Volume 3, Issue 1

“The Nature of Writing”
by Jamie Kouba

The first written languages were formed in Mesopotamia around five thousand years ago. Scribes used wooden sticks to push lines into clay slabs; it was called cuneiform. After clay slabs, came papyrus scrolls, then vellum, then paper, and eventually the technological revolution of the computer. From the earliest writings to the present day, we find that they are not just about survival or to communicate rules, but also about nature: nature as the material source that sustains life; nature as the representation or manifestation of God; nature as human nature; and, nature as the object of beauty that is as transcendent as it is inspiring. The importance of each of these meanings of nature is evident in the earliest writings that took place on American soil. Whether it be as a main character, or antagonist, or simply just a noted part of the scene, writers from every time period — from the Iroquois who spoke the Great Binding Law to Jonathan Edwards, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allen Poe, Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman — have used nature in their writing. A brief reflection on these early writings will show that the importance of nature cannot be overstated. In today’s society, the access to nature is shrinking; people used to live off of farms and in the woods, but today the majority eat from grocery stores and live in condos. Those who live in large cities only see trees in city parks. However, nature is just as important to writers and readers today as it was five thousand years ago. Henry David Thoreau, who wrote that “we need the tonic of wildness” would have argued that living with nature is essential to one’s intellectual and moral health (Woodlief). Nature is thus just not good for the soul but necessary to experience and to write about because men and nature are bonded together at a spiritual level.
Early Use of Nature in Writing
Arthur C. Parker, the father of American Anthropology, in an effort to study and preserve Iroquois traditions, decided to make a record of The Great Binding Law, the Iroquois’ constitution in 1915; at this time, it was already several hundred years old. In The Iroquois League, nature is more than just mentioned, it becomes another character in The Great Binding Law. Native Americans feel that the Great Spirit or God is in everything, including the world around them. Not mentioning nature being present at a peace ceremony, would be like not inviting God. Nature was God; it was as simple as that. When Dekanawidah says “with the Five Nations’ Confederate Lords I plant the Tree of the Great Peace”, he means that symbolically the Five Nations are now joined as one, and it is the tree that is doing the binding (McMichael and Leonard 29). For the native people, the tree was more than just a resource, it was a symbol of strength, in this case, the strength of their word that they would join together. They symbolically place an eagle on top of the tree, so that it may watch for evil or danger approaching their peaceful gathering and warn them. The eagle is an honored bird for its excellent vision and hunting skills. Before the peace talks could begin, a fire was lit. For Native Americans, the smoke of the fire represents the words spoken at the fire being sent up to Great Spirit.
Nature is represented as a very real physical representation of God for Native Americans practicing their religion and is often found within their own writings. As the “white men” began interacting with Native Americans more, they began to have their “voices” recorded in writing as well; sometimes personally, sometimes through translators. When Seneca Chief, Red Jacket, gave a speech in 1805, it was recorded. In it, Red Jacket speaks of the importance of nature, as if it were a gift from Great Spirit. He says “All this He had done for his red children, because He loved them” (McMichael and Leonard 370). It bears mentioning that although the Quakers and Puritans of the time describe being vastly different from their Native American counterparts on religion, they also believed that God created nature for them. Their guiding path to God was the Holy Bible, and in it, it said “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (New International Version, Romans 1:20).
The Puritans Use of Nature in Writing
Jonathan Edwards, a Puritan minister, uses nature in a slightly different way than that of the Iroquois. In “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Edwards uses nature in a way that is more metaphorical than symbolic. When he says “as he that walks in slippery places in every moment liable to fall,” he doesn’t mean that a person is walking on wet or muddy ground and will literally slip and fall; he is talking about temptation and sin (McMichael and Leonard 156). He and other Puritans firmly believed in the power of eternal damnation and that the only way to prevent it was to “walk the right path” in life. To the Iroquois in The Great Binding Law, describing the smoke of the fire carrying their words to their Great Spirit, was more of a symbolic meaning. The smoke drifting into the sky was the physical representation of their prayers to Creator. When Edwards talks about how man’s sin would “set fire on the course of nature,” he isn’t referring to nature in the same way as the Native Americans did (McMichael and Leonard 158). He is talking about human nature, as in the behavior of man himself. To him, hell’s fire was very real and man’s natural preclusions toward sin was the only path that one should be worried about.
It should be noted that in other sermons, and later in life Jonathan Edwards does admit that nature can provide proof of God. According to Janice Knight, Edwards wasn’t all fire and brimstone; “Though scripture remained the surest guide to holy truths, in documents like these [A History of the Work of Redemption] Edwards declared his faith that nature and human history are also legitimate sources of revelation” (531). Early settlers in the colonies had a lot of contact with Native Americans through trade negotiations, and it wouldn’t have been unusual for a minster like Edwards to talk to Native Americans, and to try and convert them as part of his ministry. It’s entirely possible that through discussions about religion, Edwards was influenced by their veneration of nature and ended up using it in his own sermons and writings. Despite their differences in religious practices, Edwards would likely have appreciated the Native American belief that God was represented in nature. This was a belief that was to experience a rebirth of sort in a movement called Transcendentalism during the 1800s.
Nature is Reborn in Transcendentalism
The early nineteenth century saw the leaving behind of Puritan beliefs and nature got a reprieve from the fiery damnation. Many people at this time felt that religion and government had become overbearing and stifling. Ralph Waldo Emerson became the leader in the transcendental movement in writing in the 1830s. “As the nineteenth century came to its mid-point, the transcendentalists’ dissatisfaction with their society became focused on policies and actions of the United States government: the treatment of the Native Americans, the war with Mexico, and, above all, the continuing and expanding practice of slavery” (Goodman 3). Emerson and his fellow writers took solace in nature, and tried to encourage others to do the same. “Emerson believed in a correspondence between the world and the spirit, that nature is an image in which humans can perceive the divine” (McMichael and Leonard 545). In essence, he was saying that man could be closer to God in nature, than he could be in a church. His thoughts were nearly along the same lines as the Native Americans, except that he believed that nature was the church in which you should worship God; whereas the Native Americans believed that nature was a physical representation of God. When reading works from the Native Americans, Puritans, and Emerson, it’s clear that nature is an ever present and important theme. The topics of writing may differ greatly, yet nature is used to represent God in some form or another in all three examples.
It is interesting that Emerson credits the overbearing weight of the church as his reason for leaving it and seeking nature. Randy Friedman discusses how Emerson built his own religion in nature and philosophy, “The natural religion that emerges displaces orthodox religion, just as Emerson leaves his official pulpit and eventually turns towards the writing of Nature” (28-29). Emerson wasn’t alone in his feelings; a lot of people during that time felt that the church had become an oppressive part of their culture. In “Nature,” Emerson says “But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds will separate between him and what he touches” (McMichael and Leonard 547). What he is saying is that the act of being alone in nature allows a man to be separated from the negativity of society and be at peace with nature and with God. Although Emerson was a trained minister in the Unitarian Church, his writings in “Nature” are certainly a far cry from what Jonathan Edwards preached to his flock about an angry God. Yet, despite the fact that he left organized religion behind, his writing still has the influences of his original Unitarian teachings and it echoes that of sermons like Jonathan Edwards’. His pulpit was different, but Emerson was still preaching to the masses about living a good life and God.
The Less Optimistic Side of Nature
Where Emerson was celebrated during his life as “Saint Ralph, The Optimist,” Edgar Allan Poe was rarely celebrated and mostly held with little regard by his contemporaries like Emerson and Thoreau. Poe’s work may not have been appreciated at the time in America, but he is regarded today as the father of the modern detective story and one of the greatest Gothic writers ever to grace the page. Poe’s stories are dark and gloomy, yet are not much different in tone from those of Washington Irving. Irving also used the dark imagery of nature and rich details to frighten audiences. Emerson found inspiration in nature and God, “Poe found his inspiration in a world of disorder, perversity, and romantic emotion” (McMichael and Leonard 490). Many of his critics claimed that he lacked an “American voice” and that his writing was more reminiscent of European romanticism. However, many of his critics while he was alive tended to critique his writing harshly because they didn’t like the man himself, as Poe was a difficult and eccentric personality by most accounts.
The minister Jonathan Edwards also wrote about the darker side of human nature, but was never accused of being ‘un-American” in his writing. Poe was an avid reader. Perhaps he was influenced by the sermons of men like Edwards that wrote, “one that stands or walks in slippery places is always exposed to fall,” and it inspired him during his writing of “The Pit and the Pendulum” (McMichael and Leonard 156). Although his works lack the religious tones of Edwards, Poe does have a certain voice that makes a man weary of dark deeds and the consequences of his actions. In “Sonnet – Silence,” Poe says “Body and Soul. One Dwells in lonely places.” What he means is that the soul is free to roam in a happier place, while the body is stuck on earth in the “real world” (McMichael and Leonard 493). During his lifetime, Poe saw the poor treatment of Native Americans and slaves, he witnessed veterans of war, he suffered personal losses; all of those things left a mark on his psyche and on his writing. Emerson was the optimist; Poe was the realist. Poe was aware that neither nature, nor man was always pleasant, fair, or kind; and unlike Emerson, he chose to write about that fact. The American Romantic period’s use of nature, whether it be light or dark was reflected in poetry as well.
Nature Used in Poetry
Walt Whitman, the “Father of American Poetry,” wrote about nature with a touch of romanticism as well, but his subjects were that of every day urban life. “In 1855, after reading Leaves of Grass [by Walt Whitman], Ralph Waldo Emerson [wrote] ‘I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed’” (McMichael and Leonard 1032). His work, however, met mixed reviews as it challenged traditional poetic rules with free verse, and traditional cultural norms with homoerotic sexuality and vulgar language. Author Bliss Perry defends Whitman in her book, The American Spirit in Literature saying “The starting point of the book is a mystical illumination regarding the unity and blessedness of the universe, an insight passing understanding, but based upon the revelatory experience of love. In the light of this experience, all created things are recognized as divine” (2003). Walt Whitman stands today as one of America’s most prolific and popular poets; as well as, along with Henry David Thoreau, one of the best example of American writers who use nature in their writing.
When Emerson looked at nature, he asked the question “why do I feel such a bond?” but he was never able to put that answer into words. “Whitman’s theory of nature offers to explain the sense of unity Emerson feels when he looks upon a rich landscape without denying existential reality to the particular objects of that landscape. There is indeed a unity in the universe, according to Whitman, and it exists in every particular object at every moment in time” (Kepner 183-184). Walt Whitman had a knack for taking ordinary objects from nature and making them beautiful and poetic in a way that people appreciated them better after reading his words. In Leaves of Grass, Whitman says that beauty and poetry of nature is not in the writing of prose, but in experiencing nature and in all of us; “The poetic quality is not marshalled in rhyme or uniformity or abstract addresses to things nor in melancholy complaints of good precepts, but is the life of these and much else and is in the soul” (McMichael and Leonard 1038).
Whitman uses his understanding of science to explain nature in a very clear and precise way, while still keeping the romantic touches of his writing forefathers. It was said that Whitman, although born of semiliterate parents, was a “voracious reader of nineteenth-century novels, English romantic poetry, and ‘classics’ of European literature and the New Testament” (McMichael and Leonard 1032). His writing style clearly reflects those early influences, with beauty of the romantics, the appreciation of nature of the Native Americans, and the sternness in his own beliefs, like those of the Puritans. In “Poets to Come,” Whitman hails the future writers and challenges them. He says “Leaving it to you to prove and define it, Expecting the main thing things from you” (McMichael and Leonard 1097). I suspect that he wanted them to find their own version of nature and to write about it like he and those before him.
Nature in writing is an ever present character because men and nature are bonded together at a spiritual level. We as human beings seem to be very aware of our surroundings and we have recorded the effects that it has had on us through the years in so many different ways. The Native Americans chose to worship nature itself as if God were present in every tree and every leaf. The Puritans used nature as a metaphor for the behavior of man, and as a reminder of how man’s choices could lead to damnation or salvation in the afterlife. Then finally, American writers got a burst of freedom in their writing when transcendentalism was born. “American romantic idealism (a.k.a. Transcendentalism) constituted a widespread and unlimited application of ideas and intellectual practices that represented a major watershed in western thought: Transcendentalism, Modernism, Postmodernism, Pragmatism, and Deconstruction all represent family branches of Romanticism” (Robbins 11).
Today we may look back on the American writings from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth century with nostalgia for a bygone era, yet nature remains as important to us as it has been to writers (and oral storytellers) throughout human history. Henry David Thoreau’s proclamation that, “We need the tonic of wildness” is even more relevant today. We need this tonic because “At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature” (Moncur 238). As nature shrinks around us in real life today, the unbridled wilderness still exists in the works of ancient Native Americans, early Puritans, American Romantics and Transcendentalists. Today’s authors must take up Whitman’s challenge to future writers, find nature where they can, and preserve it for the next generation of writers to come.

