Parable of the Ship by Roger Williams, 1655

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The true story about the struggle for freedom and liberties is very interesting and different from what most Americans learned in school, and completely different from the tail told by the alt-right and religious fanatics.

To set the stage, let’s start in 1655 when the Providence colony surprised the other colonies by welcoming Jewish settlers. Most know that the Puritans fled England for religious freedom. What most don’t know is that they wanted the freedom to practice their version of religion their way, and they persecuted anyone who refused to practice their way. Puritans in the new world punished citizens for such things as refusing to take an oath, or refusing to attend church. Many were persecuted with such penalties as jail, banishment into the wild, flagellations, ears cut off, tongues bored, and death. With this context it’s no surprise to learn that the colonies took great offense when Roger Williams welcomed Jewish settlers into his neighboring Providence colony.

When Roger Williams visited the Jewish settlers in Newport, the response from the other colonies was the charge that he advocated infinite liberty of conscience, which he did. Roger Williams’ response is legendary. He wrote a famous letter which contained a parable that has stood the test of time. His famous parable is a short story in which papists, protestants, Jews, and Turks all live and work together for the common good.

Here is the relevant passage–edited for clarity:

“…There goes many a ship to sea, with many hundred souls in one ship, …and is a true picture…[of a] society. …papists and protestants, Jews and Turks, may be embarked in one ship; …All …I pleaded for… [were these] two hinges –

[FIRST] that none of the papists, protestants, Jews, or Turks, be forced to come to the ship’s prayers or worship, nor compelled from their own particular prayers or worship, if they practice any.

[SECOND] …the commander of this ship ought to command the ship’s course, …and also command that justice, peace, sobriety, be kept and practiced, both among the seamen and all the passengers. If any of the seamen refuse to perform their services, or passengers to pay their freight; if any refuse to help…towards the common …defense; if any refuse to obey the common laws …if any shall mutiny …if any should preach…that there ought to be no commanders or officers…the commander …may judge…and punish such transgressors…” –Roger Williams, 1655.

The story in the letter has become known as the Parable of the Ship and is used as an illustration of separation of church and state.

The American Tradition of Separation of Church and State

Liberals, One-People; Conservatives, Us-vs-Them

Generally speaking, liberals come from a place of one-world, one-people. Liberals can and do fight hard against their enemies, but they do not include everyone “else” as an enemy. Liberals recognize that everyone must get along. That all current enemies are only “current” enemies and, in order to fully support 100% freedom of conscience, everyone must learn to live with one another.

Contrast that approach to conservatives who generally come from a place of us-vs-them. With conservatives, it’s not always about racism, but it is usually about us-vs-them. Conservatives and liberals are all really good people, well, nearly all, but we all view the world with different lenses and, in general, liberals fall into the one-world view and conservatives into the us-vs-them view.

Many of my friends are conservatives with a strong us-vs-them viewpoint. When a conservative friend of mine posts something in public that is hateful and out-of-bounds, perhaps racist, sexist, ageist, classicist, etc. I sometimes ask them to think about why they chose to post it. Many times I find it disturbing that my friends feel comfortable showing hate for “them” in public for invalid reasons.

This us-vs-them viewpoint has been true for 350 years from the times of John Winthrop’s let’s establish a city on a hill, to today. Many do not understand that John Winthrop’s city on a hill analogy for the American colonies was not about freedom, but about a pure religion with no toleration for free thinkers or other faiths. They wanted a society of Puritans and were willing and did kill anyone else who practiced faith differently, or even thought slightly differently. My 10th great grandpa Roger Williams, a friend of John Winthrop, was the first liberal in America, and he planted the seeds for the American Revolution and modern society. The true story for the fight for freedom and liberty in the American colonies is a complex and interesting tail. Roger Williams’ Parable of the Ship is one of the lasting legacies of America’s first liberal.

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1 thought on “Parable of the Ship by Roger Williams, 1655”

  1. Pingback: The American Tradition of Separation of Church and State | TouchstoneTruth.com

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