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17 August 2014
posted by Canon Dakin on 21-08-2014

The readings were all concerned with race and religion. Nationalism and religion have long been intertwined. William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth’s chief minister, maintained that “the state could never be in safety where there was toleration of two religions.  For there is no enmity so great as that of religion and they that differ in the service of God can never agree in the service of their country”.   Cecil lived too close to the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, by which so many of his class had profited, to be able to be objective in hisjudgementabout people belonging to different religions being able to live peaceably together. It has in fact happened. When Christians entered into public life with the conversion of Constantine, Christian and pagan coexisted without tearing each other apart.  We have just had the example of the Christians of Mosul; for centuries they had lived peaceably with their Muslimneighbours- as had the Copts in Egypt.  

I remember when we werewitnessingthe violent war in Bosnia and Croatia three young people from the Balkans who were living in London appeared together on television, a Catholic, a Muslim and an Orthodox Christian; they spoke of how they had lived together harmoniously in their homeland. Religion is often blamed unfairly.  The civil war in England between Cavaliers and Roundheads certainly had a strong religious element - Catholics and High Church Anglicans against the Puritans - but fundamentally it was a constitutional battle between King and Parliament.  It was on a scale that we now find hard to imagine. We are presently remembering the outbreak of the First World War - and being appalled by the tragic loss of life.  In proportion to the population, there was an even greater loss of life during the Civil War and particularly in Lancashire. The county could broadly be divided by a line running from top left to bottom right and everyone, broadly speaking, on the left of that line was Catholic, the main towns being Lancaster and Preston. The small independent towns of east Lancashire, through their contacts in the textile trade, had assimilated Protestant ideas to the extent that Bolton was known as the Geneva of the North. In 1644 the Cavaliers attacked Bolton and the incident sadly became one of the most unpleasant in our history.  Thousands of ordinary people were unnecessarily killed. It was a massacre

My mind has switched back to our local history when I have been reading of the recent events in northern Iraq - the attacks by ISIS on ordinary people simply because they were of a different religion. The causes are not so simple - there are the political tensions between Sunni and Shia - but it is so easy for men to be persuaded that William Cecil’s principle is convenient if not necessarily true - that the only people you can trust to be loyal are those who share your religious faith. This does not excuse the barbarous treatment of religious minorities  and just as we aredishonouredby the way our ancestors dealt with the people of Bolton so we hope that one day the Muslims of Iraq will live in peace with the Christians who were actually there before them and  will acknowledge their shame.  

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