I wasn't surprised that my post on Anglicanism and Islamic extremism caused a reaction. It seems, I particular, that a bunch of Anglican readers didn't like their 16th century predecessors being compared with Islamic militants, even if favourably.
Such comparisons, sadly for them, are inevitable: it is the New Atheists' bread and butter. (Eg Richard Dawkins: 'Religion causes wars.') What we, theists, need to do, as I've done in more than one post, is to try to demonstrate that the problem in the Middle East is not 'religion'. Perhaps my Anglican friends would rather stick their heads in the sand about this issue. But my approach has been to point out specific theological, sociological and political issues which are at work, and which we can see at work in other times and places where there was religious violence.
My post neither condemned nor justified the religious policies of Anglicans or indeed Catholics in the 16th century, or earlier or later. That's a separate question. That it happened, however: that's undeniable. To condemn ISIS and pretend we've never had any such problems of intolerance in nice cosy Europe is... What is it? I wonder if it is evidence of bigotry.
Ah, bigotry, bigot: what useful words. The way they are tossed about may make one think that anyone can use them of anyone, and thereby win the argument without further ado. But it is not so. Political Correctness has strict rules. Before you can claim the high ground, you have to 'check your privilege'. This means that a person from a culture historically oppressive to others can never cry 'bigot' against a person from a culture which has historically been oppressed by others. That's why it is so difficult for the PC brigade to criticise ISIS. And why Anglicans - of all people - are going to get nowhere crying 'bigot' against attempts to set the ISIS phenomenon into a wider historical context, which puts Anglicanism in a bad light. Tough, guys: if you disagree you are going to have to use reasoned argument.
Let's have another look at those pesky arguments.
Anglicanism in the 16th century tried directly to suppress not just preaching but private practice and belief.
The point is that it is not something which was going on in every persecution, nor has it been the policy of every Muslim government. If you look at the people burnt under Mary Tudor, they are activists: they preached, and they sometimes engaged in direct action like disrupting services, desecrating the Blessed Sacrament, or attacking priests. Ok, I'm sure we can all agree that they should have been allowed to attack priests with impunity yada yada, that's not the point. These sorts of people, sometimes with identical views, were flogged, put in stocks, imprisoned, fined, and occasionally executed under Protestant rulers. But the Protestants, especially Elizabeth Tudor, also imprisoned and executed people who were quietly practicing their religion in private. The family of Bl Thomas Belson were imprisoned after a search of their house revealed - horror of horrors - a copy of Dante's Divine Comedy. Priests were executed when a breviary, a pyx, or holy oils were found on them. It was an offence to own a rosary. There is a distinction to be made here. If it makes you uncomfortable, dear reader, then that may be a good thing.
Anglicanism was forced into more extreme positions by the existence of more extreme groups.
This is more of an plea of mitigation for early Anglicanism than anything else, but if readers are determined to be offended, that's their business I suppose. Puritans were annoyed that Charles I stopped signing the death warrants of captured Catholic priests - his Catholic queen stopped him. This wasn't the only cause of the Civil War, of course, but it didn't help. When the King lost his grip on power his hot Protestant enemies got through the backlog of imprisoned priests with wonderful speed. Later, the 1662 Prayer Book contained more than a dozen revisions to make it more acceptable to Puritans. I don't exactly blame them for attempting some kind of national reconciliation after the Civil War. But it didn't succeed.
Anglicanism has become the milk-and-water stuff we know and love today as a result of the areligious social elite which evolved under its watch.
This is just an historical observation: deny it who can. Would I rather they were still torturing Catholics to death, as they did to St Nicholas Owen? No, I would not. I don't, therefore, think this was entirely a change for the worse. To observe that it happened, therefore, should not be offensive to anyone. Again, to say that the theological content of mainstream Anglicanism has lost some of its sharp corners and hard edges is not exactly controversial.
Why it happened is a matter of considerable historical and on-going interest and importance, and the parallel with Islam is, I think, helpful to those who want to understand, and not just to shout 'bigot' from the sidelines. The long and the short of it is that a religion which regards the cultural endeavours of the elite (and come to that, of folk culture as well) as morally dubious, is going to have a tough time hanging on to that elite.
It doesn't follow that the religion is wrong, of course. There's a parallel here with the Old Testament, where in the time of the Kings the elite was sucked towards religious syncretism. Again, the elite today is attracted strongly to the position of accepting all kinds of sexual immorality, and abortion, as perfectly ok. In these cases religious authorities have to dig in their heels and resist.
What has happened in Protestant countries is that, having tried to reject too much, they have ended up rejecting too little. There is a parallel with Islam here too, though in the case of Islam the reaction to the ensuing decadence has been stronger. Other factors are at work here as well, to explain that.
And of course the Catholic Church has not succeeded in resisting secularision in historically Catholic counties. We need another explanation for that. Anyone who is paying attention on this blog will be aware that I am a Traditional Catholic, and there is a Traditional Catholic angle on this process; I will I expect go into that in a future post. Catholic secularisation is not, however, identical to Protestant, Islamic, or Jewish secularisation: the nature of the religion at the start of the process makes a difference. As always, we need to make distinctions.
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