Remember Remember (Sectarian Violence and Triumphalist Uses of Torture)

ad_119747640Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes and his companions
Did the scheme contrive,
To blow the King and Parliament
All up alive.
Threescore barrels, laid below,
To prove old England’s overthrow.
But, by God’s providence, him they catch,
With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
A stick and a stake
For King James’s sake!
If you won’t give me one,
I’ll take two,
The better for me,
And the worse for you.
A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
A penn’orth of cheese to choke him,
A pint of beer to wash it down,
And a jolly good fire to burn him.


‘Gunpowder, treason and plot’…. Or ‘hey kids, Halloween doesn’t have the monopoly on subversion and sensationalism’. Who needs Wicca when you can have civic religion…

It’s easy to look forward to the sparklers, the toasted marshmallows, the smell of woodsmoke and the cosy feeling of mittens and scarves, and forget why we are all gathering to essentially burn money metres above our heads (known as ‘fireworks’ to the less cynical).

Of course the to-do is in a worthy cause: the capture, torture and execution of a terrorist/ freedom-fighter over 410 years ago. And not just any terrorist/ freedom-fighter… but a Catholic one. And so what the to-do is really about, the reason any collective remembers something for over four centuries, is because the moment when Guy Fawkes signed his confession, Protestants the land over knew they were in the right. God- whose actions and preferences are as easily readable as if we had His Amazon wishlist and Netflix history- was on our side.

Of course, He was happy to overlook the use of violence and state-administered murder, because when Jesus commanded that we ‘love our enemies’, He was clearly underestimating how very, very bad our enemies were, and how very much we could be trusted with judging others.

And so the day became cemented in the early modern Church calendar- a reason to bring out your ‘God loves Protestants and hates all the people we hate’ sermon, and blame Catholics for every disaster befalling the world. (Because, again, the mind of God is like an easily followable Twitter stream, and any good theology starts with convenience not humility).

  • Side note: I personally am glad of the Reformation, but I am more glad of the fact that God loved Martin Luther, and Guy Fawkes and Pope Leo X with the same eternal passion.

Of course, God was in the torture chamber as an old hand all those centuries ago. Not egging on the man holding the thumbscrews, Himself with a penchant for arbitrary acts of destruction. But as a fellow victim of violence wrought by an insecure (and hence overly aggressive) state, as one who knew the pain of iron and malice driven into his palm.

And while we engage in our millennia-old war on fear (since rebranded the war on terror, because everything needs updating since the internet) which, in this case, involves re-enacting the death of one long dead for all the catharsis that could bring, God must be baffled. For He thought He had handled that one on our behalf. So why do we keep scrabbling about with death-threats and scapegoats. Human rage never could bring an end to fear- not in the form of the Stuarts’ rack, nor in any other weaponry before or since.

The only thing that could quench it was ego-less, self-sacrificial love, that cared little for being seen to be right, and infinitely for righting others’ wrongs.

That sort of forgiveness seems to be a perfectly good reason why the 5th of November can ‘be forgot’. And of course, bad grammar is another.

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