Righting America

A forum for scholarly conversation about Christianity, culture, and politics in the US
The Righting America Blog | Righting America

White Jesus at Westmont College: The Controversy

by William Trollinger

Image of Jesus from the Nancy Voskuyl Prayer Chapel at Westmont College. Photo courtesy of The Horizon

Last weekend Sue and I were at Westmont College (Montecito CA) for the 18th annual Conversation on the Liberal Arts. The theme of this year’s conference was “High Anxiety: Liberal Arts and the Race to Success,” for which we contributed a paper on the ways in which academic rigor and an interdisciplinary first-year curriculum can actually work against undergraduate anxieties regarding future careers.

Interestingly, we were invited by a small group of Westmont administrators and staff to show up early for an informal conversation regarding the “white Jesus controversy” which has roiled Westmont’s campus community this academic year.

First, some background. In December 1959, Westmont student Nancy Voskuyl died in an automobile accident. She was the daughter of Westmont president Roger Voskuyl, and, as a memorial to her, the Nancy Voskuyl Prayer Chapel was erected on campus. In this chapel there is a stained glass window featuring a Jesus who is light-skinned with Anglo-Saxon facial features, and who is standing on what appears to be North America.

This year “white Jesus” has become a point of contention. In the fall, various notes were taped to the window, pointing out that – to quote one of these notes – “Jesus wasn’t white.” But the controversy picked up steam in early February, when three Westmont students sent a letter to Westmont administrators – which was then posted online with an accompanying petition – in which they expressed concern about the “symbolic and theological impact” of the white Jesus and called for dialogue with the administration and board.

Since then there has been an evening presentation on white privilege at Christian colleges, a faculty forum on both the white Jesus window and the racial climate on campus, and a round-table discussion on “how should we depict Christ on campus?” And the student newspaper, The Horizon, has been filled with articles and responses, starting with a February 14 op-ed piece written by the three students who drafted the letter to administrators. Entitled “Westmont needs to face its White Jesus,” the authors asserted that “this image (and other representations of Jesus as White) comes out of a troubled chapter in the evangelical church’s history,” in which “evangelical Christianity aligned becoming Christian with becoming like White Europeans.” They conclude the article by asserting that

We believe it would be healthy and healing for Westmont to repent of colonialist imagery and embrace its commitment to “diversity in a biblical vision of God’s Kingdom.” In our view, removing a White-appearing Jesus from the spiritual heart of Westmont would be a manifestation of Westmont’s commitment to witnessing to the entirety of the kingdom of God, and would therefore be an “act of restorative justice.”

A few weeks later The Horizon devoted an entire issue to the topic. In a thoughtful article entitled,  “A Westmont to belong to,” historian Alister Chapman – author of Godly Ambition: John Stott and the Evangelical Movement – and sociologist Felicia Song praised the students for having “expressed [their] concerns with grace and self-restraint, thanked them for “raising these knotty matters,” and called on the campus community to “see this as an opportunity to live into God’s reconciling work.”

At the other end of the spectrum was an article by Professor Emeritus and Scholar-in-Residence Robert Gundry, entitled “Why objections to a white Jesus are only skin deep.” In this piece Gundry asserted that Jesus “may well have been fair-skinned,” asked if the authors of the petition and op-ed would really have us “conclude that all non-whites suffer oppression at the hands of whites?,” and complained that “to darken the skin of Jesus . . . would spoil the symbolism of his identifying himself with Nancy Voskuyl.” He even invoked a very familiar trope:

My first friends and playmates were exclusively black as black can be. My later friends and colleagues were often Hispanic. Knowing them as I have, I can’t take seriously – or as accurate – the OpEd’s implication that for them as people of color “salvation became about being or becoming White.”

So, what did we have to say to the administrators and staff persons with whom we met? In keeping with Chapman and Song, we noted that we were impressed with how articulate and thoughtful the student complainants were, especially as regards calling on Westmont College to live up to its stated commitments. More than this, these students were simply and rightly pointing out the ways in which “whiteness” remains the default position not only at Westmont, but within white evangelicalism (and not only white evangelicalism!) in the United States.

But what to do about the stained glass window? We acknowledged the fact that it is the job of college administrators to keep the institution afloat; given that many of the parents and donors supporting Westmont (and supporting other evangelical colleges) are conservative evangelicals/fundamentalists, it would be financially risky (without the savviest of rhetorical campaigns) to replace or alter the chapel window. That said, what about adding – in the chapel and/or other central locations on campus – a variety of ethnically diverse portrayals of Jesus? Why not add a black or brown Jesus in the chapel?

But that leads to a final point that I don’t think we made in our meeting. Evangelical colleges are forever trying to thread the needle, moving to become more progressive (or, better put, more Gospel-oriented) while at the same time not alienating their fundamentalist constituency. Will there be an evangelical college that simply decides to quit “looking over the right shoulder” and instead remake itself in the hopes of creating a new constituency?

Given the rapidly changing demographics of white evangelicalism in the US, this seems to us to be a crucial 21st-century question for evangelical colleges and universities.

Deciphering Glacial Change on the Tibetan Plateau during the Holocene

by Shuang-Ye Wu

And now, some actual science on global warming.

