From the 19th century . . . a warning about “popery”

A quick visit to America’s nativist past:

Popery, an enemy to Civil and Religious Liberty and Dangerous to our Republic, by William Craig Brownlee

Dr. William Craig Brownlee was a Dutch Reformed adherent who wrote a number of books in the early 19th century about different religions that were practiced in America.

He obviously was no fan of Roman Catholicism, as the text linked above shows.

But this was no tract crank of the 1800’s. Dr. Brownlee was affiliated with the College of New Jersey, which is known today as Princeton University. From what I understand, he even has a road named after him in Basking Ridge, New Jersey—no hotbed of the KKK, and in fact probably a township with a large plurality of Roman Catholics.

You only need to review the table of contents to get a sense of what Dr. Brownlee was putting forth. And it’s funny, in light of both the church dispute I’ve been talking about. And maybe abortion as a Culture War issue in America, and the 5-4 majority Catholic U.S. Supreme Court, that some of what Dr. Brownlee warned two centuries ago is bearing fruit!

His main argument is rests on the fact that the Pope claimed both spiritual AND temporal power. This means the pope (Bishop of Rome) should be seen by Catholics as both a spiritual authority AND one who should be obeyed on non-spiritual matters here on earth. The non-spiritual matters part was the thing that had Brownlee concerned.

If one pledges allegiance to a Republic, and also to some overseas spiritual leader, which allegiance is the good one?

Now, I think many American Catholics would never even consider the fine points of this. And times and the religion itself changed, especially since Vatican Two.

But intellectually, there is a lot to play with here.

If a religion makes certain demands that its adherents (who Browlee points out are basically forced into the religion through infant baptism) must follow, and at the same time those adherents claim to pledge allegiance to civic norms of a non-sectarian Republic, which standards and mores will truly govern?

Especially when you look at very contemporary America, which seems to represent every darn religious tradition going, and no religion as well.

Now Dr. Brownlee also wrote about the Quakers and any number of other denominations, and to me, in the end, he really just seemed to think the Dutch Reformed were the best. Which might just relegate him to a certain spiritual chauvinism.

But it is indeed a blast from the past when someone 200 years ago in America was pointing out the same kinds of foibles that are now playing in American and Pennsylvania courts.