The time between Christmas and New Year is, I think, wonderful for reflection. After spending Christmas with my family, my girlfriend away on retreat, I decamped to a draughty cottage on the north Norfolk coast – one of my favourite places on earth – and have been meditating, reading, writing and reflecting, as well as watching TV and still eating just a bit too much. It’s been a solitary retreat and holiday in one, and I feel grateful for the time and space.
There’s been time for retrospectives, alongside the introspection. I saw part of the ITV’s news review of the year, as well as their review of the Royal year. I also watched The King’s Speech, whilst with my family, and the Queen’s Christmas Day speech, a tradition, still, in our household. I went to midnight mass with my mum on Christmas Eve, during which we were invited to pray for the Duke of Edinburgh, 90 this year, who spent Christmas Day in hospital rather than at the Sandringham estate, a few miles down the road from my mum’s village.
What I am left with, after this right Royal binge, is a sense of shock at how in each others’ pockets the state, church and monarchy still seem to be in the UK. No doubt my surprise is still partly in response to David Cameron’s pronouncement that we shouldn’t be afraid to say that the UK is a Christian country. But on the back of his speech, the overt Christian message of the Queen’s speech – particularly at the end – was an added shock.
The King’s Speech was a helpful reminder to me of the historical relationship between the Church and the British monarchy. Perhaps the Queen was responding to the turmoil around her by reasserting her role as Defender of the Faith and appealing to Christianity as the glue that could yet hold our society together. But is this likely to be effective, given that half the people in the UK no longer belong to any religion, compared to one in three in 1983, with the decline being ‘largely accounted for by falling affiliation with the Church of England/Anglicanism‘?
At least Prince Charles is trying to reflect the country as it is now, perhaps, rather than the country of his mother’s ascension sixty years ago. He caused controversy in the Anglican church a few years ago when he said that he wanted to go by the title ‘Defender of the Faiths‘, to more closely reflect the UK’s cultural and religious diversity. He has since changed his proposed title, on advice, to Defender of Faith.
But is it meaningful, given the diversity of religious belief in the UK, for our titular head to defend us all in this way? As Damian Thompson wrote on the Telegraph blog, the definitions of faith, and religion more generally, are extremely problematic. Also, not all ‘articles of faith’ should be defended – as evidenced by the many acts of atrocities committed in the name of religion – particularly, but not exclusively, the theistic religions. What would our monarch defend, then, in terms of faith?
What I’m left with is a sense of how meaningless it is to have a defender of the faith or a defender of faith in 21st century Britain. Much better to identify where true spiritual values overlap with our shared national identity and use these as our guiding principles, thereby avoiding the vagueness of ‘faith’ and the divisiveness of ‘the faith’. Isn’t it time, in other words, to campaign, once again, for a written constitution in the UK? Share
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