Dr. Shuang-Ye Wu is a climatologist working in the Department of Geology at University of Dayton.  Her research focuses on how climate change alters the hydrologic cycle and the consequent precipitation patterns. In particular, she is interested in changes in extreme events such as extreme storms, floods and droughts.  Dr. Wu has published 36 papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and obtained grants from NSF, EPA and other funding agencies. Dr. Wu obtained her Master and PhD degrees from Cambridge University in UK, majoring in environmental geography. She is currently teaching courses in the Earth system science, climate change, and geographic information systems at UD.

This post summarizes work she and colleagues at Nanjing University (where she is affiliated as a visiting professor) will be doing over the next four years thanks to a $552,620 grant from the National Natural Science Foundation of China. 

The Tibetan Plateau (Figure 1) is often referred to as the “water tower of Asia,” because of the large number of high mountain glaciers that form the headwaters of major river systems (e.g., Yangtze, the Yellow River, Mekong, Brahmaputra, Ganga, Indus, and Tarim) which supply water for irrigation, power and drinking water for over 1.4 billion people. These glaciers act as an important reservoir and buffer against drought in the world’s most populated region. During the past few decades, most of the Tibetan glaciers have experienced reduction in length, surface area and volume due to increasing temperature in this region. Recession of the Tibetan glaciers varies spatially, with the most significant retreat in the Himalayas, while there is a slight mass gain in the Karakoramglaciers in the northwest.

World Topographic Map, 2001. Wikimedia Commons.

The state of a glacier is controlled by its mass balance, i.e., the difference in ice input from snowfall and ice output from melt. If the input is consistently greater than the output over a period of time, a glacier will get bigger (i.e. advance); otherwise, it will get smaller (retreat). Mass balance of a glacier is largely controlled by climate factors, in particular temperature (which affects the output) and precipitation (which affects the input).  Although climatic change could affect the glacial mass balance instantly, the glacier extent (i.e. size) responds to changes in mass balance with a delay of decades to centuries depending on such factors as glacier size, surface slope, direction and debris cover. This delayed response makes it difficult to attribute an observed glacier change to any specific change in the climate, particularly when long-term glacial change data are lacking. Most of the observation data for glacial change are based on satellite images and in-situ measurements obtained during the past several decades, and little is known for glacial change on the Tibetan Plateau on the long time scales (e.g., millennial or longer).

Past glacial advances can often be reconstructed from mapping and dating sediments deposited by past glaciers (moraines) and from proglacial lakes. However, past glacial retreats are more difficult to detect because traces of minimum extents are now buried underneath modern glaciers. Recently, a new approach was developed to assess minimal glacier extent by determining the glacier basal ice age, which is interpreted as indicative of ice-free conditions at the time. In a recent project funded by the Natural Science Foundation of China, we propose to apply this approach to establish past glacial retreats on the Tibetan Plateau. Combined with previous data of glacial advances, this new information will allow us to examine how glaciers respond to climate change during the Holocene (~ 11000 calendar years ago to the present).

In this study, we propose to drill ice cores to bedrock and collect sediment samples at various locations on four glaciers over the Tibetan Plateau, in order to explore changes of glacial extent during the Holocene. They include: Cho Oyu in the Himalayas, Zangser Kangri in the central Tibetan Plateau, Shule Nanshan in the Qilian Mountains, and Chongce in the western Kunlun Mountains (Figure 2). After field samples are collected, we will determine accurately the ages of the sub-glacial sediment samples, terminal and periglacial sediment samples, as well as the bottom age of the ice cores drilled from the glaciers. These bottom ages suggest previous smaller than present glacial extents at various times during the Holocene because of the absence of older ice at the studied sites. Based on this assumption, we will estimate the glacier reduction by applying GIS and spatial statistics methods during the bottom ages (which are estimated to be around 6000-9000 years ago based on previous studies). Together with the time series of the quaternary glacial advance events, we will re-examine the previously suggested asynchronous glaciation on Milankovitch timescales over the Tibetan Plateau. We will also update the Holocene climate reconstruction over the study region, and decipher the glacial responses to the past climatic conditions on the long time scale that extends far beyond the instrumental period. Our results will have important implications for the prediction of the glacier fluctuations over the Tibetan Plateau in the near future with anthropogenic global warming.

Tibetan Plateau: Modern topographical map of the Tibetan Plateau and the surrounding region showing areas of low (green) to high (red and white) elevation. Credit: Darekk2, GLOBE, and ETOPO1, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Past is the Present: Henry Ford’s Campaign Against the Jews

by William Trollinger

Near the end of Black Reconstruction, that brilliant 1935 historical study that was decades ahead of books written by white historians, W. E. B. DuBois eloquently observed that

nations reel and stagger on their way; they make hideous mistakes; they commit frightful wrongs; they do great and beautiful things . . . And shall we not best guide humanity by telling the truth about all this, so far as the truth is ascertainable? (714)

But the mayor of Dearborn, Michigan would beg to differ with DuBois.

