On p. 72, Metaxas praises Roger Williams as a champion of religious liberty. This is correct. Indeed, Rhode Island, the colony Williams helped found, was a place where religious freedom flourished. Yet later in the book, Metaxas sings the praises of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and John Winthrop’s “City on a Hill” as a model of American exceptionalism (more on that in a later post). In the process, he completely ignores the fact that Williams was thrown out of Massachusetts Bay largely because of religious differences with the government. (So were a bunch of other people, including Anne Hutchinson). So much for religious freedom. Metaxas can’t have it both ways.
In fact, there were only a few places in British-America where religious freedom “was paramount.” The colonies of Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and parts of New York celebrated religious freedom.
In New England, the colonies of Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth (before its merger with Massachusetts in 1691), and Connecticut all had state churches in which Congregationalism was the “established” religion. In some cases, these established churches were “manifestly monstrous and destructive to individual freedom.” Mary Dyer, for example, was one of four Quakers executed for their faith by the champions of John Winthrop’s “City on a Hill.”
A group blog to promote discussion, debate and insight into the history, particularly religious, of America's founding. Any observations, questions, or comments relating to the blog's theme are welcomed.
Thursday, July 7, 2016
Fea: "Review of Eric Metaxas, 'If You Can Keep It': Part 3"
Check it out here.
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Mary Dyer, for example, was one of four Quakers executed for their faith by the champions of John Winthrop’s “City on a Hill.”
For the record, Mary Dyer was executed not "for her faith," but her preaching of it. This is an important distinction. She was offered her freedom if she'd simply go away and stop disrupting the colony with her heresies.
You want your own religious community, make like Roger Williams and go start your own. Just get out of here and stop mucking ours up.
Same was true when Calvin's Geneva burned up Michael Servetus for questioning the Trinity or when the Catholic Church put Galileo under house arrest. It wasn't heretical belief, it was that they just wouldn't shut up about it.
John Fea properly called Metaxas out on overselling the religious tolerance of the early American colonies, but the "intolerance" riff needs a little nuance too. The Pilgrims did not risk everything and cross an ocean just to set up a haven for parasitical apostates.
That would come later. ;-)
I cannot remember the source, but I do recall the essence of an observation of an 18th? century Anglican minister regarding English dissenters. He said that the dissenters claimed "freedom of conscience" which they already enjoyed, but what they really wanted was "freedom of speech"--to preach their doctrines. This he denied. The belief in religious uniformity in the name of social peace was at least one thing agreed upon by most of what we now call "mainline" denominations.
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