Thursday, November 28, 2013

In Search of a Refuge

Who were the Pilgrims, and why did they come here? At the time of the Protestant Reformation, there existed a state church which enforced faith. But making Christianity enforceable also made it nominal. If everyone was a Christian, few took it really seriously. But it also made people comfortable; you did not have to worry about your faith being challenged. They could profess Christianity and then live however they wanted to live, as long as they did not do something blatant enough to bring the authorities down on them.

The Protestants, after the Reformation, generally tried to perpetuate the state church model. But there were problems. There were Protestants in Catholic nations or possessions and Catholics in Protestant nations or possessions. And this resulted in a long series of wars and persecutions. As a result, there were those who looked for some place to go, to get away from the troubles. Shortly before this the New World had been discovered. And some thought it might be that place of refuge. The first people to try this were the French Huguenots, Protestants in a Catholic country. They started a colony, but it was in Spanish territory. As a result, their colony was destroyed and the people killed or sold as slaves. But the idea did not die.

The Church of England was a compromise between Protestantism and Catholicism. And it enforced their compromise on those who deviated from it in either direction. The Pilgrims were clear Protestants who could not go along with the compromise. They fled to Holland, but were uncomfortable there, and decided to start a colony in America. There were earlier English colonies started for commercial reasons, but they were the first to go over seeking religious liberty. It should be noted that religious liberty, in the beginning, frequently meant freedom to practice one's own beliefs and not necessarily willingness to tolerate others. The Puritans, a much larger group of Protestant dissenters in the Church of England, followed the Pilgrims' example. Once this happened many others came and started their own colonies as places of refuge for their people.

When this diverse group of colonies became a nation, they decided, not without controversy, to oppose the establishment of religion and to advocate the free exercise of all beliefs. The United States then became a refuge for those looking for a place to safely practice their beliefs. This was important because one of the results of the religious wars was to move the European nations and their state churches in a more secular direction. Therefore, the United States became a place for people to come who took their Christianity seriously. An enforced faith may seem attractive and may produce a nation that conforms to one's values, but in the end it produces a weak Christianity. So while I believe we should oppose the establishment of secularism, which is as bad as the establishment of religion, we should avoid forcing our faith on others. For this does not produce real faith.


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