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Old 02-16-03, 12:13 AM   #1
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History of Bicycles and Religion - part 1

When the English poet Thomas Gray sat in the churchyard at Stoke Poges, four miles south of Windsor, and searched for the opening lines of his famous "Elegy," it is doubtful whether he let his eyes wander to the stained-glass window above his head. Had he done so he would have seen, among the colored lozenges, a male figure astride an awkward contraption consisting of a saddle connecting two cumbersome wheels.

The window dates from 1642. Two and a half centuries later the machine the glazier had outlined was to be denounced as the invention of Satan himself, at best a snare for the weak and willful, at worst an engine for human destruction. On a Sunday morning in 1896 a Baltimore preacher thundered from his pulpit:
"These bladder-wheeled bicycles are diabolical devices of the demon of darkness. They are contrivances to trap the feet of the unwary and skin the nose of the innocent. They are full of guile and deceit. When you think you have broken one to ride and subdued its wild and Satanic nature, behold it bucketh you off in the road and teareth a great hole in your pants. Look not on the bike when it bloweth upon its wheels, for at last it bucketh like a bronco and hurteth like thunder. Who has skinned legs? Who has a bloody nose? Who has ripped breeches? They that dally long with the bicycle" (Minneapolis Tribune, Jan. 11, 1896).

The preacher was not alone: the bicycle was once regarded as sheer evil by many of America's men of God. They assaulted the machine from pulpits, they swatted it with newspaper columns, and they swooped down on it with street corner sermons. It was altogether a strange attitude.

PART TWO TOMORROW
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Old 02-16-03, 03:02 AM   #2
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It's sad to see how far we haven't come in the last 107 years.
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Old 02-16-03, 03:21 AM   #3
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HaHaHa! I know lot's of folks who feel the same way about bikes today!

I hope I don't see that pretty blue dodge dakota those punk teens threw a bottle at me from in the parking lot, it may get scratched!
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Old 02-16-03, 07:28 AM   #4
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Hey, Caddy, cite your source. Robert A. Smith would appreciate the credit, I'm sure.
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Old 02-16-03, 08:44 AM   #5
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I'm sure that the type of bicycle which the preacher referred to was likely one of the "standard" bicycles of the period (often called a "penny-farthing"). Considering just how difficult these things were to ride, I might actually agree with him.............
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Old 02-16-03, 09:34 AM   #6
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History of the bicycle and religion - part 2

Whoops, I had intended to include the author in part one, but missed it when I transferred the data. I think I got it this time:blush:


In 1896 not the least of the institutions that had been affected by the cycle was the American church, especially in the small towns and villages where formerly there had been little to do on Sundays except go to listen to the preacher.

The bicycle changed all that, and God's House, as an institution, was in deep trouble. "The churches," wrote J. B. Bishop, editorial writer for the New York Evening Post, "are fast losing their young people and efforts to call them back by appeals to their sense of Christian duty [J. B. Bishop, "Social and Economic Influence of the Bicycle," Forum, Aug, 1896, pp. 680-89.] were falling on deaf ears. Nor were the threats of eternal damnation having any better effect. A generation later, ministers condemned the motor car for having a deleterious influence on church going because it became popular to take a Sunday drive; but long before such recreation became an institution in American life the bicycle had set the example. It was the first big-scale assault of American technology on institutionalized religion.

Smith, Robert A. A Social History of the Bicycle. New York: American Heritage Press, 1972.
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Old 02-16-03, 09:53 AM   #7
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Whoops,
I meant to include the author and reference to his excellent book

Smith, Robert A. A Social History of the Bicycle. New York: American Heritage Press, 1972.
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Old 02-16-03, 10:19 AM   #8
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Wow! Good stuff about bicycles keeps coming out of the woodwork all the time!
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Old 02-16-03, 10:20 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally posted by Cadillac


The preacher was not alone: the bicycle was once regarded as sheer evil by many of America's men of God. They assaulted the machine from pulpits, they swatted it with newspaper columns, and they swooped down on it with street corner sermons.

