December 2015

Passport to Hiroshima

At our November General Meeting we were pleased to have Toshiharu (Tosh) Kano as our guest speaker. Tosh and his wife currently reside in the foothills of Mount Olympus, and he “enjoys a quiet life with their two dogs (Indie and Speedy), cats, and a yard family of birds and squirrels.” He gave us an entertaining (but somewhat terrifying) account of what it was like to be in Japan near the end of World War II, and its following occupation. He was still in his mother’s womb when Hiroshima was bombed by a nuclear weapon on August 6, 1945; his mother and family were less than one-half mile from the hypocenter of the blast. It is somewhat of a mystery as to how they survived being that close, when so many thousands nearby were incinerated. 

Tosh was born a few months later, and the story of he and his family’s survival is well documented in a book recently completed by him called “Passport To Hiroshima.” One fact emphasized in his talk (and in his book) is that the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, as terrible and destructive as it was, is a child’s toy compared to the thousands of nuclear weapons stockpiled by the Superpowers in today’s world, each one a thousand times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb.

Tosh, who describes himself as Shinto and Buddhist, considers it to be his mission to help to bring peace to today’s world, in the hope that nuclear weapons will never again be used in war. To quote a passage near the end of his book: “War has no sharp edges. It does not begin on this day nor end on another. It is especially so with nuclear war. The world is altered forever by the presence of a monster ironically named, as though to feign innocence, “Little Boy.” Having once been unleashed, this dragon lives forever. Though chained by law within the deep abyss of international treaties, and intents and guarded by the angel of peace, the beast still lives. We must never allow it to break free of its restraints.”

One might expect that the survivors of Hiroshima would be bitter toward the United States, but a quote from Tosh’s father, Toshiyuki Nekomoto/Kano, says “I will honestly say, no. They don’t hate the United States, but the war.” He also stated “Let bygones be bygones. Let us not have hatred against each other but better understanding and live together in prosperity, peaceful and united.” This was certainly a thought-provoking presentation for our monthly meeting, giving us much to ponder as we observe today’s headlines from around the globe.

—Art King

The First War on Christmas

How did the first settlers celebrate Christmas? They didn’t. The Pilgrims who came to America in 1620 were strict Puritans, with firm views on religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter. Scripture did not name any holiday except the Sabbath, they argued, and the very concept of “holy days” implied that some days were not holy. “They for whom all days are holy can have no holiday,” was a common Puritan maxim.

Puritans were particularly contemptuous of Christmas, nicknaming it “Foolstide” and banning their flock from any celebration of it throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. On the first December 25 the settlers spent in Plymouth Colony, they worked in the fields as they would on any other day. The next year, a group of non-Puritan workmen caught celebrating Christmas with a game of “stoole-ball” — an early precursor of baseball — were punished by Governor William Bradford. “My conscience cannot let you play while everybody else is out working,” he told them.

Why didn’t Puritans like Christmas? They had several reasons, including the fact that it did not originate as a Christian holiday. The upper classes in ancient Rome celebrated December 25 as the birthday of the sun god Mithra. The date fell right in the middle of Saturnalia, a month-long holiday dedicated to food, drink, and revelry, and Pope Julius I is said to have chosen that day to celebrate Christ’s birth as a way of co-opting the pagan rituals. Beyond that, the Puritans considered it historically inaccurate to place the Messiah’s arrival on December 25. They thought Jesus had been born sometime in September.

So their objections were theological? Not exclusively. The main reason Puritans didn’t like Christmas was that it was a raucously popular holiday in late medieval England. Each year, rich landowners would throw open their doors to the poor and give them food and drink as an act of charity. The poorest man in the parish was named the “Lord of Misrule”, and the rich would wait upon him at feasts that often descended into bawdy drunkenness. Such decadence never impressed religious purists. “Men dishonor Christ more in the 12 days of Christmas”, wrote the 16th-century clergyman Hugh Latimer, “than in all the 12 months besides.”

When did that view win out? Puritans in the English Parliament eliminated Christmas as a national holiday in 1645, amid widespread anti-Christmas sentiment. Settlers in New England went even further, outlawing Christmas celebrations entirely in 1659. Anyone caught shirking their work duties or feasting was forced to pay a significant penalty of five shillings.

Christmas returned to England in 1660, but in New England it remained banned until the 1680s, when the Crown managed to exert greater control over its subjects in Massachusetts. In 1686, the royal governor of the colony, Sir Edmund Andros, sponsored a Christmas Day service at the Boston Town House. Fearing a violent backlash from Puritan settlers, Andros was flanked by redcoats as he prayed and sang Christmas hymns.

