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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wood/Hitchens on Religion and America's Founding

Sorry for my absence from blogging. Life has just been busy. In an effort to return to my blogging roots I have decided to post the following videos. The first is of renowned early American historian Gordon Wood (my favorite American historian). In the video, Dr. Wood discusses the role that religion played during the founding of America. The second video is of well-know atheist Christopher Hitchens, who discusses the same thing.

What I find interesting in these two videos is that both men draw some of the same conclusions but from different angles. Wood makes it clear, from a historical perspective, that religion was a big deal for the American masses, but that the key Founding Fathers (Jefferson, Madison, etc.) held reservations as to how religion was to be treated in a republic. Essentially Wood makes it clear that though skeptical of organized religion, the Founders understood that religion (in the general sense) was necessary for a republic to survive. On the other hand, Hitchens argues that the founders saw religion as a threat to any free society, and endeavored to have its power and influence put in check. Take a look:

Wood:


Hitchens:


Now it might be our nature to give Wood more credit than Hitchens, since he's a historical juggenraut and doesn't have the disdain for religion that Hitchens exhibits on a regular basis. I myself admit that I agree more with Wood's synopsis. However, Hitchens does make some valid points that Wood himself makes from a different angle. Hitchens is right when he points out that the founders saw organized, government-sanctioned religion as a terrible threat to the infant republic. But Hitchens' assumption that the key founders detested religion in the general sense just isn't true. As Wood points out, religion was still a big deal to the masses of colonial America, and as the infant U.S. became more democratic, their religious zeal found new outlets, hense the massive Evangelical explosion of the early 1800s (not to forget the explosion by other groups like the Mormons, Shakers, etc.).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy Green...I Mean Blue...I Mean Orange St. Patrick's Day

Happy St. Patrick's Day to all my blog readers!

Yes, America's favorite imported Irish holiday replete with drinking, shamrocks, leprechauns and hidden pots of gold is upon us! And while it's fun to enjoy the wonderful symbols of this day while adorning one's self in your favorite shade of green, let us not forget that St. Patrick's Day has a unique history that might surprise some.

The
first recorded St. Patrick's Day celebration in colonial America was held in 1737. According to the Charitable Irish Society, it was a group of 18th century Irish immigrants in New England who first brought the St. Patrick's Day tradition to the New World:
The origins of Boston’s Irish community stretch back to the early 18th century when considerable numbers of Ulster Presbyterians came to New England in search of economic opportunity and the religious and political freedom which the Penal Laws denied to Dissenters and Roman Catholics alike. Merchants and artisans of Ulster stock founded the Charitable Irish Society in 1737 with the express purpose of assisting fellow Irish immigrants in the traumatic process of settling in a strange new city and country.
Interestingly enough, these Irish immigrants from Ulster were NOT Catholic but Protestant. Their Presbyterian beliefs had also incorporated the St. Patrick's Day holiday as more of an expression of cultural heritage rather than a recognition of Catholic faith and tradition.

Approximately three decades later, New York City became host to the first ever official parade commemorating the celebration of St. Patrick's Day in America. On that day, Irish soldiers, serving in the British military, marched proudly through the streets of New York, while eager crowds gathered to praise their bravery during the Seven Years' War (French & Indian War) and to recognize their Irish heritage.


What? Where did the green go you ask? How un-Irish of me you say! Well, the answer is actually based in the history of this day. It was during the early part of the 17th century that the celebration of St. Patrick's Day became the officially recognized feast of Ireland. During those first centuries, St. Patrick's Day was regularly recognized with the customary blue, since blue was associated with the ancient colors of Ireland (and St. Patrick himself). If we had lived during this time it would be blue clothing, food, decorations, etc. that we would see throughout town, not green. It wasn't until many years later that the "wearing of the green," meaning to wear a shamrock on one's clothing, made its appearance, thus forever changing the "official" color of St. Patrick's Day.

And perhaps we should change the blue to orange, since many Protestants actually chose to wear orange on this day as a symbol of defiance to the Catholic faith. And while this tradition is still continued by some Irish Protestants to this day, it is interesting to note that many attribute the wearing of orange to William of Orange (William III), who defeated the Catholic King James II to take over the throne of England. Perhaps those who credit William III should remember that the "Orange" in William's nickname has nothing to do with the color, but the French province in southern France. In fact, the orange color in Ireland's flag is actually used to recognize Ireland's Protestant minority.

So should we start pinching those not wearing blue...or orange??? Either way, a very happy St. Patrick's Day to you all!