Monument to Madness

Reflections on the implications of my recent trip to the United Kingdom will likely continue to filter into conscious expression over the next few days. Jet lag will inevitably fade, and some concepts will shake down and settle into place as the reality known as work once again demands its pound of flesh per day. One of the realities that struck me during my time in St Andrews was how violent the Reformation was when it came to Scotland. Truth holds the world hostage, since everyone wants to believe they own it. And it’s my word against yours unless one of us can pull in a larger authority—and who is larger than God? There was a lot of credibility riding on the Reformers’ certitudes. And resistance was strong. Fatal even.

Reform is nearly never gentle, especially religious reform. After the Society of Biblical Literature’s meeting disbanded last week, I wandered around the old, medieval section of St Andrews, trying to get a sense of what such conviction must have been. One of the participants narrated to me more of the stories of those who’d died in the course of conversion. Patrick Hamilton, it turns out, may have been the first victim of the Reformation, but he was not the last. Walking along on a sunny afternoon in a country where several religions consciously coexist (I was, as an American, surprised to see so many large mosques in the UK), it seemed difficult to believe that humane individuals would torture someone to a horrendous death by burning just because of religious differences. The killing times seemed so long ago. Or perhaps our killing has just become more subtle.

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Following the directions I’d been given, I came upon the Monument to the Martyrs. Not wishing to belittle the atrocity of undeserved deaths, I could not help thinking of the pillar as a Monument to Madness. Is the need to feel right so great that others must be made to die for it? After all, among those generally considered to be sane, we all believe that we are right. Who consciously accepts untruth as reality? In such circumstances the best, the only reasonable response is to agree to disagree. I can let you accept your truth, if you’ll let me accept mine. And perhaps such tolerance would serve our planet well. Even the number of trees spared had autos-da-fé been forbidden provides a silence to the wisdom of allowing difference to thrive.

One thought on “Monument to Madness

  1. The Low Countries have a particular history of religious conflict which had its roots in the Calvinist reformation movement of the 1560s. These conflicts became known as the Dutch Revolt or the Eighty Years’ War. By dynastic inheritance the whole of the Netherlands, (the modern day Netherlands and Belgium) had come to be ruled by the kings of Spain. Following aggressive Calvinist preaching in and around the rich merchant cities of the southern Netherlands, organized anti-catholic religious protests grew in violence and frequency. In 1566, a league of about 400 members of the high nobility, themselves disgruntled at Spanish rule, presented a petition to the governor Margaret of Parma , to suspend punitive actions against the Calvinists.

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