Jolly Old Chaplain
August 27, 2021
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“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” — Voltaire
Jolly Old Chaplain
Several post-graduate schools lay claim to the title “first university” in America., but Harvard just says it’s the “oldest institution of higher education” in America. It was founded in 1636 under church sponsorship, with the intention of training clergy so that the Puritan colony in Massachusetts wouldn’t have to rely on immigrant pastors. In 1638, English minister John Harvard made a deathbed bequest to the school of half his monetary estate and his extensive library; the next year, the name was changed from “New School” to Harvard College. The nascent university wasn’t formally affiliated with any denomination, but all its presidents for the first 70 years were clergymen.
Harvard gradually emancipated itself from religious control to focus on intellectual training and academic scholarship. Known for its emphasis on critical thinking, with the ability to withstand the storms of social change, the college was an early leader in admitting ethnic and religious minorities. It was this environment that permitted a former Catholic clergyman, who’d left the priesthood and abandoned the teachings of the church, to establish the first university Humanist Chaplaincy in the world.
Thomas M. Ferrick spoke about why he’d traded godliness for godlessness. “One doesn’t lose faith overnight in the religion that supported him and inspired him through all his mature years,” he told the Boston Globe in 1973. “It erodes, I think, by virtue of the keen observation of life and the judgment that no earthly authority can assume so wide a competence as the Catholic Church did.” Ferrick began his tenure at Harvard in 1974, one of several chaplains and the only one who wasn’t Catholic, Jewish, or part of a mainstream Protestant denomination. He spent the next 30 years advocating for bringing a spectrum of denominations into Harvard’s chaplaincy. “In retrospect it was ‘knowledge’ that was the engine of my life,” Ferrick told the Harvard Crimson in 2005 as he prepared to retire.
Greg Epstein, who’d been raised in a Jewish household, began serving as a humanist chaplain at Harvard the year Ferrick retired. Epstein spent his time teaching students about the progressive movement that centers people’s relationships with one another instead of with God. Epstein’s now been elected by the university’s organization of chaplains to serve as its next president. Starting this week, the 44-year-old atheist will be coordinating the activities of more than 40 university chaplains, who lead Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Baha’i, Mennonite, Zoroastrian, and other religious communities on campus. “There is a rising group of people who no longer identify with any religious tradition but still experience a real need for conversation and support around what it means to be a good human and live an ethical life,” he says. Epstein is the author of the book Good Without God. (New World Encyclopedia, Boston Globe, NYT)
Tragedy In Kabul
- As America continued its evacuation efforts at Kabul’s airport on Thursday, two Islamic State suicide bombers and gunmen unleashed horror on U.S. troops and about 5,000 Afghans still trying to get on flights out of the country. The attacks killed 11 Marines, a Navy medic, and another American service member, and 18 others were injured.
- More than 60 Afghans were killed, including children, and at least 140 injured. Western officials had warned of the danger and urged people to leave the airport. The attack came just hours later. The IS affiliate in Afghanistan is far more radical than the Taliban, who were not believed to have been involved and even condemned the blasts.
- In an emotional speech from the White house, President Biden said the attackers would not deter the U.S. from concluding its mission to evacuate Americans and others before the end of this month. He also vowed revenge, saying: “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.” (AP News)
Nowhere To Go
- The earthquake in Haiti killed and injured thousands, and wiped away thousands of homes. Now, a more grim reality is setting in for those who survived and were hospitalized — if released, they have nowhere to go.
- 25-year-old Jertha Ylet came to the hospital on August 14, unconscious and with a crushed leg. Her 5-year-old daughter survived unharmed, but her father and two other relatives were killed, her brother seriously injured and her house destroyed. A surgeon had put a metal rod in her lower left leg, but Ylet hadn’t been out of bed or tried to walk since she arrived. Ylet was discharged Thursday — the hospital needed her bed for other patients. “I said to the doctor, ‘I don’t have any place to go,’” Ylet said.
- Medical staff is sympathetic, but pragmatic. The beds are needed. “After someone gets well they have to go.” In the first days after the earthquake, the hospital was overwhelmed with patients. The injured lay on patios and breezeways awaiting care. Now there are still people in those areas, but they’re discharged patients or others never admitted at all but who are coming for the donations of food and water and clothing arriving at the hospital daily. (AP News)
Additional World News
- Climate change: Europe’s 2020 heat reached ‘troubling’ level (BBC)
- In First Interview From Jail, an Upbeat Navalny Discusses Prison Life (NYT, $)
- President Rodrigo Duterte could hold effective power in the Philippines for years to come (WaPo, $)
- Baby girl born on Afghanistan evacuation flight named ‘Reach’ after call sign (The Hill)
- Israel’s Spy Agency Snubbed the U.S. Can Trust Be Restored? (NYT, $)
- Sydney hospitals erect emergency tents as COVID-19 cases hit record (Reuters)
- Global Covid-19 cases plateau after nearly two months of increase, WHO reports (CNN)
Covid Gone Wild Hogs
- Covid Shmovid — nothing stands in the way of a good biker rally, particularly the annual one in Sturgis, South Dakota held two weeks ago. Coincidentally, in the past two weeks, South Dakota has had 3,819 new coronavirus cases, including seven deaths. In the two weeks before the get-together, there were 644 new cases.
