It’s another exciting installment of our Sunday visits to Planet Earth as portrayed in Christianist textbooks! We’re continuing to mine a 10th-grade text, World History and Cultures In Christian Perspective, 2nd Ed. (A Beka Book, 1997) for all the snark it can yield. As we learned last week, the most important events in European history involved the “perversion” of True Biblical Christianity by the “Church of Rome” and the eventual triumph of the Protestant Reformation. This week: Fun with Church and State!
You know what the Christian Right likes? (OK, besides “rentboys.”) That’s right: Freedom! That’s what the Reformation was all about, remember, the sacred right to read the Bible for yourself and get your salvation straight from the word of God. So of course it follows that political freedom is good, too … unless, maybe, things get unruly.
After his break with Rome, Martin Luther was approached by German peasants who “hoped that the preaching of true, scriptural Christianity in Germany would…influence the feudal lords to treat the peasants more justly” (p. 257) Luther, in response to a petition from clergy on the peasants’ behalf, urged the nobles to reform, but
- To the peasants, however, Luther advised patience. Violence and revenge would only make matters worse, bringing disorder and more tyranny. He wrote:
If wrong is to be suffered, it is better to suffer it from rulers than that the rulers suffer it from their subjects. For the mob has no moderation, and knows none … It is better to suffer wrong from one tyrant, that is, from the ruler, than from unnumbered tyrants, that is, from the mob.
[The] peasants were not at all satisfied with Luther’s response; they felt he had betrayed them. Luther’s language had been strong, but he was trying to make it clear that Christianity must not be thought of as a revolutionary political movement. Spiritual freedom does not always guarantee political or economic freedom” (p. 257).
We’re not sure whether this warning about the need for good Christians to quietly put up with tyranny precludes them from taking Second Amendment solutions to Obamacare, but to be fair, it’s possible that not even Martin Luther could have forseen the awful tyranny of a government making people buy health insurance.
For all of World History’s worries about doctrinal purity, it is remarkably blasé about the very worldly motivations for the Reformation’s arrival in England. It acknowledges that Henry VIII was looking for a hot younger wife in Anne Boleyn, but since “England was ripe for spiritual reformation” and the “break with Rome was a necessary first step in the English Reformation,” the textbook’s editors seem willing to give a pass to Henry’s randy johnson.
After all, “only a strong king like Henry VIII could take such drastic measures.” His worst excesses were, of course, doctrinal:
- Despite the progress made under Henry VIII, the fact remained that the English king simply replaced the pope… [and took] complete control of English religion and politics. He ruthlessly suppressed pro-Romanist rebels … [but] he basically agreed with the Roman church on doctrine and practice. In fact, Henry had Parliament pass legislation making much Roman doctrine, including transubstantiation, the official belief of the Church of England (pp. 264-265).
The six wives and the tyranny? (The heads. You’re looking at the heads. Sometimes he goes too far. He’s the first one to admit it.) Sure, a bit tyrannical. But the Romish trappings of the Church of England? NOT COOL, DUDE.
OK, so you know where all this Church of England stuff is headed: Puritanism, yay! Under Charles I,
- Dissenting Puritans experienced severe persecution at the hands of both royal and church officials, suffering imprisonment, whipping, branding, and other abuses. Many Puritans left England at this time; in fact, some who had feared such persecution had already taken refuge in America, where they established the colony of Massachusetts in 1630.
Where they proceeded to persecute other Christians who didn’t do God right, especially those awful Quakers. Oddly, World History doesn’t mention that stuff at all; we strongly recommend you read Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates for some excellent history and commentary, such as this gem from Vowell’s discussion of John Winthrop’s shipboard sermon on departing from England for the New World (best known for its “city upon a hill” metaphor, which didn’t include the word “shining” — it took a Reagan to add that propaganda):
Because of the “city upon a hill” sound bite, “A Model of Christian Charity” is one of the formative documents outlining the idea of America. Dig deep into its communitarian ethos and it reads more like an America that might have been, an America fervently devoted to the quaint goals of working together and getting along. Of course, this America does exist. It’s called Canada.
World History skips over those early years of the New England colonies in its hurry to get to the Great Awakening, that outburst of revivalism from the 1730s to 1750s that gave us Jonathan Edwards and his cheerful sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” The textbook takes at face value Edwards’ own 1734 report of the revival campaign’s success:
- The tavern was soon empty. People had done with their quarrels, backbiting, and intermeddling with other men’s matters…. It was a time of joy in families on account of salvation being brought unto them; parents rejoicing over their children as new born, and husbands over their wives, and wives over their husbands (p. 328).
The sourcing on that “empty tavern” story seems questionable, but we’re just spoilsports that way. Never ones to miss an opportunity to prove that America Is A Christian Nation, the editors close this chapter with a claim that takes pains not to overreach one single bit:
- By the end of the Great Awakening, America was ready to face the hardships of war and the challenge of founding a new nation. Spiritual revival had prepared the people with a new appreciation for religious liberty and a greater understanding of the principles of political liberty…
The American people felt a sense of unity and responsibility, characteristics they would need to stand together against the tyranny of the mother country (p 329).
Well, there you go. History really is much simpler and easy to understand when you reduce it to the story of how God arranged things so that America would eventually happen.
Next Week: Why the American Revolution was awesome, and the French Revolution was terrible. (Hint: Blame the Enlightenment and humanism…and, sure, the Church of Rome, of course.)