This week I’m going all tabloid, focusing on royalty and fidelity.
It’s been a busy time for the House of Windsor, the venerable dynasty that has provided monarchs to the United Kingdom and some of the Commonwealth of Nations (including, of course, our own head of state, here in Canada) since 1917, when the original name, Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, proved a little too Germanic for the home team during the first world war.
In the last thirty days we have seen the celebration of a platinum wedding anniversary, seventy years, an incredible feat for any couple; the engagement of a Royal grandchild and the prospect, therefore, of a new royal wedding. (Where, due to a happy accident of television production logistics, Toronto will no doubt claim a special link to the royal couple.) And, finally, we have the opportunity to watch one of the best actors currently gracing our screen, Claire Foy, reprise her clipped and proper portrayal of Her Majesty’s younger self in Season Two of The Crown.
The Queen is the longest reigning monarch in British history, having beaten Victoria’s record in 2015. The fact she became queen in 1952 rather than twenty years later, when her uncle, Edward VIII a.k.a. The Duke of Windsor died, came down to a moral climate in Britain that has changed considerably in the last eighty years. Edward VIII was forced to resign because the idea that he loved and would marry an older American divorcee, whose two ex-husbands were still alive, was abhorrent to the traditional and conservative nature of Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and others in Parliament and power and explicitly challenged the church, though to many of the common people Edward’s love was completely acceptable.
Next year, on May 19th, the world will celebrate when Harry marries Meghan, an American woman who is both older and a divorcee. Personally, I’m happy that my former homeland has modernized and that the world will find a little bit of joy in their happiness. It’s been having a rough time lately.
Of course, the big difference between Edward VIII and Harry of Wales is that Harry will never sit on the throne, having been forced down the pecking order to fifth in line, soon to be sixth. As he will not become the King, he will also not become the head of a national religion that still holds considerable sway in United Kingdom, including having its most senior bishops sitting in the legislature of the country. Even in the 1950s, Princess Margaret was barred from marrying Peter Townsend because her Church could not countenance the marriage of a royal princess to a divorcee. The coronation vow still maintains the monarch as the defender of the faith and in defending the faith, the crown did not consent to the match.
Times have blessedly progressed.
State religions are above the concern of Canada or the U.S. Even though the Queen is head of state here, there is no official state religion. As for the U.S., such an idea is unconstitutional, despite what certain conservatives in the deep south might think. In the recent spellbinding interview between Jake Tapper and Ted Crockett, recorded before Roy Moore miraculously lost the Alabama Senate race, Crockett is left speechless when he is told that it is not a legal requirement in the United States to swear on a Christian Bible. You’d think that the Ten Commandments episode that caused Judge Moore so much trouble (and celebrity) in his earlier career would have been enough to cement that fact in mind.
Having worked all over the U.S., I do find the United States more overtly sensitive to religion than other societies. I think this is more likely because of, not despite, the fact that church and state are legally separate. Religion became a less dignified and (mostly) a less dangerous affair when stripped of the regal majesty of either a monarch or a pope. The freedom of speech embodied in the constitution allowed new religions to flourish and old ones to evangelise. It also forced religions that were not automatically part of the societal hierarchy (as they often were in Europe) to sell themselves and sell themselves hugely. The best, loudest and most persuasive preachers founded the biggest churches and in doing so became the richest. Who needs subtlety of argument when hell fire and damnation is so much more powerful?
This has not only led to a skewed view of science and morality in certain parts of the United States, especially focused on Christian evangelical adherence, but has also seen a shadow effect on the general level of cultural discourse of the entire country. An example of this is Dan Brown’s latest blockbuster Origin. Without going into spoilers, the main revelation of the book, the controversial idea at the tome’s centre, only makes sense in a country where nearly 25% of the population (around 80 million people!) believe in the bible as literal truth. For the rest of the (Christian) world, when the great revelation is made, the reaction, with no religious skin in the game, must surely be “meh.” Science has won many of the arguments that are presented in Origin as controversial, just ask the deists who founded the country.
So, how do we try to take the religious strife out of U.S. politics, as has been accomplished (to a certain extent) in the U.K.? The quickest way may be to establish a State religion, but, one of the quieter ones like the Church of England or a religion that can move with the times and accept new ideas all in the name of faith, like the Catholics. Thinking about history, that is probably a bad idea. As an alternative, we could simply forget about the extreme social mores of two thousand years plus ago and relish, cherish and take pride in the joy of other people’s being, happiness and love, especially at this time of year. We could follow the golden rule that is there in all religions. Kindness and reciprocity, the dignified and human thing to do.