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maule at LAW.VILLANOVA.EDU
Fri Dec 22 17:41:25 PST 2000
>>> mnewsom at LAW.HOWARD.EDU 12/22/00 04:52PM >>> writes
To proselytize is one thing, to destroy is another. The fact of the matter is that the Christianization of the African in British North America occurred long after the destruction of African religion. The best guess about the timing of this Christianization places it at or shortly after the Founding. The Second Great Awakening marks the time when large numbers of now African-Americans were evangelized. It is important to note that the Baptist and Methodist groups led the way in this endeavor, and to this day the vast majority of African-Americans are Baptists and Methodists.
Now the experience in and the history of the Catholic Americas is quite different. Conversion to Catholicism did not necessasrily lead to a destruction of African religion. There is plenty of evidence of a fusion, if you will, in the Catholic New World, something rare to non-existent in the British Protestant New World. See Albert Raboteau on this point. Condomble, Santeria and other fusion religions abound. But then, Catholicism has demonstrated over its 2000 year history an ability to accommodate a range of non-Christian ideas and practices. The Christmas tree is, of course, the prime example. What is really at stake here is the theological realism of Catholicism, a characteristic largely missing in evangelical Protestantism.
Successful proselytization indeed destroys the religion of the converted. To the extent theological realism leads to the compromising of principle through the adoption of some aspect of the consumed theology, there is nonetheless a destruction... the old no longer exists. If you wish to distinguish instances in which the successful proselytizing denomination survives intact and without change and the religion of the converted disappears entirely from instances in which BOTH theologies are destroyed because they fuse into another, then I would point out that the proselytizing denomination that fuses is no more noble simply because it gave up of something of itself. In some ways, it can be seen as having "sold out" in its acquisition of new members. ("Become Christian and you can keep your Christmas tree, therefore we will re-define Christianity for you.") The fact that fusion religions (which I do not think are "part" of any of the proselytizing denominations) exist demonstrates resilience rather than surrender to destruction. If anything was destroyed it was language, but that's for another list and another discussion.
More specifically, the slaveowners who did the destroying were all evangelical Protestants. They did not need church "board" meetings to sanction, confirm, or authorize the destruction of African religion. They were perfectly capable of doing this on their own. The relevant point is that there is no evidence that any evangelical Protestant groups sought to restrain the slaveowners from their planned destruction.
The thread began when I referred to my interpretation of the Founders as seeking an atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance, which you rejected on the basis that African religions were destroyed, an event inconsistent with tolerance and acceptance. I don't equate the Founders with religion-destroying slaveowners. Many Founders were not religion-destroying slaveowners. Most religion-destroying slaveowners were not Founders. Aside from that question of identity, the fact that people act inconsistently with the First Amendment ideal ought not be an indictment of the ideal but an indictment of the violators of the ideal. Certainly non-evangelical Protestant groups, not in a position to restrain slaveowners, took steps to reduce the impact of the institution of slavery on the lives of slaves, by, for example, being deeply involved in the Underground Railway. Perhaps evangelical Protestants did so individually (and if they did, it would be as much in keeping with their exaltation of the individual over the denominational institution). If silence in the observation of injustice is no less an accessory to the injustice as is active conspiracy, then the Founders were guilty of so many injustices that the logic leads to a questioning of the validity of the Constitution and not just the ideal underlying the First Amendment. For me, intolerant and destructive slaveowners and institutionally silent Protestants do not make for intolerant and oppressive First Amendment drafters.
I could not agree with you more that what people do is far more important than what they say. Caring for others is a helpful idea, one that finds plenty of warrant in the New Testament (the passage in which Jesus talks about feeding the hungry etc. as feeding Him.)
In trying to sort things out in what I find to be a fascinating thread (witness the number of my emails), I think that the idea of caring is far more helpful than the idea of unity.
Caring is far more important. But in terms of explaining the rise and fall of nations, the question of unity answers more questions. Probably because much of the caring, if not most of it, has been about the wrong things. On this, I am sure we agree.
I enjoy the discourse. I always appreciate being given the opportunity to learn and to think.
Professor of Law, Villanova University School of Law
Villanova PA 19085
maule at law.villanova.edu
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