This Being Guy Fawkes Day Across the Pond

I just thought I’d post a little reminders about how much Calvinist Puritanism sucked:

Chesterton was perfectly right. “In America,” he said, “they have a feast to celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims. In England, we should have a feast to celebrate their departure.”

The good thing about Guy Fawkes Day these days is that nobody really remembers what its about and its just an occasion for firecrackers and having a good time. It’s sort of curious how history has a way of buffing off the hard edges of tragedy and horror and turning old historical bitternesses into children’s games. This seems to be one of the odd features of Christian civilization at it’s best. Some ghastly martyrdom like St. Lucy’s get turned into an occasion for holiday treats and some horrible death like St. Lawrence’s becomes an occasion for jokes (“Turn me over. I’m done on this side now.”). I wonder if other cultures do this?

  • Dave G.

    Uh huh. I tell my boys that it seems a particularly Catholic gift to zig when we ought to zag.

  • Elaine S.

    “some horrible death like St. Lawrence’s becomes an occasion for jokes”

    A parish in Penfield, IL, named St. Lawrence used to have (perhaps still does) an annual Men’s Club Steak Fry around their saint’s feast day every year… today they have a “Homecoming Chicken Fry” around Labor Day weekend but I’m not sure if it replaced the earlier event or not. In any event, I wonder how many people realize the irony behind these events….

  • Linebyline

    What did I just witness? That video is either awesomely horrible or horribly awesome and I can’t tell which. Thank you for posting that, Mark. You are a good person.

  • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

    Ugh, Horrible Histories. I grant that was very amusing, but I’m always frustrated when I read those books. Talk about the winners writing the history….

  • Rachel

    I love Horrible Histories. The show is a lot of fun and granted its from a very protestant, British perspective they don’t mind making fun of their own history. The Charles II one is hilarious :)

    • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

      Hmm, I guess I dislike the near-constant implication in those books that pretty much everybody in the past was cretinous, immoral jerk. It’s Enlightenment snobbery at its most insidious, since it’s marketed to kids. That they make fun of their own past just makes it worse, I think, because it reinforces the assumption that the great achievement of Modernism was surmounting and refuting the benighted wickedness of their ancestors. It’s like watching QI: really amusing, really gut-wrenchingly arrogant and obnoxious.

  • Catriona M Mac Kirnan

    Mark, is your use of that extremely vulgar term (the one beginning with S) in your headline supposed to be an example of history buffing off edges? This word, with its real meaning, is not acceptable in polite conversation. I don’t care how many young people are carelessly using it now — that doesn’t clean up its meaning.

    • Pete Keating

      I’m sorry, but your use of the term “vulgar” is very offensive to me. It has its roots in the term used in the 16th centuries to describe the unpolished ways that commoners spoke and it implies that all working class people are unrefined and unworthy of a good conversation. I hope you’ll reconsider using it.

      • Catriona M Mac Kirnan

        True — I know the origin of the term “vulgar”, meaning of the people, and it’s probably not the most appropriate word to use, whether modern people know its meaning or not. So how would we describe that word beginning with S, used the way it’s used in this headline? How about an obscenity? With its ties to perverted sexual practices, it seems like an obscenity to me.

        • Dillon T. McCameron

          Of course the word is an obscenity. The question is: is the thing described obscene?

          I think so. And I like to think that this particular obscenity would be of especial insult to Cromwell and his puritans.

    • Marion (Mael Muire)

      This word, with its real meaning, is not acceptable in polite conversation.

      Ironic, isn’t it? Many people who pride themselves on their knowledge of good manners inexplicably exempt themselves from one of the few immutable rules of polite society that there is: to wit, to correct another adult before others for a social faux-pas (as well as to correct children not one’s own) is an even bigger social gaffe than any faux-pas the original offender may possibly have committed.

      (To offer fraternal correction to a brother or sister is a different matter; the protocol recommended by Sacred Scripture is to begin in private.)

      • Catriona M Mac Kirnan

        f you are trying to say that I should have written to Mark privately, I’ve tried several times to figure out how to do that, but so far have not found a way. Meanwhile, this is a public blog, with publicly offensive terms in the headline. The verse about approaching a brother or sister privately over an offense seems to refer to a private offenxe between two people, not the case here.