100 years ago, in January 1919, automobile mogul and world-famous celebrity Henry Ford purchased the Dearborn Independent. Within a few months, and as heralded with the headline, “The International Jew: The World’s Problem,” Ford turned this little paper over to the most vicious sort of anti-Semitism. Over the next few years, articles in the Independent blamed the “Jewish menace” for any and all problems in American life (even problems in major league baseball), and again and again attacked an alleged Jewish cabal for its manipulation of the world’s finances and culture for its own nefarious purposes. In this vein Ford also publicized The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian forgery which purported to provide the details of how, since the time of Christ, a covert Jewish conspiracy was at work in an effort to control the globe.

It turns out that there was an audience for anti-Semitic hate speech, as the Dearborn Independent soon had nearly one million subscribers. More than this, Ford’s publishing company took many of these articles, reprinted them in four books (collectively known as The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem), and sold them across the globe.

None of this is news to historians. But it is also true that dark stories from America’s past are all-too-conveniently forgotten, and so they must be retold. So on the 100th anniversary of Henry Ford purchasing the Dearborn Independent, esteemed Michigan journalist Bill McGraw told the above story in The Dearborn Historian, a tiny quarterly magazine published by the city’s historical commission and co-edited by McGraw.

Or, I should say, McGraw was going to tell the story in The Dearborn Historian, of which he was the co-editor. The mayor squelched the issue and had McGraw removed from his post, explaining that

We want Dearborn to be understood as it is today – a community that works hard at fostering positive relationships . . . This edition of The Historian could become a distraction from our continuing messages of inclusion and respect.

Fostering inclusion and respect requires pretending that exclusion and hate never happened? It seems likely that Dearborn’s mayor was much more concerned about protecting the image of Dearborn’s favorite son. (Of course, the mayor failed to take into account that squelching the article meant it would come out elsewhere).

As suggested by the Dearborn Independent’s circulation numbers, Henry Ford’s campaign of anti-Semitism had a significant impact here in the United States. For one thing, it is thanks to Ford’s newspaper and books that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion became very popular in certain corners of American culture. To give just one example, in the early 1930s William Bell Riley – the organizing genius behind American fundamentalism – turned to the Protocols for his guide to world affairs. As I noted in God’s Empire: William Bell Riley and Midwestern Fundamentalism, Riley (who was not alone among American fundamentalists in his vicious anti-Semitism) found in the Protocols the evidence that Jews were determined to establish a “king despot of Zion” who

would have absolute control of the world’s finances, education, press, and courts, and would establish a uniform atheistic religion to which all people would be required to adhere. (72)

But Ford’s campaign of anti-Semitism also had a horrific global impact. The International Jew – which was first published in German in 1922 – was very popular in Germany, and proved to be an ideological inspiration for the Nazi Party. In 1931 Adolf Hitler gave an interview to a Detroit News reporter from his office, which had on the wall a huge portrait of Henry Ford. Asked about the portrait, Hitler replied that “I owe my inspiration to Henry Ford.” Ford was rewarded in 1938 – just after the German Army invaded Austria – with the Grand Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle, the highest award given to foreigners by the Third Reich.

And Ford’s legacy continues to this day, as Bill McGraw discovered in his research on The Dearborn Independent. As journalist Anna Clark noted in her Columbia Journalism Review article on the squelching of McGraw’s article,

McGraw ties Ford’s legacy to the present-day hate that has been exposed in Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, and beyond. “I was totally blown away by how active Ford is” in online white supremacist forums, Mc Graw says. The industrialist is mentioned “hundreds of thousands of times.” McGraw noticed that people who appeared to be “new to the movement” were encouraged by Ford’s status, which they saw as giving legitimacy to their views. “Hey, look at this incredible American, this global celebrity: he thinks like us,” is how McGraw summarizes the posts.

Pretending that “hideous mistakes” and “frightful wrongs” did not happen does not eliminate the hideous and frightful from our past. Especially when it turns out that the past is not even past.

(Thanks to my colleague and friend John Inglis for pointing me to the Dearborn story.)

Creationists Deny Global Warming (or, Deny that Global Warming Matters); The Bible Tells Them So

by William Trollinger

“station fire – residents evacuate briggs terrace” by Anthony Citrano is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It sounds as if it comes straight from the Exxon public relations machine, except for the bizarre biblical twist.

According to the young Earth creationists at Answers in Genesis (AiG), anti-Christian leftists are fueling a global warming panic, calling for expensive and un-American regulations on energy companies that will ruin our economy while also harming the poor. All this while there is little evidence for global warming, and all this while significant global warming – if actually true –  would improve life on the planet.

These assertions are in keeping with the Koch brothers, and in keeping with the longstanding commitment of many or most evangelicals to unfettered capitalism.

But because the folks at AiG are young Earth creationists, they go beyond standard right-wing fare to claim that global warming denial is grounded in biblical truth. To be specific, they argue that to deny global warming is in keeping with reading the first eleven chapters of Genesis as literally true, and in keeping with the ongoing battle of true Christians v. mainstream biology and geology. As one AiG contributor put it,

Global warming is an arena where the battle between biblical truth and evolutionary truths is currently raging.

