The Religious Roots of North American Politics
Almost overnight, United States policy makers became deeply preoccupied with political events in Central America in the late 1970s. Because the United States has immense economic and military power, it is in a position to exert strong influence over such events; consequently, the precepts and prejudices that U.S. leaders bring to Central American policy can have great impact on the region's political development. Following other writers, we contend that U.S. leaders lack historical perspective on the present crisis. We further argue that they lack a sense of the origins and heritage of the United States' own development as a democratic nation. Hence, these leaders do not appreciate the important role played by a religious revolution in generating the democratic tradition that so benefited North Americans, nor do they draw from their own colonial heritage lessons applicable to Central America.
In order to see how the present political crisis in Central America has been generated and is being shaped by democratic impulses arising in both religion and politics, it is helpful to examine the United States' own religious and political heritage. That heritage can be traced to the Protestant Reformation in sixteenth-century Europe, and particularly to the seventeenth-century English revolution. The present chapter examines these early roots of North American democracy. Chapter 4 then compares the North American colonial experience with that of Latin America, highlighting the very different roles played by religion in the political development of the two halves of the Americas.
English society in the reign of James I ( 1603-25) was "authoritarian from top to bottom," and the authoritarian structure of society was strongly reinforced by religious customs and teachings in which "obe-