F Rosa Rubicondior: How Christians Lie To Children

Friday 9 November 2012

How Christians Lie To Children

Mrs Cecil Frances Alexander
For sheer repugnant nauseatingly mawkish sentimentality and the grotesque sentiments it explicitly advocates, this Anglican hymn probably takes some beating - though I am open to persuasion on that point if you can find an even more repugnant one...

It is still sung in primary schools and Sunday schools, though there have been attempts to ban the third verse from state schools.

1. All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

2. Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colours,
He made their tiny wings.


3. The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.


4. The purple headed mountain,
The river running by,
The sunset and the morning,
That brightens up the sky;−

It trolls on for another three equally odious verses but readers may like to read that third verse again...

It was written by Mrs Cecil Frances Alexander (nee Humphreys), who was born in Dublin, the third child and second daughter of Major John Humphreys (of Norfolk, land-agent to 4th Earl of Wicklow and later to the second Marquess of Abercorn) and wife of William Alexander, later Bishop of Armargh and Anglican primate of Ireland.

It was written especially for children whom Mrs Alexander felt needed to be reminded not only what a lovely little planet God had provided for them but how he had thoughtfully provided them with a neat social order with the rich in their castles and the lowly at their gate.

Skibbereen, Ireland, 1847
This charming little piece of unashamed combined social and anti-science propaganda was written in Ireland in 1848, the third and most devastating years of the Great Famine when upwards of 500,000 'lowly' Irish men, women and children were starving to death outside the gates, whilst their wealthy land owners in their castles were exporting food.

Meanwhile the English gentry parliament in London was refusing to distribute relief supplies for fear it would destabilise the laws of supply and demand which God had also thoughtfully provided to help ensure the social order was maintained and the rich continued to get richer by living off the labours of the lower orders. What did a few hundred thousand dead Irish matter when there were plenty more where they came from?

Particularly pleasing is the way it sets impressionable little children up with a twee little rhyme about flowers and little birds, before equating them with a rigid and god-given class system so these lucky little children would know their place and understand why they should stay in it.

Of course, this was a sincere eulogy to God and had nothing at all to do with the French Revolution of February 1848, the publication if the Communist Manifesto in the same month, workers uprisings throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire and a massive Chartist rally in London, audaciously demanding universal adult male suffrage and paid MPs so you didn't need to be rich to represent people in parliament, all within a few weeks of one another; events which had simultaneously concentrated the minds and slackened the bowels of the English ruling class.

How fortunate we were to have such a thoughtful ruling class to explain these things to us simple plebeians and such a kind, caring Anglican Church to promulgate it down to the lower orders and ensure we got the lesson early in life.

Apropos of nothing in particular, our present government is led by the rich son of an aristocrat. Most of his senior ministers have similar backgrounds. Their political party is known colloquially as 'The Nasty Party'. Some of their families still own castles although many of them were thrown out of Ireland by a curiously ungrateful people almost a hundred years ago. I don't suppose we'll ever really understand why.

[Edit] The day after writing this, the Old Etonian with aristocratic connections and relative of former Tory grandee Richard Austen (RAB) Butler, Justin Welby, was confirmed as Archbishop of Canterbury (pastoral head of the Anglican church) by UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, an Old Etonian with aristocratic connections.

It is not clear whether either of their aristocratic families still live in castles but it's reassuring to see how the English class system so beloved of the Anglican Church of 1848 is still very much alive and kicking, even if almost no one now takes any notice of the church and its vicars spout their weekly sanctimonious snobbery at almost empty pews in return for their wages.

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  1. And of course they enthusiastically support and join in neo-crusades against brown people on the other side of the planet, said brown people inhabiting lands filled with god-given resources which they have been too ungrateful to hand over gratis to their legitimate owners.

  2. I'm having a spot of trouble getting anyone to forward these tweets to you. You blocked me so fast I don't think you saw them. I don't mind if you keep me blocked as that's your option (and while I still don't know enough about A+ to think one way or the other, I'm seriously not about making anyone do anything they don't want to do), though it was clearly a miscommunication. Empathy that was crippled by the character limit and my poor wording. I do enjoy your tweets however and would appreciate it. Either way, cheers. I'm starting to regret I even asked what the deal was with A+. :/

    @RosaRubicondior o_o That actually wasn't condescension. I would be angry if 20 people vilified me for disagreeing too... Um.
    @RosaRubicondior Either way, I apologize for projecting what I'd feel onto you.

    1. Apology accepted. Telling someone they're angry because they don't agree with you, and thus attributing their opinion to an irrational emotional response, is a particularly condescending and intellectually dishonest way to dismiss an opinion you don't want to think about - more worthy of a bigoted theist than an open-minded free-thinker, don't you think?

      It's a tactic often employed by supporters of AtheismPlus, for much the same reason.

  3. Just saw this. I think it's possible to be angry and rational, but I understand how that can be used as an attack. I read it as perhaps not furious but at least exasperated with dealing with that kind of behavior...again it was misplaced empathy rather than telling you how you felt. I thought saying "that sucks" would communicate that I agreed that kind of behavior would make me not want to engage, and it seemed to be your main objection to A+.

    However, unless you were merely explaining your reaction, you seem to be implying some rather condescending and ugly things about me. If so, I think it's best we part ways because I won't apologize for things I didn't do and don't care for passive aggressive accusations in an already muddy medium. If that's NOT what you were doing, then I guess we've (for a third time) proved the bloody obvious; you can't hear the tone of one's voice through text!

    Man subtext is a b****.

    1. I'm sorry that you took that personally, but I'll defer to your greater experience that my comments apply to you.

  4. Huh, blocked again despite you claiming to "defer" - more passive aggression. You are right people who don't say what they mean, aka "dishonest debaters", don't deserve respect. Hypocrite. And people who can't accept an honest apology with a modicum of grace, without taking pot shots? Pathetic.

    Thanks for proving the anti-A+ opposition every bit as shitty and unreasonable as A+ers. At least the A+ers have a moral grounding; whether A+ is a productive idea or not, at least they aren't trying to undermine social justice movements. If the A+ movement ends up bigger and stronger because of me, you can partly thank yourself for it. Congrats!

    1. I blocked you at your request. I take it you are able to read your own comment (I think it's best we part ways) above. No doubt other people can, if they're at all interested.

      I'd rather comments here be pertinent to the actual blog if you don't mind, rather than consisting of long-winded self-justifications or pro AtheismPlus spam disguised as comment.

  5. "All Things Dull And Ugly" - Monty Python.



  6. When I was in my hometown for my grandmother's funeral, I heard this song being sung in Sunday School at my parents' Gospel Hall. It's quite repugnant to me and could possibly be more so than the one in the article: http://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/1006#1


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