31 May 2009


Most people have never read Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, probably because it has been universally panned as Twain's worst book, even though Twain, himself, considered it his best work.

However, there are a few passages that are memorable, maybe even brilliant, such as one in Chapter 16, Volume 2 at the Gutenberg Project.

(We could easily substitute "Dick Cheney" for "Bishop Cauchon" in these passages.)

16 Joan Stands Defiant Before the Rack

(Twain writing as the Sieur du Conte:)

...We entered the circular room on the ground floor, and I saw what turned me sick—the instruments of torture and the executioners standing ready! Here you have the black heart of [Bishop] Cauchon at the blackest, here you have the proof that in his nature there was no such thing as pity...

The guards were in their places, the rack was there, and by it stood the executioner and his aids in their crimson hose and doublets, meet color for their bloody trade..

After a little, Joan arrived and was brought in. She saw the rack, she saw the attendants... as for fear, she showed not a vestige of it...

Cauchon made a solemn speech. In it he said that in the course of her several trials Joan had refused to answer some of the questions and had answered others with lies, but that now he was going to have the truth out of her, and the whole of it...

He was sure he had found a way at last to break this child's stubborn spirit and make her beg and cry...He talked high, and his splotchy face lighted itself up with all the shifting tints and signs of evil pleasure and promised triumph.. And finally he burst out in a great passion and said:

"There is the rack, and there are its ministers! You will reveal all now or be put to the torture.


Then she made that great answer which will live forever; made it without fuss or bravado, and yet how fine and noble was the sound of it:

"I will tell you nothing more than I have told you; no, not even if you tear the limbs from my body. And even if in my pain I did say something otherwise, I would always say afterward that it was the torture that spoke and not I."

...You should have seen Cauchon. Defeated again, and he had not dreamed of such a thing. I heard it said the next day, around the town, that he had a full confession all written out, in his pocket and all ready for Joan to sign. I do not know that that was true, but it probably was, for her mark signed at the bottom of a confession would be...evidence...

Consider the depth, the wisdom of that answer, coming from an ignorant girl. Why, there were not six men in the world who had ever reflected that words forced out of a person by horrible tortures were not necessarily words of verity and truth, yet this unlettered peasant-girl put her finger upon that flaw with an unerring instinct. I had always supposed that torture brought out the truth—everybody supposed it; and when Joan came out with those simple common-sense words they seemed to flood the place with light. It was like a lightning-flash at midnight which suddenly reveals a fair valley sprinkled over with silver streams and gleaming villages and farmsteads where was only an impenetrable world of darkness before. Manchon stole a sidewise look at me, and his face was full of surprise; and there was the like to be seen in other faces there. Consider—they were old, and deeply cultured, yet here was a village maid able to teach them something which they had not known before. I heard one of them mutter:

"Verily it is a wonderful creature. She has laid her hand upon an accepted truth that is as old as the world, and it has crumbled to dust and rubbish under her touch. Now whence got she that marvelous insight?"

The judges laid their heads together and began to talk now. It was plain, from chance words which one caught now and then, that Cauchon and Loyseleur were insisting upon the application of the torture, and that most of the others were urgently objecting.

Finally Cauchon broke out with a good deal of asperity in his voice and ordered Joan back to her dungeon...

The Bishop's anger was very high now. He could not reconcile himself to the idea of giving up the torture. It was the pleasantest idea he had invented yet, and he would not cast it by. So he called in some of his satellites on the twelfth, and urged the torture again. But it was a failure.

With some, Joan's speech had wrought an effect; others feared she might die under torture; others did not believe that any amount of suffering could make her put her mark to a lying confession. There were fourteen men present, including the Bishop. Eleven of them voted dead against the torture, and stood their ground in spite of Cauchon's abuse...

Edited for brevity --the full text can be found HERE.

