Saturday, June 28, 2008

a society founded on protest

The common ancestor of Barak Obama and Dick Cheney turns out to be a French Huguenot named Duvall or Devau who settled in 17th century Maryland... Interestingly the name Cheney itself is of French origin, but since so many Americans don't know the French word for "oak", they fail to make that connection.

Along similar lines it turns out that billionaire Warren Buffett and tropical crooner Jimmy Buffett are distant cousins, although the former is proudly Huguenot whereas the latter was raised deep in the bayou as a Catholic...

It's time to recognize that the dichotomies "French-English" and "Catholic-Protestant" are at least partly illusory... Scratch an Anglo hard enough and you'll find a Frenchman -- usually a Protestant of Edict of Nantes vintage. And Protestants by definition are ex-Catholics... who the hell else are they protesting against?

Unlike ancestry, nationality can be a conscious choice. Just as millions of people for all kinds of reasons chose to emigrate to America, millions of Huguenots emigrated to England, Switzerland, Holland, South Africa and the U.S. to retain their freedom. The fatal flaw of the French Empire was its "Catholics-only" policy, which of course blew up in its face. In a way the whole Anglo-American enterprise could be construed as payback for that bad policy.

So unlike ancestry but more like nationality, to be Protestant -- that is, to protest the Catholic Church -- is a conscious choice. Yes, it's also the cultural proclivity of northern Europeans, but really any thinking person is free to become Protestant. Conversely when societies "fall asleep" -- that is to say, forget how to reflect because they're too busy procreating, dying, and struggling to survive -- they tend to become subsumed in waves of Catholicism. The modern day U.S. is the prime example of this, with its William F. Buckley conservatism, its deification of law enforcement and military service, and sloppy confusion of church and state. But make no mistake: nothing is farther from the original design of the United States as outlined in the owners manual.


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