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Opinion: Queen Elizabeth II — a uniting force in the age of division

Queen Elizabeth II lived a life of prayer, scripture study and religious devotion, which allowed her to stand as a constant reminder of the best virtues of her nation

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Mourners are shown gathering outside the British Embassy in Washington, following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Mourners gather outside of the British Embassy in Washington following the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022. Elizabeth, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch and a rock of stability across much of a turbulent century, died Thursday after 70 years on the throne. She was 96.

Patrick Semansky, Associated Press

If anyone made a legitimate case for monarchy in the 21st century, it was Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, who died this week at age 96.

She stood above the messy and often vulgar world of modern politics as a steady reminder of the best virtues of her nation and its people. She was a constant force for dignity, virtue and, above all else, devotion.

The late queen was beloved by Britons and others worldwide because of her genuineness — a trait that cannot be faked. She was deeply devoted and committed to public service. She prayed regularly, attended church weekly and read scripture daily, the Religion News Service said.

Her regular Christmas speeches to the nation were evidence of the depth of her belief.

“I know just how much I rely on my faith to guide me through the good times and the bad,” she said in 2002, according to The Washington Post. “Each day is a new beginning. I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God. … I draw strength from the message of hope in the Christian gospel.”

Religious devotion is mankind’s ultimate tempering influence — the great check on ego and hubris; the reminder of a higher authority. The life of a monarch, born into a condition of celebrity, with fawning servants and an unquestioned right to privilege, might naturally breed a spirit of entitlement and excess. For Elizabeth, religious devotion wouldn’t allow it.

“For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life,” she said in 2000. Indeed, that sense of accountability ought to temper excesses in all true believers. 

She was an unquestioned champion of worldwide religious freedom. Religion News quoted her as saying Anglicanism “has a duty to protect the free practice of all other faiths in this country.”

That clear voice may be what an increasingly secularized world misses most with her passing. It is up to her admirers and believers everywhere to pick up the torch.   

It’s easy to dismiss monarchies in an age when most First World countries are republics and where the real divisions between good and evil, prosperity and oppression are rooted in the struggle between democracies and authoritarian dictatorships. 

One may forget that, as Wikipedia reminds us, 11 European nations and Great Britain remain monarchies, divided into seven kingdoms, three principalities, a duchy and a theocratic elective monarchy in Vatican City.

Most are constitutional monarchies with some form of republican representation. Most royals are limited as to authority and power. They hold a symbolic role, reminding their subjects of culture, heritage and national values.

Queen Elizabeth II went beyond that, however.

As Serge Schmemann, of The New York Times, wrote in 2014, “Republican heads of state, whether politically powerful such as those in the United States or France, or ceremonial like Germany’s, all wrap themselves to some degree in tradition and pomp. But they cannot rise above politics the way monarchs can.”

Queen Elizabeth II not only rose above it, she did so with such grandeur that she became an eloquent uniting force in an age of division. She took Britain’s monarchy from mere symbol to a national necessity. For that, she should be forever remembered and honored.