrance,” he proclaims that religion “can be directed only by reason and conviction and not by force,” and “it is the duty of every man to render the Creator such homage… as [only] he believes to be acceptable to him” (Sheldon, 33). Madison was a man of faith himself but he was also a product of the Enlightenment and a Federalist. He debated long and hard during ratification sessions with the Anti-Federalist, Patrick Henry, who was a staunch advocate of a National Church (Sheldon, 74). And this type of acrimony, using religion and accusation of atheism would only get worse as the presidential election of 1800 between Thomas Jefferson and the incumbent, John Adams came around. But as far as the religious question went, there was still one more Enlightenment philosopher to incorporate into the mix, for America to become the first western nation to have complete freedom of religion and separation of church and state.

Adam Smith, the Scottish economist published The Wealth of Nations in 1776, asserting that unrestricted freedom in the marketplace, driven solely by supply and demand, would lead to the most effective and prosperous state of trade (adamsmith.org). America was a nation of commerce and trade, filled with marketplaces and untapped resources. And so, when the Bill of Rights was revealed and the First Amendment to the Constitution came to light, guaranteeing freedom of religion to all; it was the phrase “religious marketplace” that was used when describing how a church could survive and prosper with no support from the state. According to Smith, if a product was produced that no one wanted to buy then that product would fall by the wayside. The same was deemed true for the church. If a religious sect had no followers and no appeal, then it too would wither on the vine, making room for a more viable religious sect to take its place. And thus, America was a free market nation, from its ports to its shops to its churches. And for those Americans who still believed that the United States was ultimately the descendant of John Winthrop’s, City on a Hill, then maybe it is not devotion to God that sets the country up as an example for the world, but it is its devotion to humanity and to becoming an ever more enlightened nation that must become the beacon for all mankind to see.


Adam Smith Institute; Introduction page; adamsmith.org; London; 3/20/12; WEBSITE; http://www.adamsmith.org/adam-smith

Albanese, Catherine L; America Religions and Religion; 3rd Edition; Wadsworth Publishing Company/ITP; BelmontCA; 1999; Text

Bernstein, R B (introduction by); Constitution of the United States, The, with the Declaration of Independence, and the Articles of Confederation; Fall River Press; New York; 2002; Reproductions of Historic Documents

Booth, Mark; the Secret History of the World; the Overlook Press; New York; 2008, Text

God in America; Frontline: American Experience; episodes one: A New Adam and episode two: A New Eden; PBS; 2010; Video

Hobbes, Thomas; Leviathan: Parts One and Two: introduction by Herbert W Schneider; Macmillian Publishing Company; New York; originally published in 1651, 26th printing 1986, Text

Kerze, Prof. Michael; Religion in America class; Los AngelesValleyCollege; 1/6/12 – 3/14/12; Lecture Notes

Kerze, Prof. Michael; Presentation: From Copernicus to the Great Awakening; Feb. 2012, MPP

Lambert, Frank; Religion in American Politics, PrincetonUniversity Press; 2008; Text

Locke, John; The Second Treatise of Government: introduction by Thomas P Peardon; The Liberal Arts Press; New York; reprinted, 1952, 1954; Text

Nussbaum, Martha; Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America’s Tradition of Religious Equality; Basic Books/Perseus Books Group; New York; 2008; Text

Sheldon, Garrett Ward; The Political Philosophy of James Madison; John Hopkins University Press,; Baltimore & London; 1954, reprinted 2001; text

Waldman, Steven; Founding Faith: How Our Founding Father’s Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty; Random House Trade Paperback Edition; New York; 2009; Text

Winthrop, Governor John; Sermon: A Model of Christian Charity: delivered aboard the Arabella; 1630; Handout/Transcript

American Law and the Ten Commandments

Soon after George W. Bush became president, Chief Justice Roy Moore of Alabama placed a 5,280 lb monument of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the state’s judicial building. Moore claimed that the Commandments were “the moral foundation” of U.S. law (FindLaw.com). The ACLU filed a lawsuit based on separation of church and state, but the ACLU failed to ask the fundamental question: is American law truly founded on the Ten Commandments. According to R.G. Price, author of “The Ten Commandments: American History and American Law”, the answer is a resounding “No”. And yet the battles to place biblical monuments on state property in order to establish a link between the laws of God and the American Judicial system continue all across the country; in some cases being overruled and other cases, as in the Austin Texas Capitol Building case, being upheld. The debate continues to get hotter when just last year, vice-presidential nominee and Tea-Party advocate, Sarah Palin echoed Moore’s views to Bill O’Rielly on Fox News when she proclaimed Judeo Christian doctrine as the foundation of America’s laws, adding that future legislation should be guided by it.  “Go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant,” Palin advised, “that we would create law based on the God of the bible and the Ten Commandments” (huffingtonpost.com).

This monument of the Ten Commandments sits on government property in front of the Capitol Building in Austin Texas where conservatives won their case to link Biblical law to state law.

With so many conservative Christians recognizing the Ten Commandments as the true legal doctrine of our nation’s judicial system, let’s examine exactly what these laws state. Here is a translation of the Ten Commandments from The Thomas Nelson & Sons Revised Standard Version of the Bible: Exodus 20:

  1. I am the lord thy God – thou shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make yourself a graven image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is in the Earth beneath… for I am a jealous God, visiting iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy… in it you shall not do any work, you or your son, or your daughter, your manservant or your maidservant, or your cattle or the sojourner within your gates
  5. Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long…
  6. You shall not kill.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house… your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass…

And Moses took these commandments, according to the Bible, and  “With a sound of… thunder Moses went to the people and told them these orders that were given to him by God” (Exodus, 20). Thus began the American legal system according to Justice Moore.


So let’s interpret these ten commandments as modern laws.

Commandment one: Worship the one true God or be arrested. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” which insures that this commandment stays in the Bible where it belongs (usconstitution.net.)

Commandment two: It is illegal to draw pictures or carve statues of any person or other living thing. This doesn’t work well in today’s America, where artists are revered; painters, sculptors, cartoonists, animators, and game designers alike. The elimination of these artists and the “graven images” they create would be Iconoclasm, an abhorrent destruction of art. But Iconoclasm is often praised in the Bible as being righteous. In the book “Their Iconoclasm and Our Idolatry,” Crispin Sartwell says that the first Iconoclast or destroyer of icons was Moses himself. Moses smashed the golden calf and shattered the stone tablets (Exodus 32.)  And the destruction of art didn’t end there. Early Christians destroyed Roman statues. Spanish Priests burned hundreds of Mayan books (Mann, pg 303). And recently the Taliban destroyed the World’s largest Buddha statues in an attempt to follow the laws of God (reported by The New Republic). Worse yet, according to the wording of the commandment itself, not only would the person who broke the law suffer punishment, but their descendants would be punished also, “to the 3rd and 4th generation”: meaning grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Is this what Judge Moore and Sarah Palin want for America? I doubt it.

Commandment three: It is against the law to swear. In 1962 comedian Lenny Bruce was arrested for using profanity in his stand-up routine. According to “The Official Lenny Bruce Site” at lennybruceofficial.com, the comedian violated California Penal Code, Section 311.6: “Every person who knowingly sings or speaks an obscene song…or… words in a public place is guilty of a misdemeanor.” Bruce was acquitted and arrested over and over until the third commandment became a joke. Now, fifty years later, Lenny Bruce is considered a maverick and most stand up comedians use profanity quite generously.

Commandment four: It is against the law for anyone to work on Sundays, even the cow. This is closer to being a law today than ever before, and we should be grateful that it is. According to the “Child Labor Education Project,” indentured-child-servitude, and child slavery have existed since America began. Only after unions formed in the early twentieth century did children and women begin to see conditions improve. Social reformers and the increased political power of working people spearheaded the fight for the rights of laborers (uiowa.edu.) So in general, some adherence to the fourth commandment is a very good thing in regards to labor laws. There are however a few cultures in the world that do follow the fourth commandment to the letter of the law. “Ultra-Orthodox and Secular Israelis Clash in Jerusalem,” on about.com/Judaism, reports that thousands of Orthodox Jews gathered “to protest driving on the Sabbath and… throw stones at passing cars,” as well as “slashing tires on cars of women not dressed modestly, physically attacking women… causing damage to restaurants and stores with non-kosher food…” Luckily in America it is okay to drive on the Sabbath but it is illegal to throw stones, slash tires, and attack women. Which will Judge Moore think is more Godly?

Commandment five and Commandment seven: these are together because they are both sensible good suggestions but NOT good laws: honor thy father and mother, and do not commit adultery. In other words: It is a crime for a son or daughter to be rude to his or her parents – and it is against the law to have sex with anyone other than ones spouse. As ridiculous as it may seem for either one of these to be a crime, they once were, at least in Switzerland, under the rule of John Calvin, the 16th century founder of Calvinism, which led to the Puritans and thus to conservative Christianity in America (calvinistcorner.com.) According to Robert M. Kingdon’s, Adultery and Divorce in Calvin’s Geneva, Calvin was a hardliner when it came to disobedient children and adultery, and he was willing to do almost anything to enforce God’s will as stated in the fifth and seventh commandments. So in 1563, Calvin showed the world what breaking God’s law meant. Historian, Walter Babinski describes Calvin’s punishments in his work, Execution of a Child and Adulterers in Calvin’s Geneva. One young girl “who had insulted her mother” was confined, fed only bread and water, and forced to repent publicly. A peasant boy who threw a rock and swore was flogged and hung by his arms from the gallows. In 1568 a boy who had struck his father was beheaded (p. 361.) And there are equally horrible deaths that he condemned adulterers too. These two commandments; honoring one’s parents and not cheating on your spouse may both be sensible suggestions, but to make them crimes – what would America’s Founding Fathers  say?

Commandment six and Commandment eight: Don’t kill anyone and don’t steal. Finally, here are two commandments that are actually laws in The United States today. The question is, did these rules originate in The Bible, or did they stem from documents and practices far far older? According to the Old Testament, Moses lived during the time of Rameses II, third Pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty, which puts God’s delivery of the Ten Commandments to the Hebrews around 1245 BC (eyelid.co.uk.). But by that time, Egyptian Civilization had already been around for over a thousand years; and I am sure that those pre-Moses Egyptians weren’t all killing each other in the streets, without laws, until the Ten Commandments came along. According to Mark Millmore’s Egyptology website, “Discovering Ancient Egypt”, the 1st Dynasty of the old Kingdom began in 3100 BC, with the Great Pyramid of Giza being completed in 2560 BC. At that time Egypt had no courts or judges but instead exercised their system of laws “through officials”, according to the section on “Law in Ancient Egypt” which can be viewed on digitalegypt.ucl.ac.uk. Moses was raised and educated as an Egyptian prince; which means he knew military strategy, civic organization, and how to rule the masses. He would certainly have known the ancient Egyptian laws against murder and theft, and he would have enforced them, tablets or no tablets, because adhering to practical law was a necessary part of ruling. Sure he was a born-again fanatical Hebrew, but he also knew that people needed practical laws as well as spiritual ones; and he presented these laws in a way so that the rag-tag bunch of Hebrew slaves who followed him would sit up straight and pay attention.  If that meant that he got them from the burning bush of God, so be it. But my guess is that these two laws were included in order to make some of the others seem more fundamental, because everybody had to know not to kill or steal already.

