Thomas More --now 'Saint Thomas More' --was surely the most prominent “secular humanist” in England during the reign of Henry VIII. What makes More a “humanist”, like his friend Erasmus, is his belief in the perfectibility of humankind. What makes More a “secularist” was his insistence, unto his own death, in the separation of “God’s law” and “man’s law”, a principle that we refer to as the separation of Church and State. Lest we forget, More died at the hands of an all powerful "state". Though it was not Henry VIII who said l'etat, c'est moi he might as well have done.
When the GOP embarked upon its unholy crusade to impeach Bill Clinton, it's many flacks tried to lend an imprimatur of legitimacy to their schemes by invoking the name of St/Sir Thomas More.
Typically, the GOP and prosecutor Kenneth Star specifically, mangled More and, in the process, proved themselves to be a party of mediocre intellects, opportunists, shallow sophists, perhaps, liars to a person! The following excerpt from Starr's interview with Diane Sawyer...
Kenneth Starr: Well, I love the letter and the spirit of the law, but it`s the letter of the law that protects us all. And, you know, St. Thomas Moore, Sir Thomas Moore put it so elegantly, you know, in A Man For All Seasons. He took the law very seriously and said, `That`s what protects us. It`s not the will of a human being. It`s not Henry VIII`s will. Henry VIII is under the law. We are all equal under the law.In fact --no where in the play A Man For All Seasons did the character of Sir Thomas More say anything resembling that. More defended the obedience to "...man`s law, not God`s" [that makes More a secular humanist --a bad word among many throughout the right wing] and never made reference to either Henry VIII's law by name or description. The actual exchange that both David Schippers and Starr are both so fond of misquoting is as follows:
Roper: So now you`d give the Devil benefit of law!In yet another memorable exchange:
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get at the Devil?
Roper: I`d cut down every law in England to do that.
More: Oh! (advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you --where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? (He leaves him) This country’s planted thick with laws --man's laws, not God's [emphasis mine]--and if you cut them down --and you’re just the man to do it --d`you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I`d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety`s sake.
Margaret More: Father, that man's bad.The dialogue above was written by Robert Bolt for the play and movie: A Man for All Seasons. But should you want to read the original More you will find comments equally biting, equally witty, comments that will most certainly curl the hair of modern right wing reactionaries and intellectual gnomes! More, they will charge, is a socialist for his comments having to do with the business class:
Sir Thomas More: There's no law against that.
William Roper: There is: God's law.
Sir Thomas More: Then God can arrest him.
...so God help me, I can perceive nothing but a certain conspiracy of rich men procuring their own commodities under the name and title of the commonwealth. They invent and devise all means and crafts, first how to keep safely, without fear of losing, that they have unjustly gathered together, and next how to hire and abuse the work and labour of the poor for as little money as may be.
--Of the Religions in Utopia, St. Thomas MoreClearly, none of the Republicans attacking Bill Clinton had understood the movie. None of them had bothered to learn anything about their “hero” other than what they had seen in a movie. Indeed, this film is among the best movies ever made. Sadly, the real meaning of the film was lost on Kenneth Starr. He came away from it having learned all the wrong lessons and that may be worse than having learned nothing at all.