Postcards
from Scotland

We asked a selection of SR
contributors for a memory
of an outstanding holiday in
Scotland – good or bad



Marian Pallister in Tobermory
George Chalmers in Ayr
Islay McLeod in Rockcliffe
Judith Jaafar in Carrick Castle
Barney MacFarlane on Arran



Bill Jamieson on Bute
Tessa Ransford in North Berwick
Michael Elcock on Harris
Ronnie Smith in Largs

Katie Grant on Mull
Thom Cross in Kirkcaldy
Morelle Smith in Glencoe
Bob Cant in Carnoustie

Robin Downie on Arran
Bruce Gardner in Glen Livet
Fiona MacDonald on Tiree
Walter Humes at home

Jill Stephenson at Loch Duich
Quintin Jardine in Elie
Iain Macmillan in Gleneagles
Douglas Marr on Skye
Andrew McFadyen in Kilmarnock

R D Kernohan on Arran
David Torrance on Iona
Catherine Czerkawska at Loch Ken
Chris Holligan in Elie

Rose Galt in Girvan
Alex Wood on Arran
Andrew Hook in Glasgow
Alasdair McKillop in St Andrews

Sheila Hetherington on Arran
Anthony Seaton on Ben Nevis
Paul Cockburn at Loch Ness
Jackie Kemp in a taxi
Angus Skinner on Skye


Bob's People

Stephen Hawking, who thinks there's a perfectly rational explanation.

www.bobsmithart.com

Angus Skinner

Baroness Warsi argues that religious faith is central to people's care for each other, for people to give to one another. I beg to differ. I think it is, as Adam Smith and others have argued, a natural part of the human condition and engagement. If you will, an inevitable part of the human condition.
     The word – language – evolved and was not given from on high. Adam Smith argued this centuries ago in Glasgow and in Edinburgh. Did he have empirical proof? How could he? How could we now?
     Of course this is scary. Eternal life seems unlikely. Let’s come to terms with that.
     Connectedness with others seems crucial and was it not interesting to see whenever he had the chance the Pope reached out beyond his security to meet with real people, especially children. Perhaps life, not eternity, counts. Perhaps we deeply know that.
     As to the exploitation for political or other means of our common fear of death? For our survival we must stop it.
     Have we no faith that as human beings we will care for each other? Our children, neighbours, generations? We seem to, we are here.
     And no, it won’t do to place the Catholic church as some PR victim, underestimated and misunderstood. It has its own responsibilities. So de we all.
     Life is not a fantasy. We care, I believe, as people. Flawed, I know better than anyone. But I have faith in us. Not arguments about us and others, just us all.

Poems by Gerard Rochford

[click here] for his SR poems of the year so far

Gobsmacked by vitriol

Catherine Czerkawska


For most of the time, social networking sites are a useful tool for maintaining contacts with like-minded friends and work colleagues. You can chat, or ask questions and usually receive useful answers. And since writing can be a lonely business, they also provide a substitute for those office 'water cooler' moments.
     There are, however, times when they give you a glimpse into aspects of human nature that are disturbing. And the recent visit to the UK of a small (not much taller than the queen) old and frail looking spiritual leader in crimson satin and white lace, with a rather fetching line in red shoes, was certainly one of them. In fact, I’ve come off my site of choice for a spell, needing a little time to think and regain my equilibrium.
     I was brought up as a Roman Catholic. We weren’t what’s known as devout. My Irish grandmother had married a Methodist. My Polish father was a kindly and tolerant scientist who wasn’t about to be dictated to in matters of religious belief. I was raised with an appreciation of the ceremony of the Catholic Church, a real affection for the Gospels (RC teaching is generally New Testament orientated) but with very little of the accompanying guilt, and with the useful ability – for a writer of fiction – to believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
     In Leeds, there was a certain amount of residual prejudice although, as so often in these cases, it was as much about anti-Irish sentiment as anything else. We were Cat Lights. They were Proddy Dogs. Bad enough, but that was as far as it went. And anyway, my beloved grandad was a Proddy Dog himself. When I was 12, we moved to the West of Scotland and suddenly became aware of other and more intense levels of prejudice, sometimes verging on hatred. But with those too, I suspect that there was a strong element of anti-Irish feeling.

