Monday, October 17, 2011

Breaking Charity

We just finished reading The Crucible for school. My daughter was initially confused about the young girls' behavior and their motivations. As we read further, she became outraged at the injustice perpetrated on the accused innocents by the cowardly minister and pompous judges. This is of course only right, but still, her vehemence surprised me. Knowing that the book was written as a metaphor about the injustice of McCarthyism, this line from its author also surprised me:
In the countries of the Communist ideology, all resistance of any import is linked to the malign capitalist succubi, and in America any man who is not reactionary in his views is open to the charge of alliance with the Red hell.
Arthur Miller, The Crucible, 1952
Mostly it surprised me that sixty years later it seems as if both the malign capitalist succubi and the Red hell now occupy this one, same country. The questions to me remain: who will next be on trial for practicing witchcraft? And how many will be sacrificed before the validity of the accusations are questioned?

Government, alone, has the legitimate use of force. Government policies are in large part responsible for this economic mess. Government bailed out businesses, broke individual's contracts, and holds enormous power over sectors of the economy in the form of increasingly inscrutable regulations. A government which legislates every aspect of life is not progressive; It is not liberal; It is not an uninterested party. It is a master seeking slaves, whether they be in the bedrooms of Salem or the boardrooms of Wall Street.  

"Examination of a Witch" Thompkins H. Matteson, 1853

The only real evil in Salem flourished through the corruption of government (when it hanged 19 men and women and pressed one man to death for not confessing to the crime of practicing witchcraft). That bubbling cauldron of public opinion, clamorous claims, and slippery standards is as real today as it was then and is now, not only held, but also stirred by the government! It is this corruption of governmental powers that must stand accused. It is with these aspects of a corrupt government -- not the feckless, hysterical children -- that we must break charity.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

May I suggest that you further unpack the notion of "breaking charity" in another post?

I suspect that many of your occasional readers, like me, have only a passing acquaintance with the Crucible (or a fogotten acquaintance), let alone Miller's use of the term, or its origins in Puritan thought - and I'm guessing at the last one?

Lynne said...

Hello, Anonymous.

It took me only four months to find this comment! (I really should look at the comments section more often instead of relying on email notification).

In any case, I appreciate the comment and will add that while I never found a definitive resource for what "breaking charity" meant, I did take it from the context of "The Crucible" that it meant to no longer give someone the benefit of the doubt. Christian charity was a great expectation in Puritan society and in order for one to break that charity one must have built a great case against the one with whom he broke. (One source I found suggests that it means cheating on a spouse, but I have no context to support that nor is that how I used it.)