Hitting the ground like bags of wet cement

Hitting the ground like bags of wet cement November 22, 2012

• Wonkette has your traditional Thanksgiving Day Burroughs.

• M.K. Hobson tells us about Thanksgiving with the Wobblies (via Jay Lake).

Far from saluting God for our prosperity, genuine thanksgiving generates a deep desire that others may also have enough to meet their needs. If praying for daily bread means to pray for enough, then surely the implication is that when we have more than enough we will share the ‘more’ so that others may also have enough. Such sharing is an indication that our hope in Christ is deep and true.

Art Simon

• “Happy Thanksgiving, You Buckle-Hatted Jackasses” — Paul Bibeau writes to the pilgrims of the Mayflower:

Every day those who’d agree with you get shriller and more powerless. They’re still here, of course. We will never get rid of them. We don’t need to. We won’t take away their rights. But we’ll win when they can’t take away ours. This big crazy country is becoming the kind of place that stands in opposition to every sick thing you ever wanted.

And as we stop pretending you’re the good guys, we appreciate the subversive character of freedom more deeply. We realize it has a pitiless and undeniable logic – in claiming it for yourself, you allow others to claim it for themselves. In ways you can’t predict. In ways you might not like. Freedom spreads, because we always end up discovering we’re going to have to let others have it, to keep it for ourselves.

Thank you, Mayflower crew. You enemies of liberty, you opponents of everything America can be. We’ll take it from here.

One problem with trying to make the pilgrims the heroes of the First Thanksgiving (besides the fact that it was not the First Thanksgiving) is that the pilgrims aren’t even close to being the most interesting people in this story. Nobody on board the Mayflower was anywhere near as interesting as, for example, Squanto.

I get that the pilgrims represent one particular strand of How Americans Got Here. They sailed from England in a rickety boat. But there were also Americans who were here before any Europeans arrived, there were Americans who came here by way of Spain, and there were Americans who were kidnapped by slavers and transported across the Atlantic against their will.

And Tisquantum, or Squanto, lived every one of those stories.

The pilgrim story seems like a good one — like an epic tale of bold explorers on an unfamiliar shore. But that whole narrative fell apart as soon as Squanto’s buddy Samoset walked up and greeted them, saying “Welcome Englishmen.”

I’m still waiting for the epic movie that can do Squanto’s story justice. It’s an almost unbelievable tale — a strange man, the last of his people, with a penchant for popping up out of nowhere to rescue Englishmen who find themselves over their heads in an alien world. So until we get that Squanto movie, I’ll have to make do with this variation on his story.

The pilgrims also aren’t nearly as interesting, or as inspiring, as the people they kicked out of their little “city on a hill” colony — people like Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams:

Williams’s most important contribution was his articulation of a biblical philosophy of religious liberty. During a return to England to secure a charter for Providence and its neighboring settlements, and in the context of the English Civil War, Williams wrote The Bloudy Tenent, of Persecution, for Cause of Conscience. It was his life’s work, and it pushed the conversation about church and state beyond religious toleration to complete religious freedom. The Bloudy Tenent challenged the notion, made popular by Winthrop and the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay, that Old Testament Israel could serve as a model for a modern society. He attacked the idea that God gave material blessings or material punishments to societies or nations on the basis of their collective obedience to God’s will.

Today, as many Christians appeal to the Puritans, Plymouth Rock or the Mayflower Compact as the source of America’s supposed biblical and Christian foundations, Barry reminds us that there was an alternative vision to the intolerant Calvinism of early New England. Williams was a Puritan outcast, a defender of “soul liberty” and a devout Calvinist who rejected Winthrop’s city on a hill and established a colony for some of the most controversial religious dissidents of his age.

I’ll take Providence over Plymouth any day. I’m thankful that Providence won — “that it is Williams, not Winthrop, who best represents the historical roots of the religious liberties that citizens of the United States enjoy today.”

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  • Andrew

    The thing about “the city on the hill” thing is that it’s not a boast that we shall be a good example – it’s a warning that if we fail, we will be a failure visible to all. ” For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world”

  • Daughter

    My husband was born in Pawtucket, RI, named for Squanto’s Patuxet tribe. On one of my early visits to his hometown, he took me to see the Roger Williams Memorial in Providence, filled with his words of religious freedom. At the time, Providence had just elected an openly gay, Spanish-speaking, half-Jewish, half-Italian son of a mafia lawyer*, and my husband joked that he was “classic Rhode Island.” They’re very proud of their tolerant history.

    *David Cicilline, now a U.S. representative.

  • Daughter

     Whoops, forgot to add that Providence had just elected Cicilline as mayor.

  • P J Evans

    I’m only half  joking when I claim to be descended from 17th-century radicals. (With Rhode Islanders and Quakers, there are a lot of them on the tree.)

