Secular Remembrance – the unifying power of silence

Across Scotland and the UK on Monday 11 November people marked their respectful remembrance for the dead of war by participating in two minutes silence. I happened, by chance, to experience it in Heathrow Terminal 5 where it was concluded by ‘The Last Post’. The ‘Great Silence’, introduced at the suggestion of King George V on 11 November 1919, the first anniversary of the Armistice of 1918, is a secular and powerful form of remembrance that does not involve priests or prayers.
The Stone of Remembrance which is to be found in the larger Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemeteries is also to be found in front of Edinburgh City Chambers and as part of the war memorial in front of Glasgow City Chambers. It has no obvious religious inscription upon it although ‘Their name liveth for evermore’ is taken from the apocrypha – scriptures not approved to be part of the bible.
By design and decision of the UK cabinet in 1919 the London Cenotaph has no cross upon it because the over one million Empire dead of the First World War came from such a wide diversity of religions and beliefs. 
The saying of prayers at ceremonial at these monuments by a representative of any one religion goes against the intention and spirit of these memorials which are meant to be inclusive of all. The silence, however, is inclusive of all, and participatory. The decision of the Northern Ireland Legislature to begin its proceedings with silence rather than prayer is a clear demonstration of the power of silence to promote unity among people divided by religion and belief.  
Letter in the Scotsman 13 November 2013

About Norman Bonney

Researcher and writer on religion and the state

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