According to AiG, climate history is the story of dramatic, sometimes horrific, changes. The most dramatic example is the global Flood, which is described in Genesis 6-8, which took place 3400 years ago or so, and which may have killed 20 billion people. This particular massive climate change was – so the young Earth creationists claim – almost immediately followed by other deadly climate changes, in the form of the (one and only) Ice Age and then (when things warmed up) massive flooding.

In short, climate history is the history of catastrophes. In an article entitled “Global Warming — Normal in an Abnormal World,” Ken Ham argues that “the earth’s climate has gone through major periods of change, and a fifth change is coming [and] in every case, humans did not produce the change directly.” Echoing the language of dispensational premillennialism, in which history is divided into separate dispensations (each of which ends with God’s judgment), Ken Ham argues that we can divide climate history into the pre-Flood Earth, the Flood, the Ice Age, and the Warming Earth (our contemporary age). As regards the future, and borrowing explicitly from dispensational premillennialism:

A fifth period of major climate change is coming – the final and most dramatic change: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). After this time Christians will live in new heavens and a new earth that will remain perfect forever.

As another AiG contributor has observed,

These climate variations should not surprise us or cause undue alarm. We know that God is holding the earth together until the day of His final judgment, and nothing can destroy it until He dissolves it Himself.

No need to fret about global warming. Divine destruction is nigh. Time to chill.

And thanks to Joe Arrendale, my graduate assistant and a doctoral student at the University of Dayton, for his work of gathering and summarizing the AiG climate change articles.

Creationists Deny Global Warming (or, Deny that Global Warming Matters): Part 3

by William Trollinger

“station fire – residents evacuate briggs terrace” by Anthony Citrano is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As Ken Ham proclaims again and again, the crisis facing Western civilization is the  “gender revolution” :

The West has increasingly abandoned God’s Word – and the truth that we’re created male and female that is abundantly clear in Scripture (Genesis 1:27) as well as biologically obvious – and the results are more chaos and an environment where evil can flourish.

We need to be alarmed – even frightened – by the “gender revolution.”

But when it comes to global warming, Answers in Genesis (AiG) has a message for us: it’s time to chill. There is no conclusive evidence that the Earth is warming; even if it is warming it is not because of us and it is not significant; but even if the Earth is warming significantly, that may very well be a good thing (given the possible bumper crops in northern Canada and – with the melting of the ice — the increased Arctic shipping).

So, if global warming is not happening or it is not happening much or it is really happening but that’s a good thing, why all the global warming alarmism?

That’s simple. It is the product of an anti-Christian, anti-Western, anti-capitalist political correctness promoted by folks (like Al Gore) who also want to make lots of money from the global warming scare.

But that is not the whole story. According to AiG, not only is global warming alarmism politically and economically driven, it also – and here’s argument #5 on behalf of denying that we should do anything about global warming – badly hurts the poor. Placing restrictions on energy corporations not only limits the freedom of corporations to do what they want to do, but it also means  “increased costs of producing food, powering vehicles, and heating and cooling homes”  such that “lower-income families, especially in less-developed countries, would be hit especially hard.” According to one AiG author, carbon regulation “could actually cause suffering in some nations where resources would be better spent feeding the poor.”

In making this argument that efforts to combat global warming actually hurts those at the bottom of the economic ladder, the folks at AiG draw upon Calvin Beisner. Beisner is the head of the Cornwall Alliance, an organization that spreads the message of global-warming denial among evangelicals. As quoted by AiG, Beisner (“a respected environmental expert”) has pronounced that “the policies that are being promoted to fight global warming not only will not make a difference . . . but also will have a great harmful impact on the world’s poor.”

For all of Beisner’s concern for the poor, he fails to mention that much of the funding for his Cornwall Alliance has come from the Donor’s Trust (an organization with close ties to the Koch brothers) as well as from the Exxon-Mobil corporation. Is Beisner more concerned with the poor, or his fossil fuel funders?

And what about AiG? What is its investment in denying global warming? And how does their global warming denial square with their theology? That’s the topic of the next post.

And thanks to Joe Arrendale, my graduate assistant and a doctoral student at the University of Dayton, for his work of gathering and summarizing the AiG climate change articles.

Is the Creation Museum Changing Its Story?

by Patrick Thomas

Last week I had the great fortune of visiting the Creation Museum for the third time.  As I’m currently on sabbatical, I was eager to visit the museum now that I finally have the time to explore some new writing projects, one of which stems from a post I’d written a few years ago for the Righting America blog on a particular part of the Creation Museum, the Wonders Room.  I’m especially interested in the role this room plays at the museum as a kind of antechamber to the Creation Museum’s pièce de résistance, the starting point for the museum’s 7 C’s – the garden of Eden. 

Unfortunately, I was unable to see the Wonders Room on this visit. In fact, I’m not entirely sure the Wonders Room still exists.  This is because the Creation Museum is doing some major renovations to, by my estimation, approximately 25% of the museum displays (half of the displays on the first floor). 

Some of the changes are subtle and would be unremarkable for new visitors.  For instance, in the Main Hall, the museum previously housed a series of six displays depicting scientific evidence for biblical creation, including live finches (used to make a creationist case for speciation), chameleons (used as evidence for intelligent design), poison dart frogs (used to show how the fall of creation introduced harm into the world), and various plants, fungi, and fossils. All of these are gone.  

