A Plea for Christian Piracy [1]

by , under Blog Series, Theology

SkullandBones

Following a piece I recently wrote for Third Way magazine, and a connected talk at Greenbelt, I wanted, over the course of a few posts, to set out some of the ideas around piracy that are percolating through the new book.

We begin with a paradox: why do we encourage our children’s fascination with such violent and morally disturbing characters? My son (he is now 5) has been invited to countless pirate-related parties. He has never been invited to a children’s party with an aggravated robbery, GBH or pillage theme. Amazon lists countless pirate-related books, duvet covers and other regalia. I can find nothing on thievery for children.

So what is it about piracy that makes children’s pulses race, and corporations’ blood boil? Certainly, they are getting everywhere. The Pirate Party of Sweden have a seat in the European Parliament. Pirates are threatening to take down the whole of Hollywood, as well as the safe passage of nice cheap goods and oil through the Gulf of Aden around the Somali coast.

But none of this is new. People have been fascinated by these sea-faring thieves for hundreds of years. In 1724 one Captain Johnson – whose actual identity is still something of a mystery – wrote the fabulously titled book A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates. Sold in a small bookshop in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral, it was an instant hit. So why, when St Paul himself had urged the faithful to think on the good, the pure and the lovely, were good Christians of London ignoring the divine contemplations on offer in the very same shop, and opting for graphic descriptions of murder, plunder and rebellion – as well as two revealing plates of women pirates? And what could all of this mean for our own faith?

We’ll get onto that in the next post.


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  1. johngriffiths7

    Couple of refs for you. Adam Morgan who wrote the marketing book Eat the Big Fish – called his 2nd book The Pirate Inside because of the number of executives who said to him We want to be pirates but our corporation only allows us to be the navy. Piracy is an old metaphor but Sharp of the Rifles, Mickey Spillane – its an honoured archetype in reaction to institutional thinking.
    I interviewed Adam about the book a few years ago – here’s the ref http://www.planningaboveandbeyond.com/intheirownwords/pirateinside/

    Secondly one of my favourite and most subversive political stories comes from Augustine’s City of God where he is showing the arbitrary nature of human power. He recounts that Alexander the Great has a pirate brought in front of him for sentence and execution. What do you mean by infesting the seas like this? demanded Alexander. Replied the condemented man I have a ship so you call me a pirate. You have a navy so they call you the emperor. One reason we may admire the pirate (buccaneer) is that as a solo player pirates mimic the aggression of maritime nations and ask why they have the right to create territories on the water.

    As a postscript you might want to consider that David is actually a piratical character in a landlocked country like Israel.

  2. Marika

    All very interesting, but you fail to account for the important role that Mr Creep the Crook and Burglar Bill played in my childhood reading and watching.

  3. KB

    The difference between pirate material and the two books that you mention is that pirates don’t reform. Mr Creep and Burglar Bill both end up turning from their life of crime – so their narratives are ‘normalised’ by the end of the tale. This occasionally happens in pirate books, but most actually do not normalise, and remain pirates. I think that’s a key difference.

  4. Sabio Lantz

    Buddhism also stresses thinking about the wholesome.
    Indeed this pirate thing is bizarre. But I guess if they re-write it with Pirates being noble and generous, albeit illegal, they can pull it off.
    Heck, Christianity re-writes the horrendous Old Testament and then expects us to keep using it ! They seem to have gotten away with it too.

  5. Joan of Quark

    A partial counter-example: pickpocketing is glamorised in the musical versions of Oliver Twist (admittedly, Fagin gets hanged in the book).