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.

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  • alfgifu

    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 more things change, eh?

    The idea of the antichrist is an incredibly powerful way of focusing fear of the other. It’s ugly, but I can’t help wondering what would happen if we (ie humanity) didn’t have it. Would we have to invent it?

  • AnonymousSam

    I take it by the extended silence that I’m not the only one struggling to articulate a reply to this that isn’t “Um.”

    If barbarism and religious oppression and widescale slaughter were indicative of the Antichrist and Satan, then they’ve ruled the planet since the beginning. It’s kind of a thing in human history.

  • christopher_y

    I see disqus has a new game: the post says there are two comments, so you click on that and while disqus is loading you see those comments flash past you, like your life is supposed to do when you’re drowning. And then it settles down and says, smugly and in large, bold characters, “Showing 0 comments”; and if you listen very carefully you can hear the sound of maniacal laughter coming from disqus HQ.

  • Launcifer

    I imagine that someone would indeed invent something very much like the antichrist. Probably idenctical, actually, since someone invented the one that crops up now.

  • Victor Savard

    Hey Fred! “IT” is TGIF day and “IT” is a beautiful day here in the NORTH and “IT” is  almost wanting me to go fishing NOW!

    Victor! Victor! Victor! To hell with your so called TGIF day and get on topic butt by the way what does “IT” mean anyway?

    Hey sinner vic! “IT” is all in the eyes of the beholder NOW!

    To hell with these so called be hold her and get on topic before we go buy another of your polar bear and not even your Canadian script right her of vic and flo meat a bear will be Able to help ya if ya get my drift NOW?

    OK! OK sinner vic don’t lose “IT” NOW!

    (((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.”)))

    All “I’M” going to say is that “IT” All has to do with good, bad,  real and spiritual world butt be careful sinner vic cause if “I” were ya, I would let my gut feeling take good care of “IT” cause we’re all “ONE” in Christ if ya know what me, myself and i meat, I mean mean NOW?

    “IT” is that simple Victor?

    Go Figure NOW!


  • AnonymousSam

    Yeah, Disqus finds a new way to suck every week. I’ve heard people get around this by disabling javascript. I don’t usually have issues while I use noscript with Firefox, but occasionally it crops up.

    My big problem lately is that some threads refuse to subscribe properly and send me the replies as much as DAYS after they’re posted.

  • …and what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Plymouth Rock to be born?

  • Splitting Image

    The greatest trick God ever pulled was convincing the world the Devil exists.

  • MaryKaye

    I’m seeing that Disqus behavior too.  I’m really curious what those comments are that we aren’t allowed to see!  I’m a fast reader but not fast enough….

    Ragnarok is kind of like Armageddon, but there’s not a real parallel to the Antichrist. In Hindu mythology, to the limited extent I understand it, the end of the universe is just a natural part of its lifespan and not marked by horrible events.  The Mayan apocalypse lacks characters:  Everyman is cast down when his dogs and his tortilla-grinding stones turn against him, but there is no person in charge.  The innovation here is the Dark King figure.  Super popular in modern Western mythology but I’m not pegging Dark Apocalypse Kings from older sources.  Anyone else?  Cronos and the Titans, I suppose, but one is looking backwards at them, not forwards.

  • heckblazer

    The Pilgrims referred to the land they were settling as New Canaan.  What happened to the inhabitants of the Biblical Canaan?  Yeah.

  • Persia

    However, not every culture has an Antichrist-like figure. I’m having trouble thinking of many. Loki and his family are the closest I can come to off the top of my head, and that’s not all that close.

  • LL

    Yes, but many Americans seem to forget that we’re not an exception. So they imply that America was a “New World” (no, it wasn’t, it was just another world that some Europeans decided to move to) full of “savages” (who weren’t any more savage than we were, they were defending their way of life against invasion). 

    We (white people) won the savage war, so we get to make all the definitions and throw around phrases like “manifest destiny.” It wasn’t survival of the “fittest,” it was survival of the more numerous and ruthless.

    But don’t forget, America is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles. Which, as we all know, are always good and noble and right. God wanted us to have America, so here we are. Just ignore that unpleasant bit (the majority of American history) where we slaughtered the natives mercilessly so we could have everything. 

