Church & State

The separation of Church and state is seen as a pillar of modern society, but this was not always the case. For much of our history, the influence of the Church upon the general populace was matched only by its influence upon the laws of the state. This, in itself, was not an issue at the time as the views espoused by the clergy were widely held by lawmakers and thinkers alike. In 17th century Europe, many intellectuals and academics believed that the occult operated in tandem with the sciences and that the two were not mutduckingually exclusive. This group of enlightenment intellectuals included John Locke and Isaac Newton among their number. Influenced by both the laws of the time and the religious doctrine of the Church, such beliefs were widespread and culminated in the witch trials that swept through Europe and the Americas. The matter was complicated by the fact that the heresy laws were all encompassing, witchcraft simply constituted one of the many violations that fell under the general law of heresy. Framed as such, one bore the onus of proving that one was innocent of witchcraft and any other charges brought against their person. The reverse onus made it incredibly difficult for one to prove their innocence as the burden of proo
f fell upon themselves rather than upon their accusers.


In England, the war against witchcraft finally ended with the adoption of the Witchcraft Act of 1735. This was a result, in part, of growing uncertainty among the public intellectuals. It was no longer the view that the sciences and occult could operate in parallel or that they shared any common thread. It was claimed that the practice of witchcraft and the influencing of the material world with esoteric forces (alchemy and the like falling under this bracket) was impossible and any to claim the ability to do so were charlatans. As this thought filtered down to the general populace, the legislators once again took steps to legislate against witchcraft. This time, however, with a different goal in mind. The Witchcraft Act made it a crime for any person to claim that another had magical powers or was practicing witchcraft. The maximum sentence for such a crime was one year imprisonment. Although this period saw a decisive change in the approach taken to religiously driven paranoia, the Church still had a great influence upon the boni mores of society.

Until 1961 it was, paradoxically, a crime to commit suicide. Those who attempted suicide and failed could be prosecuted and imprisoned. This law had been in force, in England and Wales, since 1554. The most obvious influence for this was the position the Church took upon the act. It was considered a mortal sin to commap_copyit suicide and the Church refused to bury the victim in consecrated ground.

Indeed, up until 1823, the bodies of suicides were impaled with a stake and buried at crossroads. Medieval English judges had developed this method for two reasons:

  1. The burial of the corpse at a crossroads had symbolic meaning.
  2. Burial there made sure that the ghost of the deceased was kept firmly in place as a result of the constant passing of traffic. The ghost, supposedly becoming confused by the amount of traffic, would not know which direction to take.

There was, however, another rationale behind the approach taken by the English courts. In addition to the refusal to bury the body in consecrated ground, the goods and property of the deceased became forfeit to the state. Suicide was considered to be a crime against the monarch and, as such, a matter for royal justice.

Father to Us All – The Supremacy of War


Heraclitus, an Ancient Greek philosopher, once said “War is the father of us all, king of all. Some it makes gods, some it makes men, some it makes slaves, some free.” One may be persuaded to think that a statement from a time so different to our own no longer holds sway over society. That the world has advanced to a point where conflict can no longer create gods and kings. Times have changed and so, inevitably, the context of such words changes too. In the setting of the classical period of Greece this notion would make profound sense. After all, the words of Heraclitus were followed by the defeat of the Persians at Marathon, the coming of Alexander the Great and the birth of democracy in Athens. But, despite the passing of years, the words of Heraclitus can be found echoing over two millennia later in the American Civil War, with the emancipation proclamation and again as the allies freed Europe from Hitler’s rule. War is as integral a part of society as it has ever been. The changes in modern thinking and culture prove to be superficial in comparison to the driving force that war has provided and has remained throughout the centuries.

downloadThe modern aspects of war are numerous and have been demonstrated to play a pivotal role in the construction of contemporary society. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has resulted in a culture of war that has affected not only the state and people residing within it, but those surrounding Israel as well as those who would call themselves her allies. The culture of war can be expanded to encompass the “threat of war” and its uses as a political and social factor in modern state affairs. This results in a society that is desensitized and prepared for a war, either at home or on a foreign front. The government, through media frenzy or through the slow implementation of policies, creates a state that is predisposed to war. In all cases of modern conflict a form of justification is advanced, regardless of how substantive this justification is. From the on-going conflict in Israel, the American involvement in Iraq to the recent intervention by the South African government in the Central African conflict, all of which have had some form of justification. The most recently publicized escalation, that of the volatile North Korean state, has been greeted by both mass hysteria (That of the press) and calm contempt (Those with the power to implement policy). While the media rattles off frantically about the threat of nuclear warfare and the danger to the West the defense secretary of the United States announces an extra $1 billion dollar increase to the budget in order to add to missile interceptors in Alaska. This hysteria and panic allows for the pentagon and defense institutes in the United States to justify the increase in expenditure in arms as well as increasing the size of the U.S military sphere around the world.

