In researching my new book, I have come across the extraordinary animus that the clergy of all denominations bore against dancing, an animus that becomes choreophobia. The Curé of Ars not only tried to stop dancing, he told one penitent that she was forbidden to watch dancing, because she would be “dancing in her heart.”
One suspects a certain control issue to which the clergy are liable. The Spectator (in 1888!) observed that a mayor of a small town planned to give a ball. The local Evangelical rector the Rev. Mr .Price was not amused, in fact, he
is exceedingly indignant and being indignant cries aloud. He tells the Mayor publicly in a letter to a local paper that balls are bad, that they inflame the worst passion of the street, that there is no Scriptural precedent for such an entertainment, that you never heard of Moses or the Prophets or Christ or the Apostles giving a ball, that God and the Bible are against balls, and that in short the Mayor who was recently ill, and might therefore have known better, is a dreadful backslider and deserves and shall receive the prayers of Mr Price and his congregation.
The populace are excited:
the common folk of Lowestoft who find life a little monotonous and thought their Mayor very kind have been so irritated that they got up a demonstration and burned the poor Rector in effigy.
The Spectator suspected that the Evangelical clergy suffered form we call today control issues:
Power is dear to the souls of all men and especially to those who may not make money and are bound by a strict rule of life and as referees upon all social questions the clergy were for a time very powerful It was at one time scarcely possible, in many circles, to read a book without clerical permission first had and obtained, while in one town at least the sorrowing maidens had to surrender their curls or pass under the ban. The motive of that order must have been the love of power, for no possible misdirection of thought can make curls immodest, and the clergy never urge, being themselves all married, that it was the duty of women to make themselves unattractive.
These clergy were strict Sabbatarians:
They insisted on three attendances at church. They prohibited all perusal of secular literature. They pronounced all amusements recreations or gatherings positively immoral, and finally they stopped – we know this will be denied but it is true – all strolling in fields. The result was that the Sunday became a day endless ennui, varied by gossiping indoors; that a dislike of it grew up in the young men; and that of all belong to that generation, the elderly men who were trained by Evangelical clergy have the least liking for attending church.
The Spectator (wrongly) though Papists did not suffer from this attitude. The Evangelical clergy’s
radical mistake – a mistake made by almost all priests except the Roman Catholic, who are kept from it by knowledge acquired in the Confessional – was that they relied on a minute regulation of conduct for the improvement of character.
Protestants, who claimed Gospel freedom, fell into the same trap that Catholics frequently fall into, trying to better men by a minute web of laws and regulations, in an attempt to protect against the slightest temptation, while forgetting that character grows only under testing.