In a space with so much artifice – historical replicas, mannequins, animatronics, fake plants, etc., it’s sad to see the museum lose some of the more natural displays, although removing them doesn’t seem like a major change. 

More remarkable is that all of the rooms leading to the Garden of Eden are no longer accessible, including the Paleontologist Dig Site display, the Starting Points room, Graffiti Alley, Culture in Crisis, the Six Days Theater, and the Wonders Room. Instead, visitors follow a narrow hallway leading directly from the Main Hall to the Garden of Eden. Along the hall, the left wall features some placards from the Starting Points room, and the right wall features small, temporary signs affirming the authority of the Bible in rendering Earth’s history.

Certainly, it’s not uncommon for a museum to change displays.  Museums of all kinds have rotating or visiting exhibitions. The Creation Museum also has items on loan from the Museum of the Bible. But that’s not the kind of work the Creation Museum is doing now. And it’s more than one exhibit – the first eight rooms of the Creation Museum are under reconstruction. Talk about different starting points!

Some of the changes at the Creation Museum (for instance, the newer $5 parking charge) are negligible to the experience at the museum, the changes underway raise an important question about the legitimacy of the Creation Museum’s claim about offering a literal reading of Genesis: if the reading of the Bible that the Creation Museum offers is literally true, if the message of the Creation Museum presents a perspicuous teaching of God’s Word, why revise it? What divinely inspired purpose would such revisions fulfill? And whose agenda is served by augmenting or otherwise refashioning the museum?  

Okay – that’s three questions. 

But to my mind, these questions require answers. The Creation Museum is, purportedly, a museum of earthly history – the history of a young Earth.  Are the revisions of the Creation Museum an indication that this history has changed? Or, perhaps, is Answers in Genesis in need of a new story to tell at the Creation Museum?

We’ll have to wait for a few more months to see the changes at the Creation Museum, but for now AiG is raising more questions than answers.

Creationists Deny Global Warming (or, Deny that Global Warming Matters): Part 2

by William Trollinger

Last week Climate Central – a group of scientists and journalists that research and publicize facts about and impacts of climate change – put out a report entitled “Climate Pile-Up: Global Warming’s Compounding Dangers.” According to this report, there are a variety of ways in which global warming produces “compounding threats”:

Greenhouse gas emissions increase atmospheric temperature, in turn boosting the capacity of the air to hold moisture. Combined with the heat, that enhances the evaporation of water from soil. In drier areas, these processes can result in drought, boost heat waves, and ripen the conditions for wildfires. In places that are commonly wet, on the other hand, heightened water evaporation results in excess rain – which can fall on saturated soil and lead to floods. In the oceans, meanwhile, warmer water evaporates faster, potentially increasing wind speeds and boosting the downpours released by hurricanes, whose surges can be aggravated by sea level rise.

And given the warming trajectory, things are going to get much worse, and soon, unless humans make “deep cuts to warming emissions.”

So comes the word from actual climate scientists. Then there’s Ken Ham and his band of young Earth creationists at Answers in Genesis (AiG), who confidently report that global warming is not a calamitous crisis, or even a significant problem worth addressing.

As I noted in part 1 of this series, “Ken Ham and AiG approach global warming . . . with a cascade of arguments that often seem to conflict with each other.” Having worked through 35 AiG articles on the topic, I have been able to identify seven basic arguments, and I have organized them from what seems less important to them (i.e., matters of science) to what seems more important (i.e., matters related to politics and the Bible).

As discussed in the last blog post, the first three arguments are as follows:

  1. There is no conclusive evidence that the Earth is warming.
  2. But if the Earth is warming, it is not significant, and it is not because of us.
  3. But if the Earth is warming and it is significant, that may very well be a good thing.

Evidence provided to support argument #3 includes easier shipping in the Arctic as the ice melts (what about New Orleans?), increased agricultural production in northern Canada (what about Nebraska?), and the fact that more people die of cold than heat (the hotter it is, the better for human longevity?)

And there is the argument that the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will result in “increased crop yields and enhanced forest growth.” It turns out that this argument is also a favorite of William Happer, who apparently has just been appointed to head Trump’s panel on climate change and national security (even though he has no expertise in climate science). According to Happer, “the demonization of carbon dioxide . . . [is] just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler.”

Trivializing the Holocaust should be beyond anyone’s moral pale. But the suggestion that folks concerned about global warming are driven by a Nazi-like political correctness is actually in keeping with one of AiG’s favorite arguments:

4. Anti-global warming activists are driven by politics and greed.

Anti-global warming activists believe Big Government “is responsible for [our] salvation,” even though their proposed governmental regulations would be very “cost[ly] to individuals and businesses,” and even though – in the end – a full-scale attack on global warming “is more likely to ruin the economies of first-world nations than make any significant impact.”  But these hysterically uninformed activists are driven by a “desire to change our way of life, and in particular, the Christian worldview that has guided the Western Hemisphere,” and they are supported by liberal journalists and celebrities who promote their global warming propaganda. The anti-global warming activists want to muzzle all those who “are uncomfortable with the politically correct version of the man-made global warming crisis,” to the point of wanting to criminalize dissent. All the while “there is big money in climate change issues” for climate change scientists and businesses, and especially for climate change cheerleader Al Gore.

