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Sep. 2nd, 2014


Scattered Thoughts on Uncivilized Humanity

Daniel Pearl, James Foley and Steven Sotloff have a few things in common. They're all men, Americans, journalists, and were all murdered by beheading at the hands of Islamic nutjobs. Their murders were videotaped and distributed as evidence of their murderers meaning business. The west should take them seriously.

These men were bold journalists, working in dangerous places for in a business that's vital in insuring democratic ideals are maintained in the civilized world. I have a love-hate relationship with the media. Journalism is a noble cause when truthseeking is the goal but I'm afraid journalism's branch of truth and justice has been surpassed by our insatiable hunger for sensational content and the fact news has become a propaganda machine. Most media is garbage.

Few events have fed the sensational propaganda machine like the executions of western journalists. We truly feel we're better than them, and we are, but it's not as black and white as it feels in our hearts and minds.

Men like Pearl, Foley and Sotloff were journalists in the true sense, risking their lives in sketchy states to bring us facts, untainted truth from the front lines in a land that is both the cradle of civilization and a stark example of how far humanity has to go. No one in their right mind would travel to Syria these days, unless they were on a mission.

I'm atheist. I cannot even pretend there's a god. As years pass I feel my unapologetic rejection of religion is justified. Every act of violence or intolerance in the name of god is further proof religion is a cancer on humanity. The belief a man should be executed over his personal religious beliefs is both familiar and foriegn. Persecution is part of white European history. We've drawn and quartered, burned at the steak, drowned and beheaded heretics on multiple continents. Is our history inconsequencial when discussing the issues of today? Is Queen Bloody Mary better than a jihadist?

Liberal western democracies have evolved beyond systemic religious oppression, but the third world lags behind, dragging their feet in the middle ages. We can feel superior if we like but we cannot claim innocence. The world is not black and white.

If George Bush's America had never attacked Saddam's Iraq would ISIS be a problem today? Considering ISIS and Saddam are both Sunni Muslim I would say, "Yes, they'd be a problem, but a different problem." We cannot travel; in time to change our actions but we can go into the past to analyse our decisions and the resulting mess we created. Even a staunch conservative might admit we might have fucked up in Iraq, but hard core conservatives don't admit mistakes while counting ill gotten riches. The ends always justify their means. Regime change in Iraq caused billions of dollars to change hands, someone always profits from war.

The ends justify their means. I'm guessing that's exactly what the Islamic terrorist is thinking as he saws off the head of an innocent man. These men, Pearl, Foley and Sotloff represent precisely the values a religious lunatic would cut down, truth and justice. The ethics of journalism are contrary to the ethics of religion. Truth is the enemy of religion.

What else is truth the enemy of? Is truth opposed to government? Is truth the enemy of freedom? I believe truth is the enemy of police. In a war between monotheist belief systems, Judaism, Christianity and Islam ... is truth on any side? I don't think so.

In my heart I hope Pearl, Foley and Sotloff met their maker with the same courage they pursued their craft. If they met their God I hope they questioned the deity about the failure of God to make this world a better place as they would question a politician ... because that's what journalists do. They question all forms of authority.

Witnessing the inhumanities of war in the Middle East it's doubtful Daniel, James and Steven had any illusions of gods, religion or government. They died with eyes wide open to an injust and uncivil word. I wish them eternal peace ... whatever that means.

Aug. 25th, 2014


Four and a half months ....

.... since I last posted in LJ.

Not much has changed since my last batch of blogs back in the first quarter. The Russians are still causing trouble in the Ukraine, the Tea Party still hates Obama, the middle east is still a cluster fuck, our nation is being constantly exposed for the police state it is ... and the media is just part of the system, the Ministry of Propaganda.

I never blogged about the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner. I had no words. There is blood on Vladimir's hand.

It doesn't matter which side you're on, you know the people in Gaza are getting screwed again. The Israeli's are dropping bombs but the Palestinians real oppressor is Hamas. They executed 18 men in the streets this week, to send a message to the people. Hamas is the government, not the Palestinian Authority.

Congress hasn't done much these days, except vote to sue Obama. Does this sound familiar? The Clinton years are a blueprint on how the GOP treats any president from the other party. One fabricated scandal after another is trotted out there, some gain legs, most don't. Either way the Republicans can keep the media off the fact they've done NOTHING for the past six years. Priority #1 is blocking anything Obama tries to accomplish and criticize every executive decision.

The shooting of Michael Brown and subsequent unrest should be an eye opener for Americans, but we're so divided on that case no traction will be gained. The militarization of the police will continue, the rights of minorities will be ignored, the police will continue to abuse the citizens it's vowed to protect, and the judicial system will provide a growing population for our for profit private prisons.

Close to home the city of Tempe has called for neighboring police forces to aid them in their seasonal Safe & Sober campaign. Officers from Phoenix, Mesa, Chandler, Maricopa County and Pinal County DUI task forces have all joined hand in hand. They're not singing Kumbaya. ASU students returned to class this month. The crackdown is not new, but it's gets bigger every year.

The police presence on Mill Ave and in the neighborhoods around the university is so intense you'd be crazy to go there on a weekend evening. Safe & Sober is just another name for Stop & Frisk. They've arrested more than 1400 people in three weekends. Tempe is not a big city, downtown is actually quite small, 1400 is a HUGE number.

People have been arrested for biking after hours, a DUI in this state. People have been arrested walking home from bars, public intoxication. The .08 limit is not actually a law here. You can be busted at .02 if the cop believes you're impaired in the slightest. They've processed hundreds of DUI's in August. You can't fight vague lawspeak like ".... in the officer's judgement".