Commandment nine: It is illegal to bear false witness, or in essence to lie about other people. Of all the ten commandments this is the one that seems most likely to have come into modern law directly from the Bible. America’s libel and slander laws are a good example, as well as perjury. But not all lies are illegal in this country. In fact, most lies are perfectly legal. Politicians bear false witness against one another all the time. But none of them are charged with a crime. So some aspects of commandment number nine apply and some don’t. It’s a bunt, and the bases are loaded – one more commandment to go. Will it be a home run?

Commandment ten: thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, wife, manservant, maidservant, ox, or goat. So, it is illegal to want what other people have. Not a very American sentiment seeing as we all want what other people have almost as a rule. It is the American Dream to strike it rich so we can own fancy cars, nice clothes, big houses, live sexy lifestyles, and bask in fame, fortune, and success: just like the millionaires and the movie stars that we wish we could immitate. We want it all, including thinner bodies, higher grades, and better teeth, or else we’re just a bunch of commies. American society is based on coveting. Patriotism is based on coveting the belief in our righteous place atop the world, and no one, absolutely NO ONE can even suggest that those demands may be a little greedy. Without coveting the wealth of nations, and all the power and money we can acquire, we might as well turn our backs on capitalism and embrace socialism. It is surprising that the right-wing conservatives are embracing this commandment not to covet; it goes against everything they seem to stand for.

So if our code of laws didn’t come from The Bible where did they come from, Egypt? There was a civilization far older than Egypt, the Sumerians, who began their rise to power around 5000 BC (History of the Ancient Near East/tripod.com.) The laws of Sumer were passed down into the kingdom of Babylonia, where in 1792 BC, 500 years before Moses, King Hammurabi wrote down the first true set of laws called Hammurabi’s code. According to Cyrus Gordon’s textbook from 1957, “Hammurabi’s Code”, the laws of Hammurabi, chiseled into a large black stone in cuneiform, cover everything from ‘how to handle accusers, and false accusations’, to laws regarding murder, rape, incest, theft, and pensions. Each law in the code comes with a series of corresponding punishments depending on the circumstances of the crime. One of those punishments has even made it into our modern lexicon of common phrases; “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”: all Hammurabi. And the codes are very extensive, far more extensive than any list of practical laws in the Bible. There are codes for unsolved crimes, the rights of military personnel, regulation of commerce, and liquor laws. There were protections for old soldiers, rules for divorce (both men and women had the right to demand a divorce), and controls on interest rates. The list of laws goes on and on, real laws, not about Gods and worship, but about people’s rights, protection from hucksters and scam-artists, codes covering inheritance, adoption, medical malpractice and even wet-nursing (Gordon.) According to Zechariah Sitchin’s The 12th Planet, the Sumerian and Babylonian cultures spread into the kingdoms of Crete, Persia, India, and Asia Minor, along with the laws of Hammurabi (73.); and then from there they went to Rome and so to all of the Western World, where other ancient codes of law were waiting to soak up the wisdom.

That is where our laws originated according to R.G. Price; the ancient world moving into the modern world, an evolution of law. The Bible may have giving our nation a moral backbone but it was Hammurabi, Rome, The Age of the Enlightenment, and the Democracy of Pericles that gave us our laws and government. And maybe most important of all according to Sir Frederick Pollock and Frederic William Maitlan, authors of The History of English Law, is Anglo-Saxon Law and the Magna Carta. Maybe we should build a monument to those things in front of our federal buildings and our courthouses.  The Bible certainly gave the early Pilgrims the sense that they were creating a new kind of God-driven society, but even the men on the Mayflower had to write-up a mini-constitution in order to govern themselves, a document that set forth practical laws of governance. The Bible just wasn’t enough. And why would any American want the Bible to be the foundation for our laws and out behavior. This world already has countries that are ruled by Holy Scriptures and leaders that speak for God: like Iran, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban. Do we really want to mimic that type of repressive theocracy here?


About.Com, Judaism, Ultra-Orthodox and Secular Israelis Clash in Jerusalem, 2011, about.com, 16 December 2011, http://www.judaism.about.com/library/1_politics/bl_ultraorthodox_jerusalem.htm , website

ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), ACLU-NM Investigates Constitutionality of Bloomfield Ten Commandments monument, June 22 2011, aclu.org, 14 December 2011, http://www.aclu.org/religion-belief/aclu-nm-investigates-constitutionality-bloomfield-ten-commandments-monument, website

Babinski, Edward T., Execution of a Child and Adulterers in Calvin’s Geneva, Jan 27 2004, edwardbabinski.us, 16 December 2011, http://www.edwardbabinski.us/history/death_penalty.html , website

Bible, The, Old Testament, Exodus 20, Verse 1-26, Revised Standard Version, Thomas Nelson and Sons, Toronto, 1953, Print

Child Labor Education Project, Child Labor in U.S. History, uiowa.edu, 16 December 2011, http://www.continuetolearn.uiowa.edu/laborctr/child_labor/about/us_history.html , website

Civil Action Lawsuit: Stephan R. Glassroth, Melinda Maddox & Beverly Howard vs. Chief Justice Roy S. Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court, Opinion, Find Law, 18 November 2002, FindLaw.com, 14 December 2011, http://fl1.findlaw.com/hdocs/docs/religion/glsrthmre111802opn.pdf, website

CNN Justice, Ten Commandments Monument Moved, 13 November 2003, cnn.com, 14 December 2011, http://articles.cnn.com/2003-08-27/justice/ten.commandments_1_monument-state-judicial-building-alabama-judicial-inquiry-commission?_s=PM:LAW, website

Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute, McCreary County Kentucky et al v American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky et al, Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, argued March 2nd 2005/decided June 27th 2005, cornell.edu, 11 December 2011, posted document on website, http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/03-1693.ZS.html

Foundation for Moral Law, Judge Roy Moore & Foundation Applaud Decision Upholding KY Law Acknowledging God, Oct 28 2011, morallaw.org, 11 December 2011, website, http://morallaw.org/news/judge-roy-moore-foundation-applaud-decision-upholding-ky-law-acknowledging-god

FOXNews, Supreme Court Bars Commandments from Courthouse, June 28 2005, FoxNews.com/Politics, 10 December 2011, website, http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,160781,00.html

Gordon, Cyrus H., Hammurapi’s Code, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1960, Print

History of the Ancient Near East, Sumer, tripod.com, 17 December 2011, http://www.ancientneareast.tripod.com/Sumer.html , website

Huffington Post, Sarah Palin: America Law Should Be ‘Based On The God Of The Bible And The Ten Commandments’, Huff Post Politics, huffingtonpost.com, First Posted: 05/10/1012:23 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 05:25 PM ET, 10 December 2011, Website, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/10/sarah-palin-american-law_n_569922.html

Kingdon, Robert M., Adultery and Divorce in Calvin’s Geneva, Harvard University Press, 1995, Cambridge, Print

Lenny Bruce Official Site, Chronology-The 60’s, 10-13-2011, 16 December 2011, http://www.lennybruceofficial.com/the-life-of-lenny-bruce/chronology-the-60s/ , website

Mann, Charles C., 1491, Vintage Books: Random House, New York, 2006, Print

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Murray, Mark, The Rise and Fall of Judge Roy Moore, NBC News, Politics on MSNBC, 5/23/2006, msnbc.com, 14 December 2011, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12918042/ns/politics/t/rise-fall-judge-roy-moore/ , website

Perl, Jed, “The Taliban’s Least Favorite Buddhist Art”, The New Republic, August 23 2011, tnr.com, 16 December 2011, http://www.tnr.com/article/the-picture/94368/beauty-and-turmoil , website

Price, R.G., The Ten Commandments: American History and American Law, Rational Revolution/Articles, August 3 2005, rationalrevolution.net, 10 December 2011, Website, http://www.rationalrevolution.net/articles/ten_comandments.htm

Sartwell, Crispin, “Their Iconoclasm and Our Idolatry”, essay, 16 December 2011, http://www.crispinsartwell.com/media/idols.htm , website

Sitchin, Zecharia, The 12th Planet, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 1976, print

U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, proposed 1789, ratified 1791, usconstitution.net, 16 December 2011, http://www.usconstitution.net/xconst_Am1.html , website

Price, R.G., History of the Separation of Church and State in America, Rational Revolution/Articles, March 27 2004, rationalrevolution.net, 10 December 2011, Website, http://www.rationalrevolution.net/articles/history_of_the_separation_of_chu.htm

Public School vs. Private School: a recipe for future inequities

A good education has long been the most effective path to self improvement and success in life, but for most Americans, gaining access to a high quality education may not be easy or even possible. The lucky few who are able to afford a private school education have a distinct advantage over the vast majority of Americans who must attend public school. By the time a student graduates from High School there is already a great divide between rich and poor; between the privileged top 10% and the underprivileged bottom 90%. Wealthy graduates from prestigious private schools have a much better chance of being accepted into expensive, top-rated colleges and universities than public school graduates, especially if the university is a parent’s Alma Mater. This relegates the less financially fortunate students to attend lower rated schools or simply to get vocational training and join the labor force. America’s underprivileged public school students are being used by the system to secure No Child Left Behind funding as their American Dreams slips away, while those wealthier students who attend private schools are being prepared by their elite education to have dynamic careers and live a life full of privilege and leadership.

There are some extreme differences between public and private education and the first of them is sheer size. The vast majority of America’s youth attend public schools and so the public school system is huge. According to the US Department of Education, there were 98,706 active public schools in all fifty states during the 2008/2009 school year with 67,148 being elementary and 24,348 being secondary. Grace Chen of Public School Review writes that 90% of all school age children in America attend public school. In 2008/2009 this figure represented 49.3 million students enrolled in public elementary and secondary school according to The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). That’s nearly fifty million children being educated by the state. This feat requires an enormous bureaucracy of departments, administrators, and teachers, all working to move tens of millions of children through elementary and secondary school. The law prohibits children sixteen and under from dropping out. These tens of millions of kids are from diverse backgrounds, different economic categories, different racial and ethnic groups, and from families with various views on politics, religion, and who have different levels of education themselves. And the NCES projects the number of students in public schools will rise to 52.7 million by 2021. The number of Private Schools in the United States is a fraction of this, but I will come to those figures later.

Another big difference between public and private schools is how the two types of institutions are funded. Private schools, which include prep schools, boarding schools, and parochial schools, are funded through tuition, donations, and grants; whereas public schools are funded by the state and federal government. Judy Woodruff, a respected news analyst for PBS, reported in her piece “American Education in the 21st Century” that less than 10% of funding for K-12 education is supplied by the federal government and that the rest of the money that supports our nation’s more than fourteen thousand school districts comes from the sales tax, personal and corporate income tax, and much of it from local property taxes. The national Center for Education Statistics states that approximately 93% of local education expenditures are paid for out of the state budget. This puts a massive burden on each state to come up with the cash for tens of thousands of employees as well as books, supplies, and maintenance of the states’ many public school properties. Unfortunately, the flow of tax dollars is not always stable as we have witnessed over the past ten years. Taxes and therefore school budgets are subject to booms and busts in the economy.

