photo & text by nacrowe
when the COLONIES were established, particularly MASSACHUSETTS, there was a lot of inter-religious bickering and "dialogue" between JOHN WINTHROP and his PURITAN subjects. what THE WORDY SHIPMATES (RIVERHEAD, 2008) by SARAH VOWELL presents is how much of our nation's values and identity is formulated in this heated and highly idiosyncratic discussion amongst newly migrated uppity JESUS FREAKS that were too moralistic and strident to find a home in ANGLICAN ENGLAND.
these arent the founding fathers as the CONSTITUTION was still more than a century in the future, this was literally one of the first proto-AMERICAN communities. and already their discussions about, for instance, the role of the state in religious affairs was of paramount concern and would shape a nation and a national discussion that continues to this day. and that is of interest due to the fact that in current AMERICAN politics there is this quixotic notion/fantasy that the farther back you go, the more CIVILITY reigned. this is of course not true. RHODE ISLAND was founded ROGER WILLIAMS, a religious refugee from the MASSACHUSETTS BAY COLONY, due to his incompatibility with their less conservative CALVINIST government. all these people left for the NEW WORLD in the hopes of establishing a new CHRISTIAN UTOPIA, its just there was a fierce debate and disagreement about which UTOPIA to strive after.
there is also the dynamic brought up by VOWELL that with the democratization of political power came a parallel democratization of RELIGION. as CHRISTIANITY fragmented from CATHOLICISM into various PROTESTANT sects, there inevitably followed further splintering therein in the NEW WORLD. this schism at the micro level accounts somewhat for the modern AMERICAN phenomena of being suspicious of those with power, intellect or both. enter the figure of ANNE HUTCHINSON who because of her gender was effectively routed out of the MASSACHUSETTS BAY COLONY for exhibiting all the skills, knowledge and charisma needer of a religious leader. HARVARD COLLEGE in fact was essentially created to train male. clergy in response to HUTCHINSON. again its interesting that the table for these series of unfortunate cultural dynamics were set by the mid 17th century, well before insurrections, tea parties and talk revolution.
if anything, that sense of MORAL RIGHTEOUSNESS (along with the political malleability of the bible) would see itself manifest in, funny enough, the doctrine of MANIFEST DESTINY and the effective rationalization of the genocide of native peoples that survives to this date.
THE WORDY SHIPMATES is a very interesting book that really gets at the root of the peculiar values found in the greater AMERICAN consciousness. well worth reading for all HISTORY buffs and those curious about our cultural and sociopolitical origins.