After being in London for three weeks now, I realized very quickly that there is something that is impossible to ignore, no matter where you go. That thing is the royal family. Around every corner there are objects such as a photo of the Queen, underwear with William and Kate, a coffee mug with Queen’s face plastered on it, and postcards consisting of only a member of the royal family’s face (slightly unnerving to send a disembodied head in the mail). In addition to the deluge of royal merchandise, I have also noticed the inundation of royal events recently. From the Royal Wedding, to the Diamond Jubilee, to the Queen’s Birthday Parade, we are not short on royal activities. All of this incredible devotion, as well as our class discussion on what religion really means, makes me believe that devotion to monarchy in England is actually somewhat religious. The culture that is created by the monarchy reminds me of the culture of some religions, even if there is no “greater being” involved. In order to argue that “Royalism” could be considered religious, I want to define different aspects of religion, as they were given in lecture.
Unified System of Beliefs
The main definition of religion is a unifying system of beliefs. In modern day England, the Queen’s main role is to represent the beliefs of the United Kingdom as a whole. For example, when the queen shook the hand of Martin McGuinness last week, she was representing forgiveness from the entire United Kingdom. Like Americans, the British have many different opinions. However, they pledge their allegiance to their country by being devoted to the queen. Therefore, the monarchy unites the entire country under the belief that the monarch and parliament will act in the best interest of England.
Sacred Things and Practices
Religions also need to have some sort of tradition that uses sacred objects and sacred practices to worship. The monarch definitely contains this aspect. The monarchy itself is a tradition, and only exists today for tradition’s sake. The Queen spends a good deal of her time carrying out sacred traditions and practices. The actual process of coronation is very similar to a religious practice. The crown is a sacred item that is to only be used for ceremonies. There is even a special coronation stone, with a long history, that is placed under the future Queen for this ceremony. Almost the entire country ceases daily activities just to watch this important ceremony. For the Diamond Jubilee, another ceremonial-type event, over 1 million people showed up just to wave to the Queen along the Thames.
Prophets and Idols
This point is slightly harder to argue, and makes the monarchy seem a little bit more like a cult. I’ll go out on a limb anyway. Many religions have prophets and idols that they believe represent the ideas of their divine being. For example, Jews believe that Jesus was a prophet and therefore will consult his teachings for guidance. Even some Jews that don’t believe in a God still follow teachings in the Torah as part of their culture. I think the Queen and the royal family represent a type of prophet to the British that provide guidance that follows British law (the supreme being in this case). The people of Britain look to the Queen to represent a proper Brit and to provide guidance to her subjects. Therefore, each King or Queen is a prophet for the greater religion of English Patriotism.
Devotion to the monarchy is definitely not a religion that could be accepted for any formal purposes, however I would argue that the zeal that exists to support the Queen and her family is similar to the culture of many religions.
Further Reading and Pictures: