The First Fairy Tale
Dale K. Brown
This mysterious continent had been discovered years before. Aside from a few zealous conquistadors who, under the sign cross, were anxious to enslave the general population, rape the native women, and steal all the gold they could lay their hands on, no one had paid much attention to the place. But things had changed. Now it was being claimed by everyone who could row a boat. This had to be stopped.
The papacy still claimed divine rights to the entire planet, discovered or not. So, in the interest of fair play, it generously divided up the entire continent between Spain and Portugal. Counter claims were immediately filed by France, Holland, Sweden, and England. But there was another very real problem confronting these urban developers; somebody was already living here. The lights were on and, though the indigenous citizenry were, in most cases, predisposed to invite polite travelers into their tepees for crumpets and tea, they became understandably upset when scruffy seafaring vagabonds attempted to evict them from the premises.
The Pilgrims left England for America in search of religious freedom, to settle a new land where they could worship their god as they pleased, and make everyone else worship their god as they pleased too, or else! When they first set foot on these shores, their god was fairly well defined. He functioned best in well ordered patriarchies, demanded total, unconditional obedience, punished the slightest of infractions with death everlasting and, other than that, was an all around nice guy. But this new place was not at all well ordered. Other than the ocean, it had no borders and the only law was what people had brought with them. Because of this and the almost total isolation imposed from without, their god slowly evolved to fit his disparate environment. There is little doubt he started out normally enough, as gods go; a prohibitionist to the core. Anything that tasted, felt, or looked good was automatically fast tracked to his "Thou Shalt Not" list.
There were no frills in the promised land and he didn't go in for pomp and circumstance anyway, which was just as well, for there was a severe shortage of pomp in the area and an over abundance of circumstance, usually beyond anyone's control.
The changes came slowly to be sure, their speed and direction contingent upon the faith of believers for, although the Pilgrims, and Puritans who came later, espoused one God, their religious motivations for coming to the new world were quite different.
The Pilgrims came here to be left alone and worship in peace. They landed at Plymouth Rock in the fall of 1620. Of the hundred or so souls who stepped ashore that cold November day, only about a third were hopeless fundamentalists. The rest were employees, servants, and worst of all, artisans; and many of these had been overheard by brethren on the Mayflower to remark that once they set foot in the new world they could do as they pleased.
This was not a pleasant prospect in the estimation of the called and chosen. They'd come here to worship God as they saw fit, not live in some anarchistic commune where everybody did as they saw fit, so they bought and cajoled enough votes to give themselves a majority, crafted a document which gave them the authority to pass laws and impede progress, and called it the Mayflower Compact.
The Mayflower Compact, in its final form, represented some of the first legislation ever introduced in this country by a special interest group. Like all special interest groups, their unstated purpose in introducing it was to subvert the democratic process by imposing the will of the minority on the majority, a ruse which has served politicians well ever since. This instrument, they felt, would guarantee them what they'd come here for in the first place; to be left alone and worship in peace.
The Puritans, who arrived about ten years after the Pilgrims, were not only seeking freedom of religion; they were on a mission from God. England was, as anyone could see, on her last legs. She was suffering from moral rot and spiritual decay. They were the spiritual cavalry, summoned to usher in a new era of godliness and selected to restore the Edenic covenant with their Creator. Pilgrims and Puritans were in full agreement that the Bible was the Holy Word of God, that every pen stroke was divinely inspired and meant what it said. What they disagreed on, along with every other Christian faith, was what was meant by what was said.
Popular scriptural quotations, from the Puritan point of view, dealt with the spiritual renewal and physical resettlement of a people restored in the eyes of God to a nearly pristine state of being, all to take place in the wilderness of the North American promised land. The Lord himself was Biblically quoted as having said that his people would inherit "a wilderness unto the great sea, toward the going down of the sun, this shall be your coast" and "I will plant my people Israel in a place of their own, and they shall move no more, neither will they be troubled by the wicked."
The definition of what was or was not wicked or what kind of trouble they might cause was highly subjective, however. No one knew what it meant so the rule of thumb, rather than the rule of reason, prevailed. Which is to say, those who had the most thumbs, or as in the case of many religious leaders, those who were all thumbs, ruled. And anyone or anything which caused them personal discomfort or challenged them on any level was automatically labeled wicked.
This was a handy dodge for communities based on righteousness. Declaring a group or a person wicked relieved the pure at heart of any responsibility under the law to act...responsibly. There were no checks and balances with the rule of righteousness. Authority under these conditions derived not from the consent of the governed, but was envisioned to emanate downward from God through whatever human being happened to be in power at the time. And there were some strange human beings floating around those days.
As usual, no two leaders could agree precisely on just what God was about, so dust storms soon raged in humanity's newest sand box. The debates grew so acrimonious between the years 1635 to 1640 that mass defections reached epidemic proportions and new villages of the discontented took root all over New England. On top of this, more immigrants were arriving each month bringing with them their own belief systems. Soon there were so many versions of God on the loose no one could keep track of them all. They did have one thing in common, however. They were overwhelmingly Protestant.
