Tag Archives: Colonial America

THE WORLD’S OLDEST DEMOCRACY

Indian artist Harwinder Singh Gill shows off his creation, an image of US president Barack Obama carved on a duck's egg shell with the national flags of India and the United States, on January 24, 2015. Mr Obama is due to arrive in India on January 25, 2015.  Munish Sharma/Reuters
Indian artist Harwinder Singh Gill shows off his creation, an image of US president Barack Obama carved on a duck’s egg shell with the national flags of India and the United States, on January 24, 2015. Mr Obama is due to arrive in India on January 25, 2015.
Munish Sharma/Reuters

All nations have an inflated view of themselves and their place in the world.

The Times of London famously carried a front-page headline over a century ago that read:   “Fog in Channel.   Europe cut off.”   The reality, of course, was that Britain itself was cut off from the much bigger continent of Europe.

This morning (Monday) I heard something similar on CBS.   It was a news item on President Obama’s visit to India.   It went something like this:   “The leader of the world’s oldest democracy is meeting the leader of the world’s largest.”

Now, I’ve heard this before . . . but this time I want to comment.

How can the United States, barely 200 years old, possibly be the world’s oldest anything?

It certainly isn’t the world’s oldest democracy.

I googled this, asking where the idea comes from.   The answer, it seems, is the politicians.   In recent years, they have been claiming this is the case, when it isn’t.   Ignorance of history never stopped anybody from attaining office.

For the record, one of the first things the original colonists did when they landed in Jamestown, was hold an election.   Elections were regularly held in the colonial period.   The turnout averaged 90%.   On this basis alone, you could say that colonial America was more democratic than what we have now, when participation is usually less than 50%.

When the colonists held that first election, they were not inventing democracy.   Their country of origin, Great Britain, already had a democratic system in place.   Not since 1215 had English kings held absolute power.   For centuries after that date, parliament was gradually becoming more powerful at the expense of the crown.

The first parliament was summoned in 1264.

Part of the problem is that “democracy” can mean different things in different countries.

The North Koreans call themselves “The Democratic Peoples Republic” of Korea but they are neither democratic nor a republic.

When I googled the word “democracy,” this is the definition it came up with.   Democracy is “a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.”   “All the eligible members of a state” does not necessarily mean that every person has the vote.

Today, in the year 2015, we in the West think of a democracy as a country where every adult has the vote.   But this has not always been the case.   It wasn’t in ancient Greece, the birthplace of democracy, where women and slaves were not allowed to vote.   A universal franchise, where everyone has the vote, is a fairly recent thing.   It did not exist in the United States until at least 1964 when the Voting Rights Act guaranteed the right of all adults to vote.   Even then, there were some who missed out until more recently.   In England, women got the vote in 1918, but they had to be 30, whereas men could vote at 21.   Ten years later, the law was changed to make women fully equal with men.

Forty years ago, we lived in Rhodesia, which had a qualified franchise, similar to what the United States had in its infancy.   Actually, Rhodesia was more generous as women had the vote equally with men, something America didn’t have until 1920.   Rhodesia had five qualifications for voting.   Diane and I did not meet all five, whereas many Africans we knew did.   Once everybody got the vote, a dictatorship came to power and has remained there for 35 years.   Rhodesia was far more democratic than its successor state.

Anyway, forget England and America.   Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and the Isle of Man all have a parliamentary system that goes back to the ninth or tenth centuries.

There is no basis for claiming the US is the world’s oldest democracy. But what would you expect from a bunch of lawyers in Congress? After all, they are wrong on most things!

 

RICK WARREN’S CALL TO BACK THE POPE

Rick Warren and PopeRick Warren clearly does not know his history.

The Protestant evangelist and best-selling author of The Purpose Driven Church, recently called on protestants to unite with Pope Francis, whom he has referred to as “the Holy Father.”  This news came in the same week as the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Istanbul expressed his commitment to church unity during a papal visit to the former capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.

“Christiannews.net” began its report on Warren with the following words:

“In a new video, megachurch leader and author Rick Warren is calling for Christians to unite with Roman Catholics and “Pope Francis,” who Warren recently referred to as the “Holy Father” – a move that is raising concerns among Christians nationwide and is resulting in calls for Warren to repent.” (December 2nd)

In the article, Warren defends the Catholic practices of worshipping Mary and a myriad of saints, saying that Protestants just do not understand what the church is really teaching.

America’s founders would be appalled.

At the time the United States was formed, 98% of Americans were Protestants. Only 1% were Catholic and 1% were of other faiths, including Judaism. Colonial America was “Protestant and virulently anti-Catholic.”  (The King’s Three Faces, by Brendan McConville, 2004, page 7)  The fourteenth colony, Quebec, chose not to join the American rebellion against the crown because they perceived America would be a “protestant republic.”

This anti-Catholicism did not end with the formation of the United States. Anti-Catholic riots continued well into the twentieth century. In 1960, anti-Catholic feeling was a factor in the presidential election, which resulted in the first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy. Concerns were expressed that his loyalty would be to Rome rather than the American people.

Does all this matter any more?

Yes.  It matters for this reason:

For more than a thousand years, the Church of Rome ruled despotically over the nations of western Europe.  The beliefs of the church were and remain unbiblical and even anti-biblical.  The Bible was a forbidden book, denied to all but the priests and most priests could not read.  The struggle for religious freedom and for the Bible itself took centuries.  Brave men like William Tyndale, were put to death by the Church for trying to give the people access to the scriptures.  Even repeating the Lord’s Prayer in English was punishable by being burned at the stake.

There was a gradual proliferation in the number of church denominations after the Protestant Reformation.  The greater number of denominations eventually led to religious toleration, especially in Britain and its colonies.

In addition, the Church was corrupt at every level, partly because it had no competition and there was no free press to keep it in line.  The pope, the cardinals, the bishops and the clergy were all corrupt at times, a direct result of the claim that the pope was appointed by God and that the Church organization was the only way to salvation.  Even today, the official position of the church is that other churches are “deficient.”

Our ancestors on both sides of the Atlantic fought for centuries to be free of Catholic despotism.  The first British settlers chose to settle in what they named James Town as it was hidden from the sea, from Catholic navies that would kill them all if they could find them.  Eventually, it was the British Royal Navy that secured the Protestant ascendancy and guaranteed religious freedom.

We should all be thankful for competition in the religious marketplace.  If there were only one supermarket chain, the price of everything would go up.  If there was only one church organization, human nature being what it is, we would pay an awful price in loss of freedom and the despotism that would follow.

The Church of Rome may appear to be an angel of light but in the right circumstances it could revert to its old ways.  II Corinthians 11:14 warns:   “And no wonder, for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.”   Our ancestors understood this.

I hope Rick Warren (and the Pope) will do a rethink on church unity.