Prejudices and Tolerance

A wise Roman Catholic once remarked that there is no one so prejudiced as someone who thinks he has no prejudices; and what’s true of individuals is equally true of societies.  The more we pride ourselves on our tolerance the more intolerant we seem to become.

Admittedly, I’m not in the best of moods.  Yesterday saw yet another of Edinburgh’s Sunday races, this one sponsored by BUPA, that fabulous invention for enabling those with money to jump the queue for medical treatment.  The impact of these races on church attendance is deadly.  I spent an hour trying to find a road to the Gaelic service at Greyfriars Kirk, but every possible route was closed off to accommodate the Run; and when I finally gave up, defeated, I wasted millions of precious brain cells in a futile attempt to outwit the demonic grid-lock.

When the children who now run Edinburgh City Council gave permission for the Run they were clearly unaware that the city’s traffic is already in chaos due to the fun they themselves are having with the trams fiasco; and their thinking took them no further than to realise that even if they imposed chaos upon chaos it would be OK since no one would suffer but church-goers.  To the Council’s best knowledge, there are none such left.

A few days earlier, a group including Quakers, Unitarians, Liberal Jews, the Pagan Federation, Bishop Richard Holloway, and the Metropolitan Community Church (a church ‘with a special outreach to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community’) had held a conference in Edinburgh as part of a campaign to promote gay marriage.  These groups have two things in common: they are proud of having no prejudices; and they hate orthodox Christianity.  Now they stand together to defend religious freedom and equality.

Good, because once we achieve such freedom I will be able to say exactly what I think about homosexuality: first, that it is absolutely right that homosexual acts between consenting adults should be legal;  secondly, that homosexual acts are sins; and, thirdly, that like all sins, homosexual acts are forgivable.

I also think that to talk about gay marriages is nonsense.  If a man can ‘marry’ a man we will need to re-write human language.  We will also need to ban the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, which, although part of the British ‘constitution’, boldly declares that ‘marriage was ordained for the procreation of children’: not exactly what the Metropolitan Community Church has in mind.

As for equality and religious liberty, if I were to appear today on a radio show with two gay clergy, would I enjoy equality?  It is not tolerance the gay lobby wants.  What it wants is to silence alternative voices.  But would any other paper in Scotland let me say that?

Truth is, Christian space in Scotland is rapidly shrinking, even on simple matters like getting to church on Sunday.  Now, it transpires, the crew of the Uig-Tarbert ferry are to be denied that privilege, as CalMac once again joins forces with local anti-Christian voices to drive yet another nail into the coffin (as they see it) of Highland Evangelicalism.

Many will see this as no more than justice.  One of the great Scottish myths is that for four hundred years Calvinism dominated the life of Scotland and that this explains all our problems from endemic national alcoholism to our failure to produce great epic drama.  Everything is the fault of John Knox.

In reality, Knox never succeeded in consolidating the Reformation, and when he died in 1572 his idea of the godly commonwealth was still only a dream.  Though the nation became officially Protestant in 1560, parliament refused to endorse the First Book of Discipline, thus denying Scotland the hope of a school in every parish, a university in every town and proper provision for the poor.  These could all have been funded from the immense wealth of the mediaeval church, but our so-called noble families had their own greedy eyes on that wealth, and they grabbed it shamelessly.  That is why their heirs today deserve not a shred of respect.  They built their ‘nobility’ by rapacity, on the ashes of a noble dream.

The fortunes of the Reformed Church scarcely improved in the following centuries.  The Stewart kings, ruling as absolute monarchs, showed undisguised hatred towards Presbyterianism, banishing its leaders and imposing episcopacy until at last there came Charles II, the vilest of them all, who treated Presbyterians as Hitler treated Jews.  By the time the last Stewart passed from the scene it was 1690, and the Reformation was still far from secure.

It was into this situation that William of Orange walked, vowing moderation, and within a few years this moderation had turned to Moderatism, which for over a hundred years provided Scotland’s parishes with a succession of clergy of whom the philosopher, Francis Hutcheson (who taught them), said that the whole study of candidates for the ministry was ‘servile compliance with the humour of some great lord who has many churches in his gift’.  These men banished Calvinism and earned credit only as the best dancers, the best drinkers and the best farmers in the parish.

Even in the mid-19th century, the Calvinist revival which accompanied the Disruption was blasted on the vine by the frosts of Darwinism and an alien German philosophy.  By the outbreak of the Great War, such Calvinism as remained was dumb; and the 20th century heard no conspicuous Scottish Calvinist voice.

Scotland will have to find something else to blame for its neuroses and its artistic failures.  But in the meantime it should ponder the fact that its most successful ventures into creative literature (the poems of Burns, the novels of Scott and the bardachd of the Gaelic renaissance) would never have come into being without Calvinism.  It provided them with a whipping-boy.

I have no inclination to whitewash Calvinists: I have known some horrid ones, who claimed the label, but knew little of the reality.  But by this time, we Calvinists should be used to speaking, unheard, from the edge, our holy day lost, our routes to church closed and liberals constantly denying us freedom.

But our cultured elite should also be asking themselves a question.  Why does art always go where the money is?

This article first appeared in the West Highland Free Press, 7 October 2011.