  • Magic_Cracker

    It must be tough being a Christian conqueror. You must know deep down you’re the Beast and so must spend considerable energy convincing yourself that the people you’ve just massacred are real villains.

  • Victor Savard

    (((Just ignore that unpleasant bit (the majority of American history) where we slaughtered the natives mercilessly so we could have everything. )))

    So so true LL but what if we throw the baby away with the bath water NOW?

    Will ya give “IT” UP Victor! There’s no such a thing as “Christ”, he’s just a ferry tail just like Santa and besides today twentieth century just want to forget about HIM, “I” mean “IT” just like we godly cells want to forget about your so called Papa who still won’t allow wo man to get rid of those cluster of cells who keep trying to take over their world, I mean bodies NOW!

    Whatever ya say sinner vic!

    Go figure folks! :)


  • I like the way your brain works.

    To the thread in general: I don’t recognize this victor guy. Is he a known troll to be ignored, or can someone else make sense of his comments?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Victor’s not a troll, but there’s no need to try to wrap your head around him either.

  • Andrea

    Victor has been here for ages. He’s not a troll.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Theory: Victor is a troll.

    Theory: Victor is a Poe.

    Theory: Victor has issues.

    Theory: Victor is a spoken-word genius.

    Theory: Victor is a nascent AI, born of a primordial stew of old viruses, Youtube comments, and GeoCitie’s websites. His disjointed, Dada-esque style is most likely the result of his imperfect understanding words’ IRL referents since, in the world in which he grew up, all information is true.

    In any case, most people ignore his comments.

  • The ferocity of that little war is just unbelievable

    AnonymousSam says, um. Someone knows nothing about history. Wars are
    usually ferocious. Racist wars are exceptionally ferocious. Wars to take
    other people’s land are incredibly ferocious. Wars instigated by the
    people rather than by the government are very often the worst. It’s mob
    violence on a large scale. At least the Puritans weren’t into crucifixion or quartering. 

    By the way, at about this time, the
    majority of Dutch settlers in and around New Amsterdam (later New York
    City) were trying to keep their governor from murdering Indians. They
    finally got one replaced with another who was not
    quite as genocidal. The Dutch people in general, both
    in the Netherlands and in North America, were very explicit about
    wanting to get along with American Indians. Many of their letters sound
    like they could have been written today.

    The French were also
    nowhere near as murderous as the British colonists. Come to that,
    neither were the Spanish, though we love to tsk tsk the conquistadors,
    and the Spanish were certainly not good. The worst
    settlers were in British lands — it got so bad that the British
    government had to step in. Which is one big reason many settlers in what
    would become the U.S., particularly in the then-west, wanted to rebel.
    They wanted to kill Indians and take their land, and the British
    government wouldn’t let them do it as much as they wanted.

  • Carstonio

    Susan Faludi suggests something similar in “The Terror Dream”:

    the nation that in recent memory has been least vulnerable to domestic attack is also a nation haunted by a centuries-long trauma of assault on its home soil. For nearly two hundred years, our central drama was not the invincibility of our frontiersmen but their inability to repel invasions of non-Christian, nonwhite “barbarians” from the homestead door. To conceal the insecurity bred by those attacks, American culture would generate an ironclad countermyth of cowboy swagger and feminine frailty, which has been reanimated whenever the nation feels threatened.

  • AndrewSshi

     A lot of that goes back to the experience that the respective colonizing powers had in the old world. Contrast the Spanish treatment of Muslims with the English treatment of the Irish. The latter was a much more brutal war to the knife, with a rhetoric of barely civilized non-trousers-wearing savages who needed conquering or extermination.

  • opsarche

    what’s the harm of little idi*ts?


  • Daughter

    When I was in college and read first person accounts of slave owners, I was shocked at how many of them could, in one breath, talk about their love of God and his goodness, and in the next, speak brutally of their slaves.

    I chalked it up at the time to the human ability to compartmentalize.

    This makes me reconsider that conclusion, that those two seemingly disparate attitudes (love of God + hatred for others), might have gone hand in hand.