Not long ago America found itself in a real estate boom and taxes were rolling in. However, since then our economy has all but collapsed, and public schools have been the target of many budget cuts. According to The Washington Post and The Associated Press, in the article “Gov. Jerry Brown orders $1B in midyear budget cuts…” posted on December 13th 2011, the California Governor announced that his state’s revenues had fallen again, this time by approx. 2.2 billion dollars. Due to this, Gov. Brown will lower the amount allotted to California’s midyear spending. This will immediately affect public schools, the elderly, and the disabled reports The Associated Press.

One bright light in public school funding is that in some neighborhoods property taxes are still trickling in, especially in areas that are more affluent. This allows for some schools to maintain a reasonable bare-bones budget even in this time of national financial crisis. However, this creates a Funding Gap between schools in more wealthy neighborhoods versus schools in poor or destitute areas. The less local property tax dollars coming in, the less money the neighborhood school has to spend. An Education Trust study in 2006 shows that poorer states receive less funding for education than richer states. Also, within all states the lower income areas receive less money than the wealthier areas, with the poorest schools in the least affluent districts being given the least amount of funding.

Education Activist, Jonathan Kozol, author of the 1992 book, Savage Inequities: Children in America’s Schools, discussed his findings with Judy Woodruff on PBS.org, stating that in order for public schools from poor areas to receive the same funding as middle class schools, they must do everything they can to keep their white students from leaving, which means that inner city schools “have to be good.” According to Woodruff’s report, this inequity in funding means the difference between a school being well supplied, clean, and well maintained, or a school being dilapidated “with outdated equipment and unpaid bills” (PBS.org). Woodruff describes how in 2005, Illinois was joined by fifteen other states for having funding gaps between low-poverty districts and high-poverty districts that actually grew worse between 1999 and 2005: these were Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. And that was before the real estate bubble burst and the tax base collapsed. Considering recent budget cuts and the cuts to education that are being asked for by the Republican congress, one can only imagine what level the funding gaps between middle class public schools and destitute inner city schools will reach in the near future.

Another burden that has been foisted onto America’s public school system is President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mandate which requires nationwide Standardized Testing. The US Department of Education summary page for the No Child Left Behind act of 2001 is prefaced with a quote by President Bush, “These reforms express my deep belief in our public schools and their mission to build the mind and character of every child, from every background, in every part of America.” No Child Left Behind was the largest act of federal spending for education since the passage of President Lyndon Johnson’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. According to the US Department of Education website, “The new law reflects a remarkable consensus… on how to improve the performance of America’s elementary and secondary schools while at the same time ensuring that no child is trapped in a failing school.”

NCLB attempts to accomplish it’s goals by connecting accountability and performance standards directly with funding. Each school receives funds according to how well its students do on standardized tests. If the student does not pass the test, then a certain amount of funding is held back from the school. If a high percentage of students pass the tests with flying colors, then the school is rewarded with extra funds. So again, the funding gap is in play. For those schools that boast higher academic achievement by the student body there is money enough to hire more teachers, buy new equipment, and go on field trips; at least in theory. But for those poorer schools that are already so challenged that they are unable to lift their test scores high enough to make the grade, they are held accountable and penalized with less money to hire teachers, buy equipment, or go on field trips. No Child Left Behind holds the students accountable too. If a student scores too low on the tests, he or she is held back: a public humiliation that can be ruinous to the child’s self esteem.

Standardized testing has another drawback: it pulls the focus from offering the student a well rounded and progressive education, and instead turns the students into a labor force of test-takers in whose hands the salaries of the teachers and administrators lie. With the standardized tests focusing mainly on math and reading there is little incentive to teach other subjects, especially when the school’s funding is at stake. Thus, even with the noble intentions behind NCLB, the results have been mixed at best and ruinous at worst. In an interview with Dr. Gerald N. Tirozz, executive director of the national Association of Secondary School Principals, which appeared in the film, Super Size Me, Dr. Tirozz spoke about how the requirements of standardized testing got in the way of teaching the students about things that they were not going to be tested on. “The more and more we put mandates on the school” says Dr. Tirozz, the more “they’ll be very myopic in their focus… Physical Education, nutrition, health; these are the things being cut out.” He suggests that soon we will become “a nation of fat readers.”

But health is not the only thing that has been cut out of the public school curriculum: art has suffered as well as music, language, history, and any sort of visionary approach to helping the students realize who they are inside and what their life could mean if they found a path that suits them, a goal that challenges them in a good way, and course of study that makes them happy. There is no time for that when the school’s funds depend on the child’s test scores. The big question is, does studying for these math and reading tests serve those subjects in the best way possible, and is the student learning enough of the other important subjects to be truly educated. If not, then the present generation of students is being cheated out of their potential futures as leaders and relegated to careers in the service industry, the military, the labor force, or prison.

One person who is committed to exploring the inequities in education between the classes is Jean Anyon, who wrote a definitive essay on education within different economic groups in the US, “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work,” printed in Boston University Journal of Education. Anyon’s in-depth studies of five schools documents various approaches to education and how they differ drastically between working-class schools, middle-class schools, and the affluent professional schools serving the upper-class. Anyon reveals in her paper that in working-class schools the children are “prepared for a future of wage labor that is mechanical in routine, that little creativity or planning is involved” (87), and that it is “degrading.” She calls this a “conflict relationship with capital” (88). Instead of becoming docile the children become resistant which “prevents them from learning socially legitimated knowledge and skills in school and is therefore ultimately debilitating” (88).

Ms. Anyon goes on to describe how differently the middle-class schools approach educating their students by developing relationships to capital that prepares them to function well within a Bureaucracy. “Their school work is appropriate for white collar working class and middle class jobs in supportive institutions” (89) with a focus on paperwork, technical work, and sales work where “one is rewarded for knowing the answers to the questions one is asked,” or how and where to find the answers. It is not creative but is a huge step up from the poorer working class/labor model (89).

Ms. Anyon continues by exploring the affluent professional schools “where the children are developing a potential relationship to capital that is instrumental and expressive and involves substantial negotiation.” She describes how these more privileged children are given the opportunity to study languages, art, and science. They are encouraged to mold their “creative elaboration of ideas into concrete form” (89). In her words “their schooling is developing in these children, skills necessary to become society’s artists, intellectuals, legal, scientific, and technical experts and other professionals” (89).  So let’s take a deeper look now into these affluent institutions that prepare the students for a future in which they hold the reins of power: private schools.

Private schools are accredited through the state or region but they are funded primarily by tuition, donations, and grants, so they are not required to follow the same mandates as public schools, such as standardized tests. A private school has the freedom to develop the student’s self-reliance and creative abilities rather than use the student to secure funds through test scores. But private school is expensive. The BuckleySchool, a prestigious private, prep-school in Los Angeles that serves K-12 grades, lists on their website that the tuition for a sixth-grader is $31,226 per year plus $2,364 in fees. It is only slightly less for kindergarten. My own alma mater, FrancisW.ParkerSchool in Chicago, costs over $23,000 for Jr. Kindergarten and just over 30K for high school.

Even though private prep school offers an excellent education, is less crowded, better funded, and more visionary in its approach to helping the student reach success, it is simply out of reach of 90% of American families. Private schools have become the domain of the wealthy. Unfortunately those students who attend primary and secondary public schools are not nearly as well prepared for a top college as those who attended the more expensive private prep-schools. And even if they were, the top universities in America cost far more than the above mentioned prep schools. According to Forbes Magazine, April 13th, 2008 edition, YaleUniversity cost $50,350 per year. Even if a financially underprivileged student were to get accepted academically to Yale, the cost is so great that the student loans through graduation would be nearly a quarter of a million dollars, and that’s just for a bachelor’s degree. The only way to pay off that kind of money is to become a stock broker and go to Wall Street. Either that or spend another quarter million to become a doctor or a lawyer. But anything creative or inspired – forget about it. This is American elitism in action.

The number of enrollments in private schools illustrate American elitism well. The NCES states that enrollment in private schools (pre-K through 12th) dropped from 12% in 1996 to 10 % in 2010 going from 6.3 million students in 2002 to 5.5 million in 2010. That means that as our public school enrollment increases, our private school enrollment becomes even more elite. And the preparation for this elite group of future success stories begins the moment they are born. Jean Anyon addresses this issue in the concluding statements of “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work,” noting the issue of hereditary disparity:

“Differing curricular, pedagogocal, and pupil evaluation practices emphasize different cognative and behavioral skills in each social setting… These differences may not only contribute to the development  in the children in each social class… but would thereby help to reproduce this system of relations in society” (90).

So, like father like son: the system perpetuates itself: the wealthy Americans stay wealthy and get good educations and the poor Americans stay poor , struggling to get ahead.

Thus, Jean Anyon concludes that within each social class there is a hidden agenda in education to train them only for their present stations in life and thus continue the cycle of poverty or wealth according to one’s economic birthright. The path for many public school students is bleak after high school. However, the path for most private school students is to go right into one of the top private Universities. The top ten universities in the USA according to US News & World Report are Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Cal Tech, MIT, Stanford, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, and Duke University. Even if a poor student has better grades than a rich one, most of these top universities cost just as much as Yale, around a quarter of a million dollars for four years. Optimists might say that there are lots of other great schools out there, or what is wrong with going to a Community College or a state school. But lesser schools are rarely proven paths for poor kids to become the future leaders of industry and government in this country. According to US News & World Report, as of October 2010, most of the members of congress graduated from Harvard, Stanford, or Yale. And it would be no surprise if the same is true for the President, the Senators, the nation’s top judges, ambassadors, and in general most of the people that rule over us all and make the laws we must follow. Poor kids are shut out of the schools that lead to that high-level future, which seems to be reserved for the rich. This practice not only perpetuates a class system in America but it borders on a Caste System.

There are some, like Oliver Robinson, whose essay, “Interpretation of Anyon” admits that “her essay was an interesting look into how our society creates social class and aims to keep people in those classes” but that she needs to study more schools (4). However, it is clear that better schools produce more successful students, and that the best schools, including prep schools, produce an elite force of college bound powerhouses every 12th-grade graduation day. These select few students will soar past their underprivileged counterparts, filling up the best universities, leaving the poor and the underachievers struggling to make ends meet for the rest of their lives. We are at a crossroads as a nation and must beware of the enemy that faces us lest the majority of Americans become nothing more than modern day serfs. If not, American citizens may find themselves buying everything that’s advertised, owing the banks their future earnings like a sharecropper’s market, and serving under the yolk of an educated, wealthy few who run the government and own the corporations as if they were a ruling class.


