Sunday, January 17, 2021

Slavery, Democracy, and the Jesuits

Though JFK preceded him, Joseph Biden, Jr. is set to become a Catholic president in the United States during a time of unprecedented Catholic power. Remarkably, most Americans do not know the Catholic Church was banned in America's founding colonies, notably New York City:

For most of the colonial period Roman Catholic worship in New York City was clandestine or nonexistent, because the Protestant Dutch and then the English enforced laws prohibiting the organization and maintenance of Roman Catholic churches. (From Encyclopedia of New York City)

In 1816, Thomas Jefferson warned of the conflicts between Catholicism and republican governance: 

The first shade from this pure element, which, like that of pure vital air, cannot sustain life of itself, would be where the powers of the government, being divided, should be exercised each by representatives chosen either pro hac vice, or for such short terms as should render secure the duty of expressing the will of their constituents. This I should consider as the nearest approach to a pure republic, which is practicable on a large scale of country or population. And we have examples of it in some of our State constitutions, which, if not poisoned by priest-craft, would prove its excellence over all mixtures with other elements; and, with only equal doses of poison, would still be the best. [Emphasis mine] 

I must confess I did not know the "Republican" in Republican Party referred to republican governance, i.e., a republic, because my American teachers and professors glossed over Christian religious differences. Reading Jefferson's words, it is easier to understand a republic is the opposite of a monarchy, and America's founders discriminated against the Catholic Church because they were anti-monarchy (aka anti-papist). Unlike American students today, our founders would have had no problem connecting the structure of the Catholic Church and its doctrine of papal supremacy with European monarchs and Catholic collusion. Once Catholic, monarchs regularly expelled non-Catholics, eventually inducing Germany's Protestant Reformation. Discrimination begets discrimination, and the history of America can be best understood as a country founded on discrimination and its discontents. 

In the most recent Christian Science Monitor Weekly publication, I came across the following tidbit: 

Q: How did the Jesuits, a Roman Catholic religious order, become involved in slavery? 

They began to buy, sell, and hold slaves in South America. When they came to Maryland to start missions in the 17th century, they quickly became slaveholders. Other churches came to be slaveholders, too, but the Jesuits were among the largest slaveholders in Maryland during this period. (William G. Thomas III, author of A Question of Freedom, January 4 & 11, 2021)

Were Catholics and Protestants in America able to set aside their differences by shifting their discrimination towards African slaves rather than against each other? If unity is the goal, perhaps we ought to discuss whether America's chattel slavery and the racism that followed resulted from a transference of religious antipathy into a different-colored bucket. Such historical interpretation would align with our current political climate, where segregation is the norm and Catholics are considered Christians, even though all Christian offshoots, whether Christian Science or Seventh Day Adventist, exist because of splintering within the Protestant Church, which itself exists as a result of anti-Catholicism. 

Will President Biden assist his fellow citizens in reforming history lessons so more Americans can heal from four years of division? I doubt it. The only way American Catholicism could have succeeded so spectacularly is if Biden himself, along with most Christians, lack an understanding of both European and American history. Unfortunately for us, Europeans do not suffer similar educational handicaps, meaning Biden's presidency may come to represent not unity, but the ascension of the European Union. As of today, it appears we are continuing the pattern of modern American political negligence, where leaders focused on the Soviet Union only to see increased Middle Eastern threats, then focused on the Middle East only to see increased Asian threats, and are now focusing on Asia. History, it seems, may not repeat itself, but it often rhymes

© Matthew Mehdi Rafat (January 2021)

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