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Image: The Service of Politics

01/02/2019

Councillor Douglas McAllister reflects on his role in politics in light of Bishop Nolan's call for peopole to put their faith into action and get involved in politics.  

 


Bishop William Nolan, Bishop President of Justice and Peace Scotland, called on us in his New Year letter to become more politically active and start influencing the creation of policy within our political parties in Scotland, playing an active role in choosing the candidates who represent the political parties.
 
As a councillor in West Dunbartonshire since 2003, I agree entirely.  Pope Francis has said ‘Catholics must get involved’ in politics, even if it may be dirty, frustrating and fraught with failure.  He said ‘Do I as a Catholic watch from my balcony – no, you can’t watch from the balcony.  Get right in there’ he said.  And I hope that is what I am doing at the moment.
 
I was brought up in a working class Catholic family. Both of my parents were members of the Labour party, giving us two major influences in our lives, the Church and the Labour party. Both have helped shape my belief in social justice.
 
As a young man I wrestled with the thought of entering the priesthood but instead I studied Law at Glasgow University.  I’m a solicitor, but it’s being involved in local government that I find hugely rewarding.
 
Local government can shape a fairer society. North Lanarkshire Council is the first local authority in the UK to tackle holiday hunger.  It is shocking that thousands of children in Scotland go hungry during school holidays.  We could all campaign to persuade the Scottish Government to introduce some form of holiday hunger payment to the poorest families in our society, or alternatively provide sufficient funding to provide school meals during holidays.
 
When I was Provost of West Dunbartonshire Council from 2012 and 2017, I was able to champion the Christian groups within my community, such as the Churches Together Movement, who are the driving force behind the West Dunbartonshire Foodshare Trust, and the Clydebank Citadel of the Salvation Army who do so much for the most vulnerable within our society. 
 
Why keep silent about our own faith? I believe we should all answer Bishop Nolan’s call, raise our Christian voice, and become active in politics.  That voice could be used, for example, to push back against those who attack the sanctity of life, or question the validity of our faith schools.
 
At the end of Mass on Christmas morning at St Margaret of Scotland Hospice in Clydebank, Sister Rita Dawson told us that she has a daily battle with those who would have her remove any reference to our religious beliefs from the work of the hospice.  She called on those politicians present to stop apologising or being embarrassed for their religious beliefs and instead to use our office to fight for the dignity of every human life. 
 
She suggested that perhaps all politicians in Scotland should spend a day with her at St Margaret of Scotland Hospice. I have since reflected on the words of Pope Francis, who said ‘The best medicine to cure the disease of indifference is touching the wounds of the Lord in the poor of our time’.
 
 


Image: Holocaust Memorial Day

25/01/2019

In an ever more fractured world it is even more important today that we mark Holocaust Memorial Day on Sunday 27th January and, in this week's blog, Margaret McGowan reflects on, among other things, teaching her students about the practice of 'measureing heads' to establish a super race.  


The 20th century dictator Adolf Hitler wanted to create a German super race.  His Nazi Party defined that as proving one's ancestry for three generations past was free of any mixing with "non-Aryans", such as Jews, Asians, Africans. They believed that one effective check was to measure the circumference of the head and teachers were instructed to measure their students’ heads. Those with smaller heads were considered inferior.
 
Today, of course, scientists are virtually unanimous in declaring that no single race is superior to any other.
 
The school where I taught in Hamilton held activities to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day each year. I taught mathematics and asked third and fourth year pupils to participate in this bizarre ‘head measuring’ exercise.
 
In pairs, they measured the circumference of each other’s heads and from the results we worked out three types of averages. Maths achieved, I asked those who would be regarded as inferior using the Nazis’ criteria to stand up. How did they feel? I asked them to write a paragraph on their reactions  and not surprisingly, they were shocked that people had actually been subjected to this ‘test’.
 
I then told them about my visit to Auschwitz in 2000 with my 15-year-old son.
 