Has anything changed? Look at all the SUV's in church parking lots on a Sunday morning. They can't wait to run me off the road on their way home to that huge Sunday meal.
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Old 02-16-03, 10:40 AM   #10
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Originally posted by easyrider
... Look at all the SUV's in church parking lots on a Sunday morning...
You mean I'm not the only one to notice that?
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Old 02-16-03, 11:05 AM   #11
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Religion has been opposed to the advancement of human rights from the very beginning. Churches were against freeing the slaves. Churches were opposed to allowing women to own land. They were opposed to giving women the right to vote. Churches were opposed to rational dress for women.

And churches have been opposed to birth control in all of it's forms. But I think that is because churches are controlled by men and most men are secretly paranoid that "their" women might cheat on them and, even sillier, they are naive enough to believe that fear of pregnancy will keep women faithful to their husbands ;-)

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Old 02-16-03, 11:12 AM   #12
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I thought Cycling was a religion:confused:
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Old 02-16-03, 01:00 PM   #13
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I thought Cycling was a religion:confused:
I met a nun on a week-long organized ride some years ago. She was wearing a t-shirt with a picture of the mass start of a bicycle race. The caption said "Sunday Mass."

Quote:
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Religion has been opposed to the advancement of human rights from the very beginning....
Cycletourist, I think your view is narrow and a bit harsh. Within the Church there has always been a diversity of opinions which can be categorized roughly as modernist/fundamentalist or liberal/conservative. Churches did not universally oppose the freeing of slaves. Denominations divided, as did the country, on the question of slavery. Most of the leading abolitionists spoke and acted out of religious conviction.

Keep in mind that both Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. were relgious figures. Both of them acted out of their own religious traditions to advance human rights.

When the bicycle boom of the 1890s hit the American shores, it was greeted by the churches in the same way that every technological advance and social revolution has been greeted.

Some preachers welcomed the bicycle as a real step forward and praised its healthful benefits. Smith's book, which Cadillac quotes, cites some examples of such preaching.

I'm sure that some religionists simply ignored the bicycle craze.

Some religious folks spoke out against the bicycle and condemned it as a tool of Satan. In the 1890s, the bicycle threatened to undermine the moral fabric of society. It provided young men and women with a form of transportation that carried them away from the watchful eye of their chaperones and provided them with the opportunity for all sorts of mischief. It gave them an alternative to church attendance on a fair Sunday morning. Naturally some preachers felt threatened and spoke out against the supposed evils of the bicycle.

There were also some preachers who tried to capitalize on the bicycle fad. I used to have a copy of a Gospel tract from the 1890s which included a marvelous drawing of a bicycle. Its various parts were labeled as qualities of the Christian life. The crankset was "heart." the grips "faith" and "tenacity," etc. The text of the tract expanded on the analogy. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find it when I went through my files just now.

At any rate, there was a wide variety of opinion in the churches concerning the bicycle in the 1890s.
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Old 02-16-03, 01:06 PM   #14
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I thought I was done when I hit "send" but I guess I wasn't.

Quote:
Originally posted by Cadillac
Whoops,
I meant to include the author and reference to his excellent book

Smith, Robert A. A Social History of the Bicycle. New York: American Heritage Press, 1972.
Thanks for the reference. I highly recommend this book (if one can find it!). I look forward to the next installment.

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And churches have been opposed to birth control in all of it's forms. But I think that is because churches are controlled by men and most men are secretly paranoid that "their" women might cheat on them and, even sillier, they are naive enough to believe that fear of pregnancy will keep women faithful to their husbands ;-)
Once again you paint with too wide a brush. Some churches oppose birth control...not all churches. Even the Roman Catholic Church does not oppose birth control in all of its forms, only artificial methods of birth control. The rhythm method...though it is notoriously ineffective...is allowed in Catholic teaching.



