The Religious Wrong (pt 1: The Puritanical Years)

One quick disclaimer before I begin: This post is not about the basic philosophy of any major religion. They all basically boil down to “The Golden Rule”. How could someone be against that?

And, as I said in my “The Theory of Evil-ution vs the Mythology of Creationism” post: “Some of my best friends are religious”. It’s true. They are. I have a number of devout friends who earnestly try to make the world a better place.

This isn’t about them. This is about the types of people and actions that give religion a bad name.

Thank you! And now, on with the show.

Religious Hijinks, Lojinks & Bigotry In America (A History)

There can be a strong case made for the idea that America (or what was to become America) was born largely as a refuge from religious intolerance. Massachusetts was mostly colonized by Puritans escaping intolerance in English laws. Connecticut and Rhode Island were colonized by Puritans escaping intolerance from other Puritans. Maryland was colonized by Catholics, and Pennsylvania was colonized by Quakers. Both groups trying to escape English intolerance. (Unfortunately, too many seeking refuge from intolerance brought their own intolerance with them when they came.)

There were the Pilgrims (The Scrooby (Leiden) Congregation):

If you ask the average person what he knows about the Pilgrims, “the top five answers on the board” would probably include (not in chronological order): a) “1st Thanksgiving”, b) “Mayflower”, c) “Plymouth Rock”, d) “1st English colony”  and e) “Escaping from religious persecution”.

Well….a) wrong, b) right, c) ???, d) wrong & e) wrong!

a) WRONG: The Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving (early autumn,1621) came two years after the one in Virginia (Dec 4, 1619), 23 years after the one in what is now San Elizario, Texas (Apr 30,1598) and 56 years after the one in St. Augustine Florida (Sept 8, 1565).

(Btw, if you run across a copy of “Stan Freeberg Presents: the United States of America (Vol. 1: The Early Years)”, grab it! His satire on the Pilgrim’s Thanksgiving: “Take an Indian to Lunch This Week” is worth whatever the cd costs.)

b) RIGHT: Yes, the Pilgrims (the Scrooby (Leiden) Congregation) came over on the Mayflower, but they only consisted of 37 out of the 102 passengers. The rest were planters recruited by Thomas Weston or “servants”.

c) ???: There are no contemporary references to Pilgrims landing on a rock. In fact, it wasn’t even mentioned until a Pennsylvania Journal article in 1775. They did land about where Plymouth, MA is now. They were trying to get to the Hudson River area, but it had been a rough voyage. Whether they landed on a rock or not? Maybe they did, and maybe they didn’t. (The Plymouth Chamber of Commerce sure thinks they did.)

d) WRONG: Plymouth Colony was actually the 3rd English colony.

The 1st colony was on Roanoke Island in what was Virginia Colony, but is now North Carolina.

In 1584 Queen Elizabeth (the 1st one) granted a charter to Sir Walter Raleigh

for a colony in Virginia, which of course, was named after Elizabeth, the “Virgin Queen”. Sir Wally, in case you didn’t know, was rumored to be one of her lovers. (So much for the “Virgin” bit.)

Of course, some people remember Sir Walter Raleigh for other reasons.

(I’ll refrain from any “Prince Albert in the can” jokes.)

Roanoke Colony is referred to as the “Lost Colony”. Communications and supplies from Mother England were cut off for three years due to the war with Spain. (Think “Spanish Armada“.) By the time relief/supply ships came back in 1590, everyone had disappeared.  (Possibly victims of a UFO attack, or more likely, pissed off local Indians.)The 2nd colony was on Jamestown Island in 1607.

This was the one with Pocahontas and John Smith and tobacco and cannibalism. (More on that in a sec.)

First a word about the Pocahontas myth. NEVER HAPPENED! (Ok, that’s two words.) John Smith made up that story (1 of 3 different ones he told) after Pocahontas was dead and couldn’t call him the liar that he was. (Btw, her real name was Matoaka. Pocahontas means “naughty one” or “spoiled child”.)

Jamestown did give the world tobacco. (Thank you, John Rolf. May you rot for eternity in a smoke-filled room with tobacco spit up to your neck.)

And then there was the cannibalism bit.

Jamestown Island was chosen for its defensive position, not for its prime agricultural potential. In fact, the surrounding area was mostly marshland and brackish water. Also, there was heavy pressure to produce profits, so a lot of time was spent looking for gold instead of farming.

By the winter of 1609-10, it caught up with the colony. That winter became known as the “starving time”. After eating their horses, dogs, cats and the local snakes and rats, some of the colonists turned to “long pork”, digging up graves and dining on the residents.

