“God and Apple Pie: Religious Myths and Visions of America” | Chris Buck

“God and Apple Pie: Religious Myths and Visions of America” | Chris Buck


Good afternoon everybody. Welcome to the Wilmette Institute’s fourth web talk as part of our series celebrating our 20th Anniversary. As you may have heard, the Wilmette Institute started in 1995, and so we are now celebrating 20 years of providing education to the Baha’i community – mostly online. The Wilmette Institute was established as a result of the decision of the National Spiritual Assembly in January of 1995, and at first we ran a program called The Spiritual Foundations for a Global Civilization, which was a face-to-face program. People had to come here to Wilmette in order to participate, but it did have an online component to follow-up on the week or two or three of classes, and based on that follow-up – online follow-up – we started online courses in 1998. The software has improved immensely since then, and as of an hour ago – I just updated the statistics – we have now run 306 courses, including a few that are – or one that started on May 1st. We have had 8,529 learners in all those courses according to our Excel spreadsheet, and we think they came from as many as 110 countries, where – actually it’s hard to count countries, of course – our learners have made countless presentations to classes, study circles, and they’ve done other things using material from our courses. we really have no idea how many people have become Baha’is as a result of the students presentations and the education that they received, but we’re fairly sure it’s in the hundreds. Currently we’ve added web talks to our services to the community, and starting next week or so, we will be doing our first webinar, which means you have to pay to take the webinar course, and it has two live sessions on the Tablet of the Branch. I’ll give you more information about that in the future. We’re also moving in the direction of publishing student papers and other quality materials on our website. We’re also starting a journal called Elixr which is a journal for poetry and other artistic projects. And, we’re working on the possibility of courses for credit. We really need the assistance of Baha’is who have connections with universities to see if we can’t establish some arrangements. So if you have any suggestions, we would really appreciate it. Today we will hear from Dr. Christopher Buck, a good friend of mine for well-nigh 30 or more years. Chris has a doctorate from the University of Toronto 1996 in Religious Studies. This is one of the – I would say – top dozen schools in the United States for everything including religious studies. And then, in 2006, he got his JD – and he’s a practicing attorney as a result – from Cooley Law School. He lives in Pennsylvania in the Pittsburgh area and has also continued to publish. His first book came out in 1995 which was Qur’an Commentary in Baha’u’llah’s Kitab-i-Iqan, Paradise and Paradigm, Key Symbols in Persian Christianity and the Baha’i Faith was a rewrite of his doctoral dissertation, came out in 1999. Alain Locke, Faith and Philosophy was, I think it’s safe to say, a fairly seminal work on both the life of Alain Locke, a Baha’i who was a well-known African-American philosopher, and, of course, also just an interesting and important exploration of how the Faith shaped Alain Locke’s own thinking. Religious Myths and Visions of America: How Minority Faiths Redefined America’s World Role was a book that he wrote and published in 2009, and that is the book which, today, we will be looking at in the form of its second edition, the title being God and Apple Pie: Religious Myths and Visions of America. And that’s also the title of our talk by Chris today. Afterwards we will have his talk available on our YouTube channel, and I’ll be able to give you details about that later on. So, without further ado, I will ask Boyd to turn everything over to Chris Buck, and we will give Chris his chance to give our presentation to us. Welcome, Chris.
– Thank you Rob, and thanks for your technical assistance, Boyd. Welcome to all those who have joined us. Today’s webinar or web talk is about a new title called God and Apple Pie: Religious Myths and Visions of America. The 2009 publication that Rob Stockman previously mentioned, the first edition, was reviewed by the Journal of American History, and the reviewer said, The author has defended his thesis with solid research. He has made an original contribution to American studies. And a later review in Nova Religio has a positive review as well. It says, In this sense this volume may be of interest to readers involved not only in religious studies but also in political science, history, intellectual history, American studies, and cultural studies. This is the frontispiece to the book God and Apple Pie. It’s the Rodef Shalom Synagogue here in Pittsburgh, which is where I live, and I will explain the significance of this photograph later on when we get to Jewish myths and visions of America. Now what lends this book some prestige is the introduction by J. Gordon Melton who is Distinguished Professor of American Religious History at Baylor University. And, a quick quote from his introduction: Far from being an interesting additional topic for the religious dilettante, the discussion around the theological reality that is America, periodically bursts forth as an important item on the nation’s agenda. From the place of prayer services in the White House to the issuance of an annual government report on religious persecution, to the rise of contemporary terrorism. And here’s figure 1.1. This is Columbia, the Spirit of America personified. Chapter one is America: Nation and Notion. The topics covered are Civil Myths and Visions – ah, pardon me – Civil Myths of America and Civil Religion, Religious Myths and Visions of America, and our two- fold hypothesis is that religions re-mythologize America, and religions re-envision America, particularly as to its world role and the time in which America is envisioned, and, of course, that would lead up to America’s world role today from a variety of different religious perspectives. We also have an interesting theme that runs throughout these visions: Racial Myths and Visions of America. One scholar quoted in the book argues that the quote central themes of American religious history are pluralism, Puritanism, and the encounter of black and white. In the 19th century most if not all Protestant Christians in America believed in this verse in its application to African-Americans: Cursed be Cain – Canaan – a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers. Genesis 9:25, a verse that was used to legitimize the institution of slavery. And Ham was – it’s also called the curse of Ham, and Ham was Noah’s youngest son, and Canaan was one of Ham’s sons. Figure 1.2 John Gast’s famous painting, American Progress – 1872. In Chapter 1 we have a