Editorial from Church & State, Spring 2009 (Number 96)
Corruption & Catholicism
It was the destiny of the English to civilise the Irish by subjecting the loose Christianity of the Gaels to Roman discipline. That was why Henry II set out to conquer Ireland under a mandate from the Pope. But, 400 years later, the Irish still had not been disciplined into Roman order, and the English who had undertaken the task had fallen into Irish ways.
So there was a fresh start. It then became the destiny of English Protestantism to civilise the un-Romanised Irish by de-Roman Catholicising them. The great difficulty about that lay in the fact that England had failed to Roman Catholicise them. The Irish could not be de-programmed because they had not been programmed.
English Reformationist activity in Ireland did what English Romanist activity in Ireland had failed to do. It brought the Irish within the Roman sphere. The Irish certainly changed under the English Reformationist regime, also known as the Penal Laws.
England as the secular arm of the Papacy failed to Romanise the Irish. But, when England rejected the Papacy, it treated the Irish as if they were what England had been. It set out to suppress the Irish as intransigent Romanists, and eventually made them so.
When we had to change or be exterminated, the mild discipline of Rome was the farthest we could go.
And that is why we are corrupt.
So says the Irish Times corruption expert Elaine Byrne:
"A positive correlation exists between Catholicism and corruption. Political science literature and academic research suggests that the more Protestant the population, the less corrupt the country… Catholicism is a hierarchical religion. The Catholic Church places emphasis on the inherent weakness and shortcomings of human beings, their inability to escape sin and the consequent need for the church to be forgiving and protecting… The clergy, as mediators between mankind and God, facilitate, via confession, the possibility to be absolved of guilt. As laid down by the Council of Trent, priests have this authority “because that our Lord Jesus Christ, when about to ascend from earth to heaven, left priests his own vicars, as presidents and judges… in order that, in accordance with the power of the keys, they may pronounce the sentence of forgiveness or retention of sins”… On the other hand, the egalitarian organisation typical of Protestantism believes that individuals are personally responsible for avoiding sin rather than relying upon the institutional forgiveness of the church. Protestant culture is less understanding when lapses from grace occur.
"The institutionalisation of virtue and the compulsion to cast out the wicked is underpinned more explicitly.
"The implication therefore is that Protestants are less inclined to commit a sin because they do not have the same faculty of achieving pardon as Catholics do.
"Diverging attitudes towards loyalty to the state were born when Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses to the Wittemberg Castle Church door in Germany. The Reformation was initiated in response to the growing concerns of corruption regarding the sale of indulgences and church positions by the church hierarchy.
"The separation between church and state tends to be further pronounced in Protestant societies which instead promote an autonomous civil society…
"Academic papers and datasets… [etc.]
"When I presented these facts at a Belfast university conference a few years ago, I was intercepted by an indignant student immediately afterwards.
"I had let down my faith, the men of 1916 and all those going back to 1798 and an act of contrition at once demanded…" (Will 10% More Protestants Lead To Less Corruption, Irish Times, March 3; supporting letters appeared on April 7 and 8).
When this magazine was founded for the purpose of eroding the social power of the Catholic Church in the early 1970s, the support it got from either middle class Catholics who were private sceptics or from the privileged Protestant community in the Republic, was negligible. The excessive influence of the Church fell away a generation ago. Professor Foster in his last, contemptuous, book, The Luck Of The Irish, says that Ireland has become Protestant. It hasn't. It is only lapsed Catholic. It knows little of Protestantism, beyond a few external facts. It knows nothing of the spirit of Protestantism, which set out to destroy the Roman Church and tear up its roots, because it did not itself engage in any conflict with the Roman Church in its prime. It is told fairy stories and thinks itself clever when it swallows them.
The doctrine of separation of Church and State is not Protestant, but Catholic. The fact of separation of Church and State, which was something new in the world, pre-dated the Reformation by many centuries. Christianity became a world force when it became the ideology of the Roman Empire. As the secular power of the Empire declined, the influence of its ideological authority increased, until at the end the Church of Rome was, as Thomas Hobbes put it, the ghost of the Roman Empire dancing on its grave. But, before that, there was a long epoch in which Pope and Emperor were rival authorities, and political parties formed on each were active in the centre of European civilisation (South Germany and North Italy) under the titles Guelph and Ghibbiline. The subsequent history of Europe, and of the world as influenced by Europe, was marked by that division.
The Reformation, in the place that counted, ended the division of Church and State. Henry VIII was Pope and Emperor in one. He was a Pope who laid down the law and an Emperor who decided what should be believed.
In parts of Europe there was a kind of rebellion of belief that became Protestantism. In England there was no rebellion of belief. When there was a hint of it with Wycliffe the state curbed it. When England broke with Rome it had nothing to do with Luther. Henry would have been happy to make war on Lutherism, and he actually prepared to do so. He broke with Rome purely for reasons of state, making the church in England into a department of state when doing so.
If he had had any disagreement with Rome about religion, apart from who should run the show, he could have proclaimed his own body of beliefs and the populace would have believed them to order—other than those who refused to repudiate the Pope and had to be destroyed. But he had no new religion to set up in place of the old. He tried to keep on the old, with himself as Pope, but it didn't work. Then he tampered with it piecemeal but never got close to shaping a new system.
The people would believe whatever they were authoritatively told to believe. The problem was that the state did not tell them something definite and stick to it. And it was through that messing about that fierce theological feuding was generated in the body of English society which led a century later to a Civil War to determine which theology should be the theocracy.
