"All your Church are belong to us!"
In the Reformation, religious controversy and gunpowder mixed together on a large scale. Previous religious disputes involved swords, catapults, burnings at the stake, or sometimes just the pulling of beards and the smashing of wine bottles. In the 16th and 17th centuries, however, the whiff of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate became “the devil’s incense” for theological struggles. In the West, the blog posts have replaced cannonballs as tools of controversy. But in Great Britain on the fifth of November, Guy Fawkes Night keeps alive the memory of the era of “black powder theology.” In a way no one can ignore.
Guy Fawkes has long since passed to his eternal reward. But every 5th of November, he comes alive in effigy. His slouch hat and goatee once again make their appearance. Led by a procession of lit torches and the accompanying sound of firecrackers, jolly souls carry “the old Guy” to his fiery doom. Bonfires, burning in effigy, and fireworks complete the ceremony. It’s like a combination of Halloween and the Fourth of July.
Guy Fawkes’ Night commemorates the foiling of “The Gunpowder Plot,” which according to most historians would have wiped out King James, his court, and Parliament– and according to explosives experts, a good chunk of London.
On the surface, this seems to be an anti-treason and anti-terrorism holiday. Isn’t it a good thing to celebrate stopping such a horrible crime?
But there’s a deeper message to this, too. One that is very real for English Catholics.
Father to "No Islam!"
In our day, Islamophobes have used 9-11 as a means of spreading fear and hatred of American Muslims. Likewise, since the 1600s anti-Catholics in Great Britain used the bonfires of Guy Fawkes’ Night to attack English Catholics. This holiday was the capstone in the propaganda of “The Black Legend” – a term historians use to describe the image of a vast, nefarious Catholic menace seeking to subjugate the whole world to papal rule and the rebirth of “the Dark Ages.”
In reality, English Catholics were staunchly patriotic. Just as American Muslims have been key in fighting terrorism, English Catholics foiled a plot to kidnap James I in 1603, two years before Guy Fawkes’ “Gunpowder Plot.” English Catholics have generally opposed the very notion of blowing up Parliament and Crown. Although they oppose what the “Gunpowder Plot” stands for, English Catholics generally see Guy Fawkes’ Night not as a statement against treason, but as an element in the long campaign to paint Catholics as the devil.
American Muslims know what that’s like.
When will we stop associating beards with threats to "Homeland Security"?