Of course there have been many cited for underage drinking and some of those DUI's are genuine busts, but the majority of people arrested are simply out to have a good time, and the cops found something to harass them for. You cannot go to dinner on Mill Ave and have a beer with your meal. It's not safe. I won't go.

Business downtown should be feeling the pinch soon. Everyone knows where the cops are and what their game is. There's an unofficial boycott of the Mill Ave district, stay away, stay safe, the sober part is up to you. I have no business on Mill Avenue except for dining, drinking and maybe a little shopping. I can take my dollars elsewhere.

If this were simply a anti-drunk driving campaign they would not be citing bikers, walkers or harassing Uber and Lyft drivers. They're stopping ride sharing people under the guise of an underage drinking stop. They ask all occupants of the vehicle for ID. The state does not like ride sharing. People avoiding drinking and driving should be applauded, not harassed. The taxi companies are funding the anti-ride sharing faction. The cops are enforcing the turf of the established cab cartel.

Our police have become a profit engine, a revenue stream, the courts and media are part of the system. Like I said, not much has changed since I last posted.

Dec. 27th, 2013


What The Fuck

... am I doing on Livejournal? I haven't posted here since July 4th. The first thing I did when logging in was edit my last post to add the paragraph breaks I couldn't make in July.

The weather is fabulous! Sunny and 70 all week. Monday was the only work day this week so I've been able to enjoy the mild temps. Jeff is home for the holiday. His girlfriend Leanne is here too. We're having a nice holiday vaca.

My son is the sportswriter-photographer and editor for the sports section of the Paso Robles Press, his first real job after college. After toiling for college sports websites for nearly no money he finally got a shoes on the ground job, and it's a good one, not the money, the experience. He attends high school sporting events in the Paso Robles - San Luis Obispo area, photographs the event, interviews coaches and players, writes the articles, lays out the sports section for printing and uploads content to the newspaper's website. The Paso Press is a twice per week publication, small, but the kid is getting REAL reporting experience. He loves everything except for the living three hours from Los Angeles and Leanne.

2013 was an okay year, not great, not bad, just another year with highlights and lowlights. We spent a week in the Windy City for the Chicago Blues Festival. It was a great trip that included my first game at Wrigley Field, four days of music, an architectural river cruise and other touristy stuff. I had been to Chicago five times for business in the 80's and 90's, this was my first recreational visit.

We enjoyed Labor Day weekend in Austin, Texas, my first visit there. The main attraction was a Buddy Guy show at Austin City Limits but we saw several good bands at countless live music venues. It doesn't matter what music you desire, they have it live in Austin. It was hotter than PHX in TEX with 3X the humidity, but we survived the three shirt per day weather. We toured the Texas state capitol and took in a comedy revue... Ester's Follies. After 90 minutes of laughing my face hurt, it was that good.

Both Chicago and Austin trips offered new beers, ales and great food ... too many to mention. I drank every local brew I could find, BBQ in both cities, steaks, pizza and a real deal Jewish deli in Chicago that made my heart miss the east coast.

In the last few months we've laid low, mostly local activities but nothing grand. I won two fantasy baseball championships and this weekend I'm in fantasy football championship game. Yeah, I'm a winner in the fantasy world but in the real world, meh.

Since last year I've become a huge fan of Podcasts, especially WTF with Marc Maron. I have a dozen podcasts in my app, comedy, sports, news, interviews, some daily, most once or twice week. NO POLITICS. I spend most workdays plugged into my iPhone. It's a nice perk. When my isolation buds are in I'm in a productive zone, input and output.

I'm in the middle of my annual Bogie Week marathon. With several days off and a desire to not spend money after the holidays it's a perfect time to watch my favorite Bogey films. I've watched a couple of 'new to me' Bogies and a few of my DVDs. I have a handful to go.

My winter garden is lookng pretty good right now. We have romaine lettuce, basil, cilantro, two pepper varieties, kale, rosemary and tomatoes. A couple of other veggies haven't fared well but we'll be swimming in ripe tomatoes around Super Bowl Sunday.

I could promise to blog more in 2014 but I know those would be idle words. Happy New Year to any LJ holdouts that come across this rare entry.

Jul. 4th, 2013


Hey LJ.

I haven't posted here in a very long time, no excuses, no apologies, it is what it is. I'm back today but I can't say for how long or how many posts. I might drop off the blogosphere again, or not..... For some reason Livejournal's editor will not allow me to create a space between paragraphs so I must write in run-on form without breaks. I see LJ is still a piece of shit service. We can always count on them for that

...... It's hotter than hell's kitchen here in Phoenix. I'm in hibernation, sitting in a dark house with shades drawn and the air conditioning cranked up, or is it down? I have two hours of yard & pool chores it will take five hours to complete. I work in 20-30 minute shifts with plenty of shade and water between periods. I will cook outdoors later today to keep from heating the kitchen. We only go out to run necessary errands, operating with military precision when moving outdoors with predetermined plans to minimize exposure to the sun and the 112' of what-the-fuck heat. Looking on the bright side, it was 119' a few days ago

..... Do you have any idea how fucking hot a car gets when it's been sitting in sun & heat over 110 degrees? If you don't, consider yourself lucky. Layers of back thigh skin have been seared on upholstery, pounds sweat away while driving. Even the best auto-AC can't cool that passenger compartment before heat stroke symptoms appear. Imagine if astronauts had landed on Mercury instead of the moon. How fast would they have gathered those rocks and got the fuck off that boiling orb? That's how we operate in the Phoenix summer. We pack water everywhere we go, even a short run to the market

..... Frys Marketplace may be the best place to be in this heat, and don't think they didn't think of that when they aimed those cold air jets at the front door. Your body is sucked in to the cool conditioned corporate bazaar. I'm certain I spend more money at the market because I dread going back to my furnace on wheels. I'll get my outdoor chores done and jump in the pool, which is barely refreshing only because it's wet. The water temp is a tepid 95, a warm bath

..... We had a nice vacation in Chicago last month. I'll try to write a post about that. I'm playing fantasy baseball in three leagues, another post maybe? We have a trip planned to Austin in late August for a Buddy Guy concert. Other than that it's just life as usual, work as usual and not a whole lot else. We're just trying to stay cool.

