Daniel French

The Church has let men like Prince Harry down

The King has allegedly asked the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to mediate in the current royal drama with a view to repairing things before the Coronation. Reading extracts of Prince Harry’s ‘Spare’ I can’t but help think that though this is intervention is to be welcomed there is a sense in which Harry is typical of a lot of modern men who have been let down by the one spiritual organisation that is meant to guide them over the pitfalls and perils of this mortal coil. 

Harry’s complaint is that he is ‘spare heir’ and therefore a marginalised victim of the system, or what the royals dub ‘the Firm’. This is a difficult premise to swallow in the light of a life of opulent privilege. Anyone who takes up the daily recitation of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer will soon be confronted with a different of ‘spare’ that might as well come from another planet because it is so in-modern. “Spare thou them, O God, who confess their faults, restore thou them that are penitent.” If only Harry had been shown how to orientate his life on this concept of ‘spare’ things might have turned out differently. 

Tragically Harry’s nuggets in  ‘Spare’ betray an arid post-faith intellectual landscape where the classic virtues are absent. Humility, forgiveness, duty, sacrifice are sidelined whereas woke truisms and Californians therapy gobbledigook are at the fore. Did no one at Eton or in his confirmation classes drill in the Mosaic Ten commandments hanging up in many school chapels, least of all “Honour thy father and mother?” (Exodus 20.12) As he plotted with his ghost writer to disclose every petty family squabble did he not stop to weigh up the terrible dishonour it would bring to his father, the now present king? Perhaps those charged with his spiritual upbringing gave up too early? All indications from ‘Spare’ is that the teenage happy-go-lucky cheeky-chappy Harry was early on inhaling the wrong incense and needed a more bespoke approach to his religious instruction. As it is he now declares himself predictably as “spiritual but not religious.” Yawn! 

To borrow from the gospel of Mark, for what shall it profit a man, if he shall gaineth the biggest deals with Netflix, Spotify and Random House, and lose his own soul? It’s easy to dismiss religion and then tune out the meatier questions because they do not suit or harmonize with the confectionary lite buffet that presents itself as DIY “spirituality”.  What do I know anyway, I’m just a vicar? To Christ’s haunting question “What can he give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8.37) Harry’s industrious accountants have “done the maths” and monetized this to a balance sheet of around a quarter of a billion pounds, give or take.

 If only Harry had embraced the manly faith of his late grandmother, Her Majesty the Queen, then he wouldn’t be sinking in a quagmire of seances, quack therapists,  and crystal healers. They saw you coming, Harry!  And, to add comedy to tragedy he is stupendously oblivious  to the singular truth that is apparent to everyone else on the planet, ie, that this is not going to end well for him. The ton of cash from the books and TV series will not save his soul from disintegration. It will add to the mental inferno. He  now stands at the event horizon of an implosion, a galactic supernova which is the all consuming black hole of his fragile ego. And yet who cannot forget that when his grandmother deployed ‘spare’ it was always in the context of the misfortune of others. “Let us this Christmas spare a thought for those in the world who are less fortunate than us.” Spare indeed.

I feel sorry for Harry because he is a victim. He is a victim not of any antics at Buckingham Palace but a victim of himself and his ego.  He is his own worst oppressor. The pathetic thing is that we the plebs are all rather enjoying it. Hands up, I confess this has brightened things up from the rainy normal January blues along with the prospect of paying half my stipend on an exorbitant heating bill. That’s why Spare is flying off the shelves. It’s an Easterenderseque tittle-tattle of royal soap opera that makes our bored and wayward souls horny. 

Could the Church have helped to prevent this? My worry is that the current Anglican iteration is so panicked about appealing to wokism that Harry probably wouldn’t have been able to distinguish it from his wife’s current expensive appetite for tree hugging West Coast workshops. “Commandments? Oh, don’t concern yourself too much, they are merely ‘suggestions’ Your Highness for lifestyle enhancements. ” Here is a man displaying a profound lack of Christian catechesis. He thinks he can have God on his own terms. 

Maybe as Anglicans we should take the blame, as a religion we have failed him? Biblical fluency would have slammed the brakes on this kind of misadventure years ago. Regular and proper prayer would have constructed a spiritual fortress with a moat and a high vantage point that laughs off the psychological hobgoblins and foul fiends.  In Spare Harry talks of an RE teacher at Eton walloping him with a heavy Bible. Clearly not hard enough.

