Showing posts with label religion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label religion. Show all posts

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Fantasy and Fairy Tales

In a famous but misunderstood quotation, Marx wrote: "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation." It is, he concluded, "the opium of the people." Opiates hide the pain of physical disease without curing it. Religion, which promises divine forgiveness and a better life in the next world, conceals the pain inflicted by poverty, hunger, and the other social diseases of this world. It consoles the exploited and oppressed and justifies exploitation and oppression here-and-now with the promise of retribution and justice for exploiters and oppressors hereafter. It justifies suffering on the basis of sin. The material roots of suffering are hidden behind a spiritual facade. Suffering is presented not as an alterable product of this world, but as unalterable punishment by God or karma for our moral transgressions.

Present-day society is wholly based on the exploitation of the vast masses of the working class by a tiny minority of the population, the class of the landowners and that of the capitalists. It is a slave society, since the "free" workers, who all their life work for the capitalists, are "entitled" only to such means of subsistence as are essential for the maintenance of slaves who produce profit, for the safeguarding and perpetuation of capitalist slavery. Rather than freeing us from want and widening and deepening democracy, as these advances can, it has instead brought us to the brink of environmental catastrophe, overseen the concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands through the immiseration of billions.

Religion is one of the forms of oppression. Burdened by their perpetual toil for others, by want, the alienation, and their impotence in their struggle against the exploiters inevitably gives rise to the belief in a better life. All their lives they are taught by religion to be submissive and patient while here on earth. The main cause of religion is the socially downtrodden condition of the working masses and their apparently complete helplessness in the face of the blind forces of capitalism. To eliminate religion therefore ultimately requires pulling up this deep social root. Charity serves to ease suffering while leaving unaddressed the roots of suffering. It renders the condition of the exploited and oppressed slightly less intolerable, and eases the conscience of the ruling class. It gives the poor a few scraps from the tables of the rich to keep the poor from demanding a seat at the table. A few scraps do not make for socialism.

Both science and religion are attempts to explain the universe. Materialism holds that everything that exists comes from matter and its movements. For example, a material substance, the brain, is required to generate ideas — including ideas about supernatural beings! The physical world precedes the world of ideas, and the world still exists even if we stop thinking about it. Religious doctrines are idealist. They attribute the existence and workings of the stars, the earth, and living organisms to the intervention of a deity or spirit. Science, on the other hand, is materialist. It posits that these things exist and operate as they do not because of supernatural forces, but because of laws of nature that can be studied and understood.

Religion is of little use in explaining why society operates the way that it does, beyond "that's what God wants." In fact, since the rise of class society, the major religions of the world provide justification for what the ruling class wants: support for its privilege to exploit. While it finds religion useful, capitalism also undermines religion. Globalisation, modernisation, and urbanisation have brought previously isolated communities the world over into contact with one another. There has been an unprecedented intermingling of peoples, cultures, and religions. It is much easier for religion to keep a stranglehold on the minds of isolated, ignorant peasants (or suburbanites) living in largely homogenous communities than it is to do the same to the minds of the modern urban proletariat living in contact with a variety of ideas and people.

In the sense of seeking a return to some previous pious age religion thus serves to undermine the struggle for socialism—the struggle for emancipation—because it misidentifies the causes of our present problems. It sees sin as the cause of our suffering. Just as militant atheism will not deal religion its deathblows, neither will capitalism, for neither can abolish the conditions that give rise to religion. So long as capitalism persists, so too will religion. Religion persists in spite of the theoretical assaults against it because it continues to play a practical social function. Churches, mosques, synagogues, temples of all sorts, religious schools, “faith-based” charities: these institutions are the substance of religion. Nor will we abolish religion by prohibition, as the anti-religious campaigns of the past have taught us, as soon as the direct assault against religion subsides, religion creeps back into society. It is only by rendering the social function of religious institutions obsolete and unnecessary that we will abolish religion. How? By abolishing the conditions of poverty and ignorance to which religion is a response, to which it is a false panacea which only perpetuates the diseases for which it claims to be a cure. In other words, by abolishing capitalism. We must fight with workers to ameliorate their material condition so that they will have no need of spiritual solace, so that we may govern ourselves and never again bend the knee before bosses, kings, gods, priests, or presidents.

Religion is not a private affair. The Socialist Party is an association of class-conscious men and women for the emancipation of the working class. Such an association cannot and must not be indifferent to lack of knowledge, ignorance or mysticism in the shape of religious beliefs. We are driving out mysticism through the use of materialism. Socialism is not a defense of the status quo but a critique of it, and a scientific one. Just as natural scientists seek to understand the laws that turn one form of matter or energy into another, so too do socialists seek to understand the laws that turn one form of society into another. Socialism is materialist because it proceeds from the basic observation that human social organisation is concerned first and foremost with satisfying the survival needs of its members. In the process, humans act on nature with continually expanding technical skills and knowledge. Over time, these advances in technology, broadly defined, force epic changes in social structure.

The division of society into classes was one such transformation, leading to an entrenched conflict of material interests between different groups. Socialists believe that just as the force holding down a volcano eventually succumbs to the greater force beneath it, these conflicting class interests engender struggles for power that lead periodically to social eruptions — to revolution. The Socialist Party understands that the answer is not to try to stamp out religion, but to make the revolutionary changes in society that will liberate and uplift humanity in the here and now. The Socialist Party strives to achieve a world where peace and freedom are not the rewards of life in heaven, but the reality of life on earth.

There is a type of “socialist” who seek a reconciliation with religion by declaring it to be a “private matter” and then there is another “socialist” who declares “If Mohammed will not come to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammed”; if the religious will not come to socialism, socialists must come to religion. Socialists who call for a rapprochement with religion are behind the times—they have overestimated the strength of religion. Religion is dying and has been for some time. Most people, including most of the proletariat in the advanced industrial countries, are de facto, if not outright, atheists. What matters isn’t what people say, but what they do, and what they don’t do. Increasingly they don’t identify with religion, they don’t know religious dogma, they don’t abide by religious commandments, they don’t attend church, they don’t listen to priests.

These two types of “socialists” have misjudged the nature of religion. While it provides consolation to the exploited and oppressed, it also justifies exploitation and oppression. It is a product of suffering, one which reinforces and reproduces suffering. For every fine-sounding phrase in scripture or out of the mouth of a priest, there are countless more vile words. Religiously inspired deeds of cruelty far outnumber acts of charity. Religion aids in the ruling class strategy of divide and rule. Behind its fine-sounding sermons of “universal brotherhood” and “love,” religion sows division and discord. It divides the world into saints and sinners, saved and damned, orthodox and heretic, adherents and infidels. Through such division it hinders the development of class consciousness. There cannot be a reconciliation of socialism and religion; to call for such a reconciliation is to call for a reconciliation of emancipation and slavery.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Godly Scots

A Freedom of Thought report, published by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) criticises Scotland for the religiously privileged position afforded to three “religious representatives” who are required by law to be appointed to all 32 local authority education committees.

These positions require at least one Roman Catholic and one Church of Scotland representative, but non-religious people are excluded. The report also highlighted the disparity of sex and relationships education, and religious education between Roman Catholic faith schools and others in Scotland.

Douglas McLellan, Chief Executive of the Humanist Society Scotland said:
 “Many commentators in Scotland still seem unable to mention humanists or atheists without adding the term ‘militant’ or ‘aggressive’. I hope this report will make them reflect on how hurtful that is to the many millions of Scots who wish to lead an ethical and fulfilling life without reference to religion.”

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Orange Pith

From the August 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Orange Myths

It is Sunday 7 July. In Portadown this morning a riot took place and working people, including policemen, were hurt; some were arrested. Another battle  . . . another myth . . . another contribution to the bitterness and hatred that divide the working class in Northern Ireland.

The government and police and wanted to ban this morning's march through the exclusively Catholic Obins Street district. The marchers, Orangemen going to church accompanied by bands playing sectarian tunes and flaunting sectarian symbols, refused to obey the Government, the police and the law despite their vociferous protestations of loyalty to all three. The police - probably working on the assumption that they could cope more easily with the Catholics than they could with the loyalists - gave in and the march took place. The holy men of the Orange Order marched defiantly through Obins Street to communicate with their god.

The Orange Order intend repeating this exercise on the twelfth and thirteenth of July. The police have issued a notice proscribing these marches and - to compound this lunacy - the Catholics have announced their intention of staging parades at the same time and on the same date.

Paisley and several other loyalist politicians and hate-mongering clergymen have let it be known that they will defy any Government order banning the march. In their eyes the issue is sufficiently serious to justify a civil war. Serious enough to endanger the lives, homes and liberties of working people, for, make no mistake, it is workers who would be asked to slaughter one another. Not because they suffer poverty or live in slums; not because they endure the miseries of unemployment or have mean lives. No. Paisley, who has used bigotry and hatred to become one of the best paid politicians in Europe, and his friends don't experience these things. What they are asking Protestant workers to spill their blood for is something really wholesome and important: the right to march through avenues of Catholics reminding them that their forbears were defeated in 1690!

We would ask our Protestant fellow workers to examine some of the historical facts that make up the myths and damned lies for which their leaders want them to kill and be killed. We have, many times, in the past, exposed the myths that make up the "principles" behind the IRA murder campaign and the fallacious reasoning used to inveigle Catholics into support of Irish Nationalism, so it cannot be said that in exposing the lies and deceptions underlying Unionism we have any sympathy whatsoever with nationalism or republicanism. Our purpose is to disabuse workers on both sides of the notions and fictions that keep them divided; to show that neither Unionism nor nationalism have anything to offer the working class and, to bring them to an examination of the cause of their real, common problems.

