Monday, December 22, 2008

Question from Nikki - Disestablishment of the Church

This issue dates back to Henry VIII and I wondered what your thoughts were on the subject. I think it's ironic that this is coming up at the same time as his 500th anniversary of his accession.

What do you think about the Labour party trying to oust the monarch as head of the Church of England, and disestablishing the church in general? Will it happen?

On top of that, what would Henry think??!!

[Ed. note - I generally try to stay away from potentially politically-charged questions, but this one really does have a tie to Tudor history, so it is worth discussing.]


Anonymous said...

Henry VIII, and indeed any person who lived in the 16th century, would have been deeply shocked and horrified at the thought of civil government and the religious establishment being separated from each other. I doubt that any Tudor-era person could even have conceived of the idea.

It is perhaps difficult for those of us living in a more secular world today to appreciate the degree to which religion and politics were intertwined and interdependent in the 16th century. Governments declared and waged wars and thousands died over questions of religion. Governments also enforced, of their own accord, religious unanimity and conformity. One of the great questions of the day was the degree to which citizens must accept a ruler of a different faith from his own. Civil government was responsible for final enforcement of rulings made by church courts, especially executions for heresy. Monarchs were anointed and "sanctified" in ceremonies that had very real and enduring religious meaning. Monarchs were believed capable of miraculous medical cures through personal touch (scrofula, "the king's evil"). And these are just a few examples among literally hundreds.

In modern British society, where the majority of people do not attend religious services on a regular basis and religious plurality is the norm, the established church has significantly less personal meaning than it did 500 years ago, and a significantly smaller proportion of the population feels any personal allegiance to that church.

I won't comment on the politics or "morality/ethics" of disestablishing the Church of England, but I will say that I am not surprised that it has reached this point, and I do believe it will be carried through eventually.

And Henry VIII is spinning in his grave, as is every person of the 16th century, regardless of his or her specific doctrinal beliefs or denominational affiliation.

Nancy said...

I agree -- I'm not surprised it's reached this point, it is probably inevitable, and it makes some sense in a pluralistic Britain of few Anglican churchgoers. I also agree Henry and all 16th century people would spin in their graves at it -- but then, they sure did a whole lot of killing and dying for faith.

I do wish, though, that the present monarch, or her heir, or his heir, or somebody at the top would at some point mumble something to the effect that maybe the Christian church and the English monarchy kinda sorta once had some good things going for them, sorta.

Britain has a large Muslim immigrant population who are (so I read) as confident in their faith as a 16th-century European would have been. Their faith doesn't exactly teach gentle tolerance of the infidel. When their confidence is abetted by the Archbishop of Canterbury saying that an establishment of sharia (Islamic law) is "inevitable," when BBC Channel 4 broadcasts a speech from the president of Iran as the counter message to the queen's traditional Christmas message -- then I think we don't have a sophisticated acknowledgement of pluralism and secularism and open minds, we have the creation of a vacuum which good old-fashioned religious people may be very glad to fill.