Alberts, Hana R., Michael Noer, and David Ewalt, Special Report: America’s Best Colleges, Forbes Magazine online, August 13th, 2008, 06:00 PM EDT, Forbes.Com, 19 November 2011, http://www.forbes.com/2008/08/13/best-colleges-ratings-oped-college08-cx_ha_mn_de_0813best_land.html, website

Anyon, Jean, Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work, Boston University Journal of Education, Volume 162, Number 1, Winter 1980, pages 67-92, Boston, Print

Associated Press, Washington Post: National, “Gov. Jerry Brown orders $1B in midyear budget cuts effect students, elderly, disabled,” December 13th 4:46 PM EST, washingtonpost.com, 13 December 2011, http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/gov-jerry-brown-announces-1-billion-in-midyear-cuts-to-california-schools-socialservices/2011/12/13/gIQAdPYHsO_story.html, website

BuckleySchool, Admissions, buckleyla.org, 1 December 2011, http://www.buckleyla.org/admission/tuition-fees/index.aspx , website

Chen, Grace, Public School Review, Public School vs. Private School, December 4, 2007, PublicSchoolReview.com, 22 November 2011, http://www.publicschoolreview.com/articles/5 , website

FrancisW.ParkerSchool, Admissions and Financial Aid, fwparker.org, 1 December 2011, http://www.fwparker.org/page.aspx?pid=248, website

Institute of Education Sciences, NationalCenter for Education Statistics, The Condition of  Education, Private School Enrollment (indicator 4-2011), 28 November 2011, http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_pri.asp, website

Institute of Education Sciences, NationalCenter for Education Statistics, The Condition of  Education, Public School Enrollment (indicator 2-2011), 28 November 2011, http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_enl.asp, website

Kozol, Jonathan, Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools, Harper Perennial, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 1992, Print

Morella, Michael, US News & World Report, Politics, Oct. 28 2010, usnews.com, 30 November 2011, http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2010/10/28/harvard-stanford-yale-graduate-most-members-of-congress?PageNr=1, website

Robinson, Oliver, essay: “Interpretation of Anyon”, Sept 23 2009, SCRIBD.COM, 29 November 2011, http://www.scribd.com/doc/23851231/Anyon-Critical-Interpretation-Essay-Draft-3, website

Theokas, Christina, The Education Trust, The Funding Gap, EDTrust.org, January 1 2006, ED Trust, 27 November 2011, http://www.edtrust.org/dc/publication/the-funding-gap-0, website

Tirozz, Dr. Gerald N., Exec. Director of the Nat’l Assoc. of Secondary School Principals, interview with Morgan Spurlock, Super Size Me, Kathbur Pictures, 2004, video

US Department of Education, Why NCLB is important, Overview, ED.gov, 2/10/2004, US Dept. of Education, 12 December 2011, http://ed.gov/nclb/overview/intro/execsumm.html, website

US News & World Report, University Directory, 2012 College Rankings list, 29 November 2011, http://www.usnewsuniversitydirectory.com/undergraduate-colleges/national-universities.aspx, website

Woodruff, Judy, America’s Schools in the 21st Century, (PBS) Public Broadcasting System, How Do We Fund Our Schools, September 5th 2008, pbs.org, 30 November 2011, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/wherewestand/reports/finance/how-do-we-fund-our-schools/197/, website

Communism and the Rise of Christian Influence in American Political Mass Media

The effective use of today’s Mass Media and the influence it wields in the public arena has given modern American Christianity a unprecidented access to voters and so to an increasing amount of political power in both the Federal and Local Government. From Rush Limbaugh to Pat Robertson; from Fox News to the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN); there is an outpouring of right-wing Christian political rhetoric to influence their listeners to vote a Christian platform: something that the earliy Christian ministers in America had never done. In many ways the viewing screen has replaced the pulpit; and even when a minister does preach to a live congregation, it is often recorded or televised. So how, in less than a century, did the Born Again Christians transform themselves from the preachers of a spiritual agenda into a powerful and organized political movement, becoming a significant voting bloc that has gained mastery over the media. Todays Christian’s more than ever before have gained political clout enough to effectively move legislation and transform the national conscience? To explore this we have to examine the cause of the rise of Christian influence in American politics, as well as the Christian community’s increasing use of mass media as a successful tool to promote Evangelical and political dogma.

Two primary reasons why Conservative Christian leaders were suddenly more acceptable as a political force by mainstream Americans were the ‘Cold War’, and the fear of atheism that it brought on. On August 29th 1949 the Soviet Union successfully tested its first Atomic Bomb and America’s nuclear standoff with Russia and its communist vassal-states began (Cold War Museum, p 1). People started building bomb shelters in their backyards and millions of Americans feared for their safety and for the future of their children (Cold War Museum, p 1). But the central conflict of the Cold War was not over nuclear weapons or even over territorial disputes; it was over political and social ideologies; including the ideology of faith. Since the introduction of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution the acceptance of science over God as the cause of creation appalled many Christians. And the fact that both Nazi Germany and the USSR considered themselves modern, science based nations, only added to the fear of a dark future where God was not essential.

In America’s 1950s eyes the Soviet Union was a godless tyranny; a radical nation of sworn atheists that followed the anti-capitalist tenets of Karl Marx, who proclaimed that “religion is the opiate of the masses” (Stanford.edu).  The Soviet leadership in Moscow reinforced America’s fears by upholding the Marxist doctrine of atheism, by persecuting worshipers in Russia, by banning religious practices, and by calling for a world wide communist revolution that would sweep its godless dictatorship across Europe, Asia, and eventually the United States (Caplan, GMU, 1). Inside the new Soviet Union, the only religion that mattered was communism, a terrifying prospect illustrated so well in George Orwell’s book “1984” published in 1949. Apprehension over the looming godlessness of the Soviet Union helped to alter the way many Americans thought about the relationship between religion and politics (Inboden, Intro). To believe in God became an important part of post WWII patriotism, along with a belief in capitalism, trust in the establishment, and a defense of conservative Protestant values (Inboden, Chap 1). The Cold War became a new crusade, with America as the primary defender, not only of The West, but of Christendom itself (Inboden, Intro).


Prior to World War II, America’s relationship to Marxism was not as cut-&-dry or as negative as it became following the Allies’ territorial division of the Third Reich, in which Russia claimed half of Europe for the Reds. In the later part of the 19th Century and the early part of the 20th, many people in the United States and Europe supported communist crusades like Women’s Suffrage, the rights of Trade Unions, and other social and political policies that empowered the working class (Markowitz, 1). The official Communist Party of the United States was founded in 1919 and it is still in existence today, supporting social causes as well as Communist Party candidates in local and national elections (cpusa.org). In fact, prior to the Russian Revolution of 1917, American Marxists like activist Emma Goldman and writer John Reed, author of “Ten Days that Shook the World” spoke out, along with many other Americans, that Marxism was an essential political movement promoting peace and equality in the United States, with Reed saying “We, who are Socialists, must hope… that out of this horror of bloodshed… will come far-reaching changes… and a long step towards our goal of Peace among Men” (Reed, The Masses).

In the 1930s, President Franklin D Roosevelt also embraced socialist concepts when he implemented the New Deal. Whether mainstream Americans liked it or not, the fact that Socialists, and even Marxists were scattered amongst the population, especially in educated circles, with socialist ideas woven into numerous causes, was to some extent accepted, and even promoted, at least in first half of the 20th Century. But as World War II came to a close, that was about to change.

By the mid-century, after Russia had tested its bomb, the word “communist” became synonymous with “traitor” and many liberals, artists, writers, and intellectuals were publically labeled “Reds” and charged with sedition by such staunch anti-communist leaders as Senator Joseph McCarthy, who used the power of the media well to terrify the public into supporting his crusade against the atheist commies that dwelt amongst them (ushistory.org).


But McCarthy was not the beloved spokesman for God in America that the nation was waiting for. That person would come from the unlikely union of Christian Ministry and Conservative Capitalism in the form of the Reverend Billy Graham and multi-millionaire newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst (Inboden & Frontline).


William Randolph Hearst, like Joe McCarthy, was a firm believer in American Capitalism and a staunch adversary of anything Communist (Citizen Hearst). Hearst just needed a trusted and charismatic speaker that he could throw his media empire behind to sell his anti-communist message to the public; and he found that person when his eyes fell on the young, up-and-coming Christian minister, the Reverend Billy Graham (God in America/Frontline). A graduate of WheatonCollege outside of Chicago, Graham had been preaching in tents, halls, and churches for a number of years, from one end of the country to the other. His was a style not unlike the charismatic Revivalists of earlier America, drawing crowds in the thousands and inspiring them to become born again (Believe, Revivalism 1). According to “Believe”, the Religious Information Resource:

“Revivalism is not a sporadic phenomenon in the Christian tradition but rather a steady force which breaks into public prominence whenever churches and society tend to ignore its concerns for experiential religion;” and that “Billy Graham… played down some of the more strident… aspects of the method (but) retained… the direct, forceful sermon appeal, the biblically oriented message, the call for personal, public response, the use of gospel music and of large mass meetings” (Believe, Revivalism 1).

Graham’s message was one of personal salvation and his belief in America as a nation of Christians who can vastly improve their lives and their nation by receiving God and Christ into their hearts (Inboden & Frontline). But Graham had another message as well; an anti communist message. He despised Russia almost as much as Hearst and McCarthy did; but unlike them, Billy Graham’s solution was a spiritual one; to bring Americans to Jesus as a bulwark of righteous Godliness against the forces of the godless Soviet empire (Inboden & Frontline). At a speech cited in the Frontline documentary, “God in America”, Graham stated that “The principles of Christ (were) the only form of ideology hot enough to stop communism” (God in America/Frontline). Graham firmly believed and preached that “when communism conquers a nation it makes every man a slave; but… when Christianity conquers a nation it makes every man a king” (God in America/Frontline). When William Randolph Hearst heard this he ordered his team to “puff Graham” by using Hearst’s massive news and media network to transform the preacher from a simple yet dynamic Christian minister into a national pro-god, anti-communist celebrity (God in America/Frontline).


Hearst’s newspapers and magazines printed story after story about Billy Graham, who was also interviewed on national television by the famous newscaster Edward R. Murrow, speaking about Graham’s religious and political views, as well as his family values as a good Christian and as an American (Inboden & Frontline). According to Uta Balbier from the German Historical Institute in Washington DC, “William Randolph Hearst was responsible for” Billy Graham getting headlines in papers like the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune and also the cover of Life Magazine, turning Rev Graham into a “media star” (Balbier, GHI). Balbier goes on to say that Graham figured out a new way to speak in the media, developing a “distinct language” and a “new public religious discourse” (Balbier, GHI).

Billy Graham’s new found fame gave him access to the highest political circles in the United States where Graham used his nationwide popularity and the power of his pulpit to advise and influence America’s social and political future. One of Graham’s private meetings was with President-Elect Dwight D Eisenhower during which time Graham expressed concern that Eisenhower had not yet settled on a church denomination to belong to, telling the president-elect that it was important to the nation for its president to have “a faith” (God in America/Frontline). Graham advised the president-elect to join Mrs. Eisenhower’s Presbyterian congregation and as a result, soon after taking office, Dwight D Eisenhower was baptized in his wife’s Presbyterian church, becoming a full-fledged “Communicant” (Inboden & Frontline). Soon Ike was speaking out against the Russians, saying that America is a “religious civilization” and that it is just such religious fundamentals and faith that is a sign of democracy. Eisenhower proclaimed in one televised speech that those who do not have faith in god are “silly.” Not long after this, President Eisenhower added the words “under God” to the pledge of allegiance and later pushed for the Congress to decree that “In God We Trust” become the nation’s official motto (Inboden & Frontline).


