Saturday 8 June 2013

General Synod reflections...

The speaker at last night's General Synod dinner was Professor Tom Devine.  The name rang a bell for me, but in my ignorance I must confess I didn't know that much about him.  A Scottish historian, leading academic, that sort of stuff. (Image from

He spoke last night as a Scottish Roman Catholic, in the wake of the events of the past few months and years.  Not a comfortable place to be starting from.  He was upbeat about his church, and as a historian seemed to have good historical reason for so doing.  He ended by saying that future "was not his field" which neatly sidestepped the crisis that their leadership, who lack an empowered laity and have some rather horrendous systemic issues, must now face.

The thing that I heard was the change in what it is to be a Scottish catholic, from the tribal basis of even as recently as the 1960s.  The working class discriminated group that were Scottish (/Irish) Catholics at the start of the 1960s have now become leaders of Scotland.  Judges, politicians, leaders of industry (but less so the financial sectors...) all are now occupied as easily by Catholics as by anyone else.  The influx of English firms/organisations, and English Catholics (of which my parents were two) changed all that.  It doesn't now matter.  

My take: maybe religion doesn't now matter, so who cares about the denomination/faith/tribal loyalty of people? It does matter in many places still - the tribal loyalties of the old times are still present in Scotland.  Episcopalianism doesn't quite fit neatly into it.

But I was struck by my personal response to Tom's talk.  My father was a university professor. His father was a shipwright on the Mersey.  He was part of a social revolution that turned merit into a factor in where one could aspire to be, rather than class or tribalism.  He was a catholic, although became disillusioned with tired rhetoric from out of touch men in black who seemed more interested in maintaining a self-satisfied status quo that transforming themselves or others (at least that's what I think happened, when he walked away some years before his death). But he worshipped the ground that John Henry Newman walked upon, and the energy of the Jesuits who educated him (with no sinister undertones).

My own swim - from the Rome side of the Tiber, changing into the Tweed as I came back north, confuses me with where I am with my own Catholicism, which is still part of what defines me.  You can take the boy out of the Catholic Church, but you can't take... Etc. etc.

I think my late father would have enjoyed discussing Tom's talk with me, and seen himself in some of this revolution where being a catholic is no longer an obstacle to progress in Scotland, as Scottish structures and society have changed.

But it seems that celebrating the fact that religion is less relevant (the negative way of reading this revolution in the last 40 years) is very uncomfortable for 'professional religious people.'  How do we make ourselves relevant to a Scotland that doesn't see religion or denominations as relevant or meaningful matters. How do we proclaim a gospel in a post-sectarian society?

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