King Henry VIII didn’t believe me
When I told him his Church is no longer relevant
Latest news; I have invented a time machine! I couldn’t afford a Delorean, but fortunately an old Morris Minor became available, so I had a go. It was a little wheezy, and I had to lower the time-travel speed a bit, but it all seemed to be working, so I thought I would give it a test run. Being a Tudor history nut, I set the dial for 1545, then floored it. And boy, when that baby eventually got up to 38mph, there were some fireworks! I was whisked back to Tudor England in less time than it takes to say ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’.
My sudden arrival caused some amazement, especially when I explained I was from 2023. This was considered sufficiently weird that old King Henry VIII himself demanded to see me. He particularly wanted an update on how his shiny new Church of England was turning out in 2023.
Sadly, the answers I gave did not please him at all.
“You mean to tell me,” the King growled, “that less than half of the population of this United Kingdom identify themselves as Christian?”
“Yes indeed, sire,” I replied. “We are what we call ‘multi-faith’, where we allow people of any faith – and those with none at all – to live side by side. So your Church has become smaller and smaller, to the point where it is only one of many Christian denominations.” I paused to let him catch his breath, then added, “In fact, I am told that less than two out of every hundred in the population regularly attend Church of England services.”
“But your King is still the Supreme Governor?” he whispered, his face paper-white. “Like me?”
“Oh yes,” I said. “Not only that, but even though your church has become such a small part of our lives, it still has a disproportionately high level of influence. In fact, twenty-six Church of England bishops still sit in the House of Lords, and are therefore able to affect laws for the whole population.”
This seemed to please him. “The views of the people are, of course, quite irrelevant. It is the views of the elite, like Kings, archbishops and bishops, that count. If they say the edicts of my church are to be followed, then that is quite right and proper.”
“Even when those edicts are increasingly at odds with the views of the people?” I asked. “And are expected to change at the speed of a glacier?”
“Of course. Such laws are the will of God, as defined in the bible.” He gave me a puzzled frown. “So if the bishops demand people follow them, then it is because they are morally correct. How is it up to the people to challenge this morality if it comes from God?”
“Because the morality of the bible is no longer relevant in 2023,” I answered. “It may have been relevant as a means of social control when it was written in the bronze age, but we do not accept God’s laws any more. Have you read the Old Testament?” I asked. “God is a homicidal maniac.”
The King shook his head. “That cannot be so. God IS love, however many millions he might have killed.” He nodded, as if convincing himself. “And the strength of faith is that it never changes. God’s law was right in the first century and it will still be right in your time.” He glared at me. “Or are you telling me that God did not create the earth, and with it Adam and Eve, in six days? Or that we are not all born in sin and need redemption?”
“Certainly,” I replied. “In my time we have very learned men and women who have proven beyond all doubt that the earth is billions of years old and that all life has evolved over millions of years. And what is more,” I added, “the concepts of sin and redemption are constructs of the bible. They have no actual, verifiable reality outside its pages. They might be useful to indoctrinate children and pursuade adults to follow Christian laws, but they have no relevance in the real world.”
“You lie!” the King shouted, his face now turning a deep red. “Have you no respect for the established faith?” Then he seemed to calm slightly. “And anyway, you say you have learned men ‘and women’. How is it that women are learned? My wife Katherine claims an education, and it renders her most annoying; she is forever arguing with me on subjects she little understands. In truth, women are only good for one thing: making sons.” As his face settled back into its more normal colour, he gave a rueful chuckle. “And they are not particularly good at that either.”
“Women deserve every respect,” I said levelly, trying to ignore his slur on Katherine Parr, “but faith does not. Faith is the belief in concepts that have no proof of truth or reality, so why should I respect faith? And I may say, sire,” I added, “especially not when faith is used to justify restrictive laws that affect other people. That may have worked in your time, but it is a sad anachronism in mine.”
“I see,” he said, considering me with a furrowed brow. “Then I must ask you, will my church survive?”
“I am not sure it will, sire,” I answered. “I seems that our younger people are increasingly finding it perfectly possible to live their lives without the need for any religion – Christianity or otherwise. So in time, I think it will wither away. In the meantime, the rationale for an established church in the United Kingdom, especially one that represents a dwindling proportion of the English people, is becoming harder and harder to justify. The case for disestablishment is now overwhelming, and I hope that over the next few years, the church and state become fully separate.”
“Never!” shouted Henry, as he started trying to heave his bulk up from his throne. I took this as my cue to leave before he decided to have my head lopped off – which I suspect was the only way he could answer the logic of my argument. That or tell me I am going to hell. Or maybe just pray for me.
I decided not to wait to find out, so I legged it back to the Morris Minor and fired her up. It was just in time too, as several guards suddenly appeared and started chasing me up the path. Thankfully I managed to reach 38mph just in time, no doubt leaving them standing bewildered in my scorch marks when I disappeared.
It was only after I got back to 2023 that I realised I should have stopped off for the winning Lottery numbers.
Ah well, maybe next time.
If you had the keys to the Morris Minor, where would you go? Or if you met with Henry as I did, what would you say to him? Let me know in the comments.
If you are also in favour of disestablishment, and for references for data in this article, please see the National Secular Society’s campaign here.
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If you like the idea of time-travelling to Tudor England - and facing dangers a lot greater than a chat with King Henry - then you’ll love The Witchfinder’s Well. It is available on Amazon as an eBook, in print and as an audiobook.
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