Monday, July 05, 2010

Religion and the American revolution

In September of 1775, five months after the battles of Lexington and Concord, and while the shot heard ‘round the world later immortalized by Ralph Waldo Emerson still echoed, some Continental Army volunteers gathered at a church in the small coastal Massachusetts town of Newburyport, located almost 30 miles northeast of Boston. They were about to go to battle—an initiative led by, of all people, Benedict Arnold. The men decided that a little prayer accompanied by an extemporaneous sermon might be a good idea.

The town’s Old South Church had found a bit of recent fame as people proudly pointed out that the bell in its clock tower had been cast by a fellow named Paul Revere, who had just months before made a name for himself on horseback. Revere, of course, is better known for his connection to a certain Old North Church. But some of the citizen-soldiers listening to Chaplain Samuel Spring’s challenge that day knew that they were also in the presence of another important bit of history—something they saw as very relevant to the emerging War of Independence.

As they listened to the sermon that day, many of them couldn’t help but be preoccupied with the pulpit itself. On the Sunday immediately following the battles of Lexington and Concord, the local minister, Dr. Jonathan Parsons, spoke fervently about liberty. His passion prompted a man named Ezra Hunt to step into the church’s aisle to form a company of 60 fighting men on the spot—said to be the first such group to attach itself to the fledgling Continental Army.

But as if those two connections to the greater cause weren’t enough, there was a third even more compelling reason many of the men found the venue so fascinating. It was what was under the pulpit that inspired them.

Five years earlier, during another Bay State September, someone who had actually founded the Old South Church back in yet another September—in 1740—had been scheduled to preach a sermon. He was America’s most famous clergyman, although his preferred appellation was—“revivalist.”

George Whitefield was back in town and a great crowd was anticipated at church in Newburyport that day. But it was a sermon, one of his more than 18,000, he would never preach. Reverend Whitefield died that morning in the church parsonage. The great voice that had cried out in the wilderness of colonial America fell silent. A few days later, with much grief and ceremony, the revivalist was buried in a crypt directly beneath that pulpit at Old South Church—where his grave remains to this day.

Many of the men sitting in the church on September 16, 1775, preparing to go to war, were restless. No disrespect was intended for the chaplain, they just wanted him to be done with his remarks so they could see Whitefield’s tomb. They wanted to make a connection—not only with history and fame: but with what we might now refer to as the DNA of faith.

Lost to many Americans today via the whitewash of history that has led to a bit of a cultural brainwash when it comes to the founding era, is the story of Whitefield and the Great Awakening he helped spark. The common revisionist narrative today places faith and matters of religion on the periphery of history—an enduring lunatic fringe encompassing past and present. This better fits the secularist worldview espoused by those who want us to see government, statism, and struggles for social justice as not only the way to move boldly into the future, but also as consistent with our past.

Sadly, such a future may, in fact, be ours if enough people don’t wake up, but no amount of tinkering with textbooks can actually change what really happened way back when. The enlightenment and passion that burned so bright during the epochal moments of our national gestation nearly two and a half centuries ago on these shores were fueled by something quite spiritual and profound.

There will be reenactments this weekend illustrating Revere’s ride, volleys fired, and a declaration proclaimed, but what will be missing as America rounds up its usual respects this 4th of July will be a cultural revisit to the seeds planted in the hearts and minds of men and women in the decades before 1775-1776.

If America was born 234 years ago this weekend, the case can be made that she was conceived 35 years earlier. Long before men named Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Hancock, and Franklin became notable and influential, there were a few clergymen—preachers—who meteorically blazed across the colonial sky.

Chief among these preacher-cultural celebrities was George Whitefield. Ordained in the Church of England at the tender age of 22 in 1736, he quickly became well known for his voice—it was loud and commanding, but never shrill and off-putting. It was said that he could speak to 30,000 people (Benjamin Franklin counted them once) and that all could hear him, even in the open air. His diction and flair for dramatics had audiences hanging on every word. Historian George Marsden suggests that Whitefield’s communication gifts were so remarkable that even uttering the word “Mesopotamia” could bring people to tears. The preacher spoke with “Much Flame, Clearness, and Power.”

Whitefield emphasized personal conversion with his powerful messages on the new birth from Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John. The converted formed new churches—hundreds of them—and revived existing churches that had long been spiritually moribund.

Interestingly, George Whitefield was not without his critics. Much of his opposition came from clergymen. The preacher was adept at using the media of his day (e.g., among the first to understand the power of newspapers) and he was certainly a showman.

