Thursday, July 6, 2017

Thomas More, The Rise of State Supremacy and Modern Day Persecution of Faith

For the first millennia and a half after Christ first walked the earth, to be Christian was to be Catholic. There were no other “interpretations” of Christianity.  Then in 1517, a rather obscure Catholic monk and scholar by the name of Martin Luther penned his grievances in the form of “95 Theses” that decried much of what he correctly saw as corruption within the Catholic Church. He was not correct however, according to Orthodox Catholic belief, in his new interpretation on sola fide (salvation by faith alone) and sola scriptura (Biblical scripture as the only authority for Christians).  But that is a topic for another time.

That said, the horse was out of the barn, and the genesis of the Protestant Reformation was at hand.  No longer was the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, considered to be the first among equal brother bishops when it came to Christian authority for many Christians following this schism.

A little over a decade later in 1529, King Henry VIII of England appointed Thomas More, a deeply religious Catholic lawyer and scholar as his Lord Chancellor for the kingdom.  At that time England had not yet fallen to the Protestant schism and was still united with Rome in its Catholicity.  Then King Henry VIII desired an annulment from his wife Catherine in order that he could marry Anne Boleyn.  He drafted a letter requesting the Pope’s permission to obtain the annulment and requested that his good and faithful chancellor, Thomas More, endorse his request.  More, due to the dictates of his Catholic faith, respectfully refused.

Henry was enraged and over the next couple of years he isolated More in ever greater measure as he purged many of the clergy who supported the Pope that had refused to grant him his annulment.  It was becoming obvious to Thomas More that King Henry VIII was breaking away from the church in Rome.  This was something that Thomas More could not abide and thus he offered his resignation to the king in 1532.  King Henry accepted the resignation but was deeply vexed by what he considered to be More’s failing loyalty towards him.

By 1533, King Henry VIII had already declared himself to be the head of the Church as well as the State so that he no longer fell under Rome’s Christian authority thereby allowing him to establish the Church of England which subsequently allowed him to marry Anne Boleyn.  Thomas More, still a loyal English subject, refused to attend the wedding or coronation of Queen Anne but sent a letter of congratulations instead.  King Henry was highly insulted by this perceived slight from his friend.

King Henry, on April 13, 1534, ordered Thomas More to take an oath in which he acknowledged the legitimacies of Anne's position as queen, of Henry's self-granted annulment from Catherine, and the superior position of the King as head of the church. While acknowledging Anne as queen, More refused to acknowledge Henry as head of the church, or his annulment from Catherine.  The king was furious and had More arrested, tried, and imprisoned in the Tower of London accordingly.

Exactly 482 years ago today on July 6th, 1535, Thomas More was executed for his "conspiracies against the king" accordingly.

Five hundred years later, we now have closer to 30,000 different Christian denominations, all proclaiming their own authority for their beliefs and wildly varying interpretations of Christ’s message for all of us.  Sadly, as the world has become ever-increasingly coarse, crass, and not coincidentally more secular, the more orthodox Christian faiths are becoming ever more under attack from society and the state.

There are signs of this rising secularism and attack on sincere religious belief everywhere.  Indeed, a little over two weeks ago Sweden’s Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven,
“suggested that all Church of Sweden priests be compelled to perform gay marriages, despite the Lutheran church’s position that clergy members should have the right to refuse… The prime minister indicated in an interview with a church magazine that if a priest cannot bless a gay marriage, they should consider another vocation. 
‘We Social Democrats are working to ensure all priests will consecrate everyone, including same-sex couples,’ Lofven told Kyrkans Tidning magazine.
‘I see parallels to the midwife who refuses to perform abortions. If you work as a midwife you must be able to perform abortions, otherwise you have to do something else… It is the same for priests,’ he said…
In the interview, Lofven, who is not religious, defended the perceived political incursion into the practice of religion, saying ‘the church must stand up for human equality.’"
This seems to be the trend in which our modern enlightened society is inexorably heading.  Indeed, our neighbors to the north in Canada have passed “hate speech” laws that are chilling for Orthodox Christians to say anything negative about the sin of homosexual acts, even from the pulpit.

The government of Wales has proposed registration and inspection of religious schools and churches to evaluate if they are complying with “fundamental values”—an option Welsh evangelicals call highly intrusive and “an unwarranted incursion into private religion and family life.”

