Thoughts on Milton, Mom, Kennedy and Alito

I was away from this space the last time my Sunday turn came. My excuse is that I was in Delaware for a death in the family. I won’t bore you with the details except to reveal that the deceased was a first cousin to whom I had been particularly close and who was only three months older than me. I marvel that I am still running in front of “the winged chariot of time”.

I guess there’s nothing like a funeral to remind us not to waste our time. So, without further ado, let’s dive into this week’s thoughts that wander Kitsap County and sometimes beyond.

milton and mom

File this column under the heading “Truth is stranger than fiction.”

After my mother died at age 56 in 1978, I found her high school yearbook. She graduated in 1940, and under her senior photo I found this inscription: “Come and trip it as ye go / On the light fantastic toe.”

The lines are from “L’Allegro”, a school exercise accompaniment poem by John Milton of “Paradise Lost” fame. This contrasts with Milton’s “Il Penseroso”. The first celebrates a carefree and cheerful attitude towards life – the second a serious attention to responsibility and duty. Clearly, the yearbook editor made my mother a party girl – which she was and remained throughout her short life of three marriages.

The irony is that the mother was not in the college prep college stream but in the business stream. Any mention of Milton or his poetry would have been met with a blank stare. Another irony is that long before I found this yearbook, I had fallen in love with Milton – the greatest Christian humanist in all of English literature. I studied him and his works seriously, as an undergraduate student and as a graduate student. I had even started graduate studies with the intention of writing a thesis on Milton, and I passed my doctoral examinations on Milton, Shakespeare and the didactic writers of the English Renaissance. However, I was drawn to a new emerging field, imaginative depictions of the American war in Vietnam.

If only my mother had lived long enough to learn of our mutual connection to Milton. His affinity was with “L’Allegro, of course, mine with “Il Penseroso”. I wish I could say that ours was a happy and complementary relationship. It wasn’t.

Bremerton High revisited

I have to give it to one of my distant readers. Cameron Scarlett of Madison, Wisconsin, has a son stationed in Bangor and regularly reads The Sun. In response to my recent column on football coach Joe Kennedy’s recent Supreme Court victory (“Public Prayer vs. Private Prayer”, July 10, 2022), he suggests that Bremerton High should henceforth be known as ” House of the Pharisees Phighting”. It’s brilliant. I would have liked to think about it.

Kennedy and Alito

Kennedy certainly has a friend in Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. He believes that our increasingly secular society and its new moral code pose a threat to religious freedom. The August 12 issue of The Week magazine reported on a speech Alito gave last month in Rome as part of the keynote address to the Notre Dame Law School’s Religious Freedom Initiative annual summit. Alito did not speak about the “new moral code” which concerns him. It’s safe to assume, however, that it includes “women’s equality and reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and secular public education.”

Alito’s speech happens to be available on YouTube. Search “2022 Religious Freedom Summit: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.” The Coach Kennedy connection is obvious. Alito finds it ironic that “freedom of worship” means you are free to pray in private — alone or with like-minded people — but go out in public and you better act like a “good secular citizen.

Alito says polls show “a significant increase” in the number of people who reject religion or think it’s not important. These people, he worries, do not recognize the need to give religion “special protection”. Alito, of course, cites examples of how religious people have been persecuted throughout history, but he overlooks the excesses and evils that have been perpetrated in the name of organized religion. He also makes a number of dubious claims. One that I find curious is that people with “strong religious beliefs may be less likely to succumb to prevailing ideologies or trends.” How is it then that so many deeply religious people on the religious right have succumbed to Trumpism?

Having listened to the speech myself twice, I think The Week magazine understood correctly: Alito and his acolytes “will not tolerate a separation of church and state”. They intend to empower “other believers to rule the ungodly.” But I invite you to listen to the speech for yourself and form your own opinion.

The column is complete. Go in peace!

Contact Ed Palm at [email protected]

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