Dark Christianity
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May 2008
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Point, counterpoint


If you sometimes get the feeling that the members of the Extreme Right dwell in a parallel universe, you might be right. Here are a pair of op-ed columns from the Ft. Wayne paper. The first is from a right wing theocrat, and the second one is the rebutal to the first. Both are fascinating reading.

Remember Puritan roots of liberty

The Independence Day we celebrate this weekend offers the occasion to get in touch with the mystic chords of American memory.

It is tempting to look only to Philadelphia and conclude it was the start of something big. The taproot is not there. Instead, the American Revolution that shaped our great country begins with the Puritans, those remarkable individuals who put forward ideals that still can motivate. The Pilgrims showed us the power of combining individualism and public spirit, giving us a religious republic comfortable with a wall and no established church.

We remain the country of John Winthrop and Ralph Waldo Emerson, a cumulative portrait of faith and reason, but not faith without reason or reason without faith. America is the place where we begin anew and an arena in which each individual should ennoble and serve the whole.

Long after the Miracle of Philadelphia – it was providential that our Founders came together there to write the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence – a young historian interviewed a 91-year-old captain, Levi Preston, one of the last surviving veterans of the battle of Lexington and Concord. The historian was hoping for firsthand insight into the origins of the American Revolution. One by one, Preston rejected the historian’s standard explanations for the war: the Stamp Act, the tea tax, the ideas of Harrington, Sidney and Locke. Preston had bought no stamps; drunk no tea; read no books except the Bible, a few religious texts and the yearly almanac about weather and crops and cattle. Finally, in frustration, the historian asked, “Well, then, what was the matter?” The cantankerous old Yankee replied, “What we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: We had always been free, and we meant to be free always. They didn’t mean we should.” You can find the meaning of our American freedom in that ordinary yet extraordinary patriot’s response.

We are the longest continuing republic in the history of the world, not because we are motivated by theories and elevated debates, but because of our cultured sense of virtue and freedom (not one without the other) deriving from the time those Pilgrims came to Massachusetts (and Virginia) and began what became the American nation. We might think of it all as the folkways of freedom, our customs, beliefs and traditions of a free people.

Our Founders had this in common with the Puritans: Liberty was conceived as a function of community, rooted in no small measure in church and synagogue. There was a hierarchy but also a kind of universal belief in a liberty of the soul, individual autonomy within the borders of personal virtue and personal responsibility.

When I consider the achievements of what Lincoln called our country, “the last best hope of Earth,” it all comes down to a kind of epiphany: On the Fourth of July, all of us are duty-bound to consider what we have, to be grateful for it and to appreciate all those who sacrificed so much for our freedom. We have to remember to look while our eyes are still open.

It is so frighteningly easy to take our freedom for granted, but a quick review of the last 100 years gives us a renewed appreciation.

More than midway through the last century, it still seemed inevitable to many that atheism would one day triumph. The majority of mankind lived under nominally atheist rule, the occasionally convulsive but more typically incremental advance of western secularization seemed inexorable, the desacralization of the world a fait accompli. How swiftly the fashion of the world changes. Apologists for blood-steeped tyrannies may still not be held in sufficient contempt, but the systems of butchery they so slobberingly adored have been discredited beyond revision.

Pope John Paul II, a great friend of America and himself a great advocate for human freedom, required only a decade to demonstrate how much more powerful is faith in God than the banalities of dialectical materialism. This is not unrelated to our own national sense of personal freedom and dignity. Preponderantly, the forces of freedom favor the devout rather than a bright idyll of rational humanism. Secularism creates a culture of almost mystical triviality.

America now prepares to celebrate another birthday. John Adams, our second president, thought it good to bring out the fireworks and the parades. With good reason. But the Fourth of July is more than a party. It is a salient recognition of one more year of a liberty-loving people who look upward in prayerful thanks; who look outward in gratitude to our liberty-loving friends and allies; and who look inward to a beatitude of humility for past wrongs but always with the hope of a remarkable and bright tomorrow, the sun shining on a country where God himself has shed his grace.
Tim Goeglein, a native of Fort Wayne, is a Special Assistant to President Bush at the White House.

And here's the rebuttal:

Constitution, not church tyranny, was our ‘taproot’

Tim Goeglein’s embrace of Puritan values in his guest column published July 1 points out – unintentionally – why today’s “faith-based” government is so scary. Goeglein locates the “taproot” of our freedoms not at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia but with the Puritans, who supposedly “showed us the power of combining individualism and public spirit, giving us a religious republic comfortable with a wall and no established church.” Let’s take another look at those wonderful Puritans.

The Puritans fled England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony to enjoy freedom of religion. They wanted to be free to be Puritans. Indians were heathen and had to be slain. Ministers like Rev. John Cotton preached that it was wrong to practice any religion other than Puritanism. Those who did so would be helping the devil. Those who practiced religious tolerance were simply telling “lies in the name of the Lord,” he said.

Puritan extremism was evident in their banishment of Roger Williams, a Puritan minister. Williams’ “errors” arose out of his belief that there should be a separation between church and state. He believed that civil magistrates should have no jurisdiction over religious matters, and Christian churches should be absolutely divorced from worldly concerns. The Puritans strove for a theocracy.

They demanded that there be a union of church and state and that the powers of the state should fulfill the demands of church doctrine. So in 1635, Williams was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He and his followers fled to Narragansett Bay and founded a settlement he called Provi- dence, now the capital of Rhode Island. Williams was warmly received by the Indians. Williams founded Rhode Island in the form of a pure democracy. It quickly became a haven for Quakers, Jews and others fleeing from persecution. In 1639, Williams joined the Baptist faith and founded the first Baptist church in America.

The Puritans remained in control of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, however, and did so until the disastrous Salem witch trials in 1692. The horrors of their religious persecution have captured the imagination of authors from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Arthur Miller, whose play “The Crucible” drew parallels between the witch trials and the demagoguery of McCarthy-era investigations.

We as Americans need to remember our history, a history that explains why our freedoms are so remarkable. The Puritans were our first “faith-based” attempt at government. There were others; Virginia was founded as an Anglican colony, and Maryland was founded as a Roman Catholic colony. Our Founding Fathers remembered these efforts to establish an official religion in America and rejected such religious intolerance. Instead, they remembered the huge success of Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, where religious tolerance resulted in a surge of immigration by Quakers, Anabaptists and many other persons of faith who sought true freedom of religion and understood that this could be accomplished only if government kept its nose out of religious affairs and did not seek to establish its own “faith-based” rules of law.

The Puritan experiment died, killed by its own excesses. Since Goeglein is a special assistant to the president, I hope he will read up about the Puritans and tell the president the rest of the story.
Grant Shipley is a resident of Fort Wayne.