Sunday, February 04, 2007

Putting things into Perspective:

We truly live in a different era (thank God) than the pre-founding colonial orders. Christian fundamentalists tend to take umbrage at the comparison to Islamic fundamentalists. And indeed, in today's day and age, the overwhelming majority of evangelicals and Catholics no longer believe that the state should use the sword to enforce religious orthodoxy or that Old Testament style punishments should be implemented. But, before the Enlightenment, many "Christian Nations" did exactly this. And an amazing achievement of the Enlightenment was that it helped the West transgress Christian theocracy. However, I must also credit Protestant dissidents like Roger Williams, who anticipated these Enlightenment ideals and called for separation of Church and State and religious liberty before Enlightenment. Indeed, it was out of this experience of dissent -- being on the receiving end of persecution as many Protestants were -- that made Protestants realize tolerance, and then ultimately granting full and equal rights of citizenship regardless of religious creed, were good ideas.

However, before these ideas crystallized, many Protestants (behaving like their Catholic oppressors) set up theocratic orders that looked very similar to what we see today in the Islamic world. And much of this occurred in America at the colonial level. The order that Jefferson, Madison, et al. ushered in 1776-1789 was truly 180 degrees opposed to what we see in Puritan Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Body of Liberties established by the Puritans seems almost Orwellian in its title when you consider there seems to be no liberties contained therein. Scroll down to where it states Capitall Laws. Murder isn't even addressed till #4 and check out the first three.

1.
(Deut. 13. 6, 10. Deut. 17. 2, 6. Ex. 22.20)
If any man after legall conviction shall have or worship any other god, but the lord god, he shall be put to death.


2.
(Ex. 22. 18. Lev. 20. 27. Dut. 18. 10.)
If any man or woeman be a witch, (that is hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit,) They shall be put to death.


3.
(Lev. 24. 15,16.)
If any person shall Blaspheme the name of god, the father, Sonne or Holie Ghost, with direct, expresse, presumptuous or high handed blasphemie, or shall curse god in the like manner, he shall be put to death.


Jefferson and Madison brilliantly dealt with this notion by turning it on its head. Whereas these passages reflect the Biblical God's jealousy and His demand that men worship no other God but Him, our Founders' "Nature's God" granted men an unalienable right to worship no God or twenty Gods. In Jefferson's exact words, the rights of conscience apply to "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination." The Founders Nature's God doesn't seem to be quite as "jealous" as the Biblical God.

Likewise beastiality, sodomy, and adultery are capital crimes under the Massachusetts document:

7.
(Lev. 20. 15,16.)
If any man or woeman shall lye with any beaste or bruite creature by Carnall Copulation, They shall surely be put to death. And the beast shall be slaine, and buried and not eaten.


8.
(Lev. 20. 13.)
If any man lyeth with mankinde as he lyeth with a woeman, both of them have committed abhomination, they both shall surely be put to death.


9.
Lev. 20. 19. and 18, 20. Dut. 22. 23, 24.)
If any person committeth Adultery with a maried or espoused wife, the Adulterer and Adulteresse shall surely be put to death.


Finally, it shouldn't surprise us that Jefferson and company would give us an order that radically differed from what we see here given what they attempted to do in 1776 also made the list of capital crimes (and indeed, had Britain won, they may have been hanged).

12.
If any man shall conspire and attempt any invasion, insurrection, or publique rebellion against our commonwealth, or shall [Page 275] indeavour to surprize any Towne or Townes, fort or forts therein, or shall treacherously and perfediouslie attempt the alteration and subversion of our frame of politie or Government fundamentallie, he shall be put to death.

2 comments:

karenmcl said...

"If any man lyeth with mankinde as he lyeth with a woeman..." -

But where is the obverse of that one?

Seems a funnie omission to not include lesbianism in their long list of evils!

Jonathan said...

That verse of scripture, alas, doesn't mention lesbianism (they copied the scripture right into the civil law). I do recall Paul saying something about "even the women" were having homosexual relations in one of his complaints about the prevailing pagan practices in his day.