On the American Flag at Political Conventions

I cannot help but notice how many on the right equate patriotism with the size and number of flags you can cram onto a stage. Far-right conservatives are proud of their American flag: a field of pure whiteness, covered by streaks of red protecting a handful of white stars held aloft by the divine protection of the blue heavens. Far-right conservatives see flags like guns and cars and women: the more you have and the bigger and better looking they are, the more “American” you must be.

True patriotism, however, is not simply about the mere symbol, but about what that symbol represents: policies and actions. The flag must represent the actions of standing up, acting on behalf of your fellow Americans, serving them, treating them fairly, and the willingness to give your life for them, as so many of our veterans have done. It must also represent the establishment of policies, both personal and civil policies, that bring about our ideals.

The flag is a symbol, and symbols represent ideas and ideals. And if your ideas are bad ideas—if they are divisive, and bigoted, and harmful—then it doesn’t matter how many flags you have. You can line up a row of massive flags from one end of the stage to the other—if your ideas are bad ideas, and your ideals do not treat all Americans equally and with respect, you cannot simply paper over selfish ideals and bad policies with the American flag. Because when you do, the symbol becomes an idol—an end in itself. And much like the crosses on the walls, and around the necks and wrists, and on the car bumpers of those who do not live lives reflective of the teachings of the man associated with that cross, the idol comes to represent nothing at all. And this is why those that worship their star-spangled idol flood their stages with the idol: they hope that none will notice that their idol is empty, and that their lives do not reflect the selfless service that the idol once represented.

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump receiving his party’s 2016 nomination in Cleveland, Ohio.

On Political Correctness, its Abuse, and the Modern University

Legendary English comedian John Cleese recently recorded a BigThink.com video where he discusses the role of political correctness in society. (The YouTube version is here). I agree with John Cleese. Political correctness is a good idea when it discourages people from being mean or nasty to those who cannot necessarily change their condition or status, be it race, gender, ethnicity, body size and shape, mental or physical disability, etc.

But when it comes to ideas, that is, thoughts that are conceived and then spoken aloud, I think that these are appropriate to consider, debate, critique, and at times, mock. Of course, I want to hear all ideas, as there might be something new that I haven’t considered that might be useful to me or humanity. I should never be so stubborn or foolish to think that I am the sole proprietor of truth, or that my thoughts and beliefs have somehow achieved a privileged exemption from criticism based on the fact that they, for instance, are religious or traditional.

But when an idea is harmful to society, or when the idea is easily and has been repeatedly debunked with facts and evidence and logic and numbers, and when an idea has been shown to marginalize certain individuals or groups, then these ideas can and should be critiqued. If the one espousing the defunct, harmful idea continues to espouse the idea, then that is his or her right, but it is also our right as responsible citizens to continue to assail the idea (not the person, but the idea) with logic, reason, and even mockery, as public humiliation is often the only thing that persuades one espousing a defunct idea to cease its propagation. This goes for all ideas, including political, philosophical, economic, ideological, and religious claims–no idea is exempt from critique! And while the debate over some ideas will continue for millennia–fate vs. free will, which economic or political system is superior, how to handle certain ethical issues, etc.–many other ideas should be retired from mainstream discourse with the understanding that there will always be someone or some group that will continue to cling to outdated, debunked ideas.

Political correctness is a good idea when it is limited to the physical characteristics or status of an individual or society. But when political correctness seeks to prohibit the critique of ideas, and attempts to characterize any critical analysis of an idea as “offensive”, then political correctness has gone too far. This is true especially for university campuses, which exist, in part, to expose students to new ideas, foreign concepts, and different ways of thinking that are often unfamiliar or even exotic, and with which a particular student may disagree, and where all of this is done in a safe, creative, developmental, experimental environment where students can learn and try out new ideas and concepts, arguing for and against several newly introduced issues without paying the social penalty for nonconformity to the societal majority’s opinion.

