RELIGION AND THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY POLITICIAN

GOD’S ENGLISHMAN, Christopher Hill

Normally, I would not review or comment about this excellent biography. Oliver Cromwell is nearly four centuries old. He was an excellent general who would rather use diplomacy. He had complete power less than a decade, 1649-1658). While involved in affairs of state, he contended with religions, factions of Protestantism, left and right; Catholics who he always declaimed but left alone; Jews whom he allowed to return to Britain.

Much happened while Cromwell was in power. England had no king; the government was less corrupt. Commerce expanded. Wars against the Dutch (after diplomacy failed) were commercially motivated. The court system was limited and became more independent. Universities were founded and supported. Within a decade after Cromwell’s death Isaac Newton published. The English people had a better sense of nationhood. England was respected by all nations in diplomacy and commercially.

Cromwell was unable to remove tithes; he could not expand the franchise. From the beginning of his rule, members of his army, Levelers (wanting to iron out inequities in Britain, NOW!), pressed Cromwell with their agenda which no one else supported. Knowing that the Levelers could not succeed, Cromwell promised and let time pass. England finally enlarged the franchise 170 years later, and gave the vote to all men in 1908; all women in 1928.

Cromwell had opinions about the Levelers:

“‘The expressions …are very plausible,…if we could leap out of one condition into another. But how do we know, whilst we are disputing these things, another company men shall gather together, and they shall put out a paper as plausible perhaps as this.’ What Cromwell wanted was not a perfect theoretical scheme but that that, as before the Lord, I am persuaded in my heart tends to uniting us in one to that that God will manifest to us to be the thing that he would have us prosecute. ‘It is not enough for us to propose good things, but it behooves honest men and Christians only to make proposals that they think will work. Professions of confidence were not enough. We are very apt all of us to call that faith that perhaps may be but carnal imagination and carnal reasonings.'” (p. 95, Chapter 4)

“‘I do not condemn your reasonings. I doubt them. It is easy to object to the glorified actings of God, if we look too much on instruments… How hard a thing is it to reason ourselves up to the Lord’s service, though it be so honorable, how easy to put ourselves out of it, when the flesh has so many advantages….’ [C]onfidence in the Cuase enabled [Cromwell] to transcend mere human reasonings. Such reasonings, where God is concerned, may miss the main point.”(page 245, Chapter 9)

A politician trying to meet religious criteria while deciding problems and handling persons is distracted. Religion sometimes becomes a crutch, a diversion, an excuse not to know and understand a problem and reason through it but to avoid responsibility. Seventeenth century Britons were mired in religion. Twenty-first century Americans should reject it.

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