Mar. 4th, 2013


Bread and Circus

I've unplugged from politics again. I can't deal with the two faced bullshit. It took me 35 years to realize my dad, who never voted in his life, was correct. They're all crooks and for us little guys it really doesn't matter who wins.

Politics is like a game show. The contestants are sponsored by special interest lobbies and ideologues. The winners get to spend our tax dollars which eventually fall into the hands of their supporters. I hate to make it seem so simple but that's about what the game boils down to.

What we read and hear on the news is real only in that the events are actually happening, the words are spoken, the votes taken. The input from the players is phony, contrived, and if the camera and microphone vanished the politicians would not be there, wherever 'there' is on a given day.

I heard a line about a wealthy politician who wears jeans and rolls up the sleeves on his shirt when he speaks to a crowd, "He's lying with his clothes." I thought it nailed the campaign trial antics we see from every politician. They have a beer in a blue collar bar, rake hay into a farmer's truck, shake the hands of regular folk and kiss the baby ... it's all a lie. This is not who they are, if there were no cameras they'd be someplace else, likley with fat cats at $1000 per plate dinners.

The game is about payola, getting money from supporters and returning the favor with tax breaks, government grants, handouts and legislation that aids the agenda of a particular lobby. In the end the issue is always money. There is very little difference between Democrat and GOP politicians. They only talk differently, but if you listen close it's basically the same message.

There's plenty of entertainment distracting the American people from important issues. Society and business is happy to provide these escapes, for a price, and we're all happy to pay for our personal brand of comfort, our breads and circuses. For me it's baseball, music, beer, good food or a movie to unwind with. It's become clearer to me that politics is not as serious as I once thought, the drama in Washington is just another soap opera, a circus, a form of escapism. It's not real but people follow it as if it's a life and death battle.

I'm pulling away from that crowd. I don't like being angry at shit I cannot change. I'm tired of the clueless hostility from people who only listen to one side of the debate but pretend they've considered all sides. I don't care to be dragged into their drama. I don't want to be fooled again ... but I know I will.


Feb. 24th, 2013


Mental Mountains

We've been kicking around vacation ideas for 2013. I have a budget, a few destinations in mind, music cities, and the idea we should include an event. I checked the websites of all my favorite musicians to see if they're touring, looked at theater schedules in music cities and researched the local comedy scene. After weeks of doing this I'm no closer to booking than when I started.

I found some potentials dates to travel and events to see but I mentally defeat each plan before it reaches the point of actual booking. This is a common problem I have in life. It's not that I'm a 'can't do' guy, I just have the over-thinking gene which includes what could go wrong or the difficulties we might encounter. The genesis of an idea is usually postive. I've always wanted to visit the cities of Memphis, New Orleans and Austin. I get excited at the thought of finally going ... until the obstacles in my mind block the enthusiasm. Air travel is a big one, I hate airports.

I'm okay flyng direct to a destination, but the moment you add a connection, especially if I'm changing planes, my desire to fly plummets. I've had too many bad experiences, including an eight hour delay at LAX just a few weeks ago, to trust my travel will go off without a hitch. I have ZERO faith in airlines.

I think most people can relate to air travel angst and the reservations I have when making travel plans, but my mental baggage extends to simple things, every day decisions.

I'll have the desire to stop at the pub after work, then convice myself that rush hour traffic will totally suck, even though it's only a 2 mile detour from my route home. I really needed to get my oil changed, but I know the express lube joint will be crowded and I'll have to wait an hour for a 20 minute service, fuck that shit. This is why my hair often gets long and unruly, because I know the wait will be three times longer than the cut. That's bad math in my book.

I really wanted to see a spring training ball game in Surprise, AZ, the only Cactus League baseball facility I've yet to visit ... but it's 44 miles away, I'll drive past five other ballparks on the way. That's the only reason I haven't seen a Rangers or Royals game there.

I eventually get over the barriers in my brain. Last weekend I got that haircut, yesterday morning I had my oil changed ... because I had an 88 mile round trip for a baseball game in Surprise that afternoon. I'm glad we went, It was a nice park and a good game. I've now visited every spring training ball park, but next year the new Cubs facility will open ... very close to home.

Despite the fact they suck, the Cubs are one of the hottest tickets in the Cactus League. You must buy tix far in advance, their prices are higher than any other team and that new stadium will be a crush of Cubs fans eager to see the new facility, Wrigley West. It's being modeled after the neighborhood on the north side of Chicago with pubs, shops and restaurants around the stadium. I'm already creating psychological hurdles, damn Cubs fans!

I usually overcome the hindrances my mind conjures. I'll ultimately make vacation plans for this year, but not until there's harmony in my mental balance sheet.

