So it's the 400th anniversary of the attempt to return England to her roots in the True Faith ... :-) Or, if you will, the 400th anniversary of that dastardly deed, whose failure was surely a sign of Divine Providence, and pleasure at the cause of Reform. Or, maybe, the 400th anniversary of perhaps the first instance of religious terrorism. Ah, how our perspective shapes things ... :)
The BBC has a great page with history and background.
Opendemocracy has this interesting article:
The 1605 plot happened, after all, because extremist members of a religious faith felt that the political system they lived was so oppressive that it needed to be overturned. This is, presumably, what motivated the suicide-bombers who struck in London on 7 July 2005. We inhabit a culture where, for most people, there is little place either for a strong religious faith or for ideological politics more generally. This is why acts of terror (whether the July bombings, 9/11, or the IRA bombings in several English cities in the last three decades) seem so incomprehensible. If nothing else, the history of the Gunpowder Plot provides a shortcut to understanding a world where people were willing to die, and kill, for their religious faith.
Rich Leonardi at Catholic Exchange has a little piece on the lurking Catholic history of England.
Of course, while Britons (or, rather, the English. Guy Fawkes is an English holiday, wot?) burn their effigies, one cannot help but think of what was once their arch-enemy, also once the Eldest Daughter of the Church, consumed by an orgy of burning.
[Hattip to Amy Welborn for the following articles. Well, I saw the Tablet one on my own :)] The anniversary is certainly leading to some commentary in the British press on supposedly analogous situation of today's British Muslims and the oppressed Catholics of the 17th century, viz. Philip Johnston writing in the Daily Telegraph, "Remember, remember and credit society with moving on." John Derbyshire in the NRO disagrees.
The Tablet in a fantastic, well-reasoned piece by Fr. Michael Barnes SJ, Terror, Treason and Plot, wisely suggests:
It is easy to forget that in many ways late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century England was still a Catholic country. If Catholics had divided loyalties, it was because the Anglican settlement was by no means well established, and in many places not much loved. The missionaries saw their first task as keeping the memories of the “old faith” alive. Today their Muslim counterparts work in a very different situation. Islam is a relatively new arrival. For most Muslims the biggest challenge is not how to retrieve the past but how to develop a form of Islam that can live with integrity alongside other faiths in a secular state. British Catholics have had centuries to adjust to this reality, and to grow from being a persecuted minority to the single biggest practising religious community in the country. British Muslims are still undergoing a painful adjustment to life in a pluralist society, a process not made easier by being conducted under the intense glare of media scrutiny.
If there is a lesson Muslims and Catholics can learn from the past, it is not the rather lame point that states, whether theocratic or secular, find religious nonconformity difficult to accommodate. That has always been the case. It is, rather, that religious difference cannot be domesticated by a purely political – or indeed any other – fiat. The politicising of religion drove Catholic dissidents underground and made rapprochement that much more difficult to achieve. Today’s more liberal society deals with its dissenters by moving in the opposite direction. The appeal to “moderate” or “mainstream” Islamic elements is intended to sideline the extremists. But to many Muslims it seems like another attempt to fragment a tradition that is only too aware both of the power of the West and of its own decline and weakness.
There is no easy way to understand the confusing and threatening events of the last few years. Today’s terrorism is not to be assimilated into our various myths. Appeals to history get us only so far. The same can be said for more modern ideas such as the “clash of civilisations” thesis. Like all myths it contains an important insight, namely that the impact of religion on questions of iden-tity and motivation can no longer be confined to purely national considerations. But it seeks to prove too much. Neither “the West” nor “the world of Islam” can be portrayed in monolithic terms – any more than Elizabethan England can be characterised as some militant Protestant police state fighting for its life against a devious Jesuit menace.
::UPDATED:: do check out this pieace at Godspy: "November 5, Guy Fawkes Day, Go out with a bang," with this great coinage: "Al-Chiesa." Ha! Oh, and Peter Steinfels has the faith-based terrorism angle as well in the NYT.