As a weird public memorial of a historical event, setting off explosives in memory of Guy Fawkes is right up there with hot cross buns at Easter.
What exactly are we meant to be “celebrating”? The defeat of the conspiracy to blow up the English Parliament in 1605, or a righteous attempt to resist the suppression of religious liberty?
The answer in 2014, of course, is neither. It’s just our chosen day, a convenient hook, to make fun with bangs and flashes, just as the Americans choose 4 July. There’s no particular historical remembering going on.
Which is a lost opportunity when we’re in the middle of another muddle of outrageous violence with religious threads.
Of course the terrorism of Al-Qaeda and ISIS is not solely, or even arguably mainly, theologically-inspired. It’s just a bunch of inadequate grumps who resent their lack of success and status in the modern world, so they hijack a convenient vehicle to justify their bloody hissy-fits. It’s nonsense, of course, but bloody nonsense.
David Shariatmadari at The Guardian has done a decent review of Karen Armstrong’s new book Fields of Blood which argues that religion per se is not the major source of war.
Amid the kaleidoscope of examples, the argument solidifies: religious awakening is a symptom of too-quick transition from one kind of society to another. From the nomadic to the settled, from the agrarian to the mercantile, from the mercantile to the industrial. Violence often erupts at these moments. But the link with religion is one of correlation, not causation.
Anyway, enjoy your bangs and flashes, but follow the Fire Service’s tips on how to stay safe. We don’t want anyone to get hurt, do we?