Look for these previous posts:

30 May 2009


American author

See also: 
• “The capacity of the human mind for swallowing nonsense and spewing it forth in violent and repressive action has never yet been plumbed” (Revolt in 2100, postscript, 1953)

• “Correct morality can only be derived from what man is — not from what do-gooders and well-meaning aunt Nellies would like him to be.” (Starship Troopers, 1959)

• “How can I possibly put a new idea into your heads, if I do not first remove your delusions?” ("Doctor Pinero" in Life-Line, 1939)

• “I have never been impressed by the formal schools of ethics. I had sampled them—public libraries are a ready source of recreation for an actor short of cash—but I had found them as poor in vitamins as a mother-in-law’s kiss. Given time and plenty of paper, a philosopher can prove anything. I had the same contempt for the moral instruction handed to most children. Much of it is prattle and the parts they really seem to mean are dedicated to the sacred proposition that a “good” child is one who does not disturb mother’s nap and a “good” man is one who achieves a muscular bank account without getting caught. No, thanks!” (Double Star, 1956)

• “Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal.” (Assignment in Eternity, 1953)

• “Morals — all correct moral laws — derive from the instinct to survive. Moral behavior is survival behavior above the individual level.” (Starship Troopers, 1959)

• “No philosophy that he had ever heard or read gave any reasonable purpose for man's existence, nor any rational clue to his proper conduct. Basking in the sunshine might be as good a thing to do with one's life as any other — but it was not for him and he knew it, even if he could not define how he knew it.” (Methuselah’s Children, 1958)

• “A religion is sometime a source of happiness, and I would not deprive anyone of happiness. But it is a comfort appropriate for the weak, not for the strong. The great trouble with religion — any religion — is that a religionist, having accepted certain propositions by faith, cannot thereafter judge those propositions by evidence. One may bask at the warm fire of faith or choose to live in the bleak uncertainty of reason — but one cannot have both.” (Friday, 1983)

• “The hardest part about gaining any new idea is sweeping out the false idea occupying that niche. As long as that niche is occupied, evidence and proof and logical demonstration get nowhere. But once the niche is emptied of the wrong idea that has been filling it — once you can honestly say, "I don't know", then it becomes possible to get at the truth.” (Gwen Novak /Hazel Stone, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, 1985)

• “You don’t pay back, you pay forward.” (Answer to Jerry Pournelle when he asked Heinlein how he could pay him back for helping him with his writing career, as reported in Pournell’s Starswarm, 1997)

Learn more about Robert Heinlein HERE 
Find more quotations from Robert Heinlein HERE
Read about his character Lazarus Long HERE

28 May 2009


American author

All of the following are taken from the sayings of Lazarus Long, a fictional character created by Heinlein.

Sources:  Time Enough for Love (1973) and/or The Notebooks of Lazarus Long (1978))

See also: 

• “One man’s theology is another man’s belly laugh.”

• “The profession of shaman has many advantages. It offers high status with a safe livelihood free of work in the dreary, sweaty sense. In most societies it offers legal privileges and immunities not granted to other men. But it is hard to see how a man who has been given a mandate from on High to spread tidings of joy to all mankind can be seriously interested in taking up a collection to pay his salary; it causes one to suspect the shaman is on the moral level of any other man. But it’s lovely work if you can stomach it!"

• “The second most preposterous notion is that copulation is inherently sinful.”

• “Sin lies only in hurting other people unnecessarily. All other ‘sins’ are invented nonsense. (Hurting yourself is not sinful ---just stupid.)”

• “There is no conclusive evidence of life after death. But there is no evidence of any sort against it.Soon enough you will know.So why fret about it?”

• “A touchstone to determine the actual worth of an ‘intellectual’ ---find out how he feels about astrology.”

• “What are the facts? Again and again and again ---what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what ‘the stars foretell,’ avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable ‘verdict of history’ ---what are the facts, and to how many decimal places?You pilot always into the unknown future; facts are your single clue.Get the facts!”

• “Yield to temptation; it may not pass your way again.”

• “You can go wrong by being too skeptical as readily as by being too trusting.”

• “You live and learn. Or you don’t live long.”

Learn more about Robert Heinlein HERE
Find more quotations from Robert Heinlein HERE
Read about his character Lazarus Long HERE

26 May 2009


American author 

All of the following are taken from the sayings of Lazarus Long, a fictional character created by Heinlein. 

Sources: Time Enough for Love (1973) and/or The Notebooks of Lazarus Long (1978)

• “Any priest or shaman must be presumed guilty until proved innocent.”

