Sunday, April 08, 2007

Know Them By Their Fruits

Sarah Warren Osborne (c. 1643–May 10, 1692) was my ancestor. She was also one of the first three women to be accused of witchcraft in the Salem witch trials of 1692. She was certainly not the last. Sarah was a sick woman without power who came to grief over a disagreement with powerful in-laws of her first husband about land. She hadn't been to church in two or three years, because of an illness which kept her bedridden. Additionally, she had married her indentured servant, Alexander Osborne, an action which was not approved of. Some sources say that there were questions about the propriety of their relationship before their marriage.

Accused in early 1692, Sarah died in jail on May 10, waiting for her verdict. She was one of at least five people who died in prison; 20 were executed (14 women, 6 men) and around 200 were imprisoned. When we add to these victims, the thousands of mostly old women who were tried, tortured, and killed in Europe, we get a taste of what happens when there is no wall between church and state. Although the theocracy which ruled in Salem was Puritan and the theocracy which ruled in Europe was often Catholic, the results of giving the power of the state to the church was the same for helpless old women on both sides of the Atlantic. And then there were the victims of the Spanish Inquisition. And today we can look to countries practicing Sharia law for continuing persecution and murder of people, again mostly women, who do not conform to the theocrats in charge.

The Founders were not ignorant of this history. They were well aware of what can happen when the church gets entangled in the state. They passed the First Amendment in order to protect this country from the hubris that develops when the head of state believes that God is on his side, that he has a divine right to rule as he will.

These days we are skirting very close to the danger that the Founders worked so hard to avoid. We already have an administration which regards faith as more important than fact and a president who has said that he has been appointed by God. As scandal piles on top of scandal, we see only the beginnings of what can happen when government officials are chosen because they meet the test of religion rather than either experience or competence.


Anvilcloud said...

That's quite a family history and a rather tragic one.

Deja Pseu said...

I never fail to be impressed by your ancestors. Some amazing women in your family tree.

And what the would-be theocrats never seems to be willing to answer (or agree on) is whose version of Christianity would rule the land. The Founding Fathers had fresh history of the bloodshed in Europe from the Protestant vs. Catholic wars and purges when they drafted the Constitution and First Ammendment. Even today when you have the Dobson's of the world saying this or that politician isn't a "real Christian" it doesn't take a Founding Father to see that any attempt to establish a state religion would only lead to oppression and bloodshed.

Rain said...

Good post. I see the parallels too and it's scary. Lies have more power than truth when they suit certain people's egos.

AlwaysQuestion said...

Whenever I hear people going on about our nation's (Puritan) roots in religious freedom and tolerance I am mindful that their first act was to establish a theocracy that was utterly intolerant of any diversity of religion or thought.
Shouting a thing from a pulpit doesn't make it so.

joared said...

I, too, believe a theocracy poses great dangers for the people in any nation. I have been concerned that our country has been coming dangerously close to having one. I sent out alarms some years ago to my adult children that this was something their generation would need to be on guard against.

Interesting history about your ancestors and relationship traced to the Salem witch trials. In the scheme of life, that wasn't too many years ago.