Sunday, July 3, 2022

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Edmund Burke, on the Religious Dissenting Spirit Behind the American Revolution)

“Religion, always a principle of energy, in this new people is no way worn out or impaired; and their mode of professing it is also one main cause of this free spirit. The people are Protestants; and of that kind which is the most adverse to all implicit submission of mind and opinion. This is a persuasion not only favourable to liberty, but built upon it. I do not think, Sir, that the reason of this averseness in the dissenting churches, from all that looks like absolute government, is so much to be sought in their religious tenets, as in their history. Every one knows that the Roman Catholic religion is at least coeval with most of the governments where it prevails; that it has generally gone hand in hand with them, and received great favour and every kind of support from authority. The Church of England too was formed from her cradle under the nursing care of regular government. But the dissenting interests have sprung up in direct opposition to all the ordinary powers of the world; and could justify that opposition only on a strong claim to natural liberty. Their very existence depended on the powerful and unremitted assertion of that claim. All Protestantism, even the most cold and passive, is a sort of dissent. But the religion most prevalent in our northern colonies is a refinement on the principle of resistance; it is the dissidence of dissent, and the Protestantism of the Protestant religion. This religion, under a variety of denominations agreeing in nothing but in the communion of the spirit of liberty, is predominant in most of the northern provinces; where the Church of England, notwithstanding its legal rights, is in reality no more than a sort of private sect, not composing most probably the tenth of the people. The colonists left England when this spirit was high, and in the emigrants was the highest of all; and even that stream of foreigners, which has been constantly flowing into these colonies, has, for the greatest part, been composed of dissenters from the establishments of their several countries, and have brought with them a temper and character far from alien to that of the people with whom they mixed.”—Anglo-Irish statesman and father of conservatism Edmund Burke (1729-1797), Speech on Conciliation with the Colonies, delivered March 22, 1775

The separation of church and state was one of the most tangled subjects in contemporary debates about government—a fact underscored by the explosion of commentary from both the left and right, much of it unhelpful, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade.

It would be a stretch to say, as many on the right would have it, that America was founded as an explicitly “Christian nation.”

But habits of mind formed in Americans’ religious practice—principally, those related to resistance to “all implicit submission of mind and opinion”—lay at the heart of American colonists’ increasing alienation from England, and those instincts would make it impossible for the Mother Country to continue to impose punitive legislation on the colonists, warned Edmund Burke.

One month before British troops clashed with the Americans at Lexington and Concord, this father of modern conservatism cautioned the House of Commons about the futility of coercion. A key part of his argument against force was the temperament of the colonists in their environment. British North America, he noted, was disproportionately composed of "dissenters from the establishments of their several countries."

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