Thursday, October 26, 2006

Defender of the defender of faiths

It may look like I've been asleep for a few days, but I've taken to watching Question Time a little. Until I see it I can be oblivious of what rot people out there are thinking and the need to put them straight.

So Prince Charles wants to be "Defender of Faith" rather than defender of the faith. Some people hate this, some love it. Paddy Ashdown on Question Time was emphatic that it is the right thing to do, that it better reflects one of the strengths of today's society.

I find the whole debate of what Charles ought to do, as putative head of the Church of England and whatnot, somewhat uncomfortable. I think Charles, like everybody else in the country, should be free to say what he believes in, and not be required ex officio to subscribe to particular beliefs handed to him on a plate. That is not how belief works, if we are honest, and if we want our king to be honest.

If that means the monarch and the church would one day no longer like to be so close, well that is fine. I don't see any reason for an obligation on either party to get, theologically, into bed with somebody incompatible.

There is a debate to be had about the role of religion in society, and about the pre-eminence of Christianity, or anglicanism. But this is not a debate that can be sensibly had in the text of a coronation ceremony. It is not one in which we should take a lead from the monarch. And it is not one that should be too political.

And if one day we get a monarch who follows the Bahai faith, or humanism, or Wicca, or a postmodern mishmash, or even Roman Catholicism we should not disbar them or demand that they lie. That would be a denial of civil rights. And hardline monarchists, in particular, should accept whatever monarch the hereditary lottery gives them, and like it. If you show any inclination to pick and choose your monarchs, or tell them what they ought to do, you are not much of a monarchist.


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