As one can talk about someone being apolitical or amoral, perhaps there needs to be a word that conveys a similar sense for someone who lacks any awareness of the concept of respect. A-respectful? It doesn’t really have the strength necessary to express what is meant.
Listening to a school teacher telling students on what behaviour was appropriate and what was definitely inappropriate when attending a remembrance ceremony, it seemed odd that such advice seemed necessary. Didn’t they know that what was expected was simply good manners?
Perhaps it is that the English aren’t religious, so don’t know what is expected at a formal occasion. But the French aren’t religious, and yet they seem to have an innate sense of appropriate behaviour, an innate sense of what is respectful.
Perhaps the problem lies in the failure in England to develop an appropriate culture. France has a strong tradition of secular ceremonies. Watching occasions at the Pantheon, there is a sense of the profound, but also an awareness that there is no religious content. It is very different from England where no such occasion would be contemplated without a bishop or some other cleric being thought necessary to say some words.
The Church of England claims the rights and privileges of being the Established Church, but is unable to fulfil its responsibilities to equip people with a sense of how to respond to moments of solemnity and profundity.
Reading lines from Laurie Lee’s book “Cider with Rosie,” there is an awareness of how far England has shifted from the times of the men who lie in graves on the Western Front.
“But in the packed congregation solemnity ruled. There was power, lamentation, full-throated singing, heavy prayers, and public repentance. No one in the village stayed away without reason, and no one yet wished to do so. We had come to the church because it was Sunday, just as we washed our clothes on Monday.”
In the cities the church had long since ceased to be part of weekly life, but across rural England there was still an awareness of what behaviour was appropriate in which context.
Strangely, while the world around it has changed beyond recognition, the church has continued to behave as though the days of Laurie Lee were still with us. As long as the notion of an Established Church continues, there were will not be space for the development of a secular culture in which respect is a norm. If the bishops can not fulfil the role they claim for themselves in setting the tone for the nation, they should stand aside and allow a secular civic culture to develop.