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.

1 comment:

Kelly Reed said...

Just so no one gets the impression that Enlightenment Scholars were the only ones fighting for religious liberty, I suggest you read the following, a Baptist minister, John Leland's "Rights of Conscience Inalienable", 1791

assuming the link works, you have to go down on the page under their source documents list to find "RoCI".

Leland, besides being an early advocate for Yahoo (check the whole title), claimed, among other things that, "every person must give an account to God, and therefore should be free to serve God in a way which best reconciles to personal conscience. If government can answer for individuals at the day of judgment, it should control them in religious matters; otherwise, government should let all persons be free."

Baptists even opposed the Constitution and Madison's re-election until talks prompted Madison to include a positive statement on religious liberty beyond the Test Clause in Article 4. This resulted in the First Amendment.

Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island, was a Baptist minister who founded it's government on the principles of Religious Liberty after he had been kicked out of Massachusetts.

As a Baptist minister, I'm very much in agreement with the Separation of Church and State, as were many in the days of the Revolution and the Constitution. Many religious people led this fight as well.

Has the religious community of today forgotten some of these lessons? Some have, some are re-learning, some are just scared of an increasing hostility they perceive from government. IMHO, the increasing "hostility" will only re-teach the lessons faster for some and cause others to try and grip tighter.

Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life