King James and King Billy

James II succeeded to the throne of England following the death of his brother, Charles II, in 1685. A convert to Catholicism and a sickly pious man - following a life of profligacy and sexual abandonment - he was determined to re-establish the power of Catholicism in his kingdom. Within three years of becoming king, James' policies had provoked fierce opposition in England and fear and distrust among the Protestant population of Ireland. In 1688 seven members of the English parliament petitioned James' son-in-law, William, Prince of Orange, to become king of England. James reacted by allying himself with the French king, Louis XIV, who manipulated the situation to his own advantage by making England a semi-dependent of his own kingdom.

According to Orange fiction, James was the agent of Rome and popery. Nothing could be further from the truth. In seeking the help and support of Louis XIV, King James was allying himself with the pope's bitterest enemy. Louis, bent on European domination, had made Lorraine a subject state, had attacked Genoa and attempted to sack Rome. The pope of the period, Innocent XI, was outraged and humiliated. In 1686 some of the European powers, alarmed at the strength and ferocity of the French, entered into the Treaty of Augsberg. This Treaty, established specifically to resist the marauding armies of Louis XIV, was subscribed to by the king of Spain, the Emperor of Germany and by William, Prince of Orange. The nominal head of the Treaty powers was Pope Innocent XI.

So, rather than being an enemy of the pope, as Orange mythology asserts, "King Billy" was the pope's ally when, in November 1688, he invaded England and his armies were partially provisioned and equipped by the powers of the Augsberg Treaty - and he had the official backing of the Roman Catholic church! Contrary to myth, when they fought in the Battle of the Boyne on 30 June and 1 July 1690, King Billy was an ally of the pope and King James an ally of the pope's most bitter enemy, Louis of France. Indeed, when news of King William's victory over King James at the Boyne percolated through to Rome the pope ordered the singing of a special Te Deum in St. Peter's and similar celebrations and rejoicings were held in Catholic churches in Madrid, Brussels and Vienna.

James was a Catholic, of course, and William a Protestant but, as always, the politics and economics underlying their conflict rose above religion.

Religious liberty

What about the notion that King Billy established religious liberty in Ireland and saved the Protestants from persecution? Again, Orange fable stands historical fact on its head.

It was James, as the legitimate incumbent of the English throne, who signed the Acts of the Dublin Parliament, giving freedom of religion to all citizens. King Billy, too, when he agreed the Treaty of Limerick in October 1691, accepted that the various religious denominations should continue to enjoy the freedom of religious worship established in the reign of Charles II and under the Acts of the Dublin Parliament agreed by James. Later he established the Episcopalian Church and effectively outlawed not only Catholicism but Presbyterianism -  the religion of the great majority of Protestants in Ireland.

A Presbyterian clergyman in 1691 was liable on conviction of delivering a sermon or celebrating the Lord's Supper to a term of imprisonment and fine of £100 and they were similarly punished for performing marriage rites. There are many recorded convictions for these "offences" during the period, especially in the counties of Antrim and Down. In 1694 the Williamite government passed a Test Act which effectively precluded Presbyterians from offices under the Crown and a further Act of 1713 set a punishment of imprisonment for Presbyterians convicted of schoolteaching and banned the marriage of Presbyterians and members of the Established church.

The History of Irish Presbyterianism gives the political and economic reasons for the persecution thus:
Presbyterians, having no political power, had to submit to political persecutions. The feudal system which transferred ownership of the soil from the toiler to the landlord was one of many evils introduced by the power of England.
King Billy was the chief agent of that feudal power which persecuted, viciously and equally, both Catholic and Presbyterian in Ireland.

Driven out of Ireland

Such was the "civil and religious liberty" enjoyed by the then, as now, numerically strongest Protestant denomination in Ireland that, in the first half of the eighteenth century, almost a quarter of a million Ulster Presbyterians were driven out of the country. These went mainly to America, where many played a distinguished role in the war of the American colonists to gain political and economic independence from England.

On both sides of today's sectarian divide it is ordinary working people, usually the very poorest, who are the victims of both the republican and loyalist myths. The hate mongers and fable peddlers don't live in the slums and are rarely victims of the violence they so actively promote.

When Presbyterians march to celebrate the Battle of the Boyne on "The Twelfth" and the victory of King Billy over his equally degenerate father-in-law, King James, they are commemorating a victory which was as opposed to the interests of their forbears in 1690 as it is to their own class interests in 1985.

Richard Montague
Belfast Branch WSP

Monday, January 27, 2014

Religious Intolerance

A severely mentally ill British pensioner sentenced to death in Pakistan after being found guilty of breaching the country’s blasphemy laws is being denied independent legal advice to help him appeal against the threat of execution.  The retired grocery shop owner was found guilty by a judge after state-appointed counsel failed to raise vital expert medical evidence proving he was unfit to stand trial for allegedly claiming to be the Prophet Mohammed in a series of unsent letters which were handed in to police by a man with whom he was embroiled in a property dispute. He had travelled to his birth country when he was released from hospital after being sectioned in Edinburgh. Among his grandiose symptoms, which included claiming to be a holy man, were delusions that he was being bugged by the British, Pakistan and United States secret services.

Lawyers representing Muhammad Asghar, 69, from Edinburgh, were told they could not see him in prison this weekend in defiance of his constitutional rights despite having pre-arranged a visit through the jail authorities. Lawyers urgently need to get Mr Asghar to sign a secondary power of attorney allowing them to lodge an appeal by Thursday. Even if the papers are filed in time he still faces up to a five year wait until the case is reconsidered by the appeal court in Rawalpindi. The appeal itself could take at least a further year.

Mr Asghar lived in Scotland for 40 years and ran a grocery shop in Leith. He was a well-known member of Edinburgh’s Muslim community and worshiped at the Shah Jalal Mosque and Islamic Centre in the city. It is believed he has two daughters still living in Scotland whilst his wife is said to be unwell and living in Rawalpindi. Mr Asghar, who has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia by a leading consultant in Scotland and is believed to be suicidal as well as at risk of revenge attacks by religious extremists, has seven days to lodge an appeal against his sentence which has prompted international outrage from human rights organisations. As well as being partly paralysed down one side of his body following a stroke he also demonstrates little awareness that he is mentally ill.

Despite a 2008 moratorium on the death penalty in Pakistan there is growing international unease over the country’s sacred religious laws.

Dr Usama Hasan, senior researcher in Islamic Studies for the Quilliam Foundation said the restrictions were a legacy of British rule although they were tightened under General Zia’s military regime in the 1980s.
“This case shows once again why the blasphemy laws should be reformed. The irony is that they date back to the British times when they were meant to keep the peace between different faith communities and prevent communal violence,” he said. “It has become a different issue now and the blasphemy laws are supported by religious conservatives and the Taliban and their supporters because they want a harsh and narrow interpretation of sharia law,” he added.

Experts say it is impossible to defend someone accused of breaching the religious laws without being accused of blasphemy. It is claimed up to five judges presided over Mr Asghar’s trial before the sentence was handed down behind closed doors. Dr Hasan said pressure could be brought to bear on the case. “Most people know that someone who is mentally ill is not responsible for their actions. If the case was properly championed there would be a lot of support and sympathy.”

Thursday, December 12, 2013

News we like to hear.

Up to half the Catholic churches across swathes of Scotland face the prospect of closure as another diocese warns of a crisis of clergy numbers and falling congregations.

The Diocese of Galloway has released figures showing the number of priests has more than halved since 1990, with the fall in churchgoers nearly as steep. The number of regular Catholic church-goers in the Galloway diocese has dropped by half since 1990 while the number of priests has fallen from 55 to 23.  Across the diocese, which covers most of south west Scotland, there is currently one priest for every two churches.

A similar tale is to be told in the Netherlands. One of the Catholic bishops of the Netherlands, told Vatican Radio they are facing the closure of hundreds of churches and an ongoing exodus of the faithful. “The number of practicing Catholics is diminishing very quickly,” Willem Jacobus Eijk Cardinal and Archbishop of Utrecht and chairman of the Dutch bishops’ conference said. “In the 1950s 90 percent of Catholics still went to church every Sunday. Now, it’s only five percent.”
This mass exodus has hit the bishops hard in their bank accounts. “The Dutch Church,” the cardinal said, “does not have a subsidy from the state but depends on voluntary contributions of the faithful. Therefore, we are forced to close many churches.”  He added. “The Church was losing the relationship with the doctrine of the faith and no longer touched people’s daily life.”

600-700 Catholic churches in the Netherlands will be decommissioned by 2018. In 2010, the group published a report that said two churches a week are closing due to lack of congregations.  According to data collected in 2008, the report said, “it is to be expected that in the near future 1,000 to 1,200 Roman Catholic and Protestant churches will be closed. Of the 170 monasteries which are still in use for religious purposes, approximately 150 will close in the next 10 years. 326 parishes are being merged into 49 “very large” territorial amalgamations in each of which one church is to be designated as a “Eucharistic centre.”

“Today shortage of priests to celebrate Mass in every church, so we have centralized the celebration of the Eucharist in one,” he said.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Nasty Nationalism

Myanmar's Muslim minority, demonised and persecuted for decades, is facing a fresh wave of violence amid media silence. Rohingya Muslims  number 1.3 million out of the country's 60 million people.

 The Oxford-educated, daughter of a General,  Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi,  characterises the waves of organised violence and  hate campaigns currently being committed by her fellow Buddhists - monks and non-monks alike - as violence of two equal sides, claims that Burmese Buddhists live in the perceived fear of the rise of great Muslim power worldwide.

