Thursday, June 30, 2011

Madonna Mural No More (for now)

The saga of the Surfing Madonna Mural of Encinitas has reached a conclusion (for now).  The artist responsible came forward and supervised its removal.  For now there are no plans to re-install the piece, so it will be sitting in the artist's garage. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A visit to the Surfin' Madonna in Encinitas

We took a quick trip to Encinitas to have a look at the Surfing Mary mosaic.  An up-close examination immediately reveals that the quality of the art is excellent.  And we encountered a constant stream of visitors to the site.  Is it reverential?  Is it poking fun at a religious figure?  Unlike the Mount Soledad Cross, this picture does not seem to be claiming the town for Jesus Christ. Whatever the interpretation, it may eventually find itself removed.  The mosaic enlivens an otherwise drab overpass, but whoever put it up did not go through proper channels and procedures. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Studying the world of secular people

Pitzer College is a small (approx 1000 students) that is part of the Claremont Colleges (a university divided into five colleges).  Located near Los Angeles, it has won some degree of prestige.  The 2011 US News and World Report College Rankings, for example, placed Pitzer College as the 46th overall best liberal arts college.  Now it is adding a department for secular studies, and will probably be the first college to offer a major course of study in secular sociology.  As the founder explains:

“It’s not about arguing ‘Is there a God or not?’ ” Mr. Zuckerman said. “There are hundreds of millions of people who are nonreligious. I want to know who they are, what they believe, why they are nonreligious. You have some countries where huge percentages of people — Czechs, Scandinavians — now call themselves atheists. Canada is experiencing a huge wave of secularization. This is happening very rapidly.
“It has not been studied,” he added.
Will SD Shout come under study?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Another National Day of Prayer has Passed

For those not up-to-date on the world of euche, today was the National Day of Prayer.  Read about this day in previous entries here, here and here.  Joining the commemoration this year was our own Governor Jerry Brown, who issued this:


I ask all Californians to seek out the moving words of our President who has proclaimed May 5, 2011 as a “National Day of Prayer.” President Obama invites “all citizens of our Nation, as their own faith or conscience directs them, to join in giving thanks for the many blessings we enjoy.”

A National Day of Prayer is an occasion for each of us to reflect more deeply on the eternal verities and those matters which transcend our everyday routines. Through prayer, one opens the heart and stills the mind so that the Divine Presence may be directly encountered. 
I encourage Californians to participate in this day in the manner that is most appropriate to their own religious or spiritual beliefs and experience.
NOW THEREFORE I, EDMUND G. BROWN JR., Governor of the State of California, do hereby proclaim May 5, 2011, as a “Day of Prayer” in California.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of the State of California to be affixed this 5th day of May 2011.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Religion makes a public art appearance in Encinitas

A group posing as maintenance workers recently installed an interesting mural under a bridge in Encinitas.  Made to resemble stained glass, it depicts Mary, in the pose of Our Lady of Guadalupe, riding a surfboard in an impressive wave.  The fate of the mural is undecided for now since the anonymous group did not go through city or county channels, and it is therefore basically graffiti.

Religion, along with its stories and figures, is eminently valid material for art.  And unlike the Mount Soledad Easter Cross, this mural is clearly an artistic work rather than a call for public recognition of a religion.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A refresher on the history of some (non-native) religions in San Diego

From a review of San Diego history published in 1908:

Catholics:  San Diego was originally a Catholic mission, later abandoned and Old Town became secularized, and in the late 1840's, according to records, a priest arrived to lead a congregation.  They built a church, and then replaced it in 1858 with the Church of the Immaculate Conception (shown above).  There was a succession of priests, and then Father Antonio Urbach held office from 1866 to 1908.  He oversaw the growth of San Diego from small settlement to town (San Diego City's population in 1860: 771; in 1900: 17,700).  Part of this growth was moving out of Old Town and into St Joseph's Cathedral in what is now downtown (at the time it was "Horton's Addition", located to the west of San Diego).

Protestants:  The first Protestant service was held in Old Town in 1853, led by an Episcopalian army chaplain.  When that Reverend left, services became sporadic as occasional itinerant preachers came through town.  Only in 1868, did a minister arrive to take over.  He cleaned the abandoned army barracks and held services there, until the first Episcopalian church in San Diego went up in 1869 (now the Cathedral Church of St Paul).

At nearly the same time, a succession of Methodist ministers held services in various locations, and then in the first Methodist Church in 1870.  In 1887 they tore that church down and put up a gigantic (for that time) three-story building with mixed use for the church and businesses, and then sold off that building when they outgrew it in 1905.  The First Methodist Episcopal Church opened downtown in 1906, and the congregation then moved to Mission Valley in 1964.  The Mission Valley location has an original stained glass window, a cornerstone, and other pieces of the 1906 church on display.

