A short, discriminating story of melting-pot religion depicting some of the deadly perils of nonconformist faith in the land of the free.
Our Puritan fathers, who sought religious freedom in the New World, were eager to hang professed Quakers as schismatic cultists who entertained Satan. And so it went, as Gottschalk (Religion/Wesleyan Univ.; Religion, Science, and Empire: Classifying Hinduism and Islam in British India, 2012, etc.) reminds us. Catholics (especially the Irish) were seen as fostering world domination by obeisance to the pope; in 1834, a convent was burned down in Charlestown. Not much later, members of the Sioux tribe, regular victims of broken treaties, were forbidden to perform their ghost dance. Following their own homegrown faith, Mormons were branded dangerous heretics. In the 20th century, true American Henry Ford excoriated Jews with his own malevolent writings as well as wide dissemination of the notorious hoax The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Throughout American history, Muslims both foreign and domestic have been and continue to be objects of distrust and scorn. Mistaken for followers of Islam, Hindus and Sikhs are often abused. Gottschalk demonstrates the national penchant for prejudice with representative examples over the centuries, when religious differences could be capital offences. That was the case 20 years ago in the apocalyptic massacre of the Branch Davidians. The group was called a cult, as, it seems, nascent religions might be termed. Just what a cult may be is not easy to explain; perhaps the age of the movement is pertinent. (In regard to cults as religions, Gottschalk has little to report about Christian Science or Dianetics.) Against tenacious prejudice, the author makes a scholarly case for tolerance, a virtue we purport to celebrate. “Celebrating the idea of secularism proves far easier,” he writes, “than establishing a society based on it.” If it helps, he offers a bit of instructive history.
Eclectic examples from the ample album of bigotry in American democracy.