Two more extracts from Professors T.C. Smout’s A Century of the Scottish People 1830 – 1950 (first published 1986).
One great change in the second half of the century (the 19th century) was the erosion of ancient certainties regarding heaven and hell. Chapter VII, page 192
The destruction of the literal interpretation of the Bible was accompanied by twin European intellectual movements, in science and history. Chapter VIII, page 193
The European enlightenment had at its heart the Scottish Enlightenment, as medieval superstitions began to lose their iron grip on the peoples of the world. But in 2010, we have a world where secularism is in retreat, the separation of church and State is crumbling, (contrary to the cries of outrage from the churches that ‘militant atheism’ is rampant) and the main political fault lines that divide our planet have their roots in fundamentalist religious beliefs, specifically the three religions that have common Abrahamic roots – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The obsession of all three with the land of Israel (The Balfour Declaration) lies at the heart of this, and in most recent times we have had the elevation of religious differences to the centre of international conflicts by George W. Bush and Tony Blair, both of them Christian fundamentalists, by the fundamentalist leaders of the nation of Israel, and the fundamentalists leaders of the Muslim nations, not to mention the even more extreme fundamentalist sects within all of these three major religions, from the Rapture Christians of the United States, through militant fundamentalism Zionism to Al Quaeda.
Politicians with secular instincts have little choice but to be part of this if they hope to be elected and occupy significant positions within their party and government.
In America, it is still political suicide for any ambitious politician to profess atheism or even agnosticism, and in the UK, although politicians may acknowledge such beliefs, they are well advised to keep them muted, and they are obliged to listen to, and take account of the often forceful views of unelected religious leaders.
Here in Scotland, the Scottish National Party has the unenviable task of coping with the historical religious divisions that exist in our nation between Catholic and Protestant, divisions that underlie the entire history of the British monarchy, divisions that are exploited by the unscrupulous, and this divide is now compounded by a third, new dimension - the number of Scottish citizens, many of them born and bred in Scotland, who adhere to the Islamic religion.
THE MONARCHY, ORGANISED RELIGION AND THE MILITARY
There is an absolute link between the monarchy, organised religion and the military in Britain that politicians ignore at their peril, with religious, monarchical and military elements in all national ceremonies that relating to the blood sacrifice - past and present - of our young people in foreign lands: the people are enlisted into this blood myth through the jingoistic popular press and media coverage.
We will only achieve maturity as a nation when we can envisaged a great state ceremony of celebration of a momentous event, or the mourning and remembrance of the dead that does not include monarchical, military or religious aspects.
I can conceive of a ceremony of remembrance that involves all religions and those of no faith, because death knows no boundaries of nation or faith. Believers from all faiths - and those of no faith - have died side by side across the globe in the ultimate bond of blood, death and sacrifice.