“He learned by rote those commonplaces which all sects repeat so fluently when they are enduring oppression, and forget so easily when they are able to retaliate it.”
Thomas Babington Macaulay
“The History of England, from the Accession of James II — Volume 1.”
There is another observation which is I believe compatible with Macaulay’s insight; and, that is that we see in others what we see in ourselves. The latter is not such much an accusation of the indiscretion of others as it is a reminder that we’re probably no better than they.
The more significant corollary of either warning is that religion in particular has seemingly been a hotbed of revolt between people throughout the globe for centuries, certainly between the Protestants and the Roman Catholics and lately among the Evangelicals and the Muslims. As might be expected the switch of focus reflects the changing migration patterns and demographics of the globe. Since the Puritans were ousted from England, their lineage has successfully preserved that comment made by Macaulay, the epitome of which was of course the Salem witch trials.
The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. More than 200 people were accused. Thirty people were found guilty, 19 of whom were executed by hanging (14 women and five men). One other man, Giles Corey, died under torture after refusing to enter a plea, and at least five people died in jail.
If it were not so vile and treacherous, the witch scheme would be utterly laughable. It is of course but one example of the stupidity of religion as a popular fabrication. The ridiculousness of defeating others for not believing in transubstantiation is positively unsettling; as unsettling as promoting others for believing it in the first place.
Transubstantiation: (especially in the Roman Catholic Church) the conversion of the substance of the Eucharistic elements into the body and blood of Christ at consecration, only the appearances of bread and wine still remaining.
You do however see how readily arises the fumes of controversy and accusation. No matter which side you take on this or similar debate, it is always a heated application. And just as comical on either side.
Nonetheless gIven the devotion of the kings of England and France to the Papacy in the Roman Empire I can only conclude the obvious; namely, that money and power were at the root. This is especially so given the well documented acquiescence of one side or another to the power and financial resource then relevant to the sustainability of the other. If ever there were a case to be made about the value of believing what you see, this is it. We needn’t even consider the value of believing what you don’t see because the two are contiguous, equally irrelevant to the larger ambition for governance. It is no more acceptable as a thesis for thought than extravagance is mandatory for a model for coronation; both are merely tools perceived useful for the celebration of power and position.
The cleverness of religious codswallop is not merely the ingenuity of fabrication but also the impossibility of contradiction. This in itself is more than a logical subterfuge; it is a hitherto unspecified method of calculation (or should I say, deception) which survives by turning on its head. If I were to tell you a lie about what I saw earlier today, there is no certainty that you could deny it other than by the same manner in which you might assess the plausibility of religious prevarication. Meanwhile we endure or thrill to the drag show of the so-called high church (itself yet another manifestation of social estrangement and selective power). The only thing about which I was fully assured following Matins was that sherry goes well aside the soup plate; all the prior ceremony was pure entertainment (one in which I was a willing participant as a communicant, choir member and warden).
So, here I am, guilty of the very complaint initiated by Macaulay, attacking others for their beliefs while pretending to insulate myself from similar discredit from others. It is therefore easy to see the problem about which he spoke. The first question however is not necessarily, How do we overcome conflict of principles, and remedy the relation with others? Instead there are some who actively pursue the issues of identity. Therein lies the real problem. Apostasy was so familiar that one has to question how it is that loyalty is generated by what is so often no more than submission and obsequiousness to others for sycophantic reasons. Certainly I don’t blame the underdog for doing so; the decision was quite literally often live or die. As for my consideration of those who persist in their conflicting beliefs, they’re welcome to do so but I confess madness of thinking does little to improve my respect of the adherent. Better however just to step aside and let it pass. But as I say neither posture eliminates those who for private purposes of gain, seek to preserve distances. The masses get trammeled in the process.
This naturally brings me to what I suspect is my root concern about religion; and that is, why do the differences matter in the first place? Once again the only answer I can see is the preservation of money and power. The people who happen to be the leaders of society have found it useful to manipulate the behaviour of the “masses” by specious and amusing diversions. Apparently hoi polloi cannot be relied upon to do otherwise than submit and absorb. This then is the only possible relief from the indignities levied upon us in the pursuit of money and power by those who are manifestly disconnected from the matter. Listening to the likes of Trump go on about the bible is the height of contradiction and implausibility. And then listening to the likes of the evangelical adherents excusing Trump for their own specious purposes is equally disturbing. But who in their position would do otherwise?
The perilous comedy of religion is becoming less and less laughable. I haven’t the numbers, but it requires very little acquaintance with society to perceive that religion has become a contamination in the minds of many. Those whom I know who continue to participate in religion haven’t my approbation in that respect. I acknowledge the utility of the invention for a multitude of reasons; but the authenticity is no greater than snake oil. I am as well reluctant to excuse religion too magnanimously because it fosters continuance of threat to social interaction.
The Five Mile Act, or Oxford Act, or Nonconformists Act 1665, was an Act of the Parliament of England (17 Cha. 2. c. 2), passed in 1665 with the long title “An Act for restraining Non-Conformists from inhabiting in Corporations”. It was one of the English penal laws that sought to enforce conformity to the established Church of England, and to expel any who did not conform. It forbade clergymen from living, visiting or preaching within five miles (8 km) of a parish from which they had been expelled, or to come within Five Miles of any city, town or borough that sends Members to Parliament unless they swore an oath never to resist the king, or attempt to alter the government of Church or State. The latter involved swearing to obey the 1662 prayer book. Thousands of ministers were deprived of a living under this act.
As an example, Theodosia Alleine and her husband Joseph Alleine were obliged to move to Taunton after her husband’s conviction as a non-conformist. They moved, but they were still harassed and had to move and live with friends to escape their critics.