discussion on race. Protestant Christianity set a racial agenda during the Colonial Period, and what James Moorhead, a scholar who writes on what he calls minority faiths – they have reacted to the racial issue in their own separate ways. For example, the Nation of Islam argues that blacks are the original race, and thus superior. We’re going to see in the chapter on the Nation of Islam how that works out. Christian Identity, which is the religious name for white supremacists who have a religious justification, mythologize whites as racially pure and thus superior. And Mormons have represented Native Americans as basically lost tribes of Jews, and also blacks as cursed, at one time, but now black – male blacks can enjoy the priesthood – they can become priests. And the Bahá’í Faith has reacted to a racialized America by framing the issue as America’s most challenging issue, and doing something about it by promoting what was originally called Race Amity – amity is a word that means friendship. In other words, interracial harmony. Here we see a coin that the US Mint minted in 2010. This issue honored the Iroquois Confederacy, and we’re going to be talking about the founders of that confederacy quite soon. And we get to Native American Myths and Visions of America. Discussed in this chapter is the Turtle Island Myth, and it’s basically in five parts, beginning with events in the Sky World, the uprooting of the Tree of Light – sounds like The Tree of Life, doesn’t it? Sky Woman falls to earth, animals dive to bring earth to the surface of the ocean – because the earth is covered with ocean, no land – and then this earth is placed on Turtle’s back, and it becomes the lands that we now have on Earth. The Myth of Mother Earth comes next, followed by the Deganawidah Legend, and the Iroquois Influence Thesis: Is that Myth or History? And we get the sense from the coin issued in 2010 that the United States Government inclines in the direction of history. And here’s an idealized statue of Hiawatha, the co-founder of the Iroquois Confederacy. The prophet- statesman who is credited – with founding the Iroquois Confederacy, which started off as five warring nations who made peace. Later six nations and up to as many as ten when several other nations were adopted. He had a three-fold message: The Good Message is the first part of that. Let’s review a quote from his message: Thereupon Deganawidah stood up in the center of the gathering place, and then he said, First, I will answer the question what it means to say, Now it is arriving – the good message. This, indeed, is what it means. When it stops the slaughter of your own people who live here on earth, then everywhere peace will come about, by day and also by night, and it will come about that as one travels around, everyone will be related. The second part of the message is the power. Now again, secondly I say, now it is arriving – the power – and this means that the different nations, all of the nations, will become just a single one. And the great wall will come into being, so that now all will be related to each other. And there will come to be just a single family, and in the future, in the days to come, this family will continue on. And the third and last part of the message – the peace. Now in turn the other, my third saying, Now it is arriving – the peace. This means that everyone will become related, men and also women, and also the young people, and the children. And when all our relatives, every nation, then there will be peace. When they are functioning, the good message, and also the power and the peace, these will be the principal things everybody will live by. These will be the great values among the people. Now, there were scholars who read and commented on this chapter. The first two are Native American, Barbara Mann and Donald Grinde, shown here. And then, an author who writes, for example, he wrote – he’s written encyclopedias and other studies on Native American topics, Bruce Johansson, one of the endorsers of this book. Now we move to the next chapter, and here is a picture of a flag and cross on a church in Lansing, Michigan, where I used to live when I taught at Michigan State University from 2000 to 2004. So now we take a look at Protestant Myths and Visions of America. The topics covered begin with The Puritan myth of America, followed by The Manifest and Destiny Myth, The Curse of Ham Myth, as I said earlier, also called The Curse of Canaan. And… we have at the last part of a Protestant Myths and Visions of America, The African-American Exodus Counter-Myth. And a couple of highlights: the Puritan Master Myth of America is very important, especially this sermon by John Winthrop aboard the ship Arbella as it was heading to the Massachusetts Bay Colony: We shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. I argue in the book that the Protestant Mission was to colonize, Christianize, and civilize – and this doctrine contained the seeds of missionary expansion by conquest, the Doctrine of Manifest Destiny. Here’s a photo, Sinking Liberty by David Smith, who has contributed a number of photographs to God and Apple Pie. The first edition did not have a chapter on the Christian Right’s Myths and Visions of America. This is actually a new chapter in the revised edition, this 2015 edition, and it was actually suggested by the reviewer who published a review in The Journal of American History. And so I added this chapter. Covered in this chapter are paradoxes inherent in the Christian Right: the Antichrist Rapture Myth, the Christian Nation Myth, The City on a Hill Myth, the Christian Right’s Positive Visions of America and the Christian Right’s Negative Visions of America, followed by conclusions. And here is a famous statement by Governor Ronald Reagan, who wasn’t President, this was before he became President: We cannot escape our destiny, nor should we try to do so. The leadership of the free world was thrust upon us two centuries ago in that little hall of Philadelphia. In the days following World War II, when the economic strength and power of America was all that stood between the world and the return of the Dark Ages, Pope Pius the 12th said, The American people have a great genius for splendid and unselfish actions. Into the hands of America God has placed the destinies of an afflicted mankind. We are indeed, and we are today, the last best hope of man on earth. Of course, he’s echoing President Abraham Lincoln. And now, speaking of the Pope, we move into Catholic Myths and Visions of America, another photo by David Smith of the National Cathedral in Washington DC. This chapter covers excerpts from various positive statements that popes – Catholic popes – have made of America. Of course they are speaking in the form of dicta rather than ex cathedra, so these are not official statements. There was a group of Catholic bishops and cardinals in America who wanted to privilege America. They were