Until the 1688 coup d'etat different varieties of positive Protestantism were in dispute over which beliefs and forms of organisation should be compulsory in the combined State/Church. After 1688 a kind of settlement was made by disembowelling Protestantism and establishing mere anti-Catholicism in its place. A sceptical gentry—some of them Bishops—had emerged from the Protestant theological feuding and they they had taken control of the state. They set up the lowest common factor of Protestantism (hatred of the Pope) as the qualification for availing of rights established by a Toleration Act. The Toleration was essentially an Act for allowing Anti-Catholics to unite.
The Protestant Archbishop of Dublin—who like Elaine Byrne had read about the Council of Trent—published a diatribe a couple of years after 1688, which was a Manifesto for the system of Penal Laws.
The Protestantism of coherent belief—Calvinism, Zwinglism, Knoxism—was subverted by the Protestant settlement on which the British state was based. Loyalty to a corrupt state became the operative public virtue.
If members of the ruling stratum—Anglicans—sinned less, it was because the idea of sin was whittled away, and it would not be very much of an exaggeration to say that its place was taken by a moral obligation to do what you wanted to do.
The earnest beliefs of the sects of Protestantism were necessary to government by the sceptical gentry—the populace emerging from the 17th century could not live in scepticism—but it was also necessary to curb them. Naive, innocent conscience, so much admired by Elaine Byrne—what we now call fundamentalism—was excluded from the corridors of power but was allowed to exercise itself freely in the private sphere—in business of one sort or another. And there was little business in 18th century England that was unconnected with slavery and plunder. And, under the sedative influence of the sceptical gentry who monopolised the power of state, naive Puritan conscience soon became casuistical.
Pockets of simple belief, within which life was lived in accordance with belief, survived into the 20th century, and more in North East Ireland than in Britain. But it was not in the medium of simple belief that the British state was made functional after a century and a half of earnest Protestantism.
The British state which made Protestantism a dominant force in world affairs operated from the start in a political medium of duplicity, manipulation of the beliefs of others where possible and destruction of them where not, and corruption. And the greatest of these was corruption.
Liberalism and Democracy have different sources and fundamentalist Protestantism was not the source of either. Britain was constructed as a liberal state after 1688 and two centuries later it was felt safe to entrust the liberal state to a democratic franchise.
Liberalism is not a principle. It over-rides principle. It came about in England through the activity of a ruling stratum of gentry dedicated to statecraft for the purpose of increasing the power of the British state in the world. Its only principle is expediency.
The expedient by which the small British ruling stratum recruited talent to itself from the swathes of Protestant belief over which it ruled was corruption. Walpole's England, the England of the First Prime Minister who governed continuously for more than twenty years, was a great mechanism of corruption. It operated on the principle that principle could be bought off. If that had proved not to be the case, Liberal England would not have happened.
It was not until a century and a half after 1688 that any serious pretence was made of governing without corruption—without the oiling of the mechanism of state by extensive Government patronage in civil society. It was then pretended that there was an objective system of meritocracy that operated independently of Government influence.
The Protestantism of Elaine Byrne's vision was thoroughly mashed up in the course of that development.
The areas where an authentic Protestantism of belief was not taken in hand by a state and manipulated for purposes of state, what did they count for in shaping the world? Scotland believed, but it always failed in its conflict with English opportunism, and in the end it voluntarily put itself under England to become a secondary partner in a kind of power which it failed to establish for itself. In Geneva Calvinism burnt itself out.
The less hectic Protestantism of Luther settled down as a form of Quietism after Luther helped to suppress the Peasants' Revolt which had expected him to support it. It was suitable as the culture of quiet backwaters. But quiet backwaters had little survival value in a Europe dominated by the militarism of the great states—the British, French and Russian Empires. It was Prussia, made into a Great Power by a King dedicated to statecraft, who did not even pretend to believe even in order to manipulate the beliefs of others, that stopped the petty German backwaters from being a battlefield for others, and from being taken over by those others.
It is said that many of the stars that we see ceased to exist long before we saw them. And such is the case with Elaine Byrne's vision of Protestantism.
It was not that Protestantism of her belated vision that produced the world in which we have to live, either its capitalism or its liberalism or its democracy. It was the essentially disbelieving Protestantism of the English ruling stratum, which became comprehensively casuistical three centuries ago, manipulated the beliefs of believers, and wore them threadbare.
Perhaps Elaine Byrne wishes that the kind of Protestantism that she sees in vision had survived, and had prevented the British Empire, and that Europe was a series of Amish communities? As an Irish Times columnist!!
As to Confession: it was done away with because under the system of the English Reformation the state became the keeper of the conscience of all who serve it. Its agents committed atrocities for it all over the world and then came home to live lives of quiet refinement in beautiful villages in the Shires (and no doubt in Ireland). How much better this is than confessing the things that you have done and then being absolved of guilt. There is blanket absolution in advance. But what has it to do with personal responsibility?
Query: Casuistry? What is that? It is the way in which the British Foreign Secretary—a humanitarian Socialist, what else?—deals with torture.
Contents of Number 96
Corruption & Catholicism.
Top Of The World, Ma!
Severed Heads And Academia.
The View From Albion Heights.
Obama And The Kenya Terror.
Israel War Crimes.
Defending The Indefensible (Book Review Part Three).
A Response To Coolacrease.
Joe Devlin At Home And Abroad.
Charles Darwin On The Irish.
Woodstock In Flames.
The Land War In Cork.
On Dawkins (Part Two).
Darwinism And Socialism.
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