The Queen gives a shoutout to atheists

April 6, 2020 • 11:45 am

I gather that Queen Elizabeth doesn’t give many televised addresses apart from her Christmas message, but made an exception for this pandemic. What’s also unusual in this one (the rest is pretty predictable) is that she gives a shout-out to nonbelievers, who are, after all, a sizable segment of the UK population.

I find the Christmas messages deadly boring, but this one’s not bad, and only 4½ minutes long. It’s what the nation wants from its Queen at this point—resembling a wartime “buck up” and pat on the back to Britons. It includes a shoutout to healthcare workers, a plea for residents to stay at home, and a call for her people to stand together. Her phrase, “those who come after us will say the Britons of this generation were as strong as any”, reminds me of Churchill’s 1940 speech “This was their finest hour“, referring to how Britons in centuries to come will refer to their predecessors during World War II.

And, at 2:48, she lumps believers with nonbelievers when referring to people coming together in this time of crisis. Her words: “Although self-isolating may at times be hard, many people of all faiths, and of none, are discovering that it presents an opportunity to slow down, pause and reflect in prayer or meditation.” (Screenshot below).

That phrase “and of none” must have required deliberation. I don’t know if she writes her own speeches (she must have help), but someone decided that it’s time to include the atheists, too. After all, they’re part of everyone “pulling together.”

Finally, she recalls her broadcast with her sister in 1940 during the war, speaking to and reassuring the children of Britain.  She ends with reassurance that the nation will once again resume normalcy after this is over. It is a speech Churchill could have made—with more eloquence, of course—during World War II. All in all, not too shabby.

A screenshot:

h/t: Peter

123 thoughts on “The Queen gives a shoutout to atheists

  1. So, I do not support the royal family because I believe the idea of a hereditary monarchy in the 21st century is medieval. And I resent working to support them. I didn’t watch her address. But, I LIKE that she recognised us 👍🏽

    1. I do not really like the idea of a hereditary monarchy either, but one has to admit that in practice the majority of them are among the most democratic countries in the world.
      Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Japan, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Spain, the UK, and even some that are less so, are generally better than their neigbours: Thailand, Buthan, Cambodia, Jordan and maybe even Morocco. I wonder if countries like Kuwait and Lesotho would really qualify as constitutional monarchies.
      Maybe there is something to be said in favour?

      1. I don’t like the idea of a monarchy either, but I remain convinced that the form it currently takes works a lot better than the US. The Queen is a figurehead, and has absolutely no real power whatsoever. A REAL constitutional monarchy (not Kuwait and Lesotho!) appears to be the most democratic form of government the planet currently has. We will eventually find a better form without royalty, but until we do I don’t want to get rid them.

        I understand people not wanting to work to support the royal family too. But the civil list is so small these days, I suspect they are worth more than what they cost in income from tourism. (And it was this queen who agreed to the slashing of the civil list to just a small number of people.)

    2. A hereditary *ruler* is bad, but a hereditary civic-figurehead and charity-promoter role is not so bad.

      She can make an a-political speech at a time like this that no-one in the US could.

    3. Well, at least she is a non-partisan head of state, a unifier in a time of partisan division. The Brits don’t have to cope with their head of state being someone that they dislike/hate, unlike how American conservatives have to do with Obama and American liberals with Trump.

      Perhaps a non-partisan ceremonial presidency is worth considering.

    1. Friend in the UK here…

      I’m very cynical about speeches like this as a rule even though I don’t support doing away with the monarchy. However, on this occasion, I was oddly uplifted by it.

      Maybe it was hearing it from somebody who you know definitely hasn’t got a political agenda.

  2. Yet another reason to be proud of my homeland. I’m sure Trump wouldn’t ever include “none” in any of his so-called speeches. Even Obama probably didn’t. (WEIT readers will quickly correct me if I guessed wrong on this one.)

    1. Obama did, as I recall, acknowledge us non-believers. I’d need to go prowling the webs to find evidence, though.

      1. Wow, I’m old enough to remember — since I was born before 2017 — when there was someone articulate and reflective behind the Resolute Desk.

