A new Pope has been elected. It’s a welcome distraction from the weekly religious scandals.
This time, it’s a Scottish tale of hypocrisy and betrayal which is making the headlines. But non-Catholics shouldn’t be smug. Life in Scotland is marred by sectarian bigotry on all sides. It’s getting better but we haven’t yet fully cured this particular sickness of the heart and mind.
Here’s a wee puzzle for you. Which of the following four things do you think was worst for Scotland: The Black Death, Catholicism, Protestantism, Cholera? It’s a hard call, isn’t it?
Let me make it a bit easier. Which of the following three things was worst for Scotland: The Black Death, Christianity, Cholera?
Och, I’ve gone and made it too easy now. Whatever the damage caused by plagues, it was infinitesimal compared to the physical, cultural and moral harm inflicted by the Christians. Wouldn’t it have been great if their missionaries, like the Romans before them, had stopped at Hadrian’s Wall? By now, Celtic nature worship would surely have evolved into some kind of benign environmentalism. We’d be world-renowned for bunny-loving and tree–hugging.
Instead, we’re only famous for the curse of our corrosive Cs: Catholicism and Calvinism. What did we ever do to deserve that holy double whammy? A benighted nation indeed.
I suppose the damage is limited these days because folk pay less and less attention to sanctimonious blethering. I doubt many Catholics still think the leader in Rome never makes a mistake. Almost all of them ignore their Church’s rules on contraception and the great majority place more weight on women’s rights than its doctrine on abortion. But massive damage is still being done in the developing world.
Religious ‘reform’ only made things go from bad to worse. ‘Predestination’ and ‘justification by faith alone’ must surely be two of the most perverse and malicious bits of theology ever devised in the history of humankind. Fortunately, they don’t appear now to have much impact on everyday life in Scotland. But their malign influence can be seen in the actions of the born-again bigots who have twisted so much of social and political life in places like the USA.
When you look at organised Christianity, it’s as if 99% of the message of the New Testament is ignored and, instead, the whole Bible is scoured to find the odd word or two which are then used to condemn homosexuality, condoms and washing your car on a Sunday. When you look at the example of the church hierarchies, you could be forgiven for thinking that the goal of Christianity is to create a world of philistinic, samaritan-hating, luxury-loving, crucifying pharisees.
There doesn’t appear to be relief elsewhere. Islam, Hinduism and the Jewish religion are just as bad, if not worse. You’d think a possible answer might be found in godless Buddhism but places like Burma, Sri Lanka and Thailand aren’t great adverts for that faith.
So are the atheists our saviours then? I don’t know about that. When you examine the likes of Richard Dawkins, they seem a crotchety, joyless, po-faced lot. Humanists? A trades description issue here, I think. And in the last century, atheists like Hitler, Stalin and Mao did infinitely more damage than all the religious put together.
Perhaps all this just tells us that we should be very wary of anyone who is 100% certain that they have all the answers.
And it’s heart-warming to believe that, out of the dark corner of our own venomous mix of Catholicism and Calvinism, it’s a Scot, the poet Hamish Henderson, who has pointed a possible way forward towards the light: “No Gods and precious few heroes.”
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