The library where Ashley works subscribes to a fascinating magazine called Liberty, which is primarily concerned with issues of religious freedom. It didn’t seem like my sort of thing at first, but the writers of Liberty aren’t the right-wing alarmists that have spent the last forty years crowing about the lack of compulsory prayer in public school, or the world-ending potential of legalized gay marriage; the writers of Liberty reconcile religion with reason, and the result is one of the most interesting magazines I’ve come across lately. From their Declaration of Principles:
Attempts to unite church and state are opposed to the interests of each, subversive of human rights and potentially persecuting in character; to oppose union, lawfully and honorably, is not only the citizen’s duty but the essence of the Golden Rule–to treat others as one wishes to be treated.
Their most recent issue is devoted to religion and politics, and features a profile of a truly admirable man that, for some reason, I had never heard of. I remember studying Jonathan Edwards in high school and reading his hateful fire and brimstone sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” but I never read or heard a thing about John Leland.
Leland was of the generation that followed Edwards. He was a Baptist minister in Massachusetts and Virginia during the late 18th and early 19th centuries who called continually for separation of religion and politics, and religious tolerance – no, not “tolerance,” Leland abhorred the idea of tolerance: “The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence; whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”
Here’s another quote from Leland, this one on the subject of religion and politics:
Guard against those men who make a great noise about religion in choosing representatives. . . . It is electioneering intrigue. If they knew the nature and worth of religion, they would not debauch it to such shameful purposes. . . .
If pure religion is the criterion to denominate candidates, those who make a noise about it must be rejected; for their wrangle about it proves that they are void of it. Let honesty, talents and quick dispatch characterize the men of your choice.
Tell me why students study a fanatic like Edwards, then, while a voice for reason and religious equality like Leland’s is completely ignored. The Liberty article is here, if you want to read it yourself. Minister, advocate for religious freedom, friend to Thomas Jefferson, deliverer of mammoth cheeses – John Leland was quite a guy. The Founding Fathers got him and we get fucking D. James Kennedy. That’ll take the piss outta ya.