  • P J Evans

    I’m only half  joking when I claim to be descended from 17th-century radicals. (With Rhode Islanders and Quakers, there are a lot of them on the tree.)

  • pharoute

    Squanto, the ultimate Christian. “I was hungry and you fed me. I was naked and you gave me you coat.”

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Paul Bilbeau is more than unfair to the Mayflower pilgrims.  While it’s clear that their views on many thing–religious liberty, the rights of women, for example–are quite different from ours, they were also nothing like the ignorance-celebrating bible literalists that they are being compared to. The Mayflower pilgrims celebrated learning and study; when they decided they needed an institution of higher learning, they didn’t build Liberty Bible College, they built Harvard.

  • When I was in first grade, I remember being in some kind of school presentation, where I was to recite some bit about the Pilgrims.  I think I might have been cast as the month of November; I’m not entirely sure.  Anyway, I was given a typed-up sheet to memorize and the only thing I remember from it is the bit about how Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn.

    I had no idea Squanto’s life was that amazing.  I kinda wish they’d told us. 

  • picklefactory

    Thanksgiving wouldn’t be complete without a dash of Burroughs.

  • I am thankful that Fred Clark reads my stuff.

  • Turcano

    I don’t remember if it did his story justice , but such a film has been made.

  • Carstonio

    Ironic that a group that celebrated learning also opposed liberty in religion and speech – they made it a jailable offense to criticize ministers. Surely orthodoxy of any sort inherently conflicts with the type of learning that involves questioning. 

  • Lori

     Consider that IMDB describes it as “historically inaccurate” I’m going to guess that it did not do him justice.

    On the plus side, it stars Adam Beach who I always like.

  • There was an old story about Squanto in one of these “Christian books” (I wish I could remember the name, but I do know they were solidly 1960s material) I used to have, and it discussed how he helped the white man, etc.

  • The cast is incredible! Michael Gambon (Dumbledore v2), Mandy Patinkin, Mark Margolis (Tio Salamanca in Breaking Bad)…it looks pretty dire, though. 

  • I can’t resist pulling out my pedantic historian hat, and pointing out that the “Pilgrims” founded the Plymouth Colony (est. 1620), whereas Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson were expelled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony (est. 1628).  The two colonies were as different and as separate from one another as New York and Pennsylvania were.  They remained separate for over sixty years, until 1686, and weren’t permanently merged together as the Province of Massachusetts Bay until 1692.

    The Plymouth Colony was founded by Separatists – people who thought the Church of England was so corrupt that there was no hope of internal reform.*  They didn’t found their colony because they believed in religious freedom, they founded it as a place where their religion, the “correct” religion, could be practiced in peace.  They were no more hypocritical about this than most other Englishmen at the time.

    It is we who, hundreds of years later, insist on the myth that they were pioneers of religious liberty, and then fault them for the hypocrisy we see in their (actually, their neighbors’) treatment of Williams and Hutchinson.  I’m not defending religious intolerance, but there was nothing hypocritical about it.**  And I’m not saying that this mistake is present in the material quoted from Paul Bibeau (or in Fred’s commentary), but it’s a misunderstanding of history that makes me cringe every time I see even a hint that a discussion might lead there.
    * The settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony were Puritans, but still considered themselves reformers of the Church of England, not former members.
    ** It reminds me of many bloggers’ rules for comment moderation: Don’t like my rules? Fine, then get your own blog.  Of course, getting your own blog doesn’t usually come with the risk of freezing to death while you flee from colonial authorities.

  • P J Evans

     Massachusetts Bay wasn’t any paragon of religious freedom, either. Baptists and Quakers could expect to be arrested and jailed.

  • Massachusetts Bay wasn’t any paragon of religious freedom, either. Baptists and Quakers could expect to be arrested and jailed.

    And hanged.

  • Carstonio

    To add to your excellent point, the Separatists already had religious freedom in Holland after leaving England, but they didn’t want to assimilate.

  • Ursula L

    The Mayflower pilgrims celebrated learning and study; when they decided they needed an institution of higher learning, they didn’t build Liberty Bible College, they built Harvard.

    Harvard was not founded by the Separatists who were part of the Plymouth settlement.  They did not consider themselves Anglican, but rather as forming a separate church.  They, as in many other European Christian groups of the time, believed in having an established church, and were looking for a place where they could found a community where they controlled the established church.   A settlement that also had a large number of “strangers”, non-Separatist English, Anglicans, who came along simply to settle, because there weren’t enough Separatists interested in the venture to support a colony.  The Separatists, according to wikipedia, were 40% of the adults and 56% of the family groupings.  This plurality was able to control the group politically and religiously.  They arrived in 1620.  

    Harvard was founded by the latter, larger and much better organized and planned migration of Puritans, from 1630-1640.  As others have mentioned, they considered themselves Anglicans, and wished to reform the Anglican church, and to find a place where they would be able to have local control of the Anglican church and run it in what they considered to be the correct way.