12 months ago
What an interesting review. I think it raises some points about what biography is for and especially how contemporary biographers should deal with the changing role of faith over the centuries
En route to my adult position as an atheist. I was raised as a Catholic and spent a lot time with Priests from various orders and countries. About the only thing they had in common was an unshakable belief in the active involvement of God in our lives. Faith in a God they had no expectation of being able fully to understand or explain was at the core of how they understood the world.
I could never embrace that point of view. I always kept faith at arm's-length. s a result, I only had a second-hand understanding of how they saw the world. rather in the way that someone who feels very little or no sexual desire might understand someone for whom sex is the bedrock of a good relationship.
This made me very sensitive to the gap between how I see the world and how it was seen by people living in earlier periods in England. Britain is now a mostly secular country with less than half of people claiming affiliation to a religion. Yet ti's a country heavily driven by belief rather than data - beliefs on climate change, immigration, gender roles.
Which leads me to wonder whether we can understand to impact on the English in the eleventh century of a would-be-king being believable to be foresworn before God. I'm not sure that the facts matter IF Harold was widely believed to be an oath-breaker. This is like having a President or a Prime Minister who we know to be liars. Their power comes from having been elected despite being known liars. The King's power came from God. How can a truly receive that power when he is foresworn before God? Surely God would punish such disrespect?
So what do you think? Does a biographer of Haroldwho unquestioningly accepts a faith-based view of the world, in a way that is very similar to the attitudes of the times Harold lived in have a fatally flawed view of or is he seeing more clearly than someone with a secular mindset who see being foresworn as the natural state of a politician and labels the oath-breaking thing as a propaganda narrative used to prop up the legitimacy of the Norman's?
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