One colonist even killed and carved up his wife for food. (Of course, he salted her so the meat wouldn’t go bad.)  “Whether she was better roasted, boiled or carbonado’d (barbecued), I know not,” Capt. John Smith wrote. “Such a dish as powdered wife, I never heard of.”

38 out of 144 colonists survived the ordeal. Despite this “setback”, Jamestown survived to become the first permanent English colony.

e) WRONG: It is true, that when the Scrooby Congregation left England for the Leiden area in Holland, they were fleeing religious persecution. Holland was an island of tolerance in an intolerant Europe. However, when they left Holland, eventually ending up at Plymouth, persecution was NOT one of the reasons. In fact, Holland was a bit too tolerant for their comfort. There were also, economic, cultural and missionary causes for the move. William Bradford “Of Plymouth Plantation” written from about 1619 to 1650

As colonials, the Pilgrims weren’t all that successful. Of the 102 that landed, only 44 survived the first winter. They eventually faded into the general Puritan population of the Province of Massachusetts Bay. By 1691, Plymouth was no longer a separate colony.

There were the Puritans:

When I was in elementary school, I thought that the Pilgrims were the Puritans or the Puritans were the Pilgrims. (Or something like that.)  I was 98% wrong! But even today, I run across “historians” that make the same mistake.

The Pilgrims shared a belief or two such as predestination (More on that coming up.) with the Puritans, but that was about it.

The Pilgrims, as previously noted, were a religious separatist group originally centered around Scrooby in Nottinghamshire, England.

So, who the hell were the Puritans?

Unlike the pilgrims, they were not primarily separatist. Most remained in the Church of England and tried to impose their version of reform internally. (Sort of a 17th Century tea potty.)

As a group, their philosophy was primarily Calvinist.

The “Five Points of Calvinism” (sometimes called the TULIP) are:

  • Total depravity” While “TD” sounds like it might be a hell of a lot of fun, that’s not what they were referring to. According to Calvinists, since Adam & Eve screwed up with that “apple” (see “The Theory of Evil-ution vs the Myth-ology of Creationism (pt 2)“) all of their descendents are “born into the service of sin”. (Yup. Three day old babies are natural born sinners, just waitin’ for Satan’s instructions.)
  • Unconditional selection” Another term would be predestination. Predestination is the belief that before there was even an earth, the magic man in the sky had already determined which dead humans would float up and spend eternity with him while the rest of the humans would rot in Hell. Doesn’t make a damn bit of difference what kind of person you are. (So, it’s entirely possible that if you are a “chosen one” you may get to rap with uncle Adolf when you get up there. On the other hand, if you take the basement route, you might run into Gandhi.) 
  • Limited atonement” You’ve heard the old saw about “Christ died for our sins”. LA says that he died for “the chosen ones” sins, not necessarily yours. (So if you ain’t already “chosen”, screw you!)
  • Irresistible grace” This refers to another one of them saws: “God’s saving grace”. And, once again, it only applies to the “chosen”. (I am curious as to who one blew to win the “chosen” raffle back there in pre-existent times, although I have a sneaky hunch I already know.)
  • Perseverance of the saints” This one basically boils down to the fact(?) that since Big Daddy is King and he decided that the “chosen” are gonna be saved, they’re damn well gonna be saved, and to Hell with everybody else! (See “Unconditional selection.)

It seems like Puritans were one of the original (not counting the Catholics) fundamentalist churches (in all their negativity).

As I stated a couple of paragraphs back, Puritans were primarily non-separatists. However, some of those who were separatists, at least in the physical sense, separated themselves from England and emigrated to New England. They established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629, and between 1630 & 1640 their numbers swelled by 20,000.

Back in England, Puritans tended to be a bit richer than the Pilgrims had been. They were also more active politically, with de facto control of Parliament. They achieved their greatest power after the First English Civil War. When the monarchy was restored in 1660 with Charles II, things got a bit dicey for the Puritans. And, as of the 1662 Act of Uniformity, (which, btw lasted in part until 2010) Puritans were essentially told to “shape up or ship out” of the Church of England! So, of course, a lot of them shipped out.

Since they suffered a bit of intolerance back home in England, one might assume that they would practice tolerance in their new surroundings. But, then again, one would be a silly ass if one actually assumed that.

Puritans were firm believers in the “my way or the highway” practice of religion. In 1636, Roger Williams (No, not the piano player.) was found guilty of preaching “newe & dangerous opinions” and was exiled. Banished from Massachusetts, he went a bit south and founded Providence Plantation, a much more tolerant colony. You probably know the area by its present name: Rhode Island. Rhode Island, as you may or may not know, (depending on where you were edjumicated) is not an island, but it was an island of tolerance.

