The Queen, The Pope, Christmas and Me

by George_East on December 25, 2013

Elizabeth IIOne of the things I studiously avoid on Christmas Day is the Queen’s speech – it brings out the angry republican in me and that doesn’t always go down well in the company I am with.   I always absent myself and make calls to family members who I know won’t be watching it.

It is not just the fact of it but its content full, as it always is, of empty platitudes that I find so enraging.   Of course, it would be a lot worse if the Queen started pontificating on the issues of the day – having no mandate from anyone to do so – but that just underlines the infantilising effect of monarchy.

We have a head of state who constitutionally cannot opine on political issues and yet we, as a country, are facing a Christmas this year with record numbers of our fellow citizens reliant on food banks just to avoid starving.   Something she is not even allowed to acknowledge.   In Queenie land it is all about the delight in Prince George and the family of nations that is the Commonwealth.

I have nothing against Elizabeth Windsor herself – she has no doubt done an admirable job, but it remains the case that the monarchy embodies the apex of a class system based on hereditary wealth, power and privilege.   If we accept it for our head of state then whether we like it or not we also legitimise the  self-perpetuating absurdity that is the House of Lords, as well as a social system which venerates public schools, Oxbridge colleges, exclusive clubs and the Social Calendar within which the scions of our current rulers are hothoused to be the rulers of the future.    You only need to look at the current cabinet to see what this system produces.

It remains the case that no other first world country has such an ossified and stratified social system and to pretend that the continued existence of the monarchy has nothing to do with it is to deny its very foundation stone.

The other big speech of the Christmas weekend is always that of Pope. Pope Francis I

There are many on the left who are applauding the new Pope, Francis I, who gave his first address in that office on Christmas Eve.   He is undoubtedly an improvement on the last Pope, Benedict, who was a doctrinaire theological and institutional conservative.   He has done away with some of the finery and pomp around the papal office and more importantly attacked modern financial capitalism for the ever growing inequalities it has created.

Francis’ speech on Christmas Eve once again emphasised the poorest and the most vulnerable, identifying the Church with the shepherds at the manger: ‘the outcasts’.

However, although this is laudable and may have some minor effect on charitable giving amongst catholics (something which remains to be seen), it is other than that, just words.

This is to be contrasted with something the catholic church has direct power over and which would have a major effect if its policy changed:  its attitude to contraception.     The Catholic Church’s long standing opposition to contraception is plainly not something which is biblically based:  there is no injunction against wearing a condom in the Ten Commandments.     It is instead something which arises from Church doctrine.   It can therefore be  changed if that Church learning evolved.

The current ban is something which has direct and deadly effects amongst the poorest parts of the world both as a result of hindering teaching and the availability of contraception and by, amongst practising catholics, making it a sin.  Changing the policy on contraception would have a far bigger impact on the lives and life chances of many of the poorest people in the world then any amount of Papal speeches about the evils of the banks.

Until Francis takes this step, I will not be joining those on the left who are now applauding him.   To the contrary, until this step is taken the Catholic Church remains one of the major obstacles to improving the lives of the poorest and ought to be roundly condemned as such by progressives.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Alx w December 26, 2013 at 2:21 pm

While i am not an avid fan of the catholic church and it has many numerous faults some very significant, you have to be even handed. You cannot dismiss the huge amount of work it does do in genuinely helping the poor or pretend it only does so through some catholics giving charitably. On your point about contraception i agree. The catholic church is complex, the jury may still be out on whether it does more harm than good, but there are many good, devout and humble people who are part of the church and it is good to see one of them in charge.

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Jackie_South December 26, 2013 at 6:34 pm

Personally, I’d rather take a glass half (or more) full approach: the world’s most important religious leader for the first time in my life is putting his primary focus on addressing poverty, and helping to set the agenda.

Yes, I would love him to also change his attitude on contraception, but it would be churlish not to praise what he has done.

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George_East December 26, 2013 at 6:57 pm

I remain very unclear what Francis has actually done. He’s made some fine sounding speeches sure but I’m interested in what you can point to in terms of actual things that he has changed. I don’t count wearing white instead of purple robes. So far as I can see it, it is hot air so far providing words of comfort to the western liberal left but of little, if any, consequence to anyone else.

The Catholic Church’s position on contraception on the other hand condemns millions to poverty and many many people to death.

Sure I agree with Ax W that good works are also done by some parts of the church on poverty but if you asked the question whether the world would be better off if the Catholic Church packed up shop tomorrow it would be a resounding yes.

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