Figures To Aspire To: How Religion and Monarchies Inspire Our Bad Behaviour

Role models are a key concept in the process of growing up in our society; we introduce them at an early age, and our children are regularly questioned on who theirs are, partly to see where they’ll be heading in life in a game of predictions, and also to see if their moral compass aligns well with their peers. Their options are vast; the entirety of celebrity culture provides figures for them to aspire to, as well as any academic or political figures, and even religious leaders. The type of figure chosen is often used to predict the future of whoever has chosen them; the child who adores Beyoncé will be a musician, the Beckham fan is going to be a famous footballer, the amateur biographer of Turing will be a stunning mathematician.

But beyond specific talents and careers, we also hold up some as being universal role models that should be considered by all, as they hold traits that are universal to all; good morals, success, or altruistic. These people are considered more unrealistic, or certainly harder to attain the standards of, than those discussed earlier, as they are seen as just too perfect. It stands to reason therefore that we can go a bit further, and eventually have a role model figure who is impossible to attain the status of, and we can find these quite easily: in a monarchy and in religion.

In the case of religion, a role model is somehow blessed by a deity or in some cases is the deity themselves. If this is the case, they are exemplary amongst humanity; they must be emulated, but their status is also unattainable. After all, who can reasonably expect to be blessed by the divine as part of their life plan?

For monarchies, we can see this again in the idea of “divine right to rule”, the idea that a monarch is chosen by a deity and thus opposing them is essentially heresy, but we can also note the idea that monarchy is a good thing for the people as a monarch is a role model. It is a perfect person ideally suited to rule, and thus people should strive to be like their monarch who sets the standard for them. This is also impossible to attain, at least in a modern setting, as you can’t become royal, you are born it.

Two major pillars of society, with varying degrees on which is stronger depending on where you are, thus rest on striving to be something that cannot be attained. But with this in mind, why should we expect people to act like something they know they cannot be? The reality is they do not. When a figure is established by society to be perfect and thus unattainable in virtue, the lack of attainability is realised in the form of ignoring it entirely. My actions may be bad, but does it really matter? After all, I can’t be Jesus, so I shouldn’t be held to His standards. For monarchies, it’s even worse as monarchs are simply not perfect, they are just people. So when they slip up, and still held as being perfect, it means more negative behaviours are justified and the bar is dropped even lower.

An easy response to this problem would be to remove the source: abolish religion and monarchy. But this will not do, as it would be the extreme case of lowering the bar that we see in unethical actions by a monarch. If these institutions were to vanish overnight, it would show their behaviour to be so unethical that they did not even deserve to exist, but the mantra that they must be emulated would not disappear with them. We would have a situation where all unethical behaviour is justified because after all, the ethical groundskeepers no longer qualify for their inherent roles in society. But as discussed earlier, it is plainly obvious that their existence causes poor ethical and moral judgement amongst those who are taught to revere and idolise them. So what to do?

If the monarchy and religion were to be abolished presently, it would most likely come about by some action of the state. This would place the state as the ethical authority over their predecessors, which itself would set concerning precedents, as the state’s function primarily is to hold a monopoly on violence and to use this violence to perpetuate itself. Occasionally this goal aligns with bringing prosperity to its people, but not always, and usually not. Allowing such a scenario to unfold would naturally be disastrous.

Those who can be considered responsible for the ethical and moral standards of the people should not be found in a figure somehow elevated by the government, by God, or by force. It is hypocritical and narcissistic to suggest such a thing be true as well as detrimental to society as a whole due to the lack of attainability for such role models to exist. For our children’s role models, we must present them not with celebrities or religion or government, but instead, we must present them with each other. People must govern each other and themselves, and attain ethical and moral standards democratically rather than through a command chain. Otherwise, we simply harm each other through listening to the ramblings of those who don’t even consider themselves to be real people.