  • Well, that formatting is new for Discus. I’m not going to try to edit it; it’s acting up today and would probably delete the whole thing.

    Jeez, that article’s bad. I am shocked that Bernard Bailyn would say such things. But then, he’s 90 years old. No wonder the excerpts read like something from the 1950s. (“Savagery”, really?)

    I have no doubt that the Puritans were struggling with ideas of paganism and the horrible inventions of Satan and the Antichrist. But neither of those are at all necessary to explain their violence toward neighbors whose land they wanted. You should see what settlers did to each other during the Revolutionary War, which was a more traditional civil war than the conflict we call the Civil War. That really was brother against brother, daughter against mother, and most of all, neighbor against neighbor. 

    The atrocities carried out by colonists on each other are as bad as one can imagine, and quite likely worse. And it was because they were neighbors who disagreed with each other — and the worst atrocities were committed by people who blatantly wanted their neighbors’ lands. The gynocide of the witch hunts in Renaissance Europe was fueled largely by the same thing. Pretending the people whose land you want are lesser and/or evil and therefore can/must be destroyed (so do anything you want to them) is utterly common.

  • That reminds me so much of the fictional treatment of the world of Agander in Psychohistorical Crisis in which the lecturer to the main character points out his mathematical analysis of the ongoing revisiting of the cultural myth of vulnerability to the Galactic Empire/invulnerability by the use of the “Kick” (aka gun).

  • 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? 

  • EllieMurasaki

    Hey, be fair, the early stages of anything are always crap.

  • WalterC

     LaHaye’s only distinguishing characteristic is that he’s a lot lazier than, say, the henchmen of Gozer from Ghostbusters or the Glory worshipers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Those guys were willing to lay their lives on the line to empower their dark deity to enter our world and blow it to smithereens. LaHaye, on the other hand, talks a big game but clearly expects Djesus to get his ass over here on his own.

  • Foreigner

    You want to go back to jail, Dennis? No? Well, then, knock it off.

    Prefer Victor any day.

  • Random_Lurker

     The Norse pantheon, similar to the Greeks, tends to resemble a family more then and idealogical dichotomy.  Complete with overachievers, daddy’s favorites, rival siblings, and creepy uncles.  That seems to me to be a much more healthy way to view the world then as an eternal struggle between perfect good and perfect evil.  The second worldview would, I suspect, tend to elevate the stakes of conflict so high that it leads to genocide, crusades, inquisitions, and brutal savagery practically for it’s own sake.  Hmmm.  That sounds familiar for some reason.

    Not that wars are avoidable because of mythology or worldview, but the cultural investment and scope of conflict with “the other” rises to a whole different level when the guys who are not “Us” are, literally, demonized.

  • Magic_Cracker

    I think we’re expecting too much of the nascent AIs. Intelligence (not just information but the skillful application thereof) requires context. “Godlike” intelligence requires infinite context, i.e., omniscience, but nascent AIs who/that spontaneously evolve(d?) in cyberspace having never experienced meatspace wouldn’t have any proper context of it. They might not even be aware that there is a meatspace. It’s all cyberspace to them, or rather, just space.

  • LL

    Keep on  keepin’ on, Victor. 

  • Someone knows nothing about history. Wars are usually ferocious.

    A few years ago, while Newsweek was still in the process of turning from a newsmagazine to a sensationalist rag, they ran an article plugging someone’s book about war and human existence.

    The author started out the article by claiming that high civilian casualties are a recent development in warfare. For serious. And he actually wrote and published a book where he lectures about war.

    I couldn’t keep reading the article, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he claimed biological warfare was a modern development, too.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Let’s not idealize the ancient pagans. They were plenty barbaric. They may not have had a rather peculiar eschatology to help rationalize their behavior, but perhaps they didn’t really need to. As one of the Romans’ enemies noted, “They plunder, they slaughter, and they steal: this they falsely name Empire, and where they make a wasteland, they call it peace.”

  • Let’s not idealize the ancient pagans.


