William Walwyn wittily argues against state enforced religious conformity (1646)

William Walwyn

Found in Tracts on Liberty by the Levellers and their Critics Vol. 3 (1646).

William Walwyn (1600-1681) uses a witty medical metaphor to argue that the desire to impose religious conformity by force (“Policie”) is caused by bad “humours” in the body which can only be removed by Doctors named Love, Justice, Patience, and Truth:

This is hee (Policy) whose councell he hath long time followed, he it was that first inticed him to undertake this unhappy worke, which contrary to all reason and Religion, he calleth the building of Gods house, &c. though I shewed him plainly, he went about therein to destroy the living houses of God: the vexing and molesting of his most deare (because most consciencious and peaceable) servants: though I told him plainly, any that differed with him, might as justly compell him to conforme unto them, as he could compell them: though I manifested that he was as liable to errour, as any that he complained off, and that therefore there was no reason why he should endevour to make men odious for opinions: I shewed him it was impossible, so long as knowledge was imperfect, but men must differ: I shewed how neverthelesse, every man was bound equally as himselfe, to worship God according to his own and not another mans understanding of the word of God. I told him he would bring upon himselfe, the odium of all judicious Religious people.

In this witty “Parable, or Consultation of Physitians upon Master Edwards” (1646) William Walwyn, who would later become a doctor, writes a story about four doctors or physicians, named Love, Justice, Patience, and Truth, who discuss what to do to help poor Master Edwards who wants to use the power of the state to eliminate religious beliefs and practices which are different to the established state religion - or as he puts it “beautifying this holy building, with the glorious ornament of uniformity”. They decide that he is suffering from a “distemper” caused by evil smelling “humours” which are circulating through his body. Master Edwards is defended by two friends named Superstition and Policie. The doctors decide that the only way to cure Master Edwards of his intolerant and violent behaviour towards religious dissenters is to perform a brain operation to remove the bladder of evil smelling bile which is the cause of his condition. After the operation Mr. Edwards has lost his religious intolerance and declares himself to be “the devoted servant of Love, and his lovely companions.” Furthermore, he has now seen the light about the evils of using state violence to enforce religious conformity and so declares that “Justice, Patience, truth, Piety, and Conscience, shall be my fortresse to defend me from the wiles and force of Machiavilian Pollicy.”