Pope Benedict’s visit next week raises all sorts of questions about what kind of society he is visiting. Tomorrow morning, I’m off to Kinloch Rannoch. If he was able to join me – Passat rather than Popemobile, I think – he would discover that Scotland is a virtuoso performance by the Creator. But it is pretty secular. I think I can safely say that the House of Bruar just beyond Blair Atholl will be doing better business than any of the churches along the way.
The Pope and I would of course talk wistfully how wonderful it would be if there could be more than the nine or ten utterly faithful souls who will be in All Saints tomorrow. But then he hasn’t had the chance of meeting Rose, Anne, Lucy and the others. We might talk about confessional states – places where the social and moral teaching of one church has an undue influence on government policy and popular culture – like the Irish Republic of my childhood or Northern Ireland as Ian Paisley would have shaped it. Maybe there were bits of that in Scotland when I visited it as a student.
So on the way back – passing the crowded car park at the House of Bruar – we’d talk about the positive aspects of the secular society. Yes it is full of individualistic indifference – the shrug which says, ‘if you want to do religion, that fine. Just don’t ask me .. ‘ But it is also an open place with a proper separation between church, state and judiciary. And because there are lots of people floating around who have lost their former denominational ties, it is a place which suits a small-ish church like the SEC. It gives us lots of people to talk to – particularly if we can get better at listening to them and responding in a faithful but undogmatic way.
Of which more another day ..