The Rohingya and other Muslims make up more than 90 percent of the victims of violence, which has displaced more than 140,000 in Rakhine State. Anti-Muslim violence spread to 11 different towns elsewhere in the country, resulting in 100 Muslim deaths, displacing 12,000 Muslims, and destroying 1,300 Muslim homes and 37 Mosques. Since the 1990s, Rohingya Muslims of northern Arakan state have been confined within a web of security grids where they are subject to extreme restrictions of movement, preventing them from accessing adequate healthcare, education and jobs. Summary executions, rape, extortions, forced labour and other human rights atrocities, mostly at the hands of state security forces, are rampant. Restrictions on marriages and births have resulted in over 60,000 Rohingya children who are not registered or recognised by the Burmese government, in violation of the Rights of Child, hence depriving them of access to basic schooling. In a country that has one of the highest adult literacy rates in Asia, a staggering 80 percent of Rohingya adults are illiterate. The doctor-patient ratio among the Rohingya Muslims is 1 to 75,000 and 1 to 83,000 in the two major ancestral pockets of the Rohingya respectively, as compared with the national average of 1 to 375.

 Human Rights Watch has called it "ethnic cleansing" and "crimes against humanity." Suu Kyi's denial and silence on the racially-motivated violence against a Muslim minority, that only makes up about 4 percent of the total population, has led to a growing chorus of international criticism.

The Rohingya and other Burmese Muslims are confronted with threats to their very existence. They pose no existential threat to the Buddhist way of life, national security or sovereignty.Governments such as the US and the UK have chosen, out of their own strategic needs and commercial pursuits, to embrace the military leadership that has tacitly backed the Islamophobic perpetrators and hate-preachers.

 From here

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Facts of the Day

A global poll on religion and atheism has found that 59 percent of the people in the world think of themselves as religious and 13 percent see themselves as convinced atheists. The study found that worldwide the number of atheistsincreased by 3 percent in the same time period that the number who said they were religious dropped off by 9 percent.

Poor People More Religious

The bottom income groups are 17 percent more religious than those in the top income groups. Ghana leads the way among religious people with 96 percent of its respondents saying they think of themselves as religious. Nigeria was second at 93 percent, followed by Armenia and Fiji, which both came in at 92 percent. Macedonia rounded out the top five at 90 percent. 60 percent of the United States population considers itself to be religious, while 5 percent think of themselves as atheists.
China leads the way among atheist countries by far as 47 percent of the nation’s respondents think of themselves as convinced atheists. Japan was second at 31 percent followed by the Czech Republic at 30 percent. France came in fourth at 29 percent before another significant dropoff found South Korea and Germany tied at 15 percent.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

No God-given right to a country

The Church of Scotland denies any special privilege for the Jewish people in the land of Israel. In fact it went further and declared "Christians should not be supporting any claims by Jews, or any other people, to an exclusive or even privileged divine right to possess particular territory." [our emphasis]
In its report the Church of Scotland refutes claims that scripture offers any peoples a privileged claim for possession of a particular territory. Promises about the land of Israel were never intended to be taken literally, or as applying to a defined geographical territory. The ‘promised land’ in the Bible is not a place, so much as a metaphor of how things ought to be among the people of God. This ‘promised land’ can be found – or built – anywhere.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Saudi Arabia back-pedals on women's freedom

Women in one of the West closest allies are still banned from driving cars or travelling alone but it is good to note that the British demands for more women’s rights in the Islamic fundamentalist state is being heeded and having an effect.

 Women can now ride bicycles! But only in parks and recreational areas, not as a means of transport, just for entertainment and pleasure. Of course, a male relative or guardian must still accompany them.

Socialist Courier spots a potential market and business opportunity in selling Saudi Arabia tandem bikes.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

One or None

It is 200 years since the birth of David Livingstone, perhaps the most famous of missionaries. One biography describes David Livingstone as "Africa's Greatest Missionary".

An interesting claim considering that estimates of the number of people he converted in the course of his 30-year career vary between one and none. Livingstone himself later wrote off his sole convert as a backslider within months of his baptism.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Preaching revolution

The only reasonable position to adopt towards any religion is one of unbelief. For secular humanists, criticism of religion is a process towards the eventual "triumph of reason". But they ignore the material circumstances which give rise to superstition. The socialist analysis of religion derives from our basic materialism that traces how religions have evolved, from their possible beginnings in ancestor worship in primitive societies to established social institutions. Under capitalism people feel, rightly, that they are governed by forces they can't control but attribute this, wrongly, to forces operating from outside the world of experience. Churches of all types are then at hand for the sustaining of fear and superstition. For the socialist alternative to our lives being controlled by impersonal forces we must bring about a society in which humans consciously control the forces of production.
Humans made God in their image and attributed to him the powers which they collectively possessed, and then bowed down and worshiped this figment of their imagination. The first premise of historical materialism is that all man's thinking is social thinking; that there is no idea that man discusses, no interest that he fights for, and no ideal that he aspires to, that is not derived from social origins. If humans were to realise this and take their own destiny in hand there would be no need for God or religion. Where the working class accepts allegiance to religion, to royalty or the nation-state, or accepts a false ideology or economic subservience to the capitalist class, it denies itself the realisation of its own interests. The poverty of the modern proletariat still results from the fact that its labour operates in commodity form, is bought for wages and exploited by capitalists with a view to profit. To buy a man's labour power and set him to work is to reduce his existence to a commercial transaction and alienate his individuality.
Despite the attempts by churchmen to modify the image of the Church and alter its social role, it will retain one enduring characteristic, that of an anti-working class institution. The Church supports the present method of producing and distributing wealth--capitalism. The ideas that it disseminates, its concepts about society, and the universe it trades in, are either irrelevant or hostile to the ideas that the working class requires to achieve its economic emancipation. Socialists seek the universal brotherhood of men, but for the Church to sloganise ideals and in practice support a system that precludes their realisation, is worse than hollow gesture, it erects a barrier to their practical achievement. Churches arrogated to themselves the role of arbiter in things appertaining not only to matters of what it called ‘morality’ but to all forms of human behaviour and even juridical practice. If the Church genuinely aspires to social harmony on a world scale what it should do is relate to specific social situations within actual experience and explain the reasons why men now behave in a manner contrary to their mutual interests. It should argue a valid social theory and advocate a practical course for political action that offer the sure prospect of the unity of all men based on relations of genuine social equality. Only Socialists do this.
Many anti-religious writers see themselves as defenders of the Enlightenment tradition of reason against its traditional foe, religion. But they see nothing wrong in capitalism. Socialists recognise that the main source of irrationality in the modern world is to be found in the capitalist system of society. For socialists, therefore, the struggle against religion cannot be separated from the struggle for socialism. We fight religious superstition whenever it is an obstacle to socialism that keeps the gaze of the masses fixed upon the sky where they cannot investigate the real material world and see how they are robbed and oppressed.

The Preacher and the Slave
Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what's wrong and what's right;
But when asked how 'bout something to eat
They will answer with voices so sweet:

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die.

The starvation army they play,
They sing and they clap and they pray
Till they get all your coin on the drum
Then they'll tell you when you're on the bum:
Holy Rollers and jumpers come out,
They holler, they jump and they shout.
Give your money to Jesus they say,
He will cure all diseases today.
If you fight hard for children and wife -
Try to get something good in this life -
You're a sinner and bad man, they tell,
When you die you will sure go to hell.

Workingmen of all countries, unite,
Side by side we for freedom will fight;
When the world and its wealth we have gained
To the grafters we'll sing this refrain:


You will eat, bye and bye,
When you've learned how to cook and to fry.
Chop some wood, 'twill do you good,
And you'll eat in the sweet bye and bye

Joe Hill

Friday, January 25, 2013

Religious Belief

Readers of Socialist Courier may find this article by Jeff Schweitzer on religion of interest.

The human brain manages to make sense of a chaotic world by picking out patterns from the noise bombarding our senses. We don't see the trillions of photons coming into our eyes as pointillist smears of colors; we see trees and forests. We process all of that incessant sensory input and come up with a familiar scene filled with grasses, animals, lakes and mountains. In addition, we are extraordinarily good at matching cause to effect so that we can quickly learn the behaviors necessary for survival. Burning your hand quickly teaches that fire causes pain. Understanding patterns, combined with correlating cause and effect, will save your life.

Unfortunately, this incredible talent for seeking patterns and linking cause to effect has a dark side, too. Humans see patterns where none really exist and cause where only chance reigns supreme. We cannot seem to turn off our pattern-seeking or cause-effect neurons. Sometimes the results are benign: We identify animal shapes in cloud formations or see a human face in a rock cliff or in an outcropping on the surface of Mars. A baseball player wears the same underwear during a hitting streak, believing that the underwear is the cause of his good fortune. These are silly manifestations of our mental abilities, but with no consequence. The dark side appears when we attribute cause and effect falsely in a way that has long-term impacts on our behavior and society.

Religion was born of fear of the unknown, of the drive to control the uncontrollable, of the need to have mastery over one's fate in the face of an uncertain world. The first ideas of religion arose not from any awe of nature's wonder and order that would imply an invisible intelligent designer but from concerns for the events of everyday life and how the vast unknown of nature affected daily existence. To allay fears of disease, death, starvation, cold, injury and pain, people fervently hoped that they could solicit the aid of greater powers, hoped deeply that they could somehow control their fate and trusted that the ugly reality of death did not mean the end. Hope and fear combine powerfully in a frightening world of unknowns to stimulate comforting fantasies and myths about nature's plans.