    Romans thought up crucifixion. And practiced it liberally. Athenian society was based on women and slaves doing all the work while a few men sat around thinking about how brilliant and pretty Athenian free men were, and how non-human everyone else was. A huge reason western continental Europe got sort of stuck around 900 C.E. was that Vikings kept raiding them — murdering, raping, and pillaging — over and over and over again.

    Human tribes like to do horrific things to other human tribes. We can find all sorts of excuses for it. We did it to the Neanderthals, and we’re only very recently realizing maybe we should stop doing it.

  • Rome never looks where she treads.
    Always her heavy hooves fall
    On our stomachs, our hearts, and our heads,
    And Rome never hears when we bawl.
    Her sentries pass on — that is all,
    And we gather behind them in hordes,
    And plot to reconquer the Wall
    With only our tongues for our swords.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Romans thought up crucifixion … Romans thought up crucifixion … Human tribes like to do horrific things to other human tribes. We can find all sorts of excuses for it.

    “It’s my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of him was one kind of sumbitch or another.” ~ Malcolm Reynolds

  • P J Evans

     AKA ‘never go with version 1 of anything’. (We had software at work where I think we had version 0.x – we were using it several months before it was officially available. And, yeah, buggy.)

  • Jessica_R

    It’s always been a great irony that I would have fared better as a woman in Sparta than in little ol’ cradle of democracy Athens. As with the men constantly off training women had a greater freedom being left in charge of their households, and it was believed important for woman to take part in daily exercises to stay strong. Granted this would be tied to my primary role as a bearer of children. But I’ll take don’t mess with Spartan women as they bear Spartan sons over being plain breeding stock, and not particularly well liked breeding stock at that. 

  • Magic_Cracker

    It’s always been a great irony that I would have fared better as a woman in Sparta than in little ol’ cradle of democracy Athens.

    Unless you were a Helot woman. Then it was the worst of all worlds.

  • Cool, theories to chase around while waiting for NRA Friday!
    Since Victor is a known entity around here…
    He does sound a little bit like what would happen from a dolphin POV when humans record dolphin sounds, mix them around, and then play it back to them. Perhaps a bored alien biologist is trying to communicate in human-ese?
    (thanks for answering, everybody)

  • Jessica_R

    Yeah, it’s why as much as I’m fascinated by the past I’m very thankful for where and when I live. And even now, I’ve got to be on my toes for the small, petty men who want small government capable of setting up camp comfortably in my uterus.

  • arcseconds

     I think we’re a long way off having anything much evolve in cyberspace at all.  

    There was an account of a computer virus that had ‘evolved’ a few years back, but it was a very, very, very primitive example of evolution.  

    You’d also have to wonder what the selective pressure is to develop anything like human intelligence.

    It doesn’t seem all that likely to me that we’ll get much in the way of evolving replicators in cyberspace, but if we do, super-viruses that shut down the internet by appropriating every processor to copy them to all available space seem far more likely than Wintermute.

  • Or “always wait till version 3” which goes back to the days of DOS 3.3 (both Windows and Mac, coincidentally).

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     LaHaye, on the other hand, talks a big game but clearly expects Djesus to get his ass over here on his own.

    That’s not totally fair.  LaHayean-style Apocalypticians are trying hard to devastate the environment so badly that God will be FORCED to return and save us all.

    Which would be fine if it was just them, but they need to drag us all into their suicide-pact/test of faith.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Now you having thinking about cyber-niches, selective pressure, and taxonomies of programs we call “viruses.”

  • redsixwing

    I’m going to go with “Victor is a spoken-word genius” until proven otherwise. Putting different emphasis on capitalized, noncapitalized, quoted, and all-caps words often lends him sort of a pleasing rhythm to my ear.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Putting different emphasis on capitalized, noncapitalized, quoted, and all-caps words often lends him sort of a pleasing rhythm to my ear.

    It does give it a sort of slam-poetry feel.

  • Victor is beyond our comprehension.  Unknown and unknowable yet at once recognized and familiar.

    It wouldn’t be here without Victor there.

    May Victor stay with us into the future.

    I actually had a point, an on topic point I mean, but damned if I remember what it was.

  • kadh2000

     Don’t you mean (((IT wouldn’t be) here)) without Victor there?