threatened and said that if they continued in that direction it would become a heresy. And then we have people responses to the Americanist Myth of America, most notably beginning with condemnations, and then with sort of a circling back to supporting the basic premises. Not officially, of course. Well, can the American Myth – Americanist Myth of America become a reality? In other words, can this unofficial view of America, sometimes reflected in the speeches of popes throughout the 20th century, become a reality? And here’s another picture – this from the Queen of All Saints Parish church. The view is actually rotated, because these figures – the demon and – the praying demon and the praying angel actually extend out horizontally over the pavement below. And then, in the interest of time, I’m just going to highlight some of these quotes. America needs freedom to be herself and to fulfill her mission in the world. And this is by Pope John Paul when he met with – the second – when he met with Ronald Reagan on September 10th 1987. So those are an example – that’s one example of several quotations that are very positive about America’s World Rule from a Catholic perspective. Now we move into Jewish Myths and Visions of America. Here is the Congregation Mickve Israel in Savannah, Georgia. I think this is the third oldest synagogue. It’s in the Gothic style, the only one built this way, and this was founded in 1733. So, we cover in Jewish Myths and Visions of America the Jewish myth of America as the Promised Land, the Myth of Columbus, Communal visions of America as expressed in Jewish prayers for the government of America, and then we break this down into the different – I’ll use a Protestant term, denominations of Judaism in America: Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism, and Reconstruction – reconstructionist perspectives. And then this chapter depends heavily on the foremost historian of American Jewish history, Jonathan Sarna. So this term, the cult of synthesis, is something that he came up with. This is the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. Now, remember the frontispiece that we showed at the beginning of this presentation. So here in Pittsburgh, the Rodef Shalom congregation was headed by Dr. J. Leonard Levy, and he wrote a special Passover liturgy, the call for placing an American flag on the ritual and ceremonial dinner, and this is a quote from it – to be recited in this ceremony: To us, the United States of America stands as the foremost among nations granting the greatest liberty to all who dwell here. Therefore, we grace our table with the national flag. The immortal Declaration of Independence is the Great Charter announced before Pharaoh by Moses. The abolitionists are the product of the Bible. The Fourth of July is the American Passover. Thanksgiving is the American Feast of Tabernacles. Moving now to Mormon Myths and Visions of America, here we see the Conference Center, the balcony level of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which is the official name of the Mormon Church, which has its headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah. This probably has the richest abundance of material on America. The Garden of Eden Myth, the Lost Tribes Myth, the Columbus Myth, the Constitution Myth, the Founding Fathers Myth, the Theodemocracy Myth, the America as Zion Myth, the Mark of Cain Myth, and then an update from American Zion to World Zion. And here we see the Mormon Tabernacle choir, which in 1981, the President called America’s Choir. And a statement by Joseph Smith, it represents all of these visions of America: We believe in the literal gathering of Israel, and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory. I believe, and this is statement from Mitt Romney, when he was a Presidential candidate. I’m going to skip this statement. It was in the news a lot. But that really put a face on the Latter-Day Saints in America when he ran for President. Now we move into a very controversial chapter, and here we see Ku Klux Klan members campaigning for Barry Goldwater. When I was a kid, my parents were Republicans, and I used to hand out pamphlets to cars passing by chanting, Boy, boy, Barry Goldwater, he’s the man for me. ‘Course, I didn’t know what I was saying. In this picture we see an African-American man pushing the signs back. So this is Christian Identity Myths and Visions of America, and the very repulsive, for lack of a better term, myths that are covered here: the Two Seed Myth, the Mud Races Myth, the Lost Tribes Myth, the White Homeland Myth, the Racial Holy War Myth, and then an update called Christian Identity Label or Libel. Here we have a picture of a member of the Ku Klux Klan, a secret member while at the same time serving as a senator. Senator Theodore Bilbo, who was senator from 1935 to 1947. Now, in the chapter update I quote something from a guy named Pastor Peters. He says, Note how identity is demonized by the use of the phrase ‘diabolical mixture’. Note the false claim that a church that believes the identity message necessarily teaches that one: Anglo-Saxons are Jews; two, Jews are the descendants of Satan; and three, blacks and other minorities are inferior mud people. Of course the descendants of Satan comes from a myth where Satan as a serpent somehow mates with Eve and produces the Jews. Again, My sermons, radio broadcasts and writings of the past 15 years have been and are available to the public. And I defy anyone to show where I teach that Jews and people of color are sub-human and are children of Satan, or that there is to be an apocalyptic battle. Here we see a photograph from what’s called the Jim Crow era in American history, later called America’s apartheid. You see the separate entrances for white and colored people at this restaurant. Now we move from white nationalism to black nationalism. The Black Muslim Myths and Visions of America. The myths covered here are the Yacub Myth – Yacub was an evil black scientist who created the white race, which is inherently evil. This is followed by the Mother Real Myth, the Destruction of America Myth, and then an update Separation, Not Integration. And the Honorable Elijah Muhammad is Alive Myth, and vision of a black homeland. Here we see figure 9.2, Malcolm X, who was a prominent member of the Nation of Islam until he broke away from it, went out after going on pilgrimage to Mecca and seeing that Islam was a universal religion. He was later assassinated, as you well know. When I was in Lansing I heard that his father had been killed in a rail – a railway car accident, but all African-Americans in Lansing believe he was murdered. All right, so highlights from chapter 9. This is a quote from Louis Farrakhan, a fairly recent quote in 2013, Separation is a familiar concept to America that now, must now be applied to the black nation. We believe in separation. We believe that integration is a hypocritical trick to