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Carrying the New Puritan Flag

I was musing today about the supposed backlash against the Obama Administration’s proposal to require religious organizations like universities, hospitals, etc. to provide, as part of their health benefits to their workers, contraceptives. This is being presented as an assault on religious freedom and more particularly, Christianity–even though twenty-eight states have a similar law on the books and a considerable amount of religious universities and hospitals already provide this coverage. In fact, this law would actually free up Churches from requirements in eight states that churches must also provide these benefits to employees. Most of the current crop of conservative Presidential candidates say they would support a ban on contraception altogether. The conservative social agenda crept from the shadows of the Republican party this year to dominate the conservative campaign, forcing most of the candidates to present themselves as further to the extreme right than they actually are.

I’m consistently surprised by liberal pundits describing their confusion, consternation and disbelief at some of the Republican positions. They can’t understand why issues they thought were agreed upon and solved decades ago, have come to the forefront again.  Their attempts to provide that explanation does not reach far enough back into American history to explain the current phenomena.

Most of the original pilgrims and other European immigrants were puritan in their moral beliefs. Sin was the most used word during their time. For most of them, at that time, anything that was pleasurable or “fun” was considered a sin. That included dancing, singing, games, and of course sex. Sex was considered solely a procreational exercise as its mere existence demonstrated man’s propensity to disobey their God. This view of sex was almost universally adopted by American christians, except many of the Founding Fathers, most of whom were explicitly Deist, not Christian. So America went forward prospering from the bounty of the land and the loose confederacy of States they eventually described as a Union.

Christianity became the dominant form of religion for all Americans without exception. I remember in the 1950’s that the word Atheist was in the same category as the word Nigger. Gradually the population increased. Immigrants came, survived the hatred directed against them by those already established here, moved forward and gradually blended into the American landscape. This happened numerous times to people of different backgrounds. These immigrants, being European, were almost exclusively Christian themselves. Of course no one remembers that the forefathers of these immigrant Europeans were forced at the point of the sword to give up their traditional religions and become Christians. One of the last European immigrant groups to be feared and hated were the Catholics as Protestants dominated the original exodus. Then came the immigration of other non-white peoples. The Blacks were already here and had been mostly absorbed into the Christian fold having lost all knowledge of their religious heritage. The Chinese and Mexican people had been filtering in during those times . The Mexicans turned out to be mostly of Catholic bent while no one knew what the Chinese believed. So the Nation continued to go forward as a Christian nations, especially in the area of their morality.

It must be noted that though Christians do point to the Ten Commandments as moral guideline, their actual practice of Christianity conforms more to an Old Testament direction than the New. Whereas violence is pervasive in every area of our culture and political reality, the word ‘morality’ came to be more specifically related to sexual behavior and norms.

After WWII, the old Puritan concepts of sin began to return. Having failed at banning alcohol, the attention was turned toward any substance that altered reality and produced a state of happiness. After all, happiness was something the Puritans considered to be synonymous with the word “fun” and fun was synonymous with Sin. Then came the training of a new generation of American youth, primed with the belief that, as they had been taught in school, America stood for freedom and equality for everyone. Everyone. The Civil Rights Movement came and went, women and Native Americans finally got their abuses faced and rights addressed. The Conservative right fought these changes tooth and nail. After all, the Christian ideal was primarily derived from a Middle-Eastern Patriarchal desert tribal philosophy divided into Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. Decades passed with immigrants pouring in from every corner of the world and the number of self-identifying Christians began to dwindle. Church attendance declined as Hippies demonstrated in the streets for peace, justice, social and sexual freedoms. This was seen as a direct assault on the traditional American community of middle-class, white, Christian, basically God-less people who would condone a war or violent act before they would consider love between same-sex people. In fact, these Americans fall back on old biblical tradition to explain what they think should happen to those kind of people.

Now we come to today. The traditional active Christian community has shrunk to a significant minority. This does not mean that a poll of Americans would find such a great number of people who do not self-identify as Christian, but many of these Christians have lived through the battle for the rights of Women, Black, Latino, Asian, Native, or Gay and do not share the extreme views of the traditional American far-right Christian community. It is no secret that the America they were part of, the white, good-ole boy ruling class that controlled American for two centuries, has been in decline. When you talk to these people about morals, they are thinking sex.

For Americans in general, violence is more accepted than any other social behavior. Just take a walk down the entertainment isle in the United States and a very large percentage involves gratuitous violence. It’s an inherent trait of Americans, passed down from a violent past that stretches back beyond Rome to the beginning of Christianity and its roots, the Hebrew traditions.

Taking all this into account, we can see that for the minority of old-timey Americans, steeped in Puritan moral and Roman militaristic traditions, the America they love has slowly eroded away under their noses. Suddenly, in the recent years, they have realized that their backs are to the wall and if they have any chance of resurrecting their control and dominance of the religious, social, and political winds of the time, they have to reconstruct their ideals starting at the beginning–with the Puritans.

Almost every social issue the Conservatives have raised in this political season originates with their view of sex. They want to take away abortion, not just because they believe in the right-to-life but because they know this issue will lead, as it has, to the subject of contraceptives. Contraceptives (to those conservatives), are simply a vehicle for sex to occur for “fun”, whether in a traditional marriage arrangement or not. Their issue with Gays has only to do with the nature of sex these people engage in, ignoring the more important moral imperatives like loving one’s neighbor, tolerance for all peoples (the teachings of their Savior), or the equality and freedom promised to all by the present interpretation of the Constitution.

They will always portray themselves as the persecuted– as that fits perfectly into their view of themselves in the future , as well as in the past. Their prophecies mention a time when Christians will be persecuted for their beliefs. This allows them to couch every argument against their social agenda as attacking them rather than defining freedom and equality more specifically in a modern context.

So the next time you have a discussion with a social conservative that wants to vote in a President and Congress that will “restore America and bring back Christian values”, think of the Puritans. That’s the America they want. Separation of Church and State has never been a reality in America. Many of the morals and values of their past have been legislated here. The question rational patriotic Americans must decide is if the legislation we pass today, and in the future, actually represents a neutral moral position allowing for the greatest individual freedom possible.  Conservatives are upset because to them, social morality, religion and social conservatism doesn’t mean being able to practice their faith without government interference– it inherently means regaining their power over other people’s morals and values and re-establishing themselves as the American Ruling Class.

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James BlueWolf

1 comment to Carrying the New Puritan Flag

  • Despite formal, legal attempts to eliminate access to birth control, throughout all of history women have sought methods to prevent the birth of unwanted children. An important book has been Sacred Choices by Daniel Maguire.

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