God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible – The Plague and not Practicing What You Preach
Is there anything as offensive or nauseating as seeing a person who professes to be “of the faith” going on TV or issuing a press release after a major earthquake, hurricane, or continuing AIDS crisis, and say, ‘See, this is God’s punishment for the gays’? The fact that a person who has read the Bible would say this is terrible (perhaps they skipped the part in the New Testament about Jesus?) but the fact that some people believe this is actually worse, which shows how irresponsible and dangerous such comments are.
Take, for example, the strange new conservative mouth piece Phil Robertson (he of Duck Dynasty “fame”) who said recently that horrible diseases (such as AIDS and other STDs) are God’s “penalty” for “immoral conduct.” According to this latest rant, the only way to avoid god’s wraith is if a disease-free man and disease-free woman, as dictated by the Bible, have sex and keep it between themselves. Apparently, (as a recent newspaper article mentions) a disease-free man and another disease-free man is nowhere on his radar (http://goo.gl/64qdAG).
Sadly, this type of thinking has been used throughout history, with either gays or poor people being the target (you know, the common degenerates in society). Early in Nicolson’s God’s Secretaries, I learned that such fear mongering was used once the Plague surfaced and was ravaging London, just as King James was making his way to the large city. This deadly disease did not cause people to think about what might be creating fertile breeding ground for this disease.
No, the religious folks of the day considered it a “moral affliction” (23), striking immoral people—usually poor people who were seen as unclean, etc. One of these people, the rather powerful vicar of St. Giles Cripplegate, Lancelot Andrewes (whom Nicolson identifies as the guiding force behind the upcoming King James translation) was quite vocal about this stance. And, in typical hypocritical fashion, rather than using this belief that he would then be immune to this plague (pious, non-sinners had nothing to worry about, right?) and devote his energies to ministering to the poor and stick in his parish, he headed for the country. There, with less people around and cleaner air, he significantly increased his odds of avoiding getting the plague. He, apparently, did not ask himself: what would Jesus do?
So how bad was the plague hitting London? By the end of 1602 (according to the book), Plague deaths reached 30,000. Given that the normal population was 140,000, which had added 100,000 visitors, who were waiting to greet the new King when he arrived, this is a lot of people. Still, people believed that they “understood the plague. It […] attacked cities because cities were wicked and disgusting” (23). (You better believe that if gays identified as such back then, we’d be blamed instead.) “Medicines for the Plague,” a pamphlet issued in 1604, claimed that “in these dangerous times God must bee [sic] our onely [sic] defence [sic]” (qtd in Nicolson 25).
So, I understand under these conditions why someone (in this case, Andrewes) would flee, but I don’t understand why he (and others) would assign blame for the plague on helpless poor people just because he could. When in power, people tend to believe what you have to say, especially then. So if people believed poor, immoral people were the cause of the outbreak, he helped reduce the chances of stemming an epidemic. And in the name of Christianity as well.
If you inhabit a position of influence, one would hope you would use it for good, not to dispense unfounded judgments that don’t reflect the values you live by.
But not every religious person fled, and I respect Thomas Morton, the rector of Long Marston (outside York) who dismissed his staff and servants and remained to tend to the sick (30). Sadly, his name is not mentioned in having input into the new Bible translation King James was about to undertake. This seems like the type of person you would want involved, for he seemed to have understood what the Bible asks of its followers. Too bad the same could not be said for others.
Unfortunately, Morton did not have a position of influence with the King James translation. He seems like someone who would have been useful, given that he practiced what he preached. As far as the influence Andrewes exerted over the project…. Well, I cover the use of power in the next post.