Friday, July 18, 2014

"Cult" and "culture" interchangeable in some societies

I was on a bus the other day when a whole troop of people with a vaguely inbred look about them boarded. It was a family of very pale, very blonde and very blue-eyed Nordic types who looked “foreign.” The oldest female—apparently the mother—wore one of those “old world” hairnets, although the girls did not. They did not say a single word during the time they boarded until the time I deboarded about twenty minutes later. At first I figured them for Amish, except that they wore more “modern” clothing. They were still kind of odd fish out of the water, because looked like an isolated tribe from a homogeneous society that practiced racial purity in its extreme form. 

I normally would find these kind of people, who refuse to “contaminate” their genes with anyone who isn’t pure Aryan-Nordic, with great disgust. However, I didn’t get the impression that these people were not as they were out of pure race hatred (or of “inferior” European ethnicities), but out of long, isolated, ingrained culture, probably of a religious sort. The oldest girl—whose face really suggested the result of excessive inbred breeding—sat across from me, and had mostly rather a blank expression, but she occasionally looked at me with a vague sense of curiosity, not out of my “strangeness,” but out of “wonder.” I chose not to be offended.

I did some research, and discovered that these people were either Hutterites or more likely Mennonites rather than Amish. I had no clue about who these people were, but being the curious sort I decided to find out. Both are offshoots of the Anabaptist Christian sect as it was originally formed, unlike other offshoots like the Baptists and Quakers. “Anabaptist” literally means “re-baptism,” which many did as a symbolic rejection of their earlier baptism in the Roman Catholic faith. Anabaptists also rejected the concept of infant baptism (particularly since there is no evidence of anyone but adults being baptized in the Bible). Children, after all, cannot be punished for sins they had not committed, or did not understand, while adults can more accurately gauge their level of sin and faith. 

The Mennonites take their name from one of the early leaders of the sect, Menno Simons,  a Dutch Catholic priest who broke with the church over the issue of transubstantiation, which in the Catholic faith means the changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. After investigating other reformist sects, he chose to cast his lot with the Anabaptists, who are regarded as a “fringe” or “radical” Protestant sect even today. 

Having read some history, I was familiar with the tragic story of the German city of Munster. Everywhere they went the Anabaptists ran into trouble with local authorities over their belief that their believers were not subject to the laws of secular society, and that Anabaptists had the “right” to live in autonomous communities free of the “evils” of the laws of man. This sounded just as radical then as it does today, although unlike anti-government militants today Anabaptists were mostly pacifists who opposed violence of any sort. Catholics and Protestants both joined forces to drive out intransigent Anabaptists in their lands. John of Leiden set himself up as the “king” of colony of believers in Munster, which became powerful to take over civil control of the city and establish a “kingdom of a thousand years” in 1534. 

Non-believers were persecuted and driven out of the city, and further radical “reforms” were instituted, such as the legalization of polygamy and communal ownership of goods and property. The “thousand year kingdom” lasted but a year, when an army of Catholics and Protestants ransacked the city, butchered the residents and executed its leaders, displaying their bodies in the steel cages that can still be seen in same spot in modern-day Munster.

The religion survived, thanks to the less militant off-shoot under the leadership of Simons, although persecution continued, particularly in regard to the more militant Hutterites. Most Mennonites are now located in this country and Canada, while Hutterite communities survive in the western United States. Mennonites apparently have broken up into separate sects based on their level of acceptance of the world at large; if these people were indeed Mennonites, they were probably of the “moderate” variety, apparently not afraid to ride the same bus as non-white “heathens.” I also suppose that one can find some admiration for a people who hold so dear a world and lifestyle that most of us would find difficult to contain ourselves within.

Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that these people are mainly German and have a very distinct idea of who they are, that requires a certain kind of race and religious “purity” that some of us find distasteful in principle.

No comments:

Post a Comment