Freedom and Faith: A question of Scottish
Saint Andrew Press £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50 (Use code
Honey from the Lion: Christianity and the ethics of
SCM Press £19.99
Church Times Bookshop £18 (Use code CT193
THE Referendum on Scottish Independence is less than six months
away. The debate so far seems to be a disappointingly
two-dimensional engagement between "Decisions taken in Scotland
will be better for Scotland" and "Better Together". The importance
of the choice surely demands debate that does justice to Scotland's
long and complex history, in which faith, identity, and nationalism
are intertwined. So these two books are a welcome and timely
Donald Smith is Director of the Scottish Storytelling Centre and
works at the interface between Church, society, and the arts.
Appropriately for his theme, the Centre sits just up the street
from the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood and down the street from
the building that houses the General Assembly of the Church of
Noting the rapid changes in religion since the 1970s, he remarks
that it is now credible to consider a separation of politics and
religion in Scotland - but wonders where such a change would leave
the moral dimension of politics and the political dimension of
spirituality. Much later, he comes to what, I suspect, is the
failure of the current debate: the reluctance to engage with issues
of identity lest that should become a matter of identity politics
in the narrower sense. Yet Smith affirms the vigour of current
Scottish identity, and wonders in what way this sense of identity
might carry spiritual resonance.
His book will be of interest to readers within and without
Scotland. He charts the inexorable and rapid decline of the Church
of Scotland and the challenges that the Roman Catholic Church faces
since the resignation of Cardinal Keith O'Brien.
In two areas, I would have welcomed more. Secularisation in
Scotland is fascinating - finding its roots both in the Scottish
Enlightenment and in the Scottish Reformation. Yet Smith leaves
these areas largely unexamined. Most of all, I longed to hear
stories of faith and identity from Scotland's faith communities
today - from the long-established Sikh community in Glasgow, from
the Church of Scotland, the RC Church, and even from my own
Scottish Episcopal Church, which is still burdened with the tag
Doug Gay is a Lecturer in Practical Theology at Glasgow
University, a minister of the Church of Scotland, and a long-time
supporter of Scottish Independence. Honey from the Lion is
a reference to Samson's slaying of a lion and the bees that
colonised it. This cycle of stories describes Samson's complex
relationship with the Philistines - the quintessential "other" that
serves and enhances Israel's identity. This is a complex and
sophisticated book - not always an easy read, but none the less
rewarding for that.
Gay begins by taking on the challenge of rehabilitating the
concept of nationalism. He repudiates the suggestion that a
nationalist project "repudiates civility". He explores the
development of the Scottish National Party and how it seeks to
"mobilise, bind and loose" people in contemporary Scotland. But he
believes that nations are "approximate, relative and provisional
communities, which resist both entire denial and exact definition
of their existence".
What will probably be much clearer to Scottish readers than to
those south of the border is the political divergence that has
steadily been opening up between Scottish and wider British
politics. Gay claims that Scots have consistently found that their
destiny on matters reserved from the devolution settlement have
been determined by parties that they have rejected at the polls.
Further, Scottish governments have consistently developed their own
priorities, such as the abolition of university fees for Scottish
students and free nursing-home care for the elderly.
What makes this book attractive is the scale of its ambition.
Gay's vision for the Scottish Churches and for contextual theology
is that they should "advocate a transforming vision of Scotland's
future, in which constitutional change is embraced as a means to
pursue virtue in Scottish society". Scotland may appear secular.
But that vision places its historic tradition of spirituality at
the heart of the evolving post-referendum future.
The Most Revd David Chillingworth is the Bishop of St
Andrews, Dunkeld & Dunblane, and Primus of the Scottish