June 2 | comments icon 1 COMMENT     print icon print


Open letter to Scolag on religous education

Dear Scolag, Against the backdrop of anti-Catholic sectarianism your editorial of May 2011 chose to respond by claiming “our law and civic bodies continue to enshrine, protect and systematically promote social division on religious lines. That is done most widely and effectively in our education system where the maintenance of religious instruction and observance, along with the public funding of denominational schools create and perpetuate religious discrimination."

Effectively, you use your editorial at this particular point in time to assert that Catholic schools are to blame for sectarianism. How can this be the case if long before the establishment in Scotland of State-funded Catholic schools in 1918 anti-Catholic prejudice was a major and longstanding problem?

So, let us agree the historical record shows that Catholic schools are not the cause of sectarianism and deal with the question as to whether they exacerbate sectarianism. You dogmatically assert there is a link between sectarianism and Catholic schools. However, you fail to spell out that link and we wait in vain for you to cite the evidence for its existence and a detailed description of it. In the absence of this evidence, let me help you by supplying the link you fail to give. Catholic schools may well be a cause and / or occasion for social division for a minority of people. I happily concede that Catholics not going to school with a particular individual probably does not help such an individual either become free of an already established anti-Catholic prejudice or help prevent him from developing anti-Catholic prejudices in the first place.

However, the heart of the matter is this: whether Catholic schools are the cause of anti-Catholic bigotry or exacerbate an already established anti-Catholic bigotry is simply beside the point. Neither scenario is a reason to ban Catholic schools because you can not ban bigots from either becoming or remaining bigots by removing from the public sphere anything they find offensive or may find offensive at a future date. A policy of appeasement is not how one responds to anti-Catholic bigots. Tackling bigotry and sectarianism by privatising Catholicism and having a Catholic-free public realm is not solving or confronting the problem but allowing the problem to dictate the nature of our society and the quality of our public realm. I don‟t know if you are so immersed in invincible ill-will and bad-faith that you fail to realise that your editorial is as guilty of anti-Catholic prejudice as the bigot in the street who allows himself to be provoked by a Celtic football shirt or a Catholic school.

Social inclusion is not served by individuals in your position of authority and influence calling upon Scotland’s politicians and law-makers to cleanse the public realm of every vestige of difference. Your vision of Scottish society is one where its members are only able to be themselves within the confines and privacy of their home because, otherwise, they would be “excluding‟ their neighbour by their different religious or linguistic or ethnic or class beliefs or practices. You talk of social inclusion but your real intent is revealed by your proposed solution which is to have all Scottish children educated in the same non-denominational schools. Your “strategy‟ for social inclusion is to imagine we can turn the clock back to the eighteenth century or even 1560 and remove difference and the presence of the Other from the map of Scotland.

There seems to be a serious failure on your pat to understand that in modern societies there can be no pretence of all of its members or groupings ever reaching agreement on the ends we as individuals or as social groups pursue. Legislators cannot enact laws to make us agree on a particular vision of the human person, the nature and purpose of education or correct religiousbelief. Hence, you reveal a regressive small-mindedness in the simplistic fantasy that contemporary Scottish society might solve the issue of social exclusion by abolishing Catholicschools. Your argument is an obscurantist tissue of prejudice-fed nonsense that refuses to face up to the reality of Scottish society. Viewed over the long durée it seems clear your editorial revealsthe same old Protestant prejudices live on in its secularist offspring insofar as you have ditched the formal Presbyterian surface for the secular genuflexion to “social inclusion‟ while the same intolerant instinct to repress Catholicism shines through loud and clear. Perhaps that is why psychotherapists are fond of the truism: “the subconscious always gets what it needs.‟

As a lecturer at Queen Margaret University (Edinburgh) and someone who teaches the sociology of contemporary Scotland, your editorial is useful evidence of the kind of bigotry that hides behind the mask of imagining itself as being part of the solution when it is part of the problem; of how individual members of society imagine to themselves they are competent to diagnose its evils and their solution with no regard for reason, reality or morality. If your editorial was an essay from a first year student I would classify its vision of Scotland as a nightmare for those of us who do not share its unthinking and barely-concealed will-to-power and advise you need to develop your analysis of Scottish society to a higher degree of sophistication, show far greatergenerosity in your deliberations concerning your Catholic neighbour and much greatercontemporaneity before you were anywhere near being competent to write an essay on how Scots law might contribute to the new Scotland that dawned after May 5 2011.

Yours in the hope of a better nation

Paul Gilfillan BA MSc MSc PhD

Programme Leader

Psychology & Sociology

School of Arts & Social Sciences

Queen Margaret University


East Lothian

EH21 6UU

Comments - One Response

  1. Philip M.McGhee says:

    One question to be answered. Do religious and other differences always have to be expressed in an obnoxious way? Can the “Other” challenge me to understand my “Self” better?

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