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The War on Christmas

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This time of year as the war on Christmas heats up I am reminded of the immortal words of Doctor Seuss:

“The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!

Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.

It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.

But I think that the most likely reason of all

May have been that his heart was two sizes too small…”

Dr Seuss How the Grinch Stole Christmas

 

Yes my friends I hate to admit it there is a war on Christmas. However unlike those that want to blame it on all of those Godless types, I have to say that some Christians have waged a real war on Christmas for centuries.

Now I have to be fair. There are some people in the secularist camp who file lawsuits against municipalities that have Christmas displays on public property and even some who will push those lawsuits to exhibits on private property.  However, despite the media attention these are nothing in comparison to what the Christian Grinches have done over centuries. So despite the efforts of some I do not fear for Christmas because the celebration of Christ’s Incarnation and Nativity has survived far worse even from those within the faith.

PURITAN-BAN-ON-CHRISTMAS-WAS-TO-PREVENT-DEMONIZATIONS-OF-CITIZENS-IN-COMMUNITY

Puritan Anti-Christmas Laws

Now let me be fair here. Some of the things that the Christian Grinches have protested are frivolous and not very spiritual. But that tends not to be the case today. Today’s Christians seem perfectly at home with the crass materialism and consumerism of our modern Christmas celebrations even within the walls of Christian churches. It seems that as long as we are willing to put a nativity scene made by Third World slave laborers in the middle of an otherwise completely capitalistic consumer orgy we don’t care. But God forbid an Atheist object or a member of a minority religion demand equal time and space for their display in the otherwise crassly materialistic celebration, those things are a declaration of war against the very holiday that we as Christians wantonly desecrate.

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The Puritans hated Christmas…

Let us go back and look at some history. Not the kind of “history” promoted by David Barton and Glenn Beck, but real history. You know, stuff that actually happened and that we have documentary evidence to support, not stuff that we pull out of thin air.

Back in the 1600s a Christian group that was tremendously influential in our nation’s early development hated the celebration of Christmas. I am not kidding. These were the Puritans.

The Puritans believed that they were the “elect” based on their theology. The Calvinist doctrine of double predestination ensured that they as the elect knew they knew they were right. For those that do not understand this doctrine, let me explain. The Puritans and other strict Calvinists believed that they were the elect. They believed that they were pre-ordained by God before the foundation of the world to go to heaven, and the rest of us were created to live and die, and then go to Hell because God decided so before the creation of the world.

But that is not all. The Puritans also believed that as the elect that they had a “Biblical Mandate” to rule for God on earth and as such they established a theocracy in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. If the Puritans had simply died out and gone away this might not be an issue. However, their theology has continued and their modern successors in the modern Christian Dominion or 7 Mountains Theology movements believe the same thing. They believed that sine it was God’s will that they rule that whatever they said that others needed to obey, after all God put them in charge.

The Puritans came out of the Protestant Reformation in England. Unlike the Englishmen of today, the English of that period took their religion pretty seriously.  Now despite the cultured accent that we hear on the BBC or CNN World the English religionists of that day were actually more like unruly football fans only worse. When it came to matters of religious tolerance and loving their neighbors they were rather un-Christian.

English Protestants of the non-monarchical Reformation type like the Puritans did their best to rid the Church of England of anything that appeared to even look Catholic, especially anything to do with Christmas. Of course this cleansing of the church often included killing real people including the few remaining stick in the mud Roman Catholics as well as Anglicans who still liked Catholic stuff.

But to be fair to the Puritans back then the English of all Christian denominations tended to be a bit intolerant. They would lop off the heads, burn at the stake, or crush with heavy stones anyone that deviated from their beliefs. They killed first first and asked questions later. It was kind of like the fans of the Premier League only without professional officials to regulate the game.

Early in their history the Puritans were a persecuted group. They were militant, intolerant and exclusive, so who could not find reasons not to like them? But when the Puritans took power after Oliver Cromwell overthrew the monarchy they took their revenge with great gusto. They didn’t just decide to lop, crush and burn their opponents of all denominations, but they also decided to outlaw the celebration of Christmas.

Of course they did so for the noble reason of purifying England of heresy. In fact if you want to compare them to a modern religious group, they would be pretty similar to the Taliban. When the Puritans took over the government they did their best to ensure that everyone was as miserable as them. This included banning the celebration of Christmas.

Wassail 03

Wassailers 

The Puritans were not content with inflicting their beliefs on church going people, they inflicted them on the majority of the people who simply wanted some relief for the drudgery of daily life in 17th Century England. The Puritans even banned the poor from the tradition of Wassailing. Wassailing was a custom in which the rather pungent poor would go from house to house, begging for treats in exchange for drinking a toast to the family.  The drink they called wassail was a hot-spiced wine.  Now this was not a vintage Napa Valley or French wine but a rather pungent and rancid English wine, thus the need for spices and heat.

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Mob Football

Wassailing sometimes ended up with episodes of drunken revelry, much like current English Football match celebrations, which is why the Puritans objected so strenuously. They didn’t like football either. No kidding, then it was called “Mob Football” and it didn’t have very many rules. Since it was particularly popular at Christmas, the Puritans suspected that it must have been from the Devil.