Universities are the practice fields of the world’s future players. Like professional athletes, citizens of the world’s communities should be exposed to every possible scenario on the practice field, so that they can learn and plan to respond effectively as professionals when it’s game time. And part of being a responsible professional is learning how to behave professionally when interacting with others. Political correctness aids individuals in treating other individuals and communities with respect and dignity. In this regard, political correctness is a good thing.

However, to hide behind the shield of political correctness when one’s idea is criticized and when its flaws are laid bare is to misuse political correctness. And of course, it is this abuse of political correctness by the far left that those on the far right criticize and then use to mischaracterize all political correctness as the censorship of free speech in an effort to dismiss professionalism and common courtesy during civil discourse so that they can continue to espouse harmful beliefs, make false accusations, promote detrimental policies, and prop up discredited ideas.

There is a place for political correctness, but that place is not the censorship or critique of ideas.

If you are so sensitive that you characterize any idea, any thought, any different way of thinking, or any critique of your own thoughts, claims, or firmly held beliefs as “offensive”, then you have failed in your development as a responsible citizen. I recommend that you enroll in a university, even if only for a short time, so that you can at least be exposed to different ideas in a safe, inclusive environment. And I hope that you do not choose a university that actively seeks to shield its own students from critiques of ideas and beliefs in the name of political correctness, but rather one that encourages the free exchange, debate, and critique of ideas, for this is the only way one learns to handle the wild, crazy, bigoted, unsubstantiated, false, intentionally harmful, nonsensical, illogical, debunked, and irresponsible claims that are made every day in society.

It is the exposure to, consideration of, and the espousal or dismissal of–and not the shielding from–bad ideas that makes individuals smarter, our society better, and allows civilization to progress beyond a censorial tyranny that constantly invents new ways of being offended to mask the fact that the discredited claims they are perpetuating can no longer be defended with evidence, reason, or logic.

 

Robert Cargill to lecture at UCLA on The Cities that Built the Bible

Cover of The Cities that Built the Bible by Robert R. Cargill, Ph.D.I’ll be lecturing at UCLA on Thursday evening, April 14, 2016 on my new book, THE CITIES THAT BUILT THE BIBLE (HarperOne).

The lecture is sponsored by the UCLA Center for the Study of Religion, and co-sponsored by the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies and UCLA Dept. of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures.

Information on the lecture is here:

TITLE: “Cities that Built the Bible”
LECTURER: Robert R. Cargill, University of Iowa
DATE: Thursday, April 14, 2016
LOCATION: Royce Hall, RM 314, UCLA Campus
TIME: 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
DESCRIPTION: The Cities That Built the Bible is a magnificent tour through fourteen cities: the cities of Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos, Ugarit, Nineveh, Babylon, Megiddo, Athens, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Qumran, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Rome. Along the way, Cargill includes photos of artifacts, dig sites, ruins, and relics, taking readers on a far-reaching journey from the Grotto of the Nativity to the battlegrounds of Megiddo, from the towering Acropolis of Athens to the caves near Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.

RSVP: Email: csr@humnet.ucla.edu
UCLA Center for the Study of Religion
376B Humanities Building | Los Angeles, CA 90095-1511
Phone: 310-206-8799

Robert R. Cargill to speak at UCLA on THE CITIES THAT BUILT THE BIBLE, April 14, 2016.

 

Dr. Bruce Wells on “Sex Crimes in the Laws of the Hebrew Bible” – ASOR Podcast

cast_outListen to the excellent Friends of ASOR Podcast interview with Dr. Bruce Wells, Professor of Hebrew Bible in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, who recently authored the article, “Sex Crimes in the Laws of the Hebrew Bible” in Near Eastern Archaeology.

 

Robert Cargill to discuss the origins of the Bible on Iowa Public Radio’s “Talk of Iowa” April 5

Talk of Iowa with Charity Nebbe on Iowa Public Radio.

