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John DC Gow - Tribalism pretending to end Tribalism

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Asked what his reaction to anti-Protestant songs being sung would be, Kearney replied: ââ?¬Å?Our position here is to act in the interest of Catholics. [ââ?¬Â¦] ââ?¬Å?Itââ?¬â?¢s not our place to step forward for other religions. If there were anti-Protestant songs, Iââ?¬â?¢d expect our friends at the Church of Scotland to step forward. (1)


ââ?¬â?? Scottish Catholic Media Director Peter Kearney.


In one small paragraph we see Scotland�s flawed response to sectarianism. Corporatism before Christ. Christians denying the universality of the Christian message. Politics and PR before people.


And let�s not forget Peter Kearney�s benign tribalism is not alone. His views are shared by many who preach to the wider community on anti-sectarianism. There is a collective failure to grasp that the determination to only act in the interest of your own group, rather than for all Scots, is part of the problem.


This doesnââ?¬â?¢t mean itââ?¬â?¢s necessarily done in bad faith. Most people, regardless of background, hold views that are full of myth and half-truth about other groups. Many of those who only see the ââ?¬Å?other sideââ?¬Â as bigots have no idea that they too can be prejudiced.


Every Human being holds false views of the world. We can�t choose our nationality, culture, religion, family, body, psychology and other important factors at birth. The other beliefs we subsequently choose, can only be done through the distorted prism of those early influences and imperfect knowledge of the facts.


We are all biased and there is nothing we can do about it. This is the human condition. The problem is not that we are imperfect and biased. The problem is when we forget we are imperfect and biased. Once we start to believe that we and our ââ?¬Å?tribeââ?¬Â are innately superior we can become the very bigots we are supposedly against.


This is what is happening in the sectarian debate within Scotland. We have self-righteous groups projecting all the evils of sectarianism onto other people. Often the right of reply or attempt at dialogue is refused, leading to a feeling of helplessness and anger among the accused.


Sometimes this is simply due to vested interest and at other times being unaware that what they dislike, or are offended by, is not the same as sectarianism. The hunger to force us all to be ââ?¬Å?right-minded peopleââ?¬Â (to use the thought-crime language of the day), has led to a despicable situation where legal forms of expression are being deliberately de-legitimised.


The whole point of a tolerant society is allowing cultural expression that you may vehemently disagree with as long as it is within the law. You cannot possibly end sectarianism by attempting to de-legitimise non-violent beliefs just because you dislike them.


Also the view that the Catholic/Protestant, Irish/British, Celtic/Rangers ââ?¬Å?divideââ?¬Â is a group divide is a horrendous lie. That doesnââ?¬â?¢t mean that there arenââ?¬â?¢t acts of sectarianism, but they are usually caused by drunken hooligans and not actions on behalf of separate communities.


Go into any street, workplace and nightclub and see how these sectarian groups fail to materialise. It�s a myth. Friends, lovers and enemies are picked on their own merit and almost never because they belong to the same (or different) Christian sub-sect, ancestry or football team.


However, this does not mean that these identities are not deeply held. They are and this is why the attempt to de-legitimise these legal beliefs ââ?¬â?? however offended you others may be by them ââ?¬â?? will only cause them to be aggressively defended rather than disappear.


Look at the issue of flags at Scottish football stadiums. There has been a recent rise in questioning why legitimate national flags should be brought into football. Some directly or indirectly question why the Union Flag and Red Hand of Ulster flags (never the Irish Tricolour as they know they would be described as anti-Irish) are allowed to be flown by fans. The logic is that it has nothing to do with football and indirectly a form of bigotry.


Do these people not realise that asserting identity is not sectarianism? That the goal should be to encourage legitimate expressions of identity rather than hinder it. If national flags, maudlin folk songs and marches were the only problem there would be no problem. The attempt to whitewash these identities will only lead to anger and will drive it underground.


It will only end up creating the very sectarianism and thoughtless tribalism that they say they want stopped.


