July 21st, 2011 09:54 EST
Why Do We Tout Jamestown and Plymouth Over Tolerant New Amsterdam?
When you live in the Hudson Valley of New York, as I do, you`re acutely aware of Dutch influence on American culture. And if you have a contemplative turn of mind you might wince at the linguistic abuses heaped upon the Dutch by Anglocentrism "going Dutch, Dutch courage, Dutch uncle, Dutch treat, and so on.
But a more grievous aspect of this Anglocentrism has been the historical marginalization of New Amsterdam, now New York, in favor of the later English colonies, Plymouth and Jamestown.
I`m indebted to Russell Shorto`s Island at The Center of the World and to DelanceyPlace.com for this meditation. A recent DelanceyPlace essay about The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell invited me to think how readily we have bent history to suit ideology. Take the issue of religiosity. How little the religiosity of the right squares with Christianity. Like Nazi eugenicists rummaging through scientific theory to justify quack ideas, the American right cherry-picks theology to justify its hard-heartedness and contempt for all who do not look like first cousins.
In a similar way the impact of tolerant and multi-ethnic New Amsterdam was downgraded to celebrate the more intolerant and homogenous colonies of Plymouth and Jamestown.
The political and religious right espouses the apologist of greed and selfishness, Ayn Rand, whose ideas can`t be reconciled with Christianity. It seeks to base our economy on them while extolling the virtues of early America, land of the Pilgrims` pride.
But what vision did the Pilgrims hold for America? Not that of this angry, bullying right. We are reminded of that by the article in DelanceyPlace.com, always a place for thoughtfulness.
The Plymouth landing party, victims of intolerance, did not hold forth a tolerant, multi-ethnic society, as did the Dutch in New Amsterdam, but neither did they envision a new world of corporate oppression and inhumanity.
Their stay in The Netherlands as refugees from England`s persecution seemingly did not imbue them with the spirit of Dutch tolerance. Nonetheless, they envisioned a society that is far from what the deficit hawks in Washington are working to create.
John Winthrop, leader of the refugees who would establish the Massachusetts Bay Colony, delivered a sermon in 1630 that is today widely considered one of America`s most visionary documents. It was called A Model of Christian Charity. In it Winthrop focuses on the impossible idea that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. How can this be squared with our Randian craze to parse society into winners and losers?
Standing in front of his shipmates, who would endure awful hardships, Winthrop confronts the Sermon on the Mount, those astonishing ideas that no man can espouse while espousing Ayn Rand or indeed most of the unsympathetic policies of the Tea Party. The Pilgrims were refugees, losers. They did not belong here. They were illegals, as far as the Native Americans were concerned, and yet today a right wing that celebrates our European roots, not our native heritage, seeks to round up the illegals and send them packing. In other words, might makes right. The Europeans had the might to oppress the natives and their incontestable right to be here and so they did. Today`s right-wingers propose to use the same means to remove refugees who, like the Pilgrims, seek freedom and a better life. And if they have to run roughshod over their avowed Christian beliefs, so be it.
Winthrop, a political "not a religious "leader, understood that Christianity makes unreasonable, even irrational demands, but his faith in it was such that he exhorted his fellows to remember they were Christians first and European invaders and land-grabbers second. Today`s Christian right seems to regard their religion as a propaganda tool, handy when compatible with their aims, but a disposable nuisance in its most amazing aspects. And here are two points worth making: Christianity is amazing and trickle-down economics is sleazy. The problem with Christianity is that it can only be squared with capitalism when capitalism makes heroic efforts to care for the unfortunate, exactly what Ayn Rand and her Tea Party idolators urge us to look away from.
Winthrop`s sermon presaged Martin Luther King Jr. in 1957: So this morning, as I look into your eyes and into the eyes of all my brothers in Alabama and all over America , and over the world, I say to you, I love you. I would rather die than hate you. "
Think about that when you read the next smart-ass comment about Sarah Palin`s Paul Revere gaffe or Congressman Anthony Weiner`s sorry fall from grace. Jumping up and down with glee at the discomfort of others is not what Winthrop or King had in mind. Taking pleasure in the discomfort of others is hardly a Christian trait, but nobody but hypocrites ever called our press or politics Christian.
Man is commanded to love his neighbor as himself, " the nation`s first governor told his companions. Then he quotes Matthew: Love your enemies " do good to them that hate you. " And Romans: If thine enemy hunger, feed him. "
But our Christian right isn`t even willing to feed or love our own poor, much less our enemies.
Winthrop was soon to be accused of being soft on crime and the Native Americans. A decade of Dutch hospitality and tolerance had not made the Pilgrims either hospitable or charitable, and it`s remarkable, as Russell Shorto has pointed out in Island at the Center of the World, that we celebrate narrow and intolerant Jamestown and Plymouth more than that earlier and much more tolerant and inclusive colony, New Amsterdam.
We have invented our story and we`re sticking to it, no matter how it conflicts with our avowed beliefs and ideals.
Djelloul Marbrook`s first book, Far from Algiers (Kent State University Press, 2008) won the 2007 Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize and the 2010 International Book Award in poetry. Artists` Hill, an excerpt from his unpublished novel, Crowds of One, won the 2008 Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction. Artemisia`s Wolf, a novella, was published by Prakash Books of India early in 2011. Alice Miller`s Room, a novella, was published in 1999 by OnlineOriginals.com (UK) as an e-book, and Bliss Plot Press of Woodstock, NY, recently published his novella, Saraceno, as an e-book. Orbis (UK), Smashwords.com, Potomac Review (Maryland) and Prima Materia (New York). His second book of poems is Brushstrokes and Glances (Deerbrook Editions, 2010). Recent poems were published by American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, Oberon, Meadowland Review, The Same, Reed, The Ledge, Poemeleon, Poets Against War, Fledgling Rag, Daylight Burglary, Le Zaporogue, Atticus, Long Island Quarterly, ReDactions, Istanbul Literary Review, Arabesques Literary and Cultural Review, Damazine, Perpetuum Mobile, Attic, and Chronogram. A retired newspaper editor and Navy veteran, he lives in Germantown, NY, with his wife Marilyn, and has lifelong ties to Woodstock.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com