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Civil religion in the UK, Canada, Australia and the Commonwealth

By Norman Bonney,
Manchester University Press, October 2013

Advance online order deals with Amazon and Blackwells

Monday 7 October 2013

Creationists back in Scottish school - 14 year failure of Scottish Parliament to tackle evangelism in Scottish schools

Weekend news reports suggest that the chaplain who was withdrawn from a South Lanarkshire school under parental pressure because of his evolution denying views has been replaced, with the local authority's backing, by another representative of the same church who similarly expresses doubts about this well-supported scientific theory. Of course, if the local council had not acted in this way the Church of Christ could have claimed discrimination under the 2010 Equality Act because numerous other religious denominations, with equally scientifically doubtful beliefs central to their doctrines, are allowed to access pupils in our schools and, in the case of one big denomination, is allowed to manage a large proportion of those tax payer funded schools and directly influence the education and beliefs of pupils in them.Projecting trends from the recently published results of the 2011 census it is likely that the Scottish population will, next year, prior to the independence referendum, have a non-Christian majority and that those with no religion will constitute almost four in ten of the population. These major changes in belief mean that the current educational regime which gives Christian sects, and a few other religious denominations, an almost free range in our schools, will be increasingly contested.

The Scottish Parliament was established in 1999 with full powers to review and change the laws that govern the educational system and which were inherited from the Westminster UK Parliament. It has totally failed to undertake this task and has consented in the renewal by the Scottish Government of guidelines on religious activities in schools which have allowed the current situation to develop. 

Those who think somehow that an independent Scotland would be more democratic and secular in relation to such matters are mistaken if the record and the current plans of the Scottish Government is anything to go by.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Is Cardinal O'Brien a prisoner of the Vatican?

A correspondent in the Scotsman on Saturday 28 September 2013 rightly raised questions about the whereabouts, well-being and personal freedom of Cardinal Keith O'Brien the former Roman Catholic Archbishop of Edinburgh and St Andrews. As well as being excluded from the conclave of Cardinals that elected the current Pope he attempted to set up home in Dunbar but was apparently coerced by the Church to go into seclusion and, possibly, exile. 

There are numerous disturbing aspects of the treatment of this individual that deserve investigation by journalists, and perhaps by the police. Is the man at liberty or is he being held under constraint? Does he know that he is entitled as UK citizen to live wherever he would choose in the UK and the EU. Probably he is entitled to an old age pension and as a homeless person the state and the local authority would have certain obligations to assist him to re-establish himself independently. There might even be a charitable congregation or organisation that might support him to live independently. Clearly, however, he will be under constraint. If he wishes to have a secure future with decent  living conditions he may feel constrained to accept the authority of the Church and continue in his current circumstances. 

But there are alternatives. He could write a candid biography, like the former Scottish Episcopal Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway, which might be a best seller and provide for a more comfortable and freer retirement. He could certainly perform a valuable public function by elaborating further on the idea that Roman Catholic priests might be allowed to marry that he floated in his farewell interview while still in office. 

This case bears all the hallmarks of the 'kidnapped by a sect' story that happens from time to time in relation to much less significant denominations. The public of Edinburgh and St Andrews that the cleric attempted to serve over a long period deserve assurance that the Cardinal is a free man who is fully advised of his options by independent lawyers and is not held unwillingly under constraint.

Friday 27 September 2013

Religion north and south of the border - 2011 census results. A bare Christian majority in Scotland

For the second consecutive time a religion question was included in the decennial censuses.

Scotland, like England and Wales, continues to have a Christian majority - but only just. 

The questions are different north and south of the border. The Scottish one which asks people to respond to the question 'What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?'.seems to require a stronger commitment to a denomination in an answer. In Scotland, as well, three alternatives are provided for the Christian category. The English question is what is your religion? 

In Scotland 54% said they were Christian - in contrast to England and Wales where the figure was 59%

The Christian percentage share of the population fell by 17% 2001-2011 both north and south of the border

If this rate of change continues Scotland will have less than half the population as Christian sometime in 2014. 

‘No-religion’ increasing

Respondents indicating they have no religion are increasing - in 2011 37% in Scotland, 25% in England. The rate of increase in population share in the ten years between censuses for this group was 36% in England and Wales and 32% in Scotland.

Religion is less diverse in Scotland. Non Christian religions in England and Wales constitute 8.4% of the population - in Scotland the equivalent figure is 2.5%. The Christian/non-Christian ratio is 7:1 in England and Wales and 21:1 in Scotland.

Muslims are the largest non-Christian religion in both countries - 4.8% in England and Wales and 1.4% in Scotland.

Thursday 26 September 2013

2011 Scottish census results on religion show the need for change

The results of the 2011 Scottish census question on religion released today demonstrate the need for fundamental changes in Scottish institutions and help explain the growing support for secularism in Scotland.

