Recommends: Thomas More vs Mary Dyer

Content Note: Religious Oppression

Having watched The Tudors not too long ago, I particularly loved Fred's post on why invoking Thomas More in the name of religious liberty is a LOL WHUT moment. Because even Thomas-More-as-played-by-Jeremy-Northram is more pig than lipstick (through no fault of Mr. Northram).

Commenting Guidelines [credit to Shakesville]: Please take the time to make sure any criticisms are clearly directed at the Catholic Church leadership and not at "Catholics," many of whom are themselves critical of the failures of Church leadership.

RECOMMENDS! What have you been thinking these days?


Timothy (TRiG) said...

I must admit that I have a hard time conceptually separating "Catholics" from "the Catholic Church", but this does seem to be one of those places where it is considerably more complicated than it initially seems to be. I suspect I never will fully "get" it.


Makabit said...

"And, in tonight's performance, the executioner will be playing himself."

Actor: "Did he say the executioner will be playing himself? Sir, there's been an error. I think it's FINE if the king marries Anne Boleyn."

More's Daughter: "My father will NEVER give in to King Henry's tyranny!"

Actor: "Yes! He will! He'll give in right now!"

(Vaguely remembered from a short play titled "The Actor's Nightmare". Basically, some poor soul finds himself on stage playing More in "A Man For All Seasons", only to realize that they're going to execute him at the end of the play.)

chris the cynic said...

I must admit that I have a hard time conceptually separating "Catholics" from "the Catholic Church"

I think part of the problem is that you're trying to separate the wrong things. Catholics cannot be separated from the Catholic Church because without Catholics there would be no church. What can, and sometimes must, be separated is Catholics as a whole from the Church leadership.

Catholics as a whole are a significantly more diverse group. Even Catholics who aren't part of the laity (that is, just those who hold positions within the Church) are a significantly more diverse group.

Right now the Catholic Nuns in the US are speaking out on behalf of the poor and powerless (of all genders.)

Right now the Catholic Bishops in the US are speaking out to the detriment of non-rich women. And also speaking out against the Catholic Nuns (who happen to be non-rich women, but it's speaking out in different ways then the previous sentence.)

It's not a monolith.

A better example, though equally US-centric, might be the issue of birth control itself in terms of laity vs. hierarchy in the US.

98% of Catholic women in the US use birth control or have used birth control. Even ignoring the fact that a lot of the men they were having sex with at the time were probably Catholic, that 98% of Catholic women in the US is a lot of the Catholic population of the US.

The hierarchy in the US is very much opposed to the use of birth control.

Pretty sure that 98% of Catholic women in the US is a much larger portion of the Catholics in the US then the entire US portion of Catholic hierarchy. So which ones represent the Church? The ones with overwhelming numbers on their side, or the ones with authority on their side? They're all Catholics after all.

I would avoid trying to tease out where the Catholic Church truly stands, and instead just remember that the opinions of the Church leadership do not necessarily represent the positions of all Catholics.

storiteller said...

As someone who is married to a Catholic and has spent a lot of time with Catholics, I think that's a pretty good assessment of the situation. Also, I find my favorite Catholics (both personally and from a spiritual point of view) are those who are more concerned about being loving towards everyone than following exactly what the church leadership says. As one of my spiritual and social activism mentors, Sister Marie said to me, "Sometimes I'm not always a good Catholic, but I try to be a good Christian."

JonathanPelikan said...

Just listened to this. Never not listening to it.
RIP Dr. Sagan; we'll never forget. A still more glorious dawn awaits us.

Munching on a plot bunny for a story about the first expedition sent using faster-than-light engines to go 'above' the plane of the galactic disk and photograph what it looks like from, say, tens of thousands of lightyears 'above' the Earth, and then return and share these images with the people.

"Able Astronaut, you know that a lightyear is how long light travels in a year of time, right?"

"I think I heard my instructors say that once, Pretty Chief. Why?"

