The cult of martyrdom has not been, to say the least, particularly apparent within English Protestantism – except, perhaps, in the modern secularised version that attends the scenes of mass sensation prompted by the deaths of celebrities. Even Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is now forgotten – its long popularity not even a memory. English religion, and its managers in church and state, have largely been fashioned by pragmatists who, when they encounter spiritual exultation, breezily dismiss it as ‘fanaticism’. A clear example in our own day is evident in public identification of ‘extremist’ Islam; yesterday the subjects of the pragmatists’ insensitivity towards those who actually try to practise religious discipline were the Catholic and Protestant fundamentalists in Northern Ireland. Public policy at the present time seeks to neutralise the influence of the Islamic ‘extremists’ by pouring state favours, in the form of cash grants and patronage, upon westernised leaders who have espoused the materialist virtues of cultural diversity, a degree of religious relativism, and supposed moderation in the interpretation of their own religious tradition. The cult of martyrdom within modern Islam is no more comprehensible to the ruling elite than were Catholic representations of it in the age of the Counter-Reformation.
There were similar consequences. In the reigns of Elizabeth I and her successor, James VI and I, government policy sought to separate the secular Catholic clergy in England, with their more pragmatic leadership, from the ‘fanatical’ priests of the Jesuit mission – who were martyred if it could