The Puritans had no sense of fun as we know it. They viewed any religious practice that might include something that might be fun harmful, as such anything fun needed to be completely removed from public life.

Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper

Oliver Cromwell

This miserable situation lasted until 1660; a year after the Lord Protector and head of the army and police Oliver Cromwell kicked the bucket. The anti-Christmas laws were quickly overturned and everyone was happy. Well sort of, the populace went back to simply lopping, burning and crushing heretics, especially Roman Catholics. That being said, people were so happy to bring Christmas back that the new rulers in England exhumed Cromwell’s body from Westminster Abbey and executed him posthumously. Since decorating was allowed these rulers lopped off Cromwell’s head and displayed it outside Westminster Hall for about four years. A popular verse of the time said:

Now thanks to God for Charles’ return,

Whose absence made old Christmas mourn;

For then we scarcely did it know,

Whether it Christmas were or no.

Not to be outdone the Puritan colonists in the Massachusetts Bay Colony decided that what was going on in their homeland was not to their taste. So in 1659 under Governor Sir Edmund Andros they enacted laws like those of Cromwell. The laws remained on the books until 1681. During the time that the laws were in force everyone had a grand time. To keep the festivities going the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony banned the celebration of Christmas and other such holidays at the same time it banned gambling and other lawless behavior.

Grouping all such behaviors together the court placed a fine of five shillings on anyone caught feasting or celebrating the holiday in a manner that might be construed as fun. Things like taking time off from work, feasting, partying, wassailing, playing Mob Football, or anything else that might be construed as fun were criminalized. The law stated:

“For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county.”

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That sounds lovely doesn’t it? To their credit the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony didn’t go lopping, burning or crushing heretics with heavy stones unless they were proven to be a Christmas celebrating witch.

Christmas law 1658

Unlike England where the lifting of the ban was celebrated with the aplomb given to a World Cup championship the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and their descendants frowned upon the celebration of Christmas until the 1820s. That was when enough Irish showed up in Boston to turn the place around and make it the fun town that it is now.  Coincidently the last State Church in the United States was the Congregational Church in Massachusetts. It wasn’t disestablished until 1833.

So the next time you hear about the war on Christmas, remember that a lot of the people ranting about the supposed “war on Christmas” actually want to re-establish a very harsh and sterile Puritan view of faith that led to the celebration of Christmas being criminalized in England and in Massachusetts. Of course they would have a hard time doing that now since they so connected to the corporations and retailers who make big time bucks off of Christmas.

Thankfully for now we only have to suffer from the yearly rants of the fun deprived army of Christian Grinches, who without the religious flair of the Puritans attempt to crush the spirit of Christmas. Thankfully, today, more people like all the tinsel, bells, lights, decorations, the presents and time off regardless of their religion or lack thereof to want to abolish Christmas. So the Christmas celebration as we know it will survive, at least until next year. One can always hope.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, History, News and current events, Religion

Right Wing Christian Political Correctness

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“religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and non-believers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.”

There is an epidemic of political correctness in the United States today.

Of course if you listen to Fox News, most Evangelical preachers, or conservative pundits that is always blamed on secularists or liberals who are almost universally defamed by such critics. They are accused of being communists, fascists, atheists and even worse for simply positing that they don’t believe, that they might have doubts, or that like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison or the early Virginia Baptist leader and friend of both Madison and Jefferson, John Leland argued that no religion should have the franchise on or control of the government.

For this they are accused of being politically correct, or enforcing political correctness, when in fact they are actually politically incorrect, because they dare question the minority of people who have the real political and economic power in this country, Conservative Christians.

I have run into this political correctness, that of Christian political correctness. Dare come to the defense of the civil rights of Gays or Lesbians and see what happens. Defend someone who questions the faith, see what happens. Defend the rights of non-Christian minorities and see what happens. If you do you will be attacked, condemned, and defamed. You will be called all matters of things, and if you are a member of such a church you will be expelled. I know, because I was.

You see for me I am an American and I will defend the rights of all Americans to their beliefs so long as they do not try to use the police power of the government to shove those beliefs down my throat. Equity is for all. I have served for over 33 years in the military alongside Americans of every race, creed, political belief and ideology, and yes even sexual preference. I have seen people excel, I have seen people promote the rights of others, and I have seen witch hunts done not in the name of the law, or any real American principle, but on the basis of conservative Christian religious beliefs being sold as the only true American beliefs.

That my friends is the ultimate political correctness. It is the political correctness that has to defend itself by invoking the wrath of the Almighty against unbelievers. It is that of the Inquisitors, the Crusaders, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Calvin’s Geneva, Zwingli’s Zurich, Cromwell’s England, Orthodox Russia and a host of other theologically based “government.”

That kind of government is called “theocracy.” It is what many of those who came to this country sought to flee, except that some like the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony decided to use their new freedom away from the Church of England to persecute Baptists, Quakers and others, especially women who they accused of witchcraft. It as as Robert Heinlein said: “Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.”

I have seen the results of such religious hatred in the Balkans and the Middle East. I will fight to make sure that it doesn’t happen here, even if that means that fellow Christians condemn me and dare to say that I am not a Christian. I will be politically incorrect, the real kind of political incorrectness that is the most unsettling to “true believers,” that of the questioning believer who defends unbelievers.

