Charles I and The Danger of Being Right

Civil Wars are usually pretty nasty affairs, as the clash is among people with close ties. To break those close ties, the casus belli must be a whopper. In the US, it was a bitches brew of states rights and slavery. In England, a few centuries earlier, it was the divine right of kings.

You might wonder why the divine right of kings would get folks so hot and bothered. In our modern way of thinking, the proposition that kings are anointed by God seems absurd. We question whether such arguments are made in good faith. But in the old days, it seemed rather obvious that power had to be legitimized through God’s will.

The idea has a very ancient pedigree. The Greeks, for example, made much of how the gods enjoyed meddling in the affairs of men. The Jews went further. The one God demanded that his subjects live all aspects of their lives in service to Him. And while Jesus softened that burden by saying it was an act of love on both sides, the result was even more intrusive. God micro-managed the affairs of men, and if God micro-managed the affairs of men, it made sense that those dictating the affairs of men (kings) could only do so with God’s blessing.  They had to claim that they were anointed by Him and they enthusiastically did so.

Charles I believed this. And being the king, he felt he had a duty to impose that belief. Protestants, however, like Cromwell, believed that God was actually talking to them. They were hearing from God (yes, Cromwell thought he had a personal relationship with God) that He demanded more morality. Less frivolity. After all, how could God, the source of all moral conduct, accept immoral behavior at the top?

That is a whopper of a casus belli. Charles I would lose his head over it. But was he just a one dimensional fanatic? According to the author of the “White King”, the answer is “no”. And if you are interested in how real people try to cope with extraordinary conflict, this may be the book for you!

BTW, so when did folks in the west make the shift from God the micro-manager to God the passive observer? It was part of our inheritance from the enlightenment. If man could use his reason to explain nature without invoking the story of God’s will in the Bible, God, perhaps, was not as demanding as we might have believed before. God might not be dead, but he or she did not object when the argument was made. And so here we are.

And we are in a cantankerous position. We do not understand the universe – where it came from, how it works, and so on. But we insist that finding out is the only way to bring meaning to our lives. We are tinkerers and strivers — an  attitude that we take from folks like  Galileo.


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