View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Wednesday 15 December

We're awaiting another wintry onslaught, which should reach us overnight. As I type, the mercury is reaching the dizzying heights of +8C; within 24 hours, the plus sign will be replaced by a minus sign on the Scottish mainland.

In Scotland, a ferocious debate is raging in the Free Church over the admission of musical instruments and hymns in the Sabbath service. The Free Church split from the Established Church of Scotland in 1849 in order for the congregation to be able to elect its own preachers, hence the designation of it being "Free". Previously, the Church of Scotland would impose preachers upon the faithful. The Free Church, which has a strong following in the Isle of Lewis, is regarded as fairly strict.

I have not attended a Free Church service, but I am advised that only psalms are sung, and there are no musical instruments present. These are regarded as frolicsome and instruments of the devil, prompting people to behave in an inappropriate fashion. Instead, psalms are sung out one line at a time by a precenter (yes, spelled with a C, not an S), which the congregation follows at its own pitch, pace and volume. The result is an eerie sound, almost like a swell rolling ashore on a beach.

It was recently decided that the Free Church would adopt musical instruments. This is a highly controversial move, and is threatening to split the Free Church even more than it already is. Which brings me to the point of this blogpost. I am a Protestant, but rather a protesting protestant. At the age of 20, a friend invited me along to a meeting of Opus Dei, which was seeking to recruit me (and other students). The explanation of Roman Catholicism very neatly served to persuade me that it was not for me. I cannot accept the basic tenet of RC faith that His Holiness the Pope is infallible. He was born a man, as fallible as the next person. And I can similarly not accept that one interpretation of the Bible is correct and all others are wrong. I apologise for any offense my statement may cause.

As far as Protestantism is concerned, I find it degrading to behold the spectacle, described at the start of my discussion, of grown men and women rolling in the street, fighting over an interpretation of the Bible. Whether this be the use of musical instruments in religious service, the observance of the day of rest or whichever aspect of life: it is enough to put people off religion, and brings down ridicule upon the faithful. And Protestantism to me is almost synonymous with squabbles and strife.

It should be a source of joy that factions of the Christian church seek to reconcile, which was attempted between the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church a year or so ago. I have also seen it happen between fractions of the Protestant Church - it should be encouraged, and people should look for common ground, rather than focus on what divides them. If all those church denominations were to do just that, it would make the world a much better place. However, I only have to glance 250 miles to my south (to Northern Ireland) to see what religious strife can descend into.

Dare I say that there is a lot in common between Christianity and Islam as well?
Don't go there, Guido, don't go there...