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Did the King's speech bode well for his faithful subjects in 2024, a year that could be momentous?

Did the King's speech bode well for his faithful subjects in 2024, a year that could be momentous?

By Gavin Ashenden
January 1, 2024

In the spirit of apocalyptic optimism, political pundits are prophesying not so much doom rather a great deal of civic excitement for this new year we are now embarking on.

They have a point. The American election looks likely to shake America, and so also the West, to its core. The more imaginative commentators are talking in terms of a possible civil war, and admittedly neither side is likely to accept the victory of the other, at least at the level of public allegiance.

Over here, Europe is becoming unglued by a failed multiculturalism. The calls for ethnic cleansing of the Jews by the hundreds of thousands of (mainly) Muslims and their allies from the Left who took to the streets after the murder of Israelis on 7 October 2023 bodes ill.

Michel Houellebecq published his novel "Submission" on the day of the Charlie Hebdo assassinations. It looked forward to the seismic emergence in France of a political Islam in alliance with a desperate Left, in a dangerous response to stop a resurgence of the "Right". It didn't happen at the last presidential election, but with Le Pen strengthening slowly, it might in the next, in 2027.

All the more important then that we celebrate and cherish the things that hold and glue society together.

One reason for being a monarchist in our country is that the idea of the monarchy and the members themselves do a great deal of good by offering an archetypally successful way of viewing ourselves as a nation (under God), which has both a coherence and provides a stable virtuous civic identity.

Joseph Shaw, the President of the Latin Mass Society has just edited and published an important book called A Defence of the Monarchy: Catholics Under a Protestant King (which we will be exploring in our podcast "Merely Catholic" shortly), which looks at this phenomenon from a Catholic perspective.

And the King's Speech (as it now is) over Christmas was a powerful and symbolically effective way of giving a particularly personal voice to the monarchy at an important moment in our national year. It matters very much how it is done.

Rather curiously, it seemed to me that it was done both exceptionally well, and lamentably off-target at the same time.

It was a triumph of presentation over substance. It seemed as though it was rather like an exceptionally well wrapped attractive Christmas present which when opened, had the wrong gift inside.

The presentation was superb. The King stood by the Christmas tree with an attractive mixture of cheerful ease and nonchalance. We could see the Mall through his window, as we looked for a moment at the world from his vantage point. He seemed to have outgrown his over-long enforced constitutional adolescence, and was inhabiting the grown-up role of Kingship comfortably and effectively.

To some peoples' surprise he peppered his speech with religious allusions. Perhaps more even than his late mother had. How could one complain when he so easily spoke of religious ideas that the Feast had thrown up, and as he sought ambitiously to draw his whole country together in its challenging diversity?

Perhaps because there are two ways to approach this. One is the path of lowest common denominator where everything is of equal value, and the other: the lens of specifically Christian faith with its capacity to see the world as Christ revealed it to us. One mollifies and comforts, the other challenges and recreates.

He pursued the former, as perhaps, and in being true to everything he has indicated that he believes in over the past years, he was bound to do.

One could see the perspective behind the structure and content. It made a lot of sense given his priorities, which were in the first instance to celebrate so many of the people the monarchy comes into direct contact with every day of the working year; that virtuous army of volunteers in the charity sector.

But to tie this into Christmas, and no doubt pursuing a line of thought that was congenial to him as a Jungian-leaning religious relativist, Christ was translated from his role as incarnate Logos and Saviour to that of the eternal social worker and volunteer. "For Christ came to serve," the King told us. Indeed He did. But Christians were celebrating the birth of the Saviour of the world, not the eternal social worker. And this downgrading of the festival in favour of political and sociological categories set a theological low point the speech never recovered from.

For there are difficult challenges that lie ahead on the political and theological landscape.

One of the earthquakes tearing Western civilisation apart is theological. It springs from Mohammed's hatred and envy of the Jews. The Koran and the Hadith are littered with unpromising and unflattering references (to put it at its mildest) to both Jews and Christians. How might a Christian King have articulated and helped deal with the fears of his Jewish Subjects faced by the calls for their extermination and a new holocaust.

"And at a time of increasingly tragic conflict around the world, I pray that we can also do all in our power to protect each other. The words of Jesus seem more than ever relevant: 'do to others as you would have them do to you.' Such values are universal, drawing together our Abrahamic family of religions, and other belief systems, across the Commonwealth and wider world."

This is both rather lovely but perhaps inevitably too superficial to help much.

The Golden Rule is indeed found the world over, including among early Greek philosophy and Roman letter writers. But although at least two incidences of it can be credited to Mohammed in the Hadith, his repudiation of those who refused his messages formed a rather terrifying and what was to become a historically bloody exception. Try offering it in a spirit of religious dialogue to those chanting "From the river to the sea" and see how far it gets you.

The King's claim for universalism is insufficient to offer a means to managing this conflict. And his use of the term "Abrahamic family" is particularly and unhelpfully misleading. Two of these religions acknowledge, recognise and practice this rule, and one doesn't. And it is also the case that in theological circles those who like to myopically and over-optimistically celebrate what the three monotheisms have in common, while refusing to deal with the inbuilt unreconcilable conflict between them, turn glibly to use the "Abrahamic cousin" trope, which gives it an unfortunate resonance in the mouth of the King, even -- or especially -- at Christmas.

His reference to ecology, important and no doubt inevitable, trod a narrow dotted line. For some its philosophical ambiguity would have been a strength. But however important ecological responsibility is, the context in which we are encountering it ideologically and politically is increasingly fraught and contested.

The King used a striking but rather double-edged phrase: "Service to others is but one way of honouring the whole of creation which, after all, is a manifestation of the divine. This is a belief shared by all religions."

Once again, indeed it is. But what kind of manifestation of the divine?

Ecology is turning into a new fundamentalist religion with Gaia slipping quietly but effectively into the vacuum left by the old fertility religions which we seem to carry a predisposition for; one that is made more intense by the celebration of all things feminine and the toxification of all things masculine (which is coming to include the fatherhood of the Creator as Jesus revealed Him).

If the theology was fraught enough, the politics are equally challenging. The pursuit of Net Zero is not scientifically, politically or economically convincing enough for a King to lend his credibility to it without some kind of caveat. For many in the political and media world this is an area of political and philosophical conflict where diversity is neither encouraged or allowed. It could prove to be a dangerous place for a monarch to place his flag without any sign of subtlety or authentic intellectual diversity.

One could go further and say that the child in Bethlehem came more primarily to save and accompany us to the new heaven and the new earth, rather that become a totem for ecological responsibility.

We can all be grateful that the King pointed us to Jesus at the time of this magnificent festival where we celebrate the unfathomable mystery of God become flesh and the Logos incarnate. But as with so many in the public eye, we welcome those who set out to serve Jesus on his terms, and remain a little wary when he is borrowed for other purposes.

King Charles III, wearing St Edward's Crown, during his coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey while surrounded by religious leaders, London, England, 6 May 2023. (Photo by Victoria Jones -- WPA Pool/Getty Images.)

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