make us think that our four-hundred-year-old enemy has all of a sudden become our quote-unquote, friend. They’ll let you into the bedroom and keep you right at the door of the boardroom. Now we move into Contemporary Islamic Myths and Visions of America. This is America – America’s largest mosque – I believe there’s a larger one in Canada, which is Ahmadhi, but this mosque is Shi’ah, not Sunni, and this is in Dearborn, Michigan. The myths covered here are the Great Satan Myth, of course, from Iran, beginning with Ayatollah Khomeini. The Axis of Evil Counter Myth, which came from a famous speech by President Bush. Efforts to dispel the Great Satan Myth and to minimize the fallout from the Axis of Evil Myth. In an update, Defending America and Islam in America from Radical Islamism. Myth, America as a Crusader Nation – that’s the radical Islamist view of America at present, and Counter- myth: Islamic State as the Order of Satan. And then we cover an American Model of Islam. And here we see American Muslim children at the ground zero mosque on August 22nd, 2010. The sign says, I am American, born Muslim, and proud Muslim, with drawings of the American flag on either side. And here we see a quote from a scholar in the Review of Faith in International Affairs, and he basically talks about American Muslim exceptionalists’ belief that God brought Muslims to America for a purpose. And the essence of his view is that American Muslims may develop a model that other countries, especially where Muslims are a minority, may wish to study and possibly adapt to their own host countries. Now we move into Buddhist Myths and Visions of America. SGI stands for Soka Gakkai International. They’re the ones who chant nam-myoho-renge-kyo. This is a photo of their headquarters in Santa Monica, California. We have the Myth of America’s Second Renaissance by Soka Gakkai, a similar myth by a Tibetan Buddhist, the first Westerner to be ordained by the Dalai Lama as a Tibetan Buddhist monk, Robert Thurman, and his myth of America’s second Renaissance. The Dalai Lama’s Buddhist Democracy Myth and Visions of America – Vision of America’s World rule, followed by a chapter update, America a Bodhi Soffa Nation. A Bodhi Soffa is someone who takes a vow of compassion, and rather than achieving enlightenment and being transported to Nirvana, he foregoes that in order to help alleviate suffering among all sentient beings. So, collectively this has been applied to a nation in Buddhistic terms. And in this very excellent photo, which was provided me courtesy of Soka Gakkai International, who reviewed my chapter by the way. Here are American SGI Buddhists chanting nam-myoho-renge-kyo. This is in Atlanta. This is a poem from a little book called Songs for America by the current president Daisaku Ikeda, Our goal, the second American Renaissance: grip the rudder, hold firm to your course. The Stars and Stripes, the tricolor flag of SGI, ripple as a hopeful freeze – breeze – fills our sails. Our destination: America’s distant future, the brilliant glory of human harmony. Now for the penultimate chapter, the second to the last chapter, Baha’i Myths and Visions of America. Here’s a photo by David Smith of the Baha’i House of Worship. It’s not color because the publisher was willing to publish illustrations in black and white, but not in color. Notable here is the sign at the bottom that says, Baha’i House of Worship, all are welcome. The Baha’i Myths and Visions covered here, and I have to say that I quote from Robert Stockman’s Harvard dissertation on the application of the term myth to Baha’i Visions of America, and I commend that chapter to you so that – I won’t rehearse his reasoning here, but myth doesn’t mean a lie, it means a narrative with truths that contain important values. Following a brief introduction to the Baha’i Faith, Myths as a Sacred History of America, the Baha’i Emancipation Civil War Myth, now I expanded on this in a 2013 book chapter called ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Howard University Speech. This was a volume edited by Negar Mottahedeh and published by Prager Mech, pardon me, by Palgrave MacMillan in 2013. This is followed by the Baha’i Wilsonian Myth. One reason that this is called a myth is because Wilsonian idealism, you know, that of internationalism, is what is praised in Baha’i statements about Wilson, but he was also known to be quite a racist, So the combination of this is problematic, but it’s Wilsonian idealism that is promoted in the Baha’i vision of the destiny of America. And then we talk about America and the Golden Age of Future World Civilization, and the Baha’i vision of world unity. America’s world role is a dual role, that of America itself, something Baha’is call The Greater Plan of God, and the contribution of American Baha’is, which Baha’i texts call The Minor Plan of God. This is a remarkable photo that has become world-renowned, not because the world knows it, but because it’s been circulated internationally, far and wide. Another photo by David Smith. This is Jenny Manybeads, she’s a Navajo Baha’i pictured here in 1984 at age 100. Now through a forced relocation that happened later on, she had to move from her home. The Hopis were asserting their mineral rights. She actually was a lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that was protesting this forced relocation. She died at age 115. Now I’m not going to go through this, but this is a forthcoming article that is now in press in Baha’i Studies Review called Fifty Baha’i Principles of Unity, and on the web you can actually find information about this. It’s maybe 20 years of research into Arabic and Persian texts, where expressions of unity of such-and-such or oneness of this-or-that are compiled, and I came up with these Fifty Baha’i Principles of Unity. I was invited to speak at Princeton University on February 21st, 2014. So this is something relatively new as an approach to Baha’i teachings. And here are the rest of the Fifty Baha’i Principles of Unity. It’s unofficial. It’s just simply my contribution. It’s not been endorsed, but I think it’s been very well received. Now remember the dual roles that we talked about from the Baha’i Vision of America. The two quotes here: The American people are indeed worthy of being the first to build the tabernacle of the great peace and proclaim the oneness of mankind, for America hath developed powers and capacities greater and more wonderful than other nations. Its future is even more promising, for its influence and illumination are far-reaching. It will lead all nations spiritually. This is a statement made in 1912 when ‘Abdu’l-Baha visited America. In another quote, five years later: Exert yourselves. Your mission is unspeakably glorious. Should success crown your enterprise, America will surely evolve into a center from which waves of spiritual power will emanate, and the throne of the kingdom of God will, in the plenitude of