We non-Christians don’t need a ‘multi-faith’ coronation
King Charles should embrace the Christian grandeur of the ceremony
The coronation is, in formal terms, a solely religious ceremony. No legal power depends on being anointed. Despite concerns over the erosion of the religiosity of the coronation, the fact remains that placing oil blessed in Jerusalem on a monarch in imitation of the anointing of David, Solomon, and Christ is about as Christian as a ritual as can be. Indeed, just today it has been reported that the coronation procession will be headed by a cross made out of supposed relics from the cross on which Christ was crucified.
Even after King Charles’s efforts to make this a multi-faith event, there has been some pre-emptive worrying, much of it from Anglicans. For example, Dr Jonathan Chaplin, of the theological college Wesley House, Cambridge, argues that the religious rituals involved are unlikely to be “received by the overwhelming majority of the nation on whose behalf the event takes place”.
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This is, for several reasons, wrong. Those of us who are not Christians are perfectly capable of appreciating the coronation on its own terms, without modification. While the meaning of the coronation is undoubtedly different for those of us who lack a relationship with Jesus, it is meaningful nonetheless.
For a start, the coronation can have religious meaning for non-Christians. The Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, who ordinarily as an Orthodox Jew would not enter a church, will be attending, because Judaism teaches a duty to honour the King, even if he is not Jewish. On seeing the monarch, the Chief Rabbi will recite the Jewish blessing for seeing non-Jewish kings, thanking God for allowing heavenly glory to be reflected in human flesh.
Admittedly, that is a minority experience within a minority experience. Far more people in Britain, including many largely secular nominal adherents to minority faiths (myself included), are religiously ambivalent. Yet the coronation remains meaningful. Much of its significance comes from the fact that the King, obviously an Anglican, takes it seriously. By elevating the obligation to govern according to law into a perceived divine commandment, the coronation oath impresses upon the head of state the seriousness of their duty. The alternatives Chaplin suggests — such as an affirmation administered by the Commons Speaker — fail because they do not impose as intense a reminder.
The semantics of the coronation are also multi-layered. Critics give us non-Christians far too little credit by assuming that we are able to only constitute one, Christian reading of the ceremony. It is normal that one should attend weddings and funerals grounded in different religions. Non-Catholic wedding guests, for instance, are able to celebrate the underlying union of the couple without becoming catechists. Similarly, the non-Christian viewer of the coronation is perfectly capable of experiencing the other meanings in its solemnity.
What’s more, the coronation has a contextual meaning significant to non-Christians. The coronation is the centrepiece of the 1688 settlement, which re-oriented the monarchy to the apex of a new crowned republic. It is the reification of a constitutional order whereby, parallel to the Church of England’s continued establishment, each reign has, with fits and starts, brought progress in freedom of religion.
Britain enters this coronation with a practising Hindu in Downing Street, a Muslim in Holyrood, and an atheist as Leader of the Opposition. The coronation, however alien it may feel to supposed outsiders, indicates the continued operation of this constitutional settlement. It is thus emblematic of that strange British genius: a system utterly muddled in principle but which works excellently in practice.
Anglicans shouldn’t fret over the misplaced idea that non-Christians cannot appreciate the coronation. The history, symbolism, and importance of this peculiar ritual can be and, indeed, are significant, regardless of faith. That, certainly, is something worth celebrating.
I regard this as a genuinely great article.
My views on religion are probably well know to regular readers, but i couldn’t agree more with the author that the ceremony should remain rooted in its historical precedent.
When we attend the weddings of friends/family of different religious beliefs or none, we do so from an entirely pragmatic point of view – it’s the celebration, however the couple wish to do so – of their union. The author is absolutely correct to cite this as an example we can all follow during the coronation. He’s also right to emphasise the vital importance of the event from a constitutional point of view, with continuity as the most vital element amid the tribulations of political turmoil and uncertainty.
In many ways, the coronation should mirror the essential values that came to the fore during the funeral of King Charles’ mother, which no-one took to be anything other than a very valuable rite of passage between an incredible life, and death. So too, citizens of the UK and onlookers across the world can gain the same spiritual nourishment – not in the figure of the new king, but in what his kingship represents, which is a national story stretching back probably 1500 years since the end of the Roman occupation and of immeasurable value as we face the future.
Yes, I wholeheartedly agree. Religion has always been a house I’ve looked through the windows of with great curiosity (and, let’s be honest, sometimes amusement) but I’ve never had the slightest inclination to move in.
Still, when I’m on holiday or sometimes if we’re just out strolling in the city – I’ll go into a church and light a candle or something and observe. Religious ceremony is a moving thing – even if you are external to the faith.
(Also quite glad to find a comments section where people aren’t being relentlessly negative about the upcoming coronation. Whether it’s the “defender of all faiths” thing or even the bloomin’ quiche…so many people are being grumpy about what’s meant to be an uplifting celebration.)
Well, Katharine and Steve, your words indicate to me that there’s hope for this tired and cynical world even now. It lies in our ability to experience the common humanity that unites us all despite the differences that usually prevail in daily life. I thank you for those words, which have made my day.