Works Cited

Friedman, Randy. “Religious Self-Reliance.” The Pluralist. 7.1 (2012): 27-53. 2 October 2016.
Goodman, Russell. “Transcendentalism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2005. 3 October 2016.
Holy Bible. New International Version. Biblica, Inc. 2011.
Kepner, Diane. “From Spears to Leaves: Walt Whitman’s Theory of Nature in ‘Song of Myself’.” American Literature. 51.2 (1979): 179-204. 20 September 2016.
Knight, Janice. “Learning the Language of God: Jonathan Edwards and the Typology of Nature.” The William and Mary Quarterly. 48.4 (1991): 531-551. 20 September 2016.
McMichael, George and Leonard, James. S. Concise Anthology of American Literature. (Eds.). New York: Pearson Education, Inc. 2011.
Moncur, Michael. “Henry David Thoreau: Walden.” Literature Page.com. 2013. 6 August 2017.
Perry, Bliss. “The American Spirit in Literature: A Chronicle of Great Interpreters.” May 2003. New Haven: Yale University Press. 3 October 2016.
Robbins, David. L. “Introduction: R.W. Emerson Between Romanticism and the Crisis of Modernity.” Litteraria Pragensia: Studies in Literature and Culture. 24.48 (2014): 1-147.18 September 2016.
Woodlief, Ann. “Emerson and Thoreau as American Prophets of Eco-Wisdom.” American Transcendentalism. (1990). 6 August 2017.

Jamie Kouba is a double major in English and Cultural Anthropology.  Her article “When Death Corresponds to the Greater Good,” appeared in Volume 2 of the Ashford Humanities Review. When she is not reading, writing, or playing in the dirt, she enjoys spending time with her husband and daughter.  Along with her love of literature and history, she also enjoys spending time outdoors hiking and gardening, and with her animals.  She has always been a nature lover.

Love and Responsibility in War
by Angela Jeffery

The Vietnam War transformed civilians into soldiers, boys into men, and it would transform moments of tragedy into moments of clarity.  Before these soldiers were transported from their comfortable homes to a combat zone they were issued physical tools for survival; however, there was not an extra duffle bag issued for the emotional turmoil they encountered. That baggage would have to be carried by the heart and mind.  The soldiers in Vietnam lived by a code of responsibility that was meant to keep them alive.  When a man who is charged with the responsibility of men’s lives is preoccupied with a private love affair that takes him outside the combat zone, tragedy is the only way to bring him back to reality.  Tragedy and its aftermath weigh more than any rucksack, than any bandolier filled with ammunition, than any weapon meant for protection against the enemy.  The character of First Lieutenant (1LT) Jimmy Cross in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried waged an internal war that enables the reader to understand that a soldier’s emotional gear is just as taxing as the physical weight and often times cannot be let go of as easily as dropping a rucksack.
1LT Jimmy Cross is a twenty-four-year-old child walking through the jungles of Vietnam; however, he was longing to be in a different world where he lamented not taking chances with a girl he loved rather than trudging through a strange jungle where everything seemed to want him dead.  “He remembered kissing her goodnight.  Right then, he thought, he should’ve done something brave” (O’Brien 4).  The jungles of Vietnam were peppered with deadly landmines and booby-traps, and just like the jungles, 1LT Jimmy Cross’s heart and mind were peppered with deadly landmines named pretend and hope.  Schlepping through the swamps and up the hills that bombarded Vietnam, 1LT Jimmy Cross carried his love for a girl named Martha, a girl who would never reciprocate his love.  Cross also carried “the responsibility for the lives of his men” (O’Brien 5).  At this point the reader can sense that 1LT Jimmy Cross is at a moral crossroads within himself.  1LT Jimmy Cross must decide what is more important to him as he marches along the jungle floors of Vietnam. Is it his love for Martha, the girl who symbolizes a different world where he does not have to be afraid, a world where he can be a 24-year-old kid swooning and pining for the affections of her?  Or must he let go of his fantasies and embrace his responsibilities and in so doing, risk losing his innocence?  Forgetting Martha meant that he had to grow up and grown-ups cannot afford the luxury of pretend.  “He was just a kid at war, in love.  He was twenty-four years old.  He couldn’t help it” (O’Brien 11).  The jungles of Vietnam can be unforgiving and 1LT Jimmy Cross will find out that his guilt can be just as unforgiving.
Soldiers volunteer for a job of uncertainties, and soldiers are asked to adapt, endure, and accept uncertainties due to one powerful word: because.  It does not matter what words follow that “because,” because when soldiers are given orders they are expected to execute without question.  There are many variables that cause a demeanor of unquestioning obedience to alter.  Love and hope can potentially be detrimental in a combat zone.  “First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha.  They were not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping” (O’Brien 1).  The uncertainty of Martha’s love keeps 1LT Cross’ attention away from his Soldiers and has him asking irrelevant questions and yearning for a reassurance about a love that will never exist.  When his men needed him alert, he was off in another world with Martha.  It is not until 1LT Cross realized he did not properly mourn the death of his Soldier, Ted Lavender, because he was consumed with care and love for someone who would never reciprocate, that his uncertainties become certain.  “Kiowa explained how Lavender died, Lieutenant Cross found himself trembling.  He tried not to cry.  He felt shame.  He hated himself.  He had loved Martha more than his men, and as a consequence Lavender was now dead, and this was something he would have to carry like a stone in his stomach for the rest of the war” (O’Brien 16).  1LT Cross was certain Martha would never love him (Kaplan, “Undying Uncertainty” 43).  When the uncertainties become certainties a new attitude is given life.  To not love does not mean to not care.  Love can be dangerous because it can lead to uncertainties.  “Lieutenant Cross reminded himself that his obligation was not to be loved but to lead” (O’Brien 25).  After Lavender died, 1LT Cross decided that his men deserved a leader who would remain attentive throughout their tour of duty and therefore get them home alive.  Cross burns the pictures and letters from Martha, shielding the fire from the rain to assure they burn; he has burned his childlike innocence and his ideas of pretend.  He has accepted that Lavender is dead and that it is his fault because at the time he was not ready to cut the cord that constantly supplied him the air and blood to his fantasy world.  It takes courage to grow up, and in the jungles of Vietnam 1LT Jimmy Cross decided to be courageous, not only for himself, but for his men so that they could return home and be able to set down all the things they carried.
Before 1LT Jimmy Cross marched into Than Khe and before 1LT Jimmy Cross carried the burden of guilt, the life of Lavender was taken.  To some, the Vietnam War was a statement to a loss of innocence (Evans 202-218), and perhaps Martha was a symbol of the innocence that Jimmy Cross had hope to not lose; but that was shattered when Lavender was killed in action.  1LT Jimmy Cross became a changed man and developed into a leader after the death of Lavender.  His moral dilemma had reached a choice and Cross’s choice was the responsibility of the lives of his men.  “No more fantasies, he told himself. …when he thought about Martha, it would be only to think that she belonged elsewhere” (O’Brien 23).  It was at this epiphany that 1LT Cross and his men realized that despite all the uncertainties of war there was one certainty and that was “…they would never be at a loss for things to carry” (O’Brien 15).  War carries with it many unspoken truths and many scars that are not physical.  1LT Jimmy Cross and the remainder of his men marched into the village of Than Khe because that is what they were ordered to do and they carried with them the essential tools to survive a war.  What there were not told to carry was guilt, or sadness, or emotion, and yet Cross and his soldiers carried all of that and then some because it was easy to drop an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat), and it was easy to accidentally drop ammunition or to forget a flashlight; but it was never easy to let go of the guilt, sadness, weakness, or strength that was shared by every soldier.
1LT Jimmy Cross is a young soldier in Vietnam.  He battles the prioritization of a love only felt by him and the welfare of his soldiers.  When you are alone in the trenches all you think about is home and who was left behind (Kaplan “Undying Uncertainty” 43).  Jimmy Cross was awakened out of his complacency (his daydreams of Martha) and had to confront a new self (his guilt for the death of Ted Lavender) and in so doing he could carry on and tell his men to carry on (Kaplan “Interview” 93-108).  The jungles of Vietnam claimed many lives and many emotions; however the things that 1LT Jimmy Cross carried, he would carry to his grave because he accepted what was and what never could be.  Children, like 1LT Jimmy Cross were dropped into a combat zone and forced to grow up quickly, and in times of turmoil and tragedy children transform into adults with a sense of urgency.  1LT Jimmy Cross transformed into a man as he marched along the wood lines in Vietnam, and each step he took was weighed down by guilt. No matter what equipment he lost along the way, his footsteps would always be weighed down.

