Thursday, September 13, 2007
"The clergy believe that any power confided in me will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. They believe rightly." --Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson. You know the guy. Third President. Writer of the Declaration of Independence. May or may not have gotten it on with Sally Hemings. Not only was he opposed to the idea of letting religion control government, he was willing to actively oppose those who wanted it to happen. I said it before down in the post entitled Eternal Vigilance, but it bears repeating. The Founding Fathers were well aware of the dangers of a church-controlled state. It doesn't really matter which direction the combination of church and state come from, either. Oliver Cromwell ruled England with an iron fist in the name of Puritanism. John Calvin sent his goon squad to visit any who didn't show up in church on Sunday in Geneva, Switzerland. Louis XIV ruled France as an absolute monarch chosen by God as part of a long Western tradition dating back as far as the Pharoahs, who were worshipped as gods incarnate. In all those places and more we can see the suppression of freedom of expression and thought. Those who lived and thought during the Age of Enlightenment sought to eliminate all who would curtail freedom. Life. Liberty. The pursuit of happiness. Liberty is destroyed wherever there are people forced in to a single, sectarian viewpoint. The pursuit of happiness is cut off whenever there is no liberty. In the United States, we are raised on the tales of the pilgrims leaving England to escape religious persecution. Immediately following that tale, however, we're often introduced to the grim stories of the Salem witch trials. The reason that one follows the other is simple. The pilgrims were one and the same with the Puritans of Oliver Cromwell. They fled to America seeking religious freedom only after losing a war with those they had tried to oppress in the name of their religion. It is in that dichotomy - the religious fanaticism of the Puritan and the egalitarian liberties of the Enlightenment scholar - that we find the core of the conflict between the theocrat and the democrat in the United States. From here I go back to Arthur Miller, who saw in Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist witch hunt the echoes of the Salem Witch Trials and penned The Crucible as a testimonial to the importance of standing up against such zealotry. I'm reminded of his words, referring to theocracy, I posted on Monday: "It seems to me something that has to be resisted on principle from one generation to the other." Patriotism comes in all shapes and sizes. No form of patriotism is higher than to call a nation to live up to its ideals.