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April 14, 2005

On the Royal Marriage and the De-Christianisation of Britain

Posted by Douglas Murray

Bestselling author Douglas Murray argues that the ungenerous public reaction to the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles is symptomatic of a decline in the Christian virtue of charity. This in turn, Murray argues, is a consequence of the creeping de-Christianisation of Britain.

Like quite a large percentage of the British population, I imagine, I was telephoned last week by a newspaper asking for my thoughts on the forthcoming wedding of the Prince of Wales to Camilla Parker-Bowles. At first I was bemused I have written often on Iraq, terror, Israel and war, but never on either of the happy couple.

It turned out that the paper in question (an American one) was calling me in order to get a 'conservative' reaction to counter the significant number of un-conservative commentators it had already spoken to. As a matter of fact, I'm a neoconservative, not a conservative, and with only three days to go, there was still no edict from the University of Chicago or the U.S. State Department on what line we should be taking on the imminent ceremony. Even casting once more through my collected Leo Strauss, passages which usually assist seemed strangely oblique and unhelpful.

As it was, the American paper had struck lucky because I am, along with nearly all people who are polite and hygienic, an admirer and (I hope) supporter of the Royal Family. I don't sleep on the pavements to get a glimpse of them, nor throw cut flowers at their cars as they pass, and nor am I the sort of 'supporter' of the Royal Family who buys the nasty little magazines and papers which hound them to their deaths and then harass their children. I've always felt they could do without that kind of support. But I support them in the way I expect all sane people in Britain to do by admiring them and by expecting them to stay there, secure in the knowledge that I would rather die than see a President Kinnock or Mandelson move into one of the larger palaces off the Mall.

But this, I was told by the interviewer, was not any longer the attitude of the British public.

An advert taken out in various national newspapers by a group of disgruntled (and evidently quite rich) socialists, had called for the immediate overthrow of the Royal Family, and statistics show a rising proportion of the British public thinking in a similar way. Apparently much of this is a result of the public's 'judgement' on the Royal marriage. "What do you think of that?" the American journalist asked me. And of course I earned him every penny of his salary in his mission to chivvy out conservative commentators - I told him that one of the things that bothered me most was what such people thought would happen to the Church. You can't pay for (well they don't) conservative comment like that. But it seems to me that as long as a committed Monarch is at its head, the Church of England is still secure as the national church - even if the party leaders all joined the news media in a more prolonged flight to Rome.

And with mentioning the Church I realised of course that I had located my central point, and thus the part of the conversation the paper was least likely to use. For me the interesting, as opposed to nice, thing that happened last Saturday was not that two people who seem extremely happy got married the interesting thing for me was that a theme I have been boring on about for some years now got another great example to bolster its case.

It has been my contention for some time now that the first signs of de-Christian-ising Britain would be minor rash-like problems. I knew that we wouldn't all immediately be made to wear headscarves and hunt down Booker Prize winners, and nor would we be forced to make our children memorize passages from The Blind Watchmaker. If these things are to come, they will come later. No, my kernel of an argument merely diagnosed that the steady withdrawing of institutional and cultural commitment for the teaching of Christianity from school-age up would make itself felt first in relatively minor ailments.

There are, after all, reasons why society should continue to insist that its people (the possessive would be relevant) shouldn't murder. The state might not feel able to say that murder is 'wrong', but it would still be illegal, and people who indulged in it would be punished. Similarly theft: you may need the Bible to tell you that stealing your neighbour's ass would be wrong, but you don't need it to explain to the religiously deracinated neighbour that if he doesn't want to lose his ass, then he ought to acknowledge his neighbour's right to keep his.

No, the Christian erosion from Britain is felt firstly in things which are sins but not crimes. 'Covetousness' is the best example. There is no way on earth that you can explain to an entirely atheistic society why they shouldn't be covetous. In fact there's every reason, perhaps especially in a capitalist society, why covetousness should be encouraged (as it is pretty much permanently across today's media). To my eye covetousness looks and smells deeply unattractive, but you can't stop it. It's an un-restrainable fact of de-Christianised life.