Works Cited

Evans, Robert C. “Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried: Initial Reception and Detailed Analysis.” Critical Insights: Tim O’Brien. Ed. Robert C. Evans. Ipswich, MA: Salem Press, 2015. 202-218.
Kaplan, Steven. “An Interview with Tim O’Brien.” The Missouri Review. 14.3 (1991): 93-108. 16 June 2016.
Kaplan, Steven. “The Undying Uncertainty of the Narrator in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.” Critique. 35:1 (1993): 43. 17 June 2016.
O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1990.

Angela Jeffery is a Sociology major in her second year at Ashford University.  She is an Active Duty Noncommissioned Officer in the Army. Her aspiration upon graduating and earning her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology is to submit an Officer Candidacy School (OCS) packet in hopes of acceptance and joining the Officer ranks in the Army. Her education is not stopping with her B.A.; she intends to continue and earn her Master’s Degree in Psychology.

“Unconstitutional Aspects of Religiosity in the American Presidency”
by Alex Miller

Hints of religiosity have been embedded in the entirety of United States history. From George Washington taking the oath of office with his right hand on the Bible in 1789 to Barack Obama ending his 2009 oath with “So help me god,” religious influence in the American presidency has continuously been pervasive. The prevalence of religion in American government, specifically Christianity, has caused a number of efforts to change the Preamble of the United States Constitution to reflect a more Christian society. While the nation’s current Preamble mentions promising ideas of justice, tranquility, and general welfare, Stephan Newman in his article, “From John F. Kennedy’s 1960 Campaign Speech to Christian Supremacy: Religion in Modern Presidential Politics,” discusses a nineteenth century proposal to radically change the opening to the Constitution:

We the people of the United States, humble acknowledging Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the Governor among the Nations, and His revealed will as of supreme authority, in order to constitute a Christian government … do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America (692).

Abraham Lincoln, whose religious identity remains indistinct among political and religious scholars, shot down the 1863 Preamble change. In the grand scheme of American politics, Gastón Espinosa, editor of Religion and the American Presidency: George Washington to George W. Bush with Commentary and Primary Sources” provides an overarching view, stating, “Given the critical role that religion plays in difficult conflicts around the world and in the United States, it is presumable that religion will continue to play a critical role in presidential campaigns and domestic- and foreign-policy decisions for many years to come” (40).
The foremost issue with the conceivability that religion will play a part in American politics in the future is the warped view of prosperity and righteousness that religion brings to the table. Because forty-three different men have served as president of the United States and each of them have, to say the least, been speculated to have had some run-in with religious philosophies, it becomes problematic to fathom a president of non-religious status, either as an agnostic or atheist. As Michelle A. Gonzalez notes in “Religion and the US Presidency: Politics, The Media, and Religious Identity,” “The relationship between religion and the presidency impacts both the viability of candidates and the manner in which decisions are made in the voting booth” (568). The combination of “American presidents have always self-identified with a Christian denomination” (Espinosa 19) and “lack of religious faith or self-proclaimed atheism is political suicide, where a little over half of voters claim that they would not vote for an atheist president” (Gonzalez 569), results in a required religious belief if one wants to become the elected head of the United States. A non-religious presidential candidate is immediately challenged with the alienation of over half the voting population, which virtually guarantees defeat. Throughout the course of history, there have been a scarce amount of non-Protestant candidates that have either won or gotten extremely close to winning. Presidential elections garner more media coverage nowadays than ever before, which causes additional light to be shed on important facets of candidate’s lives, such as religion. It is no shock that there has never been a non-religious president, which can be viewed as something of a sham, when bearing in mind the corruption and dangers that come with religion and politics, as well as the little impact religion truly has on a president’s moral character.
John F. Kennedy was and continues to be the only non-Protestant president ever elected. For months leading up to the November elections of 1960, Kennedy faced severe opposition to the fact that he was a Roman Catholic nominee. Stephen Newman, in his article, states, “In September 1960 the Southern Baptist Convention unanimously passed a resolution expressing its grave doubts that any Catholic should be president” (709). The single most pressing issue was the thought that Kennedy would decide on U.S. policies should it comply with the Vatican views. Predominately occurring in the Southern states, Kennedy fielded religious-based questions left and right, leading to a religious concentration for the campaigning for his party’s nomination. All of the hullaballoo led to John F. Kennedy’s significant September 1960 speech in Houston, Texas. Two of his more memorable quotes from this campaign are “I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair” and “I do not speak for my church on public matters; and the church does not speak for me” (Newman 711). The entire speech pushed forward his endorsement on the idea of separating church and state, though his ultimate goal was to persuade individuals to vote not because of religious differences, but for the candidate that was best suited to head the country. Forty-eight years later, Barack Obama would face religion head-on, even though he faced far less hostilities than Kennedy did.
Echoing the vast support George W. Bush had with Christians, Obama partook in religiously focused events in hopes of structuring an evangelical backing as well as quieting down his supposed Muslim faith. In the face of creating an advisory council specifically to reach Catholic voters and citing the Bible at different events, Patricia Smith in “Religion & the White House” quotes the 2010 Pew Research Center Poll that “18 percent of Americans still believe he’s a Muslim.” An individual can only go so far to convince an assemblage of people of a particular lifestyle before it simply becomes ignorance. In the 2012 presidential race, it was Barack Obama’s competition that was at the forefront of the religious contention.
While Obama’s problem was the incorrect assumption of his faith, Mitt Romney had to overcome the fact that only a small percentage of Americans know about Mormonism, Romney’s claimed religion. Mormons make up less than two percent of the United States population, which does not bode well for someone coveting a higher rank in an otherwise religiously political world. Although polygamy, a 19th century idea, is scarcely practiced today, Patricia Smith states “many Americans still seem to associate Mormons with polygamy.” A less-than-favorable way of life in the eyes of today’s society equated to more fragile odds of winning the election. “One in four voters claim they will not vote for a Mormon president” (Gonzalez 569).  In 1960 and 2008, both John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama were able to beat the odds, but 2012’s Mitt Romney was not as fortunate. Some reasons for this may stem from the fact that Kennedy’s Roman Catholicism is, nevertheless, a branch of Christianity, which may have put some voters at ease, even at a subconscious level and that Obama spent a respectable amount of time acknowledging his Christian views. Even if Romney would have followed in the footsteps of Kennedy, stating that religion would have no bearing on presidential performance, Romney would have had a difficult time painting a picture of Mormonism to the American people, given the vast incorrect perception of it. The state of religious wonderment in the American presidency is at an all-time high, regardless of a lower total percentage of Americans that claim to be religious today than when compared to fifty years ago.
Back in 1992, J. David Fairbanks and John Francis Burke did an extensive study on how various religious periodicals covered the presidential elections from the Kennedy/Nixon 1960 election to the H.W. Bush/Dukakis 1988 election. In 2012, the two revisited the journal to include the five further presidential elections from 1992-2012. In the original 1992 study, there were two key findings of note: (1) “The Catholic journals devoted more editorials and articles to campaign coverage than did the Protestant journals;” (2) “The Catholic journals devoted the most editorials and articles in the year of the Kennedy candidacy” (Fairbanks and Burke 157). With Kennedy’s religious-centered movement, the Catholic journal support comes as no surprise. His speeches coupled with the written pieces proved worthwhile, as Kennedy would go on to win “roughly eighty percent of the Catholic vote in 1960, much more than the Catholic vote four years earlier for Democrat Adlai Stevenson (Newman 712). In the Fairbanks and Burke study, four religious journals, Christianity Today, Christian Century, America, and Commonweal, were the constants in both the 1960-1988 and 1992-2008 statistics. In the case for each journal, the percentage of editorials and articles written on religious political participation was higher in the years from 1992 to 2008 than over the period between 1960 and 1988. “The quantity of editorial coverage given to religious political participation among the four periodicals reviewed in both studies has increased, again suggesting that the issues of the culture wars have become much more predominant in presidential elections” (Fairbanks and Burke 173). The upsurge of religious frequency in society leaves causes for concern for some.
Shortly before his death at the end of 2011, biologist Richard Dawkins interviewed British-American author Christopher Hitchens to discuss God and US politics, as well as the road America is taking towards becoming a theocracy. When asked if he thinks America is in danger of becoming a theocracy, Hitchens answers, “No, I don’t. Maybe the extreme Protestant evangelicals who do want a God-run America and believe it was founded on essentially fundamentalist Protestant principles” (Dawkins 31). Later on, Hitchens would discuss Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, and his fluctuating views on religion. “He [Jefferson] says he wishes we could return to the wisdom of more than 2,000 years ago. That is in his discussion of his own Jefferson Bible, where he cuts out everything supernatural relating to Jesus” (Dawkins 32). One of the key founding fathers had questionable religious views, indicating that the perception of the United States being founded on essential Protestant principles is, to a degree, incorrect. Additionally, if one or more of the individuals responsible for building the foundation to this country was not completely religious, then the significance of a creed for presidential candidates becomes unsubstantial. In order to understand why a religious background for a president is important to the average American, one must first understand any underlying factors that contribute to a belief. For Richard Dawkins, “Religiosity tends to correlate with poverty and with various other indices of social deprivation” (Dawkins 32). In times of adversity, the relationship between poverty-stricken folk and religion is a two-way street. People enduring hardship look to religion for answers while religious institutions actively seek out and feed on the weak, easily transformational kind. While poverty-ladened areas, in the eyes of Dawkins, have a large religious mindset, at some point, the affiliation between corruption and poverty comes into play.
Patrick Flavin and Richard Ledet in “Religion and Government Corruption in the American States” discuss whether or not states “with a larger proportion of religious citizens will have lower levels of government corruption” (329). It is widely held that a belief in religion will influence aspects of behaviors in an individual. For example, what is deemed to be correct behavior, along with the atrocities that come with objectionable behavior, is chiefly shaped by religious beliefs. When it came to a presidential candidate’s position on “corruption in government,” “80 percent of respondents who reported being a member of a religious denomination answered ‘extremely’ or ‘very important’” in terms of the importance of issues that will influence votes. In comparison, only two-thirds of reported “non-religious” respondents fell into the two selections. In the minds of religious citizens, government corruption is quite noteworthy (Flavin and Ledet 331). Another study, “The Impact of Public Officials’ Corruption on the Size and Allocation of U.S. State Spending,” by Cheol Liu and John L. Mikesell, ranks each state “based on the number of public officials who were convicted for violations of federal corruption laws” (346). The 2014 study found, when dealing with public officials’ corruption from 1976-2008, Mississippi ranked worst. To make matters worse, per the article “Essential Facts About the Victims of Hurricane Katrina,” Mississippi, at twenty-one percent of households, is the most poverty-struck state in the nation, providing evidence that corruption and poverty go hand-in-hand (Sherman & Shapiro 1). As for Flavin and Ledet’s conclusions on corruption and religion, “the relationship appears to be zero or even tends toward positive, possibly indicating that more religious states have higher levels of government corruption” (335). In Mississippi’s case, it is not only the most corrupt and most impoverished, but, moreover, it is the single most religious state in the country. In February of 2014, Gallup released its poll ranking all fifty states, containing the District of Columbia as well. At sixty-one percent, Mississippi boasted the largest percentage of “very religious Americans.” Unsurprisingly, the state had the fewest “non-religious Americans” at just ten percent. As it turns out, the idea that “religiosity tends to correlate with poverty” was not simply a passing remark by atheistic biologist Richard Dawkins, but rather, a well-thought out statement that invokes considerations of what place religion should have in government.
Of course, it is important to note that this is one case, one state, out of fifty. On the opposite end of the spectrum, according to Liu and Mikesell, the least corrupt state from 1976-2008 was Oregon. Per Gallup’s poll, Oregon is the fifth least religious state in the nation. Figures like these are not coincidences. Louisiana (49th in corruption, 4th in religion), Tennessee (48th, 6th), and Alabama (45th, 3rd) are all prime illustrations of the problem that religion plays such an important role in government and the American presidency. Gallup’s statistics indicate one predominant detail: the most religious states reside in the South, providing a reasonable explanation towards the commotion John F. Kennedy faced in Texas in 1960.
Kennedy consistently reminded voters that his moral character would not be tested by his Roman Catholic background. In-between the lines, theological democracy is at play. Michelle Gonzalez argues that “Politicians have become increasingly aware of the manner in which religion can be manipulated in order to attract voters” (571-72). Although the idea that theological democracy acts on beliefs held by the greatest number of people, Kennedy was acting on the majority merely to defend his otherwise minority stance. He was in a prime position during his 1960 speech, even facing opposition, since voters are comfortable with candidates speaking about religion because it impacts their political mindset. “This is most likely not going to change in the near future, despite the fact that the religious faith of recent presidents had little impact on their moral character or policy” (Gonzalez 535). One major reason behind this is government restrictions on religious initiatives.
Lee Marsden in “Bush, Obama, and a Faith-based US Foreign Policy” has a particular focus on controversies with faith-based initiatives set forth by the two most recent presidents. “The interpretation of the establishment clause is generally understood to mean that government should not pay for the delivery of religious services or show discrimination involving public money in favour of any religion” (Marsden 961). When bearing in mind the freedom of religion present in the First Amendment of the Constitution, the government abiding by the separation of church and state is the right way. However, as Marsden continues to write, “Religious organizations could receive government money for service delivery but not for religious activities” (961). The gray area when it comes to the difference between “service delivery” and “religious activities” equates to complications from every perspective. As Jay Wexler notes in “Government Disapproval of Religion,” The Establishment Clause, in that there can be no law that respects the establishment of a religion, keeps the government’s ability to “criticize religious belief, a phenomenon that seems likely to become more prevalent as religious diversity in the United States continues to increase” (124). Wexler uses court cases to supplement his ideas, including C.F. v. Capistrano Unified School District. C.F., a student at Capistrano Valley High School, sues the school district and his teacher, claiming a breach in the Establishment Clause. The most notable statement in question spoken by the teacher, “abstinence-only policies do not work,” led to the court system saying that “teachers would have to ‘tailor [their] comments so as not to offend or disagree with any religious group’” (Wexler 119). As noted, the United States is home to a vast amount of religious beliefs, which would make modifying comments to satisfy every faith virtually impossible. Individual cases like these, however, may not be enough to stop the Christian supremacy that occurs in the United States, as Stephen Newman would argue.
“In recent years, we have had ample evidence of Pro-Christian favoritism from elected or appointed leaders at all levels of the government” (Newman 696). Drawing from the three branches of government, officeholders, and the United States military, Newman provides twelve examples of favoritism at work. The one presidential instance states, “A president [George W. Bush] of the United States, after promising at his inauguration that “church…synagogue and mosque… will have an honored place in our plans and laws,” funneled taxpayer funds to “faith-based” organizations.” Ultimately known as Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., the Supreme Court denied standing to taxpayers who felt the expenses were unconstitutional (Newman 697). Further critics have stated that most of the funding has gone towards supporters of the Bush Administration, effectively nourishing their own agenda. Linked with the eleven other occurrences, “They demonstrate the interlacing of Christianity and governance that effectively endorses particular religious beliefs, confers special privileges on religious grounds, and consigns non-Christians to second class status” (Newman 696). A great amount of court cases (Lee v. Weisman (1992), Borden v. School District of the Township of East Brunswick (2008), Gillman v. Holmes County School District (2008) Doe v. Wilson County School System (2008)) all showcase the unconstitutional intermingling between religion and education. The governmental examples that Newman provides and the religiously educational court cases show that there is great disparity as to when religion is and is not acceptable in various aspects of life. To an extent, the confusion that occurs with religion and government in America stems from the misperception that the United States is a “Christian nation.”
In the book Democracy: Opposing Viewpoints, chapter two focuses on the relationship between religion and democracy. Clark Moeller, from his view, says that democracy is based on secular principles. Moeller argues that America cannot be “Christian nation” with a number of points. Being a Christianized country must mean that there are a set of beliefs that are common to all Christians. “Today, some self-identified Christians dismiss the validity or relevance of central Christian doctrines, such as being born in sin, the importance of forgiveness, or even the essential role of Christ” (Moeller 80). That, along with the differing views Christians have on issues such as abortion and homosexuality, means no set-in-stone list of beliefs that all Christians adhere to. A second perception is the idea that at the time the United States was founded, colonial Americans were religious. “However, in 1776, only 17% of Americans were members of any church as compared to about 60% today” (Moeller 81). While Moeller successfully debunks the myth that America is a “Christian nation,” it is not out of the realm of possibility to say that America is a “non-religious nation,” at least in the sense of endorsement. Moeller quotes Derek H. Davis from the Journal of Church and State, saying, “By keeping the government out of every aspect of religion’s business, Americans have ensured the sanctity of their religious practices” (Moeller 79). Justice Sandra Day O’Connor would concur, stating, “Government cannot endorse the religious practices and beliefs of some citizens without sending a clear message to non-adherents that they are outsiders or less than full members of the political community” (Moeller 79). From a constitutional sense, government cannot favor any one particular religion, paving the way for a non-religiously functioning country. Cathy Young in another viewpoint in Democracy: Opposing Viewpoints takes O’ Connor’s idea a step further.
“Yet, the faith-based presidency is genuinely troubling. No less important is the symbolic message that one must be religious in order to be a part of the body politic – in order, perhaps, to be a ‘real’ American” (Young 99). Young provides the example of Howard Dean as being a “secular” candidate. Dean, one of the Democratic nominees in the 2004 election, labeled as “one of the most secular candidates to run for president in modern history,” has openly stated that he does not go to church often (Young 97). Although a claimed Episcopalian, Dean was not religious enough, if something of that nature is even possible, in the eyes of the American people. “In some of the Republican attacks on Democratic financier George Soros, atheist was used as a term of opprobrium” (Young 99). Young also makes note of the fact that half of voters believed that a president should use his faith as a guided tool in making political decisions. Society today has engrained the idea that political officials should not hide their religious views, “but is it not equally outrageous that, on today’s political scene, a secularist figure cannot express his views honestly without committing career suicide?” (Young 99). Expressing beliefs, whether a theist or not, creates a one-way street in American politics; it is deemed beneficial for a religious presidential candidate to voice their faith, to the point where it is required if one wants to win, but frowned upon by someone that is secular, to the point where doing so will cause one to lose. This is undeniably unfair to the six percent of Americans that claim to be unaffiliated with a religious denomination. As the United States moves into the future, radical transformation needs to occur to eliminate the estrangement toward non-religious figures that dream of running the country as president.
Those that do not know history are doomed to repeat it. There are reasons why John F. Kennedy had to insist that his Roman Catholic background would have no bearing on his capability of running the country. There are reasons why the courts have had to hear a myriad of cases regarding religion and government. There are also explanations as to why Mississippi is the most corruptly, religious state, to why the idea of separation of church and state is entrenched in everyday life, and to why faith-based initiatives have been surrounded by controversy: religion and American politics, specifically from a presidential standpoint, do not work together. The evidence provided suggests not a complete overhaul of how religion plays a part in the U.S. presidency, but rather, a serious look into the idea of letting a non-religious individual run the country for four years. The only thing that stands in the way of this event from happening is the American people’s willingness to try something new. Going as far as preaching the Omnipotence Paradox to disprove God, which Douglas Lackey provides as an argument against God’s existence in his book, God, Immortality, Ethics, might be pushing it to the extreme. We have already seen the American population stick with their incorrect assumptions about a president, despite being told otherwise, so does it honestly matter what a president says about their religious views? Richard Dawkins stated, “There’s no connection between atheism and doing horrible things, whereas there easily can be a connection in the case of religion, as we see with modern Islam” (Dawkins 30). Meanwhile, religious folk have been a centralized focus for some of the world’s worst atrocities, such as the Schutzstaffel during World War II and their connection to the Catholic Church. Even Mother Teresa spoke that poverty was a present from God. Extreme examples, to be sure, but the non-religious side to the American presidential history is unwritten. It would be difficult to predict the future of a country like the United States with a president of no religious belief, though, could it be any worse than what we have already seen?

