We Are Reliving a Strange Period in English History
The Seventeenth Century in England saw some strange happenings. Not only was King Charles I tried for treason and beheaded, but there was an outbreak of religious eccentricity that was at times chaotic and even lunatic. According to Christopher Hill in his book The World Turned Upside-Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution:
From, say, 1645 to 1653, there was a great overturning, questioning, revaluing, of everything in England. Old institutions, old beliefs, old values came in question. Men moved easily from one critical group to another, and a Quaker of the early 1650s had far more in common with a Leveller, a Digger or a Ranter than with a modern member of the Society of Friends.
Levellers? Diggers? Ranters? These were just some of the strange splinter groups that flourished during that time. There were also Fifth Monarchists, Seekers, Mechanic Preachers, Grindletonians, Millenarians, Familists, Brownists, and scores of other types of sectaries that were more or less disorganized, frequently localized (especially in the North of England). Some cherry-picked the Bible; others cast the Bible away as more or less a distraction.
What was common to all these groups was that they were antinomian. According to the Theopedia,
Antinomianism comes from the Greek meaning lawless. In Christian theology it is a pejorative term for the teaching that Christians are under no obligation to obey the laws of ethics or morality. Few, if any, would explicitly call themselves “antinomian,” hence, it is usually a charge leveled by one group against an opposing group.
Antinomianism may be viewed as the polar opposite of legalism, the notion that obedience to a code of religious law is necessary for salvation. In this sense, both antinomianism and legalism are considered errant extremes.
Ranter Document, Illustrating Free Love
Essentially, antinomians believe that the law comes from inside their minds and hearts, not from any received set of beliefs. It does not matter what many or most people believe. Hill continues:
In the following April troopers in Suffolk were saying they would never disband ‘till we have cut all the priests’ throats.’ Three months earlier, when a group of Presbyterian ministers visited the New Model Army at Oxford, ‘the multitude of soldiers in a violent manner called upon us to prove our calling … whether those that are called ministers had any more authority to preach in public than private Christians which were gifted.’
All men and women, if they had the inner light, were their own prophets and preachers.
Now translate some of this behavior into our own time, with Truthers and Tea Partiers and climate change deniers. The U.S. House of Representatives has dozens of members who thing that whatever they believe is, ipso facto, true. Everything in the news, in magazines, on the Internet is in effect a giant conspiracy and that only they know what is true.
Of course, our own Ranters tend to be Conservative Republicans—though God knows what they are conserving.