Freedom & Faith: A Question of Scottish Identity
What is our understanding of Scotland’s spiritual identity? This is a time in Scotland’s history when the nation is intensely examining, rediscovering and re-shaping every aspect of its identity. The questions we have begun to ask about ourselves will be examined and acted upon for many years to come but there is one fundamentally crucial element of our identity that has, so far, been largely ignored. Discussions about Scottish identity are most often defined by political, cultural, social, ethical and international questions. But is there a spiritual or religious dimension to our identity that we really need to understand? If so, what is it? Does the religious question belong only to the past or does it also lie squarely in front of us in the future? Why do so few debates ask this question?
So asks Donald Smith, Director of the Storytelling Centre. Alastair McIntosh reviews this important contribution to the national conversation.
I was given a copy of this book the other day by Alastair Hulbert who used to run Scottish Churches House and played a key role in Jacques Delors’ “Soul for Europe” programme. Alastair said he’s been giving out lots of copies, and I can see why. Although I’ve only just finished Chap. 3, and may not have time to write a more full review, I just want to say (given the lack of any other reviews here thus far) that this is a truly important contribution for all who care about the soul of Scotland and its relationship to religion, both in the past, but especially as we approach the referendum on Scottish Independence. Alastair commented that it’s very hard, from the impartial manner in which the book is written, to figure out where the author stands on the indy issue, so this should be food for both sides.
Donald Smith, director of the innovative Scottish Storytelling Centre, is the most creative person in Scotland working at the interface between Church, society and the arts. This informed, mature and inspiring reflection deserves to become essential reading for anyone with an interest in the shaping of a new Scotland at this turbulent and exciting time in the nation’s history.’ – Ron Ferguson
Having just finished chap 3 this morning it has helped me to understand things that had never quite dropped into place about the role of the Church of Scotland in 20th c. Scotland – how, for example, in the absence of a parliament, the General Assembly had such an important role in expressing the mood of the nation, how that role was ecumenically construed in the Articles Declaratory of the 1921 Church of Scotland Act, and why it is that there is such a strong push from some voices in the Kirk to have a separate Scottish coronation of the sovereign in the event of a Yes vote.
Harry Reid (ex Herald editor) in his intro says, “To use an old fashioned but valuable word, this book is all about Scotland’s quiddity,” in other words, its spiritual essence. Here we see Donald Smith as the director of the Scottish Storytelling Centre bringing together the storyteller’s power, and that, as one who trained both in New College (theology) and at the School of Scottish Studies (ethnography/folklore).
‘Scotland’s ‘quiddity’ has always been bound up with its religious practices in relation to culture, landscape, politics and internationalism. Covering the chequered story up to the present day, Smith looks to the possible future if Scotland becomes independent. He asks how we can live in relationship with “the divine sources of life itself”, in a participatory way, affirming human dignity, self-worth and wellbeing. Smith believes that the continuing divinity and generosity of the Holy Spirit will work to bring the change and renewal we are seeking.’ – Tessa Ransford
Other chapters. Chap 1 explores Scottish national identity as the “community of the realm” with sovereignty vested in the people.
Chap 2, about Scottish ID being connected to sense of place, esp the land, and a wonderful sideswipe at those who marginalise this with the line, “In the twentieth century it was fashionable to criticize the attachment of Scots to the natural world as ‘sentimental’.” Aye, indeed, a scholarly fashion, and to what end, to whose interests, I’d ask. Chap 3 I’ve discussed. Chap 4, Statehood and Ethics, looks like its about our values. Chap 5, Statehood and Culture, and how the distinction sometimes made between “high” and “low” culture is questionable when it comes to Scotland – as a sociologist of religion once said to me, “the thing about Scotland is that you have a high low culture.” Chap 6, A Moment in Time, looks like it’s addressing where spirituality stands at a time when organised religion is in disarray, with particular nods to writers who “intertwine identity, spirituality and morality” such as Tessa Ransford, George Mackay Brown, Neil Gunn, Naomi Mitchison and Patrick Geddes.
Chap 7, where would we be without it? – is on Sin and Salvation, with interesting lines like, “…the growth of Puritanism, in both Protestant and Catholic versions….” and nodding to the likes of Iain Crichton Smith (whose all-important essays such as Real People in a Real Place were published by Tessa’s late husband, Calum Macdonald).
Chap 8, Freedom and Love, looks at the Scottish nation through the lens of Christian and a very gospel-based (more than Pauline) spirituality, with extensive gospel quotes of what look like a very pertinent nature. Chap 9 (you can see the author understands the bardic tradition, writing the square of 3 chapters) is Faith in the Future, with quite a bit about Rikki Demarco in it.
So, that seems like a pretty full review of a book I’ve only 1/3 read, but I’m grabbing the chance to give Donald’s boat a push out (I hardly known him, incidentally) while the iron is hot. For all who understand Scotland’s future as a spiritual issue, this is the book to be reading right now.