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Friday, October 20, 2006

This was the third paper submitted for my MA in Seventeenth Century Studies. Of all the most extreme Protestant thinkers of the Interregnum period I found Abiezer Coppe to be the most interesting.

I would say that what attracted me most was how Abiezer Coppe seemed to reflect my own beliefs regarding what might be called 'extreme freedom in Christ'..that sense in which the Christian wants to cling hold to his own experienced relationship with what he understands Christ to be, and not be trodden down and oppressed in his worship and life by the interfering mediations of other people. Such a demand for toleration by other Christians must, however, be allied to a toleration of the life and worship of other Christians; and even a respect for them so long as those other styles of Chritianity are not themselves oppressive. I see this broader toleration in Coppe. Though he bears much disdain for established religion, because of its abuse of the power it holds in society, he recognises, I believe, that its forms are necessary for most Christians, for those who are 'outside' and do not sense readily in their own awareness a direct union with God through Christ.

Another interesting issue that I see surrounding Coppe, and indeed many of the extreme thinkers of this period, concerns the question of the degree to which they foreshadowed but also, to my understanding, improved upon the Marxist and Socialist traditions of the 19th century and beyond. And how they improved upon them consisted in the fact that they hadn't dispensed with a divine, metaphysical dynamic on the one hand, and a factor intimately allied to that - the integrity and significance of the individual on the other. It is a cliche much bandied about that whilst Communism is a perfect model for human society in theory, in practice it cannot work, and has been proved in the 20th century to be impossible to work, because of our flawed and selfish human nature. So it is that we find ourselves in the 20th century with no alternative ideology to oppose the onward march of globalising capital..well, except for a neanderthal and aggressive interpretation of Islam that is.

And yet when I consider the interregnum preachers, the Diggers, Levellers and Ranters and others, I sense that communitarian models of human society might have borne a far greater chance of success, if only Marx had not felt it necessary to exclude and utterly reject the theological in favour of an extreme materialism which should always have been seen as destined to wage a merciless war against the inscape of subjective imaginative experience.

Yet a theistic communism was experimented with during this period in history; it was sad and tragic that nothing much came of it..but this does not mean that in the 'post-post modern world' into which we are heading, and which some envisage will be a new 'theological age', there will not be possible ways by which a new appreciation of the divine in human society might resist the temptations to attach itself to conservative, capitalist models of human alienation on the one hand, or sink to the level of medievalist models of submission to theocratic tyranny on the other. And such ways I believe can draw valuable resources by looking to these visionary political pioneers.

In addition to the extreme individual freedom in Christ, and the visions of communitarian utopia under a loving and benign God, the other key element to Coppe's thought that I loved was his panentheism- his undertanding that God both is, yet is more than and before the created universe. The extreme immanece he attributes to God underpins the kindliness and charity which Coppe's vision extends to all life. For after all, If God is every living being, then one can hardly countenance a theology embracing cruelty to living beings can one?
On the other hand, the strong transcendence and otherness in his view of God protects his standard of God being dragged down to the level of the imagination of any darkened, unilluminated human heart. It also preserves the freedom of God to operate outside the field of the empirically observable, such that God is defended from becoming a slave to science and reductionism. To me, the utter transcendent in God protects God from becoming our prisoner, a symbol to gratify our preconceptions and arrogances- such that his freedom of manoevre to act as our saviour, healer and liberator is defended. In this way God, though identical with the creation, in an identification stronger than the one asserted in the softer immanentisitc interpretations of orthodox doctrine, is also transcendent in a strong way that we do not find in new ageist theologies - theologies which by emphasising too much God's immanence, God's identity only with the created unieverse, leave us bereft of a God able to intervene and heal us, with resources unimaginable by us, from the beyond.

The theodical question remains..if God is able to intervene and heal us, why does he not do so? The answer which I believe Coppe's vision allows for, and which I myself believe, is that God cannot do this, because his hands are tied. Tied by us, or rather tied by God, for we ourselves are God (albeit not all of God). But we are sufficiently God, the embodiment of the immanent dimension of God, as Lords of the creation, to be able, through our spiritual somnambulance and ignorance of our true nature, to make it impossible for co-operation between God Immanent and God Transcendent to be operative.

So for Coppe, so also for me, when God wakes up from below he is united with the unspeakeable beauty and perfection of the divine transcendent, in resurrection.

I have removed the footnotes from my text for aesthetic reasons, but these can be sent to my readers if you ask for them.
There is a missing section after i write "Save Zion". I have no idea why this section is missing or where it is. Apologies. I will look for it and try to replace it.

Many thanks for the help given me by Dr Richard Maber and Brian Gibbons.


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