Wednesday, 29 December 2021

More Evidence of Declining Religiosity in USA

The Bellefonte First Presbyterian Church in Bellefonte, Pa., USA. Founded in 1800 by the same group who founded the borough of Bellefonte in Pennsylvania, held its last service on 21th December 2021.
'Go in peace': Pennsylvania church founded in 1800 holds last service.

As though to reinforce the recent findings of the Pew Research survey which shows an accelerating decline in affiliation to mainstream churches in the USA, one of the oldest fundamentalist Christian churches in Pennsylvania, The First Presbyterian Church of Bellefonte, has closed its doors for the last time, attendance having fallen by 87% from about 200 in the 1970s to about 40 before the pandemic and just 25 now.

When it was founded in 1800, the First Presbyterian Church of Bellefonte was very much a part of the local political establishment, even holding meetings in the courthouse before the church was built and providing two Pennsylvania governors from amongst its members. The church provided the local civil leadership for the borough and the state at large, which was, for all practical purposes, a local theocracy with no attempt to separate church and state, the local Christian leadership believing it was entitled to rule.

We take nothing from the womb but pure filth [meras sordes]. The seething spring of sin is so deep and abundant that vices are always bubbling up from it to bespatter and stain what is otherwise pure.... We should remember that we are not guilty of one offense only but are buried in innumerable impurities.... all human works, if judged according to their own worth, are nothing but filth and defilement.... they are always spattered and befouled with many stains.... it is certain that there is no one who is not covered with infinite filth.

John Calvin
Presbyterianism is a radical sect of Protestantism, taking its leadership from Jehan Cauvin (John Calvin), the French convert from Catholicism and ultra-conservative follower of Martin Luther, who fled to Switzerland to escape persecution and there wrote pamphlets and polemics, condemning Catholicism and the Pope as Satanic creations (the ‘anti-Christ’ and the 'Whore of Babylon'). His anti-Catholic and vehemently misogynistic teachings were taken up by, amongst others, John Knox, who helped Calvin establish the Presbyterian Church in Geneva, Switzerland, and from there take it to England and especially Scotland, where it found support from the English court under the staunchly Protestant Elizabeth I who had declared the Anglican church to be a part of the Protestant Reformation. It also gave rise to the Huguenots of France, whose brutal suppression by the French Catholic establishment can be read about here.

Presbyterian preachers were instrumental in raising a revolt against Queen Mary of Scotland (Mary, Queen of Scots), John Knox having preached against the 'monstrous regiment of women'. By 'regiment, he probably meant 'regimen', i.e., rule, since Presbyterianism taught that women should not have dominion over men but were to be subservient and obedient to them, in strict accord with the New Testament (1 Timothy 2:11-15). Queen Mary had also earned their contempt for her fanatical anti-Protestant stance when married to King Francis II of France, urging him to supress the Huguenots. When Francis II died, she returned to Scotland to try to reassert her authority there, but she soon fled to England where, after a prolonged spell of incarceration in Fotheringhay Castle as Elizabeth I's 'guest', on her promise not to involve herself in the affairs of England, she was eventually executed on a probably trumped-up charge of treason, on the orders of her cousin (and 'protector'), Elizabeth I. Her 'crime' was allegedly plotting to overthrow Elizabeth and assert her claim to the English throne.

The Presbyterian Kirk in Scotland is still institutionally anti-Catholic. A member of the Kirk can be expelled for the 'sin' of merely entering a Catholic church, let alone taking part in a service, even for a marriage or a funeral.

From Scotland, Presbyterianism spread via immigration to the American Colonies and to Ulster, where it formed the main contingent of the 'Protestant Plantations' under Elizabeth I, which settled on the Ards Peninsula and on the confiscated former estates of the last Gaelic chiefs of Ireland, Hugh O'Neil, Earl of Tyrone, and Rory O'Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell, who rebelled against English rule before fleeing Ireland in French ships in the infamous 'Flight of the Earls'. The role of Presbyterianism in dividing Ireland and creating the northern (theocratic) state, and their subsequent denial of basic human rights to the Catholic minority there, can be read about in my book, A History of Ireland: How Religion Poisoned Everything, Vehemently anti-Catholic Presbyterians from Ulster formed a large part of the Irish migration to the New World in the 19th Century.

The US state of Pennsylvania was established by Quaker followers of William Penn, who themselves fled the former English and self-governing New England colonies such as Maryland where being a Quaker was a capital offence. It was granted by Charles II to William Penn in settlement of a large debt to his father, Admiral William Penn. In their new state, Quakers set about creating an open, tolerant, state which welcomed other radical sects, such as the Presbyterians who felt themselves to be a minority in the predominantly Anglican New England colonies.

Now, as young people (especially) turn their back on established religions in the USA, the bigotry, misogyny and intollerance which characterises the austere, fire and brimstone teaching of Presbhyterianism is proving unatractive, so congregations have fallen by 87% in 34 years, resulting in the closure of churches such as that in Bellefonte, and more importantly perhaps, the loss of influence, of the Presbhyterian Church, one of the more bigoted and intollerant of the modern Christian churches.

If these churches follow the pattern which has characterised European Christian Churched post WWII, their major problem will soon be what to do with all the closed buildings. In England, for example, many villages and towns now have empty and deteriorating former churches that no-one wants because they are too expensive to maintain and the graveyards around them have legal protection against disturbance and desecration.

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