09 Jun 2006

Simon Heffer Hopes Not to See A Few Jedi Knights at the Next Coronation

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Simon Heffer, though not religious personally, is still capable of outrage at the multicultural impulses of the former Archbishop of Canterbury and the Prince of Wales.

former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, made a predictable intervention in this debate (on Multiculturalism) from beyond the grave last weekend. He proclaimed that the coronation of our next monarch must be an “interfaith” event. The ceremony must, he added, have “very significant changes”, so that it is “inclusive” of other religions in Britain.

Lord Carey clearly has in mind what Private Eye would term a “Rocky Horror” coronation service. Never mind your archbishops, or even your Christians, your imams, your rabbis, ayatollahs, your assorted holy men and other diverse priests, layers-on-of-hands and speakers-in-tongues: in accordance with the professions of religious belief on the 2001 census forms, I expect to see a few Jedi knights in the sanctuary, while devotees of Ras Tafari smoke ganja at the high altar. And, as one of the realm’s noisiest atheists, I hope for a part in the proceedings, too, that I might feel “included”.

Having long regarded the Church of England as many people regard EastEnders, I have steeled myself not to intrude in its private grief, but to lament the largely self-inflicted decline of this great institution. Though it has, to my great spiritual regret, nothing to offer me personally, I can appreciate not merely the potential it has to succour and strengthen millions of believers, but also its role in our culture, our constitution and our nation.

However, intrude into the Church’s grief we now must: for Lord Carey’s successor on the throne of St Augustine, Dr Rowan Williams, who in many regards seems even more to inhabit the wilder shores of theology than Lord Carey, is having none of this nonsense. He has picked up on a threat issued by our probable next monarch, the Prince of Wales, in 1994 about how (in that very “last century” spirit) the Prince wanted to be “Defender of Faiths” when and if he became King.

Dr Williams said of the Prince in 2003 that “unless something really radical happens with the constitution, he is, like it or not, Defender of the Faith and he has a relationship with the Christian Church of a kind that he does not have with other faith communities”. That is self-evidently the case. Of course, were our Queen to emulate her late mother (and I fervently hope she does), there will be no coronation for another 20 or so years. Perhaps the needless vandalism of our constitution will have been completed by then. Perhaps there will be a different heir to the throne. Perhaps the moon will be made of green cheese. Until such times as these things happen,

Dr Williams’s view must prevail, and his predecessor would be best advised to keep his bizarre views to himself…

That is what inclusiveness means: it is how countries as diverse as France and America both do things. It is about having a standard template of Frenchness or American-ness, and welcoming people into that civilisation and those humane values by asking them to participate in them. We still, despite the attempts of such vandals as Lord Carey, have a core culture in this country. Christianity and the expectation that Christianity will, for historic reasons, prevail and be accepted as prevalent, are central to that culture. And few events in the nation’s life symbolise such an understanding more than the traditional coronation service.

The next coronation will be a formal renewal of our way of life and our values. It will formally recognise not only the legitimacy of the monarch in the eyes of God and the British constitution, but also of the identification of the vast majority of his subjects with the process of doing so. For that reason above all others it must be clear, comprehensible and in keeping with public expectations of such an event.

We are not a multicultural society. We are a monocultural one tolerant of other cultures, and whose clear identity is understood by the people, if not by their leaders. We are an old country with a strong sense of continuity. And anyone who trifles with such manifestations of our antiquity and stability does so at his peril.

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