Efficiency

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Benjamin Franklin and Sir Francis Dashwood once set out to shorten the Book of Common Prayer. Noel Perrin writes in Dr. Bowdler’s Legacy:

Franklin and Dashwood had made contact while each was a postmaster general, and found themselves agreeing that the great trouble with church services is that they are too long. They then put out their anonymous Abridgement of the Book of Common Prayer (1773), in which the communion service takes about ten minutes, and a funeral six. (‘The Order for the Burial of the Dead is very solemn and moving; nevertheless, to preserve the health and lives of the living, it appeared to us that this service ought particularly to be shortened,’ Franklin wrote jauntily in the preface.) The book could be called expurgated only in the sense that Franklin and Dashwood both disapproved of Old Testament ideas of vengeance, and therefore omitted the service of Commination and all psalms which contain maledictions.

In 1785 Franklin wrote to Granville Sharp, “The Liturgy you mention was an abridgment of that made by a noble Lord of my acquaintance, who requested me to assist him by taking the rest of the book; viz., the Catechism and the reading and singing Psalms. These I abridged by retaining of the Catechism only the two questions, What is your duty to God? What is your duty to your neighbour? with answers. The Psalms were much contracted by leaving out the repetitions (of which I found more than I could have imagined) and the imprecations, which appeared not to suit well with the Christian doctrine of forgiveness of injuries and doing good to enemies. The book was printed for Wilkie, in St. Paul’s Churchyard, but never much noticed. Some were given away, very few sold, and I suppose the bulk became waste-paper. In the prayers so much was retrenched that approbation could hardly be expected; but I think with you, a moderate abridgment might not only be useful, but generally acceptable.”

(Richard Meade Bache, “The So-Called ‘Franklin Prayer-Book,'” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 21:2 [1897], 224-234.)

Outreach

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Image: Flickr

Church signs, collected by Steve and Pam Paulson for Church Signs Across America, 2006:

BE AS GOOD A PERSON AS YOUR PET BELIEVES YOU ARE
THE EASTER BUNNY DIDN’T RISE FROM THE DEAD
BE YOURSELF, EVERYONE ELSE IS TAKEN
DON’T GIVE UP! MOSES WAS ONCE A BASKET CASE
CH CH: WHAT’S MISSING? U R
LIFE IS CHANGE, GROWTH IS OPTIONAL
ETERNITY: SMOKING OR NONSMOKING
GIVE YOUR TROUBLES TO GOD HE’S UP ALL NIGHT ANYWAY
WORRY IS THE DARK ROOM WHERE NEGATIVES DEVELOP
LOOKING FOR A LIFEGUARD? OURS WALKS ON WATER
FIRE PROTECTION POLICY AVAILABLE INSIDE
DON’T WAIT FOR SIX STRONG MEN TO TAKE YOU TO CHURCH!
PRAY UNTIL SOMETHING HAPPENS
WHEN THE LAST TRUMPET SOUNDS WE’RE OUTTA HERE

Also, from Christianity Today: GOD HAS NO FAVORITES BUT THE SIGN GUY DOES GO BLACKHAWKS

Thorough

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Obscure but interesting: In his 1857 history of the West Branch Valley of the Susquehanna River, John Franklin Meginness quotes a 1793 indenture that purports to trace the title to a plot of Pennsylvania land back to the creation of mankind:

Whereas, the Creator of the earth, by parole and livery of seisin, did enfeoff the parents of mankind, to wit, Adam and Eve, of all that certain tract of land, called and known in the planetary system by the name of The Earth, together with all and singular the advantages, woods, waters, water-courses, easements, liberties, privileges, and all others the appurtenances whatsoever thereunto belonging, or in any wise appertaining to have and to hold to them the said Adam and Eve, and the heirs of their bodies lawfully to be begotten, in fee-tail general forever, as by the said feoffment recorded by Moses, in the first chapter of the first book of his records commonly called Genesis, more fully and at large appears on reference being thereunto had …

This goes on for four pages, tracing ownership through the Six Nations of North America to William Penn and finally to one Flavel Roan, the “witty and rather eccentric gentleman” who Meginness says drew up the deed. “His education was good, and his penmanship superior.”

The whole thing is here.

Boys’ Club

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No women are allowed on Greece’s Mount Athos, the site of 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries, because they would hinder the monks’ progress toward spiritual enlightenment. Mary alone represents her sex on the mountain.

