Tag Archives: Religion

Conclusion: A Fresh Approach to Tackling Sectarianism?

Sectarianism is regarded by many as Scotland’s shame.

Roseanna Cunningham comments that, ‘Sectarianism shouldn’t be part of a modern Scotland and we need to do everything we can to eradicate it once and for all. To put it quite simply, it will not be tolerated.’

She is absolutely correct, but the problem is that the various efforts over the years to eradicate sectarianism have failed. The question that needs to be asked is quite simple:

Why has so much money been spent, and much more promised, on government projects and police initiatives, community education programmes, football summits and parliamentary debates, when the problem still exists and shows no sign of being resolved?

The reason, as far as I can work out, is that these various initiatives are only a very small part of what needs to be a much more radical solution. On their own, they are not going to have any real traction. They just won’t stick. But what would a more radical solution look like?

I think that in order to eradicate sectarianism from Scotland, it would be necessary to stop thinking about it as a problem in isolation, one that can be covered up, or removed, like an unwanted blemish on an otherwise clear complexion.

Sectarianism emerges out of a complicated web of relationships that have taken shape over a very long period of time. It is the spawn of unjust and elitist political frameworks, the adoption and celebration of official state religions, the unregulated use of discriminatory and highly exploitative economic policies, all mixed up with basic human drives and desires.

And of course, all of this fits quite neatly with human nature. It fits quite neatly into our need for safety and self-preservation; the need to protect what belongs to us and the desire to acquire more of it; the fear and distrust of what and whom we do not understand.

This is the context of sectarianism. Not just in Scotland, but in many other countries around the world.

The radical solution would require a complete rethink of how the country is governed. It would require having a much stronger sense of social justice, equality and inclusiveness at its heart and undoing the economic policies that only reward the elite groups and favoured sections of society.

It would require dismantling the connections between church and state. It would require introducing policies that promote equality and opportunity for everyone, rather than ones that subtly depend on the existence of inequality, discrimination and exclusion.

The problem is that this type of change will not happen and that is why the government continually comes up with expensive new initiatives and nice looking projects to appear to be doing something and to divert our focus away from the real issue.

The real issue is this: upholding the structures that guarantee government control, maintaining the policies that ensure continued social stability for majority groups, permitting selected people to operate outside of the rules to create the right amount of wealth to satisfy the nation’s spending commitments, debt repayments and credit ratings, is much more of a priority for the people who run the country than ensuring the eradication of one its ugly by-products.

Sectarianism, like other forms of discrimination, was integral to how the country was built and how it developed over many years. Whilst it is not so blatantly part of the tool kit of politicians and church leaders today as it was then, it nonetheless remains as a by-product of how this country, and others, continue to function and operate.

Ensuring that the country works, without radical change and substantial overhaul, means keeping in place all of the structures and frameworks that give rise to the conditions that create it. You can re-educate people all you want, but that won’t substantially change anything.

Perhaps over a much longer period of time this problem will just go away of its own accord. Perhaps this is what the Government hopes will happen, whilst it sits back and takes the plaudits for encouraging its disappearance through a raft of expensive initiatives and unnecessary laws.

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Time to close this Ugly Monstrosity of a Book

Our values and beliefs are integral to our sense of who we are.

We have always been taught that it is good and right to rationally defend what we believe in and so it is a natural human response to take umbrage when other people attack the very foundations of our values and beliefs.

This is partly why there has been so much focus recently on the problems with sectarian and bigoted behaviour in some sections of Scottish society, where we have witnessed the expression and defence of values and beliefs taken to a different and much uglier level.

The problem here is that too many people, those guilty of such offensive behaviour, have shifted away from rational argument and debate – if they ever operated there in the first place – to unashamed discrimination, vile exchanges of hatred and unforgiveable episodes of violence.

Now, I think it is a fair assumption to say that the vast majority of these individuals have no genuine affiliation with the feelings and views they express and defend. Some do, but many don’t.

In fact, it is probably fair to say that many of them do not really understand, or know very much about, any of the religious, political or historical events they have temporarily called their own, and which they appear to passionately support and defend in such a bigoted manner.

I think there are times when some people let themselves become part of the socially engineered, media-driven mood, and become drawn into patterns of behaviour that they may not have engaged in otherwise, away from the moment.

In my view, this makes the problem worse than it might have been, had we not allowed it to be stirred up in such a sensational way. True, discrimination exists everywhere. Racially and religiously motivated acts of hatred and violence have always been part of our society, and probably always will.

But too often, too many more people than necessary become sucked into the fervour of the story. Too often we witness people immersing themselves in a history that isn’t theirs, adopting beliefs and values from a past time that have got nothing to do with their lives in the present, glorifying the hatred and violence that surrounds them.

It is almost as if the original integrity of some people’s values and beliefs has been spiked by the cleverly structured, sensationalist stories thrown around by the media, and by the collective hysteria whipped up by their group’s fervent defence of its adopted identity.

Yet if these people were to stop and think for a minute, if they were to remove themselves from the unfolding story, they may realise that it is not actually their story to tell, it is not actually their story to defend, and that it is time to close this ugly monstrosity of a book.

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‘The old road is rapidly ageing’

Towards the end of the current session of the Scottish Parliament, it is expected that there will be a referendum on the issue of Scottish independence from the United Kingdom. When this time comes, we will have an opportunity to redefine our sense of who we are as a nation.

It will be an opportunity that will demand courageous, confident action; partly because we will need to build a strong and enduring economy that can support the country now and in the future, and partly because we will have a bold and challenging choice to make about how we want our country to ‘feel’.  

By this, I mean we will have a choice about what we want it to feel like to be Scottish. We will have a choice about whether we leave behind the religious, racial and cultural tensions that permeate our society and move towards a new way of thinking and living.      

But this will not be a simple outcome to achieve. Many people in Scotland are already there. Some people recognise that they are not there, but acknowledge that this is where they would like to be, in an ideal world. Others, thankfully in the minority, have no intention of getting there at all; they shamefully glorify the historical roots of their distorted sense of who they are and what they think it means to be Scottish today.

We have been travelling down this old road for far too long now, and it is time to change direction. Of course, there is no denying that a good understanding of history is important to our sense of who we are. But it is more important to learn from our historical mistakes and move on, than dwell on them and continue to live in the past.

It is a sad fact that the hard work and sacrifice that once made our country strong, powerful and wealthy, at the same time contained the seeds of its own moral decline. The forced coming together of natives and immigrants created cultural tensions that were not altogether easy to avoid. And history continues to repeat itself.           

There were, and still are, real threats to personal safety and security, driven by greed, poverty, sickness and desperation that characterises our society. There was, and still is, in some quarters, a ‘perceived’ threat to moral integrity, religious purity and national identity. All of which underpins many of the social problems that continue to flourish today in some shape or form.      

The perception of threat is shaped by basic human attitudes and emotions. The drive for self preservation spills into mistrust of difference and fear of otherness, all of which become manifest as hateful, destructive behaviours towards other people with different languages, traditions and beliefs, whom we have somehow come to think of as real and powerful enemies of everything we think we are and think we stand for.  

The negativity and darkness of the past unfortunately lingers in different forms in the collective psyche of the nation, particularly where there are recurring strands in the patterns of economic, social and political circumstances that shaped the country then and continue to do so now. And unfortunately some people have not yet moved far enough away from the past to fully embrace the future.   

A new Scotland requires a new economic, social and political mindset. It requires a new, inclusive and tolerant culture. It requires giving up the past and embracing the future. It requires recognising that the past is over and that the world has changed, and that Scotland must change with it or be left behind for a very, very long time to come.

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