its majesty and glory, be firmly established. Now we move into the final chapter, Reverend Martin Luther King, during a press conference in 1964. We cover how minority faiths redefined America’s world rule, how their perspectives do that – not that America’s world rule has changed in response, religious myths and visions of America are recapitulated, an overview of America’s world rule, and then final reflections, a world civil religion, along with an update: America and the World: Toward a More Perfect union. And here’s that famous photo, NASA’s blue marble, taken of Earth from outer space during the Apollo 17 mission. Now there’s a prayer that was prayed in a ceremony one year after 9/11 by Diane Sherwood which reads: Holy One, Great Mystery, known by a thousand names. We are Sikhs and Muslims, Christians and Jews, Mormons, Baha’is, Hindus, Buddhists, and those on a hundred paths to truth. We ask for compassionate hearts; sorrowing, but rejoicing always; dying, but behold we live; with a unified and humble voice we pray, ‘God Bless America’. And here we have an image of the Great Seal of the United States of America. Now, what are some applications or uses of God and Apple Pie? Well, this is a good way to engage in the public discourses of America. It’s a resource for starting topics on – conversations on topics of interest, whether at the coffee table or around the water cooler. You can start off by saying, Hey, you know I was, I was reading this interesting book, and the typical response would be, even if the person’s not interested but merely being polite, Oh yeah, what’s it about? And, that begins the conversation. Then the trick is to come up with a topic that you might know that it would pique the listener’s interest, OK? So, there’s so many topics covered in the book, you choose one, and see if a conversation can develop. It covers a broad range of social issues, so it’s easy to engage in the public discourses on America, whether one-on-one or in group settings. So, part of the discourse topic will involve the formulation of the problems, the framing of those problems, and the application of principles and solutions. OK, a little bit of humor at the end. During the photo shoot of the apple pie and the American flag, the house – and so – there was a photographer, David Smith, who took this, but he took it at a friend’s house, and this is the friend’s cat, and he’s sniffing the apple pie. We can also use this book to, you know, take a look at religions comparatively in America, and more effectively engage in interfaith dialogue, which is not conversion but convergence. Can we find common ground? Can we as Americans agree on what America can or should stand for, at the level of principle, at least? And for this purpose, God and Apple Pie offers a handbook. And I mentioned Alain Locke, the Baha’i philosopher, in both the Baha’i chapter and also in the concluding chapter, because he used to talk about America as a democracy. In my book, Alain Locke, Faith and Philosophy, I discuss his philosophy of democracy in nine dimensions. It’s a much more expansive view of democracy than most Americans hold. OK, another photo by David Smith, Dead-End Scholar. This – part of the purpose of this web talk is not only to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Wilmette Institute, but to announce a course that starts on May 10th, and here’s where you can register. Maybe after this talk this information will be posted to all the viewers. Another David Smith photo: Darwin to Hell, and we see Darwin Road in the foreground, and a sign pointing left to Hell. You can interpret what this means. And we’ve reached the end of our presentation. Opened for questions. Thank you. – Thanks, Chris. I hope everyone can now hear me. I won’t put my camera on, so that we can focus on Chris. And we have a series of questions people have written. There is a both a chat box and a question box over on the right side and if you click on the question box you can add a question there, in order to get it listed. We won’t turn anybody’s cameras or microphones on, because we have too many people – 49 people – in this particular web talk, and we have a lot of trouble [to] figure out whose to turn on. And it’ll be a lot of background noise if we turn on the long ones. So, a couple of questions here, Chris. Sue Blythe is asking about the use of the term myth, and whether the term myth is the right word – she says, Each of these religious groups believes the particular version that you mentioned as the truth, so maybe belief would be a better word. This thought from my atheist friend who’s listening in. So you may want to explain the scholarly use of the word myth versus the popular use of the term.
– Thank you that’s an excellent question, and in fact, Rob, you’ve answered it. There is an academic use of the term myth in the study of religion, which is a discipline in its own right. And myth means narratives, stories, that are in a sense true lies. In other words, it doesn’t mean that every myth is a lie, but it’s an embellishment upon the truth. Most myths are not historical. For example when you talk about the creation of the world, it’s the best that the religion can offer. So, for example, in cosmogony myths, in other words creation of the world myths, the main purpose, the main truths that are conveyed is not how the world was created but cosmogony as sociogeny, meaning creation of the world as the creation of present-day society. – Yeah, one thing that I often explained at the university is the idea that a myth is a sacred story, and that’s what makes the myth important is the sacredness, not necessarily the accuracy of the content, but the weight that that particular narrative or account has for that group of people – the significance that it has for them. Another question: Mary asks, What’s the origin of the phrase God and Apple Pie? – Well, it’s the expression, “It’s as American as Mom, God, and apple pie. That’s the main one you hear. So I simply took that literally. And so, God and Apple Pie, which is the short version of that, means anything that is quintessentially American. So, the religions covered in this book – because there are religions that are not covered – the religions treated are those that had official or semi-official or widely popular collective views on America, not just quoting individuals, but we have group perspectives on America. That’s the original contribution of God and Apple Pie to the religion – to the literature on the idea of America, which is at the heart of American Studies, after all. What does America stand for? What does it represent? To what does it inspire? And so on. We have civil religion, we have, you know, ideas that are in the civic sphere about America’s role, but then we have religious perspectives on America. The literature has tended to cover primarily the Protestant views of America. This one expands it to those of minority faiths as well.
