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Roger Williams statue, Rhode Island

Roger Williams statue, Rhode Island

 

This is a statue of Roger Williams.

Roger Williams left England and went to America in the 1600s.

He was a Puritan, and deeply committed to his religious beliefs.

As someone who writes from a strongly secular standpoint, you might expect me to have some criticism lined-up for Roger Williams.

But no.

You see, old Roger did not force his religious worldview on others.  Mr. Williams believed that his God could only be found through what he called “soul liberty” – if a person didn’t find a way to this God all by themselves, no one had a right to force their own version of religious belief down anyone’s throat.

Mr. Roger Williams invented the political concept of the separation of church and state in America, in a time and place where speaking-out in such a way meant exile, prison, or even death.

Mr. Williams wrote letters denouncing the very King of England himself, for claiming sovereignty over Native American lands. Mr. Williams spent a good deal of time respectfully learning to speak the local Algonquian tongue, and insisted that settlers must fairly purchase any land on which they settled, as it was the rightful home of the Wampanoag, Narragansett, and Pequot nations.

Roger Williams was perhaps the first European settler in America to denounce, and attempt to prohibit, the enslavement of fellow human beings.

Roger Williams did indeed find himself in trouble with what we now call “vested interests”, and facing imprisonment, he fled from Massachusetts to found the settlement of Providence, which would later become the capital city of the tiny state of Rhode Island.

For a few brief years, before becoming a den of capitalism and slave traders, Providence was a beacon to tolerance and human dignity.

“Tolerance”.

To tolerate means to allow space for the existence of thoughts with which we might not agree. We are now in a place where expressing a clear preference or dislike for just about any aspect of human culture is liable to lead to accusations of various “…isms” or “…phobias”.

To criticise aspects of various religions, cultures, or ideologies is not automatically “hate speech” – especially if we are not advocating for the removal of basic human rights from the people we criticise. Criticising while “tolerating” should be a fundamental skill for any member of a civic society.

There are many in America today – on both the left and right – who cannot seem to comprehend the irony of demanding “free speech” if this freedom of speech is used to advocate for reducing the freedom of others to speak.

It is rather like demanding the right to bear arms, in order to be allowed to shoot anyone we don’t like.

I am a man of no faith. But this deeply religious man, Roger Williams, would get a seat at my dinner table any day, if it were possible to span the centuries.

He EARNED a place in memory.  He earned a statue.

I’ll leave with a few of the man’s own words spoken in defence of the humanity of indigenous Americans…

“Boast not proud English, of thy birth & blood;
Thy brother Indian is by birth as Good.
Of one blood God made Him, and Thee and All,
As wise, as fair, as strong, as personal.”

 

#rogerwilliams #tolerance

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