The same is true for free speech. There has been an increase in self-censorship and taboo on language concerning religion. In Scotland there is not enough awareness that criticising religion is not the same as hating those who practice religion. Of-course there are a minority who can�t tell the difference, but this should not stop intelligent dialogue among those who can.


When Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry condemn Catholicism in the strongest possible terms and Hitchens even talks about the:


institutionalisation of rape and torture and maltreatment of children in Catholic institutions (2)


can Scotland honestly say to itself that such words (whether right or wrong) would not lead to such a person being ostracised, with the possibility of demands for a sacking and even criminal charges?


The irony is that the ordinary person in Scotland is being lectured by Churches whose own history and tradition would shame a despot.


The Roman Catholic Church has discriminated, tortured and killed many innocent people because of their race, ethnicity and sex for centuries. (3) Protestant history is no less intolerant. A perfect example being the shameful treatment of Michael Servetus at the hands of John Calvin simply because he had a different theology (4) and the anti-semitism of Martin Luther. (5)


Scotlandââ?¬â?¢s own Kirk published the ââ?¬Å?The Menace of the Irish Race to our Scottish Nationalityââ?¬Â in 1923, that still shames them to this day, (6) and up until 1986 still signed up to sections of the ââ?¬Å?Westminster confession of Faithââ?¬Â that stated the Pope was the ââ?¬Å?AntiChristââ?¬Â. (7)


Of-course it has to be made clear that these Churches have dramatically changed, but the declaration of innocence and tendency to scapegoat football fans (of all people), is as dangerous as it is laughable. Many Scots are unaware that football fans did not create sectarianism and that many of the the real culprits are those pointing fingers at others. The superficial focus on songs is so ridiculous that future historians will mock us all. The self-censorship and taboo when discussing sectarianism will also be noticeable.


Recently in the Scottish Parliament, John Lamont MSP of the Scottish Conservatives questioned the wisdom of faith schools. The reaction was one of outrage. Not just for disagreeing with those who believe in faith schools, but for even mentioning it at all.


Joseph Devine, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Motherwell said:


ââ?¬Å?The claim that Catholic schools are the cause of sectarianism is offensive and untenable. There has never been any evidence produced by those hostile to Catholicism to support such a malicious misrepresentation.ââ?¬Â (8)


Note that Bishop Devine states that such comments are not merely wrong (which is a valid criticism) but that they are ââ?¬Å?hostile to Catholicismââ?¬Â. John Lamont should not only be disagreed with, but by being hostile to Catholicism, he is implicated as anti-Catholic.


Astonishingly, Bishop Devine, has previously stated that:


Denominational education is an enabler of sectarianism. Roman Catholic schooling is divisive ââ?¬â?? sometimes itââ?¬â?¢s a price worth paying. (9)


Whether Mr Lamont is correct or not is irrelevant. He should be allowed to discuss such an important topic without cries for resignation and hints that he is a bigot. It stifles intelligent dialogue by making certain subjects unspeakable.


And before I am accused of fixating on the Catholic Church, it�s only because the Church of Scotland is an irrelevance. Unlike the Catholic Church, the Kirk no longer represents it�s members in the political arena.


As a secularist I do not welcome religious groups receiving special treatment, but neither do I think they should disappear. There is a hunger among young working-class Protestants to understand their tradition, but the Kirk fails them by retreating to their ivory tower.


Instead of initiatives steering the young into the intelligent and intricate world of Protestant theology, their absence allows those young people to bastardise Protestantism by believing ââ?¬Ë?The Billy Boysââ?¬â?¢ is a part of their faith. The religious tradition that produced the thinking of Karl Barth, Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich along with the moral courage of Dietrich Bonhoeffer squashed out of all recognition into the world of the razor gang.


However, as much as certain songs should be condemned, there also needs to be a realisation that singing should not be the focus of anti-sectarianism initiatives. We should not continue with the ââ?¬Å?Fuck the Popeââ?¬Â or ââ?¬Å?Up the Raââ?¬Â nonsense, but the childish fixation on songs ââ?¬â?? and in particular the obsession with Rangers fans ââ?¬â?? by the government, media and police needs to be drastically reduced.


