When you get discouraged about politics — and it’s easy to do that these days — it’s always good to remind yourself that we’ve been through this (bleep) before.
I’m reading “American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon” by Stephen Prothero, an excellent overview of how Americans have viewed Christianity’s central figure — sometimes by untangling him from a religious context — and how those views of have shaped America. Early in the book, he delves into the now well-known story of how Thomas Jefferson created his own “gospel” by taking the King James Bible and cutting out all the parts referencing Jesus’ divinity and miracles, leaving only the parts that made him sound like a wise sage.
Jefferson, of course, only dabbled as a theologian — we remember him as a politician. (And we remember him as embodying some of the contradictions built into our country’s founding.) But his theological work created some political backlash:
A “Christian Federalist,” no less alarmed, viewed the prospect of Jefferson’s election as the beginning of the end of his Christian nation. “han serious and reflecting men look about them and doubt,” he wrote, “that if Jefferson is elected, and Jacobins get into authority, that those morals which protect our lives from the knife of the assassin—which guard the chastity of our wives and daughters from seduction and violence—defend our property from plunder and devastation and shield our religion from contempt and profanation, will not be trampled and exploded.” Such vituperations did not prevent Jefferson from winning the White House, but they did send Federalists into a postelection frenzy. After a rumor circulated that President Jefferson had decreed a bonfire of the biblical vanities, housewives in New England reportedly squirreled away their scriptures in wells, to prevent them from being burned by the flames of Jeffersonian free thought.”
I don’t have much to add to this at the moment. But the hysteria — the belief that one’s opponents will rob you of your right to practice religion, the baseless rumors, the assertion that violence against our women is just a hair’s breadth away — all are prominent parts of our modern discourse. It sucks. But we have survived and lived to see better days.
That’s not to say we should get complacent. But if you get discouraged, well, we Americans have been down this road before. If we persist in upholding our values, there’s reason to hope for a light at the end of the tunnel.