Theology Sermon: Monday 14th April
Tonight’s topic is inspired by a recent article in the Herald which claimed that Catholics are most pro-Yes of religious groups when it comes to Scottish Independence.
Professor Tom Devine, who is one of Scotland's leading historians, used recent data from the Scottish Social Attitudes survey, that suggested that Catholics were both most supportive of independence and least fearful at the prospect of a Yes vote.
Why would that be? Well he talks about a "silent revolution within the Irish Catholic population since the 1970s, the main reasons being the death of structural sectarianism and labour market discrimination, which means that Catholics are now much more confident in their Scottish skins." Now for my generation I suppose I was never really aware that Catholics might be discriminated against, or that, a few years ago it was claimed that Scotland is still an anti-Catholic country. I suppose this relates to some stories I’ve heard of my parents generations being discriminated against in their jobs because of their religion – with certain councils only employing protestants and certain trades only employing Catholics and so on. It seemed like you only got a job based on your surname, but now all of that seems like totally ridiculous, but actually it was only about 30 odd years ago. And when I’ve worked in certain communities, people hear my surname is O’Connor and they still react to it.
In this article John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde, said that Tom Devine's point illustrated how voting habits among Scottish Catholics had changed. "It was certainly true in the 1970s that Catholics in Scotland were less inclined to vote for the SNP and therefore by implication less likely to vote for independence. At that point the concern among Catholics was that an independent Scotland might become a replication of Ulster," he said.
In 2012, 30% of Catholics supported independence, compared to 26% among those of no religion, and 17% among Church of Scotland identifiers.
Contrary to this – Gorgeous George Galloway waded in, mentioning a "historic crossover between Scottish nationalism and anti-Irish-Roman Catholicism" and warned Catholic schools would be threatened by independence. But this seems to be a real concern to people – one of the questions put to Nicola Sturgeon during a BBC Q and A was “Will Catholic schools still exist in an Independent Scotland?” And to be honest, I never even thought that would cross people’s minds – I don’t really know why that would be. But it seems in the small amount of research that I’ve done – there is a worry about the continuation of Catholicism in and Independent Scotland.
So on the one hand we have Catholics in fear for the continued presence of their religion in an independent Scotland, yet on the other, I would have thought that there was a huge ‘Protestant’ basis for Unionism, and so Catholics would think the opposite.
But this makes me ask the question: if Scotland’s Protestants oppose constitutional change because of deep-rooted Unionism, and Scotland’s Catholics say ‘no’ because they are afraid of the Protestants, then how did we get to the point of devolution, never mind getting to the point of seriously considering independence? Do these religious groups really have the power to influence politics? It seems not actually.
Other things I’ve been reading recently shows that voters living in poorer areas are more likely to vote for something radical. And, actually, a high number of those will be Catholics, descendants of Irish immigrants, and a lot of them living in the East End. Historically, Catholics clung to the Labour Party for protection, and shunned any alternative, in case it might ruin what little they had.
So it would seem now that given Tom Devine’s findings and looking at the historical standpoint of Catholics – they might be the key swing group.
The rise of the independence movement has coincided with the rise of university education, and it seems its has grown with a decline in the social significance of religion. And attitudes towards independence are maybe better explained by thinking about secularism rather than through religion or sectarianism.
In some online research I’ve been doing, which always leads you to a forum and user comments, which you know you shouldn’t read, but you end up doing it anyway, made me realize that there are Catholics out there worried at the prospect of independence. And this comes about because they confuse the current leading party in the Scottish Government with everything there is to know about independence (which we all know is wrong, right?). It seems there are Catholics out there who are opposed to Independence based on the Scottish Government’s achievement in bringing forward same-sex marriage in this country, and they believe that this will lead to increased secularism and that there will be no place for religion in the future of the country.
But this is the problem when political groups try to legislate matters for the Church. It can’t be denied that there is a movement towards a progressive, modern Scotland much like the rest of small countries in Europe which doesn’t have religion at it’s core.
But the point of sermons is to link all of this modern chat with what Jesus would have done. What would Jesus say about Scottish Independence? Well if you Google ‘What would Jesus say about Scottish Independence you don’t really get much back. Instead, if we look at the Bible, we find that when it comes to politics, when it comes to voting, for standing up for what you believe in, when it comes to nationality, we are urged to stand up for the teachings of God rather than nationalism and fight a spiritual cause rather than a political one:
There is a story in Jeremiah of a potter working at his wheel, which goes: Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? Saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it” Here God is saying that he alone can destroy nations and that any attempt to do this ourselves is futile. The only fight we should be fighting is in his name, and we should shun politics in favour of spreading his word.
Here, we are asked to wrestle against powers, against rulers of the darkness. And for me, that’s not the darkness of same-sex marriage, that’s about people who assume power for themselves. The spiritual wickedness in high places isn’t about the constitutional change that might happen in this country, but about the abuse of power that we see daily from politicians, from law makers, from policy makers, from councils and from those in positions of responsibility. And I’m sure Jesus would have a few things to say about them, because he was totally rad, destroying the temple when he saw the desecration that was happening in a holy place, where money and profit comes before humanity and prioritizing your fellow man.
For me principalities, powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, spiritual wickedness in high places. Refers not to same sex marriage or secularism but instead conglomerates of influence that assume power for themselves and abuse that power. Jesus destroyed a temple. Maybe Jesus might want to destroy this temple and start again.
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