State religion? wtf

I live in the UK and grew up here, in what is a secularized society in practice, with considerable progress made thanks to the percolation of secular humanist, liberal values through society. I’m sure the mechanism of developing those values has been complex, but I think that is broadly accurate.

This is basically a rather agnostic country, pragmatically somewhat sleepy on belief, slow to examine the fine print of abstract principles, pretty much “whatever” on religion. Socially it’s really pretty good in a lot of ways, and I’m proud of the advances for various kinds of civil rights that the UK has established where it has done so. We honestly have come a long way.

You can easily forget that we actually have a sorta State religion; I say sorta because the Church of England is the “established” church in England (but not the UK as a whole), which according to the BBC religions website means that the Church performs official functions, is headed by the Monarch (yeah, this gets weird), and that there is a link between Church and State.

Now when you’ve worked out the implications of all that, please tell me, but it’s mind boggling to me that we officially link Church and State in this way, in a modern democracy where many people are not Christian (and more barely think about it), and secular humanist values have shaped so much of our lives.

It gets even more complicated when you take into account that due to the defunct British Empire as was, the Church of England is part of the wider “Anglican Communion”, which at times seems like a real nightmare of bigotry which the C of E seems to feel a need to “hold together” whatever the moral implications of what they are accommodating.

This strange child of Christianity, monarchy, empire and now outdated indigenous sentiment is secured a unique place in “British life”, one which to my knowledge no one is ever asked to consent to. The question is should it have that place? Actually more than that, how can it?

I think most British people would not agree to religion and political power being combined, however much they value spirituality and its hopefully sobering effects on power. But in a typically British fashion, things just “grew that way”, or so we assume without too much examination. Of course they didn’t really just grow that way, but were the result of a series of historical processes, some quite discontinuous.

Bizarrely we seem to do better than the USA, a country with a precedent for separating Church and State, having no State religion, and possessing a written bill of rights, in terms of fending off the influence of retrogressive, political religion. But senior figures from the Church of England continue to consistently  oppose full civil rights for LGBT people, and support bigots in their fight against equality legislation. Meanwhile they “grapple” with the issue of whether bishops without penises is just too much for them.

Now I’m a great believer in “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but equally an antique is not always a thing of beauty and use. Whatever the virtues and vices of the Church, is it not time we pulled the plug on the bizarre, anachronistic link between Church and State? Not in favour of links with multiple religions (which I consider matters of individual choice and definition), but in favour of a consistently secularised society which puts human rights first.

photo by David Rimeš. In public domain.

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