The creation of fundamentalist religion…

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I was reading today how the Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, has accused the west of creating the conditions which allowed the development of the extreme militant fundamentalist group that is the current enemy number one of the US and her allies- ISIS. It is a sign of how much things have changed in international relations that an Iranian president could say things like this and anyone would be listening. Even more than most of us would listen and think that he is absolutely right.

Anyone ever heard someone say this?-

“More wars are created by religion than just about any other cause.”

It is one of those truisms that, even though very easily challenged by a cursory look at history (witness both world wars in the last C) is remarkably persistent in our culture. Religion creates fervently held divergent ideas and fanatics who would defend these ideas at any cost.

Karen Armstrong (she of the Charter for Compassion initiative) has written a new book entitled Religion and the history of violence. She deals with this subject in a remarkable article in The Guardian today, which is really worth reading in full. In the article, she deals with the co-existence of violence and religion throughout history, arguing that in most cases, religious violence is intermingled with political expediency in such a way that it is almost impossible to describe the cause of the violence as being the religion itself.

She next deals with the rise of this thing called ‘secularism’, which was the West’s answer to perceptions of the danger of allowing religion to mix with politics.

When dealing with more recent religious conflicts, she had this to say;

When secularisation was implemented in the developing world, it was experienced as a profound disruption – just as it had originally been in Europe. Because it usually came with colonial rule, it was seen as a foreign import and rejected as profoundly unnatural. In almost every region of the world where secular governments have been established with a goal of separating religion and politics, a counter-cultural movement has developed in response, determined to bring religion back into public life. What we call “fundamentalism” has always existed in a symbiotic relationship with a secularisation that is experienced as cruel, violent and invasive. All too often an aggressive secularism has pushed religion into a violent riposte.

 

Every fundamentalist movement that I have studied in Judaism, Christianity and Islam is rooted in a profound fear of annihilation, convinced that the liberal or secular establishment is determined to destroy their way of life. This has been tragically apparent in the Middle East.

Fundamentalism as reaction, not as consequence of faith itself. Pretty much what the Iranian President is saying. Armstrong goes on to say this;

Many secular thinkers now regard “religion” as inherently belligerent and intolerant, and an irrational, backward and violent “other” to the peaceable and humane liberal state – an attitude with an unfortunate echo of the colonialist view of indigenous peoples as hopelessly “primitive”, mired in their benighted religious beliefs. There are consequences to our failure to understand that our secularism, and its understanding of the role of religion, is exceptional.

 

When secularisation has been applied by force, it has provoked a fundamentalist reaction – and history shows that fundamentalist movements which come under attack invariably grow even more extreme.

 

The fruits of this error are on display across the Middle East: when we look with horror upon the travesty of Isis, we would be wise to acknowledge that its barbaric violence may be, at least in part, the offspring of policies guided by our disdain.

It feels to me there is great wisdom in these words. Contrast them with the rising cry of violence that our government is rushing to join. The answer to violent groups like ISIS appears to be, more violence- as if this will ever put out the flames. As if this will remove the circumstances that led to the violence in the first place.

The counter cry will arise- evil can not be allowed to stand. Men of violence must be opposed. Justice should flow like a river.

But we have been here before have we not?

 

A contract between Scotland and God…

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Back in 2009 I wrote a post about Jean Darnell‘s prophecies in relation to Scotland. The point of the post was to dig into some of the hopes that certain parts of the church hold on to up here- hopes for a revival, for a new Holy Nation that becomes a beacon of truth for the whole of Europe. I suspect that there are people who hold to this hope in all countries, and from all faith backgrounds- although it is perhaps fair to say that Scotland has had more than most.

I was reminded of this when watching a recent BBC documentary called ‘The History of Scotland’. Episode 2 is available on the i player, and tells the story of the Covenanters.

I remembered a wee on-line spat with someone who commented on the post I wrote about Jean Darnell. Check out the comments on the post. 

