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John M. Barry's "God, Government, and Roger Williams' Big Idea" was published in the January 2012 issue of Smithsonian. Essentially, Barry argues that Roger Williams, first by virtue of his dispute with the government of Massachusetts, then by persuading Parliament to approve his charter of Rhode Island, which included a stipulation for religious freedom, helped establish the principle, and set the terms of the debate over the proper role of religion in American life:
The dispute defined for the first time two fault lines that have run through American history ever since. The first, of course, is over the proper relation between government and what man has made of God—the church. The second is over the relation between a free individual and government authority—the shape of liberty.
The article, which is condensed from Barry's recent book Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul, also praises Williams for his highly controversial treatise entitled The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution in Cause of Conscience in support of nearly absolute religious tolerance, and briefly summarizes the historiographical debate over Winthrop's role in developing the principle of religious liberty. Many historians argue that Williams' thought was far less influential on American conceptions of religious freedom than that of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Barry, though his article does not explicitly state it, seems to want to draw a direct line between Williams and later Americans like Jefferson.
"Williams believed that preventing error in religion was impossible, for it required people to interpret God’s law, and people would inevitably err. He therefore concluded that government must remove itself from anything that touched upon human beings’ relationship with God. A society built on the principles Massachusetts espoused would lead at best to hypocrisy, because forced worship, he wrote, “stincks in God’s nostrils.” At worst, such a society would lead to a foul corruption—not of the state, which was already corrupt, but of the church."
There is a contridiction in this paragraph. "He therefore concluded that government must remove itself from anything that touched upon human beings’ relationship with God." Government cannot be invoved in the church becuase human politics with currupt it, He did not care about forcing worship on others, he just did not belief that non-believers should fake it. stincks in God’s nostrils” was taken out of context. He din't care about the state becuase it was already beyond saving, only the church.
Except Jefferson's aim for the so-called seperation between church and state was to protect the state from being ruled by the church (avoid a theocracy), Williams wanted to protect the church from the bloody mess of politics. He didn't care about about keeping the chuch out of the state, he wanted to keep the state out of the church. His motivation was to denounce the hypocrocy of the additude and actions of the christains not to defend and demand religious liberty. I've read Barry's book, and the first six chapters are speculative at best; they are poorly cited and do not line up with the historical context. Why did Williams become a puriatn? Barry doesn't know, but it is a historical enigma. Barry explains how "infuencial" Coke and Bacon were to Williams but neither of them would have pushed him toards the sepeartist beliefs of the puritans. His book is not really based in historical scholarship!
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