Dissenting Radical

The Common Good: A 'Christian-Left' perspective on radical theology, progressive politics, authentic culture and sustainable living.

Month: November, 2014

No hero-worship, please, we are democrats


This is all getting a bit hero-worshippy for me.

I like Alex Salmond. He’s the first decent leader Scotland has had for more than three centuries. On the whole, he did a good job in running a moderately progressive devolved administration in tough financial times. He strengthened the country. He led us into a referendum that was quite narrowly lost, but which has nevertheless changed the terms of engagement.

For this he deserves credit. But it is credit as a fellow-citizen. He differs from us in function, in that is (was) First Minister, but not in status. He is not ‘the boss’. He’s not omnipotent, or irreplaceable, or infallible.

The picture above, circulated by a fan of Salmond on the day of his stepping down as First Minister, represents an anti-democratic and non-civic form of adulation. It is that hero-worship that leads to exactly the sort of top-down, closed, autocratic politics that we in the democratic movement for Scottish independence are trying to avoid.

So honour him, respect him, admire him – but do not put him on too high a pedestal. He has his flaws and his failings, like all of us. If we mean to enjoy not only independence, but also freedom, democracy, and a form of government that respects the common good (rather than one in which particular persons are elevated to a position of dominance) we should always remember that in a free country, where we enjoy a free and civic way of life, we are governed by our equals.

(That said, ‘High Protector’ is a much better title than ‘Governor-General’, and if we were to become independent, it’s not a bad way of describing a non-executive, symbolic, ceremonial Head of State – an office for which Salmond would be admirably suited.)


Constitutional Commission Fringe Meeting

Today (15 November) the Constitutional Commission held a fringe meeting at the SNP’s conference in Perth on the subject of a new (written) Constitution for Scotland. The event was hosted by Linda Fabiani MSP, and featured panelists John Drummond, Craig Murray, Mhairi Black and Mary Lockhart. Links to a video recording of the event are posted below.

Part One:


Part Two:


Environmentalism 101: Destroying the planet is bad

I might come across as a wee clueless here, but what is the point of the elite in continuing to scar, damage and destroy our environment in order that that small group of people can continue to hoard their millions? Surely, there will come a point when they will be living in some gated community, surrounded by emblems of wealth, staring out to the remains of a barren, scorched and smouldering planet. Does not seem like a lot of fun.


This is from Angela Constance MSP (SNP, Almond Valley):

The right to plunder the land beneath the homes of millions of Scots is being sold to the highest bidder by Westminster where the power over such matters is greedily retained. It is a democratic outrage. And Westminster politicians wonder why they aren’t trusted.

What is the justification for fracking? Energy security they say. Well the last time I looked, Scotland’s energy supply was looking pretty secure to me.

Our oil, which was allegedly running out prior to the Referendum, will last for decades based on recently reported discoveries – and there is plenty more waiting to be found in our Atlantic waters. Then there is the oil that was found years ago in the Clyde basin but which Westminster says can’t be recovered because it might risk Trident operations.

So, at the same time as proposing that fracking could be carried out beneath your house without your consent or knowledge, Westminster is telling us that the oil that lies beneath the operating routes of nuclear submarines is off limits. That tells you all you need to know about where you lie in Westminster’s priorities.

The case for fracking is already looking pretty flimsy and I haven’t even mentioned our second energy lottery jackpot – renewables. We’re already generating a large proportion of our energy through hydro and wind based systems and we are only scratching the surface of the potential offered by solar, wave and tidal sources.

It is telling that Germany, already committed to phasing out nuclear power within a decade and with only a fraction of our oil resources, currently has a moratorium on fracking in place and is considering an outright ban.

But there’s more. The evidence from the USA and elsewhere demonstrates that fracking poses a great pollution risk to that most precious natural resource of all; our water. Of course it is argued that everything will be regulated but, the world over, the record of regulation to protect the environment is far from comforting. And once that water table is polluted, all bets are off. We’re not just going to stop drinking water, right?

Some cite jobs as a justification. Jobs will be created all right but they will be akin to those of the navvies that built our canals years ago. They will come, they will dig and when their work is done they will go. Some local businesses will benefit temporarily but, in the long run, all that will be left behind is a hole in the ground and the hope that our health has not been sold as part of the bargain.

Fracking is not needed in Scotland. Fracking risks ruining our water supply. Fracking will have no lasting economic value to the communities that suffer it. And Scotland, clearly, does not want fracking. But we’re getting it because Westminster says so. If you are starting to feel a little exploited, I don’t blame you.

I believe that this will be a touchstone issue at the coming General Election. No sooner was the Referendum over than Westminster announced plans to remove homeowners rights to object to fracking beneath their property. I don’t recall that being included in ‘the Vow’.

So, if anyone wondered what Alasdair Darling meant by sharing risk and reward, now they know. We get all the risks and someone else reaps the rewards. I don’t think that is what the people of Scotland voted for in September and they will make that clear in May next year.

© 2014 Angela Constance for Deputy

Why I’m a bloody, bleeding heart, leftie do-gooder.