the-four-horsemen-of-the-apocalypseThe conduct of warfare, through land, air and sea has undoubtedly led to great technological innovation. The fundamental question is to what extent has warfare and the culture of war created a technologically driven society? The notion that necessity drives innovation may be applied to this question. The more recent and commonly used examples of innovation driven by warfare include that of the space race, Manhattan Project and utilization and advancement of radar, but one could make reference to things as arbitrary as the toaster or sanitary napkin. Factory setups change, in order to meet the vast quantities of manufactured goods required during the war and, although the short term effects of war tend to be an economic boom, these results are unsustainable. This results in an economy that may rely, predominantly, on a war to succeed in its goals. War has resulted in advances not only within the technological field but within the social structures of society too. The emancipation proclamation, 5105792the women’s rights movements and the upheaval of the political and social structures in the Middle-East have all been influenced significantly by warfare. Indeed, the decolonization of Africa occurred, in many instances, due to the vying moral and ethical ideologies that became apparent at the end of the Second World War and the start of the Cold War. The pressure put on the colonial powers by the United States and Soviet Union resulted in empires of the West giving up their colonial accessories.

Athena-fighting-Gigantes-Atti-white-ground-black-figure-lekythos-500-BC-GelaPolitics and war have always been interlinked. This can be observed in the contrasting views of the Soviet Union and the United States to the motivations behind the involvement of foreign interests in Central Africa. Woodrow Wilson, re-elected not least because he kept the United States out of the first part of the Great War, said “The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty”. The threat of a German Europe was enough of a reason to plunge the United States into the First World War and, ironically, lay the foundations for Hitler’s Germany. The notion of a “threat” has played a consistent role in world politics. From the threat of losing an ally to the threat of terrorism or the threat of losing national interests or resources. Woodrow Wilson, who did not want to bring the U.S into the Great War, found himself assenting with the war enthusiasts. This issue, the “threat” has been reoccurring throughout history. The French legislature was pressured by, firstly the conservatives, and then by both the liberal and conservative branches of state to welcome the war with Prussia in the 19th century. The Communist revolution and French revolution were both spurned by conflict and resulted in conflict. War can unite a state, even if the resulting actions and consequences are disastrous for the nations involved.

The relationship between war and man is inseparable and the conflict drives society onward, for better or worse. Although the reasons for going to war may be relatively different to those in the golden age of Greece (Democratic values, moral necessity etc.) mankind still finds himself embroiled in wars across the world, influenced socially and politically by the outcomes and decidedly ignorant to the lessons history has taught us. The original meaning and context of the words may have changed but the purpose that Heraclitus intended remains the same. No longer does a king need a crown, for power and wealth are all the signs required for us to know that not much has changed.

Note: This was written in 2013 and published by Liberty Voice.

A History of Violence

We are bombarded by our television screens, on a daily basis, with seemingly senseless violence, grotesque executions and barbaric practices. Indeed, shows such as Game of Thrones and Vikings make common use of such themes and even, at times, use it to drive their respective plots forwards.Although this may all seem very detached from reality – such shows are fictitious or very loosely based on real events – our own history offers far darker tales than those that are drawn from the minds of writers and producers. Indeed,this may be where such a fascination with violence comes from.

It all began a long time ago. A very long time ago. In 1991 the body of a man was found frozen in the Ötztal Alps on the Austrian – Italian border. The body was frozen in ice and was initially believed to be the body of a lost mountaineer. However, after scientific analysis, it was found to have belonged to a man who lived between 3359 and 3105 BCE. At the time, it seemed to be the discovery of the remains of a peaceful mountain dweller who had died due to exposure or a man who had simply gotten lost and starved before being frozen. Gaisbergferner_gletscher_ötztal
The remarkable discovery took a macabre turn when it was discovered that Ötzi had an arrow embedded in his left shoulder. Further research revealed that Ötzi had bruises and cuts on his hands, wrists and chest. Moreover, he had suffered cerebral trauma as a result of a blow to the head. The exact cause that led to the blow on his head that eventually killed him is unclear. However, it has become quite clear that Ötzi suffered a horrific death. A number of theories, following this gruesome discovery, have been posited. He may have been the victim of a ritual sacrifice: his life offered to appease whichever gods the people worshiped. Some have claimed he was a casualty of a battle and others: that he was murdered.

