14 Feb


HENRY Viii photo: King Henry VIII of England and his six wives henryviii.jpgI suppose one of the most disgusting thing about religion is its divisive and corrosive nature.

Let me take you back, for a while, to Tudor England and the famous King Henry VIII and his near frenetic desire to father a male heir.

Back then, there was no doubt about the existence of God, his angels, Satan, as well as hundreds of examples of divine intervention in human affairs. Every storm was a portend of this or that tragedy, and as tragedy abounded in an age when hygiene wasn’t top of the list of things to do for even the members of the highest strata of society, there was plenty of evidence of divine wrath.

Smallpox was a definite killer and if you survived it the chances you were marked by its dot-to-dot patterning for life. And smallpox wasn’t alone. The list of diseases with a fair chance of a fatal outcome was as long as a very long arm. And they weren’t caused by bacteria, germs, micro-organisms of any kind, they were punishment from God for this or that bit of wrong-doing. To the Tudor mind, this was was obvious and irrefutable as the wisdom of Darwin is today. Old ladies with warts were even burnt at the stake as witches because witches were servants of the devil in a timeless celestial war of attrition in which the witches might give the necromancer an upper hand. And this was a certainty, like evolution is a certainty today. Oh? You don’t believe in evolution? Watch out, then, there may be a fiery stake round the next corner!

Now here’s the history/faith bit. Before she married Henry VIII his first wife, Catherine, was married to his teenage brother, who died after a brief period of wedded bliss, and Henry married her. They became King and Queen and apparently he was devoted to her, but even though she had half a dozen pregnancies only one child lived, a daughter. It might seem unfortunate for a woman who was offered as much royal care as was Catherine to suffer so many miscarriages, but the truth is she tended to by a special team of midwives who specialised in royal confinement, and as a consequence of there not being so many of these lacked any proper experience.

When it was obvious that the lovely Catherine was never going to produce a son Henry cast around for a replacement and found one, Anne Boleyn, who managed to provide him with a daughter. And this is where God came in.

It was argued that there was so much disapproval in Heaven (Henry had married his brother’s widow, for goodness’ sake, and that was frowned upon in some interpretations of the Bible) that the inevitable punishment had to be no male heir. Henry, though a King, had gone against the will of God!

In order to put things right with the Almighty he needed a new and more legitimate wife and Anne seemed to be just the ticket, so a divorce appeared the best way out, out with Catherine and in with Anne. But the supreme arbiter of such matters, the Pope in Rome, saw things differently. No divorce!

We all know the solution that the King found. He became the head of a new church, the Church of England, which would be persuaded to provide him with the divorce he wanted. He changed religion for good, and this was no easy task, nor was it one taken lightly. I doubt whether the parade of Popes from over the last five hundred years have forgiven him yet!

Religion was divisive. It even divided itself. It was corrosive. And as, during subsequent monarchies, the two branches of the Christian church vied for supremacy, it caused a lot of people to be executed, many for inadvertently supporting the wrong branch of the Christian church.

Taken to more parochial levels, it divided families when one branch of, say, the Smiths wanted to offer their tithes and worship via the Popish legions in Rome whilst the other was happy with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England. Internecine quarrels raged and during periods of civil unrest fathers slaughtered sons, and vice-versa. And the greatest tragedy is that the quarrels were apparently over which form of worship of a non-existent god was truest.

The inexperienced and certainly unhygienic midwives in the Tudor court were to have the last laugh, though, if laugh it was. Henry VIII had, in total, six wives and one did produce a son … a lad who did actually become King on Henry’s death, but who himself died in his mid-teens, without an heir of any sort. The baton of monarchy led eventually to one of Henry’s daughters, Elizabeth 1. But had a few more hands been washed and advice been sought from an experienced woman in the village, one who knew something about childbirth, who knows where we’d be now… maybe sending our pennies to a Pope in Rome and our prayers to his idiot deity every time we wanted forgiveness for this or that transgression.

And maybe the increasingly secular nature of the good old UK, the one that encouraged Darwin to publish his theory, might have been suppressed by Catholicism and maybe we’d all still be in the intellectual backwaters where, sadly, quite a few other cultures still find themselves today.

© Peter Rogerson 14.02.15


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