California's authentic sin (It's not what you suppose) – Bible Type

California's authentic sin (It's not what you suppose)

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A priest once asked me how California could become the morally decadent place, and my answer – the gold rush – surprised him. I think he was expecting one of the usual conservative tendencies towards radical universities and the 1960s or the political ramifications of immigration or corrupt democratic one-party rule.

There is a lot of romance associated with the California gold rush, but it's hard to exaggerate how evil this whole sad chapter really was, and how its ungodly shadow still suppresses that state's culture. Our favorite narratives seldom go back far enough. The politically useful story may well be wrong or at least incomplete. History is more complicated than piety allows.

Serious and barbaric

The first beneficiaries of the 1849 gold rush were semi-respected and educated Easterners, who were already here, mostly for land and adventure, and who were able to curtail their greed somewhat with the habits of civilization. Among them were some really good men like General John Bidwell von Chico and half-mad rascals like "Captain" John Sutter, a Swiss whose colorful life, full of deceit and ambition, was marked by a lovable humanity.

But these men were quickly overrun by the more or less naked barbarism of the Forty-Nine and their successors. By 1850, the state's population was 89.5% male (excluding Indians). In the 1850s and 60s, homicide rates for Sacramento, San Francisco, and the mining towns were off the charts. Murder, occasional violence, theft, prostitution and gambling determined the character of these places.

A mining claim was only as certain as the number and speed of the weapons that defended it. The only relief from pure social Darwinism was vigilantism, which often turned out to be just as grueling. Historians report that men who were not prone to violence were forced to build reputations for violence in order to survive.

The racial and ethnic hostility was hot and undisguised and affected all groups. Ethnically related miners have come together for protection, as the colorful names of their mining camps often suggest: – Irishtown, French Gulch, China Bar and so on. Once a peaceful Mexican prospector and gambler, Joaquin Murrieta was turned into banditry by racist Yankees who killed his wife and brother. He spent the rest of his career terrorizing the non-Hispanic mining camps in the Sierras and beyond, leaving a trail of vengeance and brutality unparalleled to this day.

The Chinese were uniquely hardworking and successful, and for that reason were hated and pillaged. Murrieta's gang ruthlessly pursued them. They rarely resisted and usually just moved on. The Native American Indians stood in the way of this "progress" dramatically, of course, and the first governor of California practically approved a genocide campaign. The Californios (former Mexican citizens who owned large ranches) lost most of their land "legally" as American courts awarded them to starving newcomers based on title differences or surveying techniques.

The heirs of the forty-nine

As the occasional chaser of ghost towns and semi-ghost towns, I'll say this: I've never been to a country where there was no noticeable feeling of staying angry. The noise drowns this out in the cities, but it seems to be amplified in the mountains. Here in the midst of all this breathtaking natural beauty, splendor and glory of creation, these beautiful mountains and canyons that today's Californians often refer to as "God's Land", this is the source of California's moral and spiritual malaise.

Many good, decent people on earth live in motherland California, but even they will tell you that the region is occupied in updated form with the spiritual heirs of the forty-nine. Your neighbors are occultists, New Agers, pot planters, meth cookers, biker gangs, and political weirdos from the far right and left, all of whom participate in one way or another in the lawless spirit of the gold rush. And of course the modern gold prospectors who chase the “Californian dream” dominate the self-image of the state from Beverly Hills to Silicon Valley.

California's history is complicated, to be fair. There are many types of influence. The state's sturdy Catholic heritage remains, a constant backdrop, culturally significant and all but inevitable, that holds back and mitigates California's otherwise unexplained paganism.

Between 1848 and 1870, the state's non-Indian population rose from a mere 12,000 to a whopping 560,000. These newcomers were all here to make "the California dream" come true – if not gold itself, then quick riches in some other way or freedom from the social pressures of New England.

California's original sin

Famed California historian Kevin Starr writes in Americans and the California Dream: "For all the vivid landscape, life in California was harsh, an ethos of survival for the fittest that began in the gold rush and continued throughout the century. Exploitation shaped urban and rural life equally. It was called progress. "

Californians today like to think that we've left all of this behind. But just as the libertine believes he has escaped Puritanism, but is in fact still persecuted by it, today's Californian believes he has escaped the shadow of the gold rush, but is still shaped by it. California has turned the other spirit of radical individualism, deracinated dreams, and liberation from the constraints of Christian civilization, which was California's original sin, to other forms of expression.

St. Junipero Serra, ora pro nobis!

Jeffrey Culbreath is a Sacramento writer and proud to be a fourth generation Californian.

The picture of the prospectors is provided by the General Photographic Agency / Getty Images.

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