And what we saw in the press reaction, and - if these polls and articles expressing their pseudo-moralistic 'judgements' are to be believed - much of the public reaction to the wedding last Saturday, is a tiny example of another thing we are losing as the faith which the Royal Family protects ekes from our land. Because the ungenerous and spiteful reactions of pretty much all of the media, and an apparently rising swathe of the public, neither demonstrates rising republicanism nor meaningful thinking on our system of government. In its churlishness, its frivolous condemnations and its vapid, pseudish and selective moralism, it demonstrates nothing more than the slipping away of another virtue from common life - charity. Not the 'charity' where you publicly give money you can easily afford to the cause du jour, but the sort which requires you to give something from a store we human beings don't instinctively seem to nurture.

And who will put them right? Who will tell the Daily Mail headline writer who whipped out the Book of Common Prayer for the first time in his career for a front-page quote solely intended to pass judgement on another - and better - man, that he is being uncharitable (never mind sick-making, hypocritical and morally frivolous)? You're in the same position you would be in with an individual. You can tell them that behaving uncharitably doesn't make them look nice, and you can tell them that it doesn't make you like them. But without anyone with some power or authority at least telling them how horrible they're being, they can always turn round and tell you they don't care and for once really mean what they say.

Our government today does everything it can to reflect the public mood - in expressing sorrow for the death of a radio DJ or concern at the quality of school lunches. The churches are either too sidelined, or by self-imposition too silent, to tell people what they should or should not be doing. And the press? Not even a starter.

So it was a happy day for the Royal couple, and all those of us who wish them well. But it was a sad day for Britain, because it demonstrated that charity a great and wonderful virtue could visibly absent itself from Britain, and that there would be no one there to wish it back, or even particularly notice that it had gone.

Douglas Murray is a bestselling author and freelance journalist. His forthcoming book - Neoconservatism: Why We Need It - will be published this autumn by the Social Affairs Unit.

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Well, of course, the Prince of Wales is on record as saying that he would sooner be a "defender of faiths" than "Fidei Defensor" ... and this, I think, is the "curious incident of the dog in the night" as far as this article goes...

If Douglas Murray means to say that moral values imply spiritual values, I agree with him. And so does the Prince.

But I still don't understand what extra, on top of that, he thinks we might get from concentrating our search for those values exclusively in the Christian tradition, or, a fortiori whether he thinks there ought to be a State Church and if so why.

Posted by: Innocent Abroad at April 14, 2005 07:45 PM

It may be, these days, something "any fule kno", but I have been away on Planet Thermodynamica for some time, so could the author please tell me what a neoconservative really is (other than a label for invective by left-thinking people), and how they differ from ordinary conservatives?

Posted by: Gibbs Free Energy at April 15, 2005 07:06 PM

Mr. Murray,

Charity is an excellent virtue for a Monarch to possess. The real question is does the Prince of Wales possess it himself? For instance, was it charitable of him, as the future head of the church, to go forward with a marriage that could not take place in a church? Is is charitable of him to have his longtime mistress be Queen of England?

Charles and Camilla obviously love each other very much. There is no doubt of that. But has his love for her really been admirable? Has his love for her been expressed in a manner worthy of the future head of the Church of England? This is a role he has known he was he was to assume upon the death of his mother. He ought to have been thinking of that role on that now infamous day on the Polo field when Camilla first introduced herself. A lot of agony could have been spared and you might just be seeing the kind of charity now from the British people you so strongly desire.

Posted by: JJackson at April 15, 2005 10:00 PM

I agree with J Jackson. It's all very well that we ask the British people to show charity, but Charles and Camilla could have spared themselves the moral onslought, albeit hypocritical, by conducting their relationship with integrity from the start. Is it too much to ask of Charles that he conducts himself in a manner worthy of his calling?

Some judgement can, and should, be shown by the Church since it stands as a moral institution. If we call ourselves Christians we can expect to be rebuked in love when our behaviour becomes questionable. The Prince must anticipate this as he prepares to become 'Defender of the Faith'.

What I can't stand is anyone who calls themselves a liberal taking issue with their relationship. The universal law of 'anything goes' couldn't care less how they carry on.

Posted by: M Simpson at April 26, 2005 09:05 AM
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