Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Richard Dawkins, Religion and the Monarchy

Richard Dawkins tweeted a mildly supportive message about Monarchy earlier today:

"@RichardDawkins: Monarchy might be a rare case where, although it would be loony to adopt it de novo, now we've got it + long history, alternatives worse."

My response to this was that Monarchy is a religion and as such Dawkins, as the world's foremost atheist, should be against it. I was slightly joking but on reflection I think that I was right. 

Perhaps the primary reason many of us are against religions is that they all, without exception, require us to believe things that science and reason can prove not to be true or cannot prove to be true. Whether it be transubstantiation, the afterlife, "miracles", the healing power of prayer, the Creation, the evil of certain foods and drinks, the presence of "spirits", the benefits of circumcision, the preference for certain modes of dress, or a hundred or more superstitions we are expected to have " faith" that they are true. Despite there never being any authentic evidence to prove the case.

The Monarchy is similar. The basic premise is that an accident of birth gives rights to a small number of people (the "Royal Family") that are denied to the rest of us. This premise runs against all logic and brings with it an obligation to treat the privileged members of this family deferentially. Not because of what they have actually achieved but simply because of who they are. And with this obligation comes the requirement to accept all the paraphernalia of the Crown. Our National Anthem celebrates not our Country but our Monarch. The Royals dominate every national celebration - even the start of the first day of the Lord's Ashes Test Match was put back 15 minutes to suit the Queen! Our National Theatre, Opera House and other institutions are not ours - they are "Royal". And so it goes on. As with religions the Royals intrude into our lives with their Jubilees, Weddings, Births etc. But what are we actually celebrating ? A couple in their thirties has a baby and our media loses its grip on reason. 

Religions require us to bury our intellects and conform - and so it is with the Monarchy. We know that this bunch of advantaged people are as ordinary as we are deep down. The tasks they perform are hardly demanding and yet we get into collective paroxysms of excitement when they do the ordinary things we all do. That they are pretty bad at some things we are quite good at - having an enduring marriage for example - we ignore because of who they are. Preposterous individuals like the Prince of Wales live dysfunctional amoral lives, hold absurd views on some things and we are still supposed to kow-tow to him and accept him as our next Head of State. I'm not saying Charles is like Jesus or Mohammed or Buddha - but the parallel with the need for adherents of religions to worship their leaders is not too far from the truth.

Royal rituals are like religious rituals. Formal Royal clothes are like religious vestments. Religions have hierarchies with Popes and Mullahs and Rabbis and Priests. Royalty has its Hierarchy as well with the Monarch at the top and dozens of lesser Royals surrounding her in obsequious ranks. And we the "commoners" are like we the "parishioners" expected to buy into the fantasy, to bow and scrape and even to swear allegiance in certain circumstances. 

So Richard Dawkins don't let us down - be consistent and condemn the Monarchy for what it is - a modern day "Opium of the Masses" , a "religion" in all but name. 


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