Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Putney Debates

The 1647 Putney Debates have been chosen by Guardian readers as the most neglected radical event from British history, with the Peterloo Massacre in second place and the 1549 Cornish Prayer Book Rebellion in third place. Putney parish church is to make a digital copy of the original manuscripts of the debates and have them on display. Here we will be able to read Colonel Rainsborough's immortal words: "For really I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he". Giles Fraser, the vicar of Putney (who seems a good egg despite being a sky-pilot) compares this passage with Galatians 3: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female: for you are all one in Jesus Christ". He says Galatians is more "inclusive" than Rainsborough. No, sorry Giles: Galatians is referring to the after-world, not this one. It doesn't actually urge, for example, the abolition of slavery. It is pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die stuff. Rainsborough is talking about this world, and wants to change it. True, the levellers wanted a propery qualification and spoke only of male suffrage: but it is still the beginning of democracy in England. There is also something rather unpleasant about Galatians: we are all one "in Jesus Christ". And non-Christians? (It smacks of Jesus's "there is no other way but through me" or whatever it was he said, which, as Bertrand Russell pointed out years ago, is the deepest intolerance). Putney is a worthy winner.


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