More often, the “highway” led to the stocks or worse. Non-conformity, religious or political, was NOT tolerated. (Think John Winthrop and Cotton Mather.) In 1660,they “legally” murdered four Quakers and kicked the rest of them out.

(And, they hadn’t even had a chance to invent Quaker oats yet.)

The four Quakers are referred to as the Boston martyrs. Three of them were English (Marmaduke Stephenson, William Robinson and Mary Dyer.) The fourth Quaker was William Leddra of Barbados. They were condemned to death and executed for their religious beliefs by the Massachusetts Bay Colony Legislature. Several other Friends under sentence of death had their punishments commuted to being whipped from town to town until they were completely out of the colony.

Quaker Mary Dyer led to execution on Boston Common,  1660

And then there was Cotton Mather’s plot to kidnap William Penn and a ship of Quakers and sell them as slaves:

“In the Year of Our Lord 1682

To ye aged and beloved, Mr.John Higginson

There be now at sea a ship called Welcome, which has on board 100 or more of the heretics and malignants called Quakers, with W. Penn, who is the chief scamp, at the head of them. The General Court has accordingly given sacred orders to Master Malachi Huscott, of the brig Porpoise, to waylay the said Welcome slyly as near the Cape of Cop as may be, and make captive the said Penn and his ungodly crew, so that the Lord may be glorified and not mocked on the soil of this new country with the heathen worship of these people. Much spoil can be made of selling the whole lot to Barbadoes, where slaves fetch good prices in rum and sugar and we shall not only do the Lord great good by punishing the wicked, but we shall make great good for His Minister and people.

Yours in the bowels of Christ, (Interesting location. Right in there with all of the rest of the shit.)

Cotton Mather

Intolerance of Catholics, however, was not an issue. They weren’t even allowed in the Colony in the first place.

All this and slavery too!

There were certain advantages to being good Puritans.

Considering themselves “god’s chosen” (At least they thought so.), anyone who was definitely “not chosen” (i.e. people with darker tans, strange customs, or alternate mythologies.) was fair game. They could be kidnapped, killed or enslaved with impunity. (As long as you had superior firepower.)

Besides, god doesn’t have a problem with slavery. It says so in the bible:

However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you.  You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land.  You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance.  You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way.”  Leviticus 25:44-46 (New Living Translation)

Or if you’re a King James fanboy:

44 Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids.

45 Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession.

46 And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever: but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigour.”

Btw, in researching biblical sources, I ran across 33 different bible translations in English. Baring in mind the fact that translation can be very subjective, does this mean that different professors of the “truth” can have their own translations with their own facts? Noting some of the beliefs of some modern day “Christians” that certainly seems to be the situation.  And, how can “truth” have so many different versions? Just asking.

What really blows me are the “Jesus’ Words In Red” editions. Strange, but I always thought he spoke Aramaic, not English (middle or modern). Also, since the gospels were written decades later, you have to ask yourself, how many conversations or speeches do you recall from 30 to 60 years ago?

Remember, almost all of his disciples were illiterate, so nobody would have written very much of it down, let alone translated it into a foreign language (Greek). Speaking of which, before Saul (Paul) took over the group, Christianity was a strictly Jewish operation that didn’t want Gentiles joining in the 1st place, so shouldn’t the “original gospels” have been in Aramaic?

Because of the aforementioned reasons among others unstated, I hate to break it to you, but the gospels weren’t written by the disciples. So, it all had to be 2nd or 3rd hand (or more) knowledge (rumor). Also, Matt, Mark, Luke & John Boy don’t see eye-to-eye in a lot of places.

Ok, got that out of my system (sort of) so back to god sanctioned slavery:

Puritan predestination implied that blacks were cursed by god and condemned to serve whites. According to Cotton Mather, (The Puritan’s answer to Rush Limbaugh.) blacks were the “miserable children of Adam & Noah” and slavery was their punishment. (Adam and Noah were the two parents? I didn’t know gay couples could conceive. Now, that’s a miracle!)

And blacks weren’t the only “not chosen” that could be introduced to the finer points of slavery. When Puritans raided Indian encampments (which they often did) they would enslave or sell the women and children. However, being fearful of keeping the males who knew the area and could easily rise up against them, they traded them for blacks from the Caribbean.

