"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, July 10, 2020

Nuttier Than A Fruitcake - Our Nation Of Kooks, Wackos, And Crazies

Although the Puritans who left England for the New World in 1620 certainly had a gripe with King James I and the ecclesiastic powers at court and indeed fled their oppression, one can understand James’ point of view.  The Puritans were a weird, brutally penitential, millenialist sect who had strayed about as far from Martin Luther’s logical exegesis and evolved doctrine of faith and grace as could be. They were a fringe group, an eccentric band of Protestant dissenters who, convinced of their divine purpose and holy righteousness, who needed to get away.  They would found a new land based on Calvinist principle, doxology, and culture.

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It was not long after their arrival that the direct descendants of these newcomers forgot any notions of tolerance, temperance, and respect for individual faith, and began the Salem Witch Trials – the most arbitrary, punitive, and inflexible applications of a twisted sense of divine justice and retribution imaginable; not only far from Luther but far from Jesus Christ himself.

The Puritans were a procreative, ambitious lot; and it wasn’t many years until they had spread their gospel and culture throughout New England.  There were Puritan settlements as far south as New Haven where John Davenport a strict and obedient follower established a ‘plantation’, a settlement of like-minded followers.  While there are few recorded accounts of any witch trials or burning at the stake, popular legend has it that the old-fashioned, hard-nosed religion had not disappeared.

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The Puritans left their mark, of course, on a territory far wider than New England; and influenced generations of Protestant theologians.  Perhaps remembered most is ‘The Puritan Work Ethic’, a notion derived from a circuitous conviction that although salvation can come from faith in Jesus and the bestowal of his grace, work and its rewards were signs of probable inclusion into God’s own. 

So Americans began as judgmental, censorious, religious zealots.  The transformative Age of Enlightenment – an age of logic, objectivity, reason, and rational judgment – completely passed them by.  It was as though it never happened.  The Puritans were happy in their own world of faith and devotion but never content to sit back and let Jesus shed his grace, they were always evangelical.

How could such an unlimited, unalloyed, and perfect faith be kept quiet?  As with all religions, cults, or political groups, founding principles soon morph into unrecognizable, twisted versions of the original.  St. Paul made repeated trips to the Christian churches he founded to reinforce the gospel and to be sure that doctrine did not get distorted, personalized, and unrecognizable.  The Church understood this well and went on to develop an ecclesiastical hierarchy to keep the faith pure and to discipline outliers and dissenters.

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Unfortunately there was now Church, Pope, or Vatican to rein in these Puritan zealots, and before long their zealotry itself became a religion.  By the 19th century the number of sects, cults, and restrictive clans were all over the country.  The Oneida Colony in upstate New York founded in 1848 by John Humphrey Noyes is perhaps the best known.  It was a perfectionist religious communal society which believed that Jesus had already returned in AD 70, making it possible for them to bring about Jesus's millennial kingdom themselves, and be free of sin and perfect in this world, not just in Heaven.

The Oneida Community practiced communalism (in the sense of communal property and possessions), complex marriage, male sexual continence, and mutual criticism.  As such it was a mix of religious fundamentalism and secular Utopianism.  it was this unique and strange mixture that appealed to its adherents and many Americans.

The idea took hold that there could be perfection on earth, that there was such a thing as progress, and that the realization of God’s Kingdom on earth was a matter of secular ambition, drive, and commitment.   Although Oneida colonies were few, similar cults sprang up all over the country; and it wasn’t long until this quasi-religious Utopianism became part and parcel of political progressivism.

Secular optimists and social activists are as zealous, evangelical, intolerant in the name of doctrinal purity, and purposeful as the the faithful of the original Oneida.  The all-inclusive, universal return to the Mayflower and Salem was complete.  America is now more than ever, a nation of kooks, wackos, and crazies.

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Take Black Lives Matter, for example, is as illogical and incomprehensible as any.  Begun as protest over perceived police abuse of black men, it – like any other millennial movement morphed like an amoeba.  It absorbed every perceived social injustice as its own, and in a matter of months, BLM had become an aggressive juggernaut out to return America to Pol Pot’s famous Year Zero – an end not only to police abuse but the racism that fueled it and the capitalism that embraced and nurtured it.  Nothing short of a new, socialist, inclusive, society would do.  No different from ISIS and the Taliban, BLM and its progressive woke, wannabees tore down statues, icons; burned books, clotured free speech, and marched like Pope Urban II’s Crusaders

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Yet BLM is quite understandable and well within the Puritanical ethos.  It espouses a Utopian belief in the creation of God’s Kingdom on Earth and the validation of any means to accomplish these ends.

Progressives are not the only wackos in America by any means.  There are armed anarchist millennialist militias ready for a fight against these illicit, anti-American movements.

Not so long ago a religious cult as wacko and as unhinged as any – the Branch Davidians – fought an armed battle with the FBI, state police, and local authorities resulting in almost 100 deaths. The Branch Davidians were a religious group based on their founder’s  prophecy of an imminent apocalypse involving the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the defeat of the evil armies of Babylon.  The Davidians fought from their battlements until their compound was set fire and the standoff ended.

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Another millennial religious cult that began in Southern California but moved to the Mountain West when its founder had intimations of a coming catastrophe that would hive off the entire West Coast from the American continent.  Bunkers and armed redoubts below a broad valley in Wyoming were built by the cult so that when the inevitable nuclear Armageddon occurred they would be safe, and would repopulate the Earth with this purist of human societies when the dust settled.  The cult was, like many others, a blend of secular principle and religious belief.

Yet a few secular movements and religious cults, no matter how outrageous and unhinged as they might be, do not make a nation of crazies.  We are a country of small, barely noticeable ‘logical indecencies’ as a Vatican spokesman for Pope Paul II had said in support of His Holiness’ strong stance against Protestant cultism.  There is no such thing as faith without logic, said Paul II.  The great theologians of the Early Church – Clement, Athanasius, Augustine, Polycarp and others – set forth doctrine and creed only after decades of exegesis, debate, and consensus. Those Protestant churches which claimed that only by ‘accepting Jesus as a personal Savior’ one could achieve salvation and the Kingdom of Heaven was nonsense, a circus trick, a vaudeville act.

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Americans everywhere are absolutely apoplectic and up-in-arms about the destruction of the environment, global warming, the fate of the Snail Darter, misogyny, sexism, and misanthropy.  When taken together, the United States is one big, roiled, incoherent, hysterical place.  Wackos everywhere. 

It’s a shame because the Founding Fathers had such great ideas for the new Republic – unity, strength in community, faith, and individual enterprise; honest labor,respect, hard work, and justice.  Not only do have these fundamental principles been forgotten, they are being derogated and spat upon.

Hopefully this chaotic mix of Utopianism, personal ambition, few organizing principles, easy faith, and neglect and dismissal of history is but one more phase in our social and cultural development, and will past.  It is hard to see how, forever, with this millennial cultish mentality now so fully ingrained in our collective psyche.

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