Biographers have regularly referred to him as “Divine Dramatist” and “Pedlar (variant of “peddler”) in Divinity.” One Boston cleric of the day complained that Whitefield “used his utmost craft and cunning to stoke the passions and engage the affections of the people.” But Whitefield not only took it all in stride, he saw the criticism as, in fact, drawing attention to his work and helping his cause. He was the first modern preacher to bring innovation, marketing savvy, and advertising to ministry.

The chronological locus for the Great Awakening was the period of 1740-1742, but the residual and enduring effects lasted into the revolutionary period. And this is where the history being taught in schools today—and that most of us grew up hearing—misses the boat.

In their book, God Is Back: How The Global Revival Of Faith Is Changing The World, John Micklethwait (editor in chief of The Economist) and Adrian Woolridge (Washington bureau chief of The Economist)—both men Oxford-trained secular journalists—argue for the obvious connection between the Great Awakening and the American Revolution. They see our struggle back then, in contrast to the French Revolution, as “a unique event in modern history—a revolution against an earthly regime that was not also an exercise in anti-clericalism.”

While revolutionary France “defined itself by its hostility to religion,” they contend “Americans saw no contradiction between embracing the values of the Enlightenment and republicanism while at the same time clinging to their religious principles.”
And we have the Reverend George Whitefield, among many others, to thank for this.

When the sermon was finally done at Old South Church that September day in 1775, some of the citizen-soldiers sought out the church’s sexton and asked to see where Whitefield was buried. The sexton actually opened the coffin and a few of the officers obtained tiny bits of material from the dead preacher’s collar and wristband, carrying them into battle as good luck charms.

Of course, I am not all that into amulets and such, but I find myself cutting these men some slack. Their simple excision of fabric was really an exercise in remembrance and connection. They knew that what they were going to do soon in battle was somehow, someway tied to what Whitefield and others had been part of years before.

Some years ago, a member of my congregation visited that church in Newburyport and brought me back some pictures of the scene. The crypt was still there, but it was surrounded by half-empty paint cans, buckets, and other typical church basement stuff (I am sure it’s been cleaned up since). It was almost like some had forgotten the significance of what they had down in that basement.

Then again, reading much of the history written about the 18th century these days, it’s pretty clear that America, for the most part, has long-since forgotten the spiritual roots of the revolution we’ll all sort of remember this weekend.

Oh—and here’s a Newburyport footnote. The town was back then associated with great preaching and in 1805 another future visionary and liberator was born to grow up there—William Lloyd Garrison, the famous abolitionist. There may, in fact, be something to faith DNA.


Politicians beginning to hear the people say 'enough' on "multiculturalism"

VOTERS in Australia and Britain have had their fill of out-of-control multiculturalism.

AT first blush, Julia Gillard's volte-face over immigration would seem to be as unlikely as Osama bin Laden singing the Star Spangled Banner or Richard Dawkins taking holy orders.

Here is a politician with a solid pedigree on the "anti-racist" Left rejecting former prime minister Kevin Rudd's call for a "Big Australia" formed by continuing large-scale immigration.

Instead, Gillard has said she understands the anxieties of folk in western Sydney, western Melbourne or the Gold Coast growth corridor in Queensland.

As for the boats of asylum-seekers, Gillard has made clear she wants to be even more effective in stopping them in order to protect "our sanctuary" and "the Australian way".

In other words, Gillard is signalling that she sympathises with the concern that large-scale immigration and multiculturalism are threatening Australia's core values and identity, a position the Left denounces as bigotry.

Consequently, Gillard's remarks have produced predictable cries of "racism" and "dog-whistling". So why has the new Labor leader ventured into this particular cultural minefield? The explanation is that something tumultuous is happening, not just in Australia but in Britain too, something so unusual that people are stumbling around in a state of stunned disorientation.

It is that politicians are at last actually taking seriously what their electorates are saying to them about immigration and multiculturalism. This is that they will no longer put up with a policy which threatens to destroy their country's values and way of life, and will vote accordingly.

In Britain even more than in Australia - where at least John Howard or Tony Abbott have tackled such issues - race and culture have long been totally taboo. No debate has been possible about whether mass immigration might be a bad thing for communities or the country as a whole.

Even to question this has been to invite instant denunciation as a racist from the dominant left-wing intelligentsia, for whom anti-racism has long been their signature creed.

The Conservative leader and now Prime Minister, David Cameron, who is driven by the need to bury the label of "the nasty party" that was hung round the Tories' neck, was accordingly too nervous even to mention immigration during the recent election campaign, even though it was at the very top of the list of voters' concerns.

