Meanwhile, back in New Zealand, my former employers have released their Submission on the Draft National Statement on Religious Diversity, which you can download from their home page . The Draft National Statement is something devised by the Human Rights Commission in a moment of ecumenical hand-wringing. Quite what it is supposed to do is beyond me, other than prompt a fresh blossoming of smugness among leaders of faith communities. The Prime Minister thinks it will stop the fundies fighting each other and us, which is a little optimistic.
I mention it here only because the NZARH submission includes this little gem:
“New Zealand has no state religion.” This is not strictly true. New Zealand is a Constitutional Monarchy, and our Monarch is the head of the Church of England. Furthermore, our Parliament opens with a prayer, our Flag has three Christian crosses on it, our public holidays are Christian, and our National Anthem refers to the Christian God.
I would recommend that the Government remove the prayers in Parliament, change the flag to something people from overseas will recognise, and find a more musical National Anthem.
We will leave aside the peculiar comment about the crosses of the flag. What troubles me is that something seems to be missing from the recommendations. Can you spot it? The Anthem goes, the flag goes, the prayer goes... but what about the Monarchy? After all, the Monarch is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England (and a member of the Church of Scotland when she is on holiday). More to the point, she is Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. Not only is she obliged to be an Anglican, she is Queen because God Himself chose her ancestors to Defend the Faith. Surely, if we want New Zealand to be a secular nation, we will have to let her go.
Not so fast. The NZARH may be trying to balance religious influence in government, law, state etc, but it is not going to try that hard. Getting rid of the Monarchy is a step too far and is not to be mentioned.
There is a reason for this timidity. Although the Rationalists for years had been a haunt of every kind of lefty, the dominating influence on the NZARH these days is Dr Bill Cooke, now Vice-President of the NZARH and Editor-in-Chief of the Association's unreadable "journal." Dr Cooke has many passions and among these is Our Own Dear Queen. Since the NZARH Council would not dare contradict him, the not inconsequential matter of the Divine Right of Kings cannot be spoken.
This is not the first time that the vexed issue of Monarchy has arisen. When news came of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the NZARH Council decided to send a message of condolence to HMQ, without asking the membership. Bill Cooke, who has confessed to having shed tears when Princess Barbie died, was the instigator of this collective act of forelock tugging.
What is extraordinary about the submission is that the NZARH would be happy to see religious schools closed down and religious parents prevented from educating their own children but avoids the obvious matter of the Head of State. The NZARH Education Policy is new to me (and possibly the membership) but it hardly represents the commitment to "promote a tolerant, responsible and open society" which is enshrined in the Association's Objects. When it comes to a relevant Constitutional problem for non-believers, however, the Association's response is silence.
As Dr Cooke said in the Autumn 2001 edition of the "journal"
I make no attempt to justify my commitment to the monarchy on rational lines. It is a purely emotional attachment. I don't see this as in any way compromising my commitment to Rationalism
The NZARH's commitment to Rationalism, on the other hand, can always be compromised when it comes to Dr Cooke's attachments.