Why Choosing the Supposedly Correct Side Is Difficult, Part 1

A recent book about Puritans, Hot Protestants: A History of Puritanism in England America by Michael P. Winship brings home the problem of “right side versus wrong side.”

It is easy, in retrospect (or if one is a pundit) to know exactly what the "right" or "winning" side is (those labels don't necessarily fall into the same category). That is, it is easy after the fact or for streamlined "I've got my narrative!" advocates to excise complications and know exactly how everyone was/is supposed to behave.

Truth is: the world is complicated and 20/20 hindsight can be downright arrogant.

The Reformation in England is a great example!

England goes Protestant. And Protestants are ecstatic—right up until they go nuts. Presbyterians decide that Queen Elizabeth isn’t going far enough. The Church of England is still riddled with things like surplices and the Book of Common Prayer, which is too close to the dreaded religion of the Antichrist to be acceptable (consider the extreme language).

Queen Elizabeth is unimpressed. No Catholic, she is still more Catholic (like her father) than Protestant.

Some Presbyterians pull back from their extreme demands. Others start preaching that the Church of England is a corrupt organization that is going to pull England down to hell. Queen Elizabeth is now miffed.

And I gotta say, I probably would have backed the queen—

Except I’m also a pro-democracy American. And one of the arguments the Presbyterians made was that the queen ruled by the consent of the governed. People loved Protestants, so the queen should love Protestants. The Presbyterians also ran their own meetings in a non-hierarchic fashion, through discussion and debate.

Then the queen rejected their even rather mild reforms—which mild reforms were likely totally justified. But Queen Elizabeth was increasingly irritated—and fearful—of a Puritan conspiracy and slammed the proverbial door in the faces of these early puritans.

John Cotton: A good puritan was supposed to question,
"Am I one of the elect or not?" for that person's entire life.
At which point, Wingate writes, “It was neither separatists nor anti-puritans who finally pulled the Presbyterian movement down. Presbyterians did that themselves.” With the kind of extremist rage that Causes (with a capital C) seem to evoke, the more extreme Presbyterians wrote abusive and venomous pamphlets that satirized all their enemies—and incidentally, kind of mocked religion too. Now everybody was miffed.

There’s a lot more to the story. The point is, in the middle of all that, what direction would a good, thoughtful, non-CAUSE non-crazy person leap?

See next post: Part 2.

1 comment:

Joe said...

Kate trying to make sense of British history...

(Even reading your summary, my eyes started to glaze over.)