Michael Interviews Michael… and Pilgrims and American Exceptionalism


Signing of the Mayflower compact

Michael J. Totten interviewed Michael Oren, author of Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present – which appears to be a fascinating book and a must read for everyone interested in this subject.

From the interview:

MJT: So tell us, Michael, why does America’s involvement in the Middle East 200 years ago matter today? What does it have to do with September 11 and Iraq?

Oren: Well it matters, Michael, because many of the same issues that Americans are facing today in the Middle East were confronted by America’s founding fathers – Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, George Washington. For example, they had to confront the issue of state-sponsored terrorism in the Middle East. They had to face a threat to the United States, and decide whether to generate military power and then project that power thousands of miles from the United States. They had to decide whether to involve the United States in an open-ended and rather expensive bloody war in the Middle East. This was, of course, the Barbary War, America’s first overseas military engagement and America’s longest overseas military engagement. It lasted from 1783 to 1815. During the course of this engagement, as my book shows, the United States was confronting a jihadist state-sponsored terrorist network that was taking Americans hostage in the Middle East. It’s very similar to what is going on today.

Read the entire interview, it’s a very interesting read.

For now, however, I would like spend some attention to something that surprised me greatly.

MJT: You wrote about how Americans 200 years ago were thinking of the United States as their own Zion and comparing themselves to the Israelites. This long predates the founding of the state of Israel. This idea is much older than [founder of the Zionist movement] Theodore Herzl.

Oren: Much older. This goes back to the time of the Puritans, to the 17th Century. The Puritans had appropriated the biblical narrative. They saw themselves as the new Israel. They had escaped bondage in England, in Egypt, you know? They crossed the Atlantic Ocean, which was their Sinai. They inherited a promised land, which was the New World. They gave one thousand biblical names to their cities and towns. They gave biblical names to their sons and daughters. They made Hebrew a required language at their universities. James Madison was a Hebrew major.

As a result Americans felt a particular kinship with the old Jews, as though they were sort of cousins. They felt a very strong attachment to the old promised land of Palestine. And they concluded that as good Christians and good Americans it was incumbent on them to help God fulfill his biblical promises to the Jews to rescue them from exile and to restore them to the promised land. This was the notion of Restorationism. It was very common in colonial America well into the 19th Century and even into the 20th Century. And it’s the origin of today’s Evangelical support for Israel.

True enough, no surprises here… at least not to me:

MJT: Fascinating. I had no idea about any of this. Most Americans probably don’t.

Oren: I had no idea about it before I wrote about it.

What? “I had no idea about any of this”? It’s not my intention to insult or attack Michael J. Totten (who I greatly respect) and / or the majority of Americans, but this is amazing. It’s the very root of what is known as American exceptionalism: “City on a hill” and all that.

This is or at least should be basic knowledge. It’s the first thing they teach American Studies students, I assumed that this is something they teach all American high school students as well. Seemingly I was mistaken.

If Michael Totten is right, and I have no reason to believe that he’s not, it’s quite a sad state of affairs. If one wants to understand American society today, one should go back to its roots. To its very foundation.

Here is (part of) an account that’s a must read for all Americans: Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford. You can order it, in book form here.

Bradford was an important man. He arived in the Americas in 1620, on the Mayflower. He and the other Pilgrims settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He was soon elected Governor, etc.

If one reads and analyzes Of Plymouth Plantation, one realizes almost immediately that Bradford does all he can to equate the Pilgrims to the Jews and himself to Moses who led the Jews through the Sinai and into the promised land. One example (chapter IX):

What could now sustain them but the Spirit of God and His grace? May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say “Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and He heard their voice and looked on their adversity,” etc. “Let them therefore praise the Lord, because He is good: and His mercies endure forever.” “Yea, let them which have been redeemed of the Lord, show how He hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor. When they wandered in the desert winderness out of the way, and found no city to dwell in, both hungry and thirsty, their soul was overwhelmed in them. Let them confess before the Lord His loving kindness and His wonderful works before the sons of men.”(2)

My Norton Anthology explains:

1. “And the Egyptians evil entreated us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage: And when we cried unto the Lord God of our fathers, the Lord heard our voice, and looked on our affliction, and our labor and our oppression: And the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand” (Deuteronomy 26:6-8).
2. “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy; And gathered them out of the lands, from the east, and from the west, from the north , and from the south” (Psalm 107:1-5).

Bradford constantly talks about the Pilgrims and, at the same time, the Jews. The reference is deliberate: Moses the redeemer leading the Jews out of Egypt into the promised land = Bradford the redeemer leading the Jews out of England / Europe into the new world.

They have now become God’s Chosen People. They are now important. Bradford has been chosen by God to lead the chosen people (the Pilgrims) into the promised land. It gives them a religious purpose. Obviously, this is very significant to the Pilgrims. They are not just a people… they are exceptional, they are specialAmerican exceptionalism originated from them, from the Pilgrims and from the mythmaking by people like Bradford.

Whenever something good happens, it’s “God’s Providence” – God protects His chosen people.

Also interesting is this:

Having undertaken, for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honor of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, etc.

As my professor pointed out: make no mistake about it, the Pilgrims weren’t as much concerned with religious freedom as with establishing a theocracy based on their views. The religious covenant and civil contract (now the… guess? Constitution) are one and the same. It was not about freedom of religion / worship for everyone. They came for their own view of perfect worship. The only people who had ‘freedom’ where those who adhered to perfect Pilgrim ideology. Dissenters were often expelled and even killed.

What does this also mean? That an atheist could not become Governor (/ leader). Political leaders, civil leaders, were religious leaders as well, since the Pilgrims believed that they should form a holy community.

As we found out yesterday, that situation has not truly changed – most Americans would still never vote for an atheist.

If you want to order Of Plymouth Plantation click on the image below.

Author: michaelvdg