Jeremy Corbyn appears to have demonstrated his respect last week on Battle of Britain day by choosing not to sing the UK national anthem. He has subsequently “repented” for appearance’s sake, but I think he should have stuck to his guns. It is a problem waiting to happen. If you are an atheist, or of uncertain allegiance, why on earth bother asking God to save our queen? If you are a devout Christian, you may suspect that our queen is already “saved” – and living a life of Christian example. You may though, be a devout Christian and still have some problems with the words “send her victorious” – words that when originally penned had an imperialist and militaristic overtone – never mind the subsequent verses that come perilously close to stating that God is on our side whatever happens. Better, in these cases, to remember the salutary words of Abraham Lincoln,
Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.
As much as I find the words of the UK national anthem slightly morally dubious and overly nationalist, it is at least sung to God, the creator and redeemer of our lives, and can serve as a prayer. The Welsh national anthem, which has greater musical strength and which I enjoy singing much more, is a prayer only to the nation. God does not get a look in. Its true home is not in the chapel but the mountains and fields……When I was younger and sillier and lived in Cape Town, I used to wind up white South Africans in church by gently playing on the piano the first phrase of Die Stem
, the pre-1994 South African National Anthem. It too does not mention God, but that was beside the point. I did it to tap into their reflexes. Invariably they would stand up, then wonder why they had. You could irritate them too by playing the first phrase of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika
, the old Xhosa hymn written by Enoch Sontonga in 1897, which became the unofficial, then the official, anthem for South Africa and a host of other countries in the region. If you do not know this song, nor the words, you should acquaint yourself
. They are a template for an anthem for any nation who wishes to stand in humility and dependence upon her creator and sustainer. For this reason alone, apart from any other musical or poetic consideration, I regard it is the world’s greatest national anthem.
Lord, bless Africa!
May her horn rise high up!
Hear our prayers:
Lord bless us,
Descend, O Spirit!
Descend, O Holy Spirit!
Lord bless us,