One thing that I have never understood is how some atheists could be worried about their horoscopes. But it’s also the same when it comes to having a respect or admiration for a monarchy and nobility (in the sense of inherited titles). Why do atheists support this institution?
Where did kings come from?
Alpha males, collective defense, communal dispute resolution, communal decision making, etc.; everything is supposition until we come to the first large metropolitan human communities of size. We have no direct evidence of kingship before then. Even small communities prior to around 4,500 BCE (or thereabouts, estimates vary widely) had no firm evidence of what would, in the archeological sense, come to be characterized as either a “palace” or “religious center.” Both came into being at the same time, an organized religion and an organized hierarchy. Once writing was developed (in Sumer around 3,500 BCE.), we can thereafter start to read that the kings were divine (as in Egypt, where the king was an incarnation of the god Horus), divinely appointed (as in Sumer, Akkad and Assyria), or as in China vested with the “mandate of heaven” (a concept apparently invented by the Zhou around 1046 BCE to justify their overthrow of the Shang). A kingly status linked to divinity persisted in some countries up until the 20th Century (some still have it, especially a number of Muslim monarchies). Think about it. A hundred years ago in some places in Europe, people were still talking about the divine right of kings. Even today, in many Muslim states, the kingship is considered to be divinely sanctioned. In the United Kingdom, the Queen is also the head of the State religion, Anglican Christian.
It’s possible that the link between religious head and secular head pre-dated civilization (i.e., life in cities). Many sub-Saharan African tribes had shaman-kings, who acted in the supernatural realm as well as in the secular (as in being credited with rain making, etc.). In Mesoamerica, there was a distinction between priests and kings, but the kings were still instrumental in the ritual functions controlling the supernatural elements.
The Islamic caliphate expressly makes the religious and secular leader the same person. Subsequent Islamic states have continued with this idea of merging the religious and secular heads. As Islam is not a hierarchical religion (there is no Muslim Pope, for example) the de facto head is usually the local secular ruler. There are few instances, if any, of one Muslim country attacking another for the express purpose of correcting its practice of Islam, and then retreating back to its own borders. Although Sunni Islam appears to require that the caliph be elected, in practice this didn’t happen and the various Muslim states have been ruled by families in an hereditary fashion.
Many of the customs surrounding the nobility are the same as those which surround religion. Just to take a few examples: the concept that nobles are better or greater than ordinary people, thus somehow between humans and gods; that ordinary people need to bow or prostrate themselves before nobility the same as people do in religious settings when faced with an image or symbol of the godhead; nobles are above the law applied to normal humans; and, they are deemed entitled to be supported by everyone of lesser status, making them social parasites, the same as religions for the most part. I won’t bang on about all the other ways they are similar to religious leaders, like the funny costumes, the fancy hats, the thrones, etc., but I think it’s all pretty self-evident if you just give it a modicum of thought.
Why Respect Nobles?
The respect we give to nobility is an offshoot of the respect we’re expected to give to gods and the heads of religion. It’s an incredibly strong compunction, and imbedded into the laws of every country that recognizes a class of nobility within itself. Even Dawkins presumably bows before the Queen. Why? She has no accomplishments. She has contributed nothing to the betterment of humankind. She has not contributed to any scientific, literary or artistic developments. So why bow to this person whose only accomplishment was to be born to the previous noble?
Some of the harshest debates I have ever had are not with Christians who support Creationism, but with atheists supporting their monarchs. Just look at the Dutch and Swedes, usually regarded as countries with strong atheist leanings, yet both have kings and nobles which are strongly backed by their populace. And in Japan, a rather superstitious country with a large number of atheists, there remains considerable support for a royal family which, until the end of WWII, claimed descent from the Shinto gods.
Even that bastion of rebellion against the establishment, Martin Luther, urged the princes of his day to crush the peasant rebellion of 1525 in Germany. His pamphlet “Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants” was based on his view of St. Paul’s writings in the New Testament. When I brought this to the attention of some Lutheran friends once, they told me it was Catholic propaganda against Luther – all history to the contrary be damned. Reading its tirades against the common people is grim work when you consider the barbarity that was unleashed against those who were seeking a better life for themselves against the oppressive laws and taxes of an entrenched God-appointed ruling elite.
How Religion And Royalty Combine To Rule People
“Turn the other cheek” is advice for the masses, not for princes or the nobility. “Turn the other cheek” is a reference to Christian teachings that one should not fight another who strikes you. Perish the thought. Frederick Nietzsche would characterize this as a Christian-Jewish slave mentality which has infused Western cultures (reference to follow). Simply put, the slave mentality means that the religious teachings were the result of a population under the harsh rule of others. So the masses adopted a slave mentality in order to survive when dealing with the overlords, whether they be Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, or Romans. Things like “turn the other cheek” and “render unto Caesar” (another Christian reference that you should pay your taxes without dispute) are useful advice for a slave who can be beaten for disrespect or disobedience by the master. But it is not the code by which the nobles rule and control the population.