        That distant past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

        1. Listening to the broadcast made me proud and a little teary. I’m very happy to be one of her subjects. And, I’ll add, happy to come from a land where a majority that votes for Brexit, or for Boris Johnson, or for the Tooth Fairy come to that, can get their way. They may be misguided and wrong – time will tell – but the dangers of denying democracy are greater than the dangers of allowing it.

      1. By birth, Boris is American.

        Regarding the broadcast, I commented yesterday that I found it surprisingly moving; and also that HM is just about the only person who would be able to connect with (probably) most people in my country. As to who wrote the speech, she might well have had a hand from her Private Secretary, but I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the words were her own. In the past she is said to have run drafts of speeches past Philip for his comments, but I don’t think he’s up to that any more.

        1. You have a lot to be proud of. Yours is still a remarkably civilized society; you have an extraordinary head of state who can draw on her direct experience in the greatest crisis in modern history; your political traditions–on both the left and the right, as well as in the center–are without equal. The more one knows about your country’s history and political culture, the more admirable one finds HM’s speech, which was pitch-perfect and subtle and moving in its historical resonance. Brava.

        2. “By birth Boris is American”

          He happens to have been born there, whilst his parents were working in New York, and held American citizenship as a result (until he renounced it in order to avoid the US IRS chasing him for taxes). However, he was very definitely born and brought up as part of the English establishment with an education that included Eton College and Balliol College Oxford. His subsequent career has been spent within the same strata of the establishment with jobs as a columnist at the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator (which he also edited) and politically within the Tory Party.

          His American-ness is technical (though I believe he sincerely admires the USA) but his Britishness is rather more dyed in the wool. I believe he counts people from a variety of different countries amongst his ancestors including Germany, Turkey, Russia and America.

        3. I think it’s a little unfair to blame the US for Bojo, merely by geographical accident. (And I’m not a fan of Bojo nor, frequently, the US).

          I suppose I’d have to counter that Churchill had American ancestry too.



    2. I agree on the pride (and homeland). Leadership from a head of state. After so many years of dedicated service she continues to avoid being a polarizing figure. What a concept.

      She didn’t even mention her facebook ratings.

      1. “She didn’t even mention her facebook ratings.”

        She didn’t even LIE about her facebook ratings – FIFY

  3. Where are all the frivolous computer graphics? The fatuous background music? The breathless, histrionic bloviation? For shame!

    I should hope to cognitively comport myself half as well in my 94th year.

  4. I kept waiting for our War President to give us some version of Mister Churchill’s “blood, toil, tears, and sweat” speech in the early days of the pandemic.

    Reckon that sort of message just ain’t to be found in the Donald’s repertoire.

      1. If I may:

        The U.S. Secretary of the Navy had to go out of his way to fly to Guam to go aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt and “bless” sailors, to my ear significantly channeling Trump with his dulcet, somewhat profane Trumpian tones over the 1MC (ship’s general public address system).

        ” . . . one crew member described [Mobly’s comments] as “whiny, upset, irritated, condescending.”

        Hope to eventually see the transcript. Perhaps some crew members took notes or recorded it.

  5. Phlogistonists, and those who don’t use phlogiston
    Golfers, and those who don’t.
    Those with diamonds the size of a refrigerator in their backyards, and those without
    The best of times, the worst of times.

    I think the point of the address is that despite atheism, religion remains important, because of atheism.

    1. Error : I meant the point *of using “none”* in the address, not the entire address. That’s entirely another matter.

  6. Nice but I think that’s pretty standard for non-backwards countries though. I don’t think anyone will notice except for the sheethole countries.

    1. Yes, they could be “nones”. But a lot of those of “no faith” are atheists, and the queen just said “those of no faith” so she included atheists.
      I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make.

    2. I wouldn’t say that petulant

      Pedantic, maybe.

      Perhaps what is meant is it is possible to have no need for an identity such as “atheist”. For instance, I bet you are also not an aphlogistonist, but still reject phlogiston.

      That is, “atheism” is a word that shouldn’t need to exist.