In 1957 Billy Graham preached for three straight months in New York City, converting the masses at such venues as Times Square, Madison Square Gardens, and Yankee Stadium where he drew a crowd of 100,000 people (Balbier, GHI). Vice President Richard Nixon, had aspirations to run for the presidency in a couple of years and so he decided to join Graham on the pulpit at the largest of these events where Nixon proclaimed that “America’s strength comes from faith in God” (God in America/Frontline). According to Uta Balbier from the German Historical Institute in Washington DC, American flags flew everywhere during Graham’s New York sermons, “blending American patriotism with Evangelical spirituality”, as Graham (referring to a potential conflict with the Soviets) called for his audience to “tell the world tonight that our trust is not in our pile of atomic and hydrogen bombs but in Almighty God… that we are united and ready to march under (his) banner” (Balbier, GHI).

As Billy Graham continued in his rise to prominence as the most televised spokesman of god in American politics, another set of figures began to rise; both of them bringing religion and politics into the growing media spotlight: John F Kennedy (a Catholic running for president) and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. (a Christian minister and civil rights leader), both of whom, like Graham, had to be media celebrities as well as political and religious leaders, because by the early 1960s, over half the households in the country were watching the TV regularly (UNESCO, intro). According to UNESCO, before the outbreak of WWII there was virtually zero television to watch, with the first full time television transmitter going into operation in 1941 (UNESCO statistical report, pg 74). The number of transmitters in the United States grew from zero to 351 by 1953 and had reached 579 by 1960, with 310 receivers/televisions per 1000 inhabitants by the 1960 presidential election (UNESCO statistical report, pg 74 – 77). Television was about to transform politics and religion in the United States forever.


Television and the mass media during the 1960 presidential campaign made the incumbent Richard Millhouse Nixon (Reverend Billy Graham’s pick) look unctuous, pale and covered in sweat because he was “recovering from the flu” and had “refused makeup; whereas the Catholic challenger, John F Kennedy looked confident and handsome, winning the “image battle” and defeating Richard Nixon in the election by a narrow margin (CNN/Time). Mass media and televised debates had begun their climb to prominence in American politics and from now on image was everything. John F Kennedy’s religion became an issue as the first non-Protestant to be elected president. He was accused of being a papist with the potential to allow the Vatican to tell him how to run the country; so Eisenhower and Nixon formed a committee of Protestant Ministers to confront the issue (Time Mag – Sept 19th 1960). Here the separation of American politics from religious influence was demanded even though it was overlooked when it came to Billy Graham. But the nation seemed to be moving away from that separation when it came to the public outcry against the Long Island Jewish family that sued the public school system there to remove its morning protestant prayer (God in America/Frontline). The issue went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which overturned all of the lower state’s court’s prior rulings supporting prayer, and instead banned it from all schools across the nation for being unconstitutional (God in America/Frontline). As with the Scopes Monkey Trial, the mass media covered the story like entertainment and the people of America watched, listened, and read about it like they were following a soap opera; and the nation was like wise polarized as it had been over Scopes: believers in America as a Christian nation and those who believed that it was a secular country.


Another polarizing religious/political issue that was played out in the mass media of the 1960s was the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. What had once been an internal state matter facing problems with “uppity Coloreds” that “had to be dealt with” by the local authorities now became a News Story from one end of the country to the other. Newspapers, radio, and television covered the brutality of the police against the demonstrators in Birmingham with dramatic zeal that turned the tide of public opinion outside of Alabama against the authorities and making Martin Luther King a household name (Citizen King/Documentary). And Martin Luther King made great television and on some levels was very similar to Billy Graham only with a totally different political message. King was a Baptist preacher and he delivered his speeches woven in with references to God and faith and the providence of his people, merging the pulpit and politics into the same message (Citizen King/Documentary). This had a far reaching effect on the role of the preacher in American life. What the Reverend Billy Graham had begun, and Martin Luther King Jr. had continued and amplified, was turning into an invitation to all charismatic and ambitious evangelical preachers to get in front of the television cameras and get their message to the masses. A new breed of Evangelical was being formed; one who saw film, television, and the news media as the path to spreading their righteous message of Christian patriotism; and possibly create a bulwark against the rising tide of liberal secularism in America that ousted prayer and creationism from schools, and would soon legalize abortion and homosexuality. The Jim and Tammy Baker’s of America were starting to see the possibilities.

In order to clearly describe the rise of the Christian-Right in American politics through the use of mass-media we must touch on the Christian-Right’s successful entry into creating and distributing its own evangelical films, especially those films that carried the message “the end of the world is near”. The history of religious plays and movies as both propaganda and as entertainment goes back to some of the earliest traveling theater troupes who performed a work called a “Passion Play,” which depicted the last days of Christ’s life including his death and resurrection (Hagerty, NPR). Passion Plays go back to 16th Century German and were performed around Easter, usually in an outdoor venue. In America they began as traveling troupes, moving through the frontier areas like the Revivalists preachers, with the company usually involving a core troupe playing the major roles and an army of locals playing the non-speaking extras (Hagerty, NPR). Passion Plays were considered true spectacles, not to be missed when they came to town; employing horses, livestock, props, costumes, set pieces , and dozens if not hundreds of actors. The first Christian movies were Biblical films, like The Passion Play of Oberammergau in 1898, From the Manger to the Cross in 1912, and Cecil B DeMille’s masterpiece King of Kings in 1927 (Celluloid Sermons, pg 15). Other than making biblical epics the early Christian filmmakers also made Missionary movies, including a few films produced by Billy Graham during the 1950s. But for the most part during for the first half of the 20th Century the hard-core Christian ministers in America condemned Hollywood as a “cesspool,” and proclaimed that watching movies was a sin (Celluloid Sermons, intro I-II).


But as the 1960s came around and religious personalities like Billy Graham and Martin Luther King rose to prominence on television, the filmmakers of Christian movies began to transform their creations from dry, static lectures on screen, or over-sentimental biblical stories, to true art films meant to evoke an inner question of faith, gratitude, and mystification (Celluloid Sermons, intro I-II).  Movies like Rolf Forsberg’s Parable, which portrayed Christ as a clown and the world as a circus gained huge artistic accolades when it premiered at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair; later winning numerous awards at well-respected international film festivals, thus setting the stage for a generation of Christian films that would strive to connect to the public on an artistic level (Celluloid Sermons). No longer were films considered sinful by American ministers. Film, television, and all media had become a tool to help preach the word of God. But there was growing polarization within the Christian filmmaking community. On one side there were conservatives like the Rev Billy Graham; and on the other side there were more liberal groups like The Council of Churches and Dr. Albert Schweitzer who was a big supporter of Rolf Forsberg’s work (Interview with Rolf Forsberg).


Less than a decade later the image of Christ as a clown would return in the Broadway musical hit, Godspell, which the writers said was inspired by the film Parable (Lindvall, Celluloid Sermons). Another hit Gospel based musical from that period was Jesus Christ Superstar by Andrew Lloyd Weber, which swept the world in multiple translations and was soon made into a successful Hollywood film. Rolf Forsberg continued to make artistically inspired Christian films (and one Buddhist film after Forsberg converted to Buddhism) until he teamed up with Hal Lindsey in 1978 to make the apocalyptic dramatic-documentary, The Late Great Planet Earth (Lindvall, Celluloid Sermons). The pre-millennialists in America had been speaking for decades about the end of the world being neigh, and The Late Great Planet Earth gave them a top grossing film to back their predication up. It became evident that art films, entertainment, and media in general was an effective way to proselytize their Christian cause.

As the 1980s and beyond continued, more and more mainstream films began to be produced by Christian companies for a general audience, many of them covering similar themes as those in The Late Great Planet Earth. Early efforts to create a Christian-Hollywood arrived with sensationalist documentaries like In Search of Noah’s Ark. However, soon after, more narrative films were produced like The Rapture, starring Mimi Rogers, and the very first Hollywood feature produced completely by Christian backers, The Omega Code, a suspense thriller that received quite a bit of press. Both of these more narrative films enjoyed large financial grosses, serious critical exposure, as well as a mix of mainstream and Christian audiences.


The trend in successful mainstream Christian filmmaking continued on in the 1990s and into the next millennium, reaching a peak with the blockbuster cinematic version of the Christian literary series The Chronicles of Narnia; which was released by Disney but produced by Walden Films, a self-proclaim Christian-leaning production company. Later in the decade, one of the top grossing films of the year, The Passion of the Christ, directed by Mel Gibson, came to the big screen and was an unexpected sensation. Gibson, a sworn, born again, pre-Vatican 2 Catholic, was accused of anti-Semitism as well as using the movie theater as a pulpit; but this film proved definitively that a pro-Christian mainstream movie can be just as big a blockbuster as any film from Hollywood. The trend continued with further movies about Narnia as well as Christian-messaged films like Vegie Tales and Evan Almighty.


So, as the Christian leadership was growing a stronger hand in the entertainment industry, based on the early successes of such films as Parable and The Late Great Planet Earth, evangelical preachers were developing a powerful platform of their own on the television screen. In the 1970s and 1980s, a growing group of outspoken televangelist ministers like Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts, and Jimmy Swaggart were sweeping the airwaves with their message of truth in the Bible and salvation through Christ. Audiences grew and donations came pouring in, empowering not only what Christians believed was the word of God, but also giving voice to causes that were dear to their community, like anti-abortion, abhorrence to homosexuality, and the return of prayer in schools. It was not long before the leaders of Christian media also began to speak on politics. One of the loudest early voices in this growing forum was Pat Robertson, who ran a popular radio show, The 700 Club. Also in the 1970s and early 80s, charismatic Christian preachers like Jim and Tammy Fay Baker rose to prominence at the spearhead of television evangelism.



As the 1970s came to a close the voices of politically minded Christian conservatives grew loud enough to help elect a president. During the 1980 presidential election, Jerry Falwell and his Christian movement called the Moral Majority helped to elect President Ronald Reagan. The belief amongst many Christians at the time was that God still did not belong as an active force in American politics when it came to elections. But that rapidly changed when Reagan stole the hearts and minds of the Christian establishment, speaking at a Moral Majority rally and stating “you can’t endorse me, but I can endorse you.” Jerry Falwell started appearing side by side with Reagan more and more, becoming in essence one of his advisors. With the help of the Christian voters, Ronald Reagan won the election by a landslide, thus transforming the way devoted Christians approached partisan politics from then on.


Since then the Christian Right has been hugely influential in politics and was key to electing President George W Bush in 2000. The major tools of these powerful ‘politics from the pulpit’ movements have been television, radio, film, podcasts, blogs, and periodicals, all used effectively to communicate their political agendas, and in the case of the Tea Party, to create a new movement onto itself.

As of the writing of this paper the CBN, (Christian Broadcasting Network) website, and Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition website were both clearly active in a combination of religion and politics. On a visit to the CBN website the first pop-up said “Will you help us promote Voter Guides” followed by one pop-up after another; such as the “Congressional Scorecard,” a scorecard to keep track of the true conservatives in Washington; an ad saying “Pray & Vote – Join the campaign to help educate voters for the 2012 elections.” The organization’s mission statement says “working to represent the pro-family agenda and support politics that will strengthen and preserve, rather than threaten, our families and our values.” The site also promoted “Stand with Israel”, “Repeal ObamaCare”, “Stop the Freedom of Choice Act”, “the sanctity of traditional marriage” act, and the “Fairness Doctrine” meant to save Rush Limbaugh’s and John Hannity’s radio shows. The site went on to give advice on how to “educate” ones friends to vote “the right way”, and then it listed every e-mail and twitter address for the representatives in Washington with a note saying “tell them what to do”.