Sadly, Martin Luther’s disdain for the common man in protestant religions did not die with him. Even a brief perusal of the editorials of the day, during the labor movements in Great Britain and the United States, will aptly demonstrate the support that those wishing to keep labor in its place garnered from religious leaders. The common people should know their place and respect their betters; and this applied to child labor, dangerous working conditions, excessive work hours, low pay, and even basic rights like the provision of toilets and drinking water. We see it today in some politicians and religious fundamentalists in America who claim that the abolition of the minimum wage and the withholding of state sponsored health care is in line with the teachings of Christ. Don’t question your betters, because if you do the next thing that will happen is that you start to question god’s messengers here on earth – the clergy, and after that perhaps god himself.
It’s a slippery slope, and the religious and those in power know it. This is why so many religions sought to prevent the average believer from being able to read the relevant holy work itself, usually by keeping it in a language that they couldn’t read. Just as people were not provided with a copy of the laws that the rulers determined would apply to them. The common people had to rely on their betters in the nobility and clergy to tell them what the rules were, in both the secular and spiritual realms.
This Cancer Is Widespread
According to the information I could find online, 44 countries have monarchs or kings. Of these, 16 acknowledge Elizabeth II of Great Britain as their sovereign. This does not include those countries which acknowledge a broader range of nobility through hereditary titles, such as count, duke, earl, pasha, sultan, etc. I have not been able to find a reference to these, but it includes a great number of European countries, and a number in Asia and Africa, where tribal chiefs abound. No more kings, but you still have counts and other hereditary titles, just to show you who your betters are. The really sickening thing, for me, is that many of the most atheist progressive European countries are in the list. Countries with less than 30% confirming that “I believe there is a God” (the strongest measure of belief in the poll) (Eurobaromenter Poll 2010, as reported in Wikipedia “demographics of atheism”) include such king revering or nobility title recognizing countries as Denmark, Netherlands, France, Sweden, and Norway. And the support of monarchies in these countries is quite strong. There is no serious movement to abandon this cultural relic that destroys human dignity by holding up certain people as being better and more deserving than all others simply by reason of birth.
To me, the institution of nobility is more pernicious and damaging than that of religion in many countries, because it is state sponsored in a way that religion largely no longer is. In Thailand, for example, even questioning the relevance of the monarchy can land you in jail for a long time, and this is true in many other countries as well.
Monarchy Is Perverse And Supernatural In Its Legal Interpretation
In many countries with a Constitutional monarchy, the family of the monarch is vested, by law, with the sovereignty of the nation. Now for most Europeans, Canadians and Australians, I think if you asked them if they lived in a democracy or not, they would say yes. But they don’t. The legal right to make laws and govern the country is vested in the family of the monarch, not in the people themselves. The elected government takes its right to govern from a grant of authority from the sovereign. Now, how crazy is that? But that is how these countries were set up, when it was believed that kings derived their right to rule from god.
If there is no god giving a mandate to the monarch to govern the people, then how does this right vest in a monarch? They are not elected. I suppose you could say that there is an implied consensus that the “people” wish for them to hold this exalted position and have tacitly given them the right to rule. So everyone upon birth is assumed to give this privileged family of nominal merit the right to rule over them. If that is not supernatural, I don’t know what is. A “vote” with 100% positive participation at the time of birth. Yet this is the sort of argument that sane people delve into in order to justify their “belief” in a monarchy.
Apologetics Of Monarchy
Whether divine or divinely ordained or ruling by tacit acquiescence, philosophers have throughout the ages come up with ingenious ways to justify the institution of nobility and monarchy. Even such an atheistic philosopher as Nietzsche considered that most people were the mental equivalent of cattle and that there was an expressed value in the superior people, whom he characterized as nobles. Like Plato, with his philosopher kings of “The Republic”, Nietzsche believed in a natural aristocracy, but one based on merit and personal qualities, not upon rank hereditary inheritance of position. Whether he considered this a hereditary trait (i.e., the sons of nobles intrinsically having the qualities of the father) is debatable, as there are passages going in both directions. He certainly despised the German hereditary aristocracy. But his main concern was with permanence, which he valued more than he did freedom, and with the ability of the Ǘbermensch, or master personality, to rule those who were of lesser accomplishment and aptitude. (For more, see Detwiler, “Nietzsche and the Politics of Aristocratic Radicalism” (1990).)
