Friday, November 15, 2013

Protestors Ignore Historical Truth

The textbook causing the fuss
Recently, a group of local residents descended on the Volusia County (Fla.) School Board to protest use of a history book, which they insist, promotes Islam.  So many people showed up the first time the issue was to be debated that the school board cancelled the session over “security” fears.  That only infuriated opponents even more, who labeled the offending chapter a “love fest” that ignores other religions and real “truth” about Islam.

The protesters shouldn’t have stopped with the Islamic chapter.  They should have considered all parts of the book, which, like most American histories, ignores the facts and softens all the lumps in our past to create homogenized pap.

Take Thanksgiving for example.  That’s the next major holiday on the calendar.  Schoolchildren learn that the Puritans fled England for religious freedom, ended up in Massachusetts instead of the intended Virginia and survived with the help of a friendly Indian, Squanto.  The next year, the cheerful folks dressed in somber black-and-white clothing hosted a great feast to thank God for their survival in the harsh winter and invited the Indians.

Sounds nice, right?  It’s just not true.
Arriving Puritans

Yes, the Puritans left England to seek religious freedom, but only for themselves.  They considered the Indians pagan savages.  They resented and opposed anyone who came to Massachusetts with different views, punishing and even killing Quakers and members of other Protestant sects.

One of their prominent ministers, Roger Williams, ran afoul of their narrow, bigoted views and was forced to leave Massachusetts in the winter.  Only the pagan Indians helped him survive.   Deeply moved by their kindness, Williams started a colony now called Rhode Island, and placed in the charter the right of religious freedom.

Meanwhile, the good Puritans busily kept killing the natives, either with diseases carried in their clothing and in their animals or with their guns. 

Squanto, who did help them, had been kidnapped in 1607 as boy and taken back to England.  He learned English there, came back to the New World, was captured by a British slave trader and sold to the Spanish.  Eventually, he managed to get back to England and wangled a trip back to Massachusetts.  He finally got home in 1619, only to find that European diseases had left him as the sole survivor.

Moreover, the first Thanksgiving didn’t take place after the Puritans survived their first winter in 1620.  It occurred in 1637 to thank God following the successful massacre of an estimated 700 unprepared and defenseless native men, women and children in a nearby Pequot village.  The Puritans had been outraged after finding a dead settler in his boat.  They blamed the Pequot and went off on a murderous spree.

The next day, William Bradford, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, issued a proclamation calling for:

This day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanksgiving for subduing the Pequot.

Besides, the “uncivilized” natives already held an annual Thanksgiving, a custom that predated the Puritan meal by hundreds of years.  Today, Native Americans understandably call our Thanksgiving a “national day of mourning.”

That’s the kind of history American children never study.  They’ll learn even less if the protesters have their way.  By raising objections to an already sanitized text, all they are doing is revealing their bigotry.  The only cure for that scourge is knowledge.

Here’s one fact that the protesters then need to learn:  the history text books in question already have seven chapters on Christianity and Judaism, and only one on Islam.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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