America’s First Theocracy
The Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded in 1630 or thereabouts, depending on your sources, in roughly the area between present day Boston and Salem. They were Puritans, who claimed they were persecuted and denied their “religious liberty,” a phrase heard a lot these days. Closer to the truth is that they were kicked out of Europe as fanatics. The definition of Puritanism I’ve heard is the idea that somewhere, someone might be having a good time. Fun, joy, mirth, these things weren’t on the agenda here. They wanted to establish a “Bible Commonwealth” wherein all society was held to be ordained by God as “a check on the impulses of depraved human nature.” From the 1648 Platform of Church Discipline: “It is the duty of the magistrate to punish and repress idolatry, blasphemy, heresy, or for venting corrupt and pernicious opinions.”
The village magistrate and the minister had ultimate authority in all matters, both legal and spiritual. In 1634, Anne Hutchinson was discovered publicly suggesting that perhaps a person could come to know God’s will directly, apart from church or Bible. This slightly deistic idea got her tried for heresy and banished from the colony. Disobedient children were hauled into court, and when found guilty, would receive a maximum of ten lashes per offense. In the rare cases where stubbornness and rebelliousness persisted into adolescence, they were executed. So mind your manners, kids.
It may have been the first recorded dress code, especially as regards women. Flowing hair on anyone was considered a dangerous vanity. There were severe laws governing apparel, either immodest or so showy as to indicate the sin “pride of raiment,” including short-sleeved dresses. If this sounds vaguely like a 17th Century version of the Taliban, it should; the fear that by a woman showing a bit of ankle, some poor wretch would be tempted into sexual debauchery. I say, brother, is yon buckle fastened tightly enough about thy hat? Yea, verily. It must have been like Disneyland for Calvinists, except in this case, it was the unhappiest place on Earth.
It was also America’s first surveillance state. Church attendance was compulsory, but then NFL football was still in the distant future. On Sundays religious police went from door to door. Any slackers were fined, then either marched off to church or put in the stocks. Falling asleep during services was outlawed, and people could receive the lash for repeated offenses. The Sabbath was observed strictly everywhere else, too. No worldly pleasures of any kind were permitted, such as “playing, uncivil walking [?], drinking, or traveling from town to town.” If two or more people accidentally met on the street and began a conversation, the mob was quickly dispersed. Idleness was prohibited on any day, whether it be swimming, smoking, or strolling without purpose.
Puritanism reached the full flower of biblical godliness with the Salem witch trials in 1792. There were other forms of creative forensics, too, like “the ordeal of touch.” A person accused of murder would be made to touch the dead body. If any blood appeared anywhere — guilty, your honor. The environment in Boston must have been much the same when Benjamin Franklin was born there in 1706. He wrote, “I early absented myself from their assemblies,” and moved to Philadelphia when he was 17 (in part because of the treatment from his brother James, to whom he was apprenticed).
The Next American Theocracy
Have you heard of the White Horse prophecy? Let me tell you a story about a miracle birth. After her previous child was born, her doctor told her she could no longer conceive. But then she got pregnant! Her new baby was God’s miracle; his name was Willard “Mitt” Romney, and his mother emphasized how special he was. As a Mormon he was aware of Joseph Smith’s prophecy, that at some time in the future, when the Constitution hung suspended by a thread (like now!), a man would come along on a white horse, become President, and bring America back to God. Mitt said he believed he was that man, and his wife Ann talked about “fulfilling his destiny.” So on November 6, 2012, when his people informed him that he’d lost the Presidential election, Mitt just sat there, stunned in disbelief. But, the prophecy! He will be running again in 2016. He was chosen, you see.
Texas has foisted upon us more than their share of the goofiest bastards you wish you’d never heard of, including George W. Bush, Rick Perry, and Congressmen beady-eyed Joe Barton and the ever loopy Louie Gohmert. But Tea Party U.S. Senator and creepy Joe McCarthy look-alike Ted Cruz may be the wackiest yet. And he looks pretty normal compared to his father, Dominionist preacher Rafael Cruz. In 2012 he said his son was among those anointed to be “kings” who would take control of all aspects of society, an agenda known as the “Seven Mountains” mandate. There was a ceremony and everything.
Religion is gradually being imposed on us from all directions. The recent Supreme Court decision on Hobby Lobby allows your employer’s beliefs and superstitions to dictate what kind of health care you receive. In Portland, OR, the Children’s Evangelical Fellowship Good News Club is going out on the streets to recruit young children. So now we have more to protect our children from than just perverts and pedophiles. The Westboro Baptist Church picketing soldiers’ funerals with anti-gay signs. The Ten Commandments on courthouse grounds. A scandal a few years ago at the Air Force Academy; if you want to progress with your career you’ll attend the Colonel’s bible studies. There’s a group called In God We Trust America, whose goal is to get that National Motto on a plaque in every city, county, and state chamber; so far successful in 400 cities in 17 states. My city council just passed the measure. (Note: “In God We Trust” was adopted as the National Motto in 1956, and “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, both as a hysterical reaction to the godless communist menace.)
Perhaps most unsettling of all is the Catholic Church’s recent frenzy of merger & acquisition of hospitals. Today, one out of every six hospital beds is in a Catholic affiliated institution, and in my state of Washington, it’s over 40%. Now you have a Bishop between you and your doctor — more specifically, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, an increasingly conservative group of old, celibate, white men. Hospitals and doctors must follow their directives, so abortion, contraception, vasectomies, and end of life decisions for the terminally ill are not in the game plan. Neither do doctors even have to inform patients of any of these alternatives. This is insane, and it’s putting people’s lives in danger.
In 1925, in Dayton, Tennessee, John Scopes was convicted of teaching evolution in the high school, a practice outlawed in that state. Here we are, in 2014, and we’re still fighting that medieval mind set in our schools, with zealots pushing creationism in the curriculum. While that’s been going on, in the last couple years over 200 bills were put before state legislatures that restrict women’s reproductive rights, and many are law now. Fortunately, one that didn’t pass was in Virginia, where women who wanted a (legal) abortion would have had to submit to a trans-vaginal probe — in other words, state sanctioned rape.
I have no problems with genuine Christians, and I know many. They are good and decent people, though I think they would be had religion never been invented. They follow the example of Jesus, and that’s wonderful. The people I’m talking about, the theocrats, are as far from Jesus as you can get, this side of the pits of Hell. It’s all right out of the Calvinist playbook; people are filthy immoral animals, needing to be ruled by God — as revealed, of course, by His self-appointed elites, and rigidly authoritarian. As I was writing this, I heard a news report on NPR, about school starting in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. It’s now under control of ISIS, and they went through the textbooks and ripped all the pictures out — they’re graven images, you see. And they explicitly banned the teaching of Darwin, which wasn’t being taught anyway. I was shocked by the report, because I didn’t know that the Texas School Board was part of ISIS.
We need to be vigilant about our own talibangelists. They blow up abortion clinics and murder doctors, yet call themselves pro-life. If you don’t think they’d behead gay people and make women wear those beekeeper outfits, you haven’t been reading your history. I would like to see Christians reclaim their religion from these hijackers, these spiritual plunderers. We have a lot of problems already, demanding urgent attention. We lead the world in environmental destruction, our arrogant foreign policy over decades has made us lots if enemies, and we’re living in a lockdown national security police state. Our own Congress is not only incapable of passing legislation, and is complicit in the neo-feudalist society we are becoming. The very last thing we should be thinking about is handing the reins over to some wrathful local tribal deity from the Bronze Age.
God shouldn’t be put in charge of everything until we get to know him a little better.
— Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.