The ban has been in place since an imperial decree in 1046, with a few colorful exceptions:

  • In the 1300s a Serbian emperor brought his wife to the peninsula to protect her from the plague. She was borne in a hand carriage the whole time, her feet never touching the ground.
  • French writer Maryse Choisy snuck in in the 1920s, disguised as a sailor. She published her adventure under the title Un mois chez les hommes (“A Month With Men”).
  • In 1953 Ohio Fulbright Program teacher Cora Miller landed briefly with two other women, creating a furor.
  • In 2008, five Moldovan migrants arrived by way of Turkey; four were women. The monks forgave them.

The rule extends even to hens, cows, nanny-goats, and sows, which means that dairy products and eggs have to be brought in from outside. Female cats, insects, and songbirds are admitted.

In 2003 the European Parliament passed a resolution saying the ban violated “the universally recognised principle of gender equality,” but it remains in place — even female sightseers must stay at least 500 meters offshore.

The Power of Prayer

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In 1872 Francis Galton reflected that congregations throughout Britain pray every Sunday for the health of the British royal family. If prayer has tangible effects, he wondered, shouldn’t all this concentrated well-wishing result in greater health for its objects? He compared the longevity of royalty to clergy, lawyers, doctors, aristocracy and gentry, as well as other professions, and found that

[t]he sovereigns are literally the shortest lived of all who have the advantage of affluence. The prayer has therefore no efficacy, unless the very questionable hypothesis be raised, that the conditions of royal life may naturally be yet more fatal, and that their influence is partly, though incompletely, neutralized by the effects of public prayers.

He noted also that missionaries are not vouchsafed a long life, despite their pious purpose; that banks that open their proceedings with prayers don’t seem to receive any benefit from doing so; and that insurance companies don’t offer annuities at lower rates to the devout than to the profane. Certainly men may profess to commune in their hearts with God, he wrote, but “it is equally certain that similar benefits are not excluded from those who on conscientious grounds are sceptical as to the reality of a power of communion.”

(Francis Galton, “Statistical Inquiries Into the Efficacy of Prayer,” Fortnightly Review 12 [1872], 125-35.)

Podcast Episode 107: Arthur Nash and the Golden Rule

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In 1919, Ohio businessman Arthur Nash decided to run his clothing factory according to the Golden Rule and treat his workers the way he’d want to be treated himself. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll visit Nash’s “Golden Rule Factory” and learn the results of his innovative social experiment.

We’ll also marvel at metabolism and puzzle over the secrets of Chicago pickpockets.

See full show notes …

Principle

A Quaker objector in the Civil War:

I was ordered out and required to fall in line with the company and drill, but I refused. They tried to make me and I sat down on the ground. They reminded me of the orders to shoot me, but I told them my God said to fear them not that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather to fear him that is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. The company was then ordered to fall back eight paces, leaving me in front of them. They were then ordered by Colonel Kirkland to ‘Load; Present arms; Aim,’ and their guns were pointed directly at my breast. I raised my arms and prayed: ‘Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.’ Not a gun was fired. They lowered them without orders, and some of them were heard to say that they ‘could not shoot such a man.’ The order was then given, ‘Ground arms.’

After weeks of such punishment, William Hockett was captured at Gettysburg and released to live in Philadelphia. He remained there until the end of the war.

Loss

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From C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed, a collection of reflections on the loss of his wife, Joy, in 1960:

It is hard to have patience with people who say ‘There is no death’ or ‘Death doesn’t matter.’ There is death. And whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and it and they are irrevocable and irreversible. You might as well say that birth doesn’t matter. I look up at the night sky. Is anything more certain that in all those vast times and spaces, if I were allowed to search them, I should nowhere find her face, her voice, her touch? She died. She is dead. Is the word so difficult to learn? …

Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.

He published it originally under the pseudonym N.W. Clerk, a pun on the Old English for “I know not what scholar.”

Podcast Episode 96: The Abduction of Edgardo Mortara

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On June 23, 1858, the Catholic Church removed 6-year-old Edgardo Mortara from his family in Bologna. The reason they gave was surprising: The Mortaras were Jewish, and Edgardo had been secretly baptized. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of little Edgardo and learn how his family’s plight shaped the course of Italian history.

We’ll also hear Ben Franklin’s musings on cultural bigotry and puzzle over an unexpected soccer riot.

See full show notes …