The amount of political rhetoric, endorsements, and campaigning that is practiced on these religious websites suggests that Christianity itself has become a powerful and in many cases a prefered candidate in America’s elections. The evangelical minister and media star, Pat Robertson even ran for president in the 1990s but lost the Republican nomination, as did the conservative Christian television minister Mike Huckabee in 2008. To be fair, two liberal Christian ministers well-known from television, Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson both had failed bids for the Democratic presidential nomination as well. Although the message of God in American politics tends to generate from the Republican Right, evidence shows that Christian Ministers and religious pundits on either side of the aisle are no longer trepidatious about bringing their faith very loudly into the voting booth while using the media to convince others to do the same.


The conquest of the media by political and religious pundits has given the Christian right a loud voice in today’s American political arena, gaining in some cases unprecedented power to influence decisions at the top aside from endorsing candidates, such as the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and the passage or blocking of certain legislation. Among some of the more radical ideas that have been recently suggested is a call for a clear proclamation that the United States is a “Christian Nation” (see my paper on The separation of Church & State), and that our laws should be based on the Bible (see my paper on American Law & the Ten Commandments), as well as some even more extreme views from the farthest reaches of the Right, like that the rule of God should also be the rule of the land, harkening to a possible American style, Theocracy.

The highly publicized conflict between the Bible and Science has also caused strife on the campaign trail as many far Right candidates openly reject the Theory of Evolution in lieu of the Biblical story of Creation. And many pre-millenialist Christians that were once stirred by The Late Great Planet Earth are now using media to call for preparations to be made for the Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ. And the old fear of communism that helped to launch Rev. Billy Graham’s long ministry has reemerged in today’s political rhetoric with questions of President Barak Obama’s devotion to Christianity mixing with Right-Wing charges that he is a Moslem, that was born in Kenya, and that he is a communist. Even though some of these ideas are not mainstream even in the Conservative Right, it is clear that the blend of Christian doctrine with conservative politics has been effectively promoted in the Christian dominated corner of the media in such a way that the agenda is fast becoming a part of the American landscape of political dialogue, however extreme, partisan, or Biblical it might be.



Balbier, Uta Andrea (GHI research fellow); Billy Graham’s Crusades in the 1950s: Neo-Evangelicalism between Civil Religion, Media, and Consumerism; German Historical Institute, Washington DC (GHI); ghi-dc.org; http://www.ghi-dc.org/files/publications/bulletin/bu044/bu44_071.pdf

Believe; Religious Information Source; Revivalism; website; 5/2/12; http://mb-soft.com/believe/text/revivali.htm

Caplan, Bryan (prof. economics, George Mason Uni./curator); Museum of Communism; Worldwide Communist Revolutions…; Lenin and the First Communist Revolutions pt VIII; http://econfaculty.gmu.edu/bcaplan/museum/his1h.htm

Christian Coalition website, cc.org, viewed 4/30/12, website, http://www.cc.org/

Citizen Hearst – Book

Citizen King; documentary film

CNN/Time: All Politics; The Debates 96; 1960 Presidential Debates; cnn.com; webpage; 5/2/12;  http://cgi.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1996/debates/history/1960/

Cold War Museum; http://www.coldwar.org/articles/40s/soviet_atomic_bomb_test.asp

CPUSA: Communist Party of the United States (Official Website); http://www.cpusa.org/

Frontline; Religion in America; episode 5: a New Light; PBS; Documentary

Hagerty, Barbara Bradley; NPR; History of Religious Passion Plays; Feb 22nd 2004; 5/3/12; http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1691606

Inboden, William; Religion and America: Foreign Policy 1945-1960; Cambridge University Press, 2008, Book

Linvall, Terry, & Andrew Quicke; Celluloid Sermons; New York University Press; New York; 2011; book

Markowitz, Norman; Labor: An Analysis of Past Strikes, Political Strikes, Present & Future Struggles; 3/19/2012; http://www.politicalaffairs.net/labor-an-analysis-of-past-strikes-political-strikes-present-and-future-struggles/ ; website

Reed, Jack (John); The Traders War; The Masses: 1914 Issue; 1914; Periodical

Roads, Steve, “Churches Misusing the Pulpit”, The Star Online, April 25th 2012, Star Publications, thestar.com, viewed 4/30/12, online publication, http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2012/4/25/focus/11168147&sec=focus

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Karl Marx; Stanford University; stanford.edu; published 8/26/03; revised 6/14/10; viewed 5/4/12; http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/marx/ website

Time Magazine; “Protestant Clergy vs The Catholic Candidate JFK; Time Frame; web-zine; 9/19/60; 5/2/12; http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,826609,00.html

UNESCO; “Statistics on Radio and Television, 1950-1960”; Statistical Tables; pg 74-77; pdf of report on web; http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0003/000337/033739eo.pdf

US History.org; 53a: McCarthyism; ushistory.org; 2008-2012, cited 5/5/12; website; http://www.ushistory.org/us/53a.asp


Ancient Egyptian Art: linking us to the Prehistoric World through Nature and Animals

The Ancient Egyptians lived in a world that was filled with animals. They hunted them, they domesticated them, they feared them, and they revered them. Many of the animals that thrived in Ancient Egypt worked their way into the Egyptian cosmology and fundamental culture. The physical and spiritual preoccupation with animals that many prehistoric people expressed in cave paintings can also be seen manifest in many aspects of ancient Egyptian life and art, as evidenced in their tomb paintings, their sculptures, their mummification practices, and in the representation of their deities as revealed in works like the Book of the Dead.

When Egypt first emerged as a civilization, the terrain around the Nile was teaming with wildlife. According to Irmgard Woldering’s book The Art of Egypt, the ancient Nile region had an abundance of “big game” as well as “lions, leopards, antelopes, gazelles, ibexes, jackals, giraffes, [and] ostriches” (15). Even today the Nile is filled with snakes, hippopotami, and crocodiles, as well as beetles, birds, and frogs; all of which play a significant part in Egyptian art and cosmology. Like in Europe in 25,000 BCE, most early human cave dwellers were small and nearly powerless in the face of nature. Thus the creatures of nature took on an ominous and spiritual significance, especially in the form of cave art. Those early Homo Sapien rock painters often used animal imagry, representational human stick figures, and depictions of the hunt in their artwork.


As humans emerged from the caves and began settling in river vallies like the Nile, those natural cave-shelters were replaced by man-made dwellings and the wild forces of nature that had once surrounded our ancient ancestors became somewhat under control. However the many creatures that lived side by side with the early Egyptians still inspired a certain awe, even as animals were being domesticated. Woldering’s book describes some domesticated animals like oxen, cows, sheep, goats, donkeys, and poultry. According to the British Museum’s website, the ancient Egyptians liked eating meat, with one of the most desirable cuts being ox leg, especially for banquets, and one of the most abundant being ducks (British Museum WS/Egyptian Life/Nebamun’s tomb).Below are two color plates, one of a cooked duck and the other of fish (Figure 1). Fish were eaten occasionally but often avoided because, after having devoured the god-phallus of Osiris, some fish were believed to be sacred (British Museum WS/Egyptian Life). Note how similar much of the ancient Egyptian art is that follows in this paper, to the prehistoric cave art shown above; especially in subject matter, treatment, and materials used.

Figure 1


Hunting scenes along the Nile as well as animals being used as beasts of burden can be seen in the colorful New Kingdom wall paintings from Nebamun’s Tomb, which was shown in Prof. Heikkinen’s PowerPoint on Egyptian Art. Below is the hunting scene with two detail plates of a wild duck and a poisonous puffer fish (Figure 2). According to Heikkinen, the size of a figure denotes status. Note how the duck, the fish, and the cat are all as large as or larger than Nebamun’s own daughter who is under his legs.

Figure 2


Also from the wall painting in Nebamun’s tomb are depictions of horses (upper box), which were not easy to come by in ancient Egypt and were mostly owned by the rich or by elite solders and used to pull chariots – below them is the far more common yet similar animal called the onagar (lower box), a kind of mule that was often used to haul carts and ploughs (Figure 3) (British Museum site/Egyptian Life/Nebamun’s tomb).

Figure 3

Another common animal considered sacred to the ancient Egyptians were domesticated cats. Aside from pets and temple dwellers, cats were often used to assist hunters by catching and retrieving birds (BritishMuseum site/Egyptian Life/Nebamun’s tomb). Many statues and drawings of cats have been discovered in tombs and other archeological sites, nearly all of them showing the feline in a sitting position, the cat’s head held high with dignity and strength (Woldering, pg 201). According to the late Harvard professor and Orientalist Annemarie Schimmel, in an abridged version of her story from the book Cairo Cats; the specialness of cats still exists in Egyptian attitudes today where “countless cats walk the streets” and people still regard the cat as “a bearer of good luck” (Saudi Amarco World, Schimmel pg1). The ancient Egyptians’ special relationship to cats can be seen in the three pictures below (Figure 4). The first shows a cat hunting a bird, taken from the wall of Nebamun’s Tomb, New Kingdom. The second picture is an image from the Papyrus of Hunifer version of the Book of the Dead showing Ra as the cat Mau overpowering Abep, a snake god. The third is a bronze cast of the goddess Bast, or Baset in a common pose, which is now in the Detroit Institute of Art.

Figure 4


Many other animals were sacred to the ancient Egyptians besides cats. The falcon and the hawk were sacred representatives of the God Horus. Hippopotamus statues, especially lapis colored faience ones, were used for protection in the underworld as well as for pregnant women (British Museum Online, miniatures). Hedgehogs were also rendered in faience and considered good luck (CairoMuseum website). Below are pictures of a faience hippo, a faience hedgehog, and a statue of Ramesses II as a child with Hurun, a Canaanite falcon god protecting him (Figure 5).

Figure 5


Some animals were so revered, or feared, that they were given similar mummification and burial rites as a human being. Below are some examples of mummified animals (Figure 6). Here we see a mummified gazelle that was once the queen’s pet and was given a lavish burial with a custom made wooden coffin; 950 BC  (Nat Geo website & Egyptian Museum).  Next are two mummified cats from the BritishMuseum with a full length detail of the second cat next to it. Below these is a mummified dog and a mummified baboon which were found buried together in a special tomb in the Valley of the Kings and now reside at the Egyptian Museum (Figure 7) (Nat Geo website).

Figure 6

Figure 7


It is not uncommon for people even today to bury their beloved pets or other special animals. But the ancient Egyptians buried hundreds of them from one end of Egypt to another, as can be seen on the animal burial map from the National Geographic website on Animal Mummies (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/11/animal-mummies/mummies-map). The map shows where the Egyptians mummified and entombed bulls, snakes, raptors, fish, horses, crocodiles, monkeys, lizards, and even an elephant. The ritual of mummification and the subsequent afterlife it may provide to an animal is not out of line with the ancient Egyptian spiritual beliefs. According to the Memphite creation myth in James Prichard collection of the Annets; the KA, or soul, was given not only to the gods but to man and to animals as well. This connection between animals, sacredness, the afterlife, and gods is evident in the how the ancient Egyptians co-mingled some of their most sacred creatures directly with human deities to form semi-human like god-animal hybrids, the most famous of which is the Sphinx. Below is a picture of the Great Sphinx at Giza, followed by an artist’s rendition of the creature, and finally a row of statues from the Avenue of the Sphinxes at Luxor.