"Well look. When we look into the heavens all of the light from the galaxy we are seeing is not actually current light, but it's on a time lag, sometimes for vast amounts of time. Some of the stars we're seeing right now as we look out on this galaxyrise no longer exist, and if new stars have been birthed in the galactic core, we don't see them yet. If a supernova was to burst into existence over Earth, we wouldn't even notice it from this vantage. The signals broadcast from the old first-wave human S.E.T.I. program, sent something on the order of 400+ years ago, have not even left Republic territory yet, and at current rates of colonial expansion and recruitment, they won't for at least another nine centuries."



"And how's this; every time we've stopped to get our bearings and dropped back into normalspace on our climb relative 'upwards', we've snapped a few photos. Due to our cruising speed in FTL, each day or two of travel between photo sets reverses the passing of... some thousands, I think, of years of light from our perspective. We have actually observed this; Daedalus and Tantalus have analyzed their pictures, snapped in exactly the same angles, and found that stars we were observing sometimes just don't exist anymore between shots. We can only account for some of that with dark matter interference; with each jump we are seeing a visual history of our galaxy, and actually in that sense traveling backwards in time from one perspective."

"So if we had the capabilities, we could receive signals from civilizations and cultures that no longer exist?"

"Yes. We have a few teams working on just that, as well, although we haven't gotten very far. The reality is that our equipment isn't set up to deal with this yet. We can do a lot with what we see, and that's part of why this expedition is breaking new ground as far as we know, but..."

"How will we know when we reach the 'top' of our journey?"

"At this point? Pretty much when the Admiral says 'let's stop here'. How many more jumps we take upwards is up to him, although it's likely whenever we get a really amazing angle on the galaxy as a whole and can see every part of it. We won't get a completely birds-eye view, though; to do that we'd have to go over roughly where the galactic core is, and, well. We don't have the endurance for that trip. Maybe one day."

"This is certainly impressive enough."


"When we reach our final stop, are we going to send out a signal?"

"Hm. If we do that, nobody's going to be receiving it before we're all dust."

"Well, yeah. Still..."

"Yaeh, I still like that idea, too. Might as well run it by the Admiral. Go ahead and start brainstorming for ideas for what we load in this signal from the top."

"'We were here'?"


Kitwhitfield said...

I must admit that I have a hard time conceptually separating "Catholics" from "the Catholic Church", but this does seem to be one of those places where it is considerably more complicated than it initially seems to be. I suspect I never will fully "get" it.

Try this concept from Antonia White's Frost in May: 'Catholicism isn't a religion, it's a nationality.'

Now, obviously this is a big oversimplification, as all epigrams tend to be. But in cases like this, it's a useful analogy.

I'm a citizen of Britain, and more specifically of England. Britain and England have leaders that constantly do things I consider destructive, wrong-headed or immoral. I vote against it, and sign petitions - but I don't emigrate, because at the end of the day England is still my home. And even if I did emigrate, I would still, whatever other citizenship I acquired, have 'English' as part of my baseline identity.

Catholicism - speaking as the descendent of lapsed Catholics on both sides - can function a lot like that. One reason why the terrible child abuse has been hushed up as much as it was is because the Vatican pushed an idea that the Church could function as a kind of state-within-a-state in every country where there were Catholics. Now, that's utterly undemocratic and unreasonable, and there's a good case to be made that the Vatican shouldn't have statehood either, but it is, at least, an element of Catholic tradition. Even if you don't agree with some of it, or don't observe all of it, or even believe much of it, 'Catholic' is a culture as well as a faith, and as with every culture, the leaders may 'speak for' the subjects in an official sense, but that doesn't mean they 'speak for' them in a representative sense. Sometimes the subjects aren't at all happy with the leaders' decisions; they're just still members of that community.

Except that it's harder for Catholics to influence the hierarchy than for citizens of a democratic country, because the Catholic Church is extremely undemocratic and authority flows from above, not below. So a lot of Catholics are just hanging in there, hoping that the presence of more modern perspectives in the congregation will exert a slow influence, and praying for the Church to have some better days in the future.