Edited to fix formatting.
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Old 02-16-03, 01:20 PM   #15
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History of Bicycles & Religion - Part 3

In the late nineteenth century the working week for most people was six days long, and recreation had to fall on Sunday. But the Sabbath had been set aside for the Lord's use, and a people strongly Calvinistic in orientation had developed strict ideas on what was allowable on Sundays. In most cases families attended church in the morning, went back home to a heavy, starch-filled meal at noon, and then sat around in a state of semi-stupefaction for the remainder of the day. Children were not supposed to play noisy games; and generally nobody was supposed to engage in anything but the most sedate activity.

And then the bicycle came and the Sabbath was defiled -- so some believed -- by crowds of cyclists slipping single file through the streets and along the roads. The worst thing was that they were riding during those hours when they should have been in church. That became the issue. The attack against the cycle as a threat to institutionalized religion really did not reach its peak until the safety bicycle made the sport a public affair.

But as the number of cyclists increased, filling the streets and roads on Sunday mornings, the outcry against the wheel mounted, Evangelists across the nation preached against the practice of cycling on the Lord's Day and followed with dire prophecies about the lack of future for those who failed to fulfil their religious responsibilities. A New Haven clergyman drew a terrifying picture of a long line of cyclists, all without brakes, rolling helplessly downhill to a "place where there is no mud on the streets because of the high temperatures" [Ibid., p. 689]. A colleague said all bicycle riders were in danger of going to hell and virtually certain to do so if they rode on the Sabbath. His sentiments were echoed around the country.

Smith, Robert A. A Social History of the Bicycle. New York: American Heritage Press, 1972.
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Old 02-16-03, 01:24 PM   #16
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History of the Bicycle & Religion - part 4

In Chicago some members of the congregation of the Hope Baptist Church attacked the Reverend J. H. Messenger because he rode a bicycle on his pastoral calls. Rather than fight, the minister resigned, although the young people were on his side. In 1896, the Presbyterian Assembly of New York approved a resolution condemning cycling on Sundays. The New England Sabbath Protective League appealed to young people to avoid bicycle meets held on Sunday, events that were roundly condemned as both desecration and secularization of God's Day. In Chicago, the Reverend David Beeton contended that Sunday bicycle meets, parades, and races poisoned the very "lifeblood of American civilization" [Chicago Tribune June 17, 1895]

But the more bicycles the American public purchased, the more did the churches and their spokesmen tend to backpedal -- at least in the cities. In the summer of 1895 the Baptist Young People's Union met in Baltimore and conducted a Sunday bicycle parade! All very decently done, of course, with lead cycles flying the flag of Maryland and the blue and white flag of the Baptists.

Smith, Robert A. A Social History of the Bicycle. New York: American Heritage Press, 1972.
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Old 02-16-03, 01:35 PM   #17
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CycleTourist makes some interesting comments. As mentioned before, there are always bad apples within the box; but we don't throw out all the apples. Unfortunately, the bad apples seem to require our immediate attention.

Christianity freed women especially. Prior to 2000 years ago, it was required of young girls (age 10-14) to spend a minimum of two years as a temple prostitute. In Greece, for instance, if a woman was not selected for prostitution "duties," she was required to wait another couple years. If she never became involved in this ritual (as she grew older) she ended up as a hagia -- a "holy" woman. This is the Greek word from which we get our English word "hag."

It was the responsibility of people to engage in temple prostitution because the gods would look favorably upon the people who were fertilizing each other and respond by making the land fertile with good crops.

Christianity (and only Christianity) brought an end to that kind of lifestyle. Women can be thankful for it. If women today are still oppressed to some degree, they are much better off than the women of the past or women in some Muslim countries.
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Old 02-16-03, 01:42 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally posted by Cadillac

Christianity (and only Christianity) brought an end to that kind of lifestyle.
Well....