Most of us in the British isles know very little about the Covenant, and how the power of religion became the engine for slaughter, civil war and repression. We know some of the key events- the ‘English’ civil war, Cromwell, beheading Kings and then reacting against it all afterwards. We might also know something about the  clashes between Catholic and Protestant religious movements, but this seems like a decorative footnote in history- like an antique frock coat in a museum. 

I wonder though whether this part of our history is more important to engage with than ever, in this time of the rise of fundamentalist religion. 

So here we go…

The Reformation smashed apart some of the old established religious hierarchies. John Knox, brought the teaching sof Calvin back to Scotland. and in 1560 Scottish Parliament adopted a formal system of  presbyteries. Men came to beleive that the Scottish church was the closest to perfection on earth. This was the church that all churches should emulate.

However, this was the age of Kings- power was dynastic, and fickle. Charles the first of Scotland, England and Ireland, seemed to be undermining the purity of the Presbyterian church in a series of cuts. Anglican priest undertook his coronation service, bishops were imposed, a prayer book insisted upon. Charles was imposing himself between man and his God, using the ways of Anglicanism, which was seen as Catholic-light. All this led to trouble. Preachers denounced, rabbles were roused, Priests were beaten up, books were burned.

In 1638 some of the outraged faithful organised themselves on a new path. Taking inspiration from the covenant God made with the ancient Israelites, they wrote a document that captured what they believed to be the role of a perfect king- one limited by the law of God, and married to the perfect church. The document fell in fertile soil, and stimulated an uprising of religious fervour- Scotland could be the perfect kingdom, a new Israel. 60% of Scotlands adults signed the covenant- many swept up in the excitement of it all, some bowing to pressure- failure to sign was shameful, Popish. This pressure led inexorably towards extremism, fundamentalism, madness even.

In a time of fractious relationships across the Union, the Covenanters (as they were now known) raised an army. Charles was weak and his hired army was defeated twice. Charles had his own problems with a troublesome parliament at home and the English civil war began.

In the first year of the war, Scotland took no part, but in 1643, Parliamentary forces, who had been repeatedly defeated by Charles forces, sent to Scotland asking for help. In return for help- in return for this help they promised the establishment of a Presbyterian Kirk in Scotland and Ireland. 20.000 men sent and they turned the tide. 2 years later, Charles surrendered. The defeated King was asked to sign the Covenant, but this was like asking Charles to reject his understanding of God, and who he was in the whole order of things. He refused.

Charles made a secret deal with loyal noblemen in Scotland, offering a 3 year trial of a Presbyterian kirk in all his kingdoms. Old loyalties remained. This split the Covenanter movement. Ordinary people did not want to fight for the vague promises of a non covenant King. These became called the PROTESTORS.

However, the Nobles marched south- they were defeated at Preston by Cromwell. The Protestors saw this as evidence of Gods favour, and fired with the certainty of their election, they seized Edinburgh.

What happened then will be vary familiar to anyone who has been close to the Taliban in Afghanistan. In a period known as the ‘Rule of the saints’ backsliders were executed, holes made in tongues, ears nailed to posts, the ungodly were harried and purged. No sin was left unpunished, public floggings were held on every street corner. Yet these times were remembered later as the ‘golden age’ of Protestantism.

The interesting thing is that this kind of extremist collective madness was only possible in a political vaccum- a time in which the moderation and stability of state has been suspended, smashed. Like Afghanistan, or Iraq perhaps, before or after  the odd invasion.

In 1649, King Charles the first was tried to treason. On the 30th of Jan he was executed. Monarchy was abolished- in England at least.

However, in Scotland, the Covenant still needed a signature; the Scots still wanted a king. They invited Charles’ son to come and be king. In order to be King, he needed to sign the covenant. He signed.