Fred is sharp about his own religion, but it's worth remembering that his religion and culture has a strong anti-Catholic tradition of its own, and some of what he says comes across as more influenced by good ole 'those damn Catholics' hostilities than progressive understanding. Rhysdux's comment in the thread makes some important historical points. More was not an unusually violent or intolerant man for the culture he inhabited. Violence and repression were the norm, and every statesman partook of them because they were how the game was played.

Which is not to defend More entirely, but it is, well, more complicated than that. 'Pig' is just too simple.


On another subject - I just saw a very interesting documentary called Knuckle about the tradition of bare-knuckle boxing among Irish Travellers, and how the matches are used as a way of dealing with long-running feuds. At least in the UK, 'gypsies' have recently become a fashionable subject for documentaries, but this film was twelve years in the making and anything but gimmicky. Well worth a look.

Timothy (TRiG) said...

And John Joe Nevin, who won a silver medal for boxing in the Olympics, is a Traveller. Some of his relatives went to watch the match in a pub, and weren't allowed in. Travellers are still very much discriminated against in Ireland.


Kitwhitfield said...

Good for him winning a medal, but his family being banned from the pub is shameful.

The interesting thing about the documentary is that the director's feelings about the matches clearly changed over the years. On the one hand, they clearly involve tremendous skill and resilience, and while fouling seems to be quite common (biting, for instance), they also make a rule of having two referees, one for each fighter, who have to be members of neutral Traveller families not involved in the feud. And the refs very often do break things up and insist on fair play, including continually asking whoever's getting the worst of it whether he wants to stop the fight, besides which, they make a habit of limiting the audiences to avoid things turning into a gang brawl. So while the police sometimes block roads to prevent the fights and cruise overhead in scary-looking helicopters - which makes it hardly surprising that nobody feels very peaceful - the fights themselves have their own laws which are pretty consistently enforced. The feud the documentary followed had been sparked off - not started, but brought up again - because one young man had killed another outside a pub in Peckham. He'd been convicted of manslaughter, and the families were at each other over it - but based on the film, I think you could make a very good case that the reason the young man died was precisely because this was an unofficial fight, and that if they'd taken their conflict to a refereed boxing match, nobody would have died. And as the silver medal shows, the fights also involved a lot of skill in the case of some fighters, and human excellence is generally speaking a good thing, and people surely are entitled to choose their own traditions.

But on the other hand, the documentary also suggests that the prestige and money involved in the matches are a big factor in keeping the feuds going because they promote a win-or-lose system and prevent people from resolving things in other ways, and that while the matches themselves are pretty well-managed, the feuds are a real pity because they break up families and friendships. The boys are all playing at boxing from seven years old or so, and the granddads are still fighting each other; some fights happen largely because there's tens of thousands riding on them and the fighters want to raise some quick money; some fighters seemed to be out to prove that they were proper men by these pugilistic standards. And meanwhile the women, when they could be persuaded to talk, were mostly saying that while they were proud when their husbands or sons won a fight, they really didn't like this feuding because they were all one people and connected by a lot of intermarriage (which of course you notice more when you're a woman, because you're born with one name and marry into another), and they didn't like the division. And the boys ... well, they were putting their little fists up and bouncing around, but at the same time, under their tough manner, a lot of them looked scared.

So yeah, good documentary, because it was very much about these people as human beings, and the documentary maker was clearly not interested in sensationalism or exploitation, but just in taking a proper look at a complicated situation.

Silver Adept said...

This may be apropos of nothing, but there exists a place in Michigan calling itself the Thomas More Law Center. They generally wade in on issues like marriage equality and conscience exemptions and are religiously conservative, often to a fanatical-seeming degree. They appeared a lot more in the past in my travels, but that didn't mean they're not still at work.