In the 35 AiG articles I examined there is nary a word about the “big money” made by fossil fuel corporations, and nary a word about the millions of dollars these corporations are spending to persuade us that the earth is not warming. Whether or not any of their money is going to AiG, the Koch brothers et al. certainly have to love AiG’s message. More on this in the next post.      

And thanks to Joe Arrendale, my graduate assistant and a doctoral student at the University of Dayton, for his work of gathering and summarizing the AiG climate change articles.

Creationists Deny Global Warming (or that Global Warming Matters): Part 1

by William Trollinger

A few days ago, the New York Timesran an article by David Wallace-Wells, author of the forthcoming book, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. In his article, “Time to Panic,” Wells points out that 

The age of climate panic is here. Last summer, a heat wave baked the entire Northern Hemisphere, killing dozens from Quebec to Japan. Some of the most destructive wildfires in California history turned more than a million acres to ash, along the way melting the tires and sneakers of those trying to escape the flames. Pacific hurricanes forced three million people in China to flee and wiped away almost all of Hawaii’s East Island.

Wallace-Wells argues that while “we have probably squandered the opportunity to avert two degrees of [global] warming,” through collective action on the part of “communities, states, nations,” as well as “international agreements,” we “can avert three degrees and certainly all the terrifying suffering that lies beyond that threshold.”

Not everybody agrees that global warming is a cataclysmic crisis, or even a problem we must address. Take, for example, Ken Ham and his fellow young Earth creationists at Answers in Genesis (AiG).

When it comes to what AiG has to say about global warming, I am struck by the similarities with the infamous “Gish Gallop.” Named for creationist Duane Gish, who often employed the approach in debates with evolutionists, it is “a technique used during debating that focuses on overwhelming an opponent with as many arguments as possible, without regard for accuracy or strength of the arguments.” 

This is precisely how Ken Ham and AiG approach global warming, with a cascade of arguments that often seem to conflict with each other. But what is great about print – be it blog posts or magazine articles or even museum plaques – is that you can slow it down, you can take the time to see what precisely is being argued.

In reviewing approximately 35 AiG articles on the topic of climate change, I have identified seven basic arguments that Ham and company make regarding global warming. Over the next few posts I will work through these arguments, proceeding from what seems to be less important to the young Earth creationists (i.e., science) to what is more important (i.e., politics and the Bible). 

1. There is no conclusive evidence that the Earth is warming.

The science regarding global warming is still in its infancy, and the mathematical models that have been developed “are not yet useful.” Not only has the change in temperature been very modest over the past century, and “the earth really isn’t warming up as predicted,” but there is some evidence that it was “a little warmer, particularly in the northern hemisphere” in the years between 950 and 1250 than it is today. In fact, it could be that, instead of global warming, what we are seeing today are signs of global cooling.

2. But if the Earth is warming, it is not significant, and it is not because of us.

If there has been global warming, the “amount of warming has been slight, officially about 1.6 F since 1880,” and even that amount seems to be an exaggeration. Not only has this “slight global warming” had “no detectable effect on any severe weather phenomenon,” but whatever global warming has taken place, the fact is that “man’s contribution is slight, and not enough manmade warming has occurred to panic over.” Instead, as noted in an AiG article entitled “Is Man the Cause of Global Warming?,” there are “natural causes of climate change,” including volcanic eruptions, El Nino, and sunspots.

3. But if the Earth is warming and it is significant, that may very well be a good thing.

For one thing, “global warming will save the lives of many people, since many more people die of the cold than die of the heat.” More than this, the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has resulted and will result in “increased crop yields and enhanced forest growth.” More than this, “Canadian farmers could harvest bumper crops” where they can’t now, and there “would be increased shipping in the Arctic Ocean,” thanks to the melting of the ice. 

There is no reference to the fact that bumper crops in northern Canada would suggest less than bumper crops in, say, Kansas. Perhaps Kansans should begin to migrate to the Yukon. But as regards coastal cities affected by the melting of Arctic ice, the suggestion is that people should “slowly move inland or build more and higher dikes.”

Encouraging words from AiG. More on young Earth creationists denying global warming (or denying that it is a problem) in my next post.

And thanks to Joe Arrendale, my graduate assistant and a doctoral student at the University of Dayton, for his work of gathering and summarizing the AiG climate change articles.

The Red Summer: 100 Years Ago, Part Two

by William Trollinger

1919 was quite the dreadful year. The Red Scare, and the Red Summer.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library. “Whites stoning Negro to death” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1922. Photo taken during Chicago riots.

In the Red Scare, the federal government targeted immigrants – particularly Russians, Germans, Hungarians, and Italians – for alleged radical activities, even deporting some to the Soviet Union. But the U.S. government was not only alarmed about immigrants. In 1919, the government was also very worried about African Americans. They were worried even though African Americans played a heroic role in the war effort. Not only had black workers contributed to wartime industrial production – with perhaps 500,000 African Americans moving from the South to cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit to work in the factories – but another 367,000 black soldiers served in Europe. The Army was segregated, and 90% of these African American soldiers were relegated to support roles. But many of those who saw combat served valiantly, most particularly the 369th Infantry Regiment, which was assigned to serve under French command because so many white American soldiers refused to fight alongside black soldiers. These “Harlem Hellfighters” fought the Germans almost continuously for six months, reportedly never giving up a foot of land. The French loved them, referring to them as the “lost children” (having been abandoned by the United States) and awarding 171 members of the regiment the French Legion of Merit.

