to be free.
Published on October 27, 2005 By Larry Kuperman In History
I don't watch a lot of TV and when I do, it tends to be sports. But I recently came across an OUTSTANDING show called "Destination America" on PBS. Check out the link.

The episode that I watched chronicled the flight to America of two groups that came for religious freedom and found it. The title of the episide was "The Earth is the Lord's" and the groups discussed were the Anabaptists (better known as the Mennonites and the Amish) and the Chasidic Jews. The Anabaptists (and this is a name given to the group by outsiders) " regarded the Bible as their only rule for faith and life. Because of their radical beliefs, the Anabaptists were persecuted by other Protestants as well as by Roman Catholics." That quote is from the Anabaptist Mennonite site. Their sect grew in popularity during the religious wars in Europe and was attacked by both Catholics and Protestants. Civil authorities persecuted them because of their belief in the primacy of "Gods laws." They fled to America for freedom and have prospered in the colony founded by William Penn, Pennsylvania.

Chadism (or Hasidism) is also based on the strict interpretation of the Bible. It has it's roots in Poland and Eastern Europe and should properly be considered a form of mysticism. It opposed Rabbinic Judaism. The founder of the Chasidic movement was Israel ben Eliezer, referred to as the Ba'al Shem Tov or Besht. They are NOT the same as Orthodox Jews and faced animosity not only from non-Jews, but from other Jews as well. Many Chasidic communities were wiped out during the Holocaust. The survivors fled to either Israel (if they were allowed in by the British) or America. Today, many Chasidic communities prosper in the US.

In both cases the groups chose to live "apart" from mainstream society. In Europe, they were punished, persecuted and sometimes killed for doing so. In America, they thrived.

The PBS program is well-done. It added a contemporary story of a woman named Tsering, who is a follower of the Dalai Lama and fled to New York in 2000. The part on the Anabaptist movement included an interview with John Ruth, a minister and historian who is a descendant of Hans Landis, the last Anabaptist martyr.

If you read my earlier blogs on religion, you know that I am a Secularist. That does NOT mean that I am anti-religious by any means. All should be free to follow their own faith as long as I am allowed to follow mine. But I found this episode nothing short of inspirational.

on Oct 28, 2005

ANd they were just 2 of the many groups that came here to escape religious persecution.  The Quakers of Pennsylvania, Pilgrims in Massachusettes, Catholics in Maryland (Yea Catholics!  England did not cotton to them back in those days).

There are some stains on America's soul, but the medals that she wears far outnumber and outweigh them, and religious freedom has always been a very important one.

on Oct 28, 2005
You are right, Dr. Guy. These are only two of many groups.