Fred probably knows about them, as well. Perhaps that association might also influence feeling a bit more negative about the person, especially if the law center in More's name seems well-aligned with his goals.

More on topic: There's a Catholic priest on Dad's side of the family, and they're all strong in that faith. I never directly asked what they thought of the abuse scandals, but I tried to listen around the edges of things to see I'd I could gather an opinion. For the most part, the opinion seemed to be that the scandal was a tragedy...for both the victims and for the credibility of the Catholic Church. Thankfully, in that order. But there was never any doubt that the Church would continue as it had been for centuries. I think that's where you see the difference between Catholics and the Church. The laity can be outraged by something, but it's not likely to produce change at the institutional level. Not unless the Bishop of Rome is a liberal, and I don't think you get to being a member of the College of Cardinals by being liberal.

Weirdly, the best way to sum it up might be that "not everyone who is part of the organization believes everything the organization says is doctrine." Which is kind of easy to envision in politics, but not always so easy in religion.

Randomosity said...

Just yesterday, the results of a poll were published in the newspaper. 58% of local Catholics oppose a constitutional amendment to limit the right to marry. As mentioned above, 98% use some form of birth control. My own Catholic high school had a science and religion class that went into detail on what the methods of birth control were, how to use them, how to combine methods to make them work better, how the rhythm method differed from Natural Family Planning (NFP), how those only work if your menstrual cycle is one you can build a calendar around - and oh yes, the Church wants you to use NFP and the rhythm method to intentionally conceive and plan your sexytimes around conception - oh and by the way the other methods are verboten.

The "Don't do this" part was presented as obligatory party line, but the information was on the realistic idea that most people do NOT want to pop out a kid every year, nor is it healthy to do so. We the students could tell that was the case in the way the teacher taught the class. As far as I know, not one single parent complained. This was the best sex ed class I have ever had, and it wasn't even a sex ed class.

Having been Catholic at one time, most Catholics are living in the real world and happily ignore the hierarchy's dicta on most things. The problem is, Catholic laity have zero input on the dicta that come down and have even less input on who leads the Church. They have no say in who their pastors will be, who will be saying Mass, so if a child molestor is your new pastor, you can write to the bishop all you want, the bishop will likely ignore you.

Most Catholics are realists and non-discriminatory, but there are those who believe that if the pope says something, it's law.

There is a church in my area called St. Joan of Arc, which is as liberal as they come. The Vatican has come very close to shutting them down for things like ordaining women, blessing same sex unions. denouncing the child molesters in the church hierarchy and those who shuffled them along to unwary congregations.

Pacal said...

The idea that Thomas More could be a poster child for religious liberty should of course break irony meters and cause WTF double takes.

This is of course to a large extent the result of the piece of propaganda play A Man For All Seasons, and the subsequent movie. To call the play / movie a lie is to be far too polite, the play / movie is an outrageous falsification of Thomas More and history, each and every word / scene should be assumed a luie until proven otherwise. Also as a play A Man for All Seasons is rather mediocre and frankly boring.

From that piece of excrement people have gotten the modern notion of Thomas More as a hero who died for the sack of his pure conciousness.

The irony is that Thomas More was judicially murdered for his opinions, and that he believed right to the end of his life that it was right and proper to torture, and horribly kill people for their opinions. I'm sure given Thomas More's fantacism that the irony of his position never entered his head.

During the time he was lord Chancellor of England he presided over the aprehension and death by burning of "Heretics", and if his letters are anything to go by the horrible deaths of these people gave Thomas more the great pleasure.

Thomas More also wrote, at length, volume after volume denouncing "Heretics" and celebrating their deaths by fire. The hysterical hatred and bile of Thomas more towards "Heretics" "shines" forth from every page along with the spit larded hatred. Thomas More HATED to the absolute depth of his being anyone who had a religious opinion different from his. He HATED frteedom of concience and thought those who had religious opinions different from his should be destroyed by fire if they persisted in their "error". Thoas More also persued "Heretics" even beyond the grave for he rejocied in the thought that after they burned on earth they would, he thought, burn in hell forever.

