Voice of a Humanist: Was Queen Elizabeth II a Humanist?

HomeClass-article

Voice of a Humanist: Was Queen Elizabeth II a Humanist?

The queen was a kind and caring person who never shared negative opinions in public. She exemplified many humanist values and principles with her deeds, actions and decisions. However, given that the British Monarch is the head of the Church of England, it seems antithetical to suggest that she might also have been a Humanist. Can one be a church leader and a Humanist at the same time?

The queen was a kind and caring person who never shared negative opinions in public. She exemplified many humanist values and principles with her deeds, actions and decisions. However, given that the British Monarch is the head of the Church of England, it seems antithetical to suggest that she might also have been a Humanist. Can one be a church leader and a Humanist at the same time?

Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-serving monarch of Britain and second in the world, died on September 8, 2022. She was 96 and had reigned for 70 years. In a statement,  Buckingham Palace said, “The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon.”

Upon hearing of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, this comment was released by Andrew Copson of Humanists International.

“Queen Elizabeth II gave decades of public service as our head of state. Her reign witnessed some of the most profound changes to the UK’s society and throughout that time she acted as a reconciling force, speaking of her personal conviction to “respect and value all people of whatever faith and none.

Although to many she is a symbol of the nation, she was also a friend, a companion, a mother, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother. Our thoughts and condolences today are with all those who knew her personally and loved her.”

Queen Elizabeth II became monarch at the age of 25 after the death of her father, King George VI, in 1952. She was crowned a year later on June 2, 1953, in Westminster Abbey. She became the queen regnant of seven independent Commonwealth countries: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), as well as the Head of the Commonwealth.

The queen was a kind and caring person who never shared negative opinions in public. She exemplified many humanist values and principles with her deeds, actions and decisions. However, given that the British Monarch is the head of the Church of England, it seems antithetical to suggest that she might also have been a Humanist. Can one be a church leader and a Humanist at the same time?

When Queen Elizabeth II took the throne in 1952, she was automatically linked to the Church of England. She was anointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury at her coronation in 1953, vowing to “maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England.”

The British royal family frequents Westminster Abbey, has church-centered events, and releases statements to honor Christmas. The royals are the head of the Church of England, which is a Protestant Anglican church, and they’ve been a part of this religion since the 16th century.

Because the crown is so inherently tied to the Church of England, the royal family has been subject to strict rules regarding religion, but as the head of the Church of England, it makes sense that one would need to actually practice the Anglican religion.

Fast forward to the 20th and 21st centuries and it would still be sacrilege for the Head of the Church of England to be also recognized as a Humanist. But what were the Queen’s private beliefs?  Is it possible she really was both a Humanist and Head of the Church of England too? This is not so far-fetched as one might first think.

We know that many members of the Clergy in Canada are in fact, Atheists. One notable Atheist Canadian Clergy is Greta Vosper, minister for the West Hill United Church congregation outside of Toronto. Greta came out to her congregation as an atheist in 2011. Surprisingly, there was an overall positive reaction to her announcement and many of the parishioners revealed that they too had realized that gods do not really exist. In fact, a significant percentage of clergy are no longer believers.

How do we know there are many atheistic clergy? There is an organization named The Clergy Project that was founded in 2006 by Dan Barker of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and Richard Dawkins. The organization seeks to provide support, community, and hope to current and former religious professionals who no longer hold supernatural beliefs. It has about 1,000 members.

The Clergy Project’s efforts center on its online community with a secured, private website that is only accessible to registered forum participants. Members can be publicly or privately atheistic. Although most Clergy Project participants come from Christianity, members also come from Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Scientology.

This establishes that one can be a member of the clergy and at the same time, be an Atheist. Queen Elizabeth II had no choice but to honor the tradition of being the Head of the Church of England and never professed to be an Atheist, but she might have been a Humanist in every other way. For certain she was a much beloved and admired monarch.

Millions of people watched the funeral for Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. One might wonder why so many people are saddened by the queen’s death, including people who never met her and even those who didn’t live in Britain or any of its current or former territories.

Much of the reason is that she did her job for a very long time — more than 70 years. She was just 25 years old when her father died unexpectedly, and she took on his role as monarch or head of state for the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and several other countries, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand. But there were other things the queen became known for over the past seven decades that have touched people’s lives in Britain and around the world.