• “The difference between science and the fuzzy subjects is that science requires reasoning, while those other subjects merely require scholarship.”

• “Everything in excess! To enjoy the flavor of life, take big bites. Moderation is for monks.”

• “Expertise in one field does not carry over into other fields. But experts often think so. The narrower their field of knowledge the more likely they are to think so.”

• “A generation which ignores history has no past and no future.”

• “God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent ---it says so right here on the label. If you have a mind capable of believing all three of these divine attributes simultaneously, I have a wonderful bargain for you. No checks, please. Cash and in small bills.”

• “’God split himself into a myriad parts that he might have friends.' This may not be true, but it sounds good ---and is no sillier than any other theology.”

• “History does not record anywhere at any time a religion that has any rational basis. Religion is a crutch for people not strong enough to stand up to the unknown without help. But, like dandruff, most people do have a religion and spend time and money on it and seem to derive considerable pleasure from fiddling with it.”

• “History has the relation to truth that theology has to religion — i.e., none to speak of.”

• “If it can’t be expressed in figures, it is not science; it is opinion.”

• “It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics.”

• “Men rarely (if ever) manage to dream up a god superior to themselves. Most gods have the manners and morals of a spoiled child.”

• “The most preposterous notion that H. sapiens has ever dreamed up is the Lord God of Creation. Shaper and Ruler of all the Universes, wants the saccharine adoration of His creatures, can be swayed by their prayers, and becomes petulant if He does not receive this flattery. Yet this absurd fantasy, without a shred of evidence to bolster it, pays all the expenses of the oldest, largest, and least productive industry in all history.”

• “Natural laws have no pity.”

• “Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.”

• “Of all the strange ‘crimes’ that human beings have legislated out of nothing, ‘blasphemy’ is the most amazing ---with ‘obscenity’ and ‘indecent exposure’ fighting it out for second and third place.”

• “One man’s magic is another man’s engineering. ‘Supernatural’ is a null word.”

Learn more about Robert Heinlein HERE
Find more quotations from Robert Heinlein HERE
Read about his character Lazarus Long HERE

24 May 2009

SILENCE DOGOOD on Religion & Hypocrisy

FRANKLIN, BENJAMIN, American statesman, scientist, author (1706-1790):

Written by Benjamin Franklin under the pseudonym Silence Dogood
The New-England Courant, July 23, 1722


It has been for some Time a Question with me, Whether a Common-wealth suffers more by hypocritical Pretenders to Religion, or by the openly Profane? But some late Thoughts of this Nature, have inclined me to think, that the Hypocrite is the most dangerous Person of the Two, especially if he sustains a Post in the Government, and we consider his Conduct as it regards the Publick. The first Artifice of a State Hypocrite is, by a few savoury Expressions which cost him Nothing, to betray the best Men in his Country into an Opinion of his Goodness; and if the Country wherein he lives is noted for the Purity of Religion, he the more easily gains his End, and consequently may more justly be expos'd and detested. A notoriously profane Person in a private Capacity, ruins himself, and perhaps forwards the Destruction of a few of his Equals; but a publick Hypocrite every day deceives his betters, and makes them the Ignorant Trumpeters of his supposed Godliness: They take him for a Saint, and pass him for one, without considering that they are (as it were) the Instruments of publick Mischief out of Conscince, and ruin their Country for God's sake.

