God only knows from whence came Freud’s theory of penis envy, but oneof his more tame theories, that of “reverse psychology”, may have itsroots in the satire of the late Jonathan Swift. I do not mean to assertthat Swift employed or was at all familiar with that style of persuasion, but his style is certainly comparable. Reverse psychology(as I chose to define it for this paper) means taking arguments thataffirm an issue to such a degree that they seem absurd, and thus opposethe issue. Swift, in “An Argument Against The Abolishing OfChristianity In England” stands up for Christianity, and based on theabsurdity of his defense, he inadvertently desecrates it.
He sets up afictitious society in which Christianity is disregarded and disdained,but nominal Christianity remains. The author writes to defend thisnominal Christianity from abolition. The arguments that the author uses,which are common knowledge in his time, if applied to Christianity inSwift’s time would be quite dangerous allegations. Indeed, the reasonsthat Swift gives for the preservation of the fictitious Christianityare exactly what he sees wrong with the Christianity practiced in histime.
By applying Swift’s satirical argument for the preservation ofthis fictitious religion to that which was currently practiced, Swiftasserts that their Christianity served ulterior motives, both for thegovernment and for the people. If we are to prove that the government was using religion for selfishpurposes, we must be sure that it was not serving its intended purpose,the assurance of the moral sanctity of its policies. This is quiteevident in the author’s comment that if real Christianity was revived,it would be, “destroy at one blow all the wit and half the learning ofthe kingdom; to break the entire frame and constitution of things. “This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christianity has noinfluence on the government’s current policies.
It even seems as if thegovernment established Church isn’t completely rooted in Christianity,as the author weakly suggests that, “Abolishing Christianity mayperhaps bring the church into danger. “The ways that the government actually uses Christianity are completelyselfish. One such purpose is the consolation of allies, “among whom, forwe ought to know, it may be the custom of the country to believe a God. “He later goes on to suggest the abolition of Christianity in peace-timein order to avoid the loss of allies. It also seems as if thegovernment uses Christianity to pacify the commoners.
Although Swiftsarcastically interjects, “Not that I agree with those who holdreligion to have been the intervention of politicians to keep the lowerpart of the world in awe,” he also says that religion is, “Of singularuse for the common people. “In other instances, the government does not use, but certainly benefitsfrom Christianity. In several ways Christianity is a buffer fromdissension, in that it takes a blow that might have instead landed ongovernment. Many of the reasons that the author’s opposition has givenfor abolishing Christianity deals with the settlement of unrest thatcomes from religious disputes. One such example they give is that ifChristianity were abolished, there would be no more persecution of”blasphemers”. Swift answers that these people are naturally inclined torebel against establishments.
Therefore, if the church, their favoriteobject of rebellion, was taken away, they would resort to rebellingagainst the government. This statement suggests that ,”deorum offensadiis curae” (offenses against the gods are the god’s business). Ifapplied to the English government, it accuses them of only punishing”blasphemers” in the interest of protecting the government. Anotherargument that the author counters is that upon the fall of Christianity,Protestants and other dissenters would be able to again join incommunion with the Catholic church.
To this, the author retorts thatwhile this may take away one reason for dissension, “spirit ofopposition” would still remain. Thus, when these Protestants foundthemselves unhappily thrust back into the fold, they would simply findanother area in which to dissent, and this time it may be an importantarea like government. While reaffirming the government’s selfishmotives, this accuses the Protestants of separating from the Catholicchurch not because of moral differences, but in order to quench theirdesire to rebel. Another unity that the author’s opposition predictedwould come from Christianity’s fall would that of political andreligious parties.
Swift answers that these parties used religiousdifferences as an excuse to argue, and that, if necessary, they wouldfind any number of other matters to argue about. One very lilliputianexample that he gives is that of two Italian factions that spawned froma dispute over the color of some ribbons. The author asserts that, muchlike the Protestants, these parties used religion as an excuse tofulfill their selfish desire to argue. Like the politicians, the people also have disposed of Christianity asfar as letting influence their actions. The Christianity then practicedhas no relation to real Christianity, “Such as used in primitivetimes”, “to have an influence upon men’s beliefs and actions.
“Apparently, even belief in a god, “is more than is required of us”(Christians). Also, “By an entire change in the methods of education,””the young gentlemen who are now on the scene seem to have not the leasttincture of virtue, honor, etc. . ” This new generation, while notbelieving in the morals associated Christianity, still gain from theirexistence. While they disobey the laws associated with these morals,Swift asserts that breaking the rule wouldn’t be nearly as fun if itwasn’t considered wrong.
The people also value church for selfish reasons. As Swift explains,church is many things for many people, none of which include spiritualfulfillment. For social butterflies, church is the perfect place tohob-knob or show off your latest outfit. For the businessman, “wheremore meetings for business?”, “where more bargains driven of all sorts?”Finally, for the insomniac, “where so many conveniences or enticementsto sleep?” These statements apply more directly than any others in thearticle to the high church of England. All of the things that Swift says about this fictional religion would bevery strong words if applied to the Church of England.
It might bereadily conceived by the innocent reader that Swift was an enemy of thechurch in his time. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Swift wasinvolved in the church and politics all his life, often in the positionof supporting political and religious factions. While this could be usedto counter my thesis that Swift was criticizing the establishment, itcan just as easily support it. Swift obviously didn’t hate government orthe church, on the contrary, it was his love of these things that ledhim to point out the injustices that were scarring them.
Like a motherscolding her child, Swift finds fault in his beloved church, only thathe may edify it.Words/ Pages : 1,092 / 24