But a quick look at today’s monarchs objectively reveals a very depressing lot indeed, less inbred than before, but still pathetic in light of the resources at their command. Trying to claim that Swaziland’s Mswati III is an Ǘbermensch is not going to get you very far, although I think he does hold the current record among monarchs for number of wives (15 at last count, excluding things on the side – perhaps he is “uber” in some ways?). And the current greatest monarchy, the House of Windsor? They can’t even claim a right to greatness by reason of some long ago conquest. And let’s face the reality, they were not even British. The family of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (which was changed to “Windsor” in 1917 in light of the war with Germany) ruled minor duchies before there was a unified Germany. The line ceased to be English in 1714, since the Act of Settlement of 1701 declared that Catholics could not inherit the throne in Great Britain. So the line passed to a far descendant of James I, Sophia of the Palatinate’s son, Georg Ludwig, who became George I in 1714. This started the line of German rulers known as the Hanoverians that lasted from 1714 until 1901, and consisted of 6 monarchs. This line continued through Queen Victoria, who was ½ German and married a German. This union started the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, which was Victoria’s husband Albert’s lineage.
The Prince of Wales is a title of subjection of a rebellious people first instituted by Edward I, who named his son, Edward Caernarfon, as Prince of Wales in about 1301, thereby denying the title to a true Welshman. Edward I’s son was born in Wales, thus justifying the title. (Yes, this is Edward Longshanks, Hammer of the Scots, of Hollywood’s “Braveheart” fame – which is largely false in most of its details, so please don’t take this as an endorsement of Hollywood “history”.) The current Prince of Wales, within whom the sovereignty of well over 100 million people will be vested upon his assumption of the throne, is well known for his support of that well regarded science of homeopathy… Such an uber leader indeed. Plato will spin in his grave over this Philosopher King. And yet many British, Canadian and Australian atheists will fight tooth and nail to defend this misguided and utterly useless family’s special prerogatives as the appointed sovereigns of Great Britain and many of its former colonies. How truly ironic that the now free peoples of these former colonies still vest their sovereignty in the descendants of a German family of minor nobility whose only claim to fame was being able to breed successfully, which ruled a country that conquered theirs decades or hundreds of years ago. I mean what is the point?
Canadians and Australians, both usually renowned for their pragmatism, routinely fall over themselves to adore the royal family. (Sorry, I only know one New Zealander, and he is part Maori and dislikes the whole monarchy bit.) It’s no different to me than seeing Filipinos fall over themselves adoring the Black Madonna. Or Americans over their current pop culture idol, Justin Bieber. At least pop stars have done something to warrant, however pathetically, the adoration. But monarchs and religious icons and pontiffs accrete the obsequious acclaim simply by reason of their position, the elevation to which is not under the control of the masses of people who are expected to esteem those so empowered. Bowing to a king is no different than bowing to a godhead, and the underlying imperative is the same – obedience to a master who is (supernaturally) superior to you.
Excuses, Excuses, Excuses
Please, don’t tell me how this is custom, or tradition, or that it’s not a big cost or that the royals give the country more benefit than they cost or any other nonsense that would leave tears of joy in the eyes of any Creationist. It is not defensible that some people are born to privilege in a world without gods to dictate who those people should be. We are laboring under Nietzsche’s Christian-Jewish slave mentality (see his “The Genealogy of Morals” and “Beyond Good and Evil”). We have internalized to such a high degree that we must serve our “betters” that we have to go to illogical ends to justify the indefensible. It is like reading the beautiful and stirring words of Epictetus as he wrote in the “Discourses” about the quest for a moral and better life, and realize that he never once raised a voice against slavery, even though he had been a slave himself. It was just probably beyond his comprehension that there could be any other system.
Nobility Is Founded In Religion And Needs To Be Uprooted And Destroyed As The Tumor It Is
There is no cogent justification for nobility that respects human dignity. At birth, each person should be the equal of every other. Whether ubermensch deserve to accede to greater rights than others, I leave to the capitalists and humanists to debate. But to justify a difference of rights at birth, only an appeal to religion or the supernatural can do this. And many atheists are stuck in the position of Nietzsche’s “cattle” with a slave mentality, trying to justify the over-lordship of others. “Please, we love our kings who rule over us. We will find a way to justify them. They are part of our tradition and we are proud of them.” It’s the mindset of any theist. “I can believe in god for any flimsy reason, it’s my personal belief.”
Kings and nobility came in with organized religion. They were mutually supporting, but each attempted to survive the death of the other. Religions could change under kings, and kings could change for the religious. But the institutions had the same objective, the obedience of the believers and followers. To be taxed, to labor on behalf of palace and cathedral, to die if needed for the greater glory of king, country or god.
A civil structure supporting a class of nobility or hereditary titles is anathema to human dignity, and cannot be supported or justified on any grounds. It’s high time to rid ourselves of this burden on our societies and our consciousness. It came in with religion, and without religion to underpin it, there is no justification in maintaining this system. Rejecting religion and maintaining royalty reminds me of the quote form Johann von Goethe: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”