On 24 July 1847, Brigham Young, the Mormon prophet, entered the Salt Lake Valley with the first company of Latter-day Saint pioneers. They had endured an arduous trek across the American plains after having been forcibly driven from Nauvoo, Illinois. Entering the Salt Lake Valley, Latter-day Saints expressed both bitterness and joy.
Beginning in the early 1960s, a Calvinist scholar named Rousas John Rushdoony started a movement called “Christian Reconstruction.” Rushdoony sought to develop a “biblical worldview” in which every aspect of life is governed by biblical law from the Old and New Testaments. The movement has been influential in some very conservative corners of American Christianity, especially the religious right.
Guns, ammunition, bootlegged liquor, illegal drugs, counterfeit cash—these are the most common objects that generations of smugglers have carried across the US-Mexico border. Historians of the borderlands, as well as residents of the area, know that government agents on both sides of the line have never been able to gain complete control over this type of trafficking, despite their best efforts. And so, from the late nineteenth century to the present day, the borderlands have been portrayed in popular culture as a site of sin and dissolution, contraband and illicit trade.
Are Christians persecuted in America? For most of us this seems like a preposterous question; a question that could only be asked by someone ginning up anger with ulterior motives. No doubt some leaders do intentionally foster this persecution narrative for their own purposes, and it’s easy to dismiss the rhetoric as hyperbole or demagoguery, yet there are conservative Christians all across the country who genuinely believe they experience such persecution.
Award-winning director Liz Garbus has made a compelling, if sometimes troubling, documentary about a compelling and troubling figure—the talented and increasingly iconic performer, Nina Simone. The title, What Happened, Miss Simone?, comes from an essay that Maya Angelou wrote in 1970. In the opening seconds of the film, excerpts from Angelou’s words appear: “Miss Simone, you are idolized, even loved, by millions now. But what happened, Miss Simone?”
Election Day is more than a year away, yet already the presidential campaigns have begun. Given previous contests, we should most likely expect a good deal of disingenuous diatribes and debates—some of it from the candidates, and even more of it from their supporters. In anticipation of the coming ugliness, it seems as good a time as any to learn something about civil disagreement and the possibilities of persuasion from an unlikely source: the Puritans.
John Paul Jones died in Paris on this day in 1792, lonely and forgotten by the country he helped bring into existence. Shortly before his death, he began to lose his appetite. Then his legs began to swell, and then his abdomen, making it difficult for him to button his waistcoat and to breath.
In the months leading up to the 2012 presidential election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, a few media outlets reinforced the public perception that Mormons (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) were mostly white. Jimmy Kimmel asked on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, “Are there black Mormons? I find that hard to believe.”
Amid Fourth of July parades and fireworks, I found myself asking this: why do we call this day ‘Independence Day’ rather than ‘Revolution Day?’ The short answer,of course, is that on 4 July, we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a day that has been commemorated since 1777.
“When I went to the Iv’ry Coast, about thirty years ago, I remember coming off the plane and just being assaulted with not only the heat but the color.” These were the first words of the most moving story I have ever heard—but it wasn’t the story I was there to collect. For me, the best oral histories are the ones that sound a human chord, stories that blur the spaces between historically significant narrative and personal development.
On 9 July 1755, British troops under the command of General Edward Braddock suffered one of the greatest disasters of military history. Braddock’s Defeat, or the Battle of the Monongahela, was the most important battle prior to the American Revolution, carrying with it enormous consequences for the British, French, and Native American peoples of North America.
Just as in Clarence Darrow’s day, the death penalty continues to be practiced in many American states. Yet around the world, the majority of nations no longer executes their prisoners, showing increasing support for the abolition of capital punishment. Recently, in December 2014, when the United Nations General Assembly introduced a resolution calling for an international moratorium on the use of the death penalty, a record 117 countries voted in favor of abolition, while only 38 nations, including the United States, voted against it.
On the Fourth of July, Americans will celebrate Independence Day at picnics, concerts, fireworks displays, and gatherings of many kinds, and they almost always sing. “America the Beautiful” will be popular, and so will “Our County, ’Tis of Thee” and of course the national anthem, “Star-Spangled Banner” (despite its notoriously unsingable tune). The words are so familiar that, really, no one pays attention to their meaning. But read them closely and be surprised how the lyrics describe the meaning of America in three very different ways.
Like many, I’m still digesting the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision—not just its text, but its personal and social significance. When I wrote Debating Same-Sex Marriage with Maggie Gallagher (Oxford University Press, 2012), only a handful of states permitted same-sex couples to marry. In the three years since, that handful grew to dozens; last Friday’s decision grows it to all 50. One striking thing about the decision itself is the importance of the definitional question: What is marriage?
What truly awaits us on the ‘other side?’ From heaven to hell (and everything in between), our conceptions of the afterlife are more likely to be shaped by shows like The Walking Dead than biblical scripture. Speculation about death, it seems, has permeated every aspect of our everyday experience, manifesting itself in lyrics, paintings, and works of literature.
It was March 17, 1776, the mud season in New England. A Continental officer of high rank was guiding his horse through the potholed streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Those who knew horses noticed that he rode with the easy grace of a natural rider, and a complete mastery of himself.