Modern Medievalism

Norwegian children are born into the church. The church receives tax income from them. To leave the church they have to proactively sign out. In Israel, you can only legally be married by a Rabbi in a Jewish ceremony. If you want to be married otherwise, you have to leave the country. Many countries have Heads of State who hold ‘divine’ authority.

Few countries have succeeded in fully separating Church and State. The US Constitution is firmly secular and grants no privileges to any church – there is no State religion. Nonetheless, as we see in recent developments within the Supreme Court, religion forces its way into politics. Belief in God, miracles, virgin births, resurrections, divine guidance, liturgical regulation and so on confirm our failure to leave Medievalism behind. There are even leading scientists who believe that the scientific method will eventually combine cosmological and quantum physics to reveal the singular, underlying Principle which emanates as God. To think that there is a yawning gap between our modernism and Islamic fundamentalist medieval beliefs we should know that the difference may be one of degree, but in essence dissolves in a shared mysticism.

Where dos the UK stand in respect of Church and State?

King Charles III was recently acclaimed by “the grace of God”, and reaffirmed his dual role as Head of State and Head of the Anglican Church – our own State religion. We appoint 26 Bishops as legislators to the House of Lords, who sit as Lords Spiritual, as well as retired archbishops, and other religious figures such as the Chief Rabbi who sit as Lords Temporal. The coronation of King Charles will involve anointment by the Archbishop of Canterbury who also, of course, places the crown on his head. Here are the words of the Coronation Oath spoken by Elizabeth II in 1953:

I will to the utmost of my power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel. I will to the utmost of my power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law. And I will maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England. And I will preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them.

Even the Coronation Oath of King Henry VIII was more secular and placed less emphasis on the divine status of the monarch. It opened, “Sire, will you grant and keep and by your oath confirm to the people of England the laws and customs given to them by the previous just and god-fearing kings – “.

Many British citizens and others find succour and relief in the monarchy – not least that represented by Elizabeth II. But this is not to say that such sentimental needs cannot be met in other ways. Indeed, a Humanist would argue that succour and relief are best sought in communal commitments to a protective public sector and its institutions, that we should direct our loyalties to civic authority. For myself, this sentimental space is filled up with my faith in the university as the protector of diverse knowledge and intellectual autonomy. But, then, even universities I have worked in exist only by the concession of a Royal Charter.

Humanism advances, but with the constant drag of monarchical medievalism.

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