Friday, November 24, 2006

Have you heard of the Freethinkers?

I'll be out of pocket for another day or so. Lots going on this evening, then tomorrow Kathy and I are heading to Comfort, Texas for a day of shopping at a trades day in that small town off of I-10 west of San Antonio.

I find that few people know about tiny Comfort's history as home of the Freethinkers, an atheist movement from Germany whose adherents were expelled after the 1848 Revolutions in Europe, and many of whom settled in Texas. Today Comfort is a red part of a red state, religious, conservative and proud of it. But behind the present-day facade of rural conservatism lies an interesting, little-known history:

Tens of thousands of European immigrants entered Texas through the port at Galveston, and many towns in central Texas to this day have German names - Boerne, New Braunfels, Pflugerville, come to mind. Until World War I that German heritage was proudly displayed. (There are also quite a few Czechs going back, as well.) But after two wars fought against Germany, Texans of Germanic descent began to conceal their heritage, even altering their surnames in some cases to avoid being identified with America's military foes. Even so, my father has told me that in college in the late '50s he knew a student at UT-Austin from one of these small Hill Country towns whose family still spoke German in the home.

Comfort was one of those German outposts, but its founders were essentially radical leftists exiled from their home country for political reaons. Comfort banned churches outright for many decades. It was a hotbed of abolitionism and pro-Union sentiment during the Civil War and lost many young men when they tried to send troops north to join the Union Army. Not much of that that history evident in the town today. But it's a fascinating and important piece of Texas' heritage, nonetheless, even if a seldom-acknowledged one.


800 pound gorilla said...

I would like to pose Jesus [or the legend of Jesus - as there seems to be little historical documentation of his actual existence] as the first clerical humanist. He frequently appealed to his followers' intellects and blithely ignored dogmatic dictates when their edification was dubious. "The law was made for people, and not vice versa" was one of his sayings. His flouting of conventional morality was legendary and chronicled in the New Testament. Yet, doctrinaire christian idealogues somehow managed to make him a god figure - outside the realm of humanity.

Anonymous said...

We are still here.:)