Protestants in the new world came in all flavors and they lived up to their heritage. They were highly individualistic. Denominationally they didn't agree among themselves on much of anything. And they were not by nature inclined to blindly play follow the leader, desirable characteristics in a country about to be conceived in protest. By the outset of hostilities with England, almost every Christian faith known to humans had been established in the new world and there were several which were evolving which were unique to the continent. There were Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Mennonites, Lutherans, Dunkers, German Reformed, Moravians, Quakers, and Shakers.
Because of the diversity of early American religions, religious freedom of choice was tolerated out of self defense. No one belief was ever sufficiently powerful to impose its values on others. This was just as well because a great many newcomers to the promised land attended no church at all. They came to hunt and fish and that was about as close to paradise as they hoped to get. Others could go to heaven if they chose or go to hell if they got in the way.
These and other intellectual anomalies were encoded into the very D.N.A. of the embryonic nation; D.N.A., in the view of fervent fundamentalists as standing for "Damn Nearly Atheist."
The idea that such a conglomerate of nationalities or religions could ever get together and agree about anything, much less form a new nation based on the simplistic implausibility of individual freedom, required a martyr's faith in the intrinsic good of human nature, a common enemy, or, better yet, a miracle. The miracle came in the form of a common enemy, good old human nature.
In 1763, Mother England, continued to finance her royal Empire and standard of living through time honored tax and spend policies. But like all previous proponents of legalized larceny they always spent twice as much as they took in. They desperately needed new revenues, and since they had no Social Security System to loot, and hadn't yet invented off budget financing. they decided to try a limited form of taxation upon their colonies.
Emboldened by an initial lack of outright revolt, taxes and tariffs were soon increased and broadened to cover a wide range of goods and services. A Stamp Act was initiated requiring a special stamp to be affixed to all documents and even newspapers, soldiers were quartered in private residences, and taxes were increased further. The situation became intolerable and the people revolted.
The first Colonial Congress, represented by North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, was called into session. A bill of states' rights was swiftly drafted and, by April 9,1775, the Revolutionary War had begun.
On June 11, 1776, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Rodger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston were given the unenviable task of crafting a document which stated with unequivocal succinctness that the doctrine of the divine right of kings to rule was not unconditional, that it was possible for even a king to overstep the bounds of propriety after which all bets were off, and any legitimate obligations previously owed by the populace to the dictatorial swine in question were regarded as having been paid in full. Thus, the Declaration of Independence was not created for consumption at home, but rather for foreigners abroad who, like as not, were subject to heads of state still laboring under the misconception that, as rulers, they governed under divine auspices.
Several rough drafts of this declaration were made and a semi-final version was submitted to the committee. Amendments, additions, and deletions were incorporated and, by June 28, 1776, the declaration was presented to Congress. Four days later, on July 2, the representatives met to consider and debate the contents of the document. Late in the afternoon of July 4, 1776, the declaration was adopted but, contrary to American mythology, it was not signed on that date. It remained unsigned until August 2 and, even then, only a few actually penned their names. Many more months would pass before it bore the signatures of the men now revered for its conception.
In spite of the righteousness of their cause, the belief of the divine right of kings was so inbred that even the most dedicated of patriots were secretly troubled by what they were about to do. It is no accident, therefore, that of the 1,335 words of which the Declaration of Independence consists, 1,177 of those words were a political "Bull of Excommunication" designed to divest their English king of his God given rights to rule with impunity. With this goal now accomplished and the colonists at last in agreement that God was on their side, a successful war was waged, resulting in overwhelming victory for the heretics on April 19, 1783.
Some of the greatest political and philosophical minds of that era cobbled together the modest makings of a democratic republic. Their words of wit, wisdom, naivete, and elitism were soon enshrined forever on a series of now nearly sacred documents.
The Constitution of the United States went into effect June 21, 1788. Like much contemporary legislation, it guaranteed the rights of the government to govern. It guaranteed no individual rights whatsoever and since individual liberty was what many had risked all to attain, this seemed, at best, unacceptable, so due to public sentiment and not governmental largess, a bill of rights specifying personal liberties was ratified. It became the law of the land on December 15, 1791, a full fifteen years after the fact.
The amendments to the constitution were soon being quoted, unquoted, and misquoted to such an extent that the original meanings were blurred and distorted by constant retelling over the years. Soon, there were so many versions of what was meant by what was said that only the newly christened priesthood of lawyers and judges were entrusted with definitive interpretation.
Neither freedom of religion nor separation of church and state were ever mentioned in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution of the United States. The Bill of Rights makes no mention of them, either, other than to state in Article One that "the Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise." It was only thus that freedom to believe what you chose was interpreted to be an individual's implied constitutional prerogative.
It was just as well no collusion of Church and State was ever attempted because, with such a diverse group as the founding fathers, none was possible. Their personal beliefs encompassed the entire spectrum from George Washington, the devout Anglican, to Thomas Jefferson, the devout skeptic.
Not all the architects of freedom were so reluctant to enmesh the federal government in the affairs of the church, though. Patrick Henry, of "Give me liberty or give me death!" fame, publically advocated a national tax assessment, the proceeds of which were to be divided up between all Christian churches. George Washington initially favored this plan, but a heartless group of heretical constituents, unmoved by a pitiful vision of orphaned churches dotting the rural countryside adopted Benjamin Franklin's views on the subject. The good doctor had stated on more than one occasion that "Any religion which is good can and should support itself and any that aren't deserve no support." In the end, his sentiments carried the day.
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