Well, what do you know….


“Our country’s founders left England because they didn’t want to be Catholics. They wanted freedom of religion and that’s why our country was created. That’s why our money says ‘In God We Trust” and anyone who doesn’t like it can go live elsewhere!”

This little outburst, reported verbatim, was directed at a friend of mine because he was reading about the Abbasid Caliphate, otherwise known as the Golden Age of Islamic Culture. My friend, an artist and educator, wanted to know more about the development particularly of Islamic textile and ceramic design, because without a doubt the tradition has some of the most remarkable mathematical repeat patterns in history.

Let’s leave the inherent bigotry of this remark for later; because right now I want to consider the difference between knowledge and belief.

Doubtless my friend’s colleague believed that she was right when she said that the country’s founders fled England to escape Catholicism. She may have believed it, but she was wrong.  

The first permanent colony at Jamestown Virginia, was founded by merchant adventurers who were looking to find gold or otherwise make money.  It was another four years before the Massachusetts Bay colony was founded by the so-called Pilgrims, who left England not because of the Catholics but because of the Protestants. The Reformation in England had begun a full ninety years before the Pilgrims sailed, and the Protestant Church of England had been the established national church for sixty-two years before the settlement at Plymouth Rock. This is established historical fact.

Were the Pilgrims religious dissenters? Yes, certainly. Did they come to the New World for religious freedom? Not really. They had already found that in the Netherlands, but they wanted to keep their English customs and language so they moved to Massachusetts. It is worth remembering, that Maryland was founded by Catholics in search of Religious freedom from the Protestants of England.

Belief, by definition, is thinking something is true with or without actual evidence to back it up. Knowledge, on the other hand, comes from either personal experience (empirical knowledge) and knowledge gained by study or from teachers. The knowledge gained from study or from teachers is valued if the teacher is a recognized, reliable source. So my friend was learning about the Abbasid Caliphate by reading a book by a recognized specialist in that area of history.

This country as a country was the result of a revolution against arbitrary political power. It had nothing to do with Catholics or any other religious group. The motto of the USA was originally ‘E Pluribus Unum”  – From Many, One;  not In God We Trust.  The founders of the country, like the original colonists were people from all kinds of backgrounds who wanted to make sure that bigots couldn’t say, “If you don’t like it here, go somewhere else.” Because the country consisted of people who had already come from somewhere else to escape that kind of shit.

“How can you believe that book (On the Golden Age of Islam) and yet you don’t believe the Bible is history?” My friend’s colleague went on. Well, for the simple reason that the bible isn’t history, any more than ‘Gone With the Wind’ is history. They are both based on history, but aren’t history per se. There’s a lot of history in there, but there is a lot of stuff that we know, from historical records and physical evidence just isn’t factual. Historians who have studied the history of the bible have good reasons to mistrust the bible as history. Just because place names in the bible still exist does not mean that the events described are accurate. For goodness sakes, people don’t think Spiderman is accurate just because it is set in New York City.

Believe what you want as long as it does no harm, but remember that belief is NOT knowledge. And belief based on misinformation does not compete with knowledge based on verifiable fact when we are talking about the real world.

Goodness knows we have enough information to show that the Catholic church, the Protestant denominations, and the Pilgrim fathers were all a bunch of dicks in their times, because they did horrible things to people who disagreed with them. Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams because the Puritans of Massachusetts were such bigots. The Puritans didn’t want religious freedom. They wanted the freedom to tell people who disagreed with them to go somewhere else. That’s why they came to America. These things are facts.

Just like it is a fact that the founders (whoever that may refer to) did not come to this country to escape Catholicism.

Don’t be afraid of knowledge if it goes against what you believe. And especially don’t make the mistake of thinking your belief has the same weight in a discussion of the real world as verifiable knowledge. Because you end up being a dick.

My friend’s colleague was one step away from acting like a dick. Maybe closer.

And here’s a piece of empirical knowledge: The fewer dicks there are in this world, the better it is for everyone.


The Pilgrim Fathers image is by Charles Lucy (1814 – 1873) There are, by the way, too many Pilgrim Mothers in this picture. Only four survived the crossing in the Mayflower.


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