I hope that you have had a restful and rejuvenating summer holiday; I certainly did. Sadly, the numbers out of Chicago are not entirely favorable for the residents of that violent burgh, so if you hail from there, I express my sympathies.
I have been fortunate to travel widely in my time. Somewhat recently I was at a synagogue in London during an ordinary weekly service, which was held on a Saturday morning in the usual Jewish manner, and was struck by one prayer in particular.
Now, this synagogue is peopled by fairly ordinary-looking British folk, dressed in that ordinary summer semi-respectful British way — shirts, slacks, jackets in dubiously-light earth tones and neckties not fully done-up — which is not street-casual but also not smart; in any event, the congregants did not partake of the caftans-beards-and-funny-hats stereotypes long associated with Jews. Yet this synagogue is fairly traditional in its forms and practices: the men and women sat in separate sections; the clergy was entirely male; and the prayers were incomprehensibly long and recited almost entirely in Hebrew (or Aramaic, for all I know). That last would be a handicap to the casual listener, but for the one prayer recited in English in the middle of the hubbub, the one which I found so striking. I reproduce it here, having looked up the official source:
He who gives salvation to kings and dominion to princes, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, may he bless our sovereign lady, Queen Elizabeth, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Charles, Prince of Wales, and all the royal family.
May the supreme King of kings in His mercy preserve the Queen in life, guard her and deliver her from all trouble and sorrow. May He bless and protect Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. May He put a spirit of wisdom and understanding into her heart and into the hearts of all her counsellors, that they may uphold the peace of the realm, advance the welfare of the nation, and deal kindly and justly with all the House of Israel. In her days and in ours may our Heavenly Father spread the tabernacle of peace over all the dwellers on earth; and may the redeemer come to Zion; and let us say Amen.
It is a prayer explicitly for the good of the head of state and the national government — a prayer for the nation-state at large. It contains a suitably self-serving phrase (“deal kindly and justly with all the House of Israel”) but it also calls for unqualified blessing on the British armed forces and the royal family, and calls upon the government to “uphold the peace of the realm” and “advance the welfare of the nation.” Only after these things are said is a nod then made in the direction of universal peace on earth and the coming of a messiah.
I have attended any number of Church of England services over the years and recall nothing remotely like this in the ordinary Sunday liturgy. Figuring that there must be something somewhere, I looked up the prayers for the government that the Church of England has adopted. I found the following two; the first published in July when Theresa May took over as Prime Minster (I am not sure when or how frequently it is recited), and the second for use daily in parliament when it is in session.
Sovereign God, give grace to those who lead our Government and nation that they may use their gifts and abilities to serve the common good, and to seek that unity which is your gift and your will; through him who came not to be served but to serve, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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. Amen.
The use of the phrase “common good” in the first prayer might, viewed in a certain light, be understood as the good of the nation, but it could just as easily refer to some unit of society larger or smaller than that. But the phrasing of the second prayer should resolve any lingering doubts as to where the mind of the Church of England is at: “their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind.” The members of parliament are meant to use the instruments of British power and authority not to line their own pockets or stroke their own egos, but to improve the condition of all mankind. All mankind, you understand — nothing less than that.
This sounds all good and happy and morally uplifting and in the spirit of universal peace and brotherly love. But in truth, it’s intellectually upside-down and the nearest thing to spiritual treason. It’s not the job of the Westminster parliament, in the first instance, to “seek to improve the condition of all mankind.” It’s the job of the MPs and ministers and civil servants to look after the people of the United Kingdom — the people who elected them and pay their salaries. When did this become such a difficult concept to grasp? Only incidentally, and in service to this first priority, should the British government take any action to improve the lot of Syrians or Somalis or any other race of man, or even mankind in general.
But, of course, mine is an old fashioned, unreconstructed and possibly Racist view of how human affairs should be ordered. It’s certainly Donald Trump’s view, as set forth in his foreign policy speech a few months ago, which for some people is all you need to know. It is obviously not the view of the leaders of the Church of England, which embraced full-universalism as its guiding moral tenet so long ago that they could use the word “mankind” unironically and without getting an earful as to how that’s a micro-aggression against women or transsexuals or whomever else. And this ironclad embrace of moral universalism is richly ironic considering that the Church of England has long been and is now more universally ignored than ever before. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to decide which way the arrows of causation point, and why.
So spare a thought for England: There aren’t many people left who pray particularly for the peace of that realm, for the welfare of that once-Christian, once-European and once-proud nation, or for the safety of her soldiers and sailors. All she has left are her Jews, who have somehow become her last white nationalists.