Search topics on this blog

Showing posts with label organised religion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label organised religion. Show all posts

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Religion and Scotland’s democracy

Bishop Tartaglia – unelected – has tea with the First Minister of Scotland – elected – and gets concessions from him. But so far not on what for the Bishop and his boss, the Cardinal, is the big issue – gay marriage.

The Bishop says ominously that Catholics are wondering if they can trust the SNP. Trust them to do what – sustain a medieval relic of a law that denies two people of the same sex in a loving relationship the right to enter into a legal partnership called marriage, and have it solemnised in a church ceremony if they so wish, and can find a church and a minister of religion willing to do so?

The Bishop does not speak for Catholics, since the Roman Catholic Church is not a democratic body, and does not consult its members on matters of doctrine. Why should it? The Bishop has a hotline to God through the Cardinal Archbishop and the Pope.  And God has spoken? How?

Well, what God has - or more accurately had - to say is set out in various Holy Books, which have remained unchanged throughout the history of mankind – or have they? No, not quite …

God hasn’t dictated anything for about two millennia to Christians, but spoke to Muslims in 610 AD. The writings that are collectively known as the Old Testament date from various pre-Christian eras - i.e. before any Christian religions existed - and  probably date no farther back than about eight hundred years before the Christian era, around the 5th to the 8th centuries BCE

But mankind as we know it has been around for somewhere between 50,000 to 100,000 years, and in earlier forms, maybe five to seven million years. God wasn’t silent for all of those years, but what he said has been safely buried, together with the multiplicity of ancient religions that claimed their hotlines to his minds, with one or two exceptions that can be safely ignored by the three religions that effectively dominate debate, all from the Abrahamic tradition – in order of antiquity Judaism, Christianity and Islam. 

Wikipedia comments laconically as follows -

“The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism. The number of these writings varies markedly between denominations …”

Varies markedly between denominations …” That’s putting it mildly – hotly contested between denominations, usually with hot irons, brandings, floggings, immolations and in the modern era with all the most up to date methods  by which human beings mutilate and destroys other human beings.

What these various writings say about an ancient institution, marriage, in the 21st century is the subject of much controversy within the religions of the Protestant tradition in Scotland, the UK and globally, but the Catholic Church, at least its priest, bishops and cardinals – and the Pope – speak with one voice. What the laity thinks, especially that substantial block of them with liberal social democratic values, and the substantial number of them who are not heterosexual in orientation have to say, is of no interest whatsoever to the hierarchy.

What should be acceptable from such non-democratically elected groups in Scottish society in the 21st century?

1. That they have a right to their beliefs when they do not conflict with the law of the land, and when they do, the right to profess them while submitting to the process and penalties of law.

2. That they have the right to communicate to their adherents what these core tenets of belief are, and to require them to observe them as a condition of membership of their church.

3. That they have the right to be active in politics, and to vote for candidates for political office who most closely reflect their core values.

But what they do not have a right to do – in my view – is demand that a government with a secure and decisive democratic mandate from the people maintains a law that discriminates against the rights of a significant proportion of the electorate, who wish to have that law amended to permit them to enter into a civil partnership in a legal civil ceremony called marriage, and where they so wish, to have that civil marriage solemnised voluntarily by a church and a minister of religion that are willing to do so.

A religious group or church through their spokespersons, that demands that such a discriminatory law is maintained is seeking to impose the beliefs of their particular sect on others citizens of a democracy that do not share those beliefs.

When such a demand is accompanied by a thinly veiled threat to use the unelected power of that group or church to influence the voting patterns of their adherents, it is a blatant attempt to influence the process of democracy.

I do not believe that such attempts should be banned, nor indeed that they could be banned – I believe they should be ignored by the elected government.

And I believe that the government I elected will do just that.

If they don’t, we are heading insidiously for a theocracy and a religious state. We don’t have to look farther than across the Irish Sea to appreciate the perversions of democracy, justice and human values that produced for generations, and its attendant violence and civil disruption. The Republic of Ireland and the Province of Northern Ireland are emerging from that long, dark night. Let’s make sure Scotland does not take the first fatal step to entering it.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Another history lesson: the monarchy, organised religion and the military.

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.


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.