– Someone did ask for you to elaborate on the concept of civil religion. So perhaps you could explain that term a bit more.
– Right. Well this goes back to a seminal article. What was it? 1964, by Robert Bella.
– Yah, Animals? Something like that. – Yeah, okay. So, Robert Bella, he’s the one who coined that term. In a way it sounds like an oxy- moron. In other words, a contradiction. How can you have something that’s civil and yet not religious? Well, the civil takes it out of the realm of a faith community and makes it available in the civic sphere. So let’s take, for example, the City On the Hill Sermon at the beginning of the presentation by John Winthrop, who became the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Well, that was spoken in a religious context, in a Puritan context. Now, when President Ronald Reagan used this several times, We shall be as a city upon a hill, in several of his speeches, he was speaking not as a Puritan, but as the President of the United States, in a civil context, but with a religiously-inflected view – the idea of America as an exemplar nation. – Yeah, I often remember a time I attended a session, a ceremony marking the beginning of the Little League season, and they had a couple of ministers, priests, Protestant and Catholic. They all gave prayers and talked about God but never mentioned Jesus. ‘Cause, after all, not everybody was Christian, and that was, I thought, a lovely example of civil religion. That’s a very common thing, that they try to make Americans all into monotheists regardless of their tradition and then try to pray in a way that’s sort of generically monotheistic. Gary asks this interesting question: To what degree have you found these myths mixed and adopted into the minds of large, mixed groups of American people?
– Very interesting question. Well, according to Robert Bella, the mix happens in civil religion.
– Shahla asks, Have Baha’i race unity activities really been a reaction, or, since the unity of humanity was to be accomplished, it could not be done in a segregated society, hence the need to deal with racism. So how’s the Baha’i race unity activities – have they been a reaction against racism, or something else? – Well, we could talk about then and now, so when it began as the Race Amity movement, this was really the idea of ‘Abdu’l-Baha Himself, Who in 1920 told Agnes Parsons, I want you to convene a conference on Race Amity. And He said – quickly added – Of course, you’re gonna need some help. So she got help from Louis Gregory, Martha Root, Alain Locke, and others. And, this event was a milestone, not only in Baha’i history, but, I think, according to the video that was posted by Cornell West, expressing his appreciation of the Baha’i contributions to race unity in America – when the –Cornel West says that when the American history is rewritten, it will point to the Baha’i contributions of the Alain Lockes, and the Robert Haydens, in terms of combating racism. So, since we have Shoghi Effendi framing the race issue as America’s most challenging issue, and this is what Americans picked up – American Baha’is picked up on – I would say that this is a response to the racial crisis in America. Most definitely. Because this is still during the Jim Crow era. Later on, when the rhetoric of egalitarianism, cosmopolitanism – you know, no racism in this town – when that became something that everybody paid lip service to, then the problem of racism especially when I was living in Canada, became much more subtle. And so, sociologists talked about polite racism. And there are many examples of this. But now I would say that race harmony is something that is one of several different approaches to promoting harmony, unity, and global prosperity, both at home and abroad. – I’m looking for other questions here that relate directly to the book. We have a few that don’t, and I’m not are completely sure what to suggest about these. We have two questions regarding the American legal system and their relationship to the laws of God, and whether spiritual moral laws influence or effect legal law. And since I guess you’re being asked an attorney’s question, perhaps we will include that one now. – Sure. There have been a couple of Supreme Court Justices, at least in dicta. These are not holdings, but in cases where tradition, America’s religious tradition, is acknowledged, religious values are also honored. Of course, there is a separation of church and state, but this does not mean freedom – while it means freedom of religion, it doesn’t necessarily say freedom – mean freedom from religion. Supreme Court decisions have held that academic courses on comparative religions do not violate the First Amendment against prohibiting religion or – what is the term – promoting religion. And so when I taught religious studies at Michigan State University, my courses were heavily filled with religious content. Of course, I was an American Studies professor, also teaching research writing. The way that I could respect and abide by the First Amendment was to treat all of these religious questions academically, like any other academic subject. So the values upon which America was established, and the values that America still holds sacred, quote-unquote, within the Civil sphere are contributed by the religious influences that have been, at heart, at the heart of America since its founding. As to the contribution of minority religions, I think that such things as strong family values, and maybe ethics, coming from outside of the Protestant context and so on, these are feeding into the mix. I haven’t seen anything legally that would acknowledge the influence of minority faiths, however.
– And here’s another question that I’ve got for you, Chris. What do you think the future of these various myths of America will be? Where do you think they will lead us collectively as a nation? Any ideas about that?