Like Eric Hoffer, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and so many others I recognize the danger posed by those who believe that they are God’s chosen people destined to carry out their understanding of God’s will on earth.

As Jefferson said:

“I know it will give great offense to the clergy, but the advocate of religious freedom is to expect neither peace nor forgiveness from them.” 

I expect neither, and I will advice for all, inspire of the Right Wing Christian Political Correctness that dominates in this country. The people that Eric Hoffer called “true Believers.” people who are likely to see themselves  “as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

Just read the people who write and espouse Dominionist or Seven Mountains theology. They are the ones running the asylum of the Christian Right today. Look it up, or look at any of the articles that I have written about them. They are not the fringe anymore, they run the Republican Party and almost every one of the potential Republican Presidential Candidates espouse those views, or are afraid to stand up to them. Likewise most of the mainstream media gives them a pass, because they too are afraid of them, they are afraid of being called “politically correct.”

Barry Goldwater, the progenitor of the modern conservative movement warned us about them: He said in 1994:

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

I am no longer afraid, because I have nothing to lose besides my soul, at least that’s what I am told. Frankly I would rather be [part of the inferior “out group” than any part of this supposedly superior “in group.” 

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, faith, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion

The Historic “Christian” War on Christmas

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“The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small…” Dr Seuss How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Yes my friends I hate to admit it there is a war on Christmas. However unlike those that want to blame it on all of those Godless types I have to say that the real war on Christmas has been waged by Christians for centuries.

Now I do have to be fair. There are some people in the secularist camp who file lawsuits against municipalities that have Christmas displays on public property and even some who will push those lawsuits to exhibits on private property.  However, despite the media attention these are nothing in comparison to what Christian Grinches have done over the years.

So despite the efforts of some I do not fear for Christmas because the celebration of Christ’s Incarnation and Nativity has survived far worse even from those within the faith.

Now let me be fair here. Some of the things that the Christian Grinches have protested are frivolous and at their heart not very spiritual. But that tends not to be the case today. As Christians we seem perfectly at home in the crass materialism and consumerism of our modern Christmas celebrations even within the walls of our churches. It seems that as long as we are willing to put a nativity scene made by Third World slave laborers in the middle of an otherwise completely capitalistic consumer orgy we don’t care. But God forbid an Atheist object or a member of a minority religion demand equal time and space for their display in the otherwise crassly materialistic celebration. But I digress….

Let us go back and look at some history. Not that fake David Barton and Glenn Beck history but real history. You know, stuff that actually happened and that we have documentary evidence to support, not stuff that we pull out of thin air.

puritans

Back in the the 1600s a religious group influential in our nation’s early development hated the celebration of Christmas. I am not kidding. These were the Puritans, who by their name we must assume were pretty pure.

Since the Puritans already believed that they were the “elect” based on the Calvinist doctrine of double predestination they knew they were right. For those that don’t know what this doctrine means let me explain. The idea was that the Puritans and other strict Calvinists believed that they were the elect. In other words they believed that they were pre-ordained by God before the foundation of the world to go to heaven. Now that isn’t uncommon in religion but they also believed based on the same doctrine that all other people were destined to go to Hell because God decided they would before the creation of the world.

But there was another interesting part of this doctrine that wasn’t about heaven. They also believed that they had the “Biblical Mandate” to rule for God on earth. Their successors in the modern Christian Dominion or 7 Mountains Theology movement believe the same thing. They believed that sine it was God’s will that they rule that whatever they they said that others needed to obey, after all God put them in charge.

The Puritans came out of the Protestant Reformation in England. Unlike today the English took religion pretty seriously.  Now despite the cultured accent that we hear on the BBC or CNN World the English of that day were actually more like unruly football fans only worse. When it came to matters of religious tolerance and loving their neighbors they were pretty un-Christian.

English Protestants of the non-monarchical Reformation type like the Puritans did their best to rid the Church of England of anything that appeared to even look Catholic, especially Christmas. Of course this cleansing of the church often included real people including the few remaining stick in the mud Roman Catholics and Anglicans who still liked Catholic stuff.

But to be fair to the Puritans back then the English of all Christian denominations tended to be a bit intolerant. They would lop off the heads of, burn at the stake or crush with heavy stones anyone that deviated from their beliefs first and ask questions later. It was kind of like the fans of the Premier League only not as well behaved.

Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper

Oliver Cromwell

Early in their history the Puritans were a persecuted group. Militant, intolerant, exclusive  who could not find reasons not to like them? But when the Puritans took power when Oliver Cromwell overthrew the monarchy they took their revenge and they enjoyed it. They didn’t just decide to lop, crush and burn their opponents of all denominations, but they also decided to outlaw the celebration of Christmas.

Christmas law 1658

Of course they did so for noble reasons such as ridding the country of anything that smelled Catholic or did not fit within their rather harsh and purist views of the faith. Thus when they took power they did their best to ensure that everyone was as miserable as them. This included banning the celebration of Christmas. They were kind of like the Taliban in a sense, except they were not Moslems.  But that being said they ruled in a similar manner and made most other people miserable.

