Religion in a Scottish constitution: How the Kirk failed the people of Scotland

Originally posted on Gary’s personal blog here: Esoteric Ramblings

I was invited to take part in ‘Sunday Morning with Richard Holloway’ on BBC Radio Scotland this Sunday, discussing the statement from a range of religious faith groups that there should be a specific religious clause in any possible future coalition. (Can be heard here – starts at 1hr 03min).

I was very happy to be asked to take part in the programme, discussing alongside Ronnie Convery of the Roman Catholic Church & Lorna Hood, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

The programme was recorded on Friday morning, before I really had any knowledge of the detail, and likely impact of the statement. The producer of the show was, however, keen to get a non-religious perspective.

The Sunday morning programming on BBC Radio Scotland is undoubtedly geared towards God-believers, so I did make an effort to be as agreeable as I could, whilst making the (most sensible) case for a secular state. Some have told me, that I should have been more robust, whilst others thought my approach was worthwhile – it’s always difficult to know how to pitch it.

There are a few points I tried to make, and would like to expand on a little further:

Freedom of religion is a fundamental right, and so I agree with the Churches’ sentiments

This may sound like a strange thing for an atheist, humanist & secular person to say. The reason I made a point of saying it though, is because it is true, I do think people should have freedom to express their religion, albeit I think a lot of religion is silly, there are many things I consider to be silly. I just hold that religious expression should not be entitled to a special privileged category that excludes a huge section of Scottish society, we heathens!

The need for a paradigm shift from ‘interfaith’ to ‘interbelief

I’ve already said that I am one of the non-religious people who enjoys, and actively seeks out ethical discussions which have until now been dominated by religious voices. Sometimes this provokes people to make the false dichotomy that therefore humanism is another religion. Apart from the glaring logic-fail, I don’t care enough about this specious argument to entertain it more at the moment.

At one point in the debate, when I had reminded Richard Holloway that the Humanist Society Scotland had not been invited to discuss the joint proposal. The Moderator was quick to make the point that this was, intentionally, an enterprise of religious faith organisations. Unfortunately I wasn’t given the chance to say that whilst religious faith groups are perfectly entitled to arrange a conference to express their misguided) wishes to The Scottish Government, and as a humanist/atheist/secularist, I would not think of presuming to be asked or invited as a matter of course.

I do think that this was a huge failure for the Church. The number of religious people in Scotland continues to fall, at the most recent census it was 56% with 71% of Scotland never attending Church (Scottish Social Attitudes Survey).

So, if the Church of Scotland wishes to continue to play an influential role in public life, it is excluding half of the country. Hence why I think we need to make the case for non-religious ethical reflection in public life. The Church seems to act as though it was under attack from external forces, such as ‘aggressive secularists’ and ‘strident atheists’, why can’t they see that as Scots continue to leave religion behind and they refuse to acknowledge this, their voice becomes ever-more faint and shrill to the vast majority of Scotland.

Secularism is not atheism

It fills me with a deep sense of boredom to have to write this. Although at one point in the discussion the Moderator, again, uttered the fallacy that ‘unless the religious voice is heard, the secularists will be heard’.

Well, I really really don’t want to think that the most senior figure in the Church of Scotland deliberately tried to mislead the people of Scotland, however after having written this letter to her in November 2013 about exactly this issue.

If you think that secularism is atheism, then you don’t understand it, simple, please inform yourself.

We don’t need to write down a warped version of history

One of the other arguments made for a specific religious clause is that it should recognise the Christian heritage of the country. My first reaction to that was to express agreement, that religion has, and continues to play an influential role in public life. However, we don’t really need to write is all down. Again, I have a sneaking suspicion that the reason the religious groups are so keen to have their views recognised, is to try and combat the increasing irrelevance of religion in modern society.

I was also prompted by Kelvin Holdsworth, another example of someone who is serious about their religious faith, and a secularist, to consider if the Church of Scotland would be so keen to recognise the influential role that Pagan traditions played in Scotland, or if the Roman Catholic Church would be so keen to enshrine the values of the Enlightenment in a possible constitution.

So, all-in-all, I think it was a pretty bad day for the Kirk. What are they so scared about?

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