But Cameron didn't win the election, and is now forced to govern in a coalition with the left-wing LibDems. His failure to talk about immigration is said to be the reason why he failed to win an election that was thought impossible for him to lose.

Nothing concentrates the political mind so well as the spectre of defeat. And so now in both Britain and Australia a political sea change is taking place.

In both countries, voters are stating unequivocally that they have seen through all the spin about multiculturalism, all the false arguments about the alleged economic advantages of mass immigration, all the bullying and name-calling about racism.

They look at their neighbourhoods and realise that their culture and national identity are being replaced by something entirely new. No one has ever asked them for their consent to this. And they are simply not going to take it any more.

In Britain, the public services are buckling under the sheer weight of the numbers coming into the country.

More explosive is the cultural transformation, particularly by the large influx and expansion of Muslims who, rather than accommodating themselves to British society, expect it to accommodate itself to them.

So Britain is being steadily Islamised, with more than 1700 mosques, the development of a parallel jurisdiction of sharia law in Muslim enclaves, banks offering sharia financing, extremists given free rein on campuses and relentless pressure to suppress and censor any criticism of Islam or the Muslim community.

In parts of Australia too there are similar worries about the growth of the Muslim community, the pressure not to criticise any aggression it may display and the simultaneous onslaught upon Australian values by the likes of [Muslim cleric] Sheik Hilaly.

Listening to such concerns pays electoral dividends, as shown by Abbott, who has made such headway by defending the traditional values and national integrity of Australia as an entirely justifiable and moral position.

So Gillard is now humming the same tune, saying she sympathises with voters' desire for strong management of Australia's borders, and pledging "sustainable population" increase with the "right kind of immigrant".

A similar political convulsion is occurring in Britain. The Conservative Home Secretary, Theresa May, has promised to put a cap on immigration, a pledge that was in the Conservative manifesto but rarely mentioned during the election campaign.

Even more striking is the abrupt change of tune among several contenders for the leadership of the defeated British Labour Party. While front-runner David Miliband is sticking with its open-door immigration policy, his younger brother Ed has said "we never had an answer for the people who were worried about it".

Former Labour health secretary Andy Burnham claims the party has been "in denial" about the issue, which was "the biggest doorstep issue in constituencies where Labour lost".

Most jaw-dropping of all, former education secretary and hard man of the Left Ed Balls has said high levels of immigration under Labour had affected the pay and conditions of "too many people", and has called for better protection for British workers if the European Union expands any further.

Such death-bed conversions are of course driven by cynical political considerations. Nevertheless, they are levering open an ideological fixation which has not just sunk democratic politics into disrepute but driven culture and morality in both Britain and Australia off the rails altogether.

For the doctrines of anti-racism and multiculturalism have not ended intolerance, prejudice or discrimination. They have instead institutionalised reverse discrimination and up-ended truth, morality and justice.

Following the Marxist doctrine that prejudice is restricted to those with power, they have given Third-World ethnic minorities special protection from rules or conventions that apply to everyone else.

They have also served to falsify the history of both Britain and Australia in the minds of countless thousands of young people, who are taught propaganda based on a false or distorted story of national oppression and shame.

Multiculturalism threatens to undermine societies, by removing the cultural glue that binds all citizens together and balkanising the country into interest groups fighting for supremacy.

Once upon a time, the need to have strong borders and endorse a historic cultural identity were axiomatic elements of citizenship and national survival.

But mass immigration and multiculturalism are predicated on what is called "transnationalism", the belief that the nation is the source of all the ills of the world and must be replaced by supranational institutions and cultural identities.

This is precisely what -at a visceral level - the people of both Australia and Britain understand and are refusing to accept.

And at last, in both Australia and Britain, politicians are being forced to listen.


Islamist leader tells Australian Muslims to 'shun democracy'

Are these the people we want in any Western society?

LEADERS of the global Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir have called on Australian Muslims to spurn secular democracy and Western notions of moderate Islam and join the struggle for a transnational Islamic state.

British Hizb ut-Tahrir leader Burhan Hanif told participants at a conference in western Sydney yesterday that democracy is "haram" (forbidden) for Muslims, whose political engagement should be be based purely on Islamic law.

"We must adhere to Islam and Islam alone," Mr Hanif told about 500 participants attending the convention in Lidcombe. "We should not be conned or succumb to the disingenuous and flawed narrative that the only way to engage politically is through the secular democratic process. It is prohibited and haram."

He said democracy was incompatible with Islam because the Koran insisted Allah was the sole lawmaker, and Muslim political involvement could not be based on "secular and erroneous concepts such as democracy and freedom".