Having served their country, black soldiers came home determined to seek better treatment for themselves and their race. But they came home to a place that had not changed. The federal government actively supported racial discrimination; for example, President Wilson had segregated federal offices, and he hosted a special White House screening of “Birth of a Nation,” the film celebrating the Ku Klux Klan. This government understood calls for racial equality under the law as dangerously un-American. During the war, the government’s gigantic espionage effort had included spying on a variety of black leaders as well as organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. After the war, the federal government – particularly J. Edgar Hoover and the anti-Radical Division – ratcheted up the surveillance of African Americans. African Americans who talked and wrote against racial oppression had their publications monitored, their phones tapped, their mail opened, their organizations and audiences infiltrated by spies. Racial equality was not only a frightening idea. It was Bolshevik. As Attorney General Palmer said before Congress in 1919, “’practically all of the radical organizations in this country have looked upon the Negroes as particularly fertile ground for the spreading of their doctrines . . .’ As a consequence, ‘the Negro is seeing red’” (Kornweibel, xii-xiv).

One black World War I veteran plaintively wrote: “America, will you let us fall?/After we so bravely answered your call?/Now why! Oh why! Is Freedom’s Door/Closed against us as it was before?” (McWhirter, 14). The answer was yes. In 1919, there was a renewed commitment to white dominance, a commitment that included the willingness to use the most horrific forms of violence to keep black people in their place. 84 African Americans were lynched in 1919. Black soldiers in uniform were favorite targets, the fear being that serving in the war had led them to forgetting that their place was at the bottom of American society. In one Georgia town, a uniformed soldier was dragged off a train by fifty whites, taken to the woods, shot, and then hacked into little pieces. In another Georgia town, a soldier was ordered by a white mob to take off his uniform and never wear it again; refusing the order, he was summarily executed. Often the explanation for a lynching was that a black man had made improper advances to a white woman. In Vicksburg, Mississippi 23-year-old Lloyd Clay was falsely accused of entering a white girl’s bedroom; while the sheriff stood by puffing on a cigar, Clay was covered with oil, set aflame, and raised onto a tree, where a crowd of a thousand whites took pot shots at him, and children cried for a piece of Clay’s charred finger.  In Ellisville, Mississippi white citizens placed newspaper ads announcing the forthcoming burning of a black man who supposedly assaulted a white woman. The mayor and governor said they had no power to stop it, and a crowd of 3000 simultaneously burned and hanged their victim.

In the “Red Summer” of 1919, there were also 34 race riots, most involving whites attacking blacks while public officials stood by (at least, until blacks fought back). These riots took place north and south, in places such as Omaha, Charleston, Washington DC, San Francisco, Knoxville. In July, a terrible riot broke out in Chicago. Beginning as a conflict on a South Side beach, with the stoning of a black youth swimming in the lake, it quickly escalated when white gangs began pulling African Americans off streetcars and beating them; at the end there were 38 dead, 537 wounded, and 1000 people homeless. But this was not nearly as bad as what happened in Elaine Arkansas, when white landowners – fearful that their sharecroppers were about to unionize – murdered hundreds of African Americans, dumping many of the bodies in the Mississippi River in order to hide the evidence of slaughter.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library. “Wrecked house of a Negro family in riot zone.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1922. Photo taken during Chicago riots.

100 years ago. A dreadful year.

Kornweibel, Jr., Theodore. “Seeing Red”: Federal Campaigns Against Black Militancy, 1919-1925. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

McWhirter, Cameron. Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011.

The Red Scare: 100 Years Ago, Part One

by William Trollinger

In some ways, 2019 looks like 1919. Too much so, actually.

On November 11, 1918, the Great War – with its conflicts across the globe, with its 15 to 18 million dead – officially came to an end. In America there were great celebrations. And yet, the silencing of the guns in Europe was immediately followed by a full-scale culture war in the United States. This culture war exploded on the American scene in 1919, and dominated much of the so-called roaring Twenties. And while this culture war has changed in some details over time, it is a culture war that has never gone away. Massive government surveillance, with little or no attention to constitutional rights; violence against African Americans, often tolerated by and sometimes carried out by government officials; a political groundswell for the mass deportation of immigrants.  

Sound familiar?

In thinking about how the Great War produced culture war in the United States it is important to keep in mind that many (perhaps most) Americans had wanted to stay out of the European conflict. Woodrow Wilson was re-elected president in 1916 thanks in good part to the fact that, as his campaign slogan bragged, “He Kept Us Out of War.”

