Friday, October 17, 2008

Relearning past controversies

As I was methodically reading through my Chesterton articles (not going very fast, I'm afraid - I've only gotten through about 4 years'-worth so far) I came across references to a controversy that was very current in Chesterton's day, but which I'd never heard of and couldn't readily understand. It started with references to Nonconformists and household auctions, then went on to criticize Mr. Balfour and his Education Act. Finally I had to look this up, and I found some summaries of the controversy.

At the turn of the 20th century, England was pretty evenly divided between Nonconformists (non-Anglican Protestants) and the Church of England (imagine that!). The Education Act of 1902 both removed local control of the School Boards (representatives were no longer popularly elected) and rolled in the denominational schools so that they would be supported by taxes. As the Anglicans ran the great majority of these schools, the Nonconformists objected to paying taxes to support the institutions of a sect they did not belong to or approve of.

This led to the Passive Resistence Movement, where Nonconformists refused to pay the portion of their taxes that would support the CoE schools. Those who wouldn't pay would have their goods seized by the local authorities and sold at auction to forcibly pay the tax, and those that wouldn't permit this were sent to jail. This is where Chesterton's reference to "auctions" came in. I found a brief description of one of these scenes by the author Kingsley Martin:
My father was involved in the passive resisters' fight against Balfour's Education Act of 1902. Each year father and the other resisters all over the country refused to pay their rates for the upkeep of Church Schools. The passive resistors thought the issue of principle paramount and annually surrendered their goods instead of paying their rates. I well remember how each year one or two of our chairs and a silver teapot and jug were put out on the hall table for the local officers to take away. They were auctioned in the Market Place and brought back to us.

Mother and I were taken for our first motor ride to one of these village auctions where father would explain the nature of passive resistance before the sale began. We drove to a village some fifteen miles away, sometimes travelling at the frightening speed of twenty miles an hour. In those days roads were deep in dust, and you could tell if a car had passed because the hedges were white. I remember three small boys running behind each other pretending to be a motor. The first said he was the driver, the second a car, and the third the smell.
Anyway, this is all old history - if it were suggested today that ANYONE in our society might be put in jail for refusing to pay for the upkeep of someone else's religion, the reaction would be the wide eyes of shock and then laughter. Such a thing is unthinkable - that is a relic of older, ruder ages, though 1906 is not so long ago.

But as the Episcopal Junta wriggles its way through the courtrooms of the nation, this thought occurred to me: if there WERE some such statute in place, some requirement that outsiders should pay for the priviledges of the insiders, would today's Episcopal tyrants hold back from employing it? They wouldn't. Everyone knows instantly that they wouldn't. They wouldn't shrink for a moment from seizing an opponent's car or TV, or sending a police squad to handcuff him in his home and lead him off to prison. They'd do it in a heartbeat, with no qualm or self-doubt, and they'd plume themselves on their cleverness in being on the winning team, the stronger team, the side that never has to worry about feeling the oppressor's whip on its own back.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Toral said...

if it were suggested today that ANYONE in our society might be put in jail for refusing to pay for the upkeep of someone else's religion, the reaction would be the wide eyes of shock and then laughter. Such a thing is unthinkable - that is a relic of older, ruder ages

I don't know about that. Refuse to pay that portion of your taxes that goes to the public school system, which teaches secular humanism, and see what happens.

12:48 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"They wouldn't shrink for a moment from seizing an opponent's car or TV, or sending a police squad to handcuff him in his home and lead him off to prison. They'd do it in a heartbeat, with no qualm or self-doubt, and they'd plume themselves on their cleverness in being on the winning team, the stronger team, the side that never has to worry about feeling the oppressor's whip on its own back."

Sadly, I think you're right. When the generation now gripping the Church's reins of power was in its tender youth, its members were all about Fighting the Establishment and Speaking Truth to Power, and yes, Passive Resistance (as well as more Active kinds).

Now that they're the Establishment themselves, they're all about Law and Order and Canons and Polity: no standing up to their Power is allowed. We've seen the consequences.

Ellie M.

11:28 am  

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