Despite it being “OK” with Big Daddy, most Puritans didn’t own slaves. They couldn’t afford them. However, the wealthier Puritans not only owned slaves, many of them were heavily involved in the slave trade. (Hey, B.D.’s not opposed to making a buck. Just ask any televangelist.)

Plus, (wink, wink) the only real reason someone owned slaves was in order to “Christianize” them. (I kid you not! That was the official “spin”.)

A Massachusetts law of 1641 specifically linked slavery to Biblical authority, and established for slaves the set of rules “which the law of God, established in Israel concerning such people, doth morally require.

Which witch is which?

Yes, the Salem Witch Trials were their doing. (Cotton Mather strikes again!)

“Witch hunts” had been going on in Europe for centuries. England itself, has a rich history of ferreting out ladies who like to “dance with the devil”*. (*Euphemism for doing the “horizontal mambo” with the Bad Boy.)

Why the sexual connotation? Most middle-eastern mythologies (of which, Christianity is one) consider sex as border-line sin, if not an actual illegal immigrant from the “nether side”. That is, unless they’re the individuals partaking in it. (Catholic priests and little boys comes to mind, as do a lot of evangelicals traveling the rainbow trail.)

 

The Salem witch trials were not the first, let alone the only, witch hunts in Greater New England. In the 50 years preceding Salem, New England Puritans accused 120 people (Women: 88; Men: 32) of witchcraft. That number excludes several accused individuals who turned out to be mere Quakers. In the 1660’s, Hartford Connecticut (a Puritan stronghold) alone executed at least 14.

 

Still, when you mention witch trials, the 1st name that pops up is Salem. (Way to go, Salem Chamber of Commerce!)

 

This whole episode started on the word of four girls who claimed they were acting strangely because of stories they were told by the family slave “servant”.

In a world where women were considered property, and were supposed to be silent and subservient, the notoriety was intoxicating. The four, not surprisingly, decided to keep the game going. They were soon joined by others who acted out of greed, jealousy, hatred or just general stupidity.

Cotton Mather had his slimy fingerprints all over this as well. From helping the girls work up their story to inflaming the citizens from the pulpit to getting the person he wanted appointed as judge. All this, but he never attended any of the trials.

 

The “witches” were accused of causing sickness, harming animals, pinching sleeping people and acting generally unladylike. (For instance, yelling at their husbands in public.)

By the time it was over:

…Nineteen persons having been hang’d and one prest to death, and Eight more condemned, in all Twenty and Eight, of which above a third part were members of some of the Churches of N. England, and more than half of them of a good Conversation in general, and not one clear’d; about Fifty having confest themselves to be Witches, of which not one Executed; above an Hundred and Fifty in Prison, and Two Hundred more acccused; the Special Commision of Oyer and Terminer comes to a period,… Robert Calef: “More Wonders of the Invisible World, Display’d in Five Parts.” (1700)

150 people had been accused, of which 117 were women. Nineteen were hanged (14 women and 5 men). (Like I said, all middle-eastern mythologies are sexist.)

Contrary to popular belief however, nobody was burned at the stake. That happened in Europe, but never in North America. (That punishment seemed to be reserved for revolting slaves.)

One man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death because he wouldn’t confirm or deny his witchery. (Many defendants charged with capital offences refused to plead. That way they would escape forfeiture of property, and their heirs would still inherit their estate.)

Right now, you’re probably asking yourself “How do you prove someone’s a magic witch when magic witches don’t really exist?” (Sorry, Wiccans.)

The judge solved that problem right away. The court would allow “spectral evidence” (Wo0ooo00oo0)

Spectral evidence, if you’re a bit curious is “evidence based on dreams and visions”. For instance, the accused witch’s spirit (i.e. spectre) appeared to the witness in a dream (of course, the spectre could have been in the form of a wolf or other animal, but it was definitely the witch). Thus, a witnesses could testify that “Goody Proctor bit, pinched, and almost choked me,” and that would be taken as evidence that the accused was responsible for biting, pinching and choking even though they were somewhere else at the time.

There have been many explanations of the “witches”. My personal belief is that they were born in stupidity and raised in intolerance and hatred. (And, I’m not talking about the “witches”.)

Well, that’s it for this episode. Join me next time as I continue traveling down the bigoted byways and back roads of American religious history.

(One last note: Somewhere on your “bucket list”, put Halloween party in Salem, Mass.)Grouchy

p.s.: If my ramblings don’t revolt you, check out my FaceBook page (“Grouchy’s Grumbles”) you might just enjoy it. Better yet, you might “like” it.  I’d love it if you did.It’s free (and worth every cent) and almost completely painless (other than the usual bad jokes).

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