During the recent weeks much ink has been shed involving the alleged “War on Christianity.” This is usually a topic reserved for the Xmas season but due to the recent pronouncements by the Obama Administration concerning the equal treatment of women with respect to health care, and the Republican efforts to politicize men’s control over the vagina, it has gathered considerable attention. One of the biggest problems in society at large, in my opinion, is the rejection of fact-based arguments based on provable facts. As a society we have ceded thoughts to a few “experts” who do not use facts but rely on hyperbole to reinforce held positions. Even the vaulted “PolitiFact” has some epic fails of recent in their attempt not to be seen as too political. I hope to examine the roots of religion in America and then how it is affecting the debate on education and GLBT issues.
“Does anyone know…does the Christian persecution complex have an expiration date? Because…uh…you’ve all been in charge pretty much since…uh…what was that guys name…Constantine. He converted in, what was it, 312 A.D. I’m just saying, enjoy your success.”
“I have to say, as someone who is not Christian, it’s hard for me to believe Christians are a persecuted people in America. God-willing, maybe one of you one day will even rise up and get to be president of this country – or maybe forty-four in a row. But, that’s my point, is they’ve taken this idea of no establishment as persecution, because they feel entitled, not to equal status, but to greater status.”
– Jon Stewart
This began in America as far back as the Mayflower. American history, as written by those who came to America, is a story of “true Christians” fleeing Great Britain to practice their faith. The reality is a little different. One man’s Freedom Fighter is another man’s terrorist. The people who fled from England were in fact tied in closely with those supporting Guy Fawkes.
According to an article in the Smithsonian Magazine, the “Puritans” were led by a group of radical pastors who, challenging the authority of the Church of England, established a network of secret religious congregations. William Brewster, one of the leaders of this movement who came to America, became the senior elder of the colony, serving as its religious leader and as an adviser to Governor William Bradford. As the only university educated member of the colony, Brewster took the part of the colony’s religious leader until a pastor, Ralph Smith, arrived in 1629. Thereafter, he continued to preach irregularly until his death in April 1644.
Before coming to America William Brewster was embroiled in the controversy, when Queen Elizabeth decided to have her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, executed in 1587. Mary, a Catholic whose first husband had been the King of France, was implicated in conspiracies against Elizabeth’s continued Protestant rule. It was this event, combined with the rise of James, Mary’s protestant son to the throne, which inspired Guy Fawkes. Brewster himself survived the crisis, but he was driven from court in London, his dreams of worldly success dashed. His disillusionment with the politics of court and church led him in a radical direction.
Brewster and his followers objected to the King being the head of the Church of England. Having lost his ability to rise to power in England, Brewster and his sect made a deal and went to the States. Away from the Church and Crown they wanted to live a life as they interpreted it from the bible. They did not need educated people telling them what to think. They did not come to America to start a land of religious tolerance. They came so they could develop their form of religious purity.
When Catholics came a few years later they were tortured and killed by these Puritans. To put things in perspective, in this time period the Roman Catholic Church burned astronomer Giordano Bruno at the stake for heresy in 1600. His crime? Advocating an endless universe, and that the sun did not go around the earth. Churches and religion did not allow anyone to challenge their dogma. The Churches used government to enforce their dogma and the crown got their “divine right” to rule from the church.
By 1654, however, the Puritans so dominated the colony that Catholics found themselves actually outlawed, the persecution becoming so intense that they fled to Pennsylvania. Although Catholics eventually moved to Maryland in small numbers, they still, even until 1776, were not allowed to hold public office, establish schools, or conduct religious services. My girlfriend’s home in southern Maryland still had an alcove in one room designed for secret masses during the catholic persecutions well into the 1700’s. The government confiscated land that had been owned by the Jesuits. It was against this backdrop of violence and persecution by the religious on the citizens of the colonies, that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Bill of Rights. It was not to protect religious beliefs of a particular church, but to protect people from the religious belief of others. As Jefferson said; “If anything pass in a religious meeting seditiously and contrary to the public peace, let it be punished in the same manner and no otherwise as it had happened in a fair or market”
It was not a matter of Churches being protected from government intrusion but of attempting to control church influence and dictum in the actions of government. For millenniums, from the days of the Romans and Greeks, states and countries had a favored religion that would support a favored ruler who would in turn use that government to protect the favored religion. Every so often a leader in either the church or government would challenge that equilibrium and war would ensue. That is the religious heritage of the United States. It has nothing to do with the noble thoughts of religious freedoms and every thing to do with accumulation of power in the few. In order to understand the current “culture wars” one has to know this history. Not the sanitized history taught in the Bible tracts given by the churches. One needs only to point to the use of the judicial system to enforce dogma by the church a recently as the Salem Witch trials or the enforcement of the slavery laws in the south. As Kenneth Stamp wrote in The Peculiar Institution, Christianity actually became a way to add value to slaves in America:” …when southern clergy became ardent defenders of slavery, the master class could look upon organized religion as an ally …the gospel, instead of becoming a mean of creating trouble and strive, was really the best instrument to preserve peace and good conduct among the negroes.” As to the witch-hunts, according to scholars, the number of executions for witchcraft exceeded 50,000 people. This is the “American Religious Heritage” that Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Pat Robertson and others are fighting for. It is the America Barry Goldwater warned us of. He said that these Christians believe they are acting in the name of god, so they can’t and won’t compromise. You must have compromise to have a functioning government. Otherwise you have a theocratic rule of law.
As a society we must fight this at every step and not yield a inch to the fanatics who would (and have) white washed their past. These protestant reformers who try to hide the killings of Catholics and non-believers: the Catholics who try to ignore two millennium of wars, executions and burnings (and a few sex scandals) and any others who attempt to control our government and thoughts. We need to challenge not just their arguments and demands but the very foundation they are built on. It is then that the house of cards will collapse under its own weight of hypocrisy.
“There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this Supreme Being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism.’ “ (1909-1998) US Senator (R-Arizona) Source: Congressional Record, September 16, 1981