Jonathans Swifts Real Argument

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Jonathan's Swift's Real Argument God only knows from whence came Freud's theory of penis envy, but one ofhis more tame theories, that of 'reverse psychology', may have its roots in thesatire of the late Jonathan Swift. I do not mean to assert that Swift employedor was at all familiar with that style of persuasion, but his style iscertainly comparable. Reverse psychology (as I chose to define it for thispaper) means taking arguments that affirm an issue to such a degree that theyseem absurd, and thus oppose the issue. Swift, in 'An Argument [Against] TheAbolishing Of Christianity In England' stands up for Christianity, and based onthe absurdity of his defense, he inadvertently desecrates it. He sets up afictitious society in which Christianity is disregarded and disdained, butnominal Christianity remains. The author writes to defend this nominalChristianity from abolition.

The arguments that the author uses, which arecommon knowledge in his time, if applied to Christianity in Swift's time wouldbe quite dangerous allegations. Indeed, the reasons that Swift gives for thepreservation of the fictitious Christianity are exactly what he sees wrong withthe Christianity practiced in his time. By applying Swift's satirical argumentfor the preservation of this fictitious religion to that which was currentlypracticed, Swift asserts that their Christianity served ulterior motives, bothfor the government and for the people. If we are to prove that the government was using religion for selfishpurposes, we must be sure that it was not serving its intended purpose, theassurance of the moral sanctity of its policies. This is quite evident in theauthor's comment that if real Christianity was revived, it would be, 'destroy atone blow all the wit and half the learning of the kingdom; to break the entireframe and constitution of things[.]' This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt thatChristianity has no influence on the government's current policies

It evenseems as if the government established Church isn't completely rooted inChristianity, as the author weakly suggests that, '[A]bolishing Christianity mayperhaps bring the church into danger.' The ways that the government actuallyuses Christianity are completely selfish. One such purpose is the consolation ofallies, 'among whom, for we ought to know, it may be the custom of the countryto believe a God.' He later goes on to suggest the abolition of Christianity inpeace-time in order to avoid the loss of allies. It also seems as if thegovernment uses Christianity to pacify the commoners. Although Swiftsarcastically interjects, 'Not that I [agree] with those who hold religion tohave been the intervention of politicians to keep the lower part of the world inawe,' he also says that religion is, '[O]f singular use for the common people.'In other instances, the government does not use, but certainly benefits fromChristianity. In several ways Christianity is a buffer from dissension, in thatit takes a blow that might have instead landed on government.

Many of thereasons that the author's opposition has given for abolishing Christianity dealswith the settlement of unrest that comes from religious disputes. One suchexample they give is that if Christianity were abolished, there would be nomore persecution of 'blasphemers'. Swift answers that these people are naturallyinclined to rebel against establishments. Therefore, if the church, theirfavorite object of rebellion, was taken away, they would resort to rebellingagainst the government. This statement suggests that,'deorum offensa diiscurae' (offenses against the gods are the god's business).

If applied to theEnglish government, it accuses them of only punishing 'blasphemers' in theinterest of protecting the government. Another argument that the author countersis that upon thefall of Christianity, Protestants and other dissenters would be able to againjoin in communion with the Catholic church. To this, the author retorts thatwhile this may take away one reason for dissension, 'spirit of opposition' wouldstill remain. Thus, when these Protestants found themselves unhappily thrustback into the fold, they would simply find another area in which to dissent, andthis time it may be an important area like government. While reaffirming thegovernment's selfish motives, this accuses the Protestants of separating fromthe Catholic church not because of moral differences, but in order to quenchtheir desire to rebel. Another unity that the author's opposition predictedwould come from Christianity's fall would that of political and religiousparties.

Swift answers that these parties used religious differences as anexcuse to argue, and that, if necessary, they would find any number of othermatters to argue about. One very lilliputian example that he gives is that oftwo Italian factions that spawned from a dispute over the color of some ribbons. The author asserts that, much like the Protestants, these parties used religionas an excuse to fulfill their selfish desire to argue. Like the politicians, thepeople also have disposed of Christianity as far as letting influence theiractions. The Christianity then practiced has no relation to real Christianity,'[S]uch as used in primitive times', 'to have an influence upon men's beliefsand actions.' Apparently, even belief in a god, 'is more than is required of us'(Christians). Also, '[B]y an entire change in the methods of education,' 'theyoung gentlemen who are now on the scene seem to have not the least tincture of[virtue, honor, etc.].' This new generation, while not believing in the moralsassociated Christianity, still gain from their existence. While they disobey thelaws associated with these morals, Swift asserts that breaking the rule wouldn'tbe nearly as fun if it wasn't considered wrong.

The people also value church forselfish reasons. As Swift explains, church is many things for many people, noneof which include spiritual fulfillment. For social butterflies, church is theperfect place to hob-knob or show off your latest outfit. For the businessman,'where more meetings for business?', 'where more bargains driven of all sorts?'Finally, for the insomniac, 'where so many conveniences or enticements tosleep?' These statements apply more directly than any others in the article tothe high church of England. All of the things that Swift says about thisfictional religion would be very strong words if applied to the Church ofEngland.

It might be readily conceived by the innocent reader that Swift was anenemy of the church in his time. This couldn't be farther from the truth. Swiftwas involved in the church and politics all his life, often in the position ofsupporting political and religious factions. While this could be used to countermy thesis that Swift was criticizing the establishment, it can just as easilysupport it. Swift obviously didn't hate government or the church, on thecontrary, it was his love of these things that led him to point out theinjustices that were scarring them. Like a mother scolding her child, Swiftfinds fault in his beloved church, only that he may edify it.

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