Today’s battle of ideas between progressives and conservatives is arguably a re-run of the Reformation, with zealous liberals cast as the new puritans, sweeping the universalism of the old religion aside. A conservative writer and journalist fears that these culture wars can only have one outcome
Growing up in a mixed Catholic-Protestant family (Irish mother, English father; both writers and journalists and both – if it isn’t a contradiction in terms – bohemian conservatives) gives you a certain perspective on life. Although it would be an exaggeration to say the Reformation was in the background of my childhood – this was the 1980s, after all, and we weren’t quite that eccentric – I always understood it as the great cut-off point and division in European history.
Despite being raised a Catholic, I had digested the Whig version of English history, and assumed the Reformation was part of our glorious path from medieval superstition and squalor to modern rationality and prosperity. It was only as I got older that I learned the more complex truth; that most of the benefits attributed to Protestantism, such as individualism and liberalism, were more Catholic in origin, or that “Bloody” Mary was not much worse than Elizabeth and nothing like as bad as her monstrous father. Most of all, I learned that Catholicism was not inherently un-English, as we had been told to believe, but had been rooted out by a zealous elite.