‘Indeed an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.
‘A planned bomb attack by religious extremists on a strategic site in central London has been foiled by the security services, acting on secret intelligence. Eight men have been arrested and charged.’
That could be a story from yesterday’s newspaper, but in fact (as astute readers may have guessed) it’s an account of an event over 400 years ago which will be marked with thousands of bonfires up and down the land this month. . On 5 November 1605 a man called Guy Fawkes was discovered with something like 36 barrels of gunpowder in a crypt underneath the House of Lords on the day of the State Opening of Parliament.
He was apprehended, and under torture revealed the names of his co-conspirators, all Roman Catholics intent on assassinating the king, James 1st, and restoring a Catholic monarchy to England. It’s that event which through the murky mists of time we commemorate with fireworks, bonfires and – yes -‘guys’ on 5 November every year. As a child I remember singing: ‘Remember remember the fifth of November, Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.’
Does anyone still sing it, I wonder? Perhaps the time has come to forget Fawkes and the plot, and simply have the fireworks. Until about fifty years ago there was still an anti-Catholic element in some of the bonfire night celebrations. Thankfully, just as such religious conflicts are very much part of our distant past in Britain, so in recent times have we seen that the endless recitation of ancient feuds helps no one – and may even distort history. After all, even in 1605 Fawkes and his companions didn’t have the support of most of their fellow-Catholics, and it‘s very possible that the intelligence that uncovered the plot came from within their ranks.
Terrorism, bombs and assassination attempts are still very much with us. There are people in today’s world who misguidedly believe that they are doing God’s will by killing those who do not share their religious practice or political beliefs. Nairobi and Peshawar are fresh in our memories. Fawkes and his friends, with the kind of indifference to risk which modern terrorists also display, were fanatically committed to their cause. They, and their modern counterparts, are a reminder that, while faith is a wonderfully good thing; religious fanaticism is a dangerous delusion and violence of this kind is never the best answer to injustice.
“Love your enemies,” says Jesus.
The real game-changers in modern history have risked their own lives rather than taking the lives of others: people like Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Janani Luwum, Nelson Mandela and Oscar Romero ‘Love your enemies,’ said Jesus. Then there’s a good chance you’ll change them, and in changing them you may change history.
David Winter’s new book At the End of the Day (Enjoying Life in the Departure Lounge) is published by BRF on 22 November (£6.99).