      1. At the time when phlogiston was “mainstream” and some people were dissenting from that view, “aphlogistonist” might have been a useful term.

        “Atheism” is necessary because, historically, the norm is that people believe in God (or gods). We can hope that, at some point, “atheist” becomes about as common as “aleprechaunist” simply because nobody believes in God.

        1. I understand that

          I put some comments below on this (meaning sparring with GBJames, I honestly found it helpful : my copy of a dictionary contains only two words with a leading “a—“ to denote an absence of some thing – atheist (and atheism of course). I surmise this is due to some academic activity – could it be Sophisticated Theologians(TM)? – in which the objective was to discuss gods. The thought must have occurred in this activity the need to describe an “infidel” in a polite way – might it be a patronizing way? – and then the word “atheism” was coined.

          I’d like to look into that more. But my surmise is that “atheism” and “atheist” are words that serve theism as promulgated by Sophisticated Theologians(TM). The queen said “of none”, so, didn’t use the words. But imagine if she did – let alone say “infidels”.

      2. Just managed now to look at a Google Ngram of these words – I’ve tried this before and can’t remember- so….:

        Might try another way…

      1. “How, exactly, is someone with no faith (in gods, I assume we’re talking) not an atheist?”

        I think the only way would be in exactly the way that someone who rejects phlogiston is not an aphlogistonist – that is, they do not understand the necessity to identify around how there isn’t t any phlogiston, even though they could if they wanted, and people who did would call them an aphlogistonist.

        Not my personal approach, but I can understand it.

        1. That doesn’t make much sense. We’re all aphlogistonists whether we are willing to admit it or not.

          1. Yes


            I can understand it being a lack of interest in the notion of identifying with things. … hmmm… like the various “phobias” perhaps? Is it really necessary to notate one’s status as not exhibiting arachnophobia, etc.? Not the same, but it illustrates the tedium of it.

          2. Except – is “aphlogistonist” a sensible label/identity? Is “aphlogistonist” a conventional identity for people?

            1. The problem is apparent in the use of the term asocial, which is understood as “antisocial,” something negative. We say “asocial behavior.” But your cat is quite definitely an atheist, and not an anti-theist.

            2. In a world where there are no phlogistonists, the “a-” version of the word has little utility. But it is none-the-less accurate.

              In a world where there are theocrats running our government, a word that specifies “not one” has great value, even if we wish there was no need for it.

              1. Accurate yes

                But I asked – as suggested by the language in your comment – if it is “sensible”.

                I argue it is as sensible as labeling people as afairyist, a homeopathist, or aflatearthist.

              2. How is it not sensible to have a word that distinguishes some 10-20% (or whatever it might be) of the population on the basis of the important and socially significant feature?

              3. The number is 100%.

                Everyone is an atheist – some just go one god further.

                So then – in principle :

                What’s the point of using the words atheist or atheism? Perhaps in our time, it is needed – just like physics conferences might have had phlogistonists and aphlogistonists before Michelson and Morley’s results.

              4. That “just one more” line is a clever rhetorical device but doesn’t really carry a lot of weight. The elephant in the room is that “one more”. When someone believes in one (or more) of these imaginary beings, one is involved in a style of thinking that is significant. Not engaging in that style of thinking is a behavior that is worthy of a label.

              5. It is a rhetorical device. It also points out what is true. So I argue it has significant weight.

                “ (…) a style of thinking that is significant. Not engaging in that style of thinking is a behavior that is worthy of a label”

                I am pointing out the problem of having to enumerate everything which we don’t “engage” in. I argue it is 1. not sensible, and 2. makes us defined by potential nonsense like flat earth or vaccines poisoning people, etc.

              6. “Not engaging in that style of thinking is a behavior that is worthy of a label.”

                OK then : “naturalist”

              7. It is a completely made-up “problem”. It doesn’t exist. We don’t need all those correct-but-useless labels because, well they are useless. “Atheist” is not useless. It has great value which is why it is common.

