Reverently cynical, patiently serious

While working on yesterday’s post, I noticed that the late Phyllis Tickle said Diarmaid MacCulloch’s 2004 book, The Reformation: A History “is now generally regarded as one of the great works of historical scholarship.” Having never heard of Professor MacCulloch or his book, my curiosity outweighed my frugality and I sprang for the $4.99 Kindle edition, which arrived in a nano-second. I warmed up to the professor when I read:

I retain a warm sympathy for Anglicanism at its best: its distinctive, low-temperature culture and art, its ability and readiness to question itself, and an attitude to the exploration of truth which is both reverently cynical and patiently serious. I do not now personally subscribe to any form of religious dogma (although I do remember with some affection what it was like to do so). In trying to describe the Reformation to a world which has largely forgotten or half-understood what it was about, I regard that as an advantage. ‘Blind unbelief is sure to err’, sang the Christian hymn-writer William Cowper in Georgian England. Historians are likely to retort that blind belief has a record even more abysmal: historical narratives told with a confessional viewpoint lurking in the background are very likely to bend the story to fit irrelevant preconceptions.

When I survey the political and religious landscape, I see a tipping point. Will reason or passion prevail? Can we reason our way to civil conversation about agreed-upon principles? Or, is this the beginning of a Thirty Years’ War where passionate political persuasions become wrapped in religious dogma?

From The Encyclopaedia Brittanica, “Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648)

3 thoughts on “Reverently cynical, patiently serious”

  1. I hated studying history in school, but now I am much more open to learning it, especially through biographies. I will be glad to follow your historical researches!

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  2. I’m sure we’ll discover more “dots” to connect, particularly the parallels between the Reformation and current events. Donald Trump didn’t arrive in a vacuum. The grievances that thrust him into the White House have been brewing for a long time. The fissures between north and south were present in 1800 when Jefferson warned that if he didn’t win over Adams in the electoral college, the southern states would secede. Lincoln had to sneak into Washington for his first inaugural and he was assassinated shortly after his second inaugural by a disgruntled Confederate sympathizer. On January 6, 2021, we saw on TV the Confederate flag parading through the Capital Rotunda, where Lincoln’s casket was placed for viewing after his death. There are plenty of historical “dots” for us to connect. History is fascinating and edifying. It’s a bit more traumatic when we see it unfolding on TV in real time. My understanding of the historical context of current events has kept me sane during this period of insanity.

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