Bending History

It’s that time of year again: baubles and lights, snowflakes hanging from ceilings, the smell of frankincense, cinnamon, and myrrh everywhere, peppermint mochas in red cups, and meme’s arguing that America is a Christian nation, and store clerks should say ‘Merry Christmas’ and not ‘Happy Holidays,’ and those aforementioned red cups should have snowflakes on them. Except, America isn’t… a Christian nation.

That sound you just heard? That’s the screams of thousands demanding my head on a pike. History, it seems, has been altered to fit this image of American as a haven for Christianity and intolerant of everything else. Except, America is not a Christian nation.

Every schoolchild learns about the Pilgrims, and their voyage to escape the religion persecution of mother England. Except, that’s not really what happened. First of all, the Pilgrims were not the first European settlers in what would become known as the 13 colonies, which would eventually grow to become the United States of America that we know today. In actuality, the first successful English settlement was in Virginia in 1607… 13 years before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts. Secondly, the whole ‘they fled religious prosecution and landed on the shores of a brand new safe haven’ is nothing but fantastical history.

The Pilgrims (who were Brownist English Dissenters) did have issues with the Church of England, and in the late-15th and early-16th century some fled England (which was in the midst of a volatile political period completely surrounding the Church of England vs. Catholic argument) and landed in Holland. There was a group, however, that felt they would lose their English identity and culture if they emigrated to the Netherlands, and so they separated and struck out on their own. That group got together some English financial backers, a charter, purchased some ships and supplies, and decided to establish a new colony in North America. The men, fearing for the safety of their women and children, left behind all but a handful of women and children in England (because, although the climate was volatile and dangerous, they weren’t actually in anymore danger than anyone else who wasn’t Church of England… and felt comfortable enough leaving women and children behind believing them safer in England than on board a ship crossing the Atlantic).

When they landed in Plymouth in November 1620, they quickly established an English rule of law, and expected all to adhere to their religious beliefs. After all, they left to gain religious freedom, so of course it would be their religion that would rule.

The Pilgrims in Plymouth, however, only had about a decade before the Puritans (who were called such because they wanted to purify the Church of England of Catholicism) landed in their happy little bubble. In 1630, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, of which Plymouth and the remaining Pilgrim population was apart. By the end of the American Revolution there were over 700,000 Puritans in New England, who had kept hold of the religious and cultural hegemony for over a century, and in the various other colonies there were Quakers, Episcopalians, Anglicans, Lutherans, Catholics, Methodists, and two different sects of Anabaptists, along with the various religions that existed amongst African slaves.

Noting that there were various religions (as not all could agree that the various denominations were all, indeed, Christian…and the religion of the slaves of course excluded from consideration) the very first line of the the very first amendment proposed as part of the Bill of Rights was “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Thomas Jefferson* (a man who’d written his own bible) vehemently argued that the only way that the newly formed America could ever save itself from the tyranny of a monarchy was to make sure that there was no state religion; thus was created the separation of church and state.

Very recently the current front runner for the Republican nomination for President of the United States has argued that an entire religion (Islam) should be banned from the shores of America because of zealots and radicals who’ve used the peaceful religion of Islam as a reasoning for their hate, in much the same way the Pope argued for the Crusades (and we all know well that went). His argument is based on the fact that America is a Christian nation, and that a religion that doesn’t adhere to such a way of life, as evidenced by the terrorists, shouldn’t be allowed safe haven in a country that was very literally founded on the idea of religious tolerance.

Except, see, America isn’t a Christian nation and no amount of internet memes, or protests of lack of snowflakes on red cups, or even presidential candidates screaming it from rooftops will change that. America, as a country, was founded on the backs of slaves, criminals, homosexuals, thieves, women, Christians, Jews, atheists, Native Americans, adulterers, businessmen and merchants…and it has always welcomed those less fortunate, those who need a place to begin again, and those who are simply searching for safety…regardless of what name they give their god.

*Jefferson’s actual words regarding religion in the new United States:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

Pilgrim Misconceptions: The Pilgrims and the Puritans were two distinctive religious groups…although both shared similar Calvinistic beliefs, they were not the same.

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  1. Trackback: Bending History | Donald Trump News
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