                The purpose of language is measured in utility. “Aphlogestronist” has near-zero utility, and equivalent value. “Atheist” says a great deal. It has value. And so we use it.

              8. Then besides atheist, atheism, which words exist in truly utilitarian status that work like “atheist” or “atheism”? This is an honest question- I have to think of some since I’m 2020, “aphlogistonist” is no longer necessary, if it ever was. Not being a theocrat would be a different word – atheocrat, I think – that would be beyond the definition of atheism and atheist.

              9. I just checked a dictionary and “atheism” and “atheist” are the only words in that location. I noticed that synonyms include “infidel”.

                It is peculiar then, there are some things which might be described with an “a—“, yet, none are used, seemingly ever. I hypothesize that “atheism” arose as a filler term when “theism” was coined. If so, “atheism” would exist only for the sake of “theism” – and instead of the perjorative “infidel”, perhaps to make academic discussion polite. Indeed, holy texts never use the words “theism” or “atheism”.

              10. I could have put scare quotes but I thought I didn’t need to. And I didn’t have the patience to write out exact titles – I’m confused, what difference does it make?

              11. The phrase suggests a religious point of view but leaves it unclear where the speaker “is coming from” and what is considered holy.

                In any case, “theism” is a word that was coined in the 17th Century and could obviously not appear in books that were written earlier. There are, however, “holy books” which came to be after that time and it is entirely possible that “theism/atheism” appear in them. I’ve no idea and don’t care enough to search, but Scientology “holy books” or The Urantia Book would be good places to begin the search.

              12. Well then I’ll write out what I meant by the nebulous term holy books : The Bible
                The Koran
                Maybe The Hadith
                The Torah
                Maybe others, not sure it’s necessary for my point…

              13. I see (from a bit of googling) that the word “atheism” in it’s French version “athéisme”, is found in the 16th Century. So none of us should be surprised that it doesn’t appear in the books you list.

              14. I didn’t say I Orchestra anyone should be surprised

                I pointed to it as support for the idea that the words under discussion were coined late in history, and to support my surmise that “atheism” is a word invented by apologists to serve religion- not the other way around.

              15. OK. The main conversation is whether the word has value or not. Those who argue “not” (using the “there should be no reason for such a word) are, in my view, mistaken. That was/is my point. Beyond that, etymology is interesting but doesn’t really address the issue.

              16. “The main conversation is whether the word has value or not. ”

                The queen did not use either the word atheist or atheism, nor infidel. Perhaps that was in the interest of the prose of the piece.

                But if any of those words were so significantly useful one might expect the queen to have used it.

                The meanings of words matter for their utility. I argue that “atheism” is a word that serves to illustrate religion, and that it finds use to Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris (i think it is useful) is not to say anything about why it has to be that way.

                A plunger is useful but is it delightful to use?

              17. Proofread : I think it is useful when Dawkins, Harris, and Prof. Coyne (Paws Be Upon Him) ) use it and I read it.

              18. “But if any of those words were so significantly useful one might expect the queen to have used it”

                Here’s a non-sequitur if one ever existed. Or perhaps only words used by a queen in a speech are worth using?

              19. How is that a non-sequitur?

                This post is about the queen acknowledging those of no faith. GBJames argues – and I agree – the words “atheist” and “atheism” are useful. “Infidel” is a synonym for “atheist”. When evaluating how useful words are, a reasonable place to look is in written pieces. This post is about the queen’s speech, in which she chose not to use “atheism” or “atheist”. They are observations.

            3. In a world where there are no phlogistonists, the “a-” version of the word has little utility. But it is none-the-less accurate.

              In a world where there are theocrats running our government, a word that specifies “not one” has great value, even if we wish there was no need for it.

      2. “People of faith” is generally understood to mean those who subscribe to a specific religion–Christianity, Buddhism, etc. Jerry’s point–rightly–is that not all people of no faith (which includes myself) are atheists (which doesn’t include myself), but all atheists are people of no faith. So my post was pointless.

        1. You can repeat that people without religious faith can be non-atheists, but that doesn’t cause the statement to make sense. You have no faith (don’t believe in gods)? Then you are an atheist, even if you don’t like the word.

