As providence would have it I have been in England at the time of the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the accession of King Charles III. In fact I was on a cross channel ferry at the time of her death and my friend Gavin Ashenden told me the news on my arrival at Caen. Gavin is a former chaplain to the Queen, so the next two days of my visit with him were punctuated with requests from media people all over the world for interviews…with Gavin not me!
On my return to England on Sunday I watched the endless television coverage of the Queen’s passing and King Charles’ accession and it reminded me of the positive aspects of monarchy. It is a good thing for a country to have a head of state who provides a stable, focussed, symbol of the nation. Queen Elizabeth certainly did that with a personal life that spanned the Second World War and the coming of genuine modernity. She provided a link with the past, and King Charles will offer the same continuity. Our own system–in which the president serves as head of state–is unstable in comparison and too often relies on an electoral system that seems bound by celebrity vulgarity and a lowest common denominator popularity contest. That this throws up the most unsuitable, egotistical, shallow and incompetent candidates seems obvious from our current crop of presidential contenders.
A leader, invariably reflects the nation he or she leads–incarnates the values of the people–typifies them and magnifies them. I believe in a mysterious way the leader also exemplifies the beliefs of the people–especially in a subconscious way–and the more their religious beliefs are lax and below the surface, the more the leadership reflect them: IOW we get the leaders we deserve.
It was interesting to me therefore, to hear King Charles take the oath to uphold the Church of England. He used the traditional words, but what do they actually mean in practice? What is he supporting and upholding? The Church of England is now in such a parlous state–worm eaten with wokism, feminism and homosexualism–a shadow of her former self, undermined with internal division, widespread heresy and appalling incompetence at the hierarchical level.
In fact King Charles III will uphold exactly that form of Christianity that the Church of England now observes as a new kind of orthodoxy–that is to say, Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism. What sort of monarch can we expect from Charles III? One that is moralistic–in other words–respectable. The Church of England, like the monarchy, is first and foremost the pillar of establishment respectability. This comfortable morality has little to do with genuine, historic Christian morality and everything to do with fitting in, being a good citizen, obeying the rules for respectability–in short, being a nice, tolerant person who doesn’t make waves or cause a problem. Not for them the fire of the prophets or the pains of martyrdom. Morality for this church means going with the flow–fitting in–adapting oneself and adopting the spirit of the age.
Along with this faux morality of King Charles and his church is the second aspect of this unholy Trinity–Therapeutism. The Church of England along with its new head will continue to stand for a kind of activism that wants to do something–the immature and self indulgent sentimentality of wishing to make the world a better place. It almost doesn’t matter what it is, but it must be a cause that (if it is not worthy) can be made to seem worthy (and indeed indispensable) by the public relations people. It could be helping jobless youngsters find a career, it could be solving climate problems, running a rehab center, being nice to LGBTQ people or building little homes for old ladies–this do-gooding must be public and noticed. The therapy for individuals and for institutions and the world is what religion is all about we will be told.
Now of course true morality and improving people’s lives is worthwhile, but it is not actually religion. It is something religious people ought to do. Religion, on the other hand, is about humanity’s encounter with the transcendent. It is the burning bush, the valley of bones and the chariots of fire. It is the mysticism of the martyrs, the passion of the saints and the miracles of the desert. It is the sleepless nights of visions, the encounter with God, the sacramental vision and the innocent faith of children.
Finally, King Charles III is the ultimate symbol of Deism. The Deist believes in God–but his god doesn’t do anything. He is a dozy celestial monarch, content, like Charles III to keep his mouth shut, enjoy the heavenly palaces and perks, and perhaps be there from time to time for the odd ceremonial appearance. The news reports kept emphasizing how Charles will have to shift gears for his new role. Out goes the well meaning activism, the personal notes reprimanding government ministers and calling meetings with misbehaving bureaucrats. Now, like his mother, he must content himself with the polite smiles, the diplomatic handshakes, the photocalls and the great effort of keeping his mouth shut.
I wish him well in this difficult endeavor. No doubt, as he supports the Church of England they will also support him as together they struggle to live out the counterfeit Christianity of Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism. This struggle is ultimately doomed of course because, as St Paul says, “It has the form of godliness, but denies the power thereof.” It is a mere work of human hands–the Arianism and Pelagianism of our day.