A Mother’s Day Sermon

I ran across “Mother and Grandmother”, a Mother’s Day sermon by one Edwin Whitney Bishop from May 14, 1911, about a hundred years ago, and was curious to see what it might say.

The first surprise came in the first sentence:

A VERY decided attempt is being made in many quarters to have this second Sunday in May set apart as Mother’s Day, or perhaps better as Parent’s Day, as a counterbalance to the very wide spread observance of the second Sunday in June as Children’s Day,

I would have placed the origin of Mother’s Day some time in the 1950s or 1960s, and I certainly didn’t know that it was preceded by  Children’s Day.

After a couple of pages about the importance of raising children properly, like bred roses or horses, he starts railing against people who shouldn’t have kids:

It is perfectly permissible for consumptives, habitual criminals, and feeble minded to marry at will and populate the hospitals and alms houses, and no one shall say them nay. We pass laws to cut down peach trees that have the yellows and we eliminate cattle that have the hoof and mouth disease, but we have thought nothing of having diseased people transmit certain terrible tendencies to the third and fourth generation.

Bishop was clearly an advocate of eugenics. He cites the cost to society of having murderers, beggars, convicts, children born out of wedlock, and people leading “disreputable lives”, something that he sees as being passed down from parent to child, genetically as we would say today. “And yet there are those who insist that the State has no interest in who shall be parents !”, he exclaims.

No doubt there are creationists who would love to claim that this man of God was corrupted by the Great Satan, Darwin. So here you go:

For whether you are a disciple of Spencer and Darwin, or a disciple of Häckel and Weissman as to the way the facts shall be interpreted, the facts themselves are beyond question.

And a bit later,

Endless life is promised by evolution as well as by Christ only to the righteous. It may take millions of years to bring it about, but it is sure to come — the evil self-destructive in its own nature and therefore self-limiting will annihilate itself out, and the good which always has in itself the embryo of eternal life will flower in richest perfection.

And

Henry Drummond in his book, entitled : “The Ascent of Man,” has in it a remarkable chapter, called : “The evolution of a mother.” He shows how motherhood comes to its own only in the human race.

(passages emphasizes in bold to tweak Ken Ham.)

The interesting thing to me about this passage is that in Grand Rapids in 1911, a preacher seemed to consider evolution to be settled science, at least in its broad outlines, and that the only areas on which educated laymen might disagree concerned the particular hypotheses being hashed out.

He does hold a misconception that’s still widespread, though: after talking about reptiles and birds, he says that “[l]ions are higher up in the scale”. Throughout his sermon, he seems to take for granted that there is a Great Chain of Being, with some above (and better than) others: reptiles above insects, birds above reptiles, humans above lions. I wouldn’t be surprised if he considered some humans to be above others on this scale.

Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!

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