          1. Don’t we recognise the difference between an atheist and an agnostic any more?
            And what of Buddhists? Theirs is an a-theistic faith in literal terms. I think mirandaga has a point.

            1. Atheist: a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods

              The distinction between atheist and agnostic is of little use or meaning in this discussion.

              Gary specifically included Buddhism in the collection of faiths he didn’t have. He explicitly stated that he was a person of no faith. I take him at his word on that.

              He’s an atheist who doesn’t want to admit to the word. I’m guessing because he doesn’t want to be called “shrill” or something. But facts are facts and Gary is by definition an atheist.

            2. I don’t think GBJames meant to say anything about “agnostic” or Buddhists. He’s simply saying that if you don’t believe in gods then you are an atheist because that’s what the word means. I can’t imagine a convincing argument to the contrary.

              It seems to me that if there is miscommunication between GBJames and mirandaga it’s about the term “those of no faith.” GBJames may be misinterpreting what mirandaga means by that. For example, I hear this used pretty frequently to mean “I don’t hold to any organized religion but I believe in God.” It’s commonly used by believers that want to make a point of not being a member of any particular sect or branch of any established religion, but they still believe in a God.

              But if I’m wrong, if by “no faith” mirandaga does mean that he doesn’t believe in the existence of God, or any god(s), then GBJames is right, he’s an atheist. Whether he wants to self identify as one or not.

              1. I think Gary was clear: “…people of no faith (which includes myself)…”

                @Gary, if you believe in some god or other, please correct me.

                (I ask, fearing an ambiguous “what is belief?” response. 😉 )

              2. “Gary, if you believe in some god or other, please correct me.”

                Actually, I like the word “atheist” better than “religionist,” but in point of fact I ain’t either.

                But to reply to the above question, yes, I believe in God (now there’s a word I don’t like) but I don’t subscribe to any system of faith and worship. When the Queen said “people of all faiths,” I took the plural “faiths” to mean that she was referring to the various and particular systems of worship that make up what is commonly referred to as the “religions of the world.” You’re using “faith” to mean any personal belief in God—a valid use in some contexts, perhaps, but not, I think, this one.

                Always a pleasure to hear from you, GB.

              3. OK. Thanks for clarifying, Gary. You are indeed not an atheist. You are, however a person of faith, or to use the modern label, an idiosyncratic “religionist”. You believe in something for which there is not the least evidence. That’s faith, bro.

              4. “Perhaps we’ve been through this before, but what exactly is the evidence that makes you believe in god? And what kind of god is it?”

                We have indeed been through this before. I’ve tried to make the case that the beauty of the universe is itself evidence of what I reluctantly refer to as “god.” I can readily accept that the objective complexity of the universe could evolve without an intelligent designer, but not that the subjective beauty of the universe could come into existence absent a creative spirit. Not trying to persuade, just clarify.

    3. To get to the bottom of this we would have to ask the Queen what she meant. Queens like the word petulant so if she reads the blog maybe she will answer.

  7. With her last couple lines, I thought the Queen was going to breakout into this Vera Lynn WWII tune. Whether it would be accompanied by the closing credits for Strangelove, I did not know.

    1. I bow to no one in my admiration for Dr. Strangelove and the power of that final sequence. But: notice the ‘appropriation’ of a British wartime song to highlight US stupidity, the doctrine of MAD.

      A better appreciation of what Vera Lynn (the Forces Sweetheart) meant to my parent’s generation is this video, hope in a dark time when many young men will never see their loved ones again, a time of existenial threat for Britain, which the USA has never, ever experienced:

      1. I think Stanley’s use of Ms. Lynn’s song at the end of Strangelove would fall under the rubric “irony.”

        Plus, it seems an apt parting tune for the select few heading into the mineshafts to wait out the half-life of radioactive fallout.

        1. “I think Stanley’s use of Ms. Lynn’s song at the end of Strangelove would fall under the rubric “irony.””

          I’m not entirely sure you needed to explain that to me!