Feb. 2nd, 2013

Jake & Elwood

Two Guys Talking

In recent weeks I've developed a mild addiction to podcasts. I find them a nice change of pace from the usual listening-to-music during my workday. I have the good fortune of being able to plug my isolation pod into my ears while in the workplace. The podcast is my new distraction, a tool to help a boring day slip by a little quicker

I've tried more than a dozen programs but have settled on a handful I find most interesting. They have one thing in common, a simple two person conversation without gimmicks and chaos you might hear on a local morning radio program. My ears and brain can't process a studio of five voices fighting for air, sound affects and one guy shouting over another. I don't enjoy it. I don't even like a live audience. I prefer a quiet affair with no more than three people discussing whatever the topic is.

There are two interview-style podcasts I've spent dozens of hours on, WTF with Mark Maron and You Made it Weird with Pete Holmes. They also have something in common. Both hosts are stand up comics interviewing friends, often other comics, musicians, actors and people they know from the business. Mark Maron has been doing this four years from a studio in his garage. Pete Holmes openly admits he copied Maron's format and Maron is okay with that, sort of.

Maron has a gift of easing his guests into discussing personal issues, life growing up, families, career paths, religion, sex and whatever is on their mind at the time ... but not much politics. They don't go there very often so the conversation tends to be light, philosophical, anecdotal, and humorous. There are always laughs and delightful moments of revelation.

I also like a few educational podcasts. Lexicon Valley is about linguistics, two guys talking about etymology, the history of words and language. RadioLab is science based. Skeptiod is a podcast about urban legend and myth. Stealing Home is baseball geek's dream. Each of these programs require a little nerdism to appreciate. As much as I enjoy them they take a back seat to Maron and Holmes' interviews.

I've always felt stand up comedians are some of the most intelligent people in show business. These programs confirm my bias. I also believed they're probably the most self confident and well adjusted people. How else could they bravely face an audience alone, performing solely on their wit? On that point I've been mistaken. Some of these guys are fucked up, as insecure and scared as the rest of us, filled with angst, rage and sorrow. Comedy is often their coping mechanism. It's better to laugh at life than to cry.

I've been doing that for years. I can bitch and moan with the worst of them but as years pass I find mocking life is better than complaining. My sense of humor is sarcastic at times, cynical and not always nice. That's just me looking in the mirror, observing myself, my life and the shit happening around me. I think this introspective device is what drives the comics in these podcasts I enjoy so much. In some way it's all about them. They're keenly self aware but also observant of events unfolding in their orbit, even the smallest absurdity. We're just living in the stand up comedian's universe, material for the show.

Jan. 21st, 2013


Writing To Learn

I love this process, the thinking, the writing, editing and rewording after I get most of what I want to say drafted. The structure and organization of the process appeals to me. Even if no one reads the blog and this remains a solitary endeavor I feel I'm learning, growing a little. It's certainly better than wasting my free time watching fucking television.

Writing my ramblings on the persecutions and reasons we must always keep state and church separate was an exercise in recalling old lessons learned from past reading, using my opinion and reading new material to build on that base. I wish I had bought Foxe's Book of Martyrs sooner. Between that text, Wiki and a half dozen other websites I was able to double check facts, names, dates and events. I love this internet thingy, there's so much at our fingertips.

Now I want another blog project, a blog-ject, requiring research. I have some ideas but have yet to decide where I'll go. I prefer using a topic I already have some knowledge in so I can use that foundation and build on it with new research and reading. I may hit the library this week.

Jan. 19th, 2013


Part 5: The New World and New Persecution

This isn't only part 5, the final of a long winded blog series, it's the longest blog post I've ever written.

Roger and Mary Williams arrived in Boston in 1631 where an established community of more than a thousand lived under Puritan rule.

The governor of the Boston settlement was John Winthrop who had arrived the previous year with 700 pilgrims aboard a fleet of eleven ships. The royal charter for the colony established all freemen would vote for a governor and a General Court to run the colony’s affairs. Winthrop and a small number of cronies corrupted the process by holding the election among them alone, excluding the vast majority of freemen. This would be corrected years later when new arrivals demanded to see the charter, but the fix was in, Winthrop and his allies had already established strict Puritan policies for the settlements.

Upon his arrival in Boston Roger Williams was offered a teaching position in a Boston church but he declined, citing his differences with the church’s positions. As a separatist, Williams held firm his conviction of freedom of religion which included the separation of church and state. This clearly did not exist in the young colony. He was vocal in his objections to the established theocratic puritanical rule.

Williams never swayed from his base belief that men should be free to practice any religion and the state should have no say in these personal choices. He carried this doctrine across the Atlantic hoping to find religious freedom in the new world. It would not be the case. Wherever he landed Williams would have issue with the practices of the ruling government.

He was offered a post in Salem but the Boston church objected. He had offended Winthrop and his allies. Williams moved on, finding welcome in the Plymouth colony where he held his first teaching post in the new world.

Even when not in office John Winthrop used his power and influence to block democratic change and the codifying of civil law to maintain the Puritan theocracy he had established and envisioned for the future. It was in this totalitarian environment that Roger Williams and other liberals who sought freedom of faith would be dogged by intolerance and persecution.

In Plymouth Williams came in close contact with local Indians, learned their language and became suspicious of the land rights granted by the throne to colonists. Not only did he have serious religious differences with his fellow white men, he had extremely liberal views toward the natives. For example, he thought land should be purchased from the indigenous and did not agree with missionary work to convert them to Christianity.

After writing a tract questioning the validity of colonial charters he fell out of favor in the Plymouth Colony and in 1633 returned to the Massachusetts Colony. The Bostonians were not happy to see him. He was forced to appear before the General Court to explain his writings. He eventually found work as a pastor in the more agreeable Salem church. It did not last long.

One of the traits of my home state I am proudest of is the fierce independent streak evident throughout history. Roger William is the spring that independence flows from. I truly love this man for his insatiable quest for freedom, human rights and fairness. He was hundreds of years ahead of his time.