The first Baptist church saw service in 1869, on Seventh Street between F and G (today that area is parking lots and hotels).  The second, larger Baptist church went up in 1888 on Tenth and E (again, long gone).  By 1900, the Baptist congregation boasted a membership of almost 700. Also in 1869, a small Presbyterian church was built on Eighth and D, and they also moved to a new facility in 1888. 

Jews:  An article in the San Diego Herald  in 1851 reported that the three Israelites of San Diego were observing the Day of Atonement.  The first congregation, with 18 members, began renting spaces for holiday observances in 1872.  With the temporary population boom of the late 1880's, the Jewish population of San Diego was over 300.  In 1889, the congregation (then organized as Beth Israel) built a facility on Beech and Second.  But the congregation diminished with the economic and population collapse of the 1890's, and there was no rabbi and only sporadic services for two decades.  With local prosperity things turned around, and Beth Israel moved to a new place in 1926.  The old temple went through several owners, including a Spiritualist group led by a psychic, then fell into disrepair before being declared San Diego Historic Site Number 82 in 1973, and Beth Israel bought the site back for renovation.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lomaland and equality

As Women's History Month commences, we can look back to a time in San Diego when women could not vote, serve on juries, or participate in many aspects of society.  Yet there was a place in San Diego where women did have quite a measure of equality, that place being the Point Loma Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society Homestead (called Lomaland for short). 

Theosophy was a movement founded in 1874 by psychic Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.  This was the time of the popular spiritualism that had taken hold of the nation starting with the fraudulent Fox sisters, so the field was ripe for new seeds.  As for Theosophy, it consisted of a large set of revealed truths about the individual and the universe and according to Blavatsky was a replacement for all other religions.  Among the beliefs was equality between the sexes, with our eternal spirits being perpetually reincarnated in male or female bodies.  For these and other reasons, Theosophy held particular interest for women:
Theosophy appealed to a segment of white, middle-class, intellectual women who sought spiritual power, usefulness in the world, and greater control over their lives. Since the Theosophical Society had no ordained ministry, it opened leadership opportunities to women, "[allowing] its women and men leaders alike to travel the world lecturing and organizing. In it, women no less than men rose to the highest positions of responsibility."
When Blavatsky died, she was replaced by William Judge, and when Judge died Katherine Tingley took over.  Tingley had only joined the Theosophical Society two years previously, but she convinced the leadership that she was channeling Judge's spirit, and he was giving her full control of the organization.  Having declared herself absolute authority over the movement for life, she instituted changes such as shutting down the national branches and concentrating resources in the new national headquarters in Point Loma.  The Theosophists arrived in the late 1890's and would stay for almost half of a century, with thirty of those years under Tingley's control.  Lomaland became particularly known as a place of culture, with regular patronage of the arts and well-cultivated lands serving as an attraction for San Diego residents looking for a pleasant day out.

Lomaland operated as a commune, with the role of women different from that of general society, but not too different.  While a woman herself, Tingley had a Victorian sense of morality that colored the original Theosophical doctrine.  She believed women did belong in the home, and other than Tingley, the rest of the leadership in Lomaland were mostly men.  Yet conditions were better for women and other minorities in Lomaland, they could find acknowledgment as fully-functioning human beings, and at least sixty percent of the residents were usually women. 

In today's parlance, we would refer to Lomaland as a cult, and contemporaries looked upon it askance.  A Los Angeles Times headline from 1901 blared:  "Outrages at Point Loma; Exposed by an 'Escape' from Tingley. Startling Tales told in this City. Women and Children Starved and Treated Like Convicts. Thrilling Rescue."  Tingley sued for libel and defamation and won, but the sentiment was not eradicated.  Tingley died in 1929, just before the decline of Lomaland.  Her successor loosened her authoritarian dictates, but liberalization proved disastrous.  He brought back the national lodges for example, which took resources from Lomaland.  The uniforms and other strict rules were lifted, and the colony began to dissolve.  By 1941, there were about 130 residents left in Lomaland, most of whom were elderly.  The property moved into foreclosure and the society moved to the Los Angeles area.

