22 April 2007

Religion and News From Scotland

I'm human companion for a handsome sheltie named Angus, who's just turning two years old about now, so I've decided I have a vested interest in matters Scottish.

Let's recall a classic episode of The Simpsons, in which the stereotypical kilts-wearing Scotsman "Willie," the school groundskeeper, observes a brother and sister playing together with a surprising degree of amiability.

He tells the principal (and you'll have to imagine the burr here, I'm going to keep the spelling conventional), "It won't last. Brothers and sisters are natural enemies. Like Scots and the English. Or Scots and the Irish. Or Scots and the French. Or Scots and other Scots."

"Yes, you Scots sure are a contentious people."

"You've just made yourself an enemy for life, principal Skinner!"

(I dislike ethnic stereotype, BTW. But there do exist erudite Jews, argumentative Scots, uptight WASPs, and maybe even a Greek or two whose gifts require wary examination.)

This is Sunday, so let's speak of the Kirk. Within the post-Reformation tradition in Scotland, the tradition of John Knox, one finds of course, the established Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland (which broke off in 1900), the United Free Church of Scotland (formed in 1929), the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, the Associated Presbyterian Churches, and the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing).

The good news is that, contrary groundskeeper Willie's presumptions about his nation, they have been coming together of late. Last September the Church of Scotland signed a covenant with the United Free Church allowing for shared services and other common activities. Talks continue between the CS and the FCS toward similar ends, which have resulted in a joint statement "of mutual recognition and understanding and a mutual commitment to cooperate in the advancement of the kingdom of God."

All the ecumenical warmth generated by reading such a statement led me to go to the home page of the FCS, http://www.freechurch.org
where I found a fascinating statement of the difficulties that face its ministry.

The minister is pulled in several directions by his congregants, I'm told.

"The traditionalists think we are there to maintain their traditions (not other people’s); the radicals think we are too traditional and want us to follow their new traditions; the liberals are theologically confused but for some reason like some aspects of the Church and want us cater for their particular tastes; the charismatics don’t understand why we don’t get it; the pietists are always bemoaning other people’s lack of spirituality (especially their ministers) and the legalists are always looking for the next war in the church to fight."

Divisiveness in religion isn't, then, a trick promoted by an elite to prevent the wonderful egalitarian unity that might break out otherwise. Divisiveness comes from the ranks and works its way up. Well ... that's one way to look at it.

A shot of whiskey, a round of "fetch" with Angus, and we'll leave the future in the hands of a higher power ("however we choose to conceive of it" as they say at AA).

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.