Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
The Catholic Church does not allow women priests and hardly any Muslim group or sect allows for women Imams, yet few know that Queen Elizabeth II, who has been the Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand since 6 February 1952 is also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
Queen Elizabeth II is the longest-reigning British monarch as well as the world’s longest-reigning queen regnant and female head of state, the oldest and longest-reigning current monarch and the oldest and longest-serving current head of state. Nevertheless from my perspective her most prominent role that has been a source of longevity for the royal family is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
The Church of England renounced papal authority when King Henry VIII failed to secure an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon in 1534. Eventually, Henry, although theologically opposed to Protestantism, took the position of Supreme Head of the Church of England to ensure the annulment of his marriage. He was excommunicated by Pope Paul III.
The Acts of Supremacy in UK are two acts of the Parliament of England passed in 1534 and 1559 which established King Henry VIII of England and subsequent monarchs as the supreme head of the Church of England. Prior to 1534, the supreme head of the English Church was the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.
Religion, at least the Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, at their best today, are only a collection of the best beliefs, ideas and rituals, for personal life and salvation and would seem a private affair to the enlightened and the self confident.
But, this was not always the case. Prior to the Protestant reformation in the 16th century, the only Christianity that Europe knew was the Catholic Church that would manage the individual lives of everyone in Europe, from birth to death especially the marriages, not only of the ordinary but also of monarchs, like the king of England.
The Church had initiated countless Crusades and had killed thousands if not millions of heretics in one place or the other over the centuries. Religion could not be divorced from politics or the matters of the state.
Five hundred years after the Protestant reformation the Catholic Church is limited to a small city of Vatican and the affairs of the state have been taken over by the governments of individual countries, many of whom have started investigating children abuses in the Churches in their respective countries. Yet we have the remnants of the past still visible in one form or the other, for example the Church of England. Where as most of the Protestant churches today have divided into smaller individual churches which are very close to individual needs and concerns, the Catholic Church and the Church of England still show us to some degree what religion meant in the 16th century and since.
Words mean different things to different individuals depending on the context. What did ‘Religion,’ mean in the sixteenth century and what does it mean or should mean today?
If we are playing golf, ‘course’ means the field where we play, if we are dining in an upscale restaurant, course will mean the menu and the sequence dishes are served in and if we are studying in a university, course means the syllabus.
The word ‘evolution’ to me means that all life forms on planet earth have common ancestry, yet to someone with atheistic perspective the word of ‘evolution’ itself begins to suggest that God does not exist.
The word ‘religion,’ still means different things to different people, given the brief history of Europe discussed above. For some, religion is inexplicably married to communal living and affairs of the state. Yet others are giving us better understanding and definition of the word.
For years, surveys have indicated that members of the youngest generation of adults in the U.S. are far less likely than older Americans to identify with a religious group. But a major new Pew Research Center survey finds that, as time goes on, the already-large share of religiously unaffiliated Millennial adults is increasing significantly.
A high percentage of younger members of the Millennial generation – those who have entered adulthood in just the last several years – are religious “nones” (saying they are atheists or agnostics, or that their religion is “nothing in particular”). At the same time, an increasing share of older Millennials also identify as “nones,” with more members of that group rejecting religious labels in recent years.
Overall, 35% of adult Millennials (Americans born between 1981 and 1996) are religiously unaffiliated. Far more Millennials say they have no religious affiliation compared with those who identify as evangelical Protestants (21%), Catholics (16%) or mainline Protestants (11%).
Although older generations also have grown somewhat more religiously unaffiliated in recent years, Millennials remain far more likely to identify as religious “nones.” The 35% of Millennials who do not identify with a religion is double the share of unaffiliated Baby Boomers (17%) and more than three times the share of members of the Silent generation (11%).
These ‘nones’ are not atheists and are only disillusioned by organized religion. They are beginning to see the very word religion in a new light, divorced from the affairs of the state or communal issues.
If the religion is stripped of its communal, group, political or statehood connotations then we have a very clear understanding that it is a collection of moral teachings that the individual hopes and believes will help him or her succeed in life here and in Afterlife. Understanding religion in such simple and clear language creates the possibility of shedding away the bigotry and prejudices of centuries. Religion when personalized and stripped of group considerations opens itself up. Each individual is then free to learn from anyone regardless of the faith of the teachers.
The religion now is not our identity or the hat that we wear in public but only a code of ethics, a collation of principles that we hold most authentic or necessary.
If religion is understood in such a context we don’t need queen bees or lead dogs to use a cruder expression. We only need teachers, who come from all different faiths, without any long titles or political powers, armed only with their logic, arguments and persuasive skills to guide the citizens of our global village.
People are voting in UK and polls are showing there is much larger segment of population that calls itself religiously unaffiliated than in USA:
BES: British Election Study
BSA: British Social Attitudes
ESS: European Social Survey
EVS / WVS: European Values Survey, World Values Survey
NOP: National Opinion Poll
My wish and prayer is that the graph above does not reflect a move of UK populace towards agnosticism or atheism and that it only is a clear vote for lack of any need for organized religion. Let religion be about individual choices and salvation, governments about law and order and other organizations with specific interests should serve human needs for social interaction and belonging, so each one of us can truly begin to learn from the truths in every religion and stop using religion as our main identity.
It is said that there is no priesthood in Islam or that each individual is capable of having a relationship with Almighty God without the need of a mediator or liaison. Yet this concept is often lost in the real life of the Muslims. One would hope that this article serves as a movement in the right direction for many.
Would a democratic understanding and practicing of religion remain a utopia or become a reality in our 21st century, as masses from different religious backgrounds continue to talk directly to each other through social media, without the presumptuous posturing of those, who hold positions of power or titles among them?
— The Muslim Times (@The_MuslimTimes) March 23, 2017