The Kirk Joins the Mockery
I should really be in a complete fankle about writing this column. After all, I am a Calvinist, which means I believe in predestination: a subject on which Free Press readers are clearly fully briefed. From what they say, I cannot write this column unless it was predestined; and equally, I cannot decide what to write about, because that, too, must be predestined. The wisest course, then, would be to sit and wait for predestination either to force me to write something or prevent me from writing something.
And now, here before you is something: the column divinely foreordained. The funny thing is, I chose it myself: me, my very self. I felt no compulsion, was aware of no restraining force. Instead, I exercised my divinely foreordained liberty of alternative choice. I could have chosen to write on the national vendetta against Rangers Football Club, but decided not to (perhaps from instincts of self-preservation). I have no doubt that what I write was divinely foreordained; neither have I any doubt that what I write is the result of my own free decision.
At this point I have no idea where this potent combination of predestination and freedom will eventually lead to. I know only the opening few words, linked (albeit tenuously) to the Independence Referendum.
One of the key claims of the Yes! campaign is that defenders of the Union are constantly talking Scotland down, flagging-up our dependency and belittling our achievements. It is hard not to feel the irony of this claim. For generations it has been precisely the most self-consciously Scottish of Scots who have systematically denigrated the key aspect of our history: our religion. John Knox has been demonised, the Covenanters lampooned, the Scottish ‘sabbath’ (the weary labourer’s one day of rest) held up to ridicule; Mr. Salmond and his fellow-separatists, so proud of their Scottish-ness, have never distanced themselves from this particular form of national self-deprecation.
No big deal, you might say, but it’s had one disastrous result. Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, remarked some years ago that history is now a foreign country; and not a only a foreign country, but one that no one wants to visit.
This is pre-eminently true of Scotland. Apart from the very recent past, our history is off-limits. Could the reason be that it is largely the history of our religion, and that we’d rather not visit it for fear of what we might discover: such as that the achievement of political freedom was a spin-off from the struggle for religious freedom; that the seeds of what we were once proud to call ‘the best education system in the world’ were sown in Knox’s vision of a school in every parish; that the Scots (James Hutton and Charles Lyell) who laid the foundations of modern geology were first and foremost Christians; that James Clerk-Maxwell, whose mathematics made possible the discoveries of Einstein, was throughout his life a man of the Bible and prayer; and that even Sir Walter Scott was an elder of the Kirk, and never revoked his subscription to the Westminster Confession? With his head, at least, he was a Calvinist.
All of this we have talked down, convincing ourselves that our national religion was glaringly inferior to those of Rome and Canterbury; and having banished John Knox to the Chamber of Horrors we have elected Robert Burns our national icon, even though, for all the greatness of his poetry, Burns had little influence on Scotland’s social development, except that once every year we hold Burns Suppers (structured as blatant parodies of a Presbyterian Communion Service). Presumably the canonisation of a drunken philanderer was an act of national self-mockery?
Now the Kirk herself has joined in the mockery: at least that’s how it looks in the light of that extraordinary joint-communiqué issued last weekend by the Church of Scotland and the Humanist Society, calling for religious observances in schools to be replaced by ‘Times for Reflection’. The humanists have at least kept their self-respect, getting what they wanted and compromising none of their principles (unless you wonder what they’re going to reflect on, when, as they say, ‘There is nothing there’; and precisely what ‘reflection’ might mean to a child of five).
The same cannot be said of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland. Not only are they guilty of total capitulation, aggravated by the fact that they are the official representatives of the Christian faith of the Scottish people, but they have laced their betrayal with sanctimonious humbug. How can a body professedly committed to converting men and women to faith in Jesus Christ describe as ‘colleagues’ a society committed to promoting atheism? How can they describe these ‘times of reflection’ as ‘non-confessional’ when they are clearly to be controlled by the humanist’s belief-system? And how can Christian ministers make it their boast that they ‘celebrate difference’? Maybe we should capitalise it: ‘I baptise you in the name of Difference.’
This is the nadir. I still kept a measure of respect for the Kirk after its decisions on homosexuality. But the intellectual incoherence, theological illiteracy and sheer lack-of-fight reflected in this communiqué brings me to the limits.
It will be said, of course, that the new proposal reflects the changing demography of Scotland. We are now a multi-faith society. Isn’t it odd that we instantly commute that to, ‘a no-faith society’? Does diversity mean that we must all become atheists together?
This success will be a huge boost to humanists, and they will not stop here. Their aim is not merely to create a civic life in which all faiths are equal. Their aim is to ban religion entirely from the public square. That will mean a ban on the wearing of any religious symbols (veils, crosses, crucifixes) by public employees; putting an end to the use of oaths in courts of law and installations to public office; and the investiture of the next Sovereign being a purely civil service.
More scarily still, it means that in public life there can be no loyalty to a higher power. The supreme loyalty must be to the state; and on its flagpoles no other colours may fly. God is a foreign power.
Goodness! To think that Alex Salmond, François Hollande and Vladimir Putin have the whole world in their hands: unrestrained even by predestination.
This article first appeared in the West Highland Free Press, Friday 31 January, 2014