Beating Sectarianism requires greater openess

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.

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  • The Devil

    a little sectarianism is good for the soul, and will keep you young at heart

  • Crow

    In respect to sectarianism in Northern Ireland I have often wondered whether it is truly symetric. I read a quote once (can’t remember from who) that said something along the lines of in NI Unionist are the greatest religous bigots and Nationalist are the greatest political bigots. Interesting if true.

  • willis

    Who is this John White? not Johnny Adair’s mate surely?

    Anyhow, I do wonder at the characterisation of the conflict between 2 faiths.

    Catholicism is certainly one, but what is Protestantism? Cue Emo Phillips joke.

  • páid

    great piece, brimming with honesty and scholarliness. I hope the Pope does pray at Patrick Hamilton’s grave.

    Of course life has moved on since the great crashing of Catholicism and Protestantism in the 17th century. The triumph of P led to the P countries of GB, Holland and Germany, and de-C France, advancing in science and commerce and conquering half the planet. The triumph of P, with it’s individualistic culture, led to rapid scientific advance which now shows both P and C up to be untrue in their core beliefs. Thus the Chinese can ignore democracy, move up the world league, and laughingly state that it’s too early to judge whether or not the French revolution was a good idea. Meanwhile in Ireland and Scotland, people argue whether it is transubstiantiation or symbolism in Drogheda. The game has moved on, lads.

  • greg
  • james
  • realsma

    ‘Dealing’ with sectarianism through references to religious architectural differences shows how nonsensical this person is.

    Nice try.

    A bit too upper-class to make any impact on real lives. Seems like another small pointless step (desperate?).

    We aren’t buying this bull…nice try Trevor/s

  • willis


    Yeah but…

    Part of what he was saying was that sectarianism is also an “upper-class” thing. The article is about a lot more than the quote.


    It’s not often that you see such a completely honest and unbiased article.excellent stuff, it ought to be recommended reading.

  • Scotsman

    What is the “Celtic” end of Easter Road? There are 3 “ends” for Hibs fans and another end for visiting supporters.

    Were you at a Hibs-Celtic game?

  • Concerned Loyalist

    You naively posted:
    “Unionists are the greatest religious bigots and Nationalists are the greatest political bigots”…………………………………….That is so far from the truth I am actually shocked you dared quote it! I have been called variously an “Orange”,”Hun” and “Black bastard” by Celtic-top, scarf and baseball cap-wearing hoods- these are not politically derogatory terms, but simple religious sectarianism…

  • The Devil

    Concerned Loyalist,

    “I have been called variously an “Orange”,”Hun” and “Black bastard” by Celtic-top, scarf and baseball cap-wearing hoods- these are not politically derogatory terms, but simple religious sectarianism…

    This may not be the case for example “Orange” may innocently refer to your mobile phone cell net provider, and therefore can not be considered religous however religiously you use your phone.
    “Hun” is a term of endearment and the person may well have actually fancied you, and again this is a cross community expression and in no way can be deemed religious.
    “Black Bastard” is more difficult to excuse or explain but before branding it a sectarian expression we would need to know a few things first…

    Are either of you parents of African decent!
    If no
    Do you opperate a coal delivery service!
    If no
    Do you wash as often as you should!

    Whatever you final answer is at whatever question, it is also the answer to whether or not it was sectarian.

  • Concerned Loyalist

    1)”Black” refers to the uniform of the RUC, who nationalists viewed as a “Protestant” police force. Thus, it is an anti-Protestant slight.

    2)My network provider is T-Mobile (very reasonable), so I feel vindicated in taking “Orange bastard” as a sectarian, derogatory phrase.

    3)Hun is used as a derogatory term against Protestants due to our loyalty to the Queen, whose family name was Battenberg, of German descent, before they changed it to the quintessentially British “Windsor”…

  • bag’shite

    as someone who knows scotland very well. the churches are more or less porta-cabins. the people are dour and extremley ugly the shops have fuck all worth stealing unless you fancy steak pie ye ken?. in short it is a pish poor place. i will however say the scots are a lovley people, kind inviting and patriotic to scotland 100 percent whether protestant or catholic.
    but given the choce 4 star hotel in edinburgh or a run down flea pit in poleglass i would opt for??? anybody who has been to edinburgh and seen sitehill can answer that themselves