In America, bakers, photographers, and other business owners with deeply held religious beliefs have been excoriated in the press, secular society, and even the courts for their refusal to bend to secular law in its requirements to provide goods or services for same sex couples when celebrating what they deem as a religious rite of marriage.

Even former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders recently questioned Russ Vought, the nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, in antagonistic fashion because of Vought's Christian beliefs, specifically in the form that those that do not accept Christ as their Lord and savior are condemned by God.  It is a belief that is common amongst all three of the orthodox Abrahamic faiths that refusing acceptance of their core beliefs invites possible damnation.

Now never mind the minor detail that the United States Constitution itself states that there is to be NO religious test administered for those seeking public office, the fact remains that we, as Americans, should be free to exercise our religious faith and answer to our own consciences in line with our first amendment, and more importantly, God-given rights.

When the state, president, or king would usurp those rights of conscience given to us by God, are we not obligated to follow our faith in God over that of the laws constructed by man?

Sanders wrote in his defense of his statements against Mr. Vought:
“In a democratic society, founded on the principle of religious freedom, we can all disagree over issues, but racism and bigotry—condemning an entire group of people because of their faith—cannot be part of any public policy.”
Senator Sanders fails to understand that even people of deeply held religious convictions, (and sometimes especially those very people) absolutely can and do work with and befriend others of differing or no beliefs on a daily basis.  Senator Sanders, by his pronouncement would basically preclude any Christian, Muslim, or Jew from holding office by his own secular PC standard.  Only the secular world and man’s law should hold sway over our governance in Sanders' world, it would seem.

Saint Thomas More, the patron saint of lawyers, politicians, civil servants, and religious freedom, refused to compromise his own beliefs five hundred years ago in order to accommodate the powers of the secular world as commanded by King Henry VIII.  He refused to surrender his faith and his integrity even for the crown and at the pain of the forfeiture of his own life.  He understood the supremacy of God’s law foremost.  More saw it as scripture teaches, 

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” ~ Mark 8:36

If only our modern day public servants and leaders were to exercise such integrity and follow the enormously brave example of conscience demonstrated by St. Thomas More.


woodenman1954 said...

A very interesting essay Mr. Paine. As the saying goes, You are a scholar and a gentlemen. I am sorry I have been such a unreliable debating partner as of late but this summer has been very busy.

I have to support Sanders on the issue of separation of Church and State. When you open a business to the public you become part of the public domain and just as the government is not allowed to discriminate due to race, creed or belief neither can a business. If every race and religion excluded others the economy would be affected and society would be even more fractured than it is today.

Bakers are only asked to make cakes and sell them for a profit, who eats them is none of their business.

T. Paine said...

James, I appreciate your kind words, my friend. Further, I understand that things are busy. I too have not had as much time to write and debate as I would like this summer. I do appreciate you stopping by though, as always.

As for Senator Sanders, I have absolutely no problem with the separation of church and state. In fact, I insist upon it, as every American should. We should not be subjected to a theocracy under any given faith. That said, the state too should not be allowed to interfere or redefine any person's religious doctrine and how they should comport themselves according to that faith either. (Of course this goes without saying that this holds true only as long as in paraphrasing of the words of Thomas Jefferson, that they do not pick my pocket nor break my bones.)

What Sanders did was explicitly violate the "religious test" that the constitution prohibits. In doing so, he like many other politicians, broke his oath to support and defend the constitution. Further, by his remarks, he discounted any orthodox Jew, Christian, or Muslim from ever being able to hold office, if his standards were applied. Surely you don't agree that such a prohibition is to the benefit of our republic, sir?

I agree that discrimination should not be tolerated in a civilized society. That said, I also think that a business owner should have the right to discern and refuse service to certain would-be customers if doing so would violate their religious dictates or conscience. Should a black owner of a printing business be forced to print banners for the local KKK rally? Absolutely not. Nor should an orthodox Christian baker be forced to be a material part of a gay wedding by providing a cake when such a service is seen as a sacred rite to that baker.

If the baker was refusing to provide a cake or cookies or other baked goods to a customer simply because he was gay, then I would agree with you and stand beside you in calling out that discrimination, my friend. But not for what the baker considers a religious rite.

That is the distinction and difference.

I hope your summer is going well, James. Cheers!