Wolf Hall is a now-immensely-well-known tale of a slice of Henry VIII’s reign; a period I know little about: we skimped it at school and it gets throroughly mythologised anyway. The chief hero is Cromwell (not Oliver) who is portrayed (correctly,as I understand it) as a brilliant administrator and generally competent chap; as to whether he was really nice underneath, I neither know nor care.
What is chiefly interesting is the playing out of certain grand themes in the period. It was part of the development of civilisation, really, a time when people, under pressure of necessity, realised that quite a lot they had thought was true, wasn’t. Which is to say, sorting out the role of church and sovereign, and the succession (and perhaps the influences of bankers over lords; but that is another matter). Which in both cases amounted to a de-mythologising, or a decline in the importance of religion.
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Not Vicki this time. No, its the one about those naughty left-footers poaching the bums on our seats. Speaking of bums, apparently the apostates say: “The Church of England is, in the view of many of us, ceasing to be the church of Jesus Christ and becoming the church of political correctness, not only the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate – to which we object – but also in many attitudes to human sexuality from divorce and remarriage, to homosexuality.”
As an observer of all this, I find it confusing. Suppose I was to believe in Christianity – Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Bible is true, etc etc – how could I possibly know which church to join, if at all? As Paul is wont to say, please give me back my passport and let me out of here… not, that’s not right, he says God is Silent. Choice of C of E or Catholicism seems to be very largely a social construct. There are indeed real differences in relgiious practice – Catholics cannot stick bits of rubber on their willies – but those religious practices themselves are pure social constructs, since the bible says nothing about rubber (don’t take my word for it; I’ve checked). The bible, whilst vague on whether you should be Cath or Prot, is quite explicit on some other issues, for example Sell your possessions and give to the poor, not a sentiment that has ever been popular with any rich church. So why should I care if C of E folk join the Caths, or vice versa, any more than I care if Arsenal fans go off and join Spurs?
I’d like to say “it isn’t very clear why you need a church at all, now that we can all read the bible for ourselves” but this is all to clearly not true. Anyone, who knew nothing of our conventional faith, who settled down with a copy of the bible and tried to work out for themselves what it meant would be very confused indeed. Clearly you do need someone to pick and choose for you which bits to take seriously and which to ignore and which bits to add in. But why that is “religion” I don’t know.