In War: What Is It Good For? Ian Morris used anthropological and archaeological evidence to examine the prevalence of violence in early population groups. He concludes that as many as 1 in 10 people died violent deaths at the earlier stages of modern homo sapien development. This flies in the face of the many theories and conceptions we might have of the hunter gatherer and early nomadic societies. Indeed, the idea of the Noble Savage (which has already met it’s demise through other studies) is falsified.

senate_paintingBut what about more civilized times? Have there ever been civilized times? Of course, most of us are familiar with the assassination of Julius Caesar but the Roman empire has played host to a number of both successful and failed assassination attempts. Galba, who ruled Rome for an entire seven months before his death, was assassinated by his own Praetorians. After his demise, Galba’s head was brought to Otho (who had orchestrated the assassination) who promptly gave it to his camp followers who then paraded and mocked it. His head was then buried in a tomb by the Aurelian Road. The history of Rome is filled with such incidents and both usurpers and legitimate rulers have often found themselves at the end of the blade.

Hundreds of years later and Italy finds itself, yet again, in the grips of a politically motivated violence. giuliano_de'_medici,_1475-78_02This time, with the Pope as a co-conspirator. The Medici family ruled Florence, much to the dismay of the Pazzi, who were another powerful Florentine family. In 1478, the assassins struck at Lorenzo and his brother Giuliano de Medici. Giuliano, who was stabbed in excess of 19 times, eventually bled to death on the cathedral floor. The assassination had taken place during High Mass. His brother, Lorenzo, survived and the Pazzi plan fell apart as the citizen of Florence threw themselves behind the Medici. In the ensuing chaos the assassins were killed and the Pazzi family were hunted down and murdered.

It was not just political murders, war and pillaging that occupied the medieval rulers. Sexual deviancy, rape and ritual murder was more common place than is often thought. Gilles de Rais , who shall go down in history as “Bluebeard”, being one of the most infamous perpetrators of such acts. After being visited by a practitioner of the dark arts. Gilles became obsessed with the abduction, rape and murder of the boys and girls of the village he ruled. Gilles_De_RaisThe children were abducted by men he had hired and who watched as he undertook these grisly acts. Dozens of children were killed by him and he often kept “a few handsome heads” as “relics”. Eventually the Church caught up with him and he was left to hang in a gibbet before being cast into the flames.
Witchcraft and heresy became an obsession of the Church during the darker years of European history. Indeed, even in a time of religious reformation and the supposed ushering in of a new era, Martin Luther wrote, in the Sermon of Exodus in 1526, that it is a just law to do away with sorceresses. Witches, even those who do no harm, shall be burned as they have made a pact with the devil himself. Such superstition and a fear of the paranormal led, as these things often do, to senseless violence and the “purging” of Europe of witchcraft.349x450x130343-004-CDD9D558.jpg.pagespeed.ic.KePTkowQyW

All witchcraft is heresy but not all heresy is witchcraft. The distinction became important as those who opposed the Church were brought to heel. The Church used the power of the Inquisition and it’s loyal followers to carry out a series of horrific attacks against dissidents and political enemies alike. The heresy laws provided a catch-all for those the Church wished to see dead. As witchcraft was simply one of the many violations of the law of the Church that fell under heresy, one bore the onus of proving not only that one was innocent of witchcraft, but all of the other charges brought against their person. If an accused could show that he (but normally she) was innocent of witchcraft, she may still be found guilty of heresy and the same punishment would ensue. The Maid of Orléans: Joan of Arc is a perfect example of this. After, unsuccessfully, prosecuting her for witchcraft, the Church managed to find her guilty of a number of other offences. She was, eventually, burnt on the stake for the crimes of cross-dressing(a punishable offence) and other such spurious charges.

Despite our fascination with television shows, movies and books and the violence embedded in them, it is readily apparent that our own history offers a more grotesque story than any writer or producer could ever imagine. Indeed, George RR Martin has noted that there are scenes just as harrowing and gruesome as those depicted in “A Song of Ice and Fire” in our own history. Although this post has used examples from history, one would be remiss not to note the abundance of contemporary examples. Steven Pinker, in The Better Angels of our Nature, claims that we are living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence. Although this may be true, I think this topic is better left for another time.