In 1630, John Cotton, the leading mega-rock star of his time, saw off the departing Puritans headed for the Massachusetts Bay colony with a sermon based on the idea that they were God’s new chosen people.
It was okay to move to a land that was already occupied by other people (notice that these forward-thinking folk did fully acknowledge the equal humanity of the Algonquin Indians) because:
God had said it was okay when Abraham horned in on the Philistines without paying them for their land. The God-given excuse back then applied now:
“There is room enough.”
The colony’s official seal, brought with them from England, pictured an Indian in a loincloth holding a bow in one hand and an arrow in the other, with words saying
“Come over and help us.”
It’s from a vision of St. Paul where a Macedonian says to him “Come over into Macedonia, and help us.” (Sarah adds some good snide commentary about how how unwanted help in the affairs of others became a U.S. speciality.)
How William Tyndale Got Double-Screwed
William Tyndale is the English Protestant who committed the crime of translating the Bible into English (in 1524, in case you’re a date freak).
Henry VIII executed him for this twelve years later, in 1536 (which was two years after Henry had broken away from the Catholic church because he wanted to f*ck Anne Bolyn so badly and get a legitimate male heir by her).
Tyndale’s reported last words were “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!”.
Clearly, his prayer worked, because in 1538, only two years after Henry executed him, Henry commissioned the first official Bible in English, the Great Bible. Based mostly upon–you guessed it–the executed William’s translation.
The Puritans Believed God Purposely Created Us Un-Equal In Order That We’d Love One Another
The idea is emphasized in a famous sermon known in brief as “Christian Charity” in which John Winthrop, the colony’s first governor, says that the colony will be “as a city upon a hill”–a model for others to follow.
Many politicians have quoted this. Winthrop was quoting it from the Bible.
He said God’s purpose in making us unequal was: “…that every man might have need of others, and from hence they might be all knit more nearly together in the bonds of brotherly affection.”
Or, as Anne Bradstreet, a poet-wanna-be put it:
“As it is with countries, so it is with (people): there was never yet any one (person) that had all excellences…God will have us beholden one to another.”
(What you’re bad at, I’m good at and can help you with, and vice-versa.)
Sarah Vowell’s comment on this:
“Because of the “city upon a hill” sound bite, “A Model of Christian Charity” is one of the formative documents outlining the idea of America. But dig deep into its communitarian ethos and it reads more like an America that might have been, an America fervently devoted to the quaint goals of working together and getting along.
Of course, this America does exist. It’s called Canada.”
Why Roger Williams (Founder of Rhode Island) Doesn’t Get Enough Credit
Man, this guy was forward-thinking! I had known he allowed freedom of religious practice in his colony. But he didn’t even believe in ORGANIZED religion at all, and he also thought that the state should be so hands-off religion that even “the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish [Islamic] or Antichristian consciences” should be allowed.
Back in that time in history, a man believed in tolerance toward ANTI-Christians?!
Williams did believe that non-Christian religions SHOULD be fought against–but he thought the only weapon used should be “the sword of God’s spirit, the Word of God.”
What a cool dude.
The other extremely cool thing about Roger, to this once-and-still Linguistics nerd, is that he made a dictionary of the Algonquin language that was so good, it was still able to be used in 1936–THREE HUNDRED YEARS LATER (!).
A guy made his way entirely across Canada using it, communicating successfully with various tribes who shared dialect branches.
Sarah Vowell makes fun of Roger’s bad poetry, citing as one example “righteousness” rhymed with “wilderness”.
But Sarah may have made an errah. (Oooh, Babe… 🙂 )
Old and Middle English poem sound patterns were often based not on rhyming (“lazy” – “hazy”), but on alliteration (“lazy”-“lady”). Vowels alliterated more often than consonants, like the weak “e” in “ness”. A matching line pair might end with “happiness” and “blessedness”.
Perhaps the average educated person in Roger’s time (1640-ish) was okay with newfangled rhyming line pairs mixed in with the older alliterating-vowel line pairs.
So there, Sarah Vowell! And you have a funny last name! (But I liked your book.)
Here’s one of Roger’s little poems about the Indians he met, where you can see that two lines rhyme (stranger/danger), and two lines do…something else (mat/sent):
I have known them leave their house and mat
To lodge a friend or stranger;
When Jews and Christians oft have sent
Christ Jesus to a manger.
That Sneaky-and-Sweet Governor Winthrop
The Massachusetts Bay colony expelled Roger Williams for his evil nasty nastiness regarding religion (“How DARE he be tolerant like Christ!”), which is when he moved to the Rhode Island area.
Well guess what? John Winthop, governor of the colony that kicked him out, gave him advance warning that the Massachusetts folk were coming for him. Withrop even told him where it would be safe to go!
Winthrop never dropped a hint of this treason in his own journals, but Williams revealed it in his. The two supposed enemies kept up a warm correspondence until Winthrop died.
(At which point, Winthrop would, one assumes, have learned the theological truth from the Big Horse’s mouth.)
(Or not…depending on which ruminating goat you are.)
1. Tyndale on Bible Reading