Works Cited

Burke, John Francis. “Religious Periodicals and Presidential Elections, 1992–2008.” Journal of Media and Religion 11.3 (2012): 156-76. EBSCO Host.  1 October 2014.
“Chapter 2: What Should Be the Relationship Between Religion and Democracy?” Democracy: Opposing Viewpoints. Ed. Mike Wilson. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven/Thomson Gale, 2006. 71-99.
Dawkins, Richard. “Never Be Afraid of Stridency.” New Statesman 140.5084 (2011): 28-33. EBSCO Host. Web. 6 October 2014.
Espinosa, Gastón, ed. Religion and the American Presidency: George Washington to George W. Bush with Commentary and Primary Sources. New York: Columbia UP, 2009.
Flavin, Patrick, and Richard Ledet. “Religion and Government Corruption in the American States.” Public Integrity 15.4 (2013): 329-44. EBSCO Host.  5 October 2014.
Gonzalez, Michelle A. “Religion and the US Presidency: Politics, the Media, and Religious Identity.” Political Theology 13.5 (2012): 568-85. EBSCO Host.  1 October 2014.
Lackey, Douglas P. God, Immortality, Ethics: A Concise Introduction to Philosophy. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub., 1990.
Liu, Cheol, and John L. Mikesell. “The Impact of Public Officials’ Corruption on the Size and Allocation of US State Spending.” Public Administration Review 74.3 (2014): 346-359. 5 October 2014.
Marsden, Lee. “Bush, Obama and a Faith-based US Foreign Policy.” International Affairs 88.5 (2012): 953-74. EBSCO Host.  5 October 2014.
Newman, Stephen A. “From John F. Kennedy’s 1960 Campaign Speech to Christian Supremacy: Religion in Modern Presidential Politics.” New York Law School Review 53.3/4 (2009): 691-733. EBSCO Host.  1 Oct. 2014.
Sherman, Arloc, and Isaac Shapiro. “Essential facts about the victims of Hurricane Katrina.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities 1 (2005). 16 August 2017.
Smith, Patricia. “Religion & the White House.” New York Times Upfront Feb 20 2012: 16,17,T3,T6. ProQuest. 6 October 2014.
Wexler, Jay. “Government Disapproval of Religion.” Brigham Young University Law Review 2013.1 (2013): 119-51. EBSCO Host.  6 October 2014.