What can we make of Lomaland and its morality?  As a religion with revealed wisdom, the Theosophy leadership could create rules that cut through the strictures holding society back.  As such, the commune was particularly attractive to the underserved of society, such as women.  But not all of the rules were positive and healthy, and while the status of women could be changed in the law, how do you change a universal truth revealed by spirits?   And, of course, there is the matter that Theosophy was, as a whole, made-up nonsense and adherents were wasting time in its study.  As Humanists we can recognize the good that religious orders are capable of providing, but we can also see that the associated baggage is often too great a burden.  Better to work out a morality from rationality rather than proclamation in order to create a just society that will serve all of its members.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Civil rights activists, not who you think

Last week Dallin Oaks, one of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles (and therefore a "prophet, seer and revelator") at the head of the Mormon Church, gave a speech at Chapman University (a Christian college in Orange County with a law school) which dwelt on a common theme among those who would govern from faith:  the freedom of others is impinging on my freedom of religion.  Oaks was, tellingly, a judge on the Utah State Supreme Court (1980 to 1984) and the audience of 800 law students and others, also tellingly, applauded.  In the talk, Oaks called the workers supporting California's Proposition Eight, which ended same-sex marriages, the new civil rights workers.
In his speech and in an interview, Oaks said he didn't want to dwell on same-sex marriage. But the examples he cited of intrusions on religious liberty were almost all related to that debate.

But these arguments reveal more about the arguer than about the subject at hand.  Religious freedom is only under attack if you consider controlling society to be part of your religion.  As one writer from a Mormon background wrote about Oaks' presentation

... What are the evidences that religious freedom is under legal attack in the United States? He cited a few cases (some of the same ones used in scare-tactic ads from the now-discredited National Organization for Marriage) but none of them pertains to the rights of churches or private individuals (acting as private individuals) to create and maintain their own religious beliefs and practices.
... In his address, Oaks clarified that the major threat to religious freedom was actually “moral relativism.” But where some see the decadence of “moral relativism,” I see the advancement of religious pluralism and the erosion of a conservative religious prerogative to define public life.
Unfortunately, for some Californians these debates are not merely academic and have had real-world deleterious effects.  Time will tell if Humanists can keep these losses from mounting.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mount Soledad Cross history, in outline

The cross atop Mount Soleded is under scrutiny with a court ruling that it is unconstitutional.  But there have been similar rulings before.  Here, for brevity, is a timeline of the cross gleaned from internet sources.  You may supply your own narrative.

*  1913:  Citizens place first cross placed at pinnacle of Mount Soledad, made of wood
*  1923:  Cross stolen, returned, burned down by Ku Klux Klan
*  1934:  Group places second cross, stucco over wooden frame
*  1952:  Wind blows down cross
*  1954:  Concrete cross placed, dedicated Easter Sunday
*  1950’s to 1980’s:  “The Mount Soledad Easter Cross” is the scene of annual Easter services
*  1989:  Philip Paulson begins lawsuit against city over the cross
*  1989:  Plaque placed indicating the cross is a War Memorial
*  1991:  Judge Gordon Thompson rules the cross violates the California State Constitution
*  1992:  Voters approve Prop. F, to transfer the land to a non-profit corporation
*  1993:  City appeals 1991 ruling, City asks for ruling from all 28 judges, judges unanimously vote to uphold ruling
*  1994:  City sells 24 square feet at base of cross for $24,000 to association, no bids
*  1994:  City appeals previous rulings to Supreme Court, which declines to hear case
*  1997:  Judge Thompson rules the land sale violated California Constitution, gives City 30 days to remove cross
*  1998:  City accepts bids for the land, sells to highest bidder for $106,000
*  2000:  Judge Thompson approves sale, but Court of Appeals rules that the sale violated the California Constitution
*  2003:  Supreme Court declines to hear City’s petition
*  2004:  Plaintiffs and Association reach agreement to remove cross, City Council approves motion that if upcoming Prop. K loses, the agreement will go forward
*  2004:  Voters reject Prop. K, which would have approved sale of land
*  2004:  Congressional law allows the Department of the Interior to accept the land and the cross
*  2005:  City Council declines to give the land to the Federal Government
*  2006:  Federal Government takes cross using eminent domain law
*  2006:  Philip Paulson, who began the suits nearly twenty years earlier, dies
*  2008:  Federal judge rules that the cross can stay because a cross is a general symbol, not specifically Christain
*  2011:  Court of Appeals (Ninth Circuit)  rules that cross violates constitution

Monday, January 3, 2011

Getting in on the ending action

Another group is traveling the country proclaiming the end of the world.  This time the date is May 21, 2011, as calculated by Harold Camping, 89 year old retired engineer and preacher of the Word:
"Beyond the shadow of a doubt, May 21 will be the date of the Rapture and the day of judgment," he said.
In more detail, the Rapture will be on May 21, and the Destruction on October 21.  For more explanations, visit their website:
Study the proofs that God has so graciously given in His Word showing us that these dates are 100% accurate and beyond dispute.
But keep in mind the poor history of past Rapture predictions.   And recall that the Book of Revelation was a strange Bible add-on that the early Christian leaders tried to quash.  And as an added bonus, the Rapture is a more recent tale put together from other Bible statements that contradicts the Book of Revelation.  I.e., as a Humanist, fill your time with other pursuits.