Absorbing piece in the Sunday Herald today. It’s focus is the sectarianism in Scottish football, and how it really does cut two ways – as one who has reluctantly gone into the Celtic end of Easter Raod wearing a vaguely blue scarf can attest. But Scottish Presbyterian Harry Reid continues a theme we’ve seen here on Slugger (and here), when he argues that papering over the cracks is not likely to be effective. Coming to understand the scope, beauty and integrity of the two main faiths is more likely to lead to greater respect, than trying to pretend the past has not happened.
The other thing that I, as an outsider, most admire about the RC Church is its constant nourishing of public beauty. In its liturgy, its music, and particularly its art and architecture, it makes the Church of Scotland seem pinched and mean. Every time I am lucky enough to be in Rome I am awestruck by the splendours of the baroque (and in particular the ubiquitous work of Bernini) in church after church after glorious church. I used to console myself in the bleakness of my Protestant soul that this art was vulgar. No longer am I so stupid.
ON the other hand, I believe the Reformation was necessary and that Martin Luther was probably the most significant human being of the past millennium. He paved the way for Calvin and Knox, so important to the Kirk. In some ways, like John White, he was a bad man, and he was a terrible anti-Semite, but he also had the vision, energy and titanic moral force to smash the dark ages of the mind. He gave religion back to the people, and made it something that could be personally appropriated. In a way, the Reformation was anti-authority. It ushered in the centuries of individual freedom which have given us not just capitalism and prosperity but also a record of consistent technological achievement beyond the imagining of those in the dark ages of ignorance.
Maybe this individualism has gone much too far, just as Catholic authoritarianism has too often been abused. But the point is that these two great strands of Christianity have been central to the creation of our modern world and have touched every part of our lives – intellectual, material, cultural – whether we are religious or not. In this greater historical context, sectarianism seems spiteful, petty and altogether pitiful.
So what I am asking for in Scotland is a kind of grand educative cleansing. Let’s seek an enlightened understanding of the two separate traditions, and respect them equally. The people who can best kick-start this new approach are the religious leaders themselves, if only they had the courage and the vision to do so.