Cromwell could not let this lie- he had by now replaced the Union of old Kingdoms with a new Commonwealth, and to protect his embryonic new order he came north in 1650 with his army. For a while, things were in the balance. At Leith the Covenant army was twice the size of Cromwells, but decided to purge itself of ungodly elements (who tended to be the professional soldiers.) Cromwell killed thousands and put the rest to flight. The Rule of the Saints was over.
Cromwell was brutal- the English armybecame an army of occupation in Scotland.

1653, Cromwell became Lord Protector- almost-King. Then Cromwell died and 11 years of guilt unleashed. The spectre of the headless king stood over the nation- people were appalled. Things had gone too far.

So in 1660, Charles, son of Charles, becomes King of England and Scotland.  The old world was re-made and in this new/old world there were no room for the Covenant. It was made unlawful. Copies were collected and burnt by hangman.

Charles appointed bishop0s and archbishops, made all swear allegiance. All of Scotland’s ministers had to find a noble patron. Many could not or would not.

Alexander Peden- (“Prophet Peden”) was one such minister. He left his Kirk and began preaching in open air to thousands of men in South West Scotland- often armed men.

But things were changing in high places; the direction was back towards Rome. In 1670 Charles made secret treaty with Catholic King of France for money and arms to make sure his power remained. National conversion to Catholicism. Needed to be kept secret- and so those who accused him of Papery were sent to Bass Rock, including Peden, who spent 4 years on Scotland’s own Alcatraz.

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Everything that has been achieved by Protestors (and the Covenanters) was being undone. The faithful were desperate. The accursed Bishops were a figurehead of all that was evil and so in 1679, 9 men chased down the coach pf the Archbishop of St Andrews and assassinated him in front of his daughter.

It was a  terrorist act and there was a reaction. Battles were fought again in which initially the Protestors did well, taking the city of Glasgow. Hopes were raised- could ‘The Golden Age’ return?

Then began three weeks of discussion. Should the ungodly be allowed to fight.? Were they wanting to unseat the king, or persuade him to sign the Covenant only? Theology was argued. Factions formed and split then split again. And then Cromwell attacked. 400 were killed, 1200 were taken prisoner, the rest fled. What followed became known as ‘the killing time’. Many preachers executed.

In 1681, a young Protestor called James Renwick climbed up pikes to retrieve and bury the heads of 5 executed Covenanters. He became leader of remaining Protestors,  Who made a new declaration and formed what were called ‘United Societies’. They rejected Stuart Dynasty. Rennick, along with his 6000 followers, wanted to start second civil war.

Meanwhile, James, Charles brother was declared heir to throne as Charles had no legitimate children and he was CATHOLIC. Fires of unrest started to smolder, and something needed to be done. The plan was this; an Oath was framed demanding all citizens reject the united societies. Failure to take oath was punishable by death. Soldiers sent into south west- and over 90 people were killed by summary execution- no courts, not appeals.

James came to throne in 1685. Now there wereCatholic monarchs in France and Britain. William of Orange in the Netherlands, James Nephew, had a claim to the crowns of Britain. He was not Catholic and had been at war with France for years. He prepared to make his move.

Meanwhile, Catholics became majority in Government. Only the United Societies remained as an opposition, so a price was placed on Rennicks head. Rennick wanted to become a martyr so after a skirmish in which he killed some of the men sent to detain him, he allowed himself to be taken and was executed in 1688.

Then William of Orange landed in Devon with 15000 men, and James support withered.  It seemed to be decided that this  was not an invasion- but rather a glorious restoration. Protestant army offices defected to Williams army and noblemen across the country declared their loyalty to William. James’ position was untenable  and so he fled the country. In 1689, William was crowned King of the union of Scotland, England and Ireland.

Significantly, he made a new covenant between crown and parliament- a bloodless covenant 50 years after it all started.

Bloodless in England that is- some noblemen in Scotland remained loyal to James- became known as Jacobites– and this is a whole different story- leading to a whole lot more blood letting down the line. There was a kind of compromise between William and the Protesters. This split in the Kirk though- and itsplit in the country. In the north, loyalty remained- a ticking time bomb which would take many more lives.