          My point and ilustration, rather, was to show why ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and her many other wartime songs had such (legitimate) power in the UK.

          The point of existential threat is important here, of which the USA has suffered none. The Viet Nam war produced some wonderful songs, like Country Joe:

          But the treat there was to VN not the USA.

          Where are the ‘ironic’ songs, or video versions, about Pearl Harbour (whtever the intelligence failures the Japanese were known to have a history of sneak attacks); or 9/11?

          Too soon?

          1. Yes, we Yanks haven’t faced that sort of existential threat (from foreigners, anyway) since you blokes re-invaded our shores and set our Capitol ablaze back in 1814.

            1. “From foreigners”… yeah not since 1814. But the “existential threat” thing is what’s critical here and I’d have to say that 1861-65 qualify well enough.

              We just didn’t have the recording devices to capture the Vera Lynns of the day for posterity.

              1. Hey, GBJ, you cheeseheads gonna hold an election tomorrow, or what?

                And if you do, you gonna manage to run that reactionary hack Dan Kelly offa the Wisconsin Supreme Court?

          2. ” . . . ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and her many other wartime songs had such (legitimate) power in the UK.”

            I contemplate the prospect of some U.S. pop celebrity singer “appropriating” this song in this season of the coronavirus.

  8. The best thing I see in this air time for those “of none” is evidence for the corrosion of religion, and especially highlighting it’s grip on seats of power – let alone inherited power.

    1. Thank you for that.

      The astonishing thing about the Queen is that she has ‘ruled’ for longer than about 10% of current Britons have been alive, or at least achieved adulthood.

      The further astonishing thing is that in that time she has never, I think, put a foot wrong (well, maybe other than having some deadbeat, etc, kids).

      That is why she is so revered. It won’t be passed on.

  9. I’m British, and I’m not a monarchist by any stretch of the imagination, but I watched the Queen’s broadcast last night and I felt that it was spot on. The tone and the content, both verbal and graphic, were exactly what was needed. She fulfilled her role as head of state, giving reassurance and hope, far better than Boris Johnson or Donald Tr*mp.

    And I was pleased that she included non-believers. That’s more significant than you might think, given that she has a deep religious faith herself.

    Also, I believe that she writes her own speeches without assistance.

  10. As a Brit, I couldn’t personally care less about what Liz says (I’ve never watched her annual Christmas address, as I mentioned in a slightly off-topic comment on this site yesterday). Nevertheless, I was glad to notice her inclusion of the phrase “and none”. And if those “subjects” of HMQ who do pay attention to what she says follow the social distancing rules more closely or take some comfort from her words then I suppose that has to be a good thing.

  11. One other thing she did in the speech which was useful was explicitly including non-UK peoples

    “Across the Commonwealth and around the world, we have seen heart-warming stories of people coming together to help others, be it through delivering food parcels and medicines, checking on neighbours, or converting businesses to help the relief effort. … This time we join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavour, using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal. We will succeed – and that success will belong to every one of us.”

    Note also the mention of the necessity of science.

    1. As contrasted with the bloviating leader of another “commonwealth,” that of Kentucky.

      The first two eye-rolling paras. of the interview transcript:

      “And let me start the way I start every time I talk to Kentuckians at every day at 5:00. And that’s saying that we will get through this, and we will get through it together.

      Battling this coronavirus is our patriotic duty as Kentuckians and as Americans. And I could not be prouder of how Kentuckians have banded together to address this coronavirus.”

      It seems not so much “a test of our humanity” as it is a test of viewers’ patience and of how many times he can stroke the collective ego of his constituents by repeatedly uttering “Kentucky” and “Kentuckians”

      Sic semper cum U.S. state governors.

  12. I admit that I didn’t hear or see the Queen’s speech in it’s entirety, but I think maybe those words, “many people of all faiths, and of none”, could be significant. Has any other person in a national leadership position said something similar?

  13. I find the Christmas messages deadly boring

    I admire your commitment. I don’t think I’ve watched the Queen’s Christmas message more than a handful of times in my entire life and I’m British and not a republican.

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