Friday, November 18, 2011

Even so, I still love the Pilgrims

A famous painting of the pilgrims.  I always liked this one, perhaps owing to
it being used in my first grade class when we studied Thanksgiving.
History is a tough nut to crack.  Ultimately, we only have a few facts here and there with gaping holes in between.  Into those holes goes a multitude of opinions, agendas, biases, prejudices, and ideals.  Sometimes we are aware of these ad libs, sometimes we aren't.  But it's always a difficult thing to get right unless you are really trying, and you are really honest with yourself. 

The pilgrims, the ones from Thanksgiving that is, are a perfect case in point.  As I've blogged about here, and here, and here, the holiday soon to be formerly known as Thanksgiving is already fading from its once lofty perch.  This perch actually increased in popularity for a time as PC sensitivities and censorship eliminated the last vestiges of that holiday based on the birth of He-whose-name-we-cannot-mention, leaving a void in the family and friends and special memories category of American culture.

But alas, as liberalism has faded into the post-Western, post-American secular Left, even it has begun to be pushed aside.  We still have this day, which can still be mentioned as important for family, for days off of work (when non-unionized companies still allow it), and especially as the spring board for the first Holy Day of Wall Street: Black Friday.  Soon it will be Black Thursday as the only real reason left for it to exist will be to buttress the profit margins of our annual frenzy of consumerism and commercialism. 

As for the original story?  Well that's gone the same way as that other story about some baby in a manger so long ago.  For the most part, it's ignored.  If we're lucky it's ignored.  In keeping with the dictates of multi-cultural education, we often hear about the evil legacy, the racism, the imperialism, the fanaticism, the zealotry and intolerance, the sheer corruption of heart and mind that infected every man, woman, and child that came from the ship of death, the Mayflower.  The American Indians, are, of course, portrayed as pure, caring, loving, perfect, sinless, flawless, and living at one with one another, all visitors, and Mother Earth. 

This is the unbalanced answer to a problem that never really existed in the first place.  Under the auspices that Americans never admitted to their own sins of the past, and always portrayed everyone else as the bad guys, MCPC propaganda has felt the need to overemphasise the opposite.  Of course Americans did admit to their past, did give credit at times where it was due, and often have been able to balance between going overboard with nation worship on one side, with nation abuse on the other.  Admitting that, as Chesterton once said, love of country shouldn't be like saying 'my mother, drunk or sober', there was a time when they also realized it shouldn't be the same as 'my mother, drunken bitch, let her die.' 

Unfortunately, we've been focused on the sins, the bad, the failings, the flaws and shortcomings of our history over the last sixty years to such a degree, that many now see nothing of value in our past.  Any old celebrations are by default a celebration of evil.  Therefore there is nothing old worth keeping, nothing traditional worth saving.  When the old America has burned to ashes, what will arise will be a superior nation living up to the true ideals of our country's founding, living at peace with a world that has only awaited the advent of the generation that will set it right.

Because of this rather silly and asinine approach to our country and its heritage, there is little hope that the story of a band of religious practitioners so passionate about their faith they were willing to risk life and limb to set up a new life in a forbidding wilderness, will be remembered in another decade or so.  What is remembered now is mostly the bad.  That these followers made friends with the native population, established a treaty that lasted almost fifty years, and managed to endure hardships beyond our wildest dreams, is already lost on most young people today, and not a few older folks.

And it's not just those rascally post-moderns.  I've certainly been saddened by the number of Catholic apologists who enjoy taking potshots at the folks of Plymouth Rock.  I know, I know.  There actually was a strong Catholic presence in the New World long before the Mayflower came to town.  It wouldn't hurt if more Americans knew this.  Most only know the Catholic Church was here to support the Conquistadors.  Realizing that the Catholic Mass was already practiced when the Separatists were only beginning to feel unwelcome in England would do all Americans some good. 

But that doesn't mean we should toss out the pilgrims with the bathwater.  First, there is an incredible legacy of sacrifice and passion for the Gospel that wouldn't exactly hurt your average Christian in America, c. 2010 to emulate.  And that includes Catholics.  There is also that tradition of rebellion, of revolution, that the pilgrims brought with them and planted in the ground along with the rows of corn.  That seed would grow and grow and lay the groundwork for a mentality that bore fruit in the late 18th century in the form of the United States of America.  For all its flaws, a country founded on trying to do the best it can.  There's a reason the revolution began in the part of the colonies descended from the Pilgrims, and not in the South, or in other parts of the colonies of other countries.

