Murphy’s Law: Ethan Allen
Ethan Allen (1738-1789) was the “Sooner” of our Founding Fathers. He started shooting at Redcoats long before the rest of them. As early as 1770 the British governor of New York put a price on his head. Allen and his Green Mountain Boys successfully defended their homesteaded farms in Vermont from British troops trying to enforce land grants New York had sold to others. They were well-seasoned fighters by the time it all became official in 1776. They took Fort Ticonderoga after an epic march in fierce conditions that caught the British asleep. Allen awoke them by proclaiming that he was taking possession “In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.” The Jehovah bit was all tongue in cheek, for Allen was a freethinker who thought Judeo-Christian-Islam-anity was a calamity. This swashbuckling hero then tried to take Montreal to teach the British to keep their hands off his beloved Vermont. This time he was captured and taken to England only to be returned in a prisoner exchange. He is another of the founders the religious right doesn’t speak about when they tell us of our “Christian nation.”
Shocking people was Allen’s specialty. He stopped his wedding ceremony when asked if he would pledge “to live with Fanny Buchanan agreeable to the laws of God.” He wanted to know which god and whose god the marriage was supposed to please, stalling the proceedings until it was specified to be Nature’s god and no other. He was a constant stone in the sandals of the clergy and loved to publicly corner the parson with a list of biblical conundrums and contradictions. That was just the start. After the revolution he and Fanny settled back and raised a family in their Green Mountains of Vermont. In 1784 he wrote his landmark book, “Reason, the Only Oracle of Man.”
This book should not have caused much commotion because his style of writing was abstruse, but fate or malice intervened when the publisher’s building burned with most of the copies. Many preachers said it was “retribution from God.” The publisher repented and ran off to become a Methodist, but Ethan Allen remained a steadfast freethinker. He claimed god was no arsonist, nor a murderer, nor the unjust tyrant that the Bible made him out to be and asked people to read his little book. He was the first of the Founding Fathers to be called the anti-Christ by the clergy. He simply pointed out the obvious and was castigated for it. He said the Bible “…[was] offensive to reason and common sense, and subversive of moral rectitude in general.” This was the first time in American history that a formal publication attacked the Christian religion. It attacked the creation myth, eternal punishment, revelation, miracles, prophecy, faith, the trinity, Jesus divinity, and imputation, but stood for natural morality based upon reason and kindness.
He saved his best humor for Moses whom he saw as the only pal Jehovah ever had. He noted that no man could see god’s face and live (Ex. 30:20) but Moses was allowed a “privileged peep up god’s dress” (Ex.33: 23). After the mooning of Moses the two got into all sorts of mischief together. He recounts how Moses and the Almighty engaged in all sorts of land and virgin-grabbing raids together. These two also conspired to place arbitrary laws on the tribes of Israel that had no basis in common sense or morality. He recounts god-ordained atrocities in detail. He finishes up with Moses where Moses left himself when he “wrote” the Pentateuch–describing his own funeral (Deut. 34:5-8) telling us who buried him, where he was buried, and how long the people mourned for him.
Ethan Allen remained his own colorful independent self right to the end. He made sure the clergy couldn’t make up pious lies about a “death-bed conversion” as they did to so many freethinkers. A minister intruded during the death watch and said, “General, I fear the angels are waiting for you,” only to hear his booming voice respond: “Waiting, are they? Waiting, are they? Well, goddamn ’em, let ’em wait.”
“Ethan Allen” is copyright © 1999 by John Patrick Michael Murphy.
The electronic version is copyright © 1999 Internet Infidels with the written permission of John Patrick Michael Murphy.