Did the Puritans finally relent? Not at all. They kept up their boycott of Christmas in Massachusetts for decades. Cotton Mather, New England’s most influential religious leader, told his flock in 1712 that “the feast of Christ’s nativity is spent in reveling, dicing, carding, masking, and in all licentious liberty…by mad mirth, by long eating, by hard drinking, by lewd gaming, by rude reveling!”

European settlers in other American colonies continued to celebrate it, however, as both a pious holiday and a time for revelry. In his Poor Richard’s Almanac of 1739, Philadelphian Benjamin Franklin wrote of Christmas: “O blessed Season! Lov’d by Saints and Sinners / For long Devotions, or for longer Dinners.”

So Christmas was finally accepted at that time? No. Anti-Christmas sentiment flared up again around the time of the American Revolution. Colonial New Englanders began to associate Christmas with royal officialdom, and refused to mark it as a holiday. Even after the U.S. Constitution came into effect, the Senate assembled on Christmas Day in 1797, as did the House in 1802. It was only in the following decades that disdain for the holiday slowly ebbed away. Clement Clarke Moore’s poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas”—aka “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”—was published in New York in 1823 to enormous success.

In 1836, Alabama became the first state to declare Christmas a public holiday, and other states soon followed suit. But New England remained defiantly Scrooge-like; as late as 1850, schools and markets remained open on Christmas Day. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow finally noted a “transition state about Christmas” in New England in 1856. “The old Puritan feeling prevents it from being a cheerful, hearty holiday; though every year makes it more so,” he wrote. Christmas Day was formally declared a federal holiday by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1870.

—PIQUE Newsletter, 12/15 Reprinted from Week Magazine12/20/11

President’s Report

It would seem inappropriate for me to use my December President’s Report to criticize religion. But I just can’t help it. Those of you who know me know that I don’t shy away from disparaging religion, but you may also know that I prefer to counter the effects of religion as best we can by advocacy for our humanist aspirations and the advocacy of science. Plus, some of the discussions and arguments become the same ones over and over again and somewhat tiresome.

But recent events, both worldwide and right here at home, have gotten under my skin to the point that my head will explode if I don’t vent a little. This venting could easily turn into a tome, so I’ll try to just touch on three things, the Paris terrorist attack, the Colorado Planned Parenthood shootings and the Mormon effect here at home. My, oh my, I took a break from writing this report and in the time that has passed I have become aware of the latest shooting in San Bernardino. It has derailed my train of thought. It is difficult to get back to what I was going to write about, but I’ll try.

In regard to the “worldwide” event, I’m referring to the killings in Paris (there were bombings elsewhere too). I don’t want to dwell on condemning these horrible acts. That should go without saying. But I do want to comment on the continued cries that “this isn’t about Islam.” I understand that the average moderate religious individual is not responsible for the actions of others. Although I think the moderates could and should do more to counter and resist the murderous elements amongst them. But there are those of their same basic religion that are using THEIR own version, their interpretation of their religion to justify their actions. It is about religion, not everyone’s religion, but religion none the less.

If we move on to the Planned Parenthood shootings in Colorado, we don’t have to look to deep to see religion involved here also. It is my opinion that the people who doctored the video about Planned Parenthood regarding fetal tissue awhile back are partly to blame for this incident. For me, it is almost like inciting to riot, but in a more sneaky way.

Finally I want to write about the “Mormon effect” as I sometimes call it. I am sure you are aware of the “uprising” the LDS church’s edict about children of married LGBT couples being excluded from rituals and baptism until age 18 is causing. Plus, they also have to disavow their parents and their parents’ lifestyle to be accepted. It is kind of like the Old Testament where some group or tribe of people are to be cursed for seven generations. You know, punished for the sins of the fathers or mothers. Pretty pathetic beliefs if you ask me. But I also got a little black humored chuckle over this. I understand this is serious and very hurtful for many in this situation. Exclusion can be difficult to deal with. It happened to me when I told the bishopric that I was not going to accept being made an elder in the church and would not accept a mission call. The “Mormon Iron Curtain” came down and most the Mormon neighbors wanted little to do with me. But I did not care because I had little in common with them and would soon join the U.S. Air Force and leave happy valley for four years.

Getting back to the chuckle I got, it was also because when my children were born we decided not to have them blessed by the church as all their grandparents requested and were appalled that we did not. It is funny because my children have actually thanked me that the church didn’t have their names.

Thanks for letting me rant about religion. We are hosting our annual December Social on the tenth. So be sure to come and bring a friend. I am looking forward to it.

—Robert Lane President, Hou

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