Up to a million people are lining the streets of London this morning for Queen Elizabeth II’s state funeral. Five hundred heads of state have assembled from around the world. The service is likely to be the world’s most watched broadcast of all time with 4.1 billion viewers.
The New York Times wondered recently if Elizabeth was the “Queen of America.” The article noted that the NFL’s first game of the season observed a moment of silence for her. Apple turned over its home page to a black-and-white photo of the young monarch. Even the Old North Church in Boston, where two lanterns were held high in 1775 to warn that the British were coming, invited visitors to sign a condolence book for the queen.
When Charles gave his first speech as king, ABC, CBS, and NBC covered it live, with CBS reporting 2.8 million viewers. By contrast, the broadcast networks declined to televise a speech by President Biden a week earlier. Only 23 percent of Americans say they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the presidency; in 1975, even after Watergate and the resignation of President Nixon, the figure stood at 52 percent.
There’s a lesson here we dare not miss.
All the monarchy we want
America’s fascination with the British monarchy and concurrent resentment of our own government are both ironic and instructive. As I noted recently, our nation rebelled against Elizabeth’s great-great-great-grandfather, King George III. We fought a War for Independence to rid ourselves of a monarchy.
However, scholars responding to the outpouring of affection for the queen in recent days have explained that for Americans, we get the upside of the monarchy without the downside. We continue to cultivate a political relationship with the United Kingdom that is vital to our economic and military interests. We can participate in the pomp and circumstance, history and tradition of the crown.
And yet, we pay no taxes to support the royal family and are in no way under their authority. You might say that for Americans, the British royal family is all the royalty we want.
In a way, our fascination with a monarch who has no power in our lives reflects America’s cultural ethos. As does our frustration with American leaders who do.
“All the thrills of religion and none of the cost”
More than 80 percent of Americans say they believe in God or a “higher power,” but less than 50 percent are members of a church, synagogue, or mosque. Pew Research Center reported last week that if current trends continue, Christians could make up less than half of the US population within a few decades.
And yet, we continue to claim that we are “spiritual” even if we are not religious. I heard one of the Pew researchers in a radio interview last week; when asked if their report means Americans are becoming less spiritual, she stated that this is clearly not the case. It is just that we are choosing what we wish to believe outside the confines of established religions.
In a culture that defines all truth as personal and subjective, why would religious “truth” be any different?
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis described such religion as belief in an amorphous “Life-Force”: “When you are feeling fit and the sun is shining and you do not want to believe that the whole universe is a mere mechanical dance of atoms, it is nice to be able to think of this great mysterious Force rolling on through the centuries and carrying you on its crest.
“If, on the other hand, you want to do something rather shabby, the Life-Force, being only a blind force, with no morals and no mind, will never interfere with you like that troublesome God we learned about when we were children. The Life-Force is sort of a tame God. You can switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you.
“All the thrills of religion and none of the cost. Is the Life-Force the greatest achievement of wishful thinking the world has yet seen?
“Today we need a special kind of courage”
George Washington would have disagreed strongly with this approach to God. On this day in 1796, the “Father of Our Country” issued his “Farewell Address” as he approached the end of his second term in office. In it, he famously stated, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” And he added, “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.”
Queen Elizabeth II would have agreed with our first president.
In 1957, she delivered her first Christmas broadcast on television. The Cold War was escalating and the Soviet Union was apparently winning the space race with their Sputnik spacecraft. The conflict in Vietnam was growing; the Asian Flu pandemic had claimed over 150,000 lives around the world; racial tensions in the US were increasing.
She therefore stated: “Today we need a special kind of courage. Not the kind needed in battle, but a kind which makes us stand up for everything that we know is right, everything that is true and honest. We need the kind of courage that can withstand the subtle corruption of the cynics, so that we can show the world that we are not afraid of the future.”
She consistently and publicly found that “special kind of courage” in her faith, calling Jesus “an inspiration and an anchor in my life.” Just last month, she prayed for Anglican bishops that “you will continue to be sustained by your faith in times of trial and encouraged by hope in times of despair.”
Now she has joined the saints of the ages and the angels of all eternity in proclaiming, “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever” (1 Timothy 1:17).
How will you emulate her commitment to this King today?