And of course there is a little lesson I learned as a Protestant.  One of the developments that aided me in my pilgrimage back to Catholicism was the realization on the part of some Protestant scholars and apologists that we are living in an anti-Christian world.  Even if folk don't want to kill us, it doesn't mean they want our Faith around.  And as non-Christian morphed into post-Christian and then into anti-Christian, it became increasingly difficult to separate between Protestant this and Catholic that.  So they realized that each time a Protestant apologist lambasted the Catholic Church because of the Inquisition, or the Witch Burnings, or the Crusades, or any one of a thousand things Protestants have blamed the Church for over the years, the rest of the world merely heard 'Followeres of Jesus burned witches, tortured heretics, slaughtered infidels.'  There was no longer a separation between Protestants and Catholics.  To slam the Catholic Faith was to slam the Christian Faith.  And therefore, they began backing off, defending the Church, reexamining some  of the old tales about Catholic horrors, and generally trying to portray a more positive history of the Faith.

Hello Catholics.  That goes the other way.  As fun as it might be to point out the flaws of the Pilgrims, to focus on the general terrors of America and link them to those rascally English Protestants, to attempt to diminish the story or the contributions of those seeking religious freedom, just remember this: each time a finger is pointed at Protestant Christianity, the rest of the world steps in and bends the other three right back to the Church.  I think of this when I remember articles I've read over the last few years.  Sometimes former Protestant converts are the worst.  As if trashing and dismissing the contribution and the role of the Pilgrims is some rite of passage, they can do the Pilgrims worse than any post-American God hating secularist.

So for me, Catholic though I am, I still love the Pilgrims.  They lived their faith.  Were they perfect?  No.  Neither were the Indians.  Neither were the Catholics.  Neither are they today.  And that includes any atheists who might be reading.  I needn't ignore the bad in order to appreciate the good.  If I demand perfection before I admire someone, then I had best provide perfection myself.  And I'm afraid I can't do that.  Therefore, I can look back and see the tangled mess and complex story that was the Pilgrims, the Mayflower, Plymouth Rock, and the first Thanksgiving, and give thanks that Christians such as those actually stepped forth and lived their faith.  They put it all on the line.  They did what far too few today could ever boast - they risked their lives for what they believed.  And they brought a spiritual emphasis and revolutionary spirit to a land that, for all it's flaws, became a beacon of light for humanity that has helped bring the promise of what can be to people around the world. 

So thank you Pilgrims, and thank you God, that through your blessings and grace, they were able to survive those first years and leave the seeds of a witness that the Church today so desperately needs to pick up and run with.  May we all stop pointing fingers at those who have gone before, and instead live in such a way that will inspire others four hundred years from now.  After all, despite all attempts to diminish their legacy, it still lives on.  Happy Thanksgiving pilgrims, American Indians, and all who look to learn the best from our past so that we can contribute the best to our future.

(this is a repost originally posted last year I thought was worth repeating)


  1. Yes, we should all remember the sacrifices that have gone into making America. We are diverse people, who should look back and remember this Thanksgiving that the thanks that was given was to God for bringing them through the tough times as well as sending them Indian friends that helped them learn how to survive in this land.
    The Pilgrims were not just thankful for a few things or thankful for the food set before them. They were thankful that they had life still in their being and they could face another day knowing they would live to see it.
    They lived one day at a time. They were thankful each and every day, but they set time aside to say special thanks to God and to those who helped them survive. We should realize in this day and age with so many struggling to make ends meet that we live in a country founded on the backs of hardship and suffering. We are a strong people from the foundation of our "new world" America - Land of the Free, the Home of the BRAVE.

  2. Very well said yourself. This is sad but true. I don't know if the elimination of the holiday is as near as you suggest, but then I didn't imagine thirty years ago the mention of Jesus would be barred from polite discourse. These posts have made me realize that the world we inherited is passing, and a new world is emerging. Whether Christians can influence it or not remains to be seen. For now, we must enjoy what we can.

  3. Yes - old things are passing away. I wish we could save it all for our kids. keeping the memories alive is all we can do. Traditions that we have grown up with are something to cherish as well. We should keep that alive for our kids and thier kids and their kids kids if we possibly can.


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