Tell me when you recognize the story. There’s a man born into tremendous wealth and privilege. Even though he’s in line to inherit massive amounts of power and money, there are a few older siblings, one of whom is directly ahead of him in the primogeniture. Then, a sudden tragedy makes this man a king. In this position, he is a somewhat controversial figure in his political positions, and personal life, especially his massive push to increase executive power into previously-unknown levels, and his marriages to multiple women. He’s best-known, ironically, for his far-better-known daughter. Oh, and he was tremendously obese; that’s not an opinion, we actually have the measurements.

Those of you who follow history and are familiar with my writing will have deduced that I’m discussing Henry VIII. But he is not completely dissimilar from Beloved Leader, when painted with rather broad-strokes. Although there are many tragedies, accomplishments, genocides (let’s hold off on that one, please, Bunker Boy), etc. for which we could celebrate or denounce His Grace, Henry VIII is best-known for two major actions: Founding the Anglican Church (on this side of the pond, that’s the Episcopal Church)(although, I’ve since found that term can refer to any number of generic sub-groups of larger protestant churches)(I’m doing the bare-minimum amount of research, because I’ve found that Wikipedia and religion, for me, goes rapidly from “Founding Ethos of Anglican Church” to, “There was an off-shoot of Jupiter’s worshipers in the third century that believed devouring live pigeons was the path to Elysium? Really?”), and siring Elizabeth I, best-known for really getting Great Britain into the whole colonization game, and smashing Britain’s traditional enemies, the French, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedes (I’m assuming), and, of course, the Welsh, Scottish, Irish, and English. For those wishing to learn more about Her Majesty, I recommend the incomparable British historical documentary, Blackadder. We’re going to be focusing on Henry’s other lasting legacy, the Anglican Church.

When we discuss religion in the 21st century, most wide-spread forms of monotheism get a pass on the moral judgment of their founders, because there isn’t a whole lot of historical information available (again, I will admit to a certain amount of ignorance here, but I have done some initial research on the founders of various religions and, unsurprisingly, the further back in time from the present you go; the fewer reliable accounts there are). Christ might have been a really shady, cult-like character who’s had a few millennia in the collective subconscious to scrub up and sanitize His image. Whereas we know that David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Marshall Applewhite were crazier than a cobra in a crock pot, because we have modern historical records on them. Similarly, even though the New York Times wasn’t keeping close track of Henry’s whereabouts, we do have more-modern and available records for him that weren’t there for, say, John the Baptist, Siddhartha, or Muhammad.

Which is how we know that the Anglican Church is the direct product of divorce. Stick with me for a bit. Henry was a big fan of “Divine Right,” (most kings were), but, unfortunately, laying claim to ‘God wants me in the crown” is a tricky business, and political stability in a theocratic, feudal society kind of requires having a legitimate heir (sorry, ladies, we all know you don’t count) waiting in the wings with a knife to ascend to the aristocracy. Henry didn’t have one, which is kind of a shaky political place to start from when the Plantagenet House is already fractured and under siege.

I do not know if Henry’s intention was to simply go out and bone a bunch of women, or if that was just a delightful side-product of the rules of primogeniture (and it certainly makes me wonder if all organized religions don’t start as some weird male impulse to hump everything within sight), but he certainly took that to the extreme. “Wed, Bed, Behead” wasn’t an idle drawing room game for this man, it was his weekend itinerary. Unfortunately, if church and state are two separate things, and the state continues to do Forbidden Things, it risks drawing the ire of religious leaders, and the religion, itself. Nothing tramples Divine Right faster than God’s Anointed Representatives saying, “Actually, God wants to take a break from you.” And, although there are any number of issues I have with the Catholic Church; they’ve been pretty consistent about divorce (not that I’m automatically and always against divorce, but I kind of have to respect the commitment it takes for an institution to rigidly and inflexibly adhere to a principle regardless of changing times and circumstances)(weirdly enough, I’ve heard stories of Catholic couples separating, pursuing other people, etc. just without the formality of ending the marriage, and they still get into heaven)(Maybe? I guess? I mean, I’ve never been in a situation where the options have been, “Stop going to church, or try to outwit God; let’s try that second one” but I’m also the sort who applies pragmatic principles to my few beliefs). So, after shagging pretty much every political match in the land and some of the furniture (one presumes) through a variety of diabolical means to legitimize any potential heirs (I’m not getting into it; there’s an entire Wikipedia page for Henry’s Wives)(credit where it’s due, the man had stamina), the Pontiff said, “Enough.”

In what may be the first recorded instance of a white, male fragility temper tantrum, Henry turned over the table and stormed out of the room, shouting, “I don’t need you or your God! I’m gonna start my own church, with blackjack, and hookers!” (CITATION NEEDED). I might be borrowing from Futurama, but, the point still stands. When the Pope finally said “No,” Henry demanded to talk to the Manager. For every white person wondering what privilege looks like; at an extreme, extraordinary end, it means not only do you not have to follow the same rules as everyone else; it means you can go over the head of the church in your quest for more sex (and a legitimate male heir).

Even though I’ve met quite a few members of the Anglican Church — and they’ve all been lovely — I don’t think anyone is going to deny that the Church was founded to tacitly endorse really bad behavior when the nobility was doing it.

That is the historical context necessary to understand this next critical question. In the wake of gassing a church, Bunker Boy has received near-universal condemnation, because most humans would see the words “tear gas” and “church” in the same paragraph and say, “Wait a minute; the Navy SEALS didn’t go after Manuel Noriega when he took refuge in a church, why would we even send riot cops in the same vicinity of a church if the US military knows the optics aren’t going to be favorable, even if it’s in pursuit of a war criminal?” And, not surprisingly, the church is condemning this action because, y’know, tear-gassing clergy isn’t cool. So, my question is: How out of control and dangerous must an authority figure be for the Anglican Church — a church that was founded to maintain the status quo, let’s not forget — to universally condemn them?

Written by

Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store