I'm what they call a Person of the Book, I guess. Not only have I been a bookworm forever, & worked in a library for almost a quarter of a century : my own ponderings & writings are all caught up with metaphysics & religion & scripture. My life took a sharp & fateful turn when I read the Bible at age 19. I was baptized Episcopalian from infancy; at age 50 (old sinner by then) I started finally going back to church.

This is all prelude to saying that there can be people in the world like me who are not part of the global pious-moralist-fundamentalist-superstitious cultural pressure of our era.

"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." What is faith? As I understand it, faith is an inner conviction (despite the lack of complete knowledge or information) that something is true. It's a prudent, considered hunch, a choice between possibilities rather than firm facts.

One's view of the substance of experience in its entirety can be focused by such faith-judgements - even if they are understood to be provisional, subject to change.

So my personal poetics or metaphysics or understanding of history or anthropology are all colored by these hunch-beliefs. There is no getting away from it. My artistic development has been shaped by the prior shaping of my worldview.

NONETHELESS. ALL THAT BEING SAID... the fact remains that I am an adopted Rhode Islander (there are two Gould Islands in Narragansett Bay) and a partisan of Roger Williams.

Williams had a concept he called "soul liberty". Which, as I understand it, refers to the free activity of the individual mind in search of grounds for those inner convictions understood as "faith". Williams, simply put, devoted his entire life to the defense of soul liberty. He understood that the inner union between a person and the divine had to be one of true conviction and free choice. Any manifestation of what he (& others) called "enforced religion" was a grotesque 3-pronged insult : an insult to the authentic substance of faith; an insult to intellectual freedom; and an insult to the peace of a (self-governed) community, made up of people holding to diverse beliefs.

This particular conviction of Williams was the historical origin of the separation of church and state as we know it; of the concept of religious tolerance as we know it; and of the oldest surviving secular state in the Western world - Rhode Island.

One of the key elements of Williams' philosophy was an idea related to the medieval concept of natural law (as a young man, Williams was a student-assistant to Edward Coke, the great English barrister, famed for his defense of Parliament and "ancient right" against the encroachments of the Crown). The idea is that humankind, as made in the image of God, displays the God-given, natural capacity to know right from wrong and to achieve self-governance in lawful, peaceful commonwealths. Williams, the friend of Narragansett chiefs, loved to harp on the idea that non-Christian nations (such as the Narragansetts) could be wiser, kinder, gentler, more civilized, more peaceful than many so-called "Christian" nations. (Of course, according to RW, such refined virtuous gentle & civilized pagans would sadly miss out on the Kingdom of God and eternal life, but that was an utterly separate issue.)

This history is part of the "epic theme" I dealt with in my sort of Olsonesque poem In RI. Written back in the early 90s.

(this post was inspired in part by Frederick Wiseman's documentary, shown on PBS last night, about the ordinary workings of the Idaho state legislature... a fine film! Reminded me of my time (back in the early 80s) as a VISTA volunteer, when I worked for community groups as a "legislative analyst" at the RI state house.)

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