Williams had promised the General Court to not raise the issue of the colonial charters, he failed. From his pulpit in Salem he repeatedly questioned the authority of the Governor, the court and church elders. He was called before the court again in March of 1635. His controversies began to cause serious problems between the powerful Boston governors and his church in Salem. He preached his liberal views on separation of church and state and religious freedom. Boston protested. Williams demanded the Salem church separate from the Boston churches. His supporters in Salem who admired his leadership eventually caved to pressure from Winthrop, Williams was removed from his post.

In October of 1535 Roger the rabble rouser was tried by the General Court for sedition and heresy. He was convicted and banished from the colony. He was not expelled during the winter under the condition he did not continue spreading his dangerous ideas of religious freedom and separation. Of course he couldn’t abstain from preaching his core beliefs. In January 1636 a court order for William’s arrest was issued. Upon arriving at his home colonial authorities found Williams has fled south during a severe snowstorm.

Salem is 67 miles from the head of Narragansett Bay in southern New England. Williams trekked the entire distance in the dead of winter, sick with few provisions. He was found in poor health by Wampanoag Indians and taken in by their chief, Massasoit.

This is the point where Roger William’s liberal views on Indians would serve him. He knew the language, respected their culture, and after three months in the care of the Wampanoags had reached an agreement to purchase land from Massasoit to start his own settlement based entirely on religious independence.

He was not the only pilgrim butting heads with the likes of John Winthrop and his Puritan dictators in Massachusetts. Anne Hutchinson is one of the great women of colonial history, maybe a little too zealous for my liking, but unique for her time. She and husband William had immigrated to Boston in 1634 with wealth earned in his London fabric business. He soon established himself in the new world, building a home in Boston and purchasing tracts of land outside the city.

Anne had become a follower of James Cotton, a reverend who preached a version of faith far different from the established Church of England or their fellow Puritan dissidents. Cotton believed in the power of self, thinking men and women could attain salvation through their own free grace and devotion to God. This was considered dangerous to church authority.

The independent views of Cotton and his disciples were spread through convecticles, informal meetings in the homes of parishioners where sermons were discussed further and the individual views of the flock were considered, including women. This is hardly a practice authoritarian Puritans would welcome, the church having no say in your soul’s salvation … empowering women!?

While Roger Williams was at odds with the Boston church the Hutchinson’s became members of that church.  Somehow James Cotton’s controversial views were undetected and he was given a position in the Boston church. Anne held convecticles for women in her home. They became so popular dozens of women would attend, some dragging their husbands along. The idea of women openly discussing matters of God was indeed a radical practice, a threat to a church ruled by men.

In addition to her extreme beliefs and holding her own meetings, Hutchinson and her Free Grace friends questioned the worthiness of pastors, most notably the Reverend John Wilson. They began to walk out of his sermons. These public protests lead to open debate and division in the church. Ministers in support of the Free Grace faction waged war from the pulpit with traditional purists.

Hutchinson’s belief of Free Grace was not aligned with William’s religious beliefs but they shared the opinion that men and women should be free to follow their own path in faith without interference from church or government. Williams was aware of and supported Hutchinson’s Free Grace group, even if they didn’t see eye to eye on matters of God.

It wasn’t long before the magistrate John Winthrop and the General Court caught wind of her ‘unauthorized’ religious meetings and protest. In October 1536 Winthrop wrote opinions against Hutchinson which lead to the Antinomian Controversy.

Roger Williams had spent the spring and summer of 1536 establishing his colony 50+ miles south of Boston. His wife, young children and families from Salem who believed in his vision of freedom of faith joined him to begin a new life. They barely broke ground when the Plymouth Colony protested the land he bought from the Wampanoags was within their charter granted by King James I. After threats of extradition Williams and his tiny group of followers, twelve families, crossed the Seekonk River and purchased more land, this time from the Narragansett Indian tribe lead by Canonicus.  He named this settlement Providence.

In Providence there would be no established religion, no connection between a man’s faith and civil affairs, and each head of household had a vote in governance. They would rule by majority, including the addition of new citizens who arrived in droves as news of a truly free society attracted dissenters from other colonies. Matters of religion were not included in public discourse.

That same spring the Connecticut Colony was being established about 100 miles west of Narragansett Bay at the mouth of what would be the Connecticut River. Like Boston and Plymouth it was a haven for Puritans migrating from England or those who chose to relocate from the eastern colonies. From the beginning the colonists in the river colony had problems with Dutch colonists in New Netherlands (New York).

Meanwhile in Boston, Anne Hutchinson was accused of heresy by the General Court as the works of James Cotton caused a theological schism in the church that tested the unity of the colony. The Free Grace faction had supporters, including Governor Henry Vane, a long time friend and in-law of Hutchinson. Ministers from both sides exchanged heated sermons through the winter of 1636-37.

In the spring of 1637 elections turned the tide against Free Grace. John Winthrop defeated Henry Vane reclaiming his office of governor and men who supported Hutchinson were voted out. With her allies removed, Anne Hutchison was naked before the wrath of Puritan dictator John Winthrop.

Her civil trial began in the fall of 1537 but because she never spoke openly in public, never wrote her dissenting views, and her followers would not testify against her, Winthrop’s case was largely based on hearsay. She was basically being tried for being a troublemaker and conspiring with ministers, like Cotton, who did speak publically against the church. The quick witted and articulate Hutchinson out smarted her accusers and remained stoic while being harassed on the stand by Winthrop and his legal allies.