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In 1652 it was declared that no Observation shall be had of the Five and twentieth day of December, commonly called Christmas-Day; nor any Solemnity used or exercised in Churches upon that Day in respect thereof’.

In 1647 the Puritan dominated Parliament backed up by the brute force of the Army and Police led by Oliver Cromwell simply abolished the Christmas feast and all that went with it, including the Roast Beast. Gone were such nasty pagan ideas such as Christmas Trees, feasting, caroling, and decorations. And let’s not forget the favorite target of Grinch’s everywhere, Nativity scenes. Of course the Puritans had a different reason than modern secular Grinches for banning them. Nativity scenes were banned because they were “idols.” Not content with banning the outward festivities the Puritans even frowned on the use of the word Christmas because they believed that it was akin to taking the Lord’s name in vain.

Wassail   03

Wassailing 

Likewise the Puritans were not content with inflicting their beliefs on church going people, they inflicted them on the majority of the people who simply wanted some relief for the drudgery of daily life in 17th Century England. The Puritans even banned the poor from the tradition of Wassailing. Wassailing was a custom in which the rather pungent poor would go from house to house, begging for treats in exchange for drinking a toast to the family.  The drink called wassail, was a hot spiced wine.  Now this was not a vintage Napa Valley or French wine but a pungent English wine, thus the need for spices and heat. Wassailing sometimes ended up in an out of control scene of drunken revelry, much like current English Football match celebrations, which is why the Puritans objected so strenuously. They didn’t like football either. No kidding, back then it was known as Mob Football and didn’t have very many rules. It was particularly popular at Christmas which meant that it must be of the Devil.

SPSC1115-Mob-Football-14t

Mob Football

Be it known that the Puritans did had no sense of fun as we know it. They viewed any religious practice that might include something fun harmful and as such religious practices such as these needed to be removed from public life altogether.

Well this situation lasted until 1660 a year after the Lord Protector and head of the Army and Police Oliver Cromwell kicked the bucket. The anti-Christmas laws were quickly overturned and the populace went back to simply lopping, burning and crushing and everyone, save those being lopped, crushed or burned was happy because Christmas was back.  People were so happy to bring Christmas back that the new rulers in England exhumed Cromwell’s body from Westminster Abbey and executed him posthumously. Since they had a flair for decorating they lopped off Cromwell’s head and displayed it outside Westminster Hall for about four years.

A popular verse of the time said:

Now thanks to God for Charles’ return,
Whose absence made old Christmas mourn;
For then we scarcely did it know,
Whether it Christmas were or no.

PURITAN-BAN-ON-CHRISTMAS-WAS-TO-PREVENT-DEMONIZATIONS-OF-CITIZENS-IN-COMMUNITY

Not to be outdone the Puritan colonists in the Massachusetts Bay Colony enacted similar laws to their brethren in England. In 1659 through the newly appointed Governor Sir Edmund Andros. The laws remained on the books until 1681. During the time that the laws were in force everyone had a grand time. Like others in places like Cromwell’s England, Stalin’s Soviet Union, the Ayatollah’s Iran and the Taliban’s Afghanistan the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony banned the celebration of Christmas and other such holidays at the same time it banned gambling and other lawless behavior.

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Grumpy Puritan and Revelers 

Grouping all such behaviors together the court placed a fine of five shillings on anyone caught feasting or celebrating the holiday in a manner that might be construed as fun. Things like taking time off from work, feasting, partying, wassailing, playing Mob Football or anything else. The law read like this:

“For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county.”

That sounds lovely doesn’t it? At least they didn’t go lopping, burning or crushing with heavy stones unless you were proven to be a Christmas celebrating witch. Unlike England where the lifting of the ban was celebrated with the aplomb given to a World Cup championship the Colonists up in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and their descendants frowned upon the celebration of Christmas until the 1820s. That was  when enough Irish showed up in Boston to turn the place around and make it the fun town that it is now.  Coincidently the last “State Church” in the United States was the Congregational Church in Massachusetts. It wasn’t disestablished until 1833.

So the next time you hear about those that want to impose their beliefs to quash Christmas regardless of their religious or non-religious reasons please realize that this isn’t a new thing at all. Christians have been doing it for centuries.

Let us also remember that some of the un-fun Fundamentalists screaming about the “war on Christmas” actually want to re-establish the Puritan view of faith which would in effect eliminate any celebration of Christmas if they could only convince the corporations that profit off of Christmas but otherwise support their political causes to go along with it.

But for now we only have to suffer those fun and sentimentality deprived army of Grinch’s that without the religious flair of the Puritans attempt to crush the spirit of Christmas. Thankfully, more people like all the tinsel and bells as well as the presents and time off regardless of their religion or lack thereof and so the Christmas celebration as we know it will survive.

Maybe in doing so a few people will discover the humble, less than pretentious babe laying in the manger. One can always hope.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, History, News and current events, Religion

Christian Grinch’s: How the Puritans nearly stole Christmas

There are a lot of people now days in the United States that believe that the Christmas Holiday is under attack and to some extent they are right. It seems that lawsuits are as abundant as public displays of Christian themed holiday observance and décor as various individuals and groups attempt to expunge such observances from public life, even some of those erected on “private” property.