- The Sturgis motorcycle rally usually draws around a half million people; this year, there were way more. Meade County Sheriff Ron Merwin said the first few days of the 2021 rally were the busiest he’d ever seen. “There are more people here than in the 31 years I’ve been doing this,” Merwin said at the time. Now, Meade County is reporting a 36% positivity rate for Covid tests being run.
- At least Republican governor Kristi Noem hasn’t wavered in her commitment to keep her state open throughout the pandemic, as she continues to shun mask mandates, criticize public health officials, and insist on holding mass gatherings against CDC recommendations. Noem proudly tells anyone who’ll listen: “I will take every action available under the law to protect South Dakotans from the federal government.” News flash: it’s not the government that’s making your voters sick, Governor. (NBC News, Rapid City Journal)
- Last Sunday’s right-wing protest in Portland, Oregon, that resulted in a gunfight between a white supremacist and an anti-fascist counter-protester, is indicative of escalating violence during contentious rallies in the city. Proud Boys and members of other far-right groups regularly open-carry handguns at rallies taking place across the U.S. Participants in political street-fighting are also firing BBs from airsoft guns, and using paintball guns, firework munitions, and Mace.
- While airsoft and paintball guns might not kill, medical researchers say they pose a significant risk of injury to heads, eyes, and extremities. Last year, there were an estimated 10,080 emergency room visits attributable to non-power guns across the U.S. A new report by two national non-profits showed that over the past 18 months, “armed demonstrations” at which individuals other than police were carrying firearms, were nearly six times as likely to turn violent or destructive compared with unarmed demonstrations. (Guardian, ACLED)
Additional USA News
- Court upholds death sentence for church shooter Dylann Roof (AP)
- Democrats set aggressive timeline to pass Biden’s multitrillion-dollar plans, with pitfalls (NBC)
- Seven US Capitol Police officers sue former President Trump, Stop the Steal organizers over January 6 riot (CNN)
- Half of US workers favor employee shot mandate: AP-NORC poll (AP)
- Fire official says Caldor Fire “has simply outpaced us” as it nears Lake Tahoe (CBS)
- Student-athletes required to wear Covid trackers at Washington state high school (NBC)
- Pandemic windfall for US schools has few strings attached (AP)
The Elephant In The Room
If you missed the opportunity to give your sweetheart what she’s always wanted for Valentine’s Day — an $8,000 champagne dinner and sleepover in Lucy the Elephant — you’ll have to wait until sometime next year for another chance.
The 65-foot-tall, 90-ton wooden elephant in Margate City, New Jersey, is the oldest surviving roadside attraction in America. Lucy was built in 1881 to promote real estate sales and tourism around Atlantic City. She was falling into disrepair and scheduled for demolition in 1970 when the nonprofit Save Lucy Committee took over, moving her to a nearby city-owned lot and completely refurbishing her. But as happens with us all, time kept taking its toll, and after another 50 years, more than 50% of Lucy’s exterior had degraded beyond repair. So, the Save Lucy Committee and Airbnb came up with an idea to raise awareness and maybe add some coins to the facelift jar. Sadly, no one stepped up. Lucy has a splendid interior, but no, uh, indoor facilities.
Architects have determined it would be more cost-effective to replace what is now Lucy’s metal siding than repair it. So the plan is to close up shop September 20 for a $1.4 million overhaul, funded in part by a grant from the Preserve New Jersey Preservation Fund, and donations from kind folks, like those at Airbnb. Hopefully, she’ll once again be receiving wide-eyed visitors by Memorial Day 2022. (Atlantic City Press, AP)
- David Beckham’s soccer club accused of breaking deal to build Florida public park (Guardian)
- Elizabeth Holmes and the Theranos trial: What you need to know (WaPo, $)
- Scientists may find life on Earth-like planets covered in oceans within the next few years (CBS)
- Fossil confiscated in police raid is one of the most complete pterosaurs ever found (CNN)
- This Barnacle-Inspired Glue Seals Bleeding Organs in Seconds (Wired)
- An Australian Sheep Farmer Uses His Animals To Offer A Tribute To His Late Aunt (NPR)
- Fukushima operators to build undersea tunnel to dump contaminated water (Guardian)