Multi-faith prayers for Parliament
It seems his article was prophetic, for there are indeed ‘plans to end the dominance of the Anglican faith at the daily opening of Parliament’. Instead, it is intended that a plethora of gods would each take it in turn to receive the prayers of the politicians in an approach which is to be ‘modelled on BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day’.
God help us.
Why Parliament – one of our greatest institutions – would wish to model any of its practices upon those of the BBC – one of our most inept – is quite incomprehensible. Until, of course, one considers that both are concerned with managing decline in an era obsessed with image.
Parliament’s own website hints at the change as the ‘Prayer’ section says: ‘there is currently no multi-faith element’. ‘Currently’ is ominous. The proposed change will involve a rotational approach to daily prayers. On Mondays, the Christians will invoke the name of Jesus; on Tuesday the Jews can do YHWH; on Wednesday it will probably be Allah – just to get the monotheists out of the way first; on Thursday the Hindus can have Krishna – unless they prefer Vishnu, Brahma or Shiva (possibly more apt); Friday the Sikhs get Waheguru; and the Buddhists, as ever, will not really be bothered.
It is convenient that Parliament sits for five days and the six ‘great world religions’ conveniently condense to one each day. Unless, that is, the Buddhists begin to make demands, in which case there will need to be a six-day rolling timetable.
But this whole notion is fraught with difficulties and bodes ill for religious harmony. For which expression of Christianity will be manifest on Mondays? Anglican? Orthodox? Roman Catholic? Scottish Presbyterian? Baptist? Methodist? And how will time be apportioned between Orthodox, Masorti or Reform Judaism? Will consideration be given to Sunni, Shi’a and Sufi sensitivities, or to the Hindu denominations of Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism?
And what happens to the Jedi Knights? How could Parliament justify alienating the stated faith (according to the 2001 census) of hundreds of thousands of British people?
The Committee of Peers who are examining the plans include Lord Brabazon of Tara and Lord Rana. This is the sort of trendy development that comes as a consequence of abolishing all those peers who could trace their lineage back to the 16th century and beyond, to when the prayer traditions of Parliament were established. The whole fabric of Westminster is Christian: the faith is intricately woven into the traditions and practices of Parliament, and it would be a perverse and destabilising act of vandalism to abandon the settlement.
In the House of Lords, prayers are led by a senior Bishop of the Church of England (Lord Spiritual). Prayer in the House of Commons is presently read by the Speaker's Chaplain, and the form of the main prayer is as follows:
"Lord, the God of righteousness and truth, grant to our Queen and her government, to Members of Parliament and all in positions of responsibility, the guidance of your Spirit. May they never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind; so may your kingdom come and your name be hallowed.
Cranmer is persuaded that increasingly there will be less need in politics for those with degrees in law or economics, and that there will be more jobs for those with advanced degrees in religion. They will be needed to advise on how to neutralise the concerns of Catholic voters; they can help convince fence-sitting Jews that you are a true-blue friend of Israel; they can persuade the Muslims you really are a friend of Palestine; they can warn you against seeking the endorsement of contentious clerics of all varieties. In short, the ‘faith and values guru’ will be of more use than a dozen lawyers or economists. The religious-imaging specialists will know every important pundit and have the email address of every influential imam in the land, and they will become indispensable components of political campaigning.
In the coming years, all parliamentary candidates, not to mention hundreds of would-be peers or senators or whatever they are to be called, will call upon the services of the theologians.
But none shall be Anglican.