The queen devoted her life to the Commonwealth. Princess Elizabeth went on her first overseas tour in 1947 as she accompanied her parents to southern Africa.

During the tour, she made the following pledge in a broadcast to the British Commonwealth on her 21st birthday:

“I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

When Elizabeth was crowned in 1953, she became the head of Commonwealth. realms. At present, there are 15 states under the Commonwealth realm including Jamaica, Grenada, Australia, the Bahamas and Canada. These countries are also members of the Commonwealth of Nations of which the queen serves as the head.

Always an animal lover

Something else that endeared her to the public was the queen’s lifelong love of dogs and horses. She loved corgis, a herding dog from Wales. Elizabeth had several corgis as a girl and her father gave her one named Susan when she was 18 years old. Over the years, she raised about 30 corgis. Her dogs followed her around the palaces and were featured in photos and videos seen around the world.  

The queen also had a strong love for horses. Her first riding lesson was at age 3, and her grandfather King George V gave her a pony at age 4. As queen, she rode horseback in large parades and on casual outings around her estates. She also loved horse racing. She bred many horses and entered them in famous races such as the Royal Ascot.

Queen Elizabeth II was so popular that she became the first British monarch to address a joint meeting of the United States Congress on May 16, 1991, following the coalition victory in the gulf war.

Let’s have a closer look at the Queen to see how more if her actions and deeds were humanist in nature. These actions and deeds will be categorized according to how they agree with the key principles in the latest version of the official statement of modern Humanism, the Amsterdam Declaration.

Principle 1 – Humanists strive to be ethical

  • Queen Elizabeth II dedicated her life to the welfare of Commonwealth nations.
  • The Queen overhauled the Monarchy’s finances to respond to criticism.
  • She contributed to more than 600 British Charitable Organizations for a total of 2 billion dollars raised.
  • Queen Elizabeth II changed the long-standing royal succession law of “male primogenitor” which favoured the succession of male heirs over female to the English crown.
  • In 2013, a law called the Succession to the Crown Act ended the practice of a younger son superseding an elder daughter in the line of succession. Queen Elizabeth II consented with the Parliament in passing the act.
  • The act also ended the provisions by which those who marry Roman Catholics are disqualified from the line of succession.

Principle 2 – Humanists strive to be rational

  • Elizabeth II was a reliable and steady monarch, not authoritarian. She had many challenging decisions to make regarding the Monarchy and on a personal level with respect to the royal family. She seems to have made good choices in a thoughtful and considerate manner.
  • She demonstrated clear thinking, careful listening, an inquiring mind, humor, remarkable memory and exceptional kindness 

Principle 3 – Humanists strive for fulfillment in their lives

  • During a royal tour of Australia and New Zealand with Philip and Princess Anne in 1970, Elizabeth defied centuries of royal tradition when she took a casual stroll to greet crowds of people in person, rather than wave to them from a safe distance. This is now a regular practice for British royals both at home and abroad.
  • She modernized the Monarchy to ensure its survival.
  • The queen worked hard and tirelessly to live a full and happy life and to help improve the lives of others, especially the needy.

Principle 4 – Humanism meets the widespread demand for a source of meaning and purpose to stand as an alternative to dogmatic religion, authoritarian nationalism, tribal sectarianism, and selfish nihilism

  • Queen Elizabeth II did frequently profess her religious faith and her trust in God. However, she was not dogmatic about her beliefs and recognised and celebrated other faiths in the UK and the Commonwealth. She hosted the leaders of many faiths and visited many different places of worship in the UK and across the Commonwealth.
  • Under her reign, Queen Elizabeth II brought an orderly end to British colonies and formed a peaceful commonwealth in its place.

It seems clear that Queen Elizabeth II was a humanitarian who was kind to others. She was a calm and reassuring world leader who helped the commonwealth nations achieve more independence and autonomy. She reformed the monarchy, including its finances, helped to raise huge sums for charities as well as being a donor herself, loved animals and most important of all, she set a high standard for ethics and for being a good human being. This is the remarkable person she was, but was the queen a Humanist?

Humanism might have been the inspiration for Elizabeth’s dedication to humanitarianism or it might have been her religious faith or her upbringing or her genes. Belief in the supernatural aside, Queen Elizabeth II certainly set high standards that humanists everywhere can aspire to reach.