gall and gumption

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Big Helpings

You can just picture him, can't you? He'd be one of the judges presiding over the auto da fe. The one with his pinky finger in one ear. Since the the heretics and Jews had recanted (i.e., accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior) before being consigned to the flames I suppose in a sort of nonempirical way they were safer.

This story came out the day after some dingbat wrote into the paper to make the same statement, that the Founding Fathers of the U.S. never intended the separation of church and state.

Here is what I wrote in my journal(the one that uses lined paper and fountain pen technology) after we received that letter:


First of all the writer reveals an appalling ignorance of the history of the last 2000 years of the civilization to which she no doubt claims to belong. History that would be known to the average European 13-year-old. So it represents, to me, a failure of the American educational enterprise, a built-in failure that is the direct consequence of teaching history as something that only happens to Americans -- a collection of shallow, simplistic national myths.
When the authors of the U.S. constitution sat down to write they had more than 1700 years of history -- which as scholars, intellectuals and observers of current affairs, they knew as fact -- to refer to and review. And what they saw, reviewing history, was what everyone in those days knew: All religious persecution was religiously based.
All governments that practised religious persecution against Jews, heretics and the unbaptized, unsaved heathen did so in the name of and for the glory of God. There was not a single instance, since the first time Christians first hold of a government in Rome, that the persecution of religion did not claim a religious sanction.
There were no non-secular governments, O.K.? NONE. 1750 years straight, not one.
In recent history, the history of the previous 200 years, the Framers could look at the Spanish invasion of the Netherlands (end result, 1/3 of the population massacred tortured and driven into exile in Jesus's holy name); the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre that even more than a hundred years later still sickened Voltaire. The
Spanish Inquisition dispossessing, torturing Jews, everyone beating on the Jews.
Torture, imprisonment, confiscation of property right up into their own time, all claiming Christian sanction, not conducted secretly and underhandedly, but proudly and boastfully as the great business of government. That was the world that everybody lived in, and it was a fully Christian world.
Well, someone will say, you're talking about Catholic persecutions.
Who were the first pilgrims who came to North America? They were the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants who exiled themselves from England, wave after wave of them after the Restoration of Charles the Second. When they got hold of political power in England they waged a fierce and bloody war against their religious opponents, confiscating property, destroying and vandalizing churches, torturing, killing. They executed the king, Charles I, and they went and well, to put it in plain language, raised so much hell in Ireland that the Irish have still not forgiven Cromwell, their leader.
When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1688 he had some scores to settle. But he actually did a lot less of that settling of scores, partly because of his rather laid-back personality and partly because the shrewd people who orchestrated his return understood that the important thing for the security of England was not to tear up the country with prolonged vendettas. Many people were actually amnestied. They left because their religious convictions would not allow them to conform to the Established Church. They couldn't get jobs, they faced fines and political persecution. Which they would just as readily have dished out themselves if they had half the opportunity. Because they were, though claiming to be fundamentalist (before that term was much in use) religious conservatives, they were political radicals and could not stop making a nuisance of themselves.
In later years, throughout the 18th and early 19th century, for example, they allied themselves with the most politically radical parties in England.
They were troublemakers.
Jefferson could have gone down to the wharves any day of the week and watched these people get off the boat and known them for exactly what they were. Bullying and dangerous fanatics, however much he believed in their right to their beliefs. That is true liberalism. It is not, as their debased and clownish descendants like to say, moral relativism.
These were people who believed that government did not have the right to persecute people for religion unless they themselves were the government. This is moral relativism of a really extreme kind: when I do something it is good, when you do the exact same thing it is bad.


That Jefferson understood exactly the political character of these religious refugees is amply documented by himself, and Lenni Brenner has been good enough to supply the documentation, chapter and verse, as the Bible thumpers like to say.
I will only add that Jefferson and Madison knew that the commonest sanction for beastly behavior is the claim that one is doing it for God. They were up on the philosophy of John Locke, who was hounded out of England for suggesting, among other things, that torture and confiscation were not the most suitable means of bringing people cheerfully into the fold. Locke believed that a truly religious person would turn his heart willingly in love towards God. If such a turn wasn't made in the mystery of willing love it wasn't done at all. There is nothing spiritual about wanting to browbeat and bully people into comformity with your beliefs, especially when, as was already demonstrated, most of the time most people don't know what the hell they themselves are talking about.
Religious self-righteousness excuses your conscience and fills you with certainty. J & M knew that if you armed a government with this weapon you gave to weak-minded, frail and even vicious persons extra power to hound and terrorize and discriminate unjustly on the basis of their half-baked notions.
The Incumbent Ape claims that that his Christianity and his office put his actions beyond question, a 21st century version of the Divine Right of Kings. Not even original. Maureen Farrell shows that this puts him in most excellent company. Any government would be quite dangerous enough without this, and for the framers their whole business in the Constitution was to make sure that governments would be as little dangerous as possible with such power as you absolutely could not avoid giving them -- I hope the ghosts of the those shrewd and enlightened men are giving Antonin Scalia long and vivid nightmares every single night.
When, no doubt to appease the savages (they had to get these people around the table so they could join their forces into a coherent union) J & M mentioned God, they said "under God". Not sanctioned by God, not authorized by God, not the armed representative of God. Because as even John Milton, author of Paradise Lost (theory of absolute submission of one's own free will to God -- or else) and author of ten gazillion politically rabid and inflammatory pamphlets understood: God doesn't need any ordinary muddleheaded nasty old human to be his enforcer.


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