Granet refers wisely to the blessing that Jews say on beholding the majesty of royal or imperial figures, a dignity that transcends ordinary distinctions between Jews and gentiles–that is, between “us” and “them.” Blessings are not merely external, superficial or obligatory formulae. Rather, they gradually become (given their function in what modern psychologists would call “behavioral conditioning”) spontaneous expressions of wonder and joy. Even as a Canadian Jew whose ancestors did not come from England, I intend to watch a distinctly Christian coronation and even to participate in it vicariously.
Religion might be thought of as a continuum running from orthopraxy to orthodoxy. There is a certain genius in what Alasdair MacIntyre has observed about gravitating away from the orthodox pole of that continuum: “It is the creed of the English that there is no God, and that it is wise to pray to Him from time to time.” Florence King adds: “As an Episcopalian I am technically an Anglican Catholic, meaning that I have a real feel for theological dottiness untainted by deeper questions of religious belief. I have no religious beliefs to speak of, but I stand four-square with the Highs against the Lows on Latin and incense, and I will go to bat for transubstantiation even though it means nothing to me one way or the other.” “Utterly muddled in principle,” indeed. Excellent too? Maybe not. But time-tested.
“It is the creed of the English that there is no God, and that it is wise to pray to Him from time to time.”
Not only the English! And MacIntyre might well have considered something more than a delightful national tradition of sentimental or intellectual idiosyncrasy. In The Trial of God, Elie Wiesel tells the story of Jewish inmates in a Nazi death camp. One night, they decide to set up a traditional rabbinical court (beth din) and put God on trial for abandoning the covenant–that is, for not rescuing the victims of evil. They deliberate through the night. After many hours of hearing arguments on both sides of the case, they reach a decision. They declare that God is guilty as charged. At dawn, nonetheless, someone rises and says, “And now, let us pray.”
Hear hear! If you’re going to do the peculiar ritual, be orthodox about it.
Delighted to hear the Chief Rabbi will attend & say a blessing for the new King. Every Shabbat we say a prayer for the Royal Family. I have attended many services for other faiths & have not heard a similar blessing in any of them.
” …a practising Hindu in Downing Street, a Muslim in Holyrood” and a complete numpty in Cardiff. That’s the glory of diversity at work.
“It is thus emblematic of that strange British genius: a system utterly muddled in principle but which works excellently in practice”.
I’m not sure whether it is working excellently in practice anymore.
¨The coronation is the centrepiece of the 1688 settlement, which re-oriented the monarchy to the apex of a new crowned republic.¨
This is a bit of a stretch. England did not become a constitutional monarchy (which I assume is what is meant by a ¨crowned republic¨) all at once. The monarch – always assuming he could speak English – was still deeply involved with policy throughout the 18th and even into the 19th century. The office of Prime Minister did not even come into existence until the 1720s (and was not formally recognised as such even once it had).
Burger King Charles 3 is pandering to the national socialist totalitarian eco/LGBT/ racialism agenda, which will simply expedite the end of the Saxe Coburg Gothas… Perhaps then we will be able to appoint a British Royal Family?!
Burger King Charles III is simply expediting the end of The Saxe Coburg Gothas by embracing the National Socialist Racialism/lgbt/ ecosandaloid totalitarian mission… perhaps then we can re appoint a British Royal Family again?
Not here,but so many Gor Blimey posters on Facebook decrying King Charles’s sympathy for the concept of Faith in general,apart from his own Anglican allegiance
The sort of people who have white vans parked on the drive and the flag of St George hanging out the bedroom window. Im going all Lady Thornbury for a moment. Their England is not the chalk downlands of Eric Ravillious,or the lacy white of Cow Parsley ,it’s “round me Nans for a blowout Sunday roast lunch then dahn the pub and chuck the empty cans in the car park”. But the point is they claim to be atheist, agnostic or at least “don’t b’lieve in nuffink me,s’all made up in it” and it’s them ones (ha ha) who get all affronted about other faith elements being placed in a Christian service they know nothing about in the first place.
I am, I think, conservative, certainly patriotic in the sense of being proud of British history and its contribution to the world. Like most in Britain now I am a secular Christian. I don’t believe in miracles but do think the basic moral framework of the religion has been beneficial to mankind. Yet my reaction to the coronation is faint embarrassment.
I see no religious significance in it whatsoever. It feels like pomp and ceremony for its own sake. We do it well, and when we mattered it was impressive. Now, it feels like an impoverished aristocrat, living in a council flat but still going out in a cravat.
At least that aristocrat still shows a residual sense of pride and self-respect. Charles comes out with his hair combed, his shoes shiny and his suit impeccable – hand in pocket, as always. Would you have him coming out looking like Boris Johnson, blundering around the place like an unmade bed?
Charles & Camilla’s recent visit to Germany (which went down very well indeed) provoked some quite admiring media commentary along the lines of “wow, we know Britain’s in a right old state – but at least the King comes out looking dapper. France also still has its marvellous pageantry and parades. GB & FRA have got style, even if they don’t have much substance right now. Look at us – we have no style and our substance is dripping away day by day. We need to develop that kind of ambition”.
