Would Roger Williams Have Called it a Holiday Tree II

Yes, there are many other issues in the world to be discussed, but there has been so much rote recitation of bad history in the coverage of the Rhode Island statehouse “holiday” tree, it is worth repeating that views never held by Roger Williams routinely are attributed to him. The latest, perhaps most direct, example comes from a former director of the Rhode Island Historical Society, quoted in Paul Davis‘ Projo article on yesterday’s statehouse event celebrating a cluster of holidays that recur in month 12…

[Governor Lincoln Chafee] says his decision honors the state’s origins as a sanctuary for religious diversity. Roger Williams founded Rhode Island in 1636 as a haven for tolerance and insisted government and religion remain separate, he says.
Rhode Island historians say Chafee’s interpretation of Williams is correct.
“If Roger Williams was alive today, he would not refer to it as a Christmas tree,” says historian Albert Klyberg, a former director of the Rhode Island Historical Society. “Williams was very much opposed to introducing religious elements into public business.”
Actually, Mr. Klyberg is incorrect. As Marc has pointed out, Rhode Island’s colonial charter, strongly influenced by Williams, did not require that religion be removed from the public square. And in one of his most famous expositions of his own ideas, “The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience“, Roger Williams expressed no opposition to introducing a religious dimension into government business, when offering specific counsel to civil leaders on the matter of religion. In fact, just the opposite was true…
The civil magistrate either respecteth that religion and worship which his conscience is persuaded is true, and upon which he ventures his soul; or else that and those which he is persuaded are false.
Concerning the first, if that which the magistrate believeth to be true, be true, I say he owes a threefold duty unto it:
First, approbation and countenance, a reverent esteem and honorable testimony, according to Isa. 49, and Revel. 21, with a tender respect of truth, and the professors of it…
Approbation (I had to look it up) is approval, usually with the connotation of officialness; there is no meaningful connection to be drawn from Roger Williams’ advice “that religion and worship which [a] conscience is persuaded is true” be countenanced and approbated by civil authority, to separating religion from public or even government celebrations.

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brassband
brassband
9 years ago

Anybody recognize this?
“We, the people of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing upon our endeavors to secure and to transmit the same, unimpaired, to succeeding generations, do ordain and establish this Constitution of government.”
It’s the preamble to the RI Constitution, originally adopted in 1842 and re-adopted as recently as 1986.
Care to guess who was one of Warwick’s representatives to the Constitutional Convention that proposed the 1986 constitution? . . . and is a signatory thereto?
Hint: He’s sworn allegiance to it a few times, as a Warwick city councilor, mayor and, most recently, as Governor.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
9 years ago

Although I am unable to truly philosophize about it, I believe we live in an era when it is sometimes chic to be anti-Christian. There seems to be some compulsion to drive Christ out of Christmas. While it is desired to keep the “retail holiday”, it must be rid of religious significance. The other day, I saw a girl wearing a t-shirt picturing a “holiday tree” with the message “it is all about the presents”. I think she grasps the fundamentals of the situation.
I will believe it is about “diversity” and “inclusiveness” when I hear a politician refer to a Menorah as a “holiday candelabra”. Any politician who did so would risk being attacked as anti-Semitic. Perhaps that is as it should be.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
9 years ago

Although I am unable to truly philosophize about it, I believe we live in an era when it is sometimes chic to be anti-Christian. There seems to be some compulsion to drive Christ out of Christmas. While it is desired to keep the “retail holiday”, it must be rid of religious significance. The other day, I saw a girl wearing a t-shirt picturing a “holiday tree” with the message “it is all about the presents”. I think she grasps the fundamentals of the situation.
I will believe it is about “diversity” and “inclusiveness” when I hear a politician refer to a Menorah as a “holiday candelabra”. Any politician who did so would risk being attacked as anti-Semitic. Perhaps that is as it should be.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

Yes, clearly Williams was calling for religious theocracy in the as yet unfounded U.S. What do those “historians” know about it anyway?!

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

Except that in this case, you’re simply deliberately misreading the document and selectively quoting it to (weakly) support the idea that Chafee should be required to mention Christ in press releases or something. I’m still scratching my head how you think a section of Williams’ writing that details the obligations of magistrates to respect all religions (“unto which the civil magistrate dare not adjoin”), requires in some way the use of specific religious language from state officers.
Oddly you missed this part of the same document:

…God requireth not a uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced in any civil state; which enforced uniformity (sooner or later) is the greatest occasion of civil war, ravishing of conscience, persecution of Christ Jesus in his servants, and of the hypocrisy and destruction of millions of souls.

Mark
Mark
9 years ago

I am starting to think reading this blog is a waste of my time. Let’s get the facts straight; this is not the 1st RI Gov to call it a “Holiday Tree”. The two preceding Republican Gov’s both did it at some point. Let’s keep our eyes on the ball with regards of downsizing government and therfore government spending and taxes.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“Let’s keep our eyes on the ball…”
No, no! Not when you guys are on such a roll! I hear Chafee also refuses to call his marshmallow candies by their true and righteous name, “Easter Peeps.” To the barricades, wingnut commrades!
By my reckoning there’s two more weeks of this and at least 3 more diaries (come on, Monique, you’re slacking! Might I suggest somehow linking holiday trees to climate change denial).