Now I am not one to go out and all these people are evil or even anti-Christian as some do from the pulpit and the even more influential “pulpits” of radio talk show hosts. However there are times that I have to admit that it seems that there is Grinchlike element present in our society. The Grinch’s who come in various types are often well meaning and concerned that religious displays of any kind but mostly the Christian kind will either offend people or create an environment where religious and non-religious minorities might be discriminated against by the religious folks. Thus they believe that all religious displays need to go lest someone be offended or discriminated against.

 

Above all it seems that they really don’t like the displays with the kid in the crib surrounded by a temporarily indigent family, smelly animals, even smellier migrant worker type pre-Bedouins and undocumented aliens from realms of glory.  I find the whole notion that is somehow harmful to individuals or society be quite Grinchlike and wonder of these people had their sentimental and fun glands removed at birth or simply got too many lumps of coal in their stockings.

 

Despite this I do not fear for Christmas because the celebration of Christ’s Incarnation and Nativity has survived far worse even dare I say from those within the faith.  Yes my friends way back in the bad old days a group influential in our early development as a nation the Puritans were big into cancelling Christmas.  Despite the fact that they were Christians they were pretty Grinchlike and in some sense the philosophic predecessors of those that want to banish Christmas from public life today.

 

You see after the Protestant Reformation, the English, who despite the cultured accent that we hear on the BBC or CNN World were actually more like unruly football fans in matters of religious tolerance and loving their neighbors. English Protestants of the non-monarchical reformation type did their best to rid the Church of England of anything Catholic. Of course this often included people who were Catholic or even Anglo-Catholic.  The English of all denominations tended to lop off the heads of, burn at the stake or crush with heavy stones those that deviated from the beliefs whoever was in charge. Of course those that leaned Catholic reciprocated in kind whenever they had power which made the era something like the Premier League “lite.”

 

The English Grinch and Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell


However when the Puritans took power they didn’t just decide to lop, crush and burn but they also decided to outlaw the celebration of Christmas. Of course they did so for noble reasons such as ridding the country of anything that smelled Catholic or did not fit within their rather harsh and purist views of the faith. Thus when they took power they did their best to ensure that everyone was as miserable as them. This included banning the celebration of Christmas which they objected for a number of reasons.

 

So in 1647 the Puritan dominated Parliament backed up by the brute force of the Army and Police led by Oliver Cromwell simply abolished the feast and all that went with it.  Like the Grinch himself they tried to eliminate everything including the Roast Beast. Gone were such nasty pagan ideas as Christmas Trees, feasting, caroling, and decorations. And let’s not forget the favorite target of Grinch’s everywhere, Nativity scenes, which were banned as the worship of idols. Indeed, the Puritans even frowned on the use of the word Christmas because they believed that it was akin to taking the Lord’s name in vain.

Wassailing


Not content with inflicting their beliefs on the majority of the people who simply wanted some relief for the drudgery of daily life in 17th Century England they even banned the poor from the tradition of Wassailing.  Wassailing was a custom in which the rather pungent poor would go from house to house, begging for treats in exchange for drinking a toast to the family.  The drink called wassail, was a hot spiced wine and not a vintage Napa Valley or French wine but a equally pungent English wine, thus the need for spices and heat. The result of the wassailing sometimes was an out of control drunken revelry, much like current English Football match celebrations, which is why the Puritans objected so strenuously.
Be it known that the Puritans did have their sentimental and fun glands removed on conversion had no sense of fun, or what they viewed as harmful religious practices and wanted to remove them from public life altogether.  Well altogether now: “kill the fun and sentimentality! And if need be those that practice them!” Very good you are honorary Puritans for the day doesn’t that make you feel good? It does me, I just love reenacting history sometimes.
Well this lasted until 1660 when the Lord Protector and head of the Army and Police Oliver Cromwell kicked the bucket.  The anti-Christmas laws were overturned and the populace went back to simply lopping, burning and crushing and everyone, save those being lopped, crushed or burned was happy.
Not to be outdone the Puritan colonists in the Massachusetts Bay Colony enacted similar laws which were on the books from 1659 through 1681 when a newly appointed Governor in the employee of the Crown Sir Edmund Andros.  However during the time that the laws were in force everyone had a grand time. Like others in places like Iran and Afghanistan the General Court banned the celebration of Christmas and other such holidays at the same time it banned gambling and other lawless behavior. Grouping all such behaviors together the court placed a fine of five shillings on anyone caught feasting or celebrating the holiday in another manner. The law read like this:
“For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county.”

That sounds lovely doesn’t it? Just kidding. At least they didn’t go lopping, burning or crushing with heavy stones unless you were proven to be a Christmas celebrating witch. Unlike England where the lifting of the ban was celebrated with the aplomb given to a World Cup championship the Colonists up in the Massachusetts Bay Colony frowned upon the celebration until the 1820s when enough Irish showed up in Boston to turn the place around and make it the fun town that it is now.   By the way the last “State Church” in the United States was the Congregational Church in Massachusetts back in 1833, seems that they didn’t appreciate that separation of Church and States stuff thought up by Tom Jefferson and Jim Madison very much.