This Political Description of a Hypocrite, may (for ought I know) be taken for a new Doctrine by some of your Readers; but let them consider, that a little Religion, and a little Honesty, goes a great way in Courts. 'Tis not inconsistent with Charity to distrust a Religious Man in Power, tho' he may be a good Man; he has many Temptations "to propagate publick Destruction for Personal Advantages and Security:" And if his Natural Temper be covetous, and his Actions often contradict his pious Discourse, we may with great Reason conclude, that he has some other Design in his Religion besides barely getting to Heaven. But the most dangerous Hypocrite in a Common-Wealth, is one who leaves the Gospel for the sake of the Law: A Man compounded of Law and Gospel, is able to cheat a whole Country with his Religion, and then destroy them under Colour of Law: And here the Clergy are in great Danger of being deceiv'd, and the People of being deceiv'd by the Clergy, until the Monster arrives to such Power and Wealth, that he is out of the reach of both, and can oppress the People without their own blind Assistance. And it is a sad Observation, that when the People too late see their Error, yet the Clergy still persist in their Encomiums on the Hypocrite; and when he happens to die for the Good of his Country, without leaving behind him the Memory of one good Action, he shall be sure to have his Funeral Sermon stuff'd with Pious Expressions which he dropt at such a Time, and at such a Place, and on such an Occasion; than which nothing can be more prejudicial to the Interest of Religion, nor indeed to the Memory of the Person deceas'd. The Reason of this Blindness in the Clergy is, because they are honourably supported (as they ought to be) by their People, and see nor feel nothing of the Oppression which is obvious and burdensome to every one else.

But this Subject raises in me an Indignation not to be born; and if we have had, or are like to have any Instances of this Nature in New England, we cannot better manifest our Love to Religion and the Country, than by setting the Deceivers in a true Light, and undeceiving the Deceived, however such Discoveries may be represented by the ignorant or designing Enemies of our Peace and Safety.

I shall conclude with a Paragraph or two from an ingenious Political Writer in the London Journal, the better to convince your Readers, that Publick Destruction may be easily carry'd on by hypocritical Pretenders to Religion.

‘A raging Passion for immoderate Gain had made Men universally and intensely hard-hearted: They were every where devouring one another. And yet the Directors and their Accomplices, who were the acting Instruments of all this outrageous Madness and Mischief, set up for wonderful pious Persons, while they were defying Almighty God, and plundering Men; and they set apart a Fund of Subscriptions for charitable Uses; that is, they mercilesly made a whole People Beggars, and charitably supported a few necessitous and worthless FAVOURITES. I doubt not, but if the Villany had gone on with Success, they would have had their Names handed down to Posterity with Encomiums; as the Names of other publick Robbers have been! We have Historians and ODE MAKERS now living, very proper for such a Task. It is certain, that most People did, at one Time, believe the Directors to be great and worthy Persons. And an honest Country Clergyman told me last Summer, upon the Road, that Sir John was an excellent publick-spirited Person, for that he had beautified his Chancel.

‘Upon the whole we must not judge of one another by their best Actions; since the worst Men do some Good, and all Men make fine Professions: But we must judge of Men by the whole of their Conduct, and the Effects of it. Thorough Honesty requires great and long Proof, since many a Man, long thought honest, has at length proved a Knave. And it is from judging without Proof, or false Proof, that Mankind continue Unhappy.’

I am, SIR,
Your humble Servant,

09 May 2009


In a previous post, I reported on a study that showed that the more someone attended church services, the more likely s/he was to support the use of torture.  


1. Torture is cruel and unusual punishment, which is forbidden by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The statement implies that our government will not inflict such treatment, regardless of the severity of a crime. Similar words appear in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

2. A government with a policy of torture leaves its own citizens and soldiers open to retaliatory torture.

3. Although I am not a believer, I pull my life philosophies and ethics from many sources. One of my core beliefs is that everyone should treat others as they wish to be treated. Nearly every culture and/or religion on earth has some similar ethical regulation which would certainly rule out torture.
        Hinduism demands that "no man do to another that which would be repugnant to himself."
        The Torah instructs, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
        Confucius said, "What you do not want done to ourself, do not unto others."
        Buddha taught us to consider others as ourselves.
        The Stoics of ancient Greece argued that all men are "equal persons in the great court of liberty."
        The Christian gospels demands, "Do unto others as you would have done to you."
        The Quran warns that a true believer must love for his brother that he loves for himself. 
        The world's first known legal code's purpose was " to cause justice to prevail and to ensure that the strong do not oppress the weak." This was the law code of Hammurabi ---in the area now known as Iraq.
        (Source: The Mighty and the Almighty by Madeleine Albright, former UN Ambassador and Secretary of State)

4. Information attained through torture is unreliable. If someone knows nothing, s/he will make up information to feed to torturers just to stop the torture. If suspects do know something, they may give false information to a hated enemy both to stop the torture and misdirect the torturers.