Bucket Chick
Bucket Chick
9 years ago

For me the controversy has nothing to do with “taking the Christ out of Christmas” and everything to do with just calling something by its (universally acknowledged) name. I don’t understand why symbols of religious observances are to be feared… Call it what it is or don’t put it up in the first place. I would have more respect for the governor if he chose not to decorate for any of the holidays at all, rather than to put symbols up but avoid their actual names. And I especially don’t understand the “not endorsing religion” argument when there is apparently no issue calling a menorah a “menorah.”

Monique
Editor
9 years ago

“And I especially don’t understand the “not endorsing religion” argument when there is apparently no issue calling a menorah a “menorah.””
Yes, it appears that, in the Governor’s book, anyway, “times are changing” for some religions but not others.

Max D
Max D
9 years ago

I’m with you Bucket Chick. If you’re putting up a symbol of or associated with a religious holiday and you have a problem calling it what it is, just don’t put it up. The idiocy reaches a crescendo when you admit to proudly putting up a ‘Christmas Tree’ in your own home.
As Belichick would say, “It is what it is.”

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

And civil authority claiming the right to rename religious symbols, so that no one is offended, is exactly the imposition of uniformity that Williams warns against.

Truly off the deep-end on that one. I must have missed that part where Chafee interferred with your right to practice Christianity in any fashion. You can call your co-opted pagan religious symbols whatever you like.
I’m to the point where I think the state should stop the practice of displaying symbols related to religious observances altogether. If that’s your goal, then mission accomplished.
It’s a shame because there still are places where people suffer religious persecution. You folks make a mockery of their struggle with this cult of victimization currently in vogue with the fringe right.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

That first section of “The Bloudy Tenet of Persecution” that you cited is from the section where Williams discusses what should happen when a civil authority deals with a religion he believes to be false. I’ll let you wholly own the claim that this section applies to the current controversy…

Another (and I have to assume in this case deliberate) misreading of the document. His whole point is that government is incapable and therefore should not make that distinction.

Fifthly, all civil states with their officers of justice in their respective constitutions and administrations are proved essentially civil, and therefore not judges, governors, or defenders of the spiritual or Christian state and worship.

(*sound of Williams spinning in his grave*)

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

Perhaps you’d like to comment on Williams statement on the separation of church and state (for the good of both)…

When they [the Church] have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broke down the wall itself, removed the Candlestick, etc., and made His Garden a wilderness as it is this day. And that therefore if He will ever please to restore His garden and Paradise again, it must of necessity be walled in peculiarly unto Himself from the world, and all that be saved out of the world are to be transplanted out of the wilderness of the World.

msteven
msteven
9 years ago

Yes, the “fringe right” wishes to use phrase “Christmas Tree” and not be persecuted for violating the separation of Church and State.
I know a teacher at a public school who has a necklace with a cross. The teacher was asked to take it off because it violated the separation of Church and State.
I assume you do believe in religious liberty and freedom. But only if they are displayed in private settings such as in ones private residence. Therefore, ALL expressions of ANY religion should be banned if it can be seen or heard by the general public based on the separation of Church and State. Would that be an accurate representation of your view and definition of what is meant by the 1st amendment?

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

Yes, the “fringe right” wishes to use phrase “Christmas Tree” and not be persecuted for violating the separation of Church and State.

I call them Christmas Trees. So what of it? Call them whatever you like. How does Chafee’s press release affect your religious practice in any way?

ALL expressions of ANY religion should be banned if it can be seen or heard by the general public based on the separation of Church and State. Would that be an accurate representation of your view and definition of what is meant by the 1st amendment?

No, not what I said at all. Note, the left didn’t object to this holiday celebration featuring Christmas songs, etc. The fringe right did.
Also note that what Williams objected to in the quote above was the actions of the church (for instance, trying to force Chafee to use language based on your religious interpretation of a particular symbol).

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
9 years ago

Russ-Venezuela beckons-it’s warm,and they have one of your progressive idols running the place.Just don’t bring opinions with you-that’s not allowed.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“Venezuela beckons…”
Ah, the personal attacks. Knew if I stuck to the facts that would happen sooner or later.
I’m not big on idol worship, although if I had to pick one perhaps I’d say Jefferson or maybe Gandhi. Got something snide to say about them too?

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
9 years ago

@Russ-snide about them?No,but your attempt to suggest I get my ideas from Rush Limbaugh(“Megadittos”)was pretty sh*tty.I haven’t listened to that blowhard since the end of Desert Storm.
It’s useless to argue with a progressive robot who spends most of his time gathering block quotes.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“unto which the civil magistrate dare not adjoin”
That’s the section you quoted. I simply referenced that. I quoted “God requireth not a uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced in any civil state…” which is not the part about false religions.
It’s a silly point anyway, which speaks to your own disagreement with Williams by casting aspersions that Chafee’s faith as somehow lesser than your own. That’s pretty much at the heart of this. Chafee simply made the cardinal sin of pointing that out.
Joe, I was just pointing out that the right are the ones who value marching in lock-step. I’m surprised anyone listens to the guy anymore, so no shock that you don’t. Note that my comment was in response to your tired suggestion that as a liberal I don’t have any “original thoughts.” (btw always thought you were above the stupid personal attacks favored by many over here who have nothing much else to add to the discussion)

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