 

So the next time you hear about those that want to impose their beliefs to quash Christmas realize that this isn’t a new thing at all. Christians have been doing it for centuries and some of the un-fun Fundamentalists that want to re-establish the faith in the way the Puritans had imagined or legislated it to be, would do it again if they ever took control of Congress.  But for now we have to suffer those fun and sentimentality deprived army of Grinch’s that without the religious flair attempt to crush the spirit of Christmas in the name of tolerance.

 

So Merry Christmas my friends,

 

Peace
Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, purely humorous, Religion

Book Review: Identity and War, the Lessons of King Philip’s War

This is a book review of Jill Lepore’s bookThe Name of War: The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity” Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York NY. 1999

King Philip

The thesis of Jill Lepore’s book In the Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity” is that King Philip’s War helped lay the foundation of American identity. Lepore postulates that the history of the war and the war itself cannot be separated especially in regard to the identity of the participants.  This is of particular interest in how the participants record the history of the war and how it influences their perception of themselves and their enemies.

War and how it is recorded in history can define a people. Examples of this can be seen throughout history. For instance the history and identity of Serbia cannot be separated from the battle of Kosovo in 1389 . There are countless other examples of how war shapes the identity of people and nations.  One of the defining moments in the early history of Colonial America was King Philip’s War which lasted from July 1675 through August 1676.

Lepore maintains that King Philip’s War defined the ways in which the colonists and Indians shaped their views of themselves and each other, not just at the time of the war but in succeeding generations.  She takes an approach unlike a lot of histories of war.  Instead of simply analyzing battles Lepore looks at how war cultivates language and the questions that war provokes.

The most pressing to Lepore is “how do people reconcile themselves to war’s worst cruelties.”[i] She notes her own view of war in her introduction: “War is a contagion, the universal perversion. War is politics by other means, at best barbarism, a mean contemptible thing.”[ii] She says that her interest in war was drawn on the media coverage of the Persian Gulf War and her question of “how war could be represented without pictures.”[iii] This of course demonstrates how she views the nature of war and how she interprets it.

Lepore examines the literature of “King Philip’s War” beginning with the death of the leader of Wampanoag Indian King Philip in June 1675.  She examines the war from both sides inasmuch as that only one side had access to the means to record that history. Through the writings of the colonists she examines the brutal nature of King Philip’s War which “in proportion to population… inflicted greater casualties than any other war in American history.”[iv]

This is not a campaign history.  Instead Lepore selects incidents and battles of the war and looks at them through the eyes of the people that recorded them.  Lepore notes that “the central claim of this book is that wounds and words-the injuries and their interpretation- cannot be separated, that acts of war generate acts of narration, and that both types of acts are often joined in a common purpose: defining the geographical, political, cultural, and sometimes racial and national boundaries between peoples.”[v]

Lepore’s account is a literary and philosophical study of the nature of war and not a military history. Her understanding of the totality of this war and its effect through the years is noted by others such as Russell Weigley.[vi] She asks a poignant question that should be noted by any practitioner of war or military theorist: “If war is, at least in part, a contest for meaning, can it ever be a fair fight when only one side has access to those perfect instruments of empire, pens, paper, and printing presses?”[vii]

Lepore studies the literature of the war published by the colonists.  In particular she discusses the competing histories published by Increase Mather and William Hubbard, both pastors in New England and the writings of other colonists, especially those of Nathanial Saltonstall and Mary Rowlandson.  For Lepore the importance of the writing of these people is connected to the identity of the peoples involved, both the English colonists and the Native Americans.[viii] Lepore’s premise is that the writings of the colonists “proved pivotal to their victory, a victory that drew new firmer boundaries between English and Indian people, between English and Indian land, and what it meant to be “English” and what it meant to be “Indian.””[ix] This is still a critical question. She notes how King Philip’s War influenced later events such as the American Revolution and the deportation of the Cherokee nation in the 1820s.

For Lepore the formation of the identity of both the colonists and the indigenous people is the key theme of this war, and for that matter most wars.

Lepore depicts this in her prologue and the account of the torture of a Narragansett Indian by Mohegans Indians while the English watch.  The question that she raises and that she will ask again is “If they are to think of themselves as different from “these Heathen” whom they condemn for their “barbarous Cruelty,” how then can they consent to such treatment of a Narragansett before their very eyes? “Their enemy is killed, yet they do not have to kill him. They are allowed to witness torture, yet they not need inflict it.”[x]

Yet for the colonists such behavior risked their identity as Christians and Englishmen which was what they believed that they fought for in the first place.  Lepore notes Mather’s 1674 sermon The Day of Trouble is Near which emphasized the theme of decay and confusion present at the time.[xi]

Lepore notes the effect of literacy on both the colonists and Indians. She begins with the murder of John Sassamon a bi-lingual Indian as the seminal event which set the stage for the war. She then examines Sassamon’s relationship to the English and Christianity and his relationship with King Philip.  In Lepore’s account Sassamon was a victim of both his faith and literacy.