Resources should be focused on stopping people slashing and stabbing each other rather than offensive song lyrics. At present it seems the reverse is the case.


As I mentioned in the piece ââ?¬Å?Zero Tolerance?ââ?¬Â, our enemy isnââ?¬â?¢t some abstract ââ?¬Å?other sideââ?¬Â, but thugs who use the excuse of history at best, or at worst ignorant myth, to get drunk and knife innocent people for the glory of other halfwits.


Tribalism pretending to end tribalism will not work. Looking for cultural scapegoats will not work. We need to take back the sectarian debate from those with a vested interest in demonising whole groups of people for their own ends. This does not mean leaving our core identities behind, but simply realising that disagreement and difference is fine, as long as we agree to live without violence or the threat of violence.




1) http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/2011/03/26/church-set-to-prepare-hate-song-dossier-as-fans-claim-cops-allowed-sectarianism-at-hampden-86908-23017130/


2) See debate on youtube between Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry against Ann Widdecombe John Onaiyekan in a debate on ââ?¬Å?Is the Catholic Church a force of good in the world?ââ?¬Â http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmFYpuYh6w0


3) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/674246.stm






4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Calvin#Michael_Servetus_.281553.29


5) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_and_antisemitism


6) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/2014961.stm


7) http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/about_us/our_faith/westminster_confession_of_faith




http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/650/westminster_confession.pdf (original in PDF)


8) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-13891033




9) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/2274383.stm




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A masterpiece by John Gow.

This is why the subject of "sectarianism" will never go away.

The Catholic Church appears to have undergone a change of direction from being concilitory(?) to being aggressive in an attempt to protect itself from falling membership and increasing atheism.

It is merely trying to keep such subjects in the public eye to make itself appear more important and less of an irrelevance which it has become in our modern society. Clinging on to separate schooling is the prime example.

We, Rangers Football Club, have become unwitting partners in their publicity seeking headlines.

Rangers = Protestant = bad

Celtic = Catholic = good

Celtic are also players in this PR exercise as they, mainly in the past few years (after the "concilitory period), are the bridge between the Catholic Church and the ordinary people.

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Can I suggest that this article is presented to every MSP and that their response is asked for?


That's exactly the kind of pro-active response we should be taken. I'll send it to my local MSP forthwith!

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Guest Dutchy

The catholic church loves an argument. If there's an on going argument, it's in the headlines, if there's no argument, then it dies, which is what they are attempting to do - keep it alive - with all this bluster. It seems to be a dangerous tactic, but if your responses are illogical and based on faith, there's not penetration other than to attack, which suits them fine.


Long live secularism and lets hope the Scottish goverment realises, if indeed it's true purpose is to remedy the problem, that religious trouble will be reduced if the state stops supporting division.

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Another great article by John wish we had more like him especially in the corridors of power. For me it hits the nail right on the head, we don't want the bad old days of anti catholic feeling but the scales have swung way back in the other direction and if the powers that be continue on this course it's only going to make things worse. The Catholic church has to realise that they have to face their scandals head on not go on the offensive against everyone else which is the course they are on and the fact that everyone is so scared to speak out against their stance goes to show them for what they are bigots. If you continue to hammer a section of society again and again eventually they are going to hammer back and will that get us.

Scotland is standing at a crossroads and if they powers that be don't take a minute and actually look which road they are heading down the next generation of Scots are going to look at the mess they are in look back and scream what the hell did you think you were doing. I hope not but I don't hold out much hope one church should never carry the power that the RC does.

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The mother watching her laddie marching with his regiment and saying 'they are all out of step except my Johnny'' comes to mind.


That is the mind set of the RC Church, always has been and always will. They are never wrong in their eyes.


Another good piece by Gow, compared with the usual drivel we read in this country.

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