13 November 2005
Anti-Popery & anti-Islam
The 12th November 2005 edition of The Spectator is pretty much devoted to bashing the Mussies. Reading it online I was struck by how much of the anti-Muslim fears match, and are a reworking of, the old anti-Papist rants that were common currency from about 1850 to well within living memory. Well, living memory if you were born in the 1950s, as I was. The Papes are trying to take over England, they take orders from their priests and cannot think for themselves, they are ignorant. All these arguments were put forward a century ago against the Catholic population just as they are put forward today against the Muslims.
By the mid-Nineteenth Century Roman Catholicism had been tolerated for many years, but it had lacked adherents. In 1850, for the first time since the Reformation, the Roman Church was able to establish an archdiocese at Westminster and 13 sees to cover the whole country. Irish immigration meant that England could then justify a full hierarchy on a par with that of the Catholic European countries. The Times responded that the choice of Westminster was "one of the grossest acts of folly and impertinence which the Court of Rome has ventured to commit since the Crown and the people of England threw off its yoke." For their part, the Catholic hierarchy engaged in a spot of gloating, which only made the situation worse, not better. Dr. Nicholas Wiseman, the new cardinal and Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, wrote "We govern and shall continue to govern the counties of Middlesex, Hertford, Essex, as ordinary thereof, and those of Surrey, Sussex, Kent, Berkshire, and Hampshire, with the islands annexed, as administrator, with ordinary jurisdiction." It is said that Queen Victoria responded by asking, "Am I Queen of England, or am I not?"
One is reminded here of the ravings of various Mullahs and their fantasies that England will become an Islamic state. At root both sets of utterences look like the fantasies of a small, economically marginalised group who feel that one day, one day in the future, they will reach their nirvana, if only they have faith. England today is not a Catholic country and there is no evidence, in the form of mass conversions, say, to suggest that it will ever be Islamic - in spite of dreams to the contrary.
That Catholics were answerable to their priests and were, therefore, ignorant was an old charge that lasted until well into the Twentieth Century. Robert Roberts was born in 1905 in Salford, and his memories of his early life were published as The Classic Slum many years later. In them he recalls that people would say that "the Murphies" were so ignorant that they didn't know that food had to be cooked until they came to live in England. He also remembered how people would mock the Catholics for their reliance on their priests. Fifty years later I can remember my mother, a staunch low-Anglican, tut-tutting to her friends whenever a Catholic butcher or grocer gave free supplies to his parish priest. The standard explanation was that they had to do this, even though the reason was a matter of some debate amongst the woman of the area. Some held that they could not get absolution if they refused, others that the priest was a sort of god. Still more argued that they wanted special prayers saying, and this usually led to the bald statement being made that if only they knew that no earthly power could stand between a man and his God how much more liberated they would be. My mother just thought that they were mugs. Alien, un-English mugs, and she pitied them for their stupidity.
Magazines such as The Reformation Journal had helped to stoke this belief in Catholic ignorance and priestly control. Thus in Catholic Europe:
The ubiquitous priests and monks furnish a constant memento that conscience is under the yoke, and that no freedom of judgement is allowed. The armed police announce that a watch is placed over every movement, that speech must be restrained, and that the press is under strict censorship. The development of mind is thus painfully cramped, and the range of mental acquirements is contracted within a narrow compass
Put simply, the Papacy may very well have dreamed that Catholic Europe would sweep aside the Reformation, aided by Irish 5th columists in England, but Catholic Europe was too backward to even think about doing anything of the sort. England was safe from the threat of another Armada, just as she is safe today from Arabian threats. Arabia cannot even unite, let alone build the armed forces necessary to take on any of the developed countries of the world. Flying aircraft into tall buildings is one thing; having the wit to be able to create a modern economy that can build and maintain modern armed forces is quite another. As with the Catholics of the past who rattled their rosary beads and prayed to their god, so it is with the Islamists today who stick their noses in the dirt and their bums in the air. Only when a people leave behind such superstition can they begin to progress. Catholic Europe did it and ceased to be Catholic Europe in the process. The Islamic world is still stuck in the past and until it changes it will not be able to threaten anyone. If it does change, it may find that it no longer wishes to.
What we have here are examples of fear and the similar ways in which those fears manifest themselves. It is dificult to asimilate a backward, primitive people who are forced to rely on clerics because they are unable to cope alone in a modern society. It took over a century for anti-Catholic feeling to finally die in England; but die it did as the descendents of Irish immigrants finally joined the great post-Christian mass of the population. It may take another century before the descendents of Pakistani imigrants do the same, but if past performance is anything to go by, England has little to seriously worry about.