Alex Miller holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sports and Recreation Management and is in his fourth year at Ashford pursuing a second Bachelor’s degree in English.  He hopes that this degree and the time spent in English courses will allow him to continue honing his skills as a writer. With his first child due in October, he hopes to pass on what he’s learned in the wonderful world of reading and writing to the next generation.

“Making Sense of John Donne’s Death”
by Angela Hadley

Death. The topic provokes anxiety in most human beings. Fomeshi states, “Death is an inevitable destiny for humans, and for this reason it has always permeated his/her thoughts at all levels” (77). It is in response to this fear that humans find ways to calm themselves with the reality of this inevitable fate:  all things must die. Perhaps this preoccupation with death is why literature has manifested so many pieces about the subject. John Donne is among the authors who have developed such a fascination, some suggest an obsession, with death. “Death Be Not Proud” is a prime example of his obsession. Putting on the lens of a deconstructive critic, one can discover the instability of Donne’s ranting about and to Death. Nance explains, “Deconstruction is interested in the idea that meaning breaks apart; if you look too closely at any text it no longer holds meaning, it falls apart.” Through this method of criticism, a reader can deconstruct the poem and analyze how Donne’s meaning cannot hold. Furthermore, a more psychological battle becomes apparent when reading “Death Be Not Proud,” as the speaker is trying to convince himself that he will reach eternal life and escape Death. An analysis of “Death Be Not Proud” illustrates the instability of Donne’s poem with a narrator who speaks to Death as an entity of consciousness, who tries to compare death to going to sleep, and who unsuccessfully states that Death will die.
As a devout Catholic, John Donne lived in a Protestant, Anglican Britain that was hostile to his faith. This political environment and his early introduction to death, his father dying when he was only four years old, sparked his interest in death (Greenblatt 1371). Donne also lost his brother, his young wife, and five of his children during the early part of his lifespan. Perhaps these losses and the repression of his religious freedom created an increasing uncertainty around his place in the world. According to Greenblatt, “Donne came increasingly to be engaged in anxious contemplating of his own morality” (1371). During his youth, he wrote pieces of literature that were reflective of the promiscuous courtier that he had once been, but he matured into an author who created some of the most beautiful religious verses in English. His journey through life progressed from the Catholic family that became conforming Protestants, “to the military adventurer who raided Cadiz with the Earl of Essex, to the rising civil servant who wrecked his career for love, to the harassed father scrabbling to support an every-increasing brood” (Smith). Greenblatt suggests that Donne’s writings demand that readers use an exceptional degree of mental attention and participation, whether they are his sonnets or his sermons.
An analysis of “Death Be Not Proud” illustrates the instability of Donne’s poem by revealing a narrator who speaks to Death as an entity of consciousness: “Death, be not proud, though some have called thee” (1). The speaker fluctuates between talking to Death, about death itself, then back again to talking at Death. The narrator of Donne’s poem addresses Death as if speaking to another person. The narrator is not talking about death or dying, but talking to a conscious self. The speaker goes on to admonish Death to not be full of pride or arrogance as he walks around the realm of mortal man, even though humans might treat this entity like one who deserves reverence, “mighty and dreadful” (2). How is Death an individual who can be spoken to? The speaker almost comes off as one who is standing there talking to the air, no one truly listening. The speaker is voicing his opinion of Death like he is one who does not fear it at all, yet he truly sounds as though his ranting is an attempt to convince himself that he is not afraid.  One can deconstruct this approach to reflect that Donne is the one speaking to Death and trying to convince himself that he is not afraid of dying. Fomeshi states “his preoccupation with the instability of life and the ruthless perpetuity of death makes him a death-poet” (77).
Donne suffered many personal tragedies in his life and appears to channel his distaste for death all through this poem. Personifying death, instead of discussing the basic biological function of how it is the end of the journey, shows the internal struggle to accept that all things that live must, at some point, die. If indeed Death were a conscious self, then pride would be an expected reaction to doing his job well. Any person who accomplishes a task or duty given to them should feel pride in themselves; it is basic human nature. But to preach to Death to not be proud is like undermining the importance of his duty. He is supposed to bring humans from the mortal realm to the afterlife. So, for the speaker to tell Death to not be proud of a job well done is like treating him as an individual of less value.  Furthermore, Death is a bully, “mighty and dreadful,” going around scaring people, and the speaker is not one of those scared people.
Another illustration of the instability of this sonnet appears when the speaker compares Death to sleep. For starters, sleep is something that one will eventually wake up from, whereas death is not. How can the pleasures of sleeping be similar to the pain of dying? Unless the speaker is hinting at hidden thoughts of suicide, why would death be considered pleasurable? The speaker is convincing himself that, if he dies, that it will be just like going to sleep, including the painless and pleasurable feelings that accompany it: “From rest and sleep, which by thy pictures be,/ Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow” (5-6).  The speaker asserts that sleep and rest are lighter images of death; Death is the real deal, instead of just the portraits that rest and sleep are. If the most pleasure one can endure is that of Death, sleep and rest are just glimpses of the magnitude of pleasure that Death can bring. This outlook makes the narrator sound like he cannot wait until he can die and feel these pleasures. McCabe suggests that critiquing literature is more than just interpreting what the author is trying to say in the text, but reinterpreting that meaning to reflect his own principles (82). So, is the speaker not scared of Death and happily waiting for it to come for him?
Just a few lines earlier this was not the case: “For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow/ Die not, poor Death, not yet canst thou kill me” (3-4).  Donne’s speaker in these lines tells of how Death is all high and mighty, like a king who can be “overthrown,” and that Death cannot kill him. But if Death is supposed to be the most pleasurable experience, then why is the speaker addressing Death as if he cannot be killed by Death? If Donne was such a devout Catholic, then how can he write about going against Death? In the Christian faith, Death is considered the gateway or transition to everlasting life in heaven. Perhaps if this speaker is reflecting his Creator, then the contradictions present in this piece so far show the conflicting reality of how Death is perceived by Donne. The sonnet does an about-face from a narrator standing up to Death and trying to put Death’s arrogance and ego in check, to one who embraces the great pleasures that Death will bring.
A further reading of “Death Be Not Proud” addresses the reality that the good die young: “And soonest our best men with thee do go” (7). Line seven speaks of how only the “best men” die, insinuating that the average men and any women continue living a mundane existence of life. Instead of stating that some die young because of the circumstances of their lives, there is just the generalized opinion that the best men die young. There is almost the hint that those who die young, the “best men,” are so brave and courageous that they volunteer to die before the rest: “Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.” This makes Death sound like one who will carry those who die young into a comfortable place where they can forever relax and be at peace (8). So why again shouldn’t Death be proud of himself? If Death can carry souls into a peaceful place where rest and relaxation begin, then he is one who would be revered and looked up to. The presence of Death brings on pleasurable thoughts and feelings, just like one might view sleep. Even though the sonnet begins with a calling out of Death’s pride, the flow of the piece enlightens one to the good Death accomplishes. Yes, Death might be a proud individual, and rightfully so with what peace he brings to humanity.
Yet another contradiction occurs in the sonnet. The speaker goes from ranting at Death, to discussing the positives Death brings, to again taunting Death with ill comments: “Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men” (9). So now the narrator is ugly towards Death, again taunting him calling him a slave. Death is at the service of things like fate and chance. This indicates that Death has no power at all, and is just the cleanup crew for the two. Now Death is portrayed more like a person, at the will of others and not free to act on his own, helplessly controlled by others and only existing to do their bidding. Deconstruction emphasizes the importance of the power of language and how readers interpret that language to make sense of what they are reading (Rollins 14). Nealon states, “Deconstruction involves a double reading, a neutralization, and a reinscription” (1269). From this theoretical perspective, the speaker seems to have shifted to a more hostile attitude towards Death now. The narrator even goes in for a deeper blow to the pride of Death by stating “And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell” (10). Earlier, Death is compared to the greatest pleasure life can offer; now he is compared to the most painful and hurtful things in life. Poison, war, and sickness are bedfellows with Death, things that are not associated with pleasure. Most of the time, the death that results from one of these things is not a pleasurable one, but one of great pain and suffering. But if Death is the same as the most pleasurable sleep, as the speaker pointed out in earlier lines, then how can it be in league with such horrors?
Another twist in the discussion shows that one might not even need Death to feel this pleasurable sleep that Death can bring: “And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well/ And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou them?” (11-12). So now we have gone from Death being the most pleasurable sleep, to acknowledging that drugs and magic charms can replicate this event even better. The speaker baits Death, suggesting that one doesn’t even need Death to feel these things. The use of the word “stroke” can have multiple meanings in this poem. It can refer to Death “stroking” one’s head as he lulls one into the “deep sleep” of Death, as a mother might her child. The speaker has now brought Death down a notch and reminds him not to “swell” like one would with pride in a job well done.
Additionally, the next illustration of the instability of this poem is in the final two lines: “One short sleep past, we wake eternally/ And Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die” (13-14). The speaker has come back to the comparison of Death to sleep. Now we have a time distinction: the sleep of death is short, and one will awaken in the afterlife quickly. The speaker now brings back the religious context of his respect for Death, or the lack thereof. Christian belief dictates that when one dies in their earthly life, they are reawakened into heaven where paradise is found. This suggests that Death again is the most pleasurable sleep one can have. A person gets to wake up and not be dead, but can live on. This is where the realization of the internal struggle of the speaker becomes apparent. This isn’t someone standing up to something he is afraid of, but a narrator attempting to convince himself that, since just a short sleep will occur which will result in eternal life, there is no reason to fear Death.
The final line of this piece really illustrates the speaker’s fluctuations: “And Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die” (14). Now we have the nail in the coffin of Death.  This eternal life that exists after a short sleep removes the necessity for Death at all. The final contradictory line of the whole sonnet truly shows the lack of stability in Donne’s poem. How can Death die? If “Death shall be no more,” who is to carry out the duties when something dies? The speaker seems to have reached a complete lack of reality and cannot conduct simple statements. If Death ceases to exist and, according to the Christian faith, has no place in the afterlife where the world has ended and there is no more Death, then the fear of Death ceases to exist. Meaning that there is nothing left to be afraid of anymore. Perhaps what seems to be the last dig at the pride of Death turns the speaker into an unstable, unreliable narrator. Instead of getting the better of Death and putting him in his place, the speaker now is portrayed as a coward who stammers gibberish in the face of the big and scary antagonist.
In conclusion, the ranting speaker in Donne’s sonnet comes across as one who is trying to convince himself not to fear death by personifying Death as a conscious entity. Sadly, he goes on to stammer about how Death is just the fullest version of sleep from which one will eventually awaken. Yet that sleep can also be induced through drugs and magic charms to achieve a better experience than Death can even produce. After a long and conflicting argument with “Death,” the speaker comes back to the opinion that Death is nothing to fear since one does not really cease to exist, and it is Death who shall be extinguished from the world. The poem heavily reflects Donne’s own internal struggle to accept the death and tragedy so present in his own life. The romanticized idea of death that Donne develops shines through in his sonnet as he attacks Death’s pride and emphasizes the lack of power that Death holds over humans; Death is not something to be feared, but a pleasant experience (Fomeshi 78). Deconstructing this sonnet shows that the message alters from start to finish, and that the argument the speaker presents seems to shift from one belief to its opposite. Whether Donne himself was portraying his internal conflict about the realities of death, or if he was just portraying the consensus of those around him, is unclear. But what is clear, is that the instability of the poem’s meaning reflects an unstable, unreliable speaker who has yet to resolve his own internal conflicts about the nature of death.


