So what kind of society?

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 ..


  1. Whilst the faithful must continue to wrestle with finding the right boundaries as they engage with an ever changing, and in many ways apparently more secular, society, I must admit I struggle with the idea that, for instance, it’s far more important to prevent people using condoms, than it is to help people not to have more children than they can care for properly (whether in wealthy or poor countries) or to help those who are at risk of fatal diseases like HIV (often unknowingly) from staying healthy. It seems to me to be part of the work of the church to care for those people and it appears as if the church simply doesn’t when it sticks dogmatically to its guns on the condom issue – particularly when it flies in the face of medical science in arguing that condoms allow the spread of HIV and, in some way, encourage its spread. When scientific knowledge is countered with unsubstantiated claims it sometimes seems as if the church is backpedalling furiously towards the dark ages, rather than letting the light of Christ (in all its expresssions – theological, medical, scientific etc) illumine our lives and our world.

  2. I grew up in Lisburn at a time when it was (probably) more important being Methodist and Protestant, than Christian; where certain areas of the town were shunned because the Chapel was there; the Orange Parade was not to be missed; and even certain shops were to be avoided!

    I’m glad that I now live in an era and place where being Christian is more important than the name given to the creed we follow; where Catholics and Protestants can worship together at our cathedral; where we can make alternative plans when the marching season is upon Glasgow; and shopping can be done with no reference to the colours of orange or green.

    Yes, with all of the known faults attached to the Roman Church, we must welcome Christ wherever he may be found. If he has imperfect representatives here on earth, then let’s get over it and offer all other sections of our universal church the best we can in helping to spread the Good News.

  3. My 6th form general studies class would like you to ask the pope if he has been to a hospice for hiv sufferers and if so why does he still feel justified in saying that condoms should not be used. Sorry about the lack of capitals or punctuation its johns blackberry

    1. Angela I’m glad your class are asking questions like that. I was greeted by the Pope today but, as you can imagine, there wasn’t exactly time for that kind of dialogue. I think that it is hard in the society in which they have grown up to understand an institution which doesn’t seem to have a visible internal dialogue. It’s partly a matter of ecclesiastical polity – you can explain to them what that means! – and partly authority. They in turn might say that it is a matter of faithfulness – that we by contrast are over-ready to accommodate ourselves to the changing times in a way which calls into question our faithfulness to eternal truths.

  4. Bishop David, I was in Scotland for the better part of August, mostly in the Northwest.

    “…he would discover that Scotland is a virtuoso performance by the Creator. ”

    Indeed, the pope would find that Scotland is a beautiful country. The views were breathtaking.

    The Sunday we were in Portree, we attended Portree Parish Church, part of the Church of Scotland. Now that I’m home, I see that St. Columba’s Episcopal Church is right off Somerled Square, but we never saw the church, although we were often in the square. I’m sorry, because I’d like to have attended A Scottish Episcopal Church service while I was there.

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