Lepore provides a good study of early missionary attempts to “bring the Gospel” to the Indians by translating the Bible and devotional texts from English to Massachusett[xii] and how that missionary activity converted many Indians including Sassamon.  Lepore notes that: “in a sense literacy killed John Sassamon. And herein lies one of the fundamental paradoxes of the waging and writing of King Philip’s War:  The cultural tensions that caused the war – the Indians becoming Anglicized and English becoming Indianized- meant that literate Indians like John Sassamon who were those most likely to record their version of events of the war, were among its first casualties.” [xiii]

Lepore’s depiction of the cruelties of war in chapters three and four is a study in contrasts.  Again this comes back to a question of identity for the colonists.  They saw themselves as different from the “uncivilized Indians” even the Christian Indians.  This was because the colonists believed that Indians did not value English understanding of identity which was connected to property and its improvement, houses, land and farm field’s cattle and possessions.  When the Indians destroyed English property it was a blow at their very identity as Englishmen. The tension between these tow opposite points of view remains a fixture of American life.

Religion played a major role in the conflict.  Lepore notes that “the colonists’ sense of predestination…, their natural affinity with the land, and their cultural proclivity to conflate property with identity, all combined to produce this oneness of bodies and land.”[xiv] The English did not view the Indians as having the same values because they did not have the same understanding of land and property, and thus they saw them as savage.  For example she discusses how the colonists view of how “the Algonquians’’ perceived nomadism, their failure to “improve” the land, formed the basis for the English land claims….”[xv] In  other words the English Colonists believed that if the Indians were want to improve the land upon which they dwelt than they did not deserve to remain on it.

Lepore discusses the metaphor of “nakedness” in relation to the loss of property and identity.[xvi] She notes how the Indians seemed to have understood the importance of land and property to the English. She cites a note left by a Nipmuck Indian at Medfield “we hauve nothing but our lives to loose but thou hast many fair houses cattell & much good things.”[xvii] She notes that the note offered an analysis missed by all the English accounts of the war.[xviii]

Likewise Lepore notes how religion informed both the colonists and Indians who both looked for supernatural messages in the natural world.  The English colonists, primarily Puritan Calvinists believed that the devastation of the war on them at the beginning of the war was “God punishing them for their sins, not the least of them their failure to convert the Indians to Christianity.”[xix] The English settlers were influenced by their Calvinist theology and believed that the Indians both “served the devil” but were also “the instruments of God.”[xx] The Indians also had a spiritual element to their conduct of the war and the clash of these beliefs gave the war a religious dimension especially for the Colonists a dimension that would pervade American perceptions of many of the wars which followed.

Another theme of Lepore in how the war shaped identity is in the context of the bondage experienced by the English captives of the Indians during the war that of and of the Indians following the war.  She uses the stories of Mary Rowlandson and Christian Indian James Printer to illustrate her thesis.

Rowlandson’s story is the account of her capture, captivity and release by the Indians following the attack on Lancaster, Massachusetts in February 1676.  Lepore calls the importance of Rowlandson’s account The Sovereignty and Goodness of God and how it shaped the colonial and later American understanding of the war by “the nearly complete veil it has unwittingly placed over the experiences of bondage endured by Algonquian Indians during King Philip’s War.”[xxi] Lepore writes that for Rowlandson and Printer that the story was one of redemption and return to English society, Rowlandson through her book, Printer through bringing back scalps of other Indians as a demonstration of his loyalty to the Colonists.[xxii]

Another point raised by Lepore here is the enslavement and deportation of the Algonquians by the Colonists following the war.  A key to the thinking of the colonists is elaborated by Lepore: “In the end, the colonists’ evaluation of Indian sovereignty was merely an extension of their thinking about Indian possession: Indians were only sovereign enough to give their sovereignty away.”[xxiii]

This again comes back to Lepore’s thesis of identity.  She states that the “colonists moved toward (but never fully embraced) in their writing about King Philip’s War was the idea that Indians were not, in fact truly human, or else humans of such a vastly different race as to be considered essentially, and biologically inferior to Europeans.”[xxiv] She argues that King Philip’s war was a defining moment where “Algonquian political and cultural autonomy was lost and where the English moved one step closer to the worldview that would create, a century and a half later, the Indian removal policy of Andrew Jackson.”[xxv]

Lepore’s final section deals with memory and identity.  She illustrates this by noting how the Reverend Nathan Fiske in 1775 equated the British to the Indians of King Philip’s War; and the play Metamora written in 1829 about King Philip and the war.  Both Fiske and the latter play had an impact.

Fiske’s sermon helped light the fires of American independence movement, something that which Lepore notes for the Indians was “not a gain but a loss of liberty.”[xxvi] The play Metamora opened the day Andrew Jackson declared his policy of Indian removal. It was the most popular American play of its era. Lepore says that when you “peel back all the layers …what remains is a struggle for American and Indian identity. Through plays like Metamora, white Americans came to define themselves in relation to an imagined Indian past.”[xxvii]

Overall Lepore’s treatment of King Philip’s War is a good treatment of how wars affect people and their relationships with those whom they war against.  Using Lepore’s thesis of the war, the history of war and how they shape the identities of peoples and nations’ one could conceivably analyze other conflicts from this perspective.

Since this is the premise of why Lepore began her study of King Philip’s War it is worthy of further discussion.  Such studies could be undertaken in the Balkans, Kurdistan, Palestine, Iraq or Syria as well as other regions where the impact of war is thoroughly ingrained in the minds, hearts and imaginations of the parties involved.  From this perspective one wonders what future generations of Americans and Moslems will write of the current conflicts that the United States is engaged in.