Hutchinson’s trial has been written about extensively by historians. Her conduct during the trail was the antithesis of how women behaved in her time. She openly challenged the authority of the court and the church. In the end she was convicted of sedition and banished from the colony. Like Williams she was held under house arrest through the winter. During that time her family and 23 allied men had formed a compact to resettle with their families. Roger Williams convinced them to colonize Aquidneck Island 25 miles south of Providence.

Williams had become more than a friendly white man to the Indians. Chief Massasoit, the same chief who greeted the Pilgrims as friends when they arrived in Plymouth, gifted Williams the islands of Aquidneck and Wappewassick as a token of his friendship with the Indians.

Hutchison, her 15 children and the band of ‘compact’ families left Boston on foot for Providence. Some men had departed earlier to begin construction of their new settlement. The families arrived in April 1538 and were ferried across the bay to their new home on Aquidneck Island.

Rhode Island now had two major settlements of religious dissenters with more refugees arriving each season, Anabaptists, Quakers and various sects fleeing persecution in England or other colonies. In the settlements around Narragansett Bay they could freely practice their personal religious belief without interference from civic leaders while taking equal part in community business with one vote per household. This was the model drafted by Roger Williams, long before Thomas Jefferson and our founding fathers were born.

Besides Hutchinson and Williams there were a dozen dissenters I could have focused on, but he was clearly the leader of men and she the leader of women, in a time when women were not leaders. While several of the men in theses settlement would go on to be governors of the future colony, none were as influential as Roger and Anne in the founding spirit of Rhode Island.

While the Providence and Aquidneck colonists had good relations with indigenous people, the same could not be said of the Plymouth, Massachusetts and Connecticut colonies. The Pequot Indians had long been a threat to the Connecticut River colony. Allied with the Dutch, the Pequot raided settlements along the river, including present day Hartford. Disputes over fur trade lead to the massacre of traders in Connecticut and Massachusetts. This would result in the Pequot War of 1637-38.

The Boston Puritans feared the Indians may unite against the English colonies. They approached Roger Williams, friend of the Narragansetts and Wampanoags, to mediate. Williams convinced Chief Miantonomi to ally with the English, providing scouts and spies along the south shore. Over a two year period dozens of raids and battles took place between the United Colonies and the Pequot, aided by the Dutch. Intelligence provided by the Narragansetts helped the colonists defeat the Pequot, nearly to the point of extinction. Providence and Aquidneck did not participate in the war.

By 1640 the Providence settlement had 39 voting heads of households. Due to political differences between leaders the camp on Aquidneck Island had split in two, the original Hutchinson settlement of Portsmouth, and the newly formed Newport settlement on the southern tip of the island chosen for its useful harbor. In 1642 a fourth settlement, Warwick, would be established by Samuel Gorton ten miles south of Providence.

Gorton, like the other leaders, purchased his land from local Indians and had good relations with the natives, but his purchase was disputed by other sachems. This dispute between Indian sachems lead to an incident where the Massachusetts colony would intervene, arrest the Warwick colonists and prompt the four Narragansett Bay settlements to unite. Because they had no Royal Charter, no legal right recognized by the crown, they would be harassed by neighboring colonies who viewed their independence as a threat.

Even after Williams helped the Massachusetts colony during the war with the Pequots, his heretic settlements on Narragansett Bay were thorns in John Winthrop’s side. Banishment did not satisfy the Puritans of Boston as long as the exiles were flourishing in their new settlements, growing, and living free of Puritan morals, all without that Royal Charter.

The Massachusetts, Plymouth and Connecticut Colonies remained united against the heretics lead by Williams, made claim to their territory and threatened to seize land and property. The United Colonies gathered a force to invade the Narragansett Bay settlements.

William Hutchinson died during this time leaving Anne with 15 children. Fearful of the upcoming war with Massachusetts she left Aquidneck for New Netherlands on the Hudson River with most of her children and house staff. Roger Williams sailed to England in 1643 in hopes of obtaining a Royal Charter that would legally recognize his people and thwart this aggression.

Roger Williams is the author of two important books in this period A Key Into the Language of America (1643 became a best seller in England. It was an account of William’s dealing with the indigenous, their customs, society and language. At the time people in England were fascinated by the natives of America. This book provided Williams popularity in London that would help him gain a  charter his colony needed to survive.

His second book The Bloody Tenent o Persecution for Cause of Conscience was not received well in England. This account of his religious dissent and legal troubles was publicly burned. Fortunately, Williams was safely sailing home, charter in hand, at the time of his second book’s distribution and controversy.

In the summer of 1643 Anne Hutchinson met an untimely and gruesome death. The Dutch did not have good relations with local Indians. Anne, knowing nothing but peace with Indians, did not fear for her family’s safety. Siwanoy Indians did not approve of her new homestead. The house was attacked; Anne Hutchinson and her family were massacred. The only survivor was her nine year-old daughter who was away from the house. She was taken captive.

Puritans in Boston celebrated Anne’s death.

in 1644 Aquidneck Island was renamed Rhode Island, the four towns on Narragansett Bay would be united as one colony, recognized by English authority but governed by the principles of their founding father Roger Williams.

Unlike other charters, the Rhode Island colony maintained separation of church and state. A law was passed outlawing slavery as Williams and his people opposed the enslavement of Indians, a practice of neighboring colonies since the Pequot War.

Roger and Mary Williams were finally free to raise and educate their six children in Providence without fear of a church. Roger established the First Baptist Church in America, which still stands, but left a short time after because, as always, he found disagreement with its eventual direction. Yes, I’ve considered the possibility Williams was a dick, always opposing the prevailing wind, too independent for his own good.

