Saturday, January 23, 2016

Reviews of First Among Friends, Cavaliers and Roundheads, and Cromwell: Lord Protector

First Among Friend: George Fox & the Creation of Quakerism by H. Larry Ingle
Rating 7

Ingle’s book does a great service in that it isn’t hagiographical in nature but good scholarly history. Ingle shows George Fox’s and early Quakers’ good and bad characteristics and right and wrong actions, warts, wounds, and all.

A must read for Friends who want to understand how the Movement and Society first got started.

The volume focuses mostly on outward actions and is more of a cultural biography, however. At times the text comes across almost too academic and too skeptical. And its disappointing that Ingle doesn’t deal much--hardly at all--with Fox and others from a spiritual point of view. Indeed, if a reader hadn't dialogued with him and other Quakers in the past on an email list, one wouldn't know, that besides having a doctorate in history, Ingle is also a devout Friend.

Still, the book is worth the time. First gives us a new awareness of how all religious truth is conditioned by culture, time, and place, and that even devoutly spiritual people, at their best, are still weighed down by pettiness, squabbling, and hypocrisy.

Also, my reading of the history Cavaliers and Roundheads at the same time helped me be more sympathetic toward the governments of the period as I now see how they often mistook Friends for dangerous revolutionaries. See below for the review.

Parliament versus King varied in their behavior toward the early Quakers. In some cases the English government dealt harshly,
causing the imprisonment and death of thousands;
at other times, English courts were somewhat fair.

It’s very strange that King James II, a Roman Catholic, was the first to really grant Friends and others religions tolerance, while the Protestant Parliament in 1683 was so against Friends and other nonconformists that hundreds were sent to prison.

Such intriguing facts show how complicated real history is versus the myths and over simplifications that most people hear about and think is the truth.


Cavaliers and Roundheads by Christopher Hibbert
Rating 6

Well worth reading English history, though Hibbert spends a large portion of the time recounting military battles in detail. The book is fact-detail heavy and mostly dry.

On the other hand, sometimes Hibbert details intriguing stories of individuals caught in the absurdity and evil. Various religious groups kept changing sides, sometimes aligning with the Scots, sometimes against the Scots, etc.

A few individuals met the confusion and conflict demonstrating how to live fairly just and compassionate lives in the middle of the chaos. But mostly the Civil War seems to have accomplished nothing but slaughter and mayhem in the name of Christ and God.

Then 8 years later Parliament brought back the monarchy via Charles’ son which included severe penalties for such nonconformists as the Friends! So the Restoration reversed a few gains.

Both sides--Cavaliers (Royalists, Anglicans, Catholics) versus Roundheads (Calvinists, Puritans, sometimes others)--not only claimed God was on their side but even gloried in the slaughter in the very name of God.

And both sides’ soldiers plundered, raped, and massacred all for God supposedly. Puritans even hanged a 90-year-old Catholic priest. They were against the "Papists" and against the Church of England, demanding that it be purified.

Puritan soldiers repeatedly broke stained glass windows, burned books and artwork, defaced and destroyed statues, and so forth. Tragic, though not as bad as the thousands of killings.

Their actions remind me of how the Islamic State and the Taliban are now destroying archaeological treasures, churches, and the mosques of enemy Muslims. Religion so often distorts, harms, persecutes, and kills.

It's amazing that any Friends survived this religious hell. Most of the political and religious movements of the time didn't.

A depressing book. But I am glad I read it.

Cromwell: The Lord Protector by Antonia Fraser
Rating 5.5
This a magisterial work showing years of research. Fraser's style is dry, even on the boring side because it is a very fact heavy book. But I learned a lot.

Most surprising is that Fraser tries to redeem Cromwell, seeking to show that despite his dictatorial policies and avid pursuit of cruel wars, and the killing of many thousands including many unarmed civilians--that he was a truly a heroic leader.

I'm not convinced, though the book is good to read because it helps to give different view of the Civil War and of the time of Cromwell ruling as Lord Protector. Fraser claims Cromwell wasn't quite the butcher and tyrant that others portray him as.

Of course Fraser's repeated noting how Cromwell showed compassion to a few individuals in need seems a pathetic argument after she admits that Crowell did slaughter thousands and that 3/4 of the Irish were driven from their lands and 12,000 sent enslaved to the Caribbean.

What is more troubling than all the bloodletting and persecution and destruction was how Cromwell thanked Jesus and God when he succeeded in the slaughter. The New Model Army soldiers went into battle singing Bible verses.

Most of the killed during the war were of other Englishmen from their own area, often even former neighbors! Also, Cromwell sometimes let his soldiers plunder the vanquished, stealing from the dead! He violated most of the Ten Commandments while yet speaking fervently for Jesus Christ.

Later, Cromwell spoke of how he hoped "love and peace will kiss." Such contradictory behavior compared to Jesus' ethical standards in the Sermon on the Mount and 1 Corinthians 13 is very troubling.

One good action Cromwell did achieve for the English (but not the Irish) is support more tolerance for mild differences in religion within Protestant Christianity, and he eventually sought to get Parliament to let Jews return legally to England (for the first time in several hundred years).

Most weird was how Cromwell (and for that matter all the other sides of the Civil War, too) even after the terrible killing of the opposite side, would then turn around and make alignments and packs with one set of enemies against former allies.

Protestants would even side with Catholics against other Protestants!

The whole Civil War turned into an obscene mess full of hypocrisy and back-stabbing.

To 'top it off' at the end, Cromwell finally beheaded King Charles I, then ruled more and more dictatorially himself. He didn't introduce most of the ideals that many Englishmen had so devoutly fought for; on the contrary, Cromwell even adopted views and actions very similar to King Charles' former rule.

And after all this bloodletting, when Cromwell died, shortly afterward, English leaders brought back the monarchy with Charles II!

And things got worse: persecution, immorality, etc.

Huh?! So very pathetic if it weren't so tragic and absurd.

This was a very depressing book.

Politics, religion, and war slaughter never seem to change, generation after generation...

Though I'm currently reading a book called Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker whose central thesis is that our present century, the 21st, is the least violent of all of history. We'll see.

Troubled in the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

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