Last year The King’s Speech, a movie about England’s King George VI, garnered most of the Academy Awards and deservedly so. It was a magnificent picture filled with superb performances and wonderful dialogue. But there was something more profound at work, what we could call an unapologetic Christian subtext which I believe was responsible for its popularity at the box office. In this sense, it was somewhat similar to Mel Gibson’s epic The Passion of the Christ, although much more understated of course. Movies like this only happen once in a while and when they do resonate, they do so by breaking the spell of secularism if only for a season.
I believe that the spell was broken again, with considerable force. Just before Christmas, King George IV’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, gave her annual Christmas message to the British Commonwealth, a gathering of peoples that spans the globe even to this day. The speech was unapologetically Christian (see video below). It’s not often we hear leaders defend the faith with such clarity –certainly not in the secular sphere and even in the religous sphere the reticence among many is most regretable.
Some background. I recently visited Great Britain (my second trip in fifteen years) and came back more aware of England’s Christian heritage. In planning for our trip, I visited the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain’s website and noted key differences between it and the ethnic jurisdictions here in America. Although Thyateira still remains largely ethnocentric, it’s website reveals a deeper appreciation for British history and culture than in ways that make the American jurisdictions seem woefully out of touch, even ignorant, of their responsibilities to the larger American culture.
I was particularly moved by the icons of the dozens of British saints which were written in the finest Orthodox style. Seeing no equivalent engagement on this end of the pond now strikes me as a deficit of the first order, a malady of vision the pathology of which must run very deep.
I don’t expect the wisdom that accrued from centuries of experience to spontaneously generate on American soil. Britain has long been a Christian land and has a history of many God-pleasing saints while our Republic is less than three centuries old and our native Christian culture dates only to Jamestown, about a century before the founding of our Republic. Nevertheless, the British monarchy is intricately tied to the people and the land, and yes, that means the Church, or better yet — Christendom.
Maybe some of my thoughts reflected a nostalgia for the Victorian Age when Christian civilization was probably at its apogee. But then again, maybe not. Please watch the speech below by Her Majesty. It stands in stark contrast to what we hear in the States. To be sure, something like this speech could have been given by an American President thirty or so years ago but not now. The shock troops of secularism would have him clapped in irons in no time at all.
Don’t get me wrong. The intelligentsia of Great Britain is just as secular as ours. Further, England’s native, white (un)working class has devolved into a largely pagan mob, as seen during last August’s nationwide riots. It’s on a downward trajectory as well. Most newborns no longer receive baptism and in some cities Mohammed is the most popular name for boys ahead of Jack and Harry. Those facts must be acknowledged but in noting them, the Queen’s Christian sensibility is even more striking. Given the rampant secularism and emerging Islamism, you’d think the Queen’s advisors would be advising ‘moderation’ and providing focus-group tested bromides. If they were, she severely dissapointed them.
There’s more. In mid-December last year, the Royal Family appointed a new chaplain who is a staunch conservative and openly critical of the ordination of bishopesses. Their move throws sand into the gears of the Anglican hierarchy, which is set to vote on this innovation in the next few months. In doing so, the Royal Family made a bold move and opened another front in the war for the restoration of Christian culture.
Surprisingly, there has been no blowback by the intellectual establishment. I believe that they are at the end of their intellectual rope –”there’s no ‘there’ there” as some wit said about Oakland years ago. Maybe secularism has played out its torpid hand. Its moral and spiritual vapidity combined with the intellectual bankruptcy of materialism are coming into sharper focus. People are realizing that non-theism (really, anti-Christianity) cannot encourage the individual, much less sustain the culture. As I get older, I see that.
A couple of months ago my family were reminiscing about my late father-in-law and his life and times. He was the youngest of eight children, one sister died in adolescence and one brother was killed in battle. The other six got jobs, married, and had children. They carried their own weight in the world. This was normal and they expected nothing more. Church was an integral part of their lives. Yes, they were Greek and as such belonged to a more traditional, tight-knit culture that had not yet frayed but it wasn’t any different for anybody else in their generation.
Furthermore, a generalized Protestant Christian piety pervaded the times in which they lived, one which informed all Americans regardless of their ethnic background. There were certain expectations that people felt were required of them, a code of simple human decency and respect for others that ameliorated the hardships they faced and the responsibilities they took on. They were not confused about right and wrong. Contrast this with the chaos that reigns today. STD’s are maiming our children. Men cannot decide whether to grow up and get married. Women are wondering if men are even necessary. Should parents stay together for the sake of the children or should the family be split? And what about Grandpa? Off to the nursing home.
The Greatest Generation were of a stronger stock than we are and the Queen has a living memory of that more certain time. She is in fact part of that generation. She endured some of the hardships regular people did in Britain during the War and dealt with them in the way her generation did. While newlywed, she lived the life of a sailor’s wife on the island of Malta in the immediate post-War period. Her marriage had strains. her husband, Prince Philip was known to be a difficult and domineering man. For his part Philip had to endure countless slights by her courtiers because of his foreign birth. He even had to cut short a promising career in the Royal Navy upon the death of his father-in-law. But you never saw these strains. And their reticence was more than the traditional British stiff-upper-lip. They knew that sacrifices had to be made and that Duty, Honor, and Country came before personal satisfaction.
The Queen’s speech will not take us back to a more Christian time. But I believe that it will help break the delusion that secularism can nourish the soul and culture. The way I see it, the fact that the speech passed without condemnation means people may be thinking more about the Gospel. After all, her speech was very kerygmatic. This is a point we need to keep in mind.
Further, I think too that some of the people who may come forward to “earnestly contend for the Faith” will surprise many of us in the end. We’ve seen this even in our own Church when a ferocious assault against traditional morality was launched by a coterie of intellectuals who had effectively run the Church as their own personal club. They were able to do so because of the lassitude of the episcopate. Nevertheless, people who never spoke out before were heard standing up in rousing defense of the moral tradition. Their voices gave our Bishops increasing courage to walk in the grace that God has given them. That’s why we saw a resolution defending the Coptic Orthodox in Egypt. That’s also why we can be assured that they will again defend the sanctity of life next January. Later this year, the OCA will celebrate the first-ever Sanctity of Marriage Sunday. These are all afronts to the spirit of the age which eschews quaint concepts such as right and wrong.
Axios to Queen Elizabeth. Axios to the OCA Bishops who stand for truth. Axios to the people who are not afraid to defend the truth despite the criticism of cultured despisers sometimes even within our own Church.
Will the restoration continue? It just might. Anyway, we found out we had an important ally accross the Pond.