Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Rewriting History

Sixteenth-century astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus was the first to posit that the Earth revolved around the sun—and not the church.

To say this was a dangerous idea at a time when the church wielded absolute control is underscored by the fact Copernicus was branded a heretic after the publication of his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (which works out to On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres in English).

After his death in 1543, the great astronomer spent the next four-hundred sixty-seven years in an unmarked grave, guilty of free-thought in an age that demanded unblinking allegiance to the prevailing religous dogma.

But last Saturday, Copernicus was re-buried as a national hero in his native Poland.

It is the graceful re-write of history we see far too little of; a bishop in the same Catholic Church that had accused Copernicus of heresy initiating a search for the astronomer’s remains, determined that his discoveries receive the acknowledgement they deserve.

In an era where changing one’s mind is perceived as weakness, seeing the Roman Catholic Church reverse its stand on this great scientist is extraordinarily refreshing. It is a giant step forward.

But Newton's law states that for every action, there is a separate and opposite reaction.

And for that, we need only look to the Texas School Board, and the tantrum they’re throwing over the content of the state's history books.

Conservatives on the board have concluded that media manipulation is not enough; that indoctrination of American youth must begin in the public school system.

In the version of American history they propose for Texas schoolbooks, the slave trade is euphemistically referred to as the Atlantic Triangular Trade. The founding fathers didn’t demand a separation of church and state.

And that an essential component of children’s education is understanding the critical role right-wing propagandists at the Heritage Foundation played in shaping our nation’s democracy.

And God forbid we forget these touchstones of American history: Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America, the marketing tool known as the Moral Majority and misogynist-with-breasts Phyllis Schlafly.

What—no history of Fox News?

All of which would be fine if Abbie Hoffman, the Weathermen and the Chicago Seven were getting equal time. But I have this nagging and persistent suspicion they won't be.

While the church illuminated a truth, conservatives seek only to institutionalize ignorance.

Like the great man said, one step forwards, one step back.


  1. What was triangular about slavery?
    Some parts of America are scarier than a science fiction novel.

  2. I can't imagine.

    And like a recent marketing campaign advised, Texas is a Whole 'Nother Country.