The human brain is extraordinarily adept at posing questions but simply abhors the concept of leaving any unanswered. We are unable to accept "I don't know," because we cannot turn off our instinct to see patterns and to discern effect from cause. We demand that there be a pattern, that there be cause and effect, even when none exist. So we make up answers when we don't know. We develop elaborate creation myths, sun gods, rain gods, war gods and gods of the ocean. We believe we can communicate with our gods and influence their behavior, because by doing so we gain some control, impose some order, on the chaotic mysteries of the world. By making up answers to dull the sting of ignorance, we fool ourselves into thinking we explain the world. Religion was our first attempt at physics and astronomy.

Of course, the biggest and most wrenching unknown served by religion is that of our fate upon dying. As a matter of survival, we are programmed to fear death, but perhaps unlike other animals, we have the cruel burden of contemplating this fear. Religion is one way we cope with our knowledge that death is inevitable. Religion diminishes the hurt of death's certainty and permanence and the pain of losing a loved one with the promise of reuniting in another life.

But fear of the unknown, fear of mortality and hopes for controlling and understanding nature's course do not represent the only foundation on which religion stands. Another is social cohesion. We are social animals, gregarious by nature. Cooperation is what makes the human animal -- a weak, slow and vulnerable creature -- a powerful force on Earth. But cooperation becomes more difficult with increasing numbers. Some means of maintaining social order is necessary. Early societies soon learned that rules of behavior imposed in the form of rituals enabled large groups of people to live in close proximity. Rituals create norms against which people can readily judge the behavior of others in diverse social settings. Any deviation from the norm is easily spotted and can be quickly addressed. In this way order can be maintained. Notice that modern-day teenagers express their rugged individualism by dressing identically. Any nonconforming outlier would be easy to spot. Religion offered, and offers still, an obvious means of enforcing societal rules by promising a joyous afterlife for conformers or eternal punishment for those who misbehave. Religion is used as a bribe to induce good manners.

Finally, religion was eventually transformed into an important source of raw political power, divorced from any role more benign. If religion is used as a tool to control individual behavior, someone needs to develop those rules and ensure their enforcement. Who better to act as behavior police than religious elders, shamans or high priests? What better way is there to manipulate and bend people to your will than by making up the rules by which they must live? With that influence over the daily lives of every citizen comes power traditionally reserved for city-states and empires, with all the normal trappings, including armies, treasuries and palaces.

Fear of death, the need to explain away the unknown, hopes for controlling one's destiny, a desire for social cohesion and the corrupting allure of power are the combined masters of all religion. We see all of that in the face on Mars.

The full unedited text is here

Friday, December 21, 2012

Victimised atheism

The latest census reveals that in the UK respondents with no religion was up 10 points to 25%. A detailed survey in 2012 revealed that religious people make up 59% of the world population, while those who identify as “atheist” make up 13%, and an additional 23% identify as “not religious” (while not self-identifying as “atheist”).

Many countries criminalize manifestations of atheist convictions or skeptical thoughts. In prosecuting these “crimes” it may not be necessary to accuse the person of atheism. Many states prosecute people who express their religious doubts or dissent regardless of whether those dissenters identify as atheist. More commonly, secular people experience discrimination when they manifest their conscience by acting against the dictates of the religion of their family, community or country. In some societies allegations of religious dissent are manufactured for use against minority belief communities, or vulnerable individuals, or to settle personal vendettas. A handful of countries criminalize atheism per se. In addition, there are several forms of legal measures found across many countries that either criminalize the expression of atheist beliefs or result in systematic discrimination against atheists and those who reject religion. These include laws regulating:
• Apostasy and religious conversion
• Blasphemy and religious criticism
• Compulsory religious registration, usually with a list of permissible religions
• Religious tests for citizenship or participation in civic life
• Religious control of family law
• Religious control of public education.

Atheists in at least seven countries can be executed for their lack of religious belief and suffer persecution or discrimination in many other parts of the world. Expression of atheist views can bring capital punishment in Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.

In a range of other countries -- such as Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Kuwait and Jordan -- publication of atheist or humanist views on religion are totally banned or strictly limited under laws prohibiting "blasphemy." In Greece and Russia, the Orthodox Church is fiercely protected from criticism and is given pride of place on state occasions

 In others like Malaysia, atheists have to register as adherents of a small number of officially-recognized religion. Atheists are thereby forced to lie to obtain official documents without which it is impossible to go to university, receive medical treatment, travel abroad or drive.

In Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin and North America, countries which identify themselves as secular give privileges to or favor Christian churches in providing education and other public services.

In Britain the 26 most senior Church of England  Bishops are automatically granted membership in the House of Lords – the upper chamber of Parliament – where they have the right to speak and vote on all legislation. They acquired this right solely by virtue of their position in the hierarchy of one particular denomination of one particular Church. They are unaccountable to the public.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

God and the Socialist Party

The quest for the supernatural does not stem from an excessive imagination but from a limited one constrained by years of exploitation and oppression.

Being opposed to religion is not the same as trying to prevent people from practising religion. We're not interested in setting up an enlightened dictatorship. Socialists don't want to police peoples thoughts - rather, we seek to change peoples ideas by engaging with them. It would be stupid to think that, in a society based on the endless oppression and coarsening of the worker masses, religious prejudices could be dispelled by purely propaganda methods. To put it another way, rational argument alone will not convince people to abandon religion because religious conviction is not primarily arrived at through a rational process (people don't generally become religious because they've sat down and thought through the issues but due to indoctrination, spiritual experiences, etc.) We understand that ideas and consciousness come from our interaction with the real world, not from some outside force or god. From our perspective, people 's ideas change as a result of the struggles they engage in. If that were not the case there would be little point in our engaging in propaganda or activism - we simply would be unable to convince the huge number of people in the world of our ideas.

Likewise it is obvious the workers of the world won't just wake up one fine morning, decide religion is bollox and go out and wreck the avenues where the wealthy live. So it is certainly worth engaging with these sorts of beliefs through propaganda. Of course ideas are always produced by the material and social conditions of the day. We'd be very poor materialists if we failed to spot that! But even so, ideas themselves do carry weight and are worth engaging with, or opposing, both individually and as part of an overall belief system that is equally a product of the times. We should strive to educate people, not ignore their ignorance.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

God and Class

 "The religious reflex of the real world can, in any case, only then finally vanish, when the practical relations of every-day life offer to man none but perfectly  intelligible and reasonable relations with regard to his fellowmen and to Nature."Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I

It is too often overlooked that economics is inextricably mixed up with religion. The economic order is a reflection of the religious order. The linkage is utterly central to religion as a cultural and political forc - the connection between religion and class inequality. Because there are no remedies for social inequality within the present system of society the great masses of humanity are best kept sedated by pious delusions.

Reliable findings from the United Nations show that the wealthiest 10% of adults and the poorest 50% possess 85% and 0.01% of the world’s total wealth respectively. The World Bank reported last year, women own just 0.01% of the world’s wealth. In the United States, 400 Americans have more wealth than the bottom half of the population. According to the 2010 Census, 46.2 million Americans, including nearly one-quarter of the nation’s children, were living below the official poverty line.

In 2009, Gallup Polls measured religiosity in 143 countries. They showed that in nations “where average annual incomes are $2,000 or less,” 92 percent of residents “say religion is an important part of their daily lives.” By contrast, among the wealthiest countries surveyed, “those where average annual incomes are $25,000 or more” the percentage was 44 percent. In the U.S. religiosity closely correlates with income inequality.  Nine of the ten poorest states are located in the Bible Belt (the tenth one, New Mexico, is partially in the Belt).  Sikivu Hutchinson author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars says “For urban communities of color, the lifeblood of organized religion is economic injustice.” Hutchinson added: “The domino effect of de facto segregation, job discrimination, unemployment, foreclosure, mass incarceration, and educational apartheid has bolstered the influence of religious institutions in many black and Latino neighborhoods where storefront churches line every block.”

Michael Parenti writes that in the Middle East “Sharia is put forth as the one source of social justice for both the very poor and “the ruffled professionals.”  and that “As with Islam so with the Christianist Pentacostals: church membership surged as poverty deepened in Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere.” He goes on "Denied a material means of betterment, many people turn to the “spiritual.” The Christianist missionaries—or the mullahs and the imams—explain to victims why bad things happen to good people: They were not that good; they believed in false gods and evil material solutions such as leftist social revolution. Their suffering on earth is punishment for their sins. Once their worldly struggles against colonizers and rulers are thwarted, the people [quoting David S. Pena] “lapse into obscurantism and misdirected otherworldly supplications” that make “oppression more bearable and the ruling class more secure.”"

Chomsky once told an interviewer that the new atheist message “is old hat, and irrelevant, at least for those whose religious affiliations are a way of finding some sort of community and mutual support in an atomized society lacking social bonds.” If “it is to be even minimally serious” he continued, “the ‘new atheism’ should focus its concerns on the virulent secular religions of state worship” such as capitalism, imperialism and militarism. Radical scholar and anti-Zionist Norman Finkelstein, derided Christopher Hitchens’ anti-god attitude as “pissing on other people’s mostly innocuous beliefs.” It is argued by many liberals that the Church is no longer an inordinately powerful institution and a mis-directed target. But religion as a force is not nearly as moribund as suggested. If religion can be shown to play a significant role in the oppression of a substantial number of people, discussion of the linkages between the two is essential. And we can hardly link religion to economic injustice if we evade and avoid criticism of religious thought and practice. Chomsky and Finkelstein ought to know better than to be complacent about religion. It is said that the question of God’s existence was answered decades ago and it is utterly futile to keep on talking about it. A recent Pew Research Center of religious belief found that 80 percent of American adults said "they never doubt the existence of God.” One-half of the American people reject the theory of evolution in favour of scipture-based claims of creationism. How is that possible if religion is so weak?