5. Those who have been tortured, if ever released, have horror stories to tell which, in the case of terrorists, often give cause to others to join terrorist groups. Relatives of torture victims may retaliate with suicide bombs or other terrorist acts.

6. There have been recent reports of Iran (& other countries) torturing its own citizens who do not follow strict government mandates. We have lost our moral high ground to oppose such behavior when we have engaged in similar behavior ourselves.

7. Torture is just plain wrong, unethical, and inhumane behavior. I have always been appalled by countries that have engaged in torture. I used to think America was better than that.

8. The ends do not justify the means. There may be times when torture leads to information that may save lives, but by torturing suspected terrorists, we become terrorists ourselves.

(©2009 C Woods)

For more information:

08 May 2009

CHRISTIANS BEHAVING BADLY #11 by supporting torture

In my attempt to show that being religious is not a guarantee of moral behavior,this post is a part of my series of reports featuring the bad behavior of religious people, past or present....
Look for other posts showing the bad behavior perpetrated by members of other religious groups.


A recent survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that the more Americans attend church, the more likely they are to support the use of torture. Those unaffiliated with a religious group were the least likely to support torture.
Among the religious, evangelicals were the most likely to support torture, while mainline Protestants were the least likely.

That reminds me of something writer Anne Lamott said: "You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do."
I doubt that most people would condone the torture of one of our own citizens by a foreign country no matter what the person has done, but when a group has a collective hatred toward another group because they oppose us in a war, are of a different faith, culture, nationality or race, then religious people assume God hates all the same people they do ---and if God hates them, of course they must deserve to be tortured.
The survey did not determine why more religious people support torture than non-religious people, but my guess is because, like the God of the Old Testament, they want to see people suffer who do not believe as they do.

What concerns me a great deal is that of all groups surveyed, including the non-religious, the highest percentage of people who think torture can never be justified was only 31% (mainline Protestants) and the lowest 15% (evangelical Christians.) Of those who seldom or never attend religious services, only 26% chose the never justified option. (Choices were: torture against suspected terrorists can often, sometimes, rarely, or never be justified, with the option to also choose don't know/refused.)
I wish I had more information on how people thought about torture in the past. After WWII, when German and Japanese concentration and POW camps were in the news, I would guess that a higher percentage of Americans would have been philosophically against torture, because during the war it had been directed against people somewhat like us, instead of people who look and think differently than the majority of American citizens.

I have moved
(which was formerly a part of this post)
to a separate post.
Click on the above link to read it.

For more information:

01 May 2009


        "Wherever the missionary goes he not only proclaims that his religion is the best one, but that it is a true one while his hearer's religion is a false one; that the pagan's gods are inventions of the imagination; that the things and the names which are sacred to him are not worthy of his reverence; that his fathers are all in hell, and the dead darlings of his nursery also, because the word which saves had not been brought to them; that he must now desert his ancient religion and give allegiance to the new one or he will follow his fathers and his lost darlings to the eternal fires. The missionary must teach these things, for he has his orders; and there is no trick of language, there is no art of words, that can so phrase them that they are not an insult." ("The Missionary in World-Politics," Who Is Mark Twain?, 2009)

        “O, compassionate missionary leave China!  Come home and convert these Christians.” ("The United States of Lyncherdom," 1901)

        [Re: Sandwich Islands, now Hawaii] Nearby is an interesting ruin--the meager remains of an ancient temple--a place where human sacrifices were offered up in those old bygone days...long, long before the missionaries braved a thousand privations to come and make [the natives] permanently miserable by telling them how beautiful and how blissful a place heaven is, and how nearly impossible it is to get there; and showed the poor native how dreary a place perdition is and what unnecessarily liberal facilities there are for going to it; showed him how, in his ignorance, he had gone and fooled away all his kinsfolk to no purpose; showed him what rapture it is to work all day long for fifty cents to buy food for next day with, as compared with fishing for a pastime and lolling in the shade through eternal summer, and eating of the bounty that nobody labored to provide but Nature. How sad it is to think of the multitudes who have gone to their gaves in this beautiful island and never knew there was a hell. (Roughing It)

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