I couldn’t blog yesterday because I was so distracted watching the BBC Livestream of people going past Queen Elizabeth’s coffin that I couldn’t tear myself away to put any words on a page.
The first thing that surprises me about the events of this past week is that they are, to employ a tired cliché, totally counter to our present culture. I think a lot of Americans are surprised, if they are paying attention at all, that the people of Britain, subjects rather than citizens, if one might even say that, are moved and saddened by the death of their monarch. It’s not just that they, for the most part, seem to personally like her. The strange part is that they honor and revere her. What even is that? “What has she ever done for them?” seems to be the percolating American attitude, at least in some parts of the internet. The streams of people going by to bow the head, perhaps for the first time, but obviously for the last–that doesn’t make very much sense. I mean, when our presidents lie in state, we feel sad, but it’s not quite the same. We obediently watch it on TV, but we don’t feel awe and I have never found myself moved to the point of reverence.
Americans—as I grope around for some corresponding experience—seem to go in big for personal allegiance. We (I use the term advisedly in such a way as not absolutely to include myself) are invited constantly to “show allegiance” to inanimate objects, like the flag, or big ideas, like “freedom” manifested under the guise of the state. There is no reverential allegiance to a person. That would be weird. More importantly, whether we do show allegiance or not is up to our personal choice. And, in the growing anxiety of the age, more and more people seem inclined to do just that. Trending political topics vie for space on the front lawn. Sundry personal allegiances clamor together. The American flag waves on one side of the porch and the Rainbow one on the other. Little signs proclaiming the Realness of Science and support of the police shout at me on my morning walk. Bumper stickers* cry to me along the highways.
The simple movement of walking across an open room, stopping briefly to bow the head, and then moving on, without making some kind of personal statement to let everyone know the degree to which one agrees or disagrees with all the thoughts and feelings of the Queen is so astonishing. What is this quiet, practically private form of grief? What manner of communication between the living and the dead? It is so strange.
Of course, I’m not in Britain right now, and have no idea if people hang big flags off their porches or stick in yard signs that say things like “Hate Has No Home Here” or “Back the Blue.” I’m only seeing an isolated moment.
The second unexpected surprise is that, visually, the whole thing is contrary to all the stated memes of the day. Age is supposed to hide itself, or masquerade as youth. And people who sin or disagree with the “truth” of now must go away into the darkness. But there, on display, is a multigenerational family, the old and the young together. And in their midst are those who have sinned, grievously, or disagreed with each other to the point of breaking fellowship. Certainly, there are visual markers of wrecked communion—not being allowed to wear a full uniform, for example—but all the key people walked solemnly behind the coffin. How unusual…according to the stated principles of the day. Of course, I think most families do go on this way, that’s literally how it works.
Third, I was so shocked that the Archbishop of Canterbury read the whole gospel text when the body of the Queen was delivered to Westminster…and said all the prayers. Of course, being under authority himself, both of the desires of the Queen, and the institutional inclinations of his professed religion, and God and so on, he isn’t allowed to do whatever he wants. He has to speak aloud the words: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no man cometh to the Father but through me.” Whether or not he personally believes them isn’t the point.
Which brings me back around to the beginning. Post-post-post modernism, or whatever this sickness is that is destroying us in the West, should gently fall into the ground and die. Not like the Seed that rises again to give life to the whole world. Rather, it should go into the outer darkness and come again no more. Why? For the simple reason that it is contrary to the needs and purposes of the human person, who is not a robot but a creature. The creature needs the Creator, needs to turn to that Greater Light in order to, as it were, flourish. And the first point of turning is to say aloud, “it doesn’t matter what I think about it, it matters if it is objectively true.”
And now, if you will excuse me, I have to go watch that stream some more, and also cry.
*My personal favorite is the one that says “Epstein didn’t kill himself,” but using those various religious symbols of the “Coexist” variety.