The "House of Windsor" should stop pretending it is as English as apple strudel

We've been agonising for some time about whether to have Percy baptised. It is difficult to subscribe to the old orthodoxies. On the other hand, if no one in future gets baptised, the church will die out. Do we really want Chartres Cathedral and the parish churches of England to become mere museums? And then there is the question of Percy himself. While I might feel shy about saying the creed, how can I know what is passing through his little head?

It is a relief to discover, then, that the Rev Professor Andrew Linzey of Oxford University has published a series of "Animal Rites". There is not, as it happens, a form of Baptism for Dogs. For that, one would have to turn to Firbank's immortal Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli. But there is a form of Swearing a Covenant with a Companion Animal. It contains the following versicles and responses.

V: Will you name this creature?

R: Percy.

V: Will you care for Percy as God's own creature?

R: I will with God's grace.

V: Will you be mindful of his Christ-like vulnerability?

R: I will be so mindful.

The rubric adds: "The human companion is then invited to touch/pat/stroke the animal as a sign of the covenant reaffirmed between them." (Was it von Hugel who said: "I kiss my son not because I love him, but in order to love him"? It is certainly a good rule when living with a neurotic dog.)

Such a ceremony would definitely help me to be more tolerant of the little fellow, a dog whose flatulence, halitosis and insatiable greed sometimes make him a difficult life-companion. I like "Christ-like vulnerability". I shall remember it when Percy howls in the middle of University Challenge for no obvious reason. Professor Linzey has done much to correct the absurd anthropocentric view of the world which has formed so much Christian theology.

The proofs of my new book, God's Funeral, have just arrived from the printers, in readiness for publication in June. So far, this book, of which I've read the first 90 pages, seems a work of quite astonishing freshness and brilliance. The subject of the book is the loss of faith in the 19th century. It takes its title from Thomas Hardy's haunting poem of the same name. The heroes of the book turn out to be William James, who wasn't religious but defended others' right to be so; and those Catholic modernists like the Abbe Loisy who got booted out of the church by the "fundamentalist" pope.

What the fundamentalists on both sides never grasped is that there never was a necessary conflict between religious experience and scientific truth. But even today you find Paul Johnson and Richard Dawkins going into battle and repeating to one another the old mantras with which Huxley baited Soapy Sam Wilberforce (or the other way round). Amazing how little one generation ever learns from another.

The Hoddle affair was deeply sad. It had nothing to do with football or religion. It was, rather, an indication of the power of the disabled lobby being vindictively used. I am not sure that Hoddle's views were entirely ridiculous. Remove the superstition about reincarnation and you are left with the notion that being disabled is unfortunate. This must be true. Hoddle's view that it is therefore a punishment is not one we need share. Although it is wrong, it is surely not as wrong as the modern pseudo-American idea that being blind or maimed or bald is a "challenge". From this idea springs the strident minority of disabled people who, rather than raging at fate for making them as they are, turn their fury on the rest of society. This army of wheelchair-bound Boadiceas treat any suggestion that they are not fit to take part in Winter Olympics, or the Royal Ballet, as if it were discrimination on the same level as racism.

Royalists must be hoping that the Duke of Cumberland will get back the 200 paintings that were confiscated by the communists. The case is being heard this week in Magdeburg. The difficulty for the duke, whose other title is Prince Ernst August of Hanover, is that his grandfather, who lost the paintings, is accused of being a Nazi.

In 1938 Martin Aufhauser was taken from Dachau in his prison clothes and forced to sign over his family bank in Munich to a new board, which included the then Prince Ernst of Hanover, grandfather of the present duke. Only the previous year, Prince Ernst had attended the coronation of his distant cousin, George VI. So did the Duke of Albany, also a German citizen, a royal cousin and a National Socialist. (Was he the only Old Etonian SS officer? Probably not.)

I once picked up a book called The Royal Family at War. I hoped it would tell us about these characters - instead it turned out to be the usual bilge about the Queen Mother looking the East End in the face. The royal family, which in Queen Victoria's reign spread all over Europe, magically shrank to four members with the outbreak of war.

The Kaiser's good joke - asking to see a production of The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg - was eloquent. The bogus "House of Windsor", by pretending to be as English as apple strudel, has fed some discreditable images to the British people. One thinks of George V's cowardly refusal to offer asylum to his cousin, Tsar Nicholas II, lest his presence in England led to a Bolshevik uprising over here.

If the royal family admitted that they were largely un-English, they would have provided a much more eloquent figurehead for a modern European Britain than the Passport to Pimlico-type fantasy peddled by George VI and his queen.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - Think, think and think again