        In any case, it might be a moot point, because Mark does not appear to care one way or the other. No comment, no defense of his use of the epithet, no apology if he felt one was warranted, no indication he even understands the problem.

        Surely I cannot be the only person concerned with the loss of civil discourse or the coarsening of our speech.

        • Linebyline

          There’s an e-mail link in the right-hand sidebar. If that doesn’t work, Mark’s address is chez.ami@frontier.com

          At the risk of being picky, the term in question is not in the headline but in the first line of the body of the post. I bring this up only because the term being in the headline seems to bother you over and above its simply having been used. If I misread you on that point, I apologize.

          Incidentally, I just checked three different dictionaries (Wiktionary, dictionary.com, and Merriam-webster.com) and while two of them listed the vulgar definition of “suck” as well as the definition that basically means “be inferior or undesirable,” none of them gave any indication that the two were connected. And Wiktionary lists the seemingly-harmless “sheesh” as a minced oath for “Jesus” so I doubt an offensive etymology would have gone unmentioned there. (I could be wrong, though; you know how uneven wikis can be.)

          If you’re willing to make a bit of a leap, yeah, it’s easy to conclude that they are related. But if you’re willing to make such a leap, you could just as easily say it’s a shortened form of “suck eggs” which is an actual thing that people do for some reason, and could (Could!) also be related to various egg-stealing vermin. An “egg-sucking” person would thus be a no-good person, or to rephrase that slightly, someone or something that “sucks eggs” is no good. Cut the “eggs” off for brevity and/or because it sounds silly and antiquated, and you’re left with just “sucks.”

          • Catriona M Mac Kirnan

            This conversation doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I will probably unsubscribe from the blog, if obscenities are going to show up in it — headline, first line, or wherever they are. I can go to secular blogs to read those terms if I want to.

            In reference, by the way, to the actual topic of this blog post rather than the terms used to describe the topic, I am very interested in the original situation surrounding Guy Fawkes day and the way the Gunpowder Plot was used to conveniently frame up some prominent Catholics.

            Thank you for pointing out Mark’s e-mail. It’s too bad, because his book By What Authority was extraordinarily helpful when I was coming into the Catholic Church. I keep hoping that the blog will be just as edifying, but it does not seem to be.

            The difference in the common or non-obscene meaning of the term and the other seems to be whether it’s used intransitively or not. Transitively, the speaker is not ashamed to say what is being sucked on — a baby bottle, etc. Intransitively, the usual implication is that the item being sucked on is not mentionable, with all of the additional connotations that a person who does that must be pretty low or must not think much of themselves. I was in the Navy before I found out what that meant, and rather wish I had not.

            Also, there was a TV series on some years ago about the space program, one of the characters being a fairly outspoken, foul-mouthed, and hardbitten male astronaut, a former figher pilot as many astronauts were. There was a scene in which the astronaut’s divorced wife brings their 10-year-old son for a day visit with his father. The boy, describing the situation at his school, used this phrase intransitively as in the first line of this blog post. The father was shocked at the kid’s language and tried to correct him — “it STINKS!”, he suggested. Missing the whole point, either because he did not know the real meaning or because he heard it all the time at school and thought nothing of it, the boy responded, “no, it S__KS!” The boy’s mother had the grace to look a little embarrassed.

            The meaning of the sexual-related obscenity has not changed, it’s still not something one would expect to show up in public civil discourse, and some people are still just as clueless as that ten-year-old boy. It is certainly not something I want to read or listen to if I can avoid it, and I would not expect to see it in a Catholic (or Protestant0 Christian blog.

            • Linebyline

              I don’t think it’s about transitive vs. intransitive, exactly. After all, babies suck, without a direct object being specified, all the time and no one suspects that they’re engaging in anything sinful.

              As for your TV show example, if I read it correctly, that says nothing about the actual origin of the term. It just means that the word is rude, and I certainly won’t disagree there.

              I’m not arguing that the meaning has changed; two of my three dictionaries do indeed list the sexual practice (or malpractice) alongside the one that basically just means “is bad.” My point was that they simply don’t list any connection between the two.