I am astounded that you feel Charles’s appearance is down to anything other than the diligence of his valet. Bertie Wooster is impeccably turned out, but still a buffoon : it is Jeeves who is the source of everything positive.
It matters not who is responsible for Charles’ appearance. The point is that the person out there in the world representing GB comes out looking smart, tidy and presentable.
Actually I’m not sure he does. He obviously wears suits he’s had for donkey’s years that hang upon him. And when he has a services peaked cap he looks ridiculous as no serviceman would be allowed to have that bushy and untidy hair.
Well not quite. We are still the fifth largest economy in the world, although our days are numbered at that position.
Also, from a purely economic point of view, the coronation is already creating a lot of business opportunities, tourism and a huge (though temporary) uplift in interest in British products around the world. The whole thing is costing the nation a pretty packet but there will be a net profit, I think, when all sales, tourism and global interest are taken into account. The more ‘splendid’ the ceremony is, the more interest (and spending) it will encourage.
Charles has made it clear many times that he considers himself the defender of all faiths, not just Christianity.
It therefore seems righteous for those to seek to protect the coronation as a purely Christian ceremony, but that would of course be entirely representative of their normal attitude.
Well, I hope we Christians are righteous – the alternative being wickedness.
If you mean self-righteous, that attitude is to be found in your post.
You can’t defend all faiths, as they contradict each other.
Charles now has a choice – to be crowned as a Christian monarch, or as a multi-faith monarch.
If he makes the latter choice, catastrophe will ensue for Britain, the monarchy and himself.
I think this is not the correct perspective. It has been remarkable (to me, anyway) that devout christians believe that the coronation ritual conveys a transcendent, indeed divine, affirmation of the king. By including other faiths in the ceremony Charles feels that he will be divinely affirmed by all their gods. Why be God’s chosen one when you can be all the gods’ chosen one?
In other words the whole thing is completely bonkers!
Yes, but gloriously bonkers, and in a way that we do enjoy, overtly or covertly (I speak as an Englishman, though I have many friends and acquaintances in the other nations of the Union who feel the same).
Tradition is a recognition of where you’ve come from, an admixture of good and ill, to be sure, but it’s your history re-enacted. Do we really want to bin it in favour of some neo-blairite faux- ecumenical pap? Traditions are easy to knock (it’s fun, too), but drop them and they’re gone – and much else with them.
I could not agree more and no criticism was implied. ‘Bonkers’ is something we do rather well in England much to the horror of others!
I trust the ‘Stone of Scone’ is being returned for the ceremony?
The Stone of Scone back under Edward’s throne? I do hope so: can’t resist a good bun fight!
It is essential that the Stone of Scone should be in place for the coronation, otherwise the royal bottom would not be holy (merely holey).
(With respectful acknowledgement to J K Rowling whose pun that was.)
Charles is not attempting to be the King of all Gods, his approach is a leveller for Christianity from the special status as the preferred religion.
Trouble is, he’s “Defender of the Faith”, a role which may not be within his power to rescind, even as King. His Majesty may see himself as “Defender of all faiths”, and that’s no doubt his prerogative, but that is always additional and subsidiary to his historical title, I think. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
Does the “defender of all faiths” include Environmentalism, Atheism, Transgenderism and Marxism?
I think you underestimate the extent of his arrogance and ambition. Your comment is precisely the sort of misunderstanding I was trying to highlight.
By the way (and I say this more as a linguist, and not as a believer) only one God is capitalised : more than one belongs in lower case.
An afterthought : ‘King’ should not have been capitalised either……..
Why not King?
I thought I had better check in case I was getting above myself, but I am, I think, right! Fowler’s ‘Modern English Usage’ – main entry “capitals”. (paraphrased a bit!)
“Capital initials should be used for prefixes and titles forming part of a compound name when the title of a particular person; e.g. the Prince of Wales; but in a general sense lower case is correct” and the example given in Fowler is “every king of England from William I to Richard II; for ‘king’ is used here in a general sense.”
The ‘Oxford Style Manual’ has a whole chapter (Chapter 40) on ‘Capitalization (sic) and treatment of names.’ Personally I prefer ‘capitalisation’ but Oxford will have its little idiosyncracies. Amusingly, Fowler has an entry for ‘-ize, -ise in verbs’, which remarks that OUP and all American writers and publishers prefer -ize but many publishing houses in Britain, including Cambridge University Press, use -ise. If it was just a choice between OUP and CUP I would probably go with CUP, but if the Americans use -ize I would of course avoid it like the plague.
An aside – although Fowler and the Oxford Style Manual are good reads (great bedtime reading), it is dangerous to admit to being a fan, because the merest slip of the finger or typo can unleash a torrent of abuse for a genuine and inadvertent error, and it really doesn’t matter all that much.
Not all Christians adhere to the practice of coronations. The UK is the only Western country where this takes place. Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Thailand, and Tonga also do it.
The term doesn’t even appear at all in the New Testament. However, when Jesus’ executioners placed a crown of thorns on His head, they were mocking him, yet not realizing they were indeed coronating Jesus as the King of Kings. The coronation is a UK thing, not a Christian practice.
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