"It is the modest, not the presumptuous, inquirer who makes a real and safe progress in the discovery of divine truths." — Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke
As part of my preparation (or really procrastination) for writing The U.S. War Against Asia (aka The Asian War) I recently completed the most excellent God's Arbiters: Americans and the Philippines, 1898-1902 by Susan K. Harris.
In tracing how an ostensibly democratic and anti-imperialist nation rationalized becoming an imperialist power by seizing Puerto Rico, Guam, Hawaii and the Philippines against the will of their inhabitants, Susan Harris goes into the details of the 19th century transformation of the United States into an overtly Christian nation. Part of that project (for it did not occur spontaneously) was a re-writing of the history of 18th century America, particularly the period between 1750 and the passing (marred by massive fraud) of the U.S. Constitution.
History is always a summation. We cannot study, even if we wanted to, what each American inhabitant did and thought, for instance, on each day of 1776, important as all those thoughts and actions in that particular year must have been. When doing a summary the acts of including or excluding may make for very different end products.
In the 19th century the Enlightenment, which was secular and non-religious, was largely erased from the story of the American Revolution and the creation of the U.S. Constitution. Tom Paine was practically obliterated from history, not for writing Common Sense, which was acceptable to patriots, but for writing Age Of Reason, which was unacceptable to Christians. Thomas Jefferson could not be so easily obliterated, but his early atheism and later deism (which is just atheism with its ass covered) was quietly dropped from the discussion.
In the 19th century, despite the Abolitionists and Emancipation Proclamation, Christianity became deeply intertwined with racism in these United States. How did a doctrine that originated as anti-racialist, and explicitly welcoming all human beings, come to be deeply racist? It started long before the first Church of England member stepped foot in Virginia. [Note also the myth that our nation was founded by Puritans in Massachusetts. That is post-Civil war malarkey. Most Americans who bothered with religion before 1776 were Church of England, and Virginia was the first and most prominent English colony in America.]
Christianity became a European, or "white race," religion, because it was supplanted by Islam as a global religion between 700 and 1500 A.D. Christianity became the dominant religion in the "Near East" and in northern Africa by supplanting previous localist religious cults between 300 and 600 A.D. Islam was created specifically to correct obvious errors in Christianity, Judaism, and paganism. The idea that God (now Allah) needed a son for a co-god was replaced with the idea that Jesus Christ was a great prophet like Moses. Most of the Koran consists of retelling of Bible tales and early Christian fables.
Islam was remarkably successful as a philosophy, culture, and mode of governance. Pretty soon Christianity, already in its Dark Ages, had retreated to the core of Europe. Islam became a global, multiracial religion that extended from Spain across north Africa to Indonesia. When Christianity emerged again in the form of Portuguese and Spanish piracy in the late 1400's, it was incapable of seeing non-whites as full human beings. While some converting to Christianity did occur amidst the pillaging of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, in almost every case non-white Christians were supervised by white priests.
However, it is not fair to blame the destruction of the American Indian tribes in what is now the United States on Christianity alone. Greed played the major part, and it affected the subscribers to the Age of Reason. Nor were the Rationalists immune to racist sentiments. They simply rationalized their racism. For Christian slave owners God ordained the inferiority of the black race; for atheist slave owners like Thomas Jefferson, Nature ordained that same inferiority.
Sexism, too, seemed pre-ordained to almost all men, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, pagan, and atheist alike. The Roman Catholic church, to this day, teaches the inferiority of women as a major theological truth. Protestant sects have changed their minds, or not, sect by sect over time. Atheists have led in the women's liberation department, but for decades allowed practice to lag theory.
Apparently it was Robert Ingersoll who reminded Americans of the role of Thomas Paine in the American Revolution and the creation of our system of governance. Even as the Sugar Trust and its imperialist allies enslaved Puerto Rico, Hawaii and the Philippines at the turn of the century, the prestige of science was rising with the prestige of America's industrial might. The world of trains, telephones, and radio had not been foreseen by the prophets of the Bible or Koran. Americans became more secular, even as most tried to keep a gloss of Christianity as a cover. The racial barriers crumbled, gradually at first, and then in a great tumble in the 1960s.
The military-christian-political complex, however, regained a lot of momentum after the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001 brought Islam to the fore as the new Enemy.
We seem to have come to an odd point in history. We have a not-entirely-white President of the United States who has been accused of being a Muslim because his absentee father was nominally an adherent of Islam. Barack Obama professes to be a mainstream Christian Protestant. He has proven he is just as good at killing non-white non-Christians as any prior American president. Half the nations of the world remain home to at least one American military base. Republicans in Congress demand war with Iran and Syria and Democrats keep their mouths shut for fear of Christian backlash.
Religious crazies of all sorts have become used to using the products of scientific reasoning. Soon crazies (other than Obama) will be sending out cheap unmanned drones to smite their enemies. Meanwhile, sects new and old can fish for converts with smartphones and Facebook.
I began this essay thinking about how resilient (and destructive) the Christian America myth has been. Now I am thinking: how do we know if we are in a period of stability? The elements of change could be in place already. Changes in allegiance as great as when Christianity swept over Eurasia in the 4th century, Islam swept over the world in the 7th century, and Communism swept over much of the world in the 20th century could be upon us. Some sect I have never heard of could be getting ready to conquer the world, without its members even being aware of their destiny.
Or perhaps the Age of Man is coming to a close just as surely as the Age of Dinosaurs once did.
Still, apocalypses are pretty rare. Like the rest of humanity tomorrow I will wake up and make the best of the situation at hand, just like any other day. I'm lucky I'm not not in Somalia or Mali or Afghanistan where Obama's henchmen fight it out with Islamic extremists and ordinary people get caught in the crossfire (including the economic crossfire).