              Yes, it seems obvious that they would be connected, but experience tells me not to trust this conclusion without confirmation from a dictionary. For instance, not long ago I was on a forum where a moderator chastised a member for using the expression “balls to the wall” due to the perceived vulgarity of it. The moderator was a bit embarrassed when someone pointed out that the expression isn’t an anatomical reference at all: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2006/02/balls_in_the_air.html

              Far be it from me to tell you what you should and shouldn’t read. If you think the best course of action is to avoid reading Mark’s blog, more power to you. I realize how patronizing that sounds, but I mean it in all seriousness. I’ve made similar decisions in the past with other sources, and have bailed out in the middle of several of Mark’s posts because I didn’t appreciate his tone, or a couple other complaints I won’t air here. Far better to quit reading, if you ask me, than to keep reading something that’s only going to make me (or you) more upset. I would, however, humbly suggest that avoiding Mark’s use of “sucks” is not worth missing out on what good there is in the blog. Sure, it isn’t quite up to the high standards of Mark’s books, but one does find the occasional nugget of wisdom.

              If you’re not going to read Catholic and Enjoying It, at least give Mark’s National Catholic Register blog a chance. I suspect it may be more along the lines of what you’re looking for, as it tends to have fewer rough edges than this one, and it’s home to some of my favorite posts of Mark’s. This one, for instance: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/mark-shea/scruples-and-the-fear-of-hell

              • Catriona M Mac Kirnan

                Thanks.

        • Marion (Mael Muire)

          Public or private words or deeds, if anyone wishes to invoke the interests of “civil” or “polite conversation”, the cardinal, foundational, and ineffable requirement is “you never publicly find fault with others.” Or correct them, or order them about in any way. Period.

          If you’re talking about “public figures” like elected officials, that is a different matter: elected officials and their appointees have a sworn duty to serve the public in a professional manner. So long as it is done reasonably and with restraint, it has always been within the realm of civility to criticize holders of public office, publicly.

          Private citizens, even those who publish or appear publicly, not.

          The only possible exception would be to say to a guest’s child, “Sasha darling, you mustn’t climb up on Uncle’s Jaguar; I’m afraid the finish is rather slippery, and you might fall and hurt yourself.” Or some similar situation.

          It’s a free country: any reader of this blog or of any blog is free to publicly criticize or correct Mark or any other blog owner. But their very doing so is outside the bounds of “polite conversation.” In other words, you’re free to do it, if you want; but in doing so you’re making an example of an impolite thing to do.

  • brian_in_brooklyn

    Well yeah, the Puritans were no fun, but James I and the Anglican bishops sitting in the Lords were not Puritans, they were very anti-Puritan.

    Because of a perceived terrorist threat to society from Roman Catholics (justified, in some cases like the Gunpowder Plot) the English government spied, killed innocents, and restricted the religious freedom of ordinary practitioners.

    Roman Catholics were the Muslims of their day

    • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

      Because of a perceived terrorist threat to society from [Muslims] (justified, in some cases like [9/11]) the English government [is spying], [killing] innocents, and [restricting] the religious freedom of ordinary practitioners.

      Is this true? I’m especially curious about the last.

    • James H, London

      It was a tip-off from Catholic peers (members of the House of Lords) which alterted the authorities to the Gunpowder Plot in the first place. Those peers would have been the only ones capable of paying the fines for being recusants. Things might have eased up over time if not for Cromwell, England’s very own dictator – who how has a statue outside the Lords. Go figure.

  • Stu

    Time to give the Stuarts another chance.

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    To Mrs. Mac Kirnan and others who may be interested in the side topic:

    Although the root meaning of vulgar is characteristic of or pertaining to common, ordinary folk, generally, I believe the meaning in usual, modern parlance has shifted to refer not to common folk, generally, but to that which pertains to or is characteristic of that segment among common folk who are sadly lacking in education and training about how to behave, and who, what’s more, happen to be behaving, at the moment, not at what is, even for them, their best.

    That’s what I understand is generally meant by vulgar. It might be agreed that the term to s*ck used in that way qualifies as a vulgarism, and that it would be preferable for Christian authors to avoid that and other such terms.

    In Mark’s case, however, his best writing is really good. About as good as any out there, in my opinion. And world-class writing on topics of interest to me is something I don’t want to miss, ever. Therefore, as for me, I choose to get past an occasional vulgarism here and there, and elsewhere, too. (I wish I didn’t have to, but it is, as they say, what it is.)

    Your mileage may vary.


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