Works Cited

Donne, John. “Death, be not proud.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation. www.poetryfoundation.org. 24 August 2017.
Fomeshi, Behnman M. “The Concept of Death in John Donne and Sohrad Sepehri: A Comparative Study” K@ta (2013): 77-83.  22 June 2017.
Greenblatt, Stephen. The Norton Anthology English Literarute (9th ed., Vol. 1). New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011.
Lynn, Steven. Texts and Contexts: Writing About Literature with Critical Theory. Boston: Pearson Education, 2011.
McCabe, Kevin. “Was Juvenal a Strucuturalist? A Look at Anachronisms in Literary Criticism.” Greece & Rome (1986): 78-84.  18 June 2017.
Nance, Tim. What is Deconstruction? 26 February 2015. 12 August 2017. 16 June 2017.
Nealon, Jeffrey. “The Discipline of Deconstruction.” PMLA (1992): 1266-1279.
Rollins, Brooke. “Inheriting Deconstruction: Rhetoric and Composition’s Missed Encounter with Jacques Derrida.” College English (2006): 11-29.  June 2017.
Smith, W. “A life of Conradictions; John Donne the Reformed Soul John Stubbs.” Los Angeles Times 15 April 2007: 566. 24 June 2017.

Angela Hadley is just shy of her Bachelor’s degree in Education Studies and plans to continue on to get her Master’s degree in Teaching and Learning with Technology. She is a single mother of four, working full-time at the middle school her youngest attends as the attendance clerk.  She is an avid reader and thoroughly enjoys literature and all of the history it has to teach us.

“Why We Tell Monster Stories”
by Harmony Libby

Storytelling has long been a human tradition. Dating back to thousands of years ago, even the simplest of cultures had their own myths and stories that have been orally passed down from generation to generation. Over time the stories may change slightly in their telling, but usually the key ingredients to what made the story a myth, remain. Traditionally, myths have been recounted orally, passed from parent to child, but in more modern cultures, stories are related through written tradition. Children today have access to many different stories from many different cultures, and to stories that have been written down from centuries past, but no matter when or how they were told, most stories include a moral or valuable lesson, and are, in many cultures, seen as truth, or as a way to teach culturally acceptable behaviors. In what follows, I will discuss the importance of “monster stories” and how they shape the way a child views the world around them, including how such films depicted from popular fictional novels like The Lord of the Rings have contributed to shaping society’s view of “good and evil.”
Monster Stories
In order to consider where the Lord of the Rings has stemmed from, the culture that would bring an author to write such a story, and why it would attain such fame, one must understand why our culture, or why humanity, tells such scary stories to children to begin with. In ancient times, lacking an understanding of science as we know it today, civilizations needed a way of rationalizing the forces of nature, and the forces within (Gilmore 23). Monstrous forms start to appear on the walls of caves around twenty-five thousand years ago in France and Spain, which show prehistoric man’s awe of man-eating animals and inimitable forces of nature (Gilmore 25). Such forms are not as numerous or famous as wild game animal cave paintings, but none the less, they are frequent and imply that such forms were important in understanding human psychological origins (Gilmore 25).
It would be safe to say that stories of monsters contributed to the rise of civilization on this planet (Gilmore 26). Scalise Sugiyama and Sugiyama write that monster stories were traditionally told orally in forager cultures to promote survivability in young children (Scalise Sugiyama & Sugiyama 334). Most parents will do and say anything to keep their children safe, and telling stories about a monster or two who may hurt a child who wanders off, is just one more way that parents use to make children obedient to their will, especially where their lives may be in danger. The use of stories to scare a child safe is not unique to foraging societies; in fact most cultures have stories that they tell children to make them obey without argument. For instance, here in the U.S., parents often will tell their children to go to bed without delay or the boogie man may come to get them. Variations of these stories are told worldwide (Scalise Sugiyama & Sugiyama 333).
Fear is an extremely powerful emotion, and one can only imagine that within a world of darkness and predators, fear plays an important role in the rearing of children. The environment in some cultures, especially those of foraging societies, may be fraught with dangers. Those dangers include such things as getting lost, temperature differences, dying of thirst or hunger, and the danger of being kidnapped or tortured by rivaling tribes. Parents who tell their children monster stories do so to keep them safe from predators or from wandering off form the group. For foraging cultures, it is important that children believe, without doubt, whatever their parents tell them, and that they remain, at least, within earshot of the main camp (Scalise Sugiyama & Sugiyama 341).
According to Norenzayan, Atran, Faulkner, & Schaller, in their article entitled “Memory and Mystery: The Cultural Selection of Minimally Counterintuitive Narratives,” stories that are based on imaginary creatures, or monsters, or stories that contain within them elements that are extraordinary, are more likely to be remembered and passed down from generation to generation in oral tradition (Norenzayan, Atran, Faulkner, & Schaller 535). The stories of oral tradition that contain some element of the supernatural, while not detouring too far from the human experience, have a better chance of being stored and passed down orally than stories that contain no supernatural elements at all (Norenzayan et al. 543). The monster may have been real, while the acts the monster would commit may be fantastical. In classic literature, monsters took the form of demons, inhuman monsters, or other fantastical creatures that often fought against humans in the fight of “good vs. evil.”
Monster stories almost always contain some element of fantasy, and according to Norenzayan et.al. those stories are the ones that persist. “Supernatural elements externalize and emotionally relieve core existential human problems, including death, deception, meaninglessness, and other problems that are factually and rationally intractable” (550). Aside from the fight against evil, monster stories often teach children real world problems in an entertaining way. Since monster stories often relate back to real world problems or situations, they are often remembered better and passed down more traditionally then stories that do not.
From Oral to Written Tradition
It is impossible to trace the origin of stories. People shared stories long before they wrote them down.  It is therefore impossible to determine when the first monster story was told. Stories were often told to relate shared experiences, and to pass on knowledge from one generation to the next. Stories became popular by their ability to be remembered, being retold often, and by being accepted as relevant by the people listening to the story. Stories that maintained their appeal were later written down as humans gained both the knowledge to write and read because they had stood the test of time, and were still being told and retold by people in the time they were written down. Stories such as the mythologies of ancient Greece, the life of Jesus Christ and other stories in the Bible, as well as books that are more recent, such as “The Lord of the Rings”, are still being told and re-told today.
“The Lord of the Rings”
The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien is a fantasy story that takes place in Middle Earth and it is one of my favorite stories of all times; I must have read it twenty times during the course of my life. I will admit as a youngster, I was mostly interested in escaping my current circumstances, and “The Lord of the Rings” and Tolkien’s middle Earth is a place I often escaped to. I had never given much thought to the mythological aspects of the story, until later in life.
The characters include a white wizard, a fallen king, a hobbit (or a few significantly forgotten little persons), an elf, a warrior, and a dwarf. The companions must embark on a quest to eliminate the world of evil, by destroying a supernatural ring that holds the spirit of the evil dark lord, Sauron. The ring is seeking its master, and at times appears to have a mind of its own, tempting Frodo into wearing it, even though Frodo knows better.
The story fits perfectly with the conclusion that stories must contain supernatural elements, while not detouring too far from the human experience (Norenzayan et al. 543). At first, it may appear that “The Lord of the Rings” is purely a fictional account of a young hobbit who must face evil to save the world. However, on closer inspection, one will see elements of the classic battle between good and evil, the underlining story of how Frodo was leaving home for the first time, the dangers that he might face, and the dangers of trusting those who may betray you.
According to Norenzayan the remembered story must contain just enough of the supernatural to make it memorable and relatable, but not so much that people hearing the story find it unrealistic (543). “The Lord of the Rings” contains mostly human issues that are encountered in real life situations, however, it has just enough magic to make a person remember it. For instance, one main passage in the story is when Gandalf is fighting the demon from the deep and falls into the pit. While in the pit he uses magic to fight the demon, emerges victoriously, then later returns to the companions as the white wizard. This sub-section of the story deals with the fear of life after death, and humans conquering that fear; something that most Christians will admit hey hope to achieve someday be going to Heaven.
According to Scalise Sugiyama and Sugiyama, fairytales, or monster stories, are retold time and time again because they relate to survival or reproduction. “The Lord of the Rings” could be said to relate to the survival (357). In the classical sense, one may not see the survival aspect of “The Lord of the Rings.” It does not relate to everyday survival, but more so to the survival of the soul; the ultimate fight between good and evil, or between the devil and God.
Stories have a way of taking on a life of their own. Some stories remain with you, and some characters come to life; like long known friends, they provide comfort and familiarity in times of unfamiliarity. Stories are important to cultures of people, because they connect and unite, shock and amaze, and take one on an epic adventure that relates life back to one’s self.  They resonate with generations of people and are often passed down from one generation to the next, picked up by an outside culture and passed on in many different forms in a variety of societies. The classic mythology stories, the ones that everyone knows, such as the story of Hercules, or the story of Cinderella, contain just enough fantastical elements to make the story relatable and memorable to many different people form many walks of life. Good stories, the ones that stick, will continue to make an impact and hold special places for many generations of people to come, and “The Lord of the Rings” is one of those stories.


Works Cited

Gilmore, David D. Monsters: Evil Beings, Mythical Beasts, and All Manner of Imaginary Terrors. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.
Norenzayan, Ara, Scott Atran, Jason Faulkner and Mark Schaller. (2006, May 6). “Memory and Mystery: The Cultural Selection of Minimally Counterintuitive Narratives.” Cognitive Science, 6 May (2006): 531-553. 14 June 2017.
Scalise Sugiyama, Michelle and Lawrence Sugiyama. “‘Once the Child is Lost He Dies’: Monster Stories Vis-a-Vis the Problem of Errant Children.” Creating Consilience:  Integrating the Sciences and the Humanities, (2011): 351-371. 14 June 2017.