Unlike many of the popular atheists who don't have much say about the evils of capitalism as opposed to the evils of religion, the materialists of the World Socialist Movement understand the roots of supernatural belief and direct their energy to the removal of its causes, poverty and alienation. People should evaluate economic systems not by rhetoric or ideology, but by whether or not they increase economic well-being for all individuals and groups, increase the sum of human satisfaction, and enhance the quality of life. The absence of a god means we have no celestial paternal-guardian but more importantly, we are also free of any divine oppressor.

“The idea of God implies the abdication of human reason and justice; it is the most decisive negation of human liberty.”
- Mikhail Bakunin

Freely adapted from an article here

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Religion – Thy name is superstition.

Religion divides the universe into spiritual and physical realms and all religions offer their adherents relief from their earthly problems through some sort of appeal to the spiritual. Religions locate the solution to society’s problems in the individual’s salvation. Socialists see the problems that wrack human society as material and political, and their solutions as likewise material and political, not supernatural. Socialists do not hold beliefs. They have an understanding of the world based on the best evidence available.

Ideas have no independant existence from human beings, and those ideas are determined by the material world in which we live. God only exists as an idea in society. Gods are products of the human imagination given powers to dominate the lives of those who create them.

Religion perform two essential functions. It buttresses the established order by sanctifying it and by suggesting that the political order is somehow ordained by divine authority. Its sanctification of the existing social order makes it a counter-revolutionary force. Yet it consoles the oppressed exploited by offering them in heaven what they are denied upon earth. By holding before them a vision of what they are denied, religion plays at least partly a progressive role in that it gives the common people some idea of what a better order would be. But when it becomes possible to realize that better order upon earth in the form of communism, then religion becomes wholly reactionary, for it distracts men from establishing a now possible good society on earth by still turning their eyes towards heaven.

Our position on organised religion is that religion is debilitating to the mind of the worker and thus to the progress which we wish to make as workers in advancing our interests. New Age religion is merely the old age religion in a new, modern form. Rather than obeying a priest, they choose the form of their own mental domination in a flight from reality into a magical world.

Banish Gods from the Skies, and Capitalists from the Earth

“God” is relegated more and more to the background. The “God” of the modern capitalist is a different “God” than the feudal lord or slave owner of more ancient times. And the “role” that “God” plays in the explanation of the working of the material world has changed. The role of “God” has changed from that of belief in predestiny, to God as a “personal God”, from “God” as the first creator of the world and the “cause” to “God” as an afterthought (agnosticism) who has no control and the question of belief in him as irrelevant. Socialism, as the science of society is the application of that science to the relations between men, a branch of natural history, holds a monistic view of the universe, each part is in inseparable causal relation to the rest, can leave no nook or cranny for “God”.

It has been religion that has had to do all the hard work of accommodating more and more scientific progress, which is why religions tend to become ever vaguer and more metaphorical. Those modifications of religion have been the reflexes of changed conditions and interests.

 Christianity is not losing out to other religions, but primarily to a rejection of religion altogether. One in five Americans said they have no religious identity or did not answer the question, and more than one in four said they do not expect to have a religious funeral. In every single state there was a rise in the “nones”.

There is no need to use force to end of religion, when it is already dying a natural death. Socialists no longer looks to the heavens for a supernatural savior, nor seek a Moses to lead us out of bondage. It is about becoming conscious of the strength that resides within ourselves and in the knowledge that who would be free, must free the mind from chains.

Neither God Nor Master

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Keep on walking

46 parades of up to 8,000 Orangemen will march through Glasgow's city centre today with a number of them converging on Cathedral Square. In all, 174 parades taking place throughout the Strathclyde police force area. Henry Dunbar, Grand Master of the Orange Order, said: "The annual Glasgow Boyne Celebrations is the city's biggest street event" An impressive event, perhaps, but highly divisive and sectarian in character. 

The Orange Order warned that Scotland is a "nation in turmoil" and raised concerns over the "separatist campaign". Grand Master Henry Dunbar urged members to back the Union. The Orange Order called on the Church of Scotland to stand up for the country's protestant heritage. "We are dismayed by the dismal failure of our national church, the Church of Scotland, to exert influential leadership in matters of faith and morality. It is a sad reflection that in today's society, many protestants now consider that the Orange Order is more in harmony with their values and aspirations than the Kirk. We as an institution never envisaged nor aspired to be in such a position, and it is an appalling indication of how far the Kirk deteriorated. Sadly, it appears that we are in a situation where the Kirk can no longer command high public regard and influence."

Socialist Courier has recently blogged on the Orange Lodge and the Church of Scotland here

The Battle of the Boyne, is remembered every year by Loyalists on the 12th of July although it took place on July 1st, 1690. It is celebrated on July 12th simply because somebody was mathematically challenged - in 1752 the change to the Gregorian calendar necessitated a re-calculation of all historical dates to determine anniversaries. July 1st (old style) really became July 11th (new style). The wrong date has become enshrined in Loyalist tradition ever since. The (mis-dated) anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne only became the focus of celebrations for the Orange Order ever since its foundation as a quasi-Masonic defensive association of lodges dedicated to preserving the Protestant ascendency in 1795. The victory of Prince William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne did not change the penal laws against Irish Presybeterians in Ulster or the fact that in many cases they were forced to pay a tax for the upkeep of the local Anglican clergy even though they were not attached

Did Protestants fight Catholics during the Battle of the Boyne? Yes, they did. And Protestants fought Protestants and Catholics fought Catholics. To portray the battle as a religious conflict would be nowhere near the truth. William had the support of Pope Innocent XI and a Pontifical High Mass was celebrated in thanksgiving for the deliverance from the power of the Catholic Louis XIV and the Catholic James II. Catholics were fighting on both sides. And so were Protestants.

It was all about politics. It was not even really about Irish issues and was ultimately about the English crown on a foreign field and European alliances. William's European allies were mainly drawn from the League of Augsburg - an anti-French cabal of nobility, but included Catholic states as well. Irish issues were never really raised and Irish freedom was never mentioned. The majority of James' troops were the "Gaelic Irish" regiments.The Jacobite "cause" was a very nebulous concept to them. James enjoyed the support of the French, providing nearly a third of his fighting force And William's army relied mainly on Anglo-Irish forces. William's troops was even more diverse, with Dutch, German, French Huguenot soldiers and even Danish mercenaries fighting for him.

Was it a white  horse William rode on the day?  This is disputed by historians and current consensus seems to be that it was a dark horse and it is even more unlikely that he rode across the Boyne in triumph. He would have had to dismount and, less heroically, lead his horse across.

Was the Battle of the Boyne the decisive? Although crossing of the Boyne was important towards securing Dublin the defeat of James at the Boyne was neither the end of the war nor the start of a Williamite string of victories. The one decisive battle of the Williamite Wars was the Battle of Aughrim (County Galway) in 1691. Curiously enough fought on July 12th ... according to the old calendar!

Also known as the Williamite Wars it was effectively a fight between two factions of landlordism to decide which of them should have the right to exploit the people.

James Connolly was to write "...all the political struggles of the period were built upon the material interests of one set of usurpers who wished to retain, and another who wished to obtain, the mastery of those lands...The so-called Patriot Parliament was in reality, like every other that sat in Dublin, merely a collection of land thieves and their lackeys; their patriotism consisted in an effort to retain for themselves the spoils of the native peasantry; the English influence against which they protested was the influence of their fellow thieves in England hungry for a share of the spoil...It is unfortunately beyond all question that the Irish Catholics shed their blood like water and wasted their wealth like dirt in an effort to retain King James upon the throne. But it is equally beyond all question that the whole struggle was no earthly concern of theirs; that King James was one of the most worthless representatives of a race that ever sat upon the throne; that the "pious, glorious and immortal" William was a mere adventurer fighting for his own hand, and his army recruited from the impecunious swordsmen of Europe who cared as little for Protestantism as they did for human life; and that neither army had the slightest claim to be considered as a patriot army combating for the freedom of the Irish race...The Catholic gentlemen and nobles who had the leadership of the people of Ireland at the time were, one and all, men who possessed considerable property in the country, property to which they had, notwithstanding their Catholicity, no more right to title than the merest Cromwellian or Williamite adventurer. The lands they held were lands which in former times belonged to the Irish people - in other words, they were tribe-lands...."

As Connolly concludes "It is time we learned to appreciate and value the truth upon such matters, and to brush from our eyes the cobwebs woven across them by our ignorant or unscrupulous history-writing politicians."

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

It's beyond belief !

Thousands of American school students in Louisiana attend private religious schools that teach from a fundamentalist christian curriculum that suggests the Loch Ness Monster is real and disproves evolution.

 "Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence.
Have you heard of the `Loch Ness Monster' in Scotland? `Nessie,' for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur." explains an Accelerated Christian Education science textbook

It goes on to declare that "True science will never contradict the Bible because God created both the universe and Scripture...If a scientific theory contradicts the Bible, then the theory is wrong and must be discarded."

Politically, the religious school curriculums denounce trade unions as "... plagued by socialists and anarchists who use laborers to destroy the free-enterprise system that hardworking Americans have created." and that the Great Depression was exaggerated by propagandists, including John Steinbeck, to advance a socialist agenda. 
 Whereas "...the Ku Klux Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross... In some communities it achieved a certain respectability as it worked with politicians."and that "South Africa's apartheid policy encouraged whites, Blacks, Coloureds, and Asians to develop their own independent ways of life. Separate living area and schools made it possible for each group to maintain and pass on their culture and heritage to their children."

Monday, June 04, 2012

Give the Orange Lodge their marching orders!

