Thursday, 3 September 2015

Victims of Christianity

Cromwell's victim
Durham Palace Green remains were Scottish prisoners - BBC News

One of the claims Christians like to make is that the morals they get from their god through their religion are:
  1. Superior to non-Christians.
  2. Eternal, objective and unchanging - the so-called fixed 'moral compass'.

Of course, this claim of moral superiority needs to be rationalised when Christians, as happens very frequently and often conspicuously, behave in ways which no decent person would regard as moral, and then blame their god or the Bible for their behaviour.

Cue now the 'no true Scotsman' fallacy where the Christians behaving badly are designated as 'not true Christians' because 'true Christians' don't behave like that. In this way the false universal claim that Christians have superior morals because they were given them by the one true god through the one true religion is protected by simply excluding anyone who doesn't meet that 'universal' truth.

Now, not many people would argue that Oliver Cromwell was not a true Christian. He was a 'born again' fundamentalist Presbyterian from the same fundamentalist Puritan Protestant cultural tradition that gave rise to the 'Pilgrim Fathers' who founded the USA (see Boston's Bigots). Cromwell is generally credited with ensuring the independence of the English (and later the UK) House of Commons from the monarchy and subjecting the monarch to the will of Parliament when he led the Parliamentary forces that eventually overthrew Charles I, the Catholic Stuart King of England and Scotland, and cut the King's head off.

The driving motive for this was not a concern for democracy and the principle of government of the people, by the people for the people but the fact that the reigning monarch at the time was a Catholic and so high on Cromwell's demonology, Presbyterianism coming straight from the teaching of the fanatical Protestant John Calvin via the equally fanatical John Knox.

No sooner had Cromwell established the supremacy of Parliament than he launched a military coup d'etat, suspended Parliament and granted himself the dictatorial powers that he had supposedly fought against in the English Civil War, and England entered a period of Puritan, puritanical fundamentalist Christianity which it sought to export to its neighbours - Ireland and Scotland - and woe betide anyone who challenged his autocratic rule. Cromwell had no doubt at all that his god had chosen him to govern England, Scotland and Ireland and he enforced his god's 'will' with enthusiasm, dispatching anyone who dared to stand against him to what he presumed would be his god's final judgement. Tens of thousands were so dispatched not in the name of democracy but in the name of fundamentalist, puritanical Christianity and government by theocrats.

So to the news item above, which reports on the discovery of a mass grave near to Durham Cathedral which archaeologists and historians have concluded is that of the hapless Scottish prisoners captured at the Battle of Dunbar.

Presbyterianism had made huge inroads into formerly Catholic Scotland, particularly in the Lowlands although there was a still strong Catholic following in the Highlands and Islands. But the Presbyterian-dominated Scottish parliament began to be alarmed by the actions of their former allies in England and, in a bid for independence (there had not been a formal Act of Union at this time) proclaimed Charles I's son King Charles II Scotland.

Charles II for his part put aside his Anglican and Catholic sympathies and sign the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643. Cromwell's forces moved against Scotland coming up against a newly-formed, disorganised and unprepared Scottish army at Dunbar. Sir Thomas Fairfax, a major figure in the Civil War, resigned as commander of the Army rather than move against his Protestant 'brethren' and former allies in Scotland so Cromwell took personal command of the campaign.

Cromwell at Dunbar - Andrew Carrick Gow
Source: Wikipedia
The Battle of Dunbar was a disaster for the Scots. Cromwell, never one to minimise the number of those he's managed to kill, boasted that 3,000 Scots died. Other estimates put the figure at 800-1,000. Cromwell also boasted that they had chased the fleeing Scots for eight miles, 'executing' those caught. In all, Cromwell claimed that 10,000 prisoners had been taken.

These weren't the hated Catholics that Cromwell had gleefully murdered throughout Ireland; these were fellow Presbyterians and former allies of Cromwell who were fighting for a Presbyterian government which merely disagreed with Cromwell about how their god wanted their respective countries to be governed. For this mortal sin, however many prisoners were taken on that day, only some 3,000 survived the forced march south to Durham where, conveniently, Cromwell had shut down the Cathedral for not being Puritan enough. The surviving prisoners were herded into the cold building and left to die of disease, the cold, and starvation. The rest being summarily executed.

These were the sons, lovers, brothers and husbands of ordinary people who were treated this way not because they had the wrong religion or were themselves murdering criminals but simply because they had opposed Cromwell's self-abrogated 'God-given' right to rule by decree and diktat.

Their bodies were unceremoniously thrown into mass graves where they remained until recently discovered. In his post-battle report to the Speaker of the English Parliament, Cromwell described the victory as " of the most signal mercies God hath done for England and His people..." (Source: Wikipedia - Battle of Dunbar)

And this, in 1650, less than 400 years ago, is how good fundamentalist, puritan Christians, carrying out what they assumed was their god's will and acting in full accord with the fixed, eternal and objective morals handed down to them by this god in his holy book, the Bible, treated people who held slightly different opinions to themselves. And no doubt, Oliver Cromwell and his fanatical Christian supporters would have dismissed the Scottish prisoners as 'not true Scotsmen Christians'.

And no doubt too Christians today will be dismissing Cromwell and his allies as 'not true Christians'.

But why do we see this today as repugnant and morally reprehensible? It can't be because this god has written a new holy book and handed down a revised set of fixed, eternal and unchanging morals. It's because the brutally uncivilised barbarity of fundamentalist Christianity is becoming increasingly irrelevant so the basic underlying humanism, innate to our species, evolved in our human and pre-human cultures over millions of years, and fundamental to a civilised society, is re-emerging and replacing the Bronze-Age brutality which subverted and repressed it for nearly 2000 years.

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1 comment :

  1. I want to thank you for this post. I have believed for a long time that no one should take civics or history in public school without being taught about this horrible time in British history, because it reveals so much about the real nature of religious fervor in the Protestant world. This has become so much more important, as we see a host of supposedly responsible Conservative leaders now vying to be the new Cromwell.


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