Another aspect of Lepore’s examination study is religion in the perception and interpretation of war.  In this case it is the impact of the colonists Calvinism and its relationship to other English theologies of its day as well as other Calvinistic understanding of war of that era that matters.

This is very important.  The more recent English colonists prior to King Philip’s War had in many cases experienced the brutality of English Civil War and the protectorate of Oliver Cromwell in which they dominated the English political landscape.  Thus for many of these colonists a return of the Crown and Anglicanism would drive them to seeking independence for the colonies.

Many of the soldiers among them would certainly recall the brutality of the civil war and the invasion of Ireland. The soldier’s views of the Irish were similar to the views of the colonists of the Indians, something that Lepore only mentions in passing. As such the experience of the more recent colonists and the soldiers added a dimension of brutality that was not as prevalent before the hostilities.

Likewise Lepore mentions little of Roger Williams’ beliefs and his relations to the Puritans whom he fled to found Rhode Island in 1631 on the principle of religious freedom.  Her treatment of Williams does not include his respect for the Indians and view that “perhaps their religion was acceptable in the eyes of God as was Christianity.”[xxviii] Despite this her treatment of King Philip’s War is worthwhile reading because it brings up the question of identity which seems to drive war and those who write of it to the present day.

The question that Lepore forces us to ask is how past wars shape our conduct in and interpretation of ongoing wars.  The Colonists would see their conflict with the Indians as one of life and death, one of their very survival as a people and as such they were willing at times to commit atrocities against Indian threats, real and imagined.  More recently the American understanding of the war against Japan was conducted in a similar vein with many of the same overtones.  Likewise the framing of the current war by some as a war of survival against the threat of Islam raises similar issues.  Thus Lepore’s study is valuable in examining how some view the current war on terror as well as a means to look at other wars in our nation’s history through a different lens, not simply through the eyes of battles, military forces, strategy and tactics but through the participants identity and who the war is both shaped and recorded by both sides.  Even if one does not accept her conclusions or her admitted biases the book can allow us to reexamine our own views of our past and how they shape our present view of war, conflict and identity as a people.


[i] Lepore, Jill. The Name of War: The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity. Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York NY. 1999 p.xxi

[ii] Ibid. p.x

[iii] Ibid. p.xxi

[iv] Ibid. p.xi.  Additionally, Allen R. Millet and Peter Maslowski in For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America The Free Press, NYew York, NY 1984 note that “the colonists did not enjoy an “Age of Limited Warfare” like that which prevailed in Europe from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-eighteenth century.  To the colonists (and to the Indians) war was a matter of survival. Consequently, at the very time European nations strove to restrain war’s destructiveness, the colonists waged it with ruthless ferocity, purposefully striking at noncombatants and enemy property.” p.18

[v] Ibid. p.x

[vi] Weigley writes in “The American Way of War: A Study of United States Military Strategy and Policy,  Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 1973 that “In King Philip’s War of 1675-76, the Indians came fearfully close to obliterating the New England settlements. When the colonists rallied to save themselves, they saw to it that their victory was complete enough to extinguish the Indians as a military force throughout the southern and eastern parts of New England…” and that he “logic of a contest for survival was always implicit in the Indian wars, as it never was in the eighteenth-century wars …”p.19  Weigley notes how this would impact future American Wars beginning with the War against France and later the American Revolution in that “their success demanded the complete elimination of British power from all of North America, just as they had demanded and won the complete elimination of French power.” p.20

[vii] Ibid. p.xxi

[viii] Ibid. Lepore. p.x

[ix] Ibid. p.xiii

[x] Ibid. Lepore. p.4-5

[xi] Ibid. p.6.  Lepore notes a theme that will be later picked up by many in American history.  The idea that they were visible saints for all of Europe to see is a precursor to the idea of the United States as “A city set on a hill.”

[xii] See Leopre pp.33-39

[xiii] Ibid. p.25-26

[xiv] Ibid. p.82

[xv] Ibid. p.76

[xvi] Ibid. p.79

[xvii] Ibid. p.94

[xviii] Ibid. pp.95-96.  Lepore notes that the English interpreted Algonquian assaults and taunts as “expressions of mindless savagery rather than calculated assaults on the English way of life.” And the refusal of the English to “place Indian “cruelties” within the broader context of Algonquian culture, instead labeling them “barbarous” violations of English ideas of just conduct in war….”

[xix] Ibid. p.99

[xx] Ibid. p.102  Lepore does not dwell on this but this observation is entirely consistent with Calvinist theology which drew heavily on the Old Testament imagery of Israel and its relations with its neighbors.  The Old Testament prophets often spoke in terms of the enemies of Israel being used by God to punish Israel for its sin and  disobedience to God.

[xxi] Ibid. p.126

[xxii] Ibid. p.147-148

[xxiii] Ibid. p.165

[xxiv] Ibid. p.167

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Ibid. p.189 ff.  Lepore chronicles the losses of Freedom in the various states to the different tribes of New England.

[xxvii] Ibid.p.193

[xxviii] Gonzalez, Justo. The History of Christianity, Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day Harper and Row Publishers, San Francisco CA. 1985 p.225

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