– That’s very good question. Well, of course, it depends on which ones. Those that are positive, those that are egalitarian – meaning inclusive of everyone – those that are not against anyone, I think over time these will begin to have more of an impact on America’s civil religion, and at the end of the book there’s some discussion about an emerging global or world civil religion – values that the world will begin to hold as common ground. And so this is how I see those visions of America emerging. The negative visions of America, particularly those by the – by Christian Identity, white supremacy, and those of black nationalists, as illustrated by the Nation of Islam, they’re going to go their own way. They’re going to be rendered obsolete. – I think Tamara asked a similar question to mine, then, and I think perhaps you’ve answered it. She asks whether there’s a way to move through these various myths towards collaboration? – Well yes, that’s where the public – engaging in the public discourses of America comes in. In other words, when we can honor certain values and promote them, and apply them as social solutions; if we can talk about the problems that affect America and the world today at the level of principle – we can leave it to the politicians to work out the legislation that would implement those values – but rather than being for or against particular bills, for example, that may happen from time to time, of course, but I don’t see legislation often addressed or justified from the standpoint of Well, what principles are being – are at work here? And so the influence that these minority faiths and the courts, the Puritan Master Myth of American, and so on, all contribute, both historically and in terms of the present-day are, What values, what human values, do we hold sacred as a nation? Do we wish to apply and – to all of the problems that afflict America in the world today? And so, we want to see a convergence, as I said before, that interfaith dialogue is not a conversion but convergence. Let’s see how much unity, in terms of common ground, that we can establish in our individual lives, and also to the extent that we are engaged in public fora on these questions. Always bring the problem back to the level of principle. So the solutions should be ones that are informed by values and by social principles that would contribute to the solution. Not only contribute to the solution, but be benchmarks by which the outcomes can be measured.
– Got a couple of more questions, and we have a bit more time still. Paul asks, Do you expect the Faith to be attacked from the pulpits in America on a wide scale anytime soon? – I cannot say about the timing, but I can offer an idea about the timing as to conditions. I recall a statement where ‘Abdu’l-Baha said that when the Faith is attacked from the pulpits, the faithful will rejoice. And you know I pondered on that, and I think that the reason for saying the faithful will rejoice is that the Baha’i Faith has become important enough, significant enough, to be perceived as a threat to other faith communities. The Baha’i Faith, of course, respects all religious traditions, argues for unity among religions, unity and concord, but the condition under which this will happen will be when the Baha’i – emergence of the Baha’i community is perceived as a threat to, let’s say, Protestant dominance on the American religious scene. That’s how I see it. So that condition probably will take some time. I don’t know when, but if the Baha’i community in America experiences sudden growth for example, that’s when I would expect the Faith to be attacked from pulpits.
– And we have a comment also here: It’s great that you bring attention to seeking convergence in dialogue. It’s amazing how much progress can take place when we see common ground rather than paying attention to differences, even in beliefs such as Satan as an external force or being, and the source of evil. – That’s a very good comment, and, by the way, I’ve written I think something like 85 articles for BahaiTeachings.org so, remember that even though I am a Baha’i by conviction, God and Apple Pie is written in my capacity as a scholar. And so, each of the religions is treated even-handedly. It’s peer reviewed so you know, it is a good work of scholarship. But on the question of Satan, probably my most popular article is called, I think it’s called Satan’s Obituary, and then that was followed by another article on the history of Satan. So one of the things that I pointed out from my Christian upbringing, that, in a sense, to be a Christian requires not only a belief in Jesus Christ, but also belief in Satan. Now I know that sounds, you know, heretical, but when you think about it, it doesn’t mean you believe in Satan as a follower or anything like that, simply that you believe in the existence of Satan, things like original sin and so on, and that’s part of the context for Christ’s Redemption on the Cross. You know, so salvation is bound up with the idea of Satan. So what would be the significance of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection if there was no Satan? What would Christ’s person and work be all about then? Then Christia – what we call Christian soteriology or doctrine of Salvation would have to be completely redefined.
– I see one or two other questions here. One or two other questions here. We’ve got a little bit of time for them. What’s the source of the various myths? Are they from the original scriptures or are they man-made myths? – Well, it might be both. So, it depends on your view of the Scriptures. If the Scriptures come from God by way of Revelation, then those are in effect God-made, and then their interpretations are always going to be man-made. But where the myths are themselves man-made, and this is really a matter of faith, and to a certain extent, historical inquiry. For example, when you take the Book of Mormon. Well, does it – does this supposed sacred history of America stand up to anthropological scrutiny? Does it stand up to scientific scrutiny? Is it from God as Mormons believe, or, you know, is it man-made, or is it a mix somehow? You know, these are all faith questions, which science and other disciplines may bring to bear, such as linguistics. That said, I would say that the myths are – they originate pretty much from the founders of each of these traditions, or the leaders. OK, so if you take the Nation of Islam, most of its myths, in fact, all of them basically come from the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, who was Louis Farrakhan’s successor [sic, should be predecessor]. So Louis Farrakhan had a series of, I think, 54 speeches which are all available on YouTube – very interesting speeches – and he goes over all these myths. I thought that back in 2009 that he was actually distancing himself, or at least not talking publicly about these myths that are covered in God and Apple Pie. But he’s returned to them, and has, you know, reemphasized them because he’s a representative of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. And there are some texts that more or less represent the founder of the Nation of Islam, W.D. Fard, as God, the incarnation of God on earth, and Elijah Muhammad as the prophet sent to America. And then Louis Farrakhan is their representative. And this was validated when he says he was taken aboard the mothership, in other words, a giant UFO, and then he met – he heard the voice of Elijah Muhammad. So in other words, it’s prophetic authority that gives rise to most of these doctrines. Now, in the case of Christian Identity where there’s no clear leader – there’s a number of preachers – they basically go back to some influential interpretations, racist interpretations of the Bible. So it depends on the tradition, what the source is. – I guess that we have one – a comment here, and another question. The comment, Thank you. I will argue perhaps that the negative myths oops, I would argue that the negative myths have been engaged as well towards convergence – have to be engaged as well towards convergence. They are meaningful because people are trying to make sense of their challenges. Engaging positively with negative myth creates opportunities for change. I agree they will become obsolete. For example, the Nation of Islam attempted in the ’90s to adjust their myth as medicine. This was a positive transformation that deserved engagement and support. But lost ground, at least partially because of distrust and the conditions of institutional racism, make the negative myths still attractive. I speak as a former member of the Nation of Islam. That’s very interesting. She wrote that before you made your comments about the Nation of Islam, and so it relates, I think, quite closely.