 “Cathy cats eat the rats, Proddy dogs eat the frogs”

As part of the Queen's 60th Jubilee the Protestant, pro-monarchist Orange Order staged numerous parades and held street parties to commemorate the day.

The Orange Order has its origin in Ireland, where in the 18th century Protestant and Catholic farmers banded together in defense of each other in secret societies and informal militias. The structure of the Order was modeled after the Freemasons, and the name was chosen to show support for William of Orange, the man who had replaced James II in 1690. Early in their history, the Order was mostly an agrarian movement, and was not particularly popular with the gentry. They were seen as a potential problem. It was feared that they would turn on the aristocracy. This changed when the United Irishmen entered the scene in Ireland in the 1780s, with their revolutionary ideas, and posed an even greater threat to the gentry. The reality was that the Orange Order became a counter-revolutionary institution to target not just Catholics but also "disloyal" Protestants. It's formation and spread was encouraged by the British state in order to drive a wedge between ordinary Catholics and Protestants. The 12th of July was picked as the key date to provide an alternative attraction to the marking of Bastille day and in itself to mark the sectarian massacre that led to the formation of the Orange Order.
The Orange Order was born in Armagh in 1795 as part of an armed terror campaign to deny full citizenship rights to Catholics. This was in the context of struggles between landlords and tenants in the area of which the Anglican Archbishop of Armagh said "the worst of this is that it stands to unite Protestant and Papist, and whenever that happens, good-bye to the English interest in Ireland". Specifically the penal laws forbade Catholics from bearing arms, but radical (and mostly Protestant) volunteer companies in the 1780's had been recruiting and arming Catholics with the "the full support of a radical section of Protestant political opinion".  Catholics were driven out of Armagh by Orange Order pogroms but many expelled Catholic families were sheltered by Presbyterian United Irishmen in Belfast and later Antrim and Down, and the (mostly) Protestant leadership of the United Irishmen sent lawyers to prosecute on behalf of the victims of Orange attacks. They also sent special missions to the area to undermine the Orange Order's influence. The Orange Order probably played a key part in ensuring the failure of the 1798 rebellion. At the time General John Knox, the architect of this policy described the Orange Order as "the only barrier we have against the United Irishmen" after the failed rebellion he wrote "the institution of the Orange Order was of infinite use".

The strategy was simple. In order to prevent Protestant workers identifying with their Catholic neighbours the order offered an anti-Catholic society, led by the wealthy Protestants that offered all Protestants a place in its ranks, and the promise of promotion and privilege. The annual parades were a key part of this strategy, they filled two roles. They allowed the working class Protestant members a day in the sun to mix with their "betters" and lord it over their Catholic neighbours. At the same time, they exposed radical Protestant workers to accusations of being "traitors" for refusing to take part in the events. Much of the imagery of loyalism, the bonfires, the bunting and the painted kerbstones provide an opportunity to demand of every Protestant worker in a community "which side are you on". The lodge was also a place where workers could meet employers, and formally or informally receive job offers. While in rural areas employers would be aware of who was a member and discriminate in job applications against those who were not.

In the relevant stability after the defeat of 1798 the British and local ruling class felt they no longer needed the Order.The Order was banned in 1825, because the British government in Dublin Castle did not like the idea of another armed presence that was not under their control. Its survival during these years shows that the institution cannot simply be viewed as dependent on Britain or local Protestant rulers. It also fed off the historical legacy of sectarianism and annually offered a chance for the "little man" to feel big. In this sense the psychological attraction of Orangism for poor Protestants is similar to the attraction described by William Reich of poor workers/unemployed for fascism. The Orange Order's complex nature is also shown by later events in 1881 when it was possible for the Land league to hold a meeting in the local Orange hall at Loughgall. Micheal Davitt told the crowd that the "landlords of Ireland are all of one religion - their God is mammon and rack-rents, and evictions their only morality, while the toilers of the fields, whether Orangemen, Catholics, Presbyterians or Methodists are the victims".This danger of class unity saw the ruling class and British conservatives rapidly returning to the Order and the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland responded with a manifesto claiming that the Land League was a conspiracy against property rights, Protestantism, civil and religious liberty and the British constitution. When the question was put this way the Orange Order fulfilled its role and went on to provide the scab labour which attempted to harvest Captain Boycott's crops.

There were other occasions when the Orangemen organised resistance to certain events, such as when Daniel O’Connell organised a march in favor of Catholic Emancipation to Belfast, but for most of the period from 1860 to 1886, the Order had little significance. That changed in 1886 when fear of the Home Rule Bill became a factor. Henry Cooke, the leading voice for the conservative Presbyterian Church in Ireland, managed settle intra-Protestant problems between the Presbyterians and the "Anglican" Church of Ireland. The Presbyterians joined the Orange Order and it became the popular voice of Irish Protestantism. From here on, the Order was spread throughout the British Empire.

The Orange Order was first  was brought to Scotland by soldiers who had been posted to Ireland to help out against the 1798 United Irishman's rebellion that had been inspired by the French Revolution. Scottish soldiers serving with Fencible regiments, as well as the Regulars, were sent to Ireland to assist in suppressing the rebellion. In this task they often served alongside Orange Yeomanry. Ex-servicemen formed the first Scottish Orange lodges around 1807. However, early growth was very slow.  Indeed, the first recorded Scottish "Twelfth", held in Glasgow, was in 1821.There is no record of any civilian Lodge warrants being issued for Scotland by the Grand Lodge of Ireland in its first register (1798-1819), and the Lodges known to be working in Ayrshire, Glasgow, and Argyllshire all had military origins. In 1835, Scottish Orangeism also fell upon hard times because the Loyal Orange Institution of Great Britain and Loyal Orange Institution of Ireland were "dissolved" for their part in the "Orange Conspiracy". This was a bizarre yet treasonable plot to place the Duke of Cumberland (Imperial Grand Master of the Loyal Institution of Great Britain and the Loyal Institution of Ireland) on the throne in place of Princess Victoria.  In addition, the reigning monarch, King William IV was to be deposed for sanctioning reform! Civilian Lodges composed mainly of Ulstermen came in a later phase of development during the 1830s with the transformation of Scotland’s industrial landscape. The modern textile industry replaced handloom weaving, and the coal and iron industries developed, as did shipbuilding which brought Irish migrants to Scotland, including many Protestants. This scale of industrialisation ensured the survival of Orangeism.  Indeed, it has often been noted that Scottish Orangeism is essentially a by-product of the Industrial Revolution. Membership of the Orange Order was popular with the Lowlands' Protestants because it gave them a mechanism for personal success and fulfilment: membership could secure better jobs, and made up for a hard and unrewarding life with flamboyant titles like Grand or Worshipful Master. The Orange Order has 800 lodges in Scotland and probably 50,000 members today.

Politically, the Scottish Orange has been very active.Their 'Use and Wont’ campaign – to keep bible study in Schools, when in the 1872 Education Act  a “conscience clause” allowed withdrawal form religious instruction. – saw many Orangemen being elected to school boards in 1873.  During the Home Rule agitation, around 6,000 heard Carson at a meeting in Glasgow – where seven UVF companies were raised.  During the inter-war period, anti-Catholicism grew  increasingly prevalent in many areas of Scottish society. Protestant bosses told their foremen to give jobs to Protestants first.  In the 1920s and 1930s this got to a point where Catholics knew that if Protestants were competing for jobs, they did not even need to apply.  After the Great War there was even Protestant political parties in Scotland. The "Orange and Protestant Political Party" in 1923 defeated the sitting Communist MP in Motherwell and Wishaw to win its one and only seat. Ramsay MacDonald's cabinet had two Scottish Orangemen, Gilmour as Home Secretary and Scottish Secretary Sir Godfrey Collins. Protestant Action, an extreme group led by John Cormack, gathered  followers in Edinburgh during this time. While in Glasgow a similar Protestant extremist group, with Alexander Ratcliffe at its head , the Scottish Protestant League, managed to gain support. Ratcliffe was an anti-Semite and becaame a follower of Hitler. Another factor in the Protestant-Catholic relationship in the 1930s were the street gangs in Glasgow. The best known of these are the  Bridgeton “Billy Boys”. Billy Fullerton, their leader, was awarded a medal for strikebreaking in the 1926 General Strike. The Catholic equivalent were the Norman Conqs. Glasgow in particular was full of poverty and rife with gangs.  Men who feel a lack of identity sought it out in the Orange Order (where they could all be Protestant together). Then there were the football rivalries. Rangers and Celtic, Hearts and Hibs (Dundee Hibernian in 1923 dropped its Irish connections and became Dundee United).

With the growth of the labour movement and the Left, the Orange Order warned of a conspiracy of "Popery" and "socialism". Whenever radicalism Protestant workers linked up with Catholic workers and acted in their own class interests this threatened the unity of the Order. When in 1932,  the Falls and Shankill rioted together against unemployment, the Order warned "loyal subjects of the King, the vital necessity of standing guard against communism".

The differences between Catholics and Protestants have declined in significance. A survey of Glaswegians of both faiths showed a negligible one per cent could claim to have experienced employment discrimination first-hand. Catholics do not appear to be discriminated against in employment, education, the provision of public goods, and most of Scotland feels very strongly that prejudice is never justifiable. In fact, religion in Scotland really doesn't matter that much at all. Faith itself matters little to the secular people of today's Scotland.

  Stuart Waiton of Abertay University in Dundee writes:  “... that there are no real differences in the lives of Catholics and Protestants - and any differences that do exist are dying out fast...”  Research by Gillian Raab of Edinburgh's Napier University found evidence that intermarriage between Protestants and Catholics had largely eroded the causes for sectarian discrimination.

