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The American founders and religious passion.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about how important the repression or at least marginalization of religious passion was to political thinkers in the 16 and 1700s. This was because of the “100 years” of religious and civil wars in Europe in the 1500s. While Europeans are generally educated about their own history and know that this is the reason they tend to be aloof from organized religion, Americans have never understood the central role resistance to religious fanaticism played in the foundation of the United States. (This, of course, is ironic given that Puritans were a significant cultural force in the founding of the culture – if not the politics per se. We can think of the Puritan aspect of the culture as a “virus” in relation to the political aspect of this culture. The religious conservative in the post-1989-post-Enlightenment era must decide which aspect of the culture they stand in principle for and with. They cannot be both a patriot and religiously zealous.) The most basic insight of the American founders was this: Do not take sides among any groups in which either side has intense religious passion behind it. The Americans have abided by this rule very well within their own borders. This is what “Freedom of religion” is really about politically. But in the last 50 years, starting after WWII, it has been continually taking sides in the Middle East – with both Israel as well as oil states generally. It is going against one of the basic rules its own founders warned against. Do not inflame religious passions.

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