Harmony Libby is a Dean’s List student in her third year at Ashford University,  majoring in Cultural Anthropology with double minors in Sociology and Psychology. After graduation, she plans on continuing her education and obtaining a doctorate in Psychology. Harmony has a passion for helping people, and plans on specializing in trauma, anxiety, and stress related disorders as a psychologist. She lives in South Dakota with her wonderful husband, four amazing children, and their dog. Harmony and her family are avid adventurers and like to spend as much time exploring new places as possible.

“Heaven and Earth: Are Religion and Science in Conflict?”
by Brande Mora

If one were to explain a belief system as “a way of thinking versus a body of knowledge,” and further describe this belief system as “subject to interpretation, and requiring courage because it questions conventional wisdom,” would it be surmised that we are discussing religious and spiritual belief systems?  Surprisingly, these were the words Carl Sagan used to describe science (Sagan 44).  Throughout history, and even today, there are many who believe science and religion are in conflict with each other, but there are also those who believe them to be in perfect agreement.  The focus here is to discuss the belief that religion and science are in harmony, to explore their pleasing combination of sometimes contradictory elements as a whole, and to illustrate their shared purposeful reasons.
Let us begin the argument with a range of scientific and religious definitions.  Sagan’s words are beautifully woven; however, science is subjective, systematic, falsifiable, and generally, cannot involve moral or value judgments (De Cruz 1.2).  Dictionaries from business disciplines to English basics, describe science using words like:  measureable, verifiable, laws, principles, and reason.  Contrary to this positivism, Plantinga, an American analytic philosopher, explains religion as, “the property of being religious isn’t intrinsic to a belief; it is rather a belief one acquires when it functions in a certain way in the life of a given person or community” (1.2).   Scripture even states Satan believes in God and His Word, which is often the basis of what we call religion, and therefore would be considered “religious” by those standards.  Other philosophers describe spirituality as a response to the human condition, both an intellectual and emotional response (Watson 315). John Calvin describes religious belief as one of internal delivery, beyond the source of reason, but not contrary to reason (De Cruz 3.2). Most of this discussion will revolve around Western religion versus science.
The discussion of agreement begins with a comparison of religion and science: each of them is a search for knowledge, have pluralistic qualities, and contradictory theories.  Has anyone ever seen it rain while the sun is shining, or heard of a lion and dog who coexist?  Theories behind these phenomenon are no more provable than the heart of God.  Drees states “quite a few appeal to Thomas Kuhn (1970), and other philosophers who argue science is tied to paradigms, perspectives, and personal preferences, and hence are not as objective and universal as it seems” (547).  This is to say science and religion do share similar characteristics.  Despite their differences in conveyance, science and religion define who we are, why we are here, and what we believe. When most modern Christians consider God, a main concept is our creation in His image.  This image includes His love of knowledge and His ability to form beliefs.  This is the same pursuit of knowledge we share of ourselves and of our natural environment.
If the natural environment is part of our existence, and our knowledge of that environment is part of our scientific conclusions, we may also attribute theistic belief as part of a scientific process.  There are both cosmological and biological arguments referring to theism as part of their rationalization (De Cruz 1.3).  The Cosmological, or first cause proof of God’s existence, asserts that there are no uncaused events (Mosser 107).  St. Thomas Aquinas took this even further by arguing that contingent beings could only, and ultimately be caused by a non-contingent being.  Because the Cosmological proof, in essence, refers to one long chain, both science and religion can exist in this chain.  God would be the first link in the chain, but would not be in conflict with science.  The biological argument relies more on intelligent design theism.  Here we find complex systems, such as found in our immune system and its transport of cells to defend itself, without harming other cells (De Cruz 3.2).  If anything ceased to be included, or other phenomenon were added to such a system, it would not function properly.  Those who believe complex structures and phenomenon have not gradually developed on their own, will attribute this to a higher being.
The discussion of conflict can be seen as the question of the relation between faith and reason.  In past and current philosophical discussions, the connection between religion and science has been described as something just short of war.  The obvious conflict is that science is falsifiable, and religion is not.  Science can be hypothesized, tried, tested, proven right, wrong, or even indifferent, but proven.  Religion must be believed beyond rationale and beyond what our five senses tell us.  Conflict also exists, not in the domain of either areas of knowledge, but in religion’s degradation of science, and science’s disbelief of religion.  The two bodies of knowledge have often been in conflict out of survival.  When we consider religious tradition as pre-science, this has given religion an upper hand, making science less threatening (Drees 547).
In the early 1600s, Galileo challenged the interpretation of scripture based on what he considered proven findings about the rotation of the sun, and other cosmological happenings (Levinson 424).  In the 1800s, challenges revolved around science and its burden to prove the earth’s age in accordance with scripture, and in the 1900s, we became focused on Darwinism’s evolution of the species.  In the twentieth century, we perpetuated this conflict between creationism and evolution, highlighted by fundamentalist efforts to protect classroom curriculum.  By 1987, creationism had become neocreationism in an attempt to assimilate evolution into Intelligent Design.  Current trends find science increasing in authority and status through professionalism, and theology decreasing in authority through triviality of theological content (Levinson 427).  There has also been a movement from understood scientific professional policy not incorporating the supernatural, to a personal credo refuting everything supernatural.
It could be said the most popular twenty-first century conflict between science and religion is evolution versus creationism.  Most have never considered, however, that Charles Darwin often mentioned how science and religion were not as distinct as we attempted to keep them (Letter no. 11763).  Young Earth Creationism (YEC) establishes the earth and universe at about 10,000 years old, and the flood involving Noah, as the single event to establish the earth (Mosser 112).  It also argues fossil records are incomplete and evolutionary theory cannot tie simple organic molecules to complex organic life forms. The YEC also suggests entropy refutes evolution’s theory regarding how systems have shown an increase in organization and order. Those who follow a YEC theory believe these opposing views to evolution provide enough reason to doubt the theory as a whole.
It is a fact many of the champions of modern science such as Galileo, Newton, and Copernicus, were self-professed Christians.  These men believed religion and science fit together like a puzzle piece creating a whole picture.  Recently, Sir Isaac Newton’s papers showed his convictions complicated the idea that science is diametrically opposed to religion (Papers Show Isaac Newton’s).  Rene Descartes, a French philosopher, scientist, and devout Catholic, described human beings as having two radically distinct substances: the soul and the body (Mosser 110).  Using the word distinct allows for each of those substances to exist independently of each other.  If we view these things as having their own distinct properties, or even a foundational basis, then we can fathom how each might require both faith and reason to assist them as they exist as a whole in this world.  According to Levinson, one of the most significant Christian thinkers, St. Augustine, argued the connection of religion and science; “in terms of the pursuit of religion versus the pursuit of science or philosophy, religion has primacy, but scientific knowledge is an important handmaiden that assists true religion” (423).  Understanding that we are spiritual beings, with an anchor to something higher, inspires us to build upon this knowledge to improve ours, or other physical beings.  We must understand there is DNA, in order to scientifically prove there is DNA.
When we address the conflict between science and religion, we must assess if this is a lack of compatibility in religious beliefs and scientific insights, highlighting their relationship more than their nature (Drees 545).  Recalling our puzzle analogy, where two pieces fit together to form a whole picture, religion and science have been knit together to form a better understanding of our spiritual and physical need for knowledge.  Even in acknowledging that science is falsifiable and religion is not, we do not necessarily assert that they are in conflict with one another.  When we consider the physical properties of the brain, it makes sense we are able to prove, or disprove, its inner workings in a scientific manner; however, in regards to the thoughts we believe are a product of such physical proof, we must trust and have faith they are formed from those processes.  We have no physical proof of love, and yet without the physical brain, we know love cannot exist.
In the aforementioned conflict, Galileo challenges the interpretation of scripture with scientific proof.  The argument may seem to involve conflict between religion and science, but it is more concerned with issues amongst various religious orders (Drees 550).  Galileo did not challenge spirituality, he challenged doctrine, and the authority of the church in earthly matters.  This cannot be described as religion versus science, but more the varying interdisciplinary interpretation of beliefs, versus speculative scientific insight.  Interpretation of revelation and nature have been woven into doctrine and instruction for thousands of years.  The Qur’an urges Muslims to seek truth in nature, Buddhism centers on the impartial investigation of nature and the role we play, and Hinduism has historically embraced empiricism and reason.
Our argument may align with Galileo’s; seekers do not disagree there is a god, but may disagree on which god, and what each god may instruct.  Seekers also may begin with fact, and follow it with a challenge.  For instance, it is known how the earth revolves around the sun, how the pressure of water changes at certain depths, and how there are laws governing the facets of fire.  How do reasoning beings seeking reconciliation with their spirituality align scientific knowledge with written and oral history regarding spiritual characters who wrestle the sun, walk on water, or defy other scientifically significant principles? (Levinson 424).  Just by seeking, we may have already answered the question of reconciliation.  Only a spiritual being, guided by intelligence and a desire for proof, would choose such a path.
If we rely strictly on the theory of evolution, and those who insist our existence is the sophisticated and accidental genetic event it describes, how would we satisfy the soul’s yearning for spiritual knowledge?  Even the atheist who claims unbelief, had to arrive at an anti-belief through a yearning and search for such knowledge.  If our existence on this earth ends with us becoming food for the worms or amoebas from which we were created, what is the meaning of life?  Evolution may provide history of the human journey to where we are now, but it cannot satisfy the deep yearning within us to know our soul, our purpose, and our destiny.  Darwin, Newton, and Sagan were all confronted with the challenge other seekers face; there is proof of existence, but there is no answer for why in science.
The antithesis theory that human beings come from an omnibenevolent, omniscient being, who created us in His image and for this earth, through one cataclysmic event, cannot satisfy our need to understand the things of this earth.  We are subject to disease, natural disasters, and other events out of control.  These events rob us of life and control, and seekers strive for knowledge of their causes for many reasons.  It is in the acceptance of both religion and science, that we find something close to an answer.  Human beings are created with a free will and given authority in this earth, and its natural order.  Scientific Christians such as Newton attribute this to a god with an omnibenevolent nature, shown through his willingness to give us choices, that allow us to learn through consequences.  When you consider any disease, or natural disaster, you can find a cause.  In finding a cause, you can find a catalyst and human origin.  Our manipulation of the environment, through overuse and neglect, has caused many natural disasters, cataclysmic events, or diseases.
Some philosophical arguments assert science is a natural, systematic, and falsifiable part of our existence unreconciled with religion.  They have convened, with their fossils, petri dishes, and hypotheses, to settle that science is the only thing on which we can rely because our senses have proven it to us.  Carl Sagan once said, “Who is more humble?  The scientist who looks at the universe with an open mind and accepts whatever the universe has to teach us, or somebody who says everything in this book must be considered the literal truth and never mind the fallibility of all the human beings involved?” (00:08:41).  This sounds much like Galileo’s issue with doctrine, versus spirituality, but may be meant to support those who seek truth.  Other arguments, like the YEC, support complete concordance of science and religion in attributes and origin.  They ascertain because each belief systems share traits, they are essentially the same and their nature is the same.  It is possible to believe in both religion and science, operating much like a beautiful marriage.  Each satisfies a longing within us for knowledge, provides a foundation for who we are, and offers further discovery for what may be our purpose.  This harmony works because their differences have highlighted the strengths and weaknesses in each of them, and helped to identify their mutually necessary purpose in knowledge.