Harry is typical of a lost generation of men starved of meaning and direction. He and those on the other end of the spectrum who drool over the ridiculous Andrew Tate, are like pelicans wandering a neon wilderness tapping at leftovers and carcasses. Whereas Harry has an army of sycophants and celebs to tell him what he wants to hear, these men and boys scuttle around the cyberspace of Tik-Tok, Instagram and Youtube to collect morsels of ready made prejudices. Some of the more intellectually inquiring find solace in New Atheism, but increasingly the gleeful nihilism of Dawkins adds up to little succor these days. 

Most youngish men dropping into their Anglican parish church will soon realise that they are misfits in a club that struggles to connect with their concerns or knows what to do with them. Politically correct sermons are also a big turn off. The average vicar it seems has yet to learn from the Jordan Peterson rockstar phenomenon which points to younger generations (men and women) lining up in their thousands for a psychologically full-on wrestling of a demanding meaning to life. This is why he packs auditoriums whereas many of us have half empty churches. Key to this is inverting the victimhood narrative and saying instead “Get your house in order and be a positive force in the world, by the grace of God, you can do it.” 

Tragically the Anglican existential need to cosy up to the culture zeitgeist can put it on the wrong side of history, repeatedly. Just over a hundred years ago vicars and bishops casually deployed eye watering jingoistic rhetoric from their pulpits to rally this same constituency of young men to the trenches. The most infamous being the manipulative monster that was Arthur Winnington-Ingram, the bishop of London. He gleefully toured the country and packed churches where he signed up sixteen year olds to the Front. His crazed sermons including rants of  “Kill the Hun!” Thank God we can’t imagine Sarah Mullaly or Justin Welby doing this. But, it does at least highlight there was a period in history where young men and princes  like Harry Windsor were seen as the saviours of our civilisation even if the salvific work they were asked to shoulder was in reality a big con, an industrial scale slaughterhouse.

Having dipped my toe in the media world I now find myself at the receiving end of a mailbag of letters and emails mostly from Millennials, men (but not exclusively) around Harry’s age and lower who have found Christianity afresh. For various reasons lockdown prompted a considerable number to reevaluate the old faith. Typically they are rebels and misfits who find that the best way to dissent from the woke globalist revolution is to grasp Christianity. The gospel is for them the new anti-globalist movement.  I see in them a hunger for demanding gospel which is both generous and orthodox, intellectual and spiritual stretching. They do not want to be fobbed off with social justice platitudes and are prepared to suffer well for their faith, even job loss is necessary. This is an energized constituency that for some reason the Church is apathetic to. Please, please bishops wake up! 

So, what urgent spiritual advice could be given to the Duke of Sussex? Clergy, if the prince happens to trip into your confessional let’s not pander with the gushing words of  “there, there!”  He requires a direct approach. This is because he is like the earnest rich young man in the gospels who is strangulated by his possessions, privilege, and status and ends up walking away from Christ? Doesn’t he see that raking in millions and millions while surrounding himself with the Hollywood luvvies is the proverbial camel that he will never never never squeeze through the eye of the needle? No amount of Elizabeth Arden cream can help either. He needs to give it all up for a radically simpler quieter life.

Is any of this feasible for a royal like Harry let alone all those lost men the churches fail to inspire? Harry doesn’t need to go back to Edward the Confessor to find a role model. He could look no further than his quirky yet saintly great grandmother, the forthright Princess Alice of Battenberg, the Duke of Edinburgh’s mother. She had her troubles with mental health and ended up in and out of sanitariums. Opinion was divided over whether she was a mystic or a nut. Yet, unlike all the made up woke gongs that Harry and Meghan have received, Alice had a real award for her work in saving Jews from Nazis. Israel recognises and honours  her as a righteous gentile. She also sold everything and became an Orthodox nun. As a no nonsense woman, she would be the last person on the planet to ever describe herself as a “victim”. She rolled up her sleeves and got on with life doing endless good without fanfare or neediness. I suspect history will ‘spare’ her a bigger and more godly footnote than Harry Windsor unless he seriously and radically changes his ways.  And for bishops and archbishops maybe the lesson is that a church that preached and presented an Alice Battenberg Christianity, might not only reach out to guys like Harry but also find a remedy for its own seemingly terminal decline.                

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