So, when all is said and done, what is the legacy of the Covenanters? They are still held as heroes by many- particularly within certain tribal religious groupings.

Where they martyrs in the service of civil liberty, of religious freedom in the face of oppression? Where they serving the cause of the Kingdom of God? Is there example enlightening to us across the (few) generations since their passing?

What was left of the message of Jesus in their war cries? The knew nothing of mercy, nothing of moderation nothing of peace.  Their only interest was  in securing power for their own brand of religion. One nation under God, sermons every day, twice on Sunday. All others will surely go to hell.

Their religion was the religion of empire- not of the Kingdom of God. This may sound like after-the-event rationalisation, but I think we owe our history (and the its victims) more than this.

Final words go to Neil Oliver, presenter of the BBC programme;

Once this was God’s country- but it is no more.

Thank God for that.

Fundamentalism…

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…acceptance of pluralism relativises truth. Once it is allowed that there are different paths to truth, a person’s religious allegiance becomes a matter of choice, and choice is the enemy of absolutism. Fundamentalism is one response to the crisis of faith brought about by awareness of differences…

This from here. (Emphasis mine.)

I read this recently and have been chewing on it for a couple of days. The logical outcome of a faith that lays claim to absolute truth is the fact that everyone else is wrong. If truth is important, life saving even, then we have to try to convince them of their error, at any cost. Even if it costs us (or them) our lives.

This is the story of fundamentalism in all the different traditions- be they Islamic, Jewish, Christian or Hindu.

In my tradition we are emerging from a mess of what happens when the religion named after a man of the poor becomes the religion of empire- first via Constantine, more recently the British Empire, now America, despite its attempt to separate church from state, is making the same mistakes.  We talk as if the power  and privilege we have is a result of the blessing of God on our embracing of moral and theological truth.

Other forms of fundamentalism grows as a direct result of the mess we have made- it is stoked by a sense of deep injustice, by loss, poverty, by an identity forged outside and in the dark shadow of empire. The truth of this kind of fundamentalism is the truth of a people in exile.

For most of us, fundamentalism is mediated, softened by other things- secularism, separation from people who are different, a gap between our cant and our mission, or… a change in our theology. Some despise the latter as weakness, corruption.

But others see it as the kind of truth that sets us free.

The way, the truth and the life by which we come to the Father.

This is not easy journey, but I think it is one that many of us are on.

Religious fundamentalism and the hope of peace…

My friend and former neighour Terry sent me a link to this;

This seems to be a move to bring together different religion around a central universal higher law of compassion. Here is a quote from the Charter for compassion site;

The Charter for Compassion is a collaborative effort to build a peaceful and harmonious global community. Bringing together the voices of people from all religions, the Charter seeks to remind the world that while all faiths are not the same, they all share the core principle of compassion and the Golden Rule. The Charter will change the tenor of the conversation around religion. It will be a clarion call to the world.

The woman who appears to have been the catalyst for this move is called Karen Armstrong. It seems that she is a former Nun, who has become a controversial figure after writing about her own experience of religion, and increasingly becoming a proponent of comparative religion.

I found another clip from a TED speech that Karen Armstrong gave;

I found Karen’s point about religious people ‘preferring to be right rather than compassionate’ to be all too true.

Terry and I are chewing on this a little. Is it good, or bad, or indifferent?

Is fundamentalism always bad? I have seen Christian fundamentalism at close quarters, red in tooth and claw, and can no longer stand close to much of it. The damage that can be done in this context is great but…

I have also seen passion and fervency lead to great compassion, and acts of service and self sacrifice.

And as a follower of Jesus, I do believe him to be the place and person towards whom we are all heading. I am happy to engage with other faiths, but I would always approach them, as much as I am able, through my understanding of who Jesus is.

So what would he think of this charter?

I wonder if he would look at Karen Armstrong, see all that she is and say- ‘well done, good and faithful servant…’

What do you think? I reckon it’s time for another vote…