Christianity began as a Jewish cult and grew in a Greek and Roman culture. Judaism never practiced temple prostitution. Christianity got its opposition to temple prostitution from Judaism. To say that only Christianity brought an end to that kind of lifestyle is a bit of an overstatment.
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Old 02-16-03, 01:55 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally posted by D*Alex
I'm sure that the type of bicycle which the preacher referred to was likely one of the "standard" bicycles of the period (often called a "penny-farthing").
In 1896, the safety bicycle was well established. Those who still rode penny-farthings were the retrogrouches of the day.
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Old 02-16-03, 02:55 PM   #20
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Wow, we branch out bravely into religious discussion! This one could get nasty if we let it. Just reading through the replies I see so much diversity of belief that it actually makes me chuckle. I guess I chuckle a little because I attend a church that is "liberal" in most respects -- the arts are embraced, birth control is a non-issue, alcohol use (in moderation) is accepted, people aren't expected to dress in a certain fashion, and SUVs & bicycles coexist harmoniously in our parking lots. We have a good group of cyclists who ride together before Sunday morning services and even attend in our sweaty bike clothing after our ride.

It will be interesting to see what future generations will think when they look back at us. I'm certain there are plenty of things they will see as close minded.

Caio.

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Old 02-16-03, 02:58 PM   #21
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It might serve anyone well to check out Focus on the Family (a Christian organization founded by Dr. James Dobson) and the rides they are sponsoring. One of Focus' main contributors even rode his bicycle cross country with his son-in-law. Times have changed!
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Old 02-16-03, 03:24 PM   #22
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[QUOTE]Originally posted by RegularGuy
[B]. The rhythm method...though it is notoriously ineffective...is allowed in Catholic teaching.

Well it works for me!!!! (only joking)

I am totally against the pill!!! I will never ever touch it unless I want to die of thrombosis!! when a man takes the pill I might take it seriously




The rhythm method...though it is notoriously ineffective...is allowed in Catholic teaching

What about the notorious Magdalene homes in Ireland and Liverpool run by so called Roman Catholic Nuns for girls who got pregnant out of wedlock or who were considered to be a lost soul or just ophaned apparently the last home only closed in 1996!!!!!!!! I couldn't believe this!!!

They flogged them to death, took them away from their parents, stole their childhoods and if they tried to escape then they would be taken right back!!! The hypocriticalness of it all!!! The church was supposed to be a haven yet devised torture regimes such as these!!!
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Old 02-16-03, 03:27 PM   #23
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Hey guys, we're starting to go on a series of witch-hunts in this thread. Some people have raised some interesting points that are none the less off the original topic: religious views on cycling.
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Old 02-16-03, 03:39 PM   #24
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This is an absolutely fascinating thread series. I might have to go find that book now. It would be even more interesting to read an updated version of it, given how much cycling has continued to diversify and grow over the last 30 years. Did the Tour de France even exist in 1972? I know that the Santa Cruz Bullit and the riding style that spawned it didn't. And certainly very, very few people now are opposed to bicycling respectfully.
Interestingly, it seems that the opposition was not to riding the bicycle, as much as it was to riding on Sunday, which was apparently the most conveniant time to do so. Interesting how much the interpretation of the Third Commandment has changed in barely a century of technological advancement.
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Old 02-16-03, 03:57 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally posted by iamlucky13
This is an absolutely fascinating thread series. I might have to go find that book now. It would be even more interesting to read an updated version of it, given how much cycling has continued to diversify and grow over the last 30 years. Did the Tour de France even exist in 1972?
The first Tour de France was raced in 1903. This year's TdF will be the Centennial edition, thought not the 100th race.

Smith's book chronicles the Bicycle Boom in America in the 1890s. The last chapter touches on later developments, but is really a post-script to the book and beside the point.

The book was reissued under the title "Merry Wheels and Spokes of Steel" though I don't know the year, and have never seen that edition. The earlier edition was a good read. I have no doubt that the later edition was just as good.

Quote:
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Interestingly, it seems that the opposition was not to riding the bicycle, as much as it was to riding on Sunday, which was apparently the most conveniant time to do so. Interesting how much the interpretation of the Third Commandment has changed in barely a century of technological advancement.
Within my own lifetime, I've seen the Sunday "Blue" Laws gradually done away with. It wasn't that long ago that one could not buy a car on a Sunday in many communities. It may still be illegal to buy alcohol on Sunday in some places.
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