Heretics and Hypocrites

(Photograph depicts young Russian protestors from the Eurasian Youth Union, taken in 2006).

This Saturday the people of Lewes, East Sussex converge for their annual bonfire party. The Lewes celebration is the biggest and most extravagant bonfire night in the country. It commemorates the foiled Guy Fawkes plot and honours the memory of the Lewes martyrs, seventeen Protestants who were tortured and killed for their beliefs during the reign of Queen Mary.

The Lewes festivities are part of a local tradition, and attract both fame and infamy nationally. The costumes and displays are deliberately designed to be provocative, lampooning the excesses of the historical popes and other pious leaders. Clearly those who spoke out at the time knew that the most devious used their religious authority to cloak their own immorality. They were prepared to die defending their convictions.

It is obvious that the intention behind this is to mock and pillory figures of power rather than the devout believers. Every year a notorious establishment figure is made into a “Guy” to be burned on the bonfire. Historical religious persecution is casually dismissed as a distant era of primitivism and superstition, but the modern age has not moved on in terms of accepting others who profess a different opinion to the prevailing conventions or sensitivities.

The fate that afflicted those individuals who questioned the authority of the Catholic Church was gruesome, but the modern punishment of cancellation is much more insidious on a psychological level, and even more damaging than the physical tortures of sixteenth century inquisitors.

Until very recently every school child in Britain was implored to recite the rhyme to “Remember remember the 5th of November, Gunpowder, Treason and Plot”. This is not an attack on religious difference, but a reminder that a fanatical terrorist almost succeeded in destroying freedom and democracy in this country and this included freedom of conscience and freedom of speech.

It is vital to point out that if the Gunpowder Plot had succeeded, then the United Kingdom would have become a theocracy and every citizen would be controlled through a combination of intimidation and violence to adhere to the state religion. No-one would be free to question, or to highlight any double standard or hypocrisy, these are things that we now take for granted.

Unfortunately a new kind of heresy is being suggested, and it is promulgated from a powerful and influential class of people. Most people are not allied to this extreme cause but are too afraid to voice dissent, lest they lose their jobs or their friends. They are also subject to mockery, sarcasm and vulgarity rather than reasoned discussion. This is a modern kind of inquisition and it should be recognised as another form of torture. No-one should be subject to this kind of barbarism in 2022.

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