Historians estimate 1.1 million people died at the hands of Poland's German occupiers at Auschwitz-Birkenau between 1940 and 1945, either from asphyxiation with Zyklon B gas in the notorious gas chambers or from starvation, disease or exhaustion. They included Jews, Roma, Sinti, gays, disabled and black people.
What struck me was the sheer scale of the Holocaust and how industrialised and mechanised the process of killing people became at Auschwitz. It was not hot-blooded brutality. It happened in a planned way, with some people designing the process of death and others carrying it out. We were not prepared for the impact that it had on us.

Each of the six million people ruthlessly exterminated in this way in the course of the Second World War were individuals, with personal hopes, dreams, and stories. They had belongings such as the assortment we saw at Auschwitz - suitcases confiscated by the Nazis, with names, dates of birth, and addresses. There were piles of real human hair, plaits with ribbons, ponytails cut from fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, grandparents - families no different from ours. My son remarked how many suitcases belonged to people younger than him. 

We saw the empty containers of chemicals. We saw where people were piled together to await extermination. I barely fitted inside the isolation cell. The experience was very emotional. My son said he realised that hearing about history is not like witnessing it in person.

My classes agreed that we must never give up trying to improve our society and that every single person has to open his or her mind and stand up against discrimination. They stressed the importance of remembering the Holocaust today. It isn’t just a historical fact to be learned, but a lesson that prejudice, hate and intolerance can turn into the destruction of individual lives.
 
As the poet George Santayana wrote, “Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.”


Image: Mother Earth

18/01/2019

In this week's blog Sister Isabel Smyth reflects on 'Mother Earth' and how the inherent rights of nature are being recognised in the law.


According to an article on the BBC website, a court in India has declared the river Ganges a legal "person" in an effort to save it from pollution. Nor is the Ganges the only natural phenomenon to receive this designation. Among others are glaciers, jungles, grasslands, even the air itself - all declared as legal “persons”.

 
This is an attempt to look upon nature as an entity with fundamental rights rather than as a resource to be used and abused. The article says “environmental laws only focus on regulating exploitation. But this is now changing, with calls for the inherent rights of nature to be recognised, both in India and around the world”. Similar legislation is being introduced in Ecuador and New Zealand.


There are, as you would suspect, complications in applying these rights but it does focus on strategies we can employ to care for this earth on which we depend for life.


So many of us are now divorced from nature and see the earth’s resources as ours to use for our own benefit and comfort, despite the endless list of the devastating effects of our behaviour – including climate change, extinction of species, environmental disasters, overuse of fossil fuels, pollution, and deforestation.
And we are all implicated in these disasters and contribute to them – industry and business in big ways, but all of us in little ways. I heard someone call this the Great Unravelling.


We are in fact destroying ourselves. 


Perhaps one day there will be a move to declare the earth itself a legal person, and we do have to recover a sense of the sacredness of the earth.  This sense is a gift that indigenous and pagan religions can offer us all – even the major religions.  Aloysius Pieris, a Catholic theologian from Sri Lanka, suggests that the major world religions succeeded because they incorporated into themselves aspects of the indigenous, so-called pagan religions. Many of the world faiths have their sacred places, including sacred mountains, sacred wells and sacred rivers. These traditions remind us of our connectedness to the earth, of our responsibility for it, of our gratitude to it for our very livelihood, of its inherent sacredness, of our responsibility to care for it and bring it healing.  Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has said that we think it’s a miracle to walk on water, but the real miracle is to walk on this earth and we should do this with reverence and respect. 


Hinduism and Buddhism have much to teach us about our attitude to our planet.  Buddhism realises the interconnectedness of all things and the need for compassion for all sentient beings.  Hinduism’s personification of the sacred can lead to a sense of respect and reverence.


I like the idea of thinking of the earth as a living organism, as an expression of the Sacred, as our Mother who provides for us and is the source of our life. If we could adopt this attitude perhaps we could embrace her suffering, look upon her with new eyes and work for her healing and well-being.

 

This is shortened version of this article first published on 7/4/14 at http://www.interfaithjourneys.net/




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