 

I’m gobsmacked by the rudeness of so many of the comments. What most of them amount to is, ‘You’re utterly deluded'. This is not the stuff of real debate.

   
     I seldom go to church these days, but when I do, it’s a bit like returning to a once loved home. I may not want to move back in, but I’m certainly comfortable there. I feel wanted, accepted, recognised. I know the routine. My head worries at the paradoxes. My heart listens to some faint but enticing music, beyond all that. And – if I’m honest – it may well be that the Catholic church is a little like Hotel California – you can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave.
     I have written for the Scottish Review before about the church, the child abuse scandal and my own marginal experience of hushed-up paedophilia in another context. But the visit of Pope Benedict has provoked more online vitriol than I have ever encountered and – moreover – has provoked a wholly unexpected response in myself. I find myself distressed and angry, to the point of physical pain. Why? Because I’m gobsmacked by the rudeness of so many of the comments. What most of them amount to is, ‘You’re utterly deluded'. This is not the stuff of real debate.
     If this could be dismissed as the usual internet trolls at play, it would be easy enough to ignore. And I’ve had plenty of heated, face-to-face debates about religion with friends over the years. I work in theatre. I’ve written plays about belief. There have been long and sometimes emotionally charged discussions, late into the night. And why not? Everyone has the right to a point of view. Everyone has the right to their own beliefs. But these debates were always conducted with a certain amount of decorum. We were never crudely dismissive of each other, however strongly we felt. And we never became gratuitously and personally rude to one another.
     To be fair, some of the online debates have been like that: interesting, thought-provoking and allowing an insight into various points of view. But far more of them involved exclamatory and simplistic posts, glib and ill-informed insults from people who, in any other context, would consider themselves to be liberal intellectuals. Worse, one such post would invariably provoke a storm of additional comments. 'Do people actually believe in a god or is it just faith as an obsessive compulsive syndrome?' was one of the least offensive observations. 'As for the Pope, he is not only blinded by his faith but struck brain dead,' was another, along with a great many ugly and facile jokes, all hailed by the pack as the last word in wit and wisdom.
     There is no debating in this context. Even the mildest rejoinder is flamed with such hostility that there is no possibility of further debate. They assert that they are neither militant nor aggressive but 'just putting their side of the argument'. Which would be fine, so long as they don't then label anyone who dares to disagree with them 'a bloody fool'. I'm left wondering whether they are aware that for those of us who wrestle daily with tensions between the spiritual and the secular, this is about a bit more than some 'sad old guy in a dress'.

The day I’m so certain I’m right that I have to insult my friends to prove it, will be the day I really might as well be brain dead.

     

     Am I a practising Catholic? No.
     Am I an atheist? Absolutely not.
     On the other hand, I don’t dismiss those of my friends who are, as either mentally unstable, or dim-witted. Nor do I patronise them by claiming to 'tolerate' them, much as one might tolerate a recalcitrant child.
     Might I go back to the Catholic church one day? It isn't an impossibility. On balance, it has given me more that's positive than otherwise, including an interesting perspective on mysticism, and a warm fascination with humanity, warts and all.
     Foolish and stupid? Well, maybe.
     There’s another old guy, Epictetus – actually, he’s an old, dead philosopher (doubly dead, according to the funny little guy in the wheelchair – and no, they’re not nice, these crass personal insults, are they?) who said 'If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.'
     I’ll run with that one. Not sure about anything. Quite content to be thought foolish and stupid. The day I’m so certain I’m right that I have to insult my friends to prove it, will be the day I really might as well be brain dead.

 


Catherine Czerkawska is a playwright and author


 
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