The growth of the number of those who report that they have no religion to 36.7 per cent of the population explains the growing dissatisfaction that is evident amongst parents with the requirement for religious observance in schools.

The assumption by the Church of Scotland that it is the national church, evident in its claim that it should crown the monarch of an independent Scotland, is challenged by the census finding that two years ago it only had the support of one in three of the population.

The practice of Time for Reflection in the Scottish Parliament which gives hardly any space for the representation of belief outside of organised religion, even though it is intended to represent the whole spectrum of belief, again needs a fundamental review.

Scotland has only begun to witness the major changes in its institutions that must result from the rejection of organised religion by a large sector of the population.

If the 2001-2011 census result trends are projected forward to the present day 39 per cent of the population are likely to have no religion and 30 per cent identify with the Church of Scotland.

Friday 20 September 2013

Why the UK monarch swears to disavow the Roman Catholic religion

This Saturday 21 September sees the consecration ceremony in Edinburgh for the new Archbishop of Edinburgh and St Andrews. This, of course, will be of significance to substantial elements of the local population, many of whom identify with the Roman Catholic Church even if they do not all closely follow some of its advice on personal life and morality. 

However, it is important to appreciate that bishops and Archbishops of that Church are appointed by the Vatican which is a foreign state with official standing at the United Nations. Unlike most Catholic citizens the hierarchy of the Church owes fundamental loyalty to Rome - indeed as the case of the former incumbent of the position, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who is now exiled and in seclusion following recent publicity even though he would prefer to live in Dunbar, demonstrates. Their future careers and the perquisites of personal life depend on them being in the favour of their superiors in Rome. The control exercised by the Pope and his advisers over the bishops of the Church is one reason why, at various times and in various countries, governments have, in order to protect their independence from foreign control, demanded control over the appointment of the bishops. 

And it is fear over the potential control exercised over a UK monarch by that Church that the monarch cannot be a Roman Catholic and that the monarch is required to swear, as the Queen did on 4 November 1952 before the UK Parliament, to reject the authority and doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. The Accession Declaration Act of 1910 still binds the likely next monarch, Prince Charles, to do the same and no major political party is currently proposing at present to change the laws in this respect whatever the outcome of the referendum in a year's time.

Letter in the Edinburgh Evening News 20 September 2013 

The consecration of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Edinburgh and the Scottish independence referendum

The timing of the consecration of the new incumbent Roman Catholic Archbishop of Edinburgh and St Andrews on Saturday 21 September in Edinburgh, sandwiched between the SNP Scottish Government's promotion of independence in a debate in the Scottish Parliament and a pro-independence rally in the same city on the day following the religious service, can be no accident. The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland appears to be indicating sympathy for a 'yes' vote in the independence referendum in a year's time.

At a time when a substantial number of citizens in Scotland are thus calling into question many aspects of the UK union to which the majority of Scots have assented for over three centuries then it would also seem also appropriate to challenge aspects of the prevailing religious settlement which privilege the Roman Catholic Church whether in an independent Scotland or within a continuing UK.

The scandal over the retirement and enforced exile of the previous incumbent and the appointment of his successor highlights that fact that bishops and Archbishops of the Church of Rome are appointed by the Vatican. They are agents of a foreign multi-national organisation headquartered in Rome and are subject to its discipline and dependent on it for their future career and personal well being. The ultimate loyalty of the leaders of that Church, but not the ordinary Roman Catholic Scottish citizen, lies beyond the boundaries of Scotland. It is thus understandable that some states at some times have not allowed Rome to appoint the bishops of the Church in their countries.

There is, then, a need to ask whether the apparent support of the Church of Rome for Scottish independence does not conceal a desire to expand its influence in a possibly independent Scotland beyond its current control of a large multi-million pound chunk of the current Scottish education budget which the Scottish Government and Parliament currently grants to it.

The issues surrounding the appointment of the new Archbishop make it clearer as to why UK laws require a new sovereign, according to the Accession Declaration Act of 1910, to repudiate, before Parliament, the doctrines and authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Church is governed by a foreign power and citizens in determining their vote in the referendum in a year's time will need to bear in mind the possible implications of the result for the power and influence of this Church in the future life and government of Scotland.  

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Foreign power signals support for Scottish independence

The Vatican's appointee to the Roman Catholic bishopric of Edinburgh and St. Andrews signalled his  Scottish national sentiments on Sunday in a press interview where he indicated that he wears the saltire on his cuffs.

It is no accident, then, that his consecration ceremony as bishop and the accompanying publicity is scheduled for this coming Saturday 21 September in Edinburgh on the same weekend which sees a pro-Scottish independence rally in the same city one year ahead of the referendum.

But since the bishop is appointed by a foreign power, the Vatican, and his future life will be very much dependent on it as has been shown by the fate of his predecessor, can Scots be sure that he will put their interests ahead of those of the foreign power that appoints him?

And does the Vatican expect to exercise more influence in an independent Scotland than it does at present?