THANKSGIVING SERMON: AMERICA WAS FOUNDED ON RELIGIOUS TYRANNY, NOT RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
Thanksgiving is a strange expedition in American culture. Is this a day about genocide, New England cuisine, or the simmering political tensions within your extended family unit?
That’s a lot of range. Not sure how it all came together. Feels like a mistake, but here we are every year anyway.
For those craving both canned cranberry sauce and clarity, here’s one thing I am sure of: Nothing about Thanksgiving or the colonization of America was about “religious freedom.”
It’s a catchy byword, but it’s nonsense. Religious freedom is not something you find in America’s history. Only in its future–if by the grace of Satan we ever get there.
“Every Thanksgiving, we remember the pilgrims who came to America in search of religious freedom,” the US Embassy tweeted this week. I guess we can’t be surprised that embassy staff decided to phrase things diplomatically, but be that as it may this statement is nonsense.
Like the alleged survival of Mike Love’s hairline, this transparently fraudulent myth is leftover long past its expiration date. Writing for USA Today, Eryn Dion says that although this story is “repeated in history books and given the Peanuts treatment in ‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,'” it’s a political fiction.
“The story of the Pilgrim forefathers coming for religious freedom gained steam as New England Protestants wielded the myth to gain the top spot in the country’s cultural hierarchy, above Catholics and immigrants,” Dion writes. Thus cementing the privilege of being roasted by Wednesday Addams centuries later.
In reality, England founded its American colonies for economic reasons. Puritan types fleeing religious persecution mostly went to Holland, where they were free to practice their stupid terrible faith but found few job opportunities. They came to this continent not for god but for gain (assuming there’s a difference?).
The colonizers did bring their religion with them, of course, along with all of their other diseases. “Massachusetts Puritans were not seeking religious freedom, they were seeking a society dedicated to their religion,” lawyer Andrew Seidel says in his book The Founding Myth.
The principal value of the people we now think of as the earliest white Americans was not religious freedom but religious oppression. Which, are those the same thing? We’re still waiting for the Supreme Court to decide, I think.
No less prominent a personage than high-minded architect of American ideals/child rapist Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1784, “The first settlers in this country were emigrants from the English church,” but “they shewed equal intolerance in this country.
“The poor Quakers were flying from persecution in England: They cast their eyes on these new countries as asylums of civil and religious freedom, but they found them free only for the reigning sect,” Jefferson says.
In fact, 17th century Virginians went so far as to legislate the death penalty for Quakers who refused to quit the region. Since Jesus-y types have no noted proclivity for martyrdom, I bet this worked really well.
And boy did they hate the Catholics. Which, okay, been there, but that’s besides the point: “From Puritan Boston’s earliest days, Catholics (“Papists”) were anathema, and banned from the colonies, along with other non-Puritans,” Kenneth Davis wrote in Smithsonian Magazine in 2010.
“Puritan fathers did not countenance tolerance of opposing religious views”–and of course they didn’t, that’s why they were here.
I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that this religious hegemony extended as far as casual genocide as well. “God was above them, making them as a fiery oven: Thus did the lord judge among the heathen,” English commander John Mason wrote in 1637.
He’s describing the massacre of 700 Pequot civilians in Connecticut, perpetrated not by god but actually by John Mason.
Note that when I call the Puritan religion stupid and terrible I’m speaking not out of some kind of general Internet Atheist disdain for Jesus jive; the fact is, even for the colonizers themselves this was just a shitty, miserable church to belong to.
“The rabid anti-pleasure attitudes of the Puritans [came from] the Bible. Jesus indicated that laughing in this life can cause eternal damnation, […] promising salvation to those filled with gloom,” Humanism blogger Joe Sommer writes.
Sommer describes a “religious police state” of “flogging, pillorying, hanging, and banishment” that must have been tragically far less kinky than it sounds.
So why the “religious freedom” Thanksgiving story instead of the story of obsessive, murderous religious autocracy, ie, the truth? Well, it’s punchier I guess.
But I notice the political right lists towards a kind of cultural necrosity. In their minds, all things present are actually things past: If early Americans were for religious freedom, it follows that we today are for religious freedom…somehow.
The truth is, America was founded as a slave state, a white supremacist genocide campaign, and a religious holy war against, according to my notes, pretty much everything.
But the nice thing about the past is that it’s dead. Now you know me, I’m a classicalist, I like a tradition as much as anyone; but the past is a tool, it’s not an identity.
If we want a day for religious freedom, that day is not 1620, it’s 2020. Not to say that even now we have a particularly good record about that sort of thing; but we DO have the power to influence it in the present. Because that’s part and parcel of what “the present” means.
The past is a ghost. The present is real. Terrifying religious extremists want to obfuscate this fact–which is precisely how we know that it’s both true and critical.
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Love your blog,
Oof. Well, can’t win ’em all. Thanks for saying something.