But within weeks of having been sworn into office Wilson declared war on Germany. To get the American people (reluctant as they were) behind the war effort, the government employed a remarkable propaganda campaign, including posters, billboards, patriotic songs, millions of pamphlets, and 150,000 public speakers touring the nation giving four-minute pro-war speeches. This campaign was designed to demonize the Germans and all those Americans who were not sufficiently patriotic. But the Wilson Administration did not limit itself to a propaganda blitz. A series of laws – the Alien, Espionage, and Sedition Acts – were passed that gave the federal government sweeping powers to silence unpatriotic troublemakers, including the power to imprison for twenty years anyone who used any “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the Constitution . . . , or the military or naval forces . . . , or the flag of the United States.’”

Of course, it would take real work to locate all those Americans who were critical of the war effort. So the federal government implemented a gigantic espionage effort throughout the nation. This espionage effort targeted African Americans, German Americans, immigrants, pacifists, socialists, and union organizers as the most likely to be unpatriotic. And it was an espionage effort that made use of undercover agents from the Office of Naval Intelligence, the army’s Military Intelligence Division, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department, the U.S. Postal Service, and even the U.S. Food Administration. But these were just the government spies. There was an even larger network of volunteer spies, sent forth by organizations such as the Anti-Yellow Dog League, the All-Allied Anti-German League, the Boy Spies of America, the Sedition Slammers, and the American Protective League (APL). The APL alone had 300,000 agents “hidden in the folds of American society, watching, trailing, and taping their bosses, colleagues, employees, neighbors, even the local butcher or their children’s schoolteachers” (Hagedorn, 27-30).

And then, just as the Wilson Administration’s gigantic propaganda effort was really heating up, just as this enormous governmental and volunteer spy apparatus was hitting its stride, the war ended. Not surprisingly, the armistice did not end all that hatred of foreigners, all that obsession with enemies in our midst. Within a few weeks of Armistice Day the obsession with German agents and insufficiently patriotic Americans had been transformed into an obsession with radical foreign ideas – anarchism, socialism, communism – and those Americans who were duped into thinking such un-American thoughts. Thanks to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, communism was the primary obsession, an obsession that immediately made its way into popular culture. For example, there was Bolshevism on Trial, which won the Academy Award for film of the year. Bolshevism on Trial – based on the novel, Comrades, by Thomas Dixon (the same Thomas Dixon who wrote The Clansman, from which comes the movie, The Birth of a Nation) – told the story of an evil communist (the “Chief Comrade”) and his successful plan to convince a wealthy young woman (Barbara) to fund the creation of a communist utopia on an island just off Florida; when Barbara realizes that communism only brings misery and starvation she tries to leave, but the “Chief Comrade” will not let her go. Fortunately, at the last moment Barbara is rescued by the U.S. Navy. The film ends with the red flag coming down the flagpole, and the American flag going up.

Labor unions — their ranks filled by immigrants who were willing to stand up to their capitalist bosses – were viewed as communist-infested. When steelworkers and coal miners and longshoremen and others went on strike in 1919, they were described by newspapers as “red agitators,” dupes “soaked in the doctrines of Bolshevism,” “foreigners” who, “like rats infested with the plague, . . . should be exterminated or driven from the country” (Bennett, 188-189). When workers (as they had done for decades) paraded on May Day in major American cities, they were attacked by patriotic Americans: in Cleveland, Army veterans drove a tank into a peaceful parade of socialist workers. When loggers in Centralia, Washington gathered on armistice day in their International Workers of the World union hall, they were attacked by the American Legion; they fought back, and then were arrested en masse; one worker was taken from his jail cell, castrated, hung from a railroad bridge, and shot repeatedly.

Sometimes when people talk about the 1919 Red Scare they use terms like “popular hysteria,” as if the American people inexplicably endured a brief bout of mental or emotional illness. But this misses the point that this “hysteria” was in good part fomented by the government. States and governors fell all over each other hyping the communist threat, passing a host of laws designed to protect the people from Marxist tyranny (to give one example, 32 states passed laws against the display of red flags). But as in the Great War, the federal government led the way. In 1919 Congress produced a 1200-page report, Bolshevik Propaganda, which claimed that immigrants – particularly Russians, Germans, Hungarians, and Italians – had established Bolshevik “recruiting stations” in 23 American cities. In response, the gigantic espionage network created during the Great War was put to work investigating political radicals, particularly immigrants from eastern Europe. The attorney general, A. Mitchell Palmer created an anti-Radical Division within the Justice Department, and placed 24-year-old J. Edgar Hoover in charge. In November the Justice Department raided union halls and immigrant social clubs throughout America, arresting thousands of “radicals” (some of whom never understood why). At 4.15 AM, December 21, a former army transport ship, the Buford (which came to be known as the Soviet Ark), departed the port of New York with 249 aliens (including, most famously, the anarchist Emma Goldman) for Finland, where they were placed on trains for the Soviet Union. J. Edgar Hoover was on the dock that morning, basking in the publicity and telling the New York Tribune that “other ‘Soviet Arks’ will sail for Europe, just as often as it is necessary to rid the country of dangerous radicals’” (Hagedorn, 413-414).

So it was 100 years ago. Next time: race in 1919 America.

Bennett, David. The Party of Fear: From Nativist Movements to the New Right in American History. New York: Vintage, 1990.

Hagedorn, Ann. Savage Peace: Hope and Fear in America, 1919. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2007.

Righting America Blog Categories

Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to the Righting America blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.