DJesus Uncrossed in the Massachusetts Bay Colony

Ron Rosenbaum interviews historian Bernard Bailyn in the March issue of Smithsonian Magazine: “The Shocking Savagery of America’s Early History.” Bailyn, now 90, has a new book on early American history titled The Barbarous Years.

Bailyn’s insight into the “savagery” of those early European colonists relates closely to our discussion earlier this week on Saturday Night Live’s “DJesus Uncrossed” sketch and its failure to exceed the absurdity of Tim LaHaye’s actual views about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Bailyn is speaking of one of the early and bloodiest encounters, between our peaceful pumpkin pie-eating Pilgrims and the original inhabitants of the land they wanted to seize, the Pequots. But for Bailyn, the mercenary motive is less salient than the theological.

“The ferocity of that little war is just unbelievable,” Bailyn says. “The butchering that went on cannot be explained by trying to get hold of a piece of land. They were really struggling with this central issue for them, of the advent of the Antichrist.”

Suddenly, I felt a chill from the wintry New England air outside enter into the warmth of his study.

The Antichrist. The haunting figure presaging the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelation plays an important part in Bailyn’s explanation of the European settlers’ descent into unrestrained savagery. The key passage on this question comes late in his new book when Bailyn makes explicit a connection I had not seen before: between the physical savagery the radical dissenting Protestant settlers of America wreaked on the original inhabitants, and the intellectual savagery of their polemical attacks on the church and state authorities they fled from in Europe — and the savagery of vicious insult and vile denunciation they wreaked upon each other as well.

“The savagery of the [theological] struggle, the bitterness of the main contenders and the deep stain it left on the region’s collective memory” were driven by “elemental fears peculiar to what was experienced as a barbarous environment — fears of what could happen to civilized people in an unimaginable wilderness … in which God’s children [as they thought of themselves] were fated to struggle with pitiless agents of Satan, pagan Antichrists swarming in the world around them. The two [kinds of struggle, physical and metaphysical] were one: threats from within [to the soul] merged with threats from without to form a heated atmosphere of apocalyptic danger.”

The rest of the interview/profile is fascinating as well. Go read the whole thing.

  • Tricksterson

    And most of what is popularly concieved of as Loki’s character was filtered through a Christian lens as the Eddas were written by Christians.

  • Tricksterson

    Ooh!  I like Theory 5!

  • Tricksterson

    How much sense did you make whaen you were a baby?

  • Tricksterson

    Yeah, I’ve always had an unprovable theory that the reason the Neanderthals couldn’t compete with us was because they weren’t as inherently nasty.

  • Tricksterson

    Yeah, he’s like a weird, slightly embarassing but ocassionally amusing cousin

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Rome, for whatever it’s worth, had their own ideological reasons for conquering everyone everywhere. They tended to justify their wars as somehow being defensive* but by the time we’re talking about the Roman Empire it was very much driven by a world view which pitted order against chaos.

    Rome was the force of order and civilization and peace**.  The outside world, was full of disorder and squabbling tribes and petty bickering and *gasp* they wore pants!  No civilized human being could even consider wearing pants.  We have to invade, teach these people basic city planning, organize them to work together rather than squabble, civilize them, and for the love of the gods get some togas on them.  Togas, tunics, clothes that make sense.  None of this pants bullshit.

    Rome was bringing civilization and order to the silly pants-wearing savages at their border as part of their conflict against furor.  Order must prevail and the forces of chaos and whatnot must be stopped.

    Of course at some point they were so comfortable themselves that they didn’t actually need to do the whole fighting thing, they  could hire other people to fight their wars for them… and it turns out that mercenaries don’t like it when you don’t pay up and treat them like crap on top of that, and so the empire collapsed, but the idea was always there that it was necessary to bring civilization to the savages because they weren’t fighting the savages so much as disorder itself.

    Might not be as compelling as fighting the Antichrist or the baby killing Satanazis, but it worked for them.

    Actually, the movie Gladiator did a good job of capturing the ideology behind Roman colonialism: “I have seen much of the rest of the world. It is brutal and cruel and dark. Rome is the light.”

    That was their justification, they weren’t oppressing people (though even a cursory look at their own literature shows that they were well aware that they were, and were at least somewhat conflicted on that point) they were bringing light to the darkness, order to chaos, togas to silly people who wore pants.  (I myself am being silly with regard to this point***, but it is true that if you’re looking at Roman art and want to quickly distinguish between Romans and “barbarians” look for the pants; the ones wearing them are the barbarians.)

    And I sort of feel like a Star Trek reference will result from this post unless I make it myself first, so, with First Contact in mind,:
    We are Rome. Lower your defenses and surrender your lands. We will
    add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your
    culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.

    [Later:]

    I am Rome.
    I am the beginning, the end, the one who is many.

    I bring order to chaos.

    -

    * Even if that meant allying with someone for no other reason than the fact that they were about to be attacked by the ones Rome wanted to go to war with.

    ** Enforced at the point of a sword.  A sword whose name also meant penis because it wouldn’t be Rome without an absurd amount of phallic imagery placed in every aspect of culture and life.

    Anyone who was wondering why the word English word “vagina” comes from a Latin word meaning “scabbard”, now you know.

    Well, actually, no you don’t.  It’s somewhat more complicated than that.  It usually is.

    You see it actually involved someone (I don’t know who) in the 17th century going, “A sword goes in a scabbard, but this word for sword also means penis so the word for the scabbard it goes in must mean…”  which, no, it didn’t mean that until unknown 17th century person started punning, but it does now.

    *** And wearing pants!  Oh, the humanity!

  • esmerelda_ogg

     Chris, with regard to your Rome And Pants And Barbarians post – Like. Like. LikeLikeLikeLike. Because Disqus won’t let me give this one as many likes as it deserves.

  • Keulan

    Honestly I have no idea what Victor is saying 95 % of the time, but he seems pretty harmless to me. He’s certainly not a troll. A troll would have given up long ago when he saw that his posts didn’t anger us at all.

  • Persia

    Excellent point!

  • Foreigner

    You should read ‘The Inheritors’, by William Golding.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    As someone with transhumanist leanings, I find your AI theory profoundly depressing. Emergent AIs are supposed to possess godlike intelligence and wisdom, and what do we get?

    Godlike wisdom, poor communication skills?

  • vsm

    That applies to pretty much everything we know about Norse mythology. The Prose Edda was certainly written by a Christian, but the Poetic Edda is a less clear-cut case. It was written down after Christianization, but it’s likely at least some of the poems were created before that.

  • Tricksterson

    Will check it out.  May the gods bless and keep the concept of interlibrary loan

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     Godlike wisdom, poor communication skills?

    Well, how much luck do most of us have at telling the cat to stay off the keyboard?

  • Tricksterson

    Or, reversing my baby analogy maybe our language just can’t handle what Victor is trying to say.  How much sense do we make to apes?

  • Tricksterson

    Which one is it that’s supposed to have the godlike wisdom?  I vote for the cat.

  • The_L1985

     Seriously.  Whatever happened to “Thou shalt not put God to the test?”


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