No-one is arguing  that sectarianism is non-existent but these days Orangemen are of less significance. No-one would claim that Scotland was a hotbed of neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers, but you can find a few.  Likewise, you can still find the die-hard Orangemen, but they are a dying breed. Crimes motivated by racial/ethnic or sexual orientation origin are far more a problem in Scotland than crimes of any religiously motivated nature. Members of both Protestants and Catholics communities are now increasingly reserve their xenophobic hatred for newer migrants to Scotland

Socialists have no time for either the Union Jack or the Irish tricolour.

The Anti-Irish Church of Scotland
The national church in Scotland today is the Church of Scotland, which is legally recognised as such. The Church of Scotland is the largest religious grouping in Scotland with 36% of Scottish population nominally as members. The second largest religious grouping in Scotland is Roman Catholicism, with 16% of the Scottish population, most of which are of Irish descent. Between two-thirds and three-quarters of the immigrants from Ireland were Catholic. From the 1960s, when almost everyone claimed a religious label, the “no religion” identity has grown considerably and people who profess no religion actually outnumber either those in  the Roman Catholic church or Church of Scotland in Scotland.

In 1922, incited by a kirk minister,  a Protestant mob stoned and bottled buses carrying Catholic women and children to the Eucharistic Congress in Morningside, Edinburgh. In 1923 an official Presbyterian campaign against Irish immigration not only demonstrated the anti-Catholicism present in the Presbyterian churches at this time, but also emphasised race and tried to portray differences as national, not just simply religious. This campaign has later become known as “the Kirk’s Disgrace”. It was about singling out an ethnic minority whose presence in Scotland was to be regarded as an evil, polluting the purity of the Scottish race and culture The campaign started at the Church of Scotland General Assembly, with a report called "The Menace of the Irish race to our Scottish Nationality " which protested that Catholics had “most abominably abused the privileges which the Scottish people had given them...Already there is a bitter feeling among the Scottish working classes against the Irish intruders. As the latter increase and the Scottish people realise the seriousness of the menace to their own racial supremacy in their native land, this bitterness will develop into a race antagonism which will have disastrous consequences for Scotland." At the same General Assembly, it was warned that the presence of “Irish Catholic aliens … would soon bring racial and sectarian warfare to Scotland”.

The expressions "racial supremacy" and "aliens" makes the report sound like it could have been written by Hitler's Nazi propagandists or white supremists of the American south. Yet this report by Rev. John White's Church and Nation Committee was accepted by the General Assembly and a sub-committee formed to promote the anti-Irish cause

Restrictions on immigration from Ireland and the revision of the Education Act were proposed and passed. As the campaign was adopted by more senior church figures, more emphasis was put on what was meant to be “respectable” arguments surrounding race and national character. In 1928 the churches presented their case to the government. They complained that Scotland had become a “dumping ground” for Irish immigrants after the USA had reduced their quota, and that 70% of parish and other relief funds, were spent on the Catholic Irish. The Church of Scotland's Church and Nation Committee called for the deportation of unemployed Catholics to Ireland - a country most of them by then had never seen. Scottish Catholics from the Highlands and Irish Protestants, however could stay, because  "they are of the same race as ourselves"

Attempts  to get government support collaped when first the Glasgow Herald demonstrated that the immigration was not at all as high as was claimed, and when the government after an investigation of their own refused to have anything more to do with this campaign. The campaigners then decided to redirect their efforts and the 1930 General Assembly decided that the church should instead focus its attention on businesses and have them “employ Scottish labour where such is available”.  Now that the Kirk understood that no government would halt Irish immigration then they would appeal to the patriotism of Scottish employers to practice job discrimination in their hiring.

In 2002 the General Assembly formally apologised for its actions and statements.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Scottish Taleban - The Covenanters

Over 18,000 and possibly as many as 30,000 Presbyterian Covenanters gave their lives for their beliefs during the seventeenth century.

Were the Covenanters essentially Protestant theocrats? Or were the Covenanters really democrats challenging an absolutist regime?  Presbyterian beliefs meant an opposition to the King`s claim of supremacy in church matters, although they acknowledged his supremacy in civil matters. Yet to safeguard their religious rights  required a clerical  influence on the civil government. Covenanters stood up to the powers of the Crown but never, at any point in time, challenged the Crown's right to rule. The best known events of the Covenanters tend to be the National Covenant (1638), the Solemn League and Covenant (1643) and the horrors of "The Killing Time" (1684-5).

Religion and politics have been interwoven throughout Scottish history. There was the Calvinist Reformation where John Knox was able to bend much of Scotland to his will and controlled Parliament. From the signing of the Scottish National Covenant of 1638 to the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 there was movement to make Scotland a theocratic state. These dissenters were the staunch supporters of Presbyterianism, the radicals of their day, who strictly followed the rules of John Calvin, John Knox and latterly Andrew Melville. It was their desire for a theocratic government and rejection of the king`s claimed supremacy of the church that branded them as zealots and a threat. On Sunday, July 23, 1637 at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh a woman by the name Jenny Geddes objected to the use of a new prayer book written by Scottish Bishops. Jenny Geddes owned a cabbage stall alongside the cathedral wall and was a well known character. It is said that she threw her small stool at James Hannay, the Dean of the church. With all big events they are often sparked by the trivial. The National Covenant was drafted by Sir Archibald Johnstone of Warriston, (who was executed in 1663), and Archibald Henderson. It was in three parts - a reproduction of the Confession of King James VI ( James I of England) of 1580; a detailed list of the Acts of Parliament which confirmed Presbyterianism and condemned Popery; and, thirdly, a protest about the changes in worship which was an attempt to force episcopal reforms on the nation. King Charles over-reacted and regarded the Covenanters as rebels. Not all towns subscribed to the Covenant, those who did not were Crail, Inverness, St Andrews and Aberdeen.

The Kirk was the focus for the Presbyterians in which the senior members of a congregation were elected the Elders. They and the minister held great sway through the "Kirk Session" - the local church court. It was through the workings and authority of this court that the day-to-day life of the congregation was overseen. The Kirk Session was responsible at local level for matters of conscience and religion which in practice ranged across practically everything. Their role extended to dealing with excesses and behaviour of all kinds, whether drink or style of dress, fornication or lewdness, oppression of the poor by over-taxation or deception in buying and selling. The local nature of a punishment, both the publicity and enforcement locally, meant that action was swift and a response usually certain. In some cases there were burgesses and lairds involved as elders, and some whose sons entered the ministry and their involvement enabled an early attack on moral delinquents, absentees from church and disrespectful behaviour. Support for discipline was obtained from a variety of sources including local nobility, lairds and by obtaining an injunction from the Privy Council to impose fines direct. The most common civil penalty imposed by the Kirk Sessions was the fine. In some places this was according to a set table, in others there was the quite enlightened approach to fines according to the estate of the offender (proportionality as we call it today). Non-payment of fines could result in imprisonment or being locked in the "jugs" - a lockable metal collar attached to a wall by a length of chain, for the duration of the sermon. The penalty for adultery was to stand dressed in sackcloth, bare headed and bare feet at the kirk door;  then sit on the stool of repentance in front of the congregation for perhaps six months or longer. Sometimes the punishment included fines and whipping. Few resisted as under a law of 1581 the adulterer who refused the kirk`s punishment could be put to death. Fornication and lewd behaviour, prostitution etc. was often punished by the men forced to make public penance and the women by ducking in Stool of Repentance or "Cutty Stool", into the foulest water available and banishment from the town. Misbehaviour in the countryside was often not detected until pregnancy was obvious when much effort was put into identifying the father and compelling marriage. In the period 1574 to 1612 Puritanism and the zealous Presbyterianism of Andrew Melville gained a foothold that punished a wide range of alleged excesses. This included attacks on Christmas and traditional holidays such as Midsummer Eve. Pilgrimages, dancing, carol singing , merrymaking at weddings, and wakes; and failing to work on Christmas Day,  were all subject of condemnation. In 1579 a law was passed banning Sunday travel, recreation and drinking.

A second and more intense phase of Puritanism appeared after 1638 when the much of  the country was imbued with fervour following the National Covenant. From about 1639 - 1650 the people felt the pain and anquish of war with thousands of the men killed in battles during the campaign of the Marquis of Montrose (1644-5) and the English Civil Wars. The inevitable consequence was an large increase in the demands on the Kirk Sessions for help by the widowed and orphaned. The Puritan vigour  was subsequently endorsed by Oliver Cromwell when he subjugated Scotland during his republican rule. In 1656 the ultimate law was passed that forbade frequenting taverns, dance, listening to profane music, washing, brewing ale or baking bread, to travel or conducting any business on a Sunday. This, for example, led to punishment of children for playing on a Sunday, and a public warning about carrying water, sweeping the house or clearing ashes from the fire place. In Glasgow there were paid spies to report lapses by the congregation.

The Presbyterian system also substituted for the "welfare state" and sought to help for "the deserving poor" - the victims of old age and misfortune, the sick, the elderly the widow and the fatherless child, but was strongly opposed to helping the idle and the beggars. There was already a system of education and three universities in Scotland before the Presbyterians kirk was established, but this was available to those who could afford it, or depended on ministers who also acted as schoolmaster in the Parish. In 1616 an act was passed commanding that every parish should have a school, if circumstances allowed. It was 1646 before laws made the land owners liable to pay for them. Schoolteachers and readers were required to be licensed by the Presbytery. In the 17th century school started at the age of five and meant to continue for five years before the child might pass to a higher school or university depending on ability. The peasant child though might leave by age eight to help the family by work, particularly during the harvest. The school day often started at 6.00 am in summer and lasted between eight and twelve hours with breaks of an hour for breakfast and lunch. The teaching varied with the ability of the school master but always focused on "godliness and good manners". Everyone learned to read and write and many schools taught Latin to the more able student. In the burgh schools they taught arithmetic. Compulsory attendance at church was common and the children would be required to discuss the sermon and its meaning on the Monday. Famous for its Colleges and doctors of medicine from early times, by 1780 Scotland had developed an educational system in advance of anything in Europe at the time -  with consequent impact on its culture and the important ability to help maximise the talents of its people.