Kitwhitfield said...

The hysterical hatred and bile of Thomas more towards "Heretics" "shines" forth from every page along with the spit larded hatred.

Um ... sounding pretty bilious yourself there, really. Some quotations to support your point would help.

Nina said...

"So a lot of Catholics are just hanging in there, hoping that the presence of more modern perspectives in the congregation will exert a slow influence, and praying for the Church to have some better days in the future. "

This pretty much sums up my in-laws. Thanks for the clear analogy, Kit.

Pacal said...

How about the following from More's A Dialogue Concerning Heresies:

Regarding Luther about why anyone should give a hearing to "a fond friar, to an apostate, to an open incestous lecher, a plain limb of the devil, and a manifest messanger of hell?"

In a chapter heading of the same book More says:

"The author showeth his opinion concerning the burning of heretics and that it is lawful, necessary, and well done."

In another work More referred to a man named Hytton burned to death for heresy as "The devil's stinking martyr".

Or how about this beau mot:

"And for heretics as they be, the clergy both denounce them. And as they be well worthy, the temporalty doth burn them. And after the fire of Smithfield, hell doth receive them where the wretches burn forever".

Years ago I read certain of Thomas More's publications in the Collected Works of Thomas More, including the repellant A Dialogue Concerning Heresies. I don't remember exact quotes so I got the above from my copy of Richard Marius' biography Thomas More.

As for being bilious. At least I don't support the notion that it is OK to burn people to death for religious opinions different from my own.

Amaryllis said...

You do know that Luther was no slouch with an insult himself?

From Contra Henricum, back when Henry VIII was still defending the Faith, and which More was responding to:
Christ has placed me here that I may torment the papist monsters, while they find nothing in me of which they can make public use in vomiting forth their unbelievable animosity. Christ wishes them to be tormented by their own hatred, and destroyed by their own malice. ,,, They will have a double affliction, the torment of their present hatred, and that which it is earning for them,--the eternal torment of Gehenna.

they have succeeded with their unlimited lying in throwing everything into confusion, in abolishing the whole Scripture and establishing in its place the reign of a doctrine that is written out of the Roman heart, a heart possessed by that most wicked Satan...

Plainly he is a chosen vessel of Satan...

...the Thomist King, who is effeminately querulous...The King of England, this Henry, clearly lies, and with his lies, acts the part of a comic jester rather than that of a is right for me, on behalf of my King, to spatter his Anglican royal highness with his own mud and filth, and cast down and trample under foot the crown that blasphemeth Christ.

But it is not to be wondered that the Thomist asses are so ridiculous; for God has willed that they should show no sign of sanity, or even of right thinking.

It was the general tone of religious disputation at the time.

Pacal said...

Yes I know that Luther was pretty good in the insult department. i've read his throughly vile On the Jews and Their Lies. Not all religious dispute at the time was carried out in this fashion. Erasmus for one did not do so.

Not all people involved in religious disputes at the time wrote as obsessively has Thomas More did about heresy in so many thousand upon thousand pages. I've read only a few of Thomas More's heresy hating writings and I've not read extensively the writings of other religious writers of the age. But frankly from what I've read Luther and Thomas More seems to be worst than the average. Richard Marius the writer of the biography of Thomas More, called naturally, Thomas More was also one of the editors of The Collected Works of Thomas More and he characterizes Thomas More basically has a religious fanatic whose writings were more vicious than usual for the time period.

I note that many people at the time were socked that Luther in his reply to Henry VIII could so publically insult a monarch. It was regarded as bad taste.

I note what while Thomas More was Lord Chancellor he did indeed hunt out heretics and had several burned alive.

This sort of disputations was indeed common in this age but in the case of Thomas More and Luther it also conveyed real hatred much of the time.

darthhellokitty said...

You could liken it to differentiating between the people of a country, and the rulers of that same country.

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