– If the commenter would clear – agree to you forwarding me that question and contact information… I’m very impressed by that statement. When I was teaching in Millikin University, I read the pre-publication manuscript of Inside the Nation of Islam by Dr. Vibert White. He was the head of – or he was teaching African-American Studies at University of Illinois at Springfield. And the University of South Florida Press published that book, probably in the late ’90s as I recall, maybe in – around 2000, and Vibert White at the time was the only academic to write about the Nation of Islam, and so it’s a very, very fascinating narrative. And I think that this negative – discussion of the negative views – can be used positively. That had not occurred to me before. So, you know, that is a very, very good comment. In places where there has been an audience, for example, I invited Dr. Vibert White to Millikin University. Many of the African-Americans there in the audience said that they found Islam through the Nation of Islam. So, in other words, through these negative myths of America, they found, you know, a universal religion – that being Islam. And so, I want to thank this commentator for a very insightful comment, one that I had not thought before. I find myself stimulated and enlightened by the insight from that comment. Thank you. – Well, Chris, I think that’s the end of the questions, so I think I’ll turn my camera back on. I want to again thank you very much, Chris, for this presentation, which was certainly very tantalizing for all of us. We will all be very intrigued to know more about your book, and perhaps people will be interested in getting it. It would appear that you can get it through Barnes & Noble. I know they have at least two copies, and, apparently – I’m sure if people order them, then they’ll order more as well. I want to let everyone know that last month’s talk by Moojan Momen, of course, had to be canceled because we had severe problems with his audio and with his internet connection, and we’ve now rescheduled it. It will be this coming Saturday, the 9th of May at 2 p.m. Eastern Time, which is our standard time for all of these web talks. Our software in one place tells people it’s the 16th. I have to go correct that. But it is this coming Saturday, May 9th. His topic, The Recreation and Utilization of a Community’s Memories: Shoghi Effendi and Baha’i History looks at the way Shoghi Effendi decided to – the reason Shoghi Effendi decided to translate The Dawn-Breakers in English in order to provide the American Baha’is with that spiritual connection that they needed to go forth during the first Seven Year Plan and teach the Faith with great success. That will be the – actually, that will be our fifth web talk, since Chris just gave our fourth one, and if you go to our website, wilmetteinstitute.org, you can find a list of the web talks. You click on that, you’ll find the Moojan Momen page, and there will be a link there. You can also click on the Christopher Buck page there, and that page will give you access to the PowerPoint that he just showed everybody. We have one slide we need to add to it, but otherwise it’s complete. And we will also have a link up to the recording for this particular presentation within a few hours, certainly by tomorrow morning we’ll have that available, as well. We have several courses coming up. Chris mentioned Religious Myths and Visions of America, so if you want to know more about the book, you can take an entire course with Christopher Buck starting next Sunday when it launches. And you need to buy the book in order to be able to take the course, but it should be really quite an exciting opportunity to expand on the details we just heard about and learn about these myths in more detail. We also have a webinar, our first one on Tablet of the Branch: two video presentations, one week apart, with a chance to study in between. That one you have to pay for. It’s $50. $75 to start a group, and then $20 for the second, third, fourth member of the group as well. And on the 15th of May, we’re starting a brand new course called Writing Biographies and Histories. If you’ve ever wanted to write an account of your life, your pioneering, the life of an amazing Baha’i you’ve met, the creation of your local Baha’i community, the election of your local assembly, some other event of that sort, this course will be perfectly designed for you, and we have five faculty who are very interested in helping you learn how to write, or at least improve your ability to write, biographies. Just as a reminder, wilmetteinstitute.org is our website. We have a YouTube channel which you can subscribe to. You can always call us at 877-WILMETTE. And on June 7th will be our sixth web talk. Sandra Hutchison will be speaking on what every reader of the Baha’i Writings needs to know. She’s been offering our course on Studying the Baha’i Writings and has many detailed suggestions about how to read the texts successfully and deeply in order to ferret out the meaning. So that is the end of our presentation today, our broadcast, which by the way is coming from the basement of the House of Worship and Wilmette. Boyd and I are both here because today is the day of the dedication of the Visitor’s Center, and both of us are going to be going over to the Visitor’s Center and seeing that in a few minutes. You’ll be able to see more about that, I’m sure, on the web very soon. We want to thank everybody for participating in this web talk today, and we look forward to seeing you in the future in our courses and at our upcoming web talks. Thank you, very much.

4 Replies to ““God and Apple Pie: Religious Myths and Visions of America” | Chris Buck”

  1. You can learn more about the upcoming course on the subject here.  Course begins May 10. http://www.cvent.com/events/religious-myths-and-visions-of-america/event-summary-0230243a6dc04bafa77d8363cb48e250.aspx

  2. Book can be purchased at Barnes and Noble. http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/god-apple-pie-christopher-buck/1121803323?ean=9781891928154&isbn=9781891928154

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