In Western cultures we accept as normative the virtues of equality and of democracy. The “you are no better than I am” sentiment results in a reluctance to submit to legitimate authorities – the boss, the coach, government, parents. This sort of thing seeps into the Western church as well.
A number of weeks ago my school received a visit from the Honourable Judith Guichon, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. The lieutenant governor is the representative of Queen Elizabeth II in B.C. The visit followed the expected protocols – teachers dressed formally; Her Honour was accompanied by an Aide-de-Camp in full RCMP dress uniform; she entered the assembly in a processional and various other formalities were followed; we sang the national anthem and “God Save the Queen.”
There is a quiet conversation going on in Canada about the point of it all.
Like most issues in Canada, we take it seriously enough to talk about it, but not so seriously that we heap derision on those with whom we disagree. But still, some people question the role of the royal family in Canada – and in England for that matter.
A question of equality?
The royal family has an important role. Never mind the good that they do through their royal visits and causes they for which they advocate. Even if you take all these significant contributions off the table, they play a significant role just by being royal.
One of the reasons we might question the role of royalty is because we have this idea that “all men are created equal” – that equality is a desired end – and that, therefore, democracy is somehow the best sort of government. Royalty and democracy don’t go together.
Winston Churchill said that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” For Democracy to work people would need to be good and wise, and they are neither. The reason democracy is better than all other forms of government is because it takes the fact of human depravity and decentralizes it.
C. S. Lewis comments on our cultural captivation with equality:
“I do not think that equality is one of those things (like wisdom or happiness) which are good simply in themselves and for their own sakes. I think it is in the same class as medicine, which is good because we are ill, or clothes which are good because we are no longer innocent.”
According to Lewis, the notion of equality is a necessity to mitigate the power of evil in a fallen world. Equality came after the Fall to counter the desires of evil men to oppress and exploit each other. He explains in The Weight of Glory, a collection of nine of his sermons delivered during World War II:
The function of equality is purely protective. It is medicine, not food. By treating human persons (in judicious defiance of observed facts) as if they were all the same kind of thing (like widgets), we avoid innumerable evils. But it is not on this we were meant to live. It is idle to say that men are of equal value. If value is taken in a worldly sense – if we mean that all men are equally useful or beautiful or good or entertaining – then it is nonsense. If it means that all are of equal value as immortal souls, then I think it conceals a dangerous error. The infinite value of each human soul is not a Christian doctrine. God did not die for man because of some value He perceived in him. The value of each human soul considered simply in itself, out of relation to God, is zero. As St. Paul writes, to have died for valuable men would not have been divine but merely heroic; but God died for sinners. He loved us not because we were lovable, but because He is love. It may be that He loves all equally – He certainly loved us all to death. . .. If there is equality, it is in His love, not us (1949).
In Western cultures we accept as normative the virtues of equality and of democracy. The “you are no better than I am” sentiment results in a reluctance to submit to legitimate authorities – the boss, the coach, government, parents. This sort of thing seeps into the Western church as well. There might be a hesitance to submit to the church leadership. Some denominations are made up of autonomous congregations. These conditions are not part of God’s creational design.
As Canadians we have a connection to the Royals that the Americans do not. Americans have their Declaration of Independence which tells them that “All men are created equal.” It just ain’t so. As Canadians we have an advantage over our American brothers and sisters in that we have a powerful symbol to remind us who we really are.
The benefit of the royal family and the aristocratic class is that they ground us in reality. They are not just a symbol of a faded empire, but of a Creational truth that we are not, in fact, created equal. They remind us of the Biblical truth that our value is not is our sameness, but in Christ’s love for us. But there is some value in our “inequality,” in our uniqueness, as we serve as different (unequal) parts of the Body (Rom. 12).
Perhaps the main reason why people argue that the Royals are irrelevant is out of a misplaced allegiance to equality. Perhaps not, but as we watch Downton Abbey or The Crown or the various visits, appearances and events featuring the Royals, it might be a beneficial, even spiritual, discipline to reflect on what all the pomp and circumstance might signify, and how it might bring us toward the truth of who we are in the Kingdom.