How God Made the English Part One of Three
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Really worth watching DOCU about identity and how religion might shape people. -How God Made the English, BBC Two-
Why do the English think they're better than everyone else? Perhaps God has the answer
This programme wants to challenge certain stereotypes around English identity. It wants to challenge the notion that to be English is to be “tolerant, white and Anglo-Saxon”. But before it does any of that, it wants to address just one question, and that is this: just why are the English so damned full of themselves? That’s right. Just where does their sense of superiority and entitlement come from? And what makes them think they can strut around the world with missionary zeal interfering in other people’s affairs all the time? OK, that’s several questions, but you see the theme. This episode, of three, was entirely devoted to answering it.
Diarmaid MacCulloch has a thesis. In fact, he thinks he’s got it pretty much wrapped. It’s because of God, he argues. God makes the English feel special, and therefore superior. MacCulloch is a historian of the Church of England, so it’s pretty evident that he knows a lot about the history of England in relation to the church. He begins with Bede, the eighth-century Northumbrian monk. Bede wrote the first history of the English people before there was such a thing as “the English”. He wrote it when the English were, in fact, a divided land mass ruled by different war lords. For Bede, however, to be English was to be one people under one Christian God.
Underpinning all this is the idea that England was reinforcing a link with the Israelites
To show how God made England, MacCulloch takes us on a heady historical romp that jumps vast spans of time. From Bede we arrive at Alfred the Great, the Anglo-Saxon king of Wessex who translated the venerable monk from Latin to the native tongue and under whom we had the first law code. From there, we briefly pause in the company of Æthelstan, the first ruler to be crowned with the title of King of England.
And before we can blink, we’ve arrived at Henry VIII, whose dissolution of the monasteries might have seen off papal rule, but under whom the idea that England was a nation chosen by God was newly revived. The horrific loss of life at the battle of the Somme shows how faith in the 20th century was shaken by its roots. But before we can take another breath we're once again toasting royalty at the Queen’s televised coronation in 1953 – where, MacCulloch tells us, London melts into the Jerusalem of 3,000 years before.
And underpinning all this is the idea that, with each successive ruler, England was reinforcing a link with the Israelites. A biblical narrative that is specifically Jewish is being woven into English Identity. And so we’re taken to our most esteemed institutions and palaces and shown paintings, tapestries and inscriptions which each convey the same idea – that, like the Jews, the English have a special relationship with God, and one that can even be described as a tacit convenant.
Mar 18, 2012, 19:22:21
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9h 51m 14s ago
This is nationalist propaganda. For a start how can such blatant exceptionalism be acceptable? After a great show of wailing self-recrimination over English arrogance and the self-appointed sense of mission, how does the documentary illustrate these vices? It is not with their atrocities during and after the Indian Mutiny. It is not with massacres of aborigines. It is not with their brutal actions against Egypt and Sudan, nor how they carved their way through Africa from South to North over a pile of corpses. No, the viciousness and mass murder that accompanied their arrogance is left unexamined, and instead they illustrate the evils of such chauvinism by wanking on about Britain's opposition to the slave trade. This may be the only actually good thing the British Empire ever did and even then it stood to gain by weakening competitors. The hypocrisy of doing so in the era of the Opium Wars is also quite stunning, but unmentioned. Then they have the gall to juxtapose anti-slave trade intervention with modern interventions including Iraq 2003!
I could go on, but if you watch this just pay attention to the number of times that they slip in statements of English moral superiority as fact, rather than as an English delusion. English people and Anglophiles should be very wary. This is designed to make you feel as if you are questioning and engaging critically with English history, but ultimately reinforces the arrogant English exceptionalism that it pretends to critically examine.
Mar 20 2012, 04:52 CET
this isnt a documentary about british atrocities, it is about the british ego, there sense of exceptionalism and how they used God to promote this mythology which in turn shaped their identity. thus, your criticisms for omitting coverage of issues that are unrelated to the thesis of this documentary, are unfounded!
what you are stating is obvious...and seeing as the viewer is already privy to this (as it made for the british public), it is actually a critical documentary (a boring one, mind you....personally i could give a shit about the british ego), but it is interesting to note how God was used to perpetuate the british imperial mythology.
does britain/america still act this way? absolutely. i dont think it reinforces it at all...rather crtically analyzes it.
i feel you did not read the opening statement in the announce:
"Why do the English think they're better than everyone else? Perhaps God has the answer"
he does not argue that God IS on their side, but that they argued that God was on their side, and that is why they think they are better than everyone else (much like the Jews)...hence why the doc argues that England based their mythology off this Jewish mythology to shape their cultural identity.
that is a very fair analysis...the atrocities you have mentioned are therefore justified as God is on their side.
what you are talking about is something totally separate...feel free to make a doc about it
Mar 22 2012, 01:28 CET
I don't think you quite got what I was alluding to. Of course I read the announce, that's why I watched it and why I felt I had to comment. The very fact that this doco overtly takes one stance and then tacitly contradicts it is the main reason that I use the term 'propaganda'. Perhaps you were too bored by it to really take in the implicit messages in what is depicted and how it is portrayed.
Further, how can it be that imperialist atrocities are unrelated to exceptionalist arrogance while anti-slave trade intervention is?
Lastly, it is true that I am writing about something separate from the subject of this doco. I am writing about what this documentary is. It furthers a discourse familiar to those who have followed the apologism around Tony "No One Can Doubt His Sincerity" Blair, in which the elites of an aggressive warmongering and mass-murdering state beat their breasts and agonise over the question of whether they are right to be moral crusaders. I would refer you here to the dominant elite narrative of the Vietnam War in the US, or equally Kipling's "White Man's Burden". This documentary is not a critique of such exceptionalism and apologism, it is a reiteration cleverly made palatable to people who might otherwise reject it. It is dangerous, and you have in no way engaged with my original comment by explaining why, for example, they are making a direct comparison between opposing the slave trade and invading Iraq etc.
Mar 22 2012, 04:51 CET
i didnt find it to apologetic at all, in fact i found them to be poking at the subject with a subtle humour (like in the statement i quoted from the announce). maybe that guy was proud about what he was talking about...or maybe he was being sarcastically arrogant as to poke fun at the subject of England's Elitism...im not sure. but it all depends on where the viewer is coming from.
as for your very last point about that comparison...yes they do make it, then also state that it was justified because "God is on their side" in both cases....which is ridiculous!!! this is the subtle humour i was talking about. its forcing the viewer to be critical, at least that's how i saw it.
you may just be getting ahead of yourself though, because the next episode sounds like it will be more covering some things you are talking about.
Mar 22 2012, 17:21 CET