By the mid 1650’s Puritan rule in Massachusetts had become brutal. Crimes that were previously punished with banishment were now punishable by death. Quakers had long been persecuted by colonial purists, especially in Boston where they were banned from the colony. Over a three year span many Quakers were sentenced to death. Mary Dyer and three fellow Quakers were hanged for ignoring this law. Others were ‘whipped from the colony’, being beaten town to town as they marched.

In 1661 King Charles II ordered the persecution of Quakers in the colonies to stop. This would mark the final chapter for the purist theocracy. Two decades later, in 1684, Charles II revoked the Massachusetts charter sending a governor to enforce his bans on persecution. I find it ironic the English crown had to end the crimes against humanity committed by people who fled his nation because they were being persecuted.

Roger Williams died in 1683 but his ideas and independence would live on in Providence, Rhode Island.

In 1692 when witches were being tried and hanged in Salem, the Rhode Island colony passed laws abolishing witch trials and capital punishment.  The Salem Witch Trials are viewed as the final act of theocratic rule by the Puritans in Massachusetts. As if the inhumanity and atrocities committed in the name of God and church over the past 300 years weren't enough, the witch trials gave American colonists a new example of how religious zealotry threatens freedom and the basic rights of men.

Jefferson’s birth was still 50 years away. The recent history of religious bigotry, intolerance, persecution and barbarism were well documented. The first model of religious freedom and separation of church and state was also established, in Providence.

The injustice and crimes in the name of God I have written about in this five part blog, centuries of abuse, are more than enough evidence for this atheist that a state church should never be established, that religion and government should be forever separate. In my opinion, Rhode Island and the father of these American ideals, Roger Williams, does not get enough credit for the founding principles this nation was built on, our liberties and assured rights we often take for granted.

Maybe this oversight will someday be corrected. For now my blog will do.

Jan. 6th, 2013


Part 4: The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of the Puritans

As early as the 1540’s English Puritans gained prominence in the church and Parliament seeking further reform. Their movement was a dissenting and driving force throughout the reformation, especially during the reign of Elizabeth when Marian exiles returning to England sought more draconian change. Anti-Catholic sentiment was extremely high after the Marian persecutions. Puritans demanded further reform within the newly restored independent Church of England but met resistance as Elizabeth attempted to maintain peace between Protestants and Catholics with the Settlement Acts of 1558.

Puritans held powerful positions in the church and Parliament. They used these positions to move against Catholics and push the State Church further away from Roman influence, closer to their purist desires. They would meet an unexpected foe, their new Protestant queen.

Elizabeth’s desire to reconcile the differences between sects meant the worst of the bloodletting was over, but not entirely as dissent and conflict remained in all reformed churches in Western Europe, and there are always those pesky pagans and heathens to torture for noncompliance.

The Act of Supremacy restored the queen as head of the church. Pope Pius V ruled Elizabeth a false queen and heretic, he released all Catholics from her allegiance. England was again Protestant but Catholic influence remained in Parliament and the church. The country was deeply divided. Torn between Pope and Queen nearly all Catholic bishops lost their positions in the church, replaced by men loyal to the queen and the restored church. Puritans delighted in these events, but not for long.

The Act of Uniformity attempted to create standards within the Queen’s Church that would satisfy Protestants without alienating Catholics. It was required of all subjects to attend Anglican Sunday service under the Book of Common Prayer. Some continuity with Catholic custom remained, like liturgical vestments and communion, and the Book of Prayer was revised to remove content offensive to Catholics, but this was not enough to appease Papists and it gave Puritans reason to complain. Neither believed the Book of Common Prayer spoke for them. Purists felt it contained too much popery, the Papists not enough.

Catholics far from the reach of Elizabeth were less likely to conform. Noblemen in the north loyal to the Pope rebelled in an attempt to depose the queen in favor of Mary Queen of Scots. They were defeated. The leaders fled England forfeiting ancestral land. Some were captured and executed, including Mary. In the end Elizabeth’s long reign would outlast Catholic resistance, but throughout her four decades years on the throne Puritans would divide her church seeking a more pure practice of Christianity, free of compromise. This dissent turned moderate Protestants against the radical purists.

The most hardcore of the dissenters were separatists; they believed the Church of England to be as corrupt as the Roman Church and sought to leave the queen’s church to start their own.

If western Christianity were a river and its course determined by a timeline, the water would flow uninterrupted for centuries. A major split would occur during the time of Martin Luther and Henry VIII. Catholicism would follow one branch and Protestantism the other. The Catholic branch would flow in a solitary steady stream, but immediately downstream from the reformation confluence the Protestant branch waters would get rough, that branch would split again and again into many smaller streams.

If there’s one constant in religious history, besides bloodshed, it would be conflict over biblical interpretation and disputes over doctrine and practice. There was continuous nitpicking throughout the reformation. No matter how far reform goes there’s always a faction displeased with the current state of the church, willing to go their own way.  Once the powerful iron shackles of Rome were shed it was easier to free oneself from les dominant churches, not without consequence, but doable.

Nations where reform was strong: Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and England, more conflict and change would follow. New branches of Christianity were born from these splits.

The Anglicans and Lutherans divided with Rome. From there Calvinism (Presbyterian) split from the Lutheran church in Germany, Anabaptist from Swiss Congregationalism, and Unitarians split from Calvinism. Baptists, the Amish and Mennonites are schisms in the Anabaptist movement. Episcopalians left the Church of England after the American Revolution, and Methodists split from Anglicans. It’s a dizzying family tree filled with intolerance, persecution and brutality, often over petty grievance.