Works Cited

De Cruz, Helen. “Religion and Science.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2007. 11 Sep. 2013.
Drees, Willem. “’Religion and Science’ As Advocacy of Science and as Religion Versus Religion.” Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science 40.3 (2005): 545-554. 10 Sep. 2013.
Levinson, Martin. “Science Versus Religion: A False Dichotomy?”  A Review of General Semantics 63.4 (2006): 422-429. 11 Sep. 2013.
“Letter no. 11763.” Darwin Correspondence Project. 26 Aug. 2017.
Mosser, Kurt. A Concise Introduction to Philosophy. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc., 2010.  10 Sep. 2013.
Papers Show Isaac Newton’s Religious Side, Predict Date of Apocalypse.” The Christian Post, 19 Jun. 2007.  www.christianpost.com. 26 August 2017.
 “Remembering Carl Sagan.” Charlie Rose, Dec. 1996,  Charlierose.com/videos/2625.  26 Aug. 2017.
Sagan, Carl. “Can We Know the Universe?” Saturday Evening Post 254.5 (1982): 44.
Watson, Jacqueline. “Science, Spirituality and Truth: Acknowledging Difference for Spiritual Dialogue and Human Well-Being.” International Journal of Children’s Spirituality 14.4 (2009): 313-322.  26 Aug. 2017.

Brande Mora is a Program Coordinator for the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security.  She is currently completing her final courses in the Master of Arts in Psychology graduate program at Ashford University.  She is interested in the human condition, with a focus on positive psychology and how to better improve daily quality of life for all.  Her daily life is improved through a strong relationship with her husband and children, who inspire her to seek knowledge.  She is a member of the Alpha Sigma Lambda Honor Society, and was recently accepted into the Tau Upsilon Alpha Honor Society, whose mission it is to honor academic excellence; to foster lifelong learning, leadership and development; and to promote excellence in service to humanity.

“STEAM Curriculum”
by Maile Pahoa

There is a growing divide occurring between STEM-focused education and a liberal education in the U.S.  Currently, there is a need for scientists and engineers to drive the U.S. economy, but that should not, and does not, mean the arts and humanities have nothing to offer in the way of “hard science”. Although this need for STEM-focused education continues to put the arts and humanities on a back burner, there is growing evidence that an integrated curriculum is proving to be more beneficial than a single-focus education. Fostering critical thinking skills through arts and humanities allow students to think outside the box, which encourages innovation and ingenuity.  A science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) curriculum can also enable students to see different perspectives on problems giving them a broader world view that can help them make decisions as productive members of society.  A curriculum fully integrating the liberal arts with STEM should be the new standard curriculum to develop creative scientists and engineers in a constantly changing global market.
There is a push for STEM curricula because of the lack of scientists being produced in the U.S., but the addition of the arts and humanities can aid in fresh ideas for new technologies.  J. J. Denny, of the United States Air Force, explains that, “in 2002, only 17 percent of U.S. undergraduates earned engineering degrees, as compared to 53 percent in China” (5). 58% of engineering doctorates went to foreign-born students.  Due to the lack of U.S.-born scientists and the current rate of scientists approaching retirement age, the nation is falling behind in new technologies and innovations (Denny 7).  This is detrimental not only to the U.S. economy, but to national security as well.  However, because arts and humanities encourage new ideas and creative thinking, integrating the two curricula could help the U.S. stay competitive in the global economy by producing new ideas and having the ingenuity to accomplish the hands-on work.
Research suggests integrating a humanities curriculum into science classes increases the understanding of scientific concepts and literacies and not just the practical side of STEM.  A humanities curricula enhances hard science by teaching children to think critically.  For instance, the University of New York at Potsdam has incorporated the arts and humanities into their STEM curriculum.  This program “facilitates cross-disciplinary and information literacy” (Madden et al. 544), in order to gain resources.  The students in the program will also be creative thinkers and able to problem solve using unconventional methods. This program outlines the expected results from the curriculum, such as gaining knowledge in communication (written, oral, visual and listening), organization and time management, management and motivation of others, discerning learner’s scope of knowledge in at least two fields (Madden et al. 544).
A STEAM curriculum also allows a more diverse group of students to be able to engage in learning hard science by providing alternate ways of learning.  The addition of humanities in a STEM curriculum enables those students who do not have a strong foundation in science to have a better understanding of the subject matter (Garik & Ben´etreau-Dupin 8). Garik and Ben´etreau-Dupin state that “an approach to science education that links the humanities and the sciences can engage a broader cross-section of students” (8). STEM education puts more emphasis on the results and not the path, so incorporating the arts and humanities allows more students to find different paths to yield results.
The addition of the arts and humanities in a STEM curriculum aids in creating well-rounded adults that are concerned with their contributions to society.  Garik and Ben´etreau-Dupin argue that History and the Philosophy of Science (HPS) enhance science classes and teach kids how to be part of a democratic civilization, claiming, “In a democracy, one of the principal objectives of an education (especially a public education) is to prepare students to be socially and politically contributing citizens” (7). The report emphasizes the importance of looking at science from a humanitarian aspect, which helps to enhance a STEM curricula.  Thinking critically helps kids to understand the concepts of science and how it fits in with their society and culture.
Denny argued for greater emphasis should be put on a STEM-focused curriculum because of the high demand for scientists in the U.S. job market.  One reason for this is because even though the U.S. is still leading the world in the science and technology sector, it could lose ground because of the lack of undergrad students in S&T currently enrolled (7).  Additionally, other countries, such as China, are climbing the technological ladder and “…producing increasing amounts of medium- to high-tech products for both commercial and military use…” (Denny 5). Furthermore, 70% of U.S. research and development occurs outside of the country, only increasing the need for more undergrads to major in the S&T sector, which is at its lowest enrollment since the 1970’s (5).  Regardless, Dubreta claimed the addition of humanities and social sciences can help strengthen areas such as engineering, because social issues keep “continuity, as well as at least nominally, a framework for introducing basic chapters in the field of social theory to future engineers” (5).  If technologies are based around the needs a society, such as defense, sustainable energy, communication, etc., scientists that understand these needs will be better equipped to fill the demands for the communities or countries they live in (Dubreta 3).
To counter Denny’s point, Nussbaum argued the arts and humanities teach students how to be productive adults in society and has been systematically over-looked for too long. Dylan also supported this idea, stating:

The increasing corporatization of university spaces and overt orientation toward markets tends to elicit from students, especially those who perceive university education as job-readiness training, a desire to learn precisely what they need to know to be prepared for the market. This phenomenon coupled with the growing number of students lacking preparedness for higher education makes difficult the pursuit of liberal arts objectives. (37)

The current global market leans towards science and technology and does not allow room for a liberal education. However, because science is still being taught using the same methods for last few decades and have failed to produce a curriculum that meets the needs of the changing world an integrated curriculum would provide the understanding of what, why and how to meet those demands (Madden et al. 544).
Nussbaum argues that society puts an emphasis on STEM education because of the economic values it offers, claiming that, “Thirsty for national profit, nations and their systems of education are heedlessly discarding skills that are needed to keep democracies alive” (para. 2). While this may be true, there is still no denying the importance of STEM in the world today.  By combining the two curricula, students gain the knowledge needed to produce new technologies through STEM, but are also encouraged to come up with more ingenious solutions while being taught the fundamental knowledge of living in a society while making decisions that affect not just themselves, but everyone, through the arts and humanities. Because the arts and humanities allows students to learn and succeed in a broader range of science and engineering, instead of learning with a single-minded purpose, the standard curriculum should be an integration of both liberal studies and STEM.

Works Cited

Denney, Jason J., U.S.A.F. “Priming The Innovation Pump: America Needs More Scientists, Engineers, And Basic Research.” Defense AR Journal.  18.1 (2011): 25-44. ProQuest Central. 1  January 2011.
Dylan, Arielle. “Safety in the Classroom: Safeguarding Liberal Arts Education from the Neo-liberal Threat.” The Canadian Journal of Higher Education 42.2 (2012): 34-48.  1 June 2012.
Dubreta, Niksa. (2014). “Integration of Social Sciences and Humanities into Mechanical Engineering Curriculum.”  Interdisciplinary Description of Complex Systems 12.2 (2014): 137-150. ProQuest. 14 April 2014.
Garik, Peter and Yann Ben´etreau-Dupin. “Report on a Boston University Conference on ‘How Can the History and Philosophy of Science Contribute to Contemporary U.S. Science Teaching?” Science & Education 23.9 (2012): 1853-1873. 1 September 2014.
Madden, Margaret, Marsha Baxter, Heather Beauchamp, Kimberley Habermas, Derek Huff, Mark Ladd, Brian Pearon, Jill Plague Gorddon. “Rethinking STEM Education: An Interdisciplinary STEAM Curriculum.” Complex Adaptive Systems, Publication.  3 December 2013.
Nussbaum, Margaret. “The Liberal Arts Are Not Elitist.”  The Chronicle of Higher Education 25 (2010). ProQuest. 28 February 2010.

Maile Pahoa is a 38-year-old wife and mother of four children and grandmother of one. She was born and raised in southern California and currently resides in the mountains of northern San Diego county. While attending Ashford University and working on her undergraduate degree in cultural anthropology, she also plays roller derby for a nearby league and is captain of the league’s charter team for the current season. Her goal after graduating with a Bachelor’s degree is to continue with school and earn her Master’s degree in Heritage Studies.

Letter from the Editor

September 5, 2017

It is an honor to welcome you to Volume 3, Issue 1 of the Ashford Humanities Review (AHR).  The AHR offers Ashford University students the opportunity to present high quality, original, critical essays in the humanist disciplines in a peer-reviewed and edited publication.

This issue features the work of seven Ashford University students whose spirited essays span the wide-ranging topics of: the role of nature in writing; religiosity and the American presidency; the reason we tell monster stories; love and responsibility in war; the conflict and harmony between science and religion; and, making sense of death in John Donne’s poem “Death Be Not Proud,”and an argument for adding arts and humanities to the STEM Curriculum.

On behalf pf Mathew Lewerenz, MA, Chair of the Publications Committee at Ashford University, and the editorial staff of the AHR, I would like to thank our students for their intriguing work.

Julie Pedersen, Ph.D.