Figure 8


The Sphinx is just the beginning of the story. Three of the most iconic Egyptian gods are also part animal. The god Horus, son of Osiris and Isis, has the head of a hawk, as does Osiris sometimes. The scribe god Thoth, one of the oldest deities of Egypt, has the head of an ibis with a long narrow beak. And then there is Anubis, god of embalming and guardian of the dead, he sports the large, black head of a jackal, presumably because jackals were often seen at gravesites (British Museum/Egypt site/Gods). Here are two pictures of Anubis with the statue of a jackal in between them (Figure 9).

Figure 9


Together with Osiris and Isis, the above mentioned gods helped to spearhead a pantheon of other Egyptian deities many of whom have animal heads and comingled human-beast body parts that can be unsettling to say the least. Here are a few of them with illustrations, all taken from the website of British Museum’s Egyptian Collection.

Horus (Hawk): Protector             Thoth (Ibis): Scribe god               Sobek (Croc): Nile god


Khepri (Beatle): Creation god       Baset (Cat): Protector            Khunum (Ram): Creator


There are many more gods and goddess with various animal and bird heads like Ra, Tefnut, and Sekhmet. But there were also other more horrific and bizarre co-mingling of the bodies of the gods. For instance, Seth (or Set), who murdered his brother Osiris and so became the god of Chaos. According to the Encyclopedia Mythica, Seth has the head of an undetermined animal with a long downward curved snout sometimes associated with an aardvark – he has squared off ears, a lengthy tail with a forked tip, and his body is similar to a greyhound’s at times (Seth entry) (Figure 10).

Figure 10


Another figure most foul and yet somehow benign is Tawaret, goddess protector of women during childbirth. Tawaret has the head of a hippo, the arms and legs of a lion, a long crocodile tail, and a big pregnant human belly, sagging milky breast and all (Figure 11 – BritishMuseum). And yet, for one of the foulest of these multi-animal mixtures we must travel into the underworld and explore what is in The Book of the Dead, by viewing the Papyrus of Ani (Figure 12).

Figure 11


Figure 12

The “Papyrus of Ani” version of the Book of the Dead, is a magical instruction manual composed of illustrations and hieroglyphs, revealing what every Egyptian must know in order for their soul to pass the god’s tests and be accepted into the afterlife. In the reproduction of the scroll at the beginning of Wallis Budge’s translation from 1895, the gods are depicted watching two new souls, Ani and his wife, enter the underworld. Some of the gods are humanoid-animal hybrids, like the gatekeeper, Anubis, who has the head of a jackal, and Osiris, with the head of a hawk, who sits in the gallery as one of the twelve great gods that watch. The soul is at the stage of the Psychostasia, or weighing of the heart against the feather of Law. Nearby is the tiny soul of Ani, who is portrayed as a human headed hawk. The image of Ani is reminiscent of another human headed creature, the human-lion hybrid, the Sphinx; a far more imposing figure than little Ani (Budge; intro plates). Waiting at the end of the test is Thoth, the ibis-headed scribe god, and behind him, the most horrendous creature-god of them all, Amemit, the Devourer (Budge; intro plates). Amemit has the head of a crocodile, the mane of a lion, the torso of a leopard, and the bottom half of a hippopotamus (Budge; intro). Amemit waits hungrily to gobble up the souls of those whose heart is heavier than Law’s feather (Figure 13).

Figure 13


The long road from sacred cat to the foul and frightening Amemit, a soul gobbling Frankenstein, was not a difficult leap for the ancient Egyptians. They lived in a world that was dominated by nature, floods, seasons, and animals, both in the world of the living and the spirit world of the dead. Even their Hieroglyphic writing was filled with animal symbols and references to nature. Woven into part of every written name were birds or reeds, or other pieces of nature. And the gods that ruled the Egyptians and protected them were also formed from part natural-beast, part man, as Pharaoh their king, was part man and part god. The Egyptians blended these worlds together and bound them with a KA, the soul. All living things to them came from and go to the same place, which is part of the beauty and the humanity of the Egyptian civilization and culture. This is one reason why they touch us so deeply and why their creations and concepts endure in our hearts. Theirs was the beginning of a human dominated world and the ending of an animal dominated one: and the ancient Egyptians seemed clearly to have one foot in each.


BritishMuseum; web portal to ancient Egyptian collection; 3/29/2012; website http://www.britishmuseum.org/search_results.aspx?searchText=egypt

Budge, E A Wallis; the Book of the Dead: The Hieroglyphic Transcript and English Translation of the Papyrus of Ani; Gramercy Books, New York/Avnel; Random House; 1895/1960/1995, Text

Egyptian Collection Educational Webpage; the BritishMuseum; ancientegypt.co.uk; Gods and Goddesses; 3/23/12; Website; http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/menu.html

Ellis, Normand; Awakening Osiris: The Egyptian Book of the Dead; Phanes Press; 1988; Text

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Middle East Collection, March 2012, art & text

Pritchard, James B; the Ancient Near-East: An Anthology of Texts & Pictures; PrincetonUniversity Press; 2011; Text

Robins, Gay; the Art of Ancient Egypt; HarvardUniversity Press, 1997

Schimmel, Annmarie; Cairo Cats: adapted; Saudi Aramco World; Young Readers World; http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/young.readers.world/cairo.cats/default.htm

Williams, A R; Animals Everlasting: Animal Mummies; National Geographic; photos by Richard Barnes and from the British Museum and the Egyptian Museum; nationalgeographic.com; published Nov 2009; 3/29/2012; website; http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/11/animal-mummies/williams-text

Woldering, Imrgard, The Art of Egypt: The Time of the Pharaohs; Greystone Press; New York; first published Holle Verglag; 1963; Text


Figure 1:          Cooked Duck and Swimming Fish; Nebamun’s Tomb wall painting; a-secco paint & plaster; New Kingdom, reign of Amenhotep III (1390-1352 BC); BritishMuseum; Website gallery; Egyptian Life; http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/life/explore/main.html

Figure 2:          Nebamun hunting Scene on the Nile with detail plates of a Duck and a poisonous Puffer Fish; Nebamun’s Tomb wall painting; a-secco paint & plaster; New Kingdom, reign of Amenhotep III (1390-1352 BC); British Museum; Website gallery; Egyptian Life; http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/life/explore/main.html

Figure 3:          Horses and Onagar mules; Nebamun’s Tomb wall painting; a-secco paint & plaster; New Kingdom, reign of Amenhotep III (1390-1352 BC); BritishMuseum; Website gallery; Egyptian Life; http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/life/explore/main.html

Figure 4:          A Cat Hunting a Bird; Nebamun’s Tomb wall painting; a-secco paint & plaster; New Kingdom, reign of Amenhotep III (1390-1352 BC); British Museum; Website gallery; Egyptian Life; http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/life/explore/main.html

Mau defeats Abep, Papyrus of Hunefer – paint on papyrus; 19th Dynasty; British Museum; http://www.timetrips.co.uk/papyrus_of_hunefer.htm

Statue of sacred cat Bas (or Baset); cast bronze; Late Period, Dynasty 26, 7th century BC; Detroit Institute of Art; Egyptian Collection; dia.org; http://www.dia.org/object-info/d8a3ad90-27dc-4f1f-9a42-31e0cb7da2ab.aspx?position=10

Figure 5:          Hippo (naience), Hedgehog (naience); Statue of Ramessis II with Huran; CairoMuseum

Figure 6:          Mummies –


Figure 7:          Dog and Baboon mummies – http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/11/animal-mummies/williams-text

Figure 8:          Sphinxes – the Great Sphinx at Giza, an artist’s rendition of a Sphinx, and the Avenue of the Sphinxes in Luxor (webpics)

Figure 9:          Anubis – http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/gods/explore/main.html

Figure 10:        Seth – http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/gods/explore/main.html

Figure 11:        Tawaret – http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/gods/explore/main.html

Figure 12:        The Papyrus of Ani

Figure 13:        Amemit from the Papyrus of Ani and the Papyrus of Hunefer. http://heritage-key.com/egypt/papyrus-hunefer

Mesopotamia: I have conquered the River

The documentary movie, I have conquered the River shows how the flat expanse of desert that lies between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers was once the rich and fertile kingdom of Sumer, 5500 years ago, the oldest civilization on Earth. Ancient art and architecture from Mesopotamia is shown, like the cobalt blue Ishtar Gate, the stele with Hammurabi’s code chiseled in cuneiform and Hammurabi facing Shamash, and the great Ziggurat of Ur with the foundations of the ancient city next to it and all else a desert. The film goes on to show us how Sumer forged a civilization in this hostile landscape. We next visit Al Kaluna where the rivers meet to form marshes. There, people live in reed houses as they have for thousands of years. We’re shown maps of the kingdom of Sumer where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers are closer together than today, flowing right past the cities where the people built irrigation channels and canals to make farmland from the desert. Next we visit the Anatolian plateau, covered in green grasses, where wild wheat and barley was first cultivated and then brought to Sumer, turning that kingdom into a thriving wheat producing economy.

The movie shows artist’s renditions of Ur in its heyday, a rich and prosperous city where people strove to enjoy their lives. The narrator explains how the Sumerians were very different from the Egyptians, spiritually. They did not believe in an afterlife. The Epic of Gilgamesh is used to illustrate this with a quote from the goddess who told him to stop seeking immortality and to go home and enjoy the fruits of his life and his marriage. This good Sumerian life is further described through art and trade as we are shown jewelry, headdresses, and a map of the Lapis Lazuli Road from Pakistan. But all of this good life comes to an end when the wheat failed to grow in 2004 BC due to salt in the soil from over irrigation. Sumer weakened and then fell. The film ends with the image of a four thousand year old cedar tree in Lebanon and a moral from the story of Gilgamesh; that he fought back nature as a symbol so that civilization could rise.

I found the film engaging. I especially loved the moments where it transported me back to ancient times, seeing the golden lions on the Ishtar gate, Kurds cooking sheets of flatbread as the Sumerians had done, and the ancient style clay jars used in Bagdad to keep water cool through condensation. I also loved the animation of Ur at dawn with the family waking up on the rooftop and the people in the street wearing Kunaxs of sheep’s hair. The fact that scribes, or writers, were honored and prosperous was great (because I am a writer), and the relief of the two men sharing beer through a straw brought it all home. It was fascinating how the concept of living a fulfilling life packed with food and love (I remember the temple prostitutes) rings truer today in a way than, say, Medieval piety. I also enjoyed the Sumerian proverbs like “Pleasure: call it beer,” and “We are doomed to die: let us spend.” I was moved by the great old cedar tree, imagining the world when it was a sapling. And if Gilgamesh did beat back the forces of nature by chopping down the cedars so civilization could rise, then he did it as much for us as for the Sumerians. It was a good little movie.