States still dominated by the Vatican, Italy, France, Spain and Portugal would have one master, the Pope and his puppet monarch underbosses. They remained on the Catholic branch of the river. They maintained control of the masses with zero tolerance and brutal inquisition.

No branch of Christianity is without bloody water, some were oppressors, some oppressed, and several served as both. They all allegedly follow the teachings of Christ but the history of religious men would suggest otherwise.

During the reign of Elizabeth Puritan leaders, including John Foxe, attempted to reconcile their differences with the Church of England in its hybrid form through religious and political channels. Intellectual writings such as the Admonition to the Parliament (1572) challenged the Episcopal Polity (hierarchy) in the church and other practices they felt were popery of another color. They failed to convince political leaders but they did manage to outrage the Archbishop of Canterbury whose job it was to maintain the queen’s church and adopt her agenda of compromise. After a vigorous debate, Puritan authors were jailed, some fled England. This would be the tone for the late decades of the 16th century, dissent and protest, prison or exile.

Puritans petitioned Parliament again in 1586 by circulating the Book of Disciple and opening a new public dialogue on Church doctrine. Again they failed. This book was followed by a series of writings called the Marprelate Tracts which took the vitriolic tone of damning the bishops of the church as Anti-Christs, the same defamatory language used against the Pope. More Puritans were imprisoned or sought exile as the government clamped down on religious dissent. Hey, at least the weren't urning them as heretics.

For purists there is no middle ground, compromise is failure. The hard line anti-Catholic Puritans would not relent. For many Anglicans, the Puritans were as bad as rebellious Catholics, extremists threatening the relative peace of the post Marian regime. As years passed many Puritans, plus their defenders and apologists in Parliament, retired or died. In this less tolerant culture they were replaced by men unsympathetic to the purist cause.

This was time of Shakespeare, life in England was hardy to the purists' liking. They preached against drinking, gambling, dancing, theater and of course sex outside of marriage, all popular pursuits of the average citizen. The purists were generally considered self righteous wankers.

The church and government took a harder turn against dissent. Catholics and Puritans were subjected to prejudice leading to legislation aimed directly at them. In 1593 the Religion Act and Popish Recusant Act were passed by Parliament. These laws gave those practicing religion outside the State Church an ultimatum, conform or denounce the realm. The latter would lead to forfeiture of all land and property. Failure to accept either fate would lead to arrest, trial and execution.

By the time of her death in 1603 Elizabeth had pretty much cowed dissenters and left England to her successor, James I, in a reasonably peaceful state. His commissioning of the King James Bible moved the King’s Church further from its Roman roots but was still not far enough to satisfy the purist movement which mostly operated underground after the suppressive acts of 1593.

Fearing retribution, Puritans resolved to seek personal purity, or godliness, as it was clear they could not change the church as a whole. They referred to themselves as ‘the Godly’, and segregated themselves socially from the less-pure-Puritans. They advocated a separatist policy while maintaining membership and practice with the State Church.

Finally, I’ve reached the point where my ramblings on religion and separation of church & state began.

This was the world Roger Williams was born to in London on December 21, 1603. The Queen was dead and King James had taken the throne several months prior. Puritans were persecuted and took to living their life of godliness in a solitary manner, in an isolated community within the larger church.

The William’s family was loyal practicing members of the King’s Church rather than purists. As a young man Roger apprenticed as a jurist under the famous judge and politician Sir Edmund Coke. His influence, and Roger’s academic standing, earned Williams an education at Pembroke College, Cambridge. Williams was fluent in six languages, six more than I

Williams was a member of the Church of England but while studying theology at Cambridge he followed a path towards Puritanism. He was a devoted man of God, loyal to his king, an intellectual theologian, but forfeited any future in the Anglican Church by associating with the Godly. During his college years the exodus of Pilgrims to the new world had begun. Puritans would soon follow.

While Williams attended university in 1625, King James passed and King Charles I succeed him. England joined most European nations engaged in the early decade of the Thirty Years War, a conflict rooted in Catholic versus Protestant rivalry and the interests of nations aligned with or against the Vatican. Believe me, I’m seriously oversimplifying the cause of the long and bloody war, but that’s as far as it relates to my tale.

The war helped create an environment where any threat against the state was treated as treason. King Charles was a controversial monarch. He cracked down on Puritans, married a Catholic, and had allies in the church who were viewed by purists as being too close to the Catholic Church. The soon-to-be Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, was Charles’ instrument. Laud was an ill tempered man with few friends and many enemies. He took a sinister view towards those who challenged his church or king. It was under this harsh rule that Puritans fled England for the new world.

Roger Williams saw the writing on the wall. The Massachusetts Bay Colony was established in 1628. The first waves of Englishmen to the new colony were largely Puritan. In 1630 the first ships of the Winthrop Fleet arrived. Roger Williams and his wife, Mary Barnard, would join the separatists in 1631. Over the next decade the Great Migration would bring thousands of persecuted pure Christian souls to Boston and Salem.

The Puritan exodus would halt in 1640 at the outbreak of the English Civil War, the result of which would be King Charles and his right hand man William Laud losing their heads.  Parliamentarians had won the war against the crown and claimed the task of ruling the nation. Puritans would play a key role in this period passing laws banning drink, gambling, theater and other vices they deemed sinful. Having gained power in Parliament these was no longer a need for mass migration.

Williams would not find his new world Utopia f religious tolerance. The once persecuted became the oppressors, a common theme in religious history. Colonial Puritan leaders were all pure godly men without sin demanding strict adherence to their religious law. Like England, civil and religious authority were legally married. Dissent was not tolerated.

My heroes, free thinkers Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, would again flee in search of freedom.

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