Talk of Iowa with Charity Nebbe on Iowa Public Radio.

I’ll be interviewed by Charity Nebbe (@CharityNebbe) on Iowa Public Radio’s “Talk of Iowa” tomorrow, April 5, 2016 at 10am. We’ll be talking about my new book, THE CITIES THAT BUILT THE BIBLE, and discussing (among other things) the origins of the Bible we have today.

Visit the Talk of Iowa webpage to tune in and live stream the conversation.

And pick of a copy of THE CITIES THAT BUILT THE BIBLE anywhere books are sold.

 

Earliest Known Alphabet Chart Deciphered

Limestone ostracon with Egyptian hieratic script dating to the 15th C. BCE, initially discovered in Luxor, Egypt. 3.54 in. high, 3.34 in. wide, 0.9 in. thick. Photo: Nigel Strudwick/Cambridge Theban Mission.

Limestone ostracon with Egyptian hieratic script dating to the 15th C. BCE, initially discovered in Luxor, Egypt. 3.54 in. high, 3.34 in. wide, 0.9 in. thick. Photo: Nigel Strudwick/Cambridge Theban Mission.

This is a fascinating discovery!

The latest issue of Archaeology magazine highlights the deciphering of the oldest known alphabet table. Egyptologist Ben Haring (University of Leiden) discovered a 15th C. BCE abecedary or abjad (a written alphabet table used by scribes to learn and practice letters similar to the alphabet charts above elementary school chalk boards) that predates the previous earliest known abecedaries by two centuries. The undeciphered ostracon was initially found in a tomb at Luxor by Nigel Strudwick and his team from the Cambridge Theban Mission.

The initial press release from Leiden can be read here.

To read more about the origins of the alphabet, see pgs. 18-21 in my book, THE CITIES THAT BUILT THE BIBLE. Note especially note #5 for Chap. 1 on pgs. 269-70. I am also posting my chart from the top of page 20 here, so you can see the development of the alphabet.

The chart above demonstrates how the Phoenician alphabet provided the foundational shapes of the letters that would become the Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, and ultimately English alphabets. From pg. 20 of "The Cities that Built the Bible" by Robert R. Cargill (HarperOne). © 2016 Robert R. Cargill

The chart above demonstrates how the Phoenician alphabet provided the foundational shapes of the letters that would become the Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, and ultimately English alphabets. From pg. 20 of “The Cities that Built the Bible” by Robert R. Cargill (HarperOne). © 2016 Robert R. Cargill

Personal reflection on Palestinians from THE CITIES THAT BUILT THE BIBLE

In my new book, THE CITIES THAT BUILT THE BIBLE, I not only tell the story of how we got the Bible we have today by telling the story of key cities that contributed to its formation, but I also offer many personal stories, discoveries, and reflections on my travels to these important cities.

Here is my reflection on the Palestinian people following a rather eventful dinner in Bethlehem.

“I then realized something profound: contrary to everything I had heard in the news about Palestinians, this Palestinian family was exactly like my family. We weren’t rich, we worked hard, we took pride in our family, we tried to stay away from hostile people and keep our kids out of gangs, we believed what we believed, we liked to eat, tell jokes, laugh, criticize the government, and enjoy the beauty we found around us. It was in Bethleḥem that I discovered the beauty of the Palestinian people.”
– Robert R. Cargill, pgs. 215-16

"I then realized something profound: contrary to everything I had heard in the news about Palestinians, this Palestinian family was exactly like my family. We weren’t rich, we worked hard, we took pride in our family, we tried to stay away from hostile people and keep our kids out of gangs, we believed what we believed, we liked to eat, tell jokes, laugh, criticize the government, and enjoy the beauty we found around us. It was in Bethlehem that I discovered the beauty of the Palestinian people." - Robert R. Cargill, pgs. 215-16

If you’d like to read more, pick up a copy of THE CITIES THAT BUILT THE BIBLE wherever books are sold.

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