Civil Laws and Religious Authority in Gulliver's Travels
In part one of Gulliver's Travels, Swift present readers with an inverted world, not only by transplanting Gulliver to a land that's only a twelfth the size (a literal microcosm), but also by placing him into a society with different ethical and civil laws. Swift uses these inversions not only to entertain the readers imagination, but more importantly, to transform our perspectives to understand alien worldviews (e.g. in part four, there is great detail given to explain the Houyhnhnms' views on marriage, health, astronomy, poetry, language, death, and reproduction). The Lilliputian conflict that erupts from the egg law (found in part one, chapter four) is an inversion, which (1) parallels the conflict of the Protestant reformation; and (2) argues that warring over religious viewpoints is futile and destructive to society, and (3) mandates lawmakers to be wary of creating laws that contradict religious teachings.
The conflict between the Lilliputians and Blefuscudians resembles the Protestant and Papist struggle because it's a struggle about interpretation of scripture. The "great prophet Lustrog, in the fifty-fourth chapter of the Brundecral" decrees that "all true believers shall break their eggs at the convenient end" (2353). The Blefuscudians (like Roman Catholics) hold a traditional view of scripture, and in their case, " the primitive way of breaking eggs . . . was upon the larger end" (2353), and that was "ancient practice" (2353). The Lilliputians (like Protestants), broke from tradition and held a personal view of scripture, as the Emperor decreed, "to break the smaller end of their eggs" (2353). And for "six and thirty moons past" (2353), the Lilliputians and Blefuscudians have been warring over the proper interpretation. Many readers might mock this scenario, thinking it's too outlandish, after all, "Who would die for an egg?" But Swift uses a silly law to show how religion is a factor, in whether or not to obey this law, and thus elevates the problem to a transcendent level. Gulliver writes that:
During the course of these troubles, the emperors of Blefuscu did frequently expostulate by their ambassadors, accusing us [the Lilliputians] of making a schism in religion, by offending against a fundamental doctrine of our great prophet Lustrog. (2353)
Both, the Lilliputians and Blefuscudians, wanted to obey Lustrog, but each interpreted his rule in different ways. Similarly, accusations were made against Martin Luther for not heeding to Papal authority (the traditional view of scripture) and instead defining Scripture according to his own conscience (Bainton 140). Who can forget Luther's speech at the Diet of Worms: "my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right or safe" (Bainton 144). The problem of personal interpretation has cursed Christian churches down through the...