Members of the Parliament of Scotland were traditionally elected from three "estates" or classes: the clergy (bishops), the nobility and lairds, and the burgesses (representatives of the royal burghs). Bishops were excluded when the anti-episcopalian Covenanters gained control of the Scottish government, leading to the Bishops' Wars. The Bishops Wars were almost non-events with little real fighting at national level, but was an excuse for feuding between local families in the north east and west of Scotland.

In June 1640, during an uneasy truce, the Scottish Parliament assembled in defiance of the King's attempts to postpone its sitting. A number of acts were passed that radically altered the constitution of Scotland including the confirmation of the removal of bishops, thus excluding one of the traditional estates from the Scottish Parliament. A new Committee of Estates was appointed to govern Scotland when Parliament was not in session. It consisted of twelve members from each of the remaining estates: the nobles, lairds and burgesses and an additional three Lords of Session (magistrates). The Committee's primary responsibility was the defence of Scotland, for which it was granted powers to borrow money and to raise taxes. Generals of the army were given the right to attend meetings of the Committee. When convenient, the Committee was split in two, with one half remaining in Edinburgh while the other half accompanied the army on campaign.

The Committee was dominated by Covenanters. It was called again in August 1643 after the Convention of Estates had negotiated an alliance with the English Parliament to intervene against the Royalists in the English Civil War. The Committee remained in power whenever Parliament was not sitting throughout the turbulent 1640s. The fundamentalist Kirk Party became the dominant political force and governed Scotland as a theocracy from 1648-50, characterised by regular purges of officials and soldiers regarded as ungodly or "malignant". The Kirk's desire to stamp out sin and to enforce moral reform, in accordance with the principles of the Covenant, resulted in one of Scotland's periodic "witch-crazes" during 1649-50, in which hundreds of alleged witches were persecuted, with many burned at the stake.

Charles II was proclaimed King of Scots in February 1649, but the Kirk Party insisted that he should first accept the Covenant and promise to establish Presbyterian church government throughout the Three Kingdoms. Realising that he needed a Scottish army to help him regain the thrones of England and Ireland, Charles was obliged to sign the Treaty of Breda in May 1650 and reluctantly took the Covenant upon his arrival in Scotland the following month. The Kirk Party struggled to keep Charles under its control by banishing most of his closest advisers and by insisting upon purging the Scottish army of all but strict Covenanters in the weeks before the battle of Dunbar. Up to 80 veteran officers and 3,000 experienced soldiers were judged unfit to serve and were replaced by inexperienced recruits, which contributed to the Scottish defeat at Dunbar and discredited the Kirk Party. The Kirk Party was further weakened when hardline Covenanters broke away to form the Remonstrant movement.

 Free from all associations with the malignant King, the Western Association regarded itself as the true guardian of the Covenant. The Association was supported by Archibald Johnston of Warriston and fundamentalist ministers led by James Guthrie and Patrick Gillespie. On 2 October, the Association issued a Remonstrance addressed to the Committee of Estates in which the defeat at Dunbar was blamed upon those who had negotiated the Treaty of Breda without first obtaining evidence that Charles had truly repented. A second Remonstrance was issued from Dumfries on 17 October in which the Remonstrants disassociated themselves from the King's war with the English until he had proven himself worthy of their support. Despite general sympathy and a tacit recognition that it contained much truth, the Remonstrance was finally rejected on the grounds that it was likely to cause further divisions among the Covenanters.

On 14 December 1650, the Commission of the Kirk decreed that it was Parliament's duty to employ all lawful means to defend Scotland against the English invaders, which opened the way for the re-admission of Royalists and Engagers into the army once they had undergone suitable penance. Pro-Royalists were known as "Resolutioners" because they supported the resolutions of 14 December. They were opposed by "Protesters", a group which was led by Remonstrants but included many who had not supported the original Remonstrance. The Protesters continued to object to the relaxation of the strictures against malignants but the Royalists rapidly gained influence in the military and civil administration of Scotland after the coronation of Charles II culminating in the the fall of the Kirk Party.

The events of 1650-1 caused a deep schism within the Kirk. The radical Remonstrants and Protesters believed that the compromises made to accommodate Charles II had irrevocably corrupted the Kirk. They broke away from the majority Resolutioners to hold conventicles, or prayer-meetings, outside the normal worship of the Kirk. The Protesters refused to accept the authority of General Assemblies from 1651 onwards because they were dominated by the corrupted Resolutioner majority. In July 1653, the Protesters and Resolutioners held rival General Assemblies in Edinburgh, but both were dissolved by order of Major-General Lilburne, the military governor of Scotland. These were the last meetings of the General Assembly for thirty-seven years. During the Protectorate Cromwell's toleration and encouragement of the Independent sects was bitterly opposed by Scottish Presbyterians and undermined his hopes of reuniting the fractured Kirk.

The Restoration of Charles II in 1660  was greeted with some euphoria among the general populace who had endured over twenty years of almost constant war. But it was short lived. Charles turned upon the Kirk and its leaders who had given him such a tough time in 1650 - 1651 when he had tried to take up his throne following the execution of his father (Charles I). At his Restoration he took his revenge, executing the Marquis of Argyll, James Guthrie and, later, Archibald Johnstone, Lord Warriston. He next caused legislation to abolish all that Presbytery had achieved and restored episcopacy along with compulsory attendance at the approved church on pain of heavy fines for non attendance. In 1666, originating in Galloway, advancing from the west towards Edinburgh, a small force of badly armed Covenanters was defeated at the Battle of Rullion Green in the Pentland Hills.

From about 1670 the country was under military rule as Charles intensified the persecution of the people and prompted the "Killing Time" of 1684-5. To quell unrest in south-west Scotland some 3,000 Lowland militia and 6,000 Highlanders (the 'Highland Host') were billeted in the Covenanting shires. The Highlanders were responsible for many atrocities, robbery and rape, pillage and plunder. Covenanters were  flushed out and hunted down as never before and the common soldier was empowered to take life at will of any suspect without a requirement of a trial. Usually it was done without any evidence and often as the result of the suspicions of an over-zealous town official or minister. Brutality in these days defied the imagination and the persecution had no mercy on man, woman or child, irrespective of circumstances. A Covenanter once caught by the King's troops was shot on the spot. These policies provoked armed rebellions in 1666 and 1679, which were quickly suppressed at the defeats of militant Covenanters in battles of Drumclog and Bothwell Brig. Following the Battle of Bothwell Brig some 1200 prisoners were taken and incarcerated in a make-shift prison next to the Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh, many died of suffocation. Of these prisoners, 257 erstwhile ringleaders and ministers were sentenced to be transported to the West Indies or Virginia as white slaves. The vessel set sail on November 27, 1679, but struck rocks off Orkney and was wrecked. It is said that the captain was a heartless and cruel man and despite the pleas of the frightened prisoners he ordered the hatches to be chained. Thus it was on December 10, 1679, that 211 Covenanters went to a watery grave. A mere 49 Covenanters survived the wreck only to be transported later.

Cameronian was a name given to a section of the Scottish Covenanters who followed the teachings of Richard Cameron, and who were composed principally of those who signed the Sanquhar Declaration in 1680, disavowing allegiance to Charles II and the government of Scotland, in the name of "true Protestant and Presbyterian interest", opposition to government interference in religious affairs, and anti-Catholicism, refusing to take the oaths of allegiance to an uncovenanted ruler, or to exercise any civil function. Known also as "Society Men", "Sanquharians," and "Hillmen", they became a separate church after the religious settlement of 1690, taking the official title of Reformed Presbyterians in 1743. Dissatisfied with the moderate character of the religious settlement of 1690 they wished to restore the ecclesiastical order which had existed between 1638 and 1649. Cameron was killed and his head and hands were severed from his body and taken to Edinburgh where they were shown to his father who was already imprisoned in the town’s tolbooth. After being paraded through the main street behind Cameron's head displayed aloft on the end of a pole. Cameron’s head and hands were then affixed to the Netherbow Port for public display. The Cameronians saw themselves as early Christian martyrs by holding steadfastly to their beliefs in the face of torture and death. It was from these rebellious religious militants that the famous Cameronian Rifles regiment was formed, not the family clan Cameron, and it was why each new recruit to the regiment was issued a bible .

Some historians have tried to portray the Covenanters as an early revolutionary movement. The Covenanters are regarded by some as freedom fighters who bravely opposed attempts by the English crown to destroy the Scottish religion, culture and identity and it is has also claimed that those Protestant rebels were sidelined in Scots' history. The king had indeed been defeated in his attempt to dictate the religion of his subjects, but it was, nevertheless, the Covenanter's intention to deny the religious freedom they sought for themselves to all others. Being Episcopalian wasn't good enough; to be Catholic was unforgivable. Inspired by the theocratic spirit, the bigoted creed of the Covenanters sought to create a fundamentalist Scotland. In many ways, they can be seen as a sort of the tartan Taleban, our very own Scottish ayatollahs, who would have turned Scotland into a theocratic state, communities controlled by the church. In that respect, they do not deserve our sympathy.