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Lessons For Modern Religious And Political Beliefs In Colonial New England Decline Of Calvinism


The following excerpts are from Vernon Parrington’s 1928 Pulitzer Prize winning The Colonial Mind 1620-1800. They are about the decline of Calvinism in Colonial New England.

(The picture is of John Calvin.)

While this subject may not have been on your mind lately, read the excerpts for a sense of why ideologies and theologies fall out of favor with the public and fail.

Ideas that mean something and are useful to people must have both root and branch. There must both a core logic and a visible benefit.

While it’s true that many folks may place more stress on the visible benefit, you don’t have to be that way. It’s your call.

From Parrington— To preach with convincing force one must appeal to the common experience; dogma must appear to square with the evident facts of life….When it ceases to be a reasonable working hypothesis in the light of common experience, it is no longer a controlling influence in men’s lives….In an aristocratic society it is natural to believe that God has set men apart in classes; but as the leveling process tended to strip away the social distinctions, the new individualism undermined the older class psychology.

As the (17th) century advanced the growing dissatisfaction with Calvinism received fresh impetus from the new social philosophy of France. The teaching of Rousseau that in a state of nature men were good…..would appeal to men whose experience was daily teaching them the falseness of the traditional dogmas (that men were inherently wicked.)

Although the provincial colonial might not come into immediate contact with such speculative philosophy, in the long run he could not escape being influenced by it.

Calvinism had taught that people were depraved by nature. Living in small villages and in many respects dependant upon each other, people saw this was not true. The old faith faded away.

This fading away can happen to any idea that does not adapt to new times or that can no longer make the political case.

Regretfully, we have seen liberalism fail in this political sense in the last 40 years. Though, hopefully, that is now changing.    

September 20, 2007 Posted by | Books, Colonial America, History, Politics | 4 Comments

Blog Readers Demand To Know—Dolphins In Houston’s Buffalo Bayou


I got a search engine hit on the blog today from someone looking to know about dolphins in Buffalo Bayou in Houston. Caring deeply about my public, I investigated this matter.

I found a discussion of the subject and other matters relating to Buffalo Bayou written by brilliant Texas A & M Assistant Professor of Forest Science Dr. Rusty Feagin.

I asked Dr. Feagin if I could use what he had written. He said yes and was nice enough to add a bit more. I’ve included what he added at the bottom.

The above photo is of where Buffalo Bayou and White Oak Bayou meet. This is where Dr. Feagin once saw a dolphin.

Here is a link to Dr. Feagin’s Coastal Ecology Lab. I bet you learn a lot in that lab. 

Here is what he wrote—I used to work on Buffalo Bayou, driving a boat up and down the “bayuco” as several of us called it in Spanish.  I’m not sure I would characterize Buffalo Bayou as a tributary of the San Jacinto, they may connect at some point, but they are more of an estuary at that point in my opinion (in fact, doesn’t this happen below the ship channel?).

In fact, much of Buffalo Bayou is tidal. Spartina alterniflora, the salt marsh plant in the low-tidal zone, seems to cut off upstream of the connection with the San Jacinto, up closer to around Jensen/Runnels street. I’m not sure if that’s due to the change in salinity or the abrupt change in topography there (from more flat estuarine-like along the edges to a deeper, narrow channel)

Further up the bayou, I have witnessed a dolphin at the intersection of White Oak Bayou and Buffalo Bayou, as several newspapers described back in the 90’s; there are certainly small alligators and big fish as far upstream as it goes.  FYI, there’s also a lot of submerged junk there, too.

There is flow to Buffalo Bayou, it is regulated by a dam up near Addick’s Reserviour, they can make it fast enough to make canoe races entertaining as evidenced by the Buffalo Bayou Partnership’s annual race. I don’t know of any spring-fed flow, I would find that very strange for this bayou in particular. Ground water certainly is a major contributor from adjacent urban areas, and major rains can cause a massive fish kill, I have an old picture of one if anyone’s interested.  I don’t know the name, but some folks at the University of Houston – Downtown have done a little work on that.

One can see evidence of flow from floods in the trees: there are characteristic water lines formed by trash hanging from the high points among the branches.I would say that historically, Buffalo Bayou probably drained the Katy Prairie, which should be somewhat more wet than it is today. Today, it drains Addick’s. Also, the areas adjacent to the Bayou were and are drained as well. 

In conclusion, there is flow generally towards Galveston Bay, but sometimes it reverses due to high tides and southeast winds, particularly in the summer. Thus, it is a brackish connection between the fresh upper reaches, and the lower saline/brackish estuary.

Dr. Feagin adds— By the way, when we saw the dolphin it was around March-June 1998 (if I had to guess I would say April, maybe May), some others also had seen it several days earlier and it was their sighting that was reported in the Chronicle.There’s also alligators there, we never saw any bigger than maybe 5 feet- they were mostly upstream from the aforementioned confluence of Buffalo/White Bayous.

There’s tons of big fish up there, it should be great fishing, but I would be scared to eat them. Lots of the homeless guys fish and I once saw a guy spearfishing with a cross-bow there, too.  I would imagine that with all those fish, it might be interesting to dolphins, and I know they love to go around the ships, boats, human constructed stuff, etc. so a little migration from the ship channel further upstream is not too crazy.

September 20, 2007 Posted by | Houston, Sea Life | 5 Comments