His view was echoed by an Australian HT official, Wassim Dourehi, who told the conference Muslims should not support "any kafir (non-believer) political party", because humans have no right to make laws.

Mr Dourehi also urged Muslims to spurn the concept of moderate Islam promoted by governments in the West, including in "this godforsaken country" of Australia. "We need to reject this new secular version of Islam," he said. "It is a perverted concoction of Western governments. "It is a perversion that seeks to wipe away the political aspects of Islam and localise our concerns. We must reject it and challenge the proponents of this aberration of Islam."

The conference, which followed the theme The struggle for Islam in the West' was the first major event held by the Australian branch of HT since a seminar in 2007 which coincided with calls for the group to be banned.

HT is outlawed in much of the Middle East but operates legally in more than 40 countries, campaigning for the establishment of a caliphate or Islamic state. HT's platform rejects the use of violence in its quest for an Islamic state, but supports the military destruction of Israel.

But the group's presence sparked angry protests outside as members of the Australian Protectionist Party (APP) yelled anti-Islam chants. The APP met in a small park to express their need to "protect" the Australian way of life.

Conflict between the APP and HT amounted to an exchange of words, anti-Islam chants and the occasional drive-by of young Muslim men yelling obscenities from their car at the APP protesters.

One passer-by, a young Muslim man, yelled at the APP group: "You people have absolutely no idea", sparking a fiery exchange of accusations and finger-pointing.

Nick Folkes, the Sydney organiser for the APP, believes that the HT should be banned in Australia and thinks that practising sharia law should be illegal in Australia. "Sharia law is an archaic legal system that treats woman as second-class citizens," he said. "We're not asking them to change their skin colour or religion. But if they come here, they must reject sharia law."


More "child protection" insanity in Australia

If it had been middle class parents involved, the child would have been taken away from them like a shot. But, for some (probably Marxist) reason the underclass are sacred

A HEROIN-addicted sex offender has won custody of his young daughter because the girl's mother is considered an even more unsuitable parent.

Child protection campaigners yesterday lashed the Federal Magistrates' Court decision to leave the girl in such conditions as outrageous and "defying logic".

Granting custody of the girl, aged about 5, to the father, the court branded the mother dishonest and criticised her continuing drug use. The court heard the mother, who has shoplifting and prostitution-related convictions and a history of drug use, left the labour ward to buy heroin soon after giving birth. The father, who also has a string of convictions, was put on the sex offenders' list after being convicted of wilful and obscene exposure.

The girl, who has behavioural problems and a speech impediment, has suffered serious injuries. Her plight was reported to the Department of Human Services last year after she was treated for a serious burn to her buttocks. Each parent blamed the other for it. The girl also had injuries from a dog bite and once suffered an injury from being hit with a shoe.

The couple separated soon after the birth, and the father is reported to have been violent to the mother. But, despite concerns he had taken drugs as recently as last December, and kept a knife and sword collection, the court last month ruled the girl should live with him.

"The father provides calmer parenting with more clearly set boundaries than the mother does," the magistrate said. "A history of inadequate supervision combined with heroin and marijuana use create a serious concern that (the girl) may be neglected by her mother." The girl will spend two out of three weekends with her mother.

The court gave the father custody because the mother continued to use drugs and "had been dishonest with the court". Her drug-screening tests repeatedly indicated the presence of benzodiazepines and opiates. She was even suspected of once taking drugs while in the court precinct arguing for custody. Her home was once described as filthy and strewn with vomit and faecal material, though the court accepted its cleanliness was usually "probably in an acceptable range".

The father is on a disability pension and hasn't worked in almost 10 years because of depression. "There was no evidence (he) is making any notable contribution to society," the court said. It said he "was using drugs or doing something else he did not want to admit" as recently as last September, and had lied about his whereabouts when meant to be caring for his daughter. But he was making progress with his addictions. It ordered him to dispose of his weapons.

The Australian Childhood Foundation's Joe Tucci said the decision "defies logic". "Children shouldn't ever be placed in a situation where the rights of the parents . . . override their right to protection," he said. "The decision should be about whether a child is safe or not, not which parent is the better to look after them. "The community expects children to be looked after by their parents, and if the parents fail this then the courts need to look after them."

Child protection campaigner Hetty Johnston said the ruling was "outrageously dangerous". "There's no way staying with either parent should have even been an option. This isn't in the best interests of the child," she said.

A Department of Human Services spokesman said it was no longer involved in the case. [And isn't interested, apparently]



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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