AGORA: a film about the rise of Chrstianity and the fall of the pagan world.

The film Agora explores, without sentiment or melodrama, a time period and a subject that I have often overlooked; the violent and tragic end of the Pagan Classical World and the beginning of the Christian Dominated West, which also launched the Dark Ages. Watching this film I cannot help but ask myself, would we have been better off if the worshippers of Serapes and Isis had won the day.

The movie was divided into two historic parts: the sheltered pagan world of wealth and status-quo where Christianity was no more than an annoying cult; and the Christian world under Emperor Theodosius with all of its early Patriarchs and Saints. The film’s main character, Hypatia, was a sheltered, brilliant, upper class Pagan: a mathematician and philosopher living in a liberal world of free thought. Before her, all the ancient knowledge of Rome, Greece, and the Near East lay in scrolls in the Great Library of Alexandria: a treasure that only the pagans seemed to comprehend. This pagan world felt a little bit like our own, with its freedom of thought and its blind belief in the universal search for knowledge and understanding. One of my favorite things about the pagan world was that the elite Patricians and the wealthy Jews all enjoyed the theater.

The pagan world presented in the film had a dark side as well. The slaves although treated somewhat warmly still had to wear a collar and they were also whipped. Another problem was in the established pagan cult religion of Serapes and its high priest who was an ass. But aren’t so many “high priests” and people in authority asses, even today. It was a world in decline but Hypatia and the other privileged Pagans didn’t know it. She dwelt in the realm of the mind, protected by the Serapium and walls of the Great Library. Yet down below in the Agora the growing number of discontented Christians were about to rise up and smash the pagan world to bits. And that’s exactly what they did, by tearing down the statues, taking over the city, and burning all of the scrolls in the library to ash, thus casting a darkness over the mind of the world which wouldn’t lift until the Renaissance.

In the second half of the film we see Christianized Alexandria some years later. Here the freedom of the mind that was so prevalent in the beginning has been crushed. Most members of the pagan Patrician class have by now converted to Christianity whether they believed in Christ or not. Hypatia is the last holdout, huddled in her mansion working on her brilliant theory of a heliocentric universe while the world around her slips into intolerant religious darkness based on faith and scripture alone. As the Bishop held the Bible over his head proclaiming that the scriptures say that women should be seen but not heard a chill went down my spine. The Christians had traded in all books and all knowledge for that one book: the Holy Bible. And we today are still suffering under the yoke of that mindset whenever evolution is disputed or someone thumps their Bible proclaiming it to be the indefatigable word of God.

New Age thought and the de-vilification of witchcraft in America

Traditionally in the Christian West, witchcraft, paganism, vampires, and the occult were all thought to be unholy extensions of the Devil himself. In Europe, people accused of witchcraft were often burned at the stake. In colonial America, an incident in Salem Massachusetts in September of 1662 led to “nineteen men and women convicted of witchcraft” to be “carted to Gallows Hill” and hung for their crimes (umkc.edu). And yet, by the early 1980s this non-Christian approach to gaining inner power had transformed into the mind-expanding spiritual science called the New Age movement. The New Age movement de-vilified the occult in the later 20th century by incorporating other ideas into it such as Eastern mysticism, female based nature worship, Native American shamanism, and psychic phenomenon; developing the New Age movement into a doctrine of self-help practices that were both psychological as well as being rich with cultus, and symbolic behavior, paving the way for “Wicca,” the New Age word for witchcraft, to suddenly appear in the common marketplace of faiths (Albanese, 362).

The earliest roots of the New Age movement and its relation to witchcraft run deep into the ancient pre-Christian practices of nature worship, divination such as Tarot Cards, Druidism, and numerous secret mystical cults like that of the Rosicrucians and Masons, all of which used ritual and non-Christian symbols to transcend the mundane world in order to attain power, knowledge, and enlightenment (ROGD.org). This process was suddenly accelerated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when less secretive experimentation in non-Christian religious practices grew. As people like Krishnamurti and the Theosophists gained popularity among liberals, intellectuals and artists, the mystical foundations of the Transcendentalists gave legitimacy to these later non-traditional movements (Albanese, 355/ & KFA.org).

A growing belief in the 19th century in astrology, mesmerism, and “magico-religious practices” mixed at the turn of the century with the scientific revelations of quantum physics to help “erode the boundary between natural and supernatural phenomenon (Albanese, 353). According to Albanese, in 19th century America, a growing number of mediums, astrologers, and “spiritualists” were being employed for the purposes of contacting the spirits of the dead, “trance talking” and “automatic writing” which was becoming not only acceptable in society but also popular (Albanese, 357). A few decades later in England, occult figures like Alistair Crowley and McGregor Mathers rose to prominence among the openly growing group of magical practitioners, publishing books like “777”, “Magick in Theory and Practice”, and the “Equinox,” not only gaining a following but also attaining international reputations as renowned “ceremonial magicians” (Hermitic.com/Crowley/AC-Homepage). Secret societies like The Golden Dawn and The Order of Thelema helped sow the seeds for a future harvest of ultra-fantastic and other-worldly mystical organizations and fringe religious sects that would by the late 20th century become far more common place among the general population (ROGD.org/Hermitic.com).

In 1947 the first official American sighting of a UFO was recorded, which led to a barrage of alien sightings in the 1950s, including the famous Area 51 incident and numerous claims of alien abduction and experimentation, all of which led to a “climate of enthusiasm for science,” especially in those people who were seeking answers beyond those found in the Bible (Albanese, 357). Carl Jung’s theories of dream symbolism and archetypes took hold among the seekers who were especially interested in the “humanistic psychology of self-actualization”, and soon afterwards the Esalen Institute in Big Sur was opened, promoting the “human potential movement,” which focused on comparative religion, mysticism, meditation, and therapeutic language to induce “consciousness expansion” (Albanese 357). Consciousness expansion was further explored in the 1960s when Timothy Leary and Baba Ram Das began using psychedelic drugs to heighten their spiritual reality. A new interest arose in peyote, traditionally used by Native Americans for the purposes of spirit quests (Kurze). Native American spiritual teachers gained public attention like the Chippewa shaman, Sun Bear and the Cherokee spiritual leader, Rolling Thunder who was best known for his “Medicine Wheel” gatherings (Albanese 359) The Native American connection gave added legitimacy to both shamanism and the psychedelic movement as was expressed in the 1972 cult film “Billy Jack” (imdb.com). LSD and Guru Philosophy hit a new high during the later 1960s with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Guru to the Beatles. Swami Prabhupada Bhaktivedanta of the Krishna Consciousness movement also came to America, often times inducting former drug users and showing them a continuing path to non-Christian spirituality through vegetarianism, communal living, meditation, ritual activity, and chanting, without the use of psychedelics (Krishna.com).

Other developments during the 1960s and that would lead to the New Age movement were a surge in popularity for health food stores, holistic medicine, chiropractors, and a belief in the power of healing through positive thought and physical message (Albanese, 358). Essential to the pagan nature of the New Age Movement was women’s liberation. Prior to the acceptance of a single male sky-god, as in Judeo-Christian and Moslem beliefs, the pagan world was based on an all-powerful feminine deity, the Earth Mother: a fertility and creation goddess that can be seen as an echo in such figures as the Virgin Mary (Paglia, pg 9). The woman’s empowerment movement blended with the holistic healing and the organic “nature” movement to usher in a renewed respect for “Mother Earth,” a highly pagan concept. The cry went up among many women’s-libbers that God might very well be a Woman and that feminine power was the power that gave life and nurtured living things (Pagila). Subsequently, numerous small press spell books became available in a growing number of occult bookstores in the late 1970s, many of them portraying the contemporary witch as regular woman rather than the traditional old crone. Other trends that aided in the rise of the New Age Movement was the surge in popularity for magical fantasy novels like “The Lord of the Rings”, and the growing interest during the 1970s in role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, and the growing number of themed fantasy Renaissance Faires across the country. This helped set the stage by the early 1980s for all of the elements of New Age movement to come together in a positive, mystical, and fantastic light.

As the New Age Movement took shape in the 1980s, what began as postings on the bulletin boards of health food stores and holistic clinics soon turned into seminars, bookstores and, learning centers devoted to New Age interests (Albanese, 360). The expansive selection of interests in the New Age bookstores and learning centers suited the nature of the movement, because New Agers “appropriated what New Age beliefs they preferred from the pool… rather than believing completely in all New Age beliefs” (Albanese, 360). According to Albanese there were two types of New Age approaches; the Philosophical approach which dealt less with the spiritual aspect and more with psychological processes being explored and developed; and the Phenomenal approach, which emphasized Cultus and symbolic behavior (Albanese, 362).

The sections of interest in a typical New Age bookstore could be witnessed only a few years ago at The Bodhi Tree in West Hollywood. There were sections on most major religions with no special emphasis given to any one of them. There were also sections on after-death experiences, ghosts, ESP, the zodiac, the Egyptian pantheon of gods as well as The Book of the Dead, UFOs, Alistair Crowley and the Golden Dawn, the Tarot, isolation tanks, Native American Shamanism, Kabala, ancient magical texts like The Sacred book of Abra Melin the Mage, as well as books on hard core sorcery, voodoo, spell casting, rune stones, and of course, the book series that blends occult magic and Native American shamanism with psychedelic drugs so well, presented as an autobiographical how-to series on shamanism: “The Teachings of Don Juan” and other works by Carlos Castaneda. Castaneda epitomizes the New Age sorcerer, presenting his work as a scholar writing his dissertation on anthropology. The book describes secret rituals and powerful occult practices which the New Age Movement adopted with the ease of any practical candle magic book. Even Crowley, who claimed to have summoned demons, had his honored place on the shelves of the New Age movement’s libraries right next to swimming with dolphins.

The New Age Movement has settled into a far less prominent position among American spiritual movements, almost being completely absorbed into our present culture. Yet its liberal minded effect on certain archetypes in popular culture is clear. The art of witchcraft and black magic has been all but completely de-vilified leaving the archetypal witches of today to attend their magic classes at Hogworts and have names like Harry Potter. Likewise, Vampires have also recently been de-vilified in popular culture through books like the Twilight Series. The New Age movement has helped to make this a far different world than it was before.


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Billy Jack; http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066832/

Crowley, Alistair; Alistair Crowley’s Homepage; 5/26/12; http://www.aleistercrowley.org/

Hermitic.com; Libri of Alistair Crowley; 5/27/2012; http://hermetic.com/crowley/

KFA: Krishnamurti Foundation of America; A Brief History of Krishnamurt; kfa.org; Ojai, CA; 5/27/12; http://www.kfa.org/history-of-krishnamurti.php

Krishna.com; Prabhupada Bhaktivedanta ; 5/27/12; http://prabhupada.krishna.com/

Lambert, Frank; Religion in American Politics; Princeton University Press; Princeton/Oxford; © 2008; Text

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UMKC: Famous American Trials: Salem Witchcraft Trials; University of Missouri Kansas City; umkc.edu; Sept 2009; 5/27/12; http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/salem/salem.htm

Eric Forsberg Q&A

Fun interview with me about my 3D stoner/sex/comedy, SEX POT

Eric Forsberg Q&A.