I don't think getting burned is the most important step in a group's American journey. Communities achieve their American identity not so much by knowing the fire themselves, but by refusing to let others get burned.
In 2009, Asia Bibi, a 45-year old Christian woman, was asked to fetch water while working as a farmhand. Now, she has been in prison for a year and faces a death sentence under the damning blasphemy laws of Pakistan.
In the Oct. 2010 issue of Smithsonian, I delve into the real history of America's attitudes about religion, and it is a far different picture from the tidy tableau and storybook version of tolerance that we tell our children.
When Jones and his followers attack Islam and when Ham and his disciples attack evolution, they are doing so with the certainty that their way is the only way, that they are saving souls, and that all they need to know can be found in the Bible.
Without a clear sense of the past, even a past that is at times challenging to grapple with, we have little capacity to cultivate a society that is more tolerant and outright affirming of diverse religious practices.