Just sharing this.

Navel Cutbacks

I’ve been struck recently by some things on various radio phone in shows. No, not the type where Dave from Salford spends twenty minutes arguing with Robbie Savage about whether Manchester United’s defence is simply bad or totally appalling. I mean current affairs ones where, for the most part, the public interaction is actually via text or email.

The comments which have particularly grabbed my attention are these:

1) On a discussion about Ed Milliband’s leadership of the Labour Party he was accused of not speaking about aspiration enough.

2) In an item on asylum seekers in Calais trying to get to the UK, one texted said that most of them were economic migrants and that “do-gooder liberals” were lying about it.

3) A piece on historical sexual abuse claims laid the blame at “bleeding heart lefties”.

And these comments saddened me greatly. Not because they were made by people…

View original post 595 more words

Great hymns of the faith (Dutch edition)

I was going to write another post about baptism. I got inspired by re-reading Brian Hymes’ article on ‘Baptism as a Political Act’ (1), which I had studied before I got baptised, and which I found amongst my papers the other day while looking for something else. I was thinking about it on the plane today, as I was shuttled across Europe courtesy of KLM. But that can all wait. Instead I’m just going to post this beautiful, uplifting song.  (It’s in Dutch – and my Dutch must be getting better, because I can now understand – almost all – the words.) This song is better and more profound than anything I could come up with. So sit back, relax, and think about wading into the water.


In het water van de doop,
zien wij hoe God zelf belooft,
dat zijn Naam voorgoed aan ons verbonden is.
Water dat getuigt en spreekt,
van de hoop die in ons leeft,
dat Gods liefde voor ons niet veranderd is.


Eén met Christus in zijn dood,
gaan wij onder in de doop,
overtuigd dat er bij Hem vergeving is.
Eén met Christus, ingelijfd,
staan wij op van schuld bevrijd,
in een leven dat voorgoed veranderd is.


Met de Heer begraven en weer opgestaan,
om voor Hem te leven, Jezus’ weg te gaan.
Uit het water van de doop,
putten wij geloof en hoop,
dat Gods trouw en liefde blijvend is.
Dat Gods trouw en liefde blijvend is.


In zijn lichaam ingelijfd:
Christus’ kerk die wereldwijd,
is geroepen om een beeld van Hem te zijn.
Mensen overal vandaan,
die de weg van Christus gaan,
om vernieuwd voor Hem te leven, vrij te zijn.


Reinig ons, vernieuw ons leven Heer.
Heilig ons, en vernieuw ons leven Heer.


Prijs de Vader, prijs de Zoon en heil’ge Geest!
Prijs de Heer met al wat leeft en adem heeft!
Wat een liefde, wat een hoop!
U verzegelt door de doop
dat ons leven bij U veilig is.
Dat ons leven bij U veilig is.


(1) Hymes, B. ‘Baptism as a Political Act’ in Paul S. Fiddes (ed.), Reflections on the Water: Understanding God and the World Through the Baptism of Believers (Macon: Smyth and Helwys, 1996), pp.69-84

The Limits of Electoral Democracy

A fascinating little documentary on how electoral, representative democracy masks and legitimates oligarchy (in French with – occasionally slightly garbled – English subtitles):



The solution is not less democracy, but more; not the abolition of electoral, representative democracy, but its strengthening with forms of direct democracy, participatory democracy, and local democracy.

Ethical Erotica?

When it comes to sex, Christians are often seen as censorious prohibitive prudes. Sometimes, this is a well deserved criticism. Too often, Christians have reacted against the overly-permissive mores and obsessive sexuality of wider society by going too far the other way. That negative, sex-rejecting approach – rooted in a gnostic aversion to the physical and the personal obsessions of Paul – does not make for a balanced, healthy attitude. In its most destructive and repressive forms, it makes sex out to be something sinful, shameful and dirty – something we shouldn’t talk about and shouldn’t enjoy. That’s gross distortion of a most natural and wonderful thing and it is important not to fall into that trap.

Christians should have an open, frank, joyous and healthy attitude to sex, and to nudity and the body. The biblical tradition positively affirms sexuality within a loving marriage – from Genesis 1, through Song of Songs, to First Corinthians. The intimate union of man and wife is symbolically representative of the union of Christ’s Spirit in us; we are to make ourselves open and receptive to the Spirit, and the Spirit enters and fills us, and brings forth new life in us. We don’t have to be shy or bashful about this.

Neither should we overly sacralise this imagery to the point at which we deny the physical element. Instead, we should see sex and sexuality as something that is good in its right use, as something that is a natural part of life, essential to our place in the created order, as well as being of spiritual significance. Done right, and in the right context, sex is a blissful and connective act, in which the blessing and love of God can be shown in and through an intimate and shameless encounter with the person we love the most on earth. It is also fun, squishy, messy, and sometimes hilarious. In fact, it is precisely because Christianity views sex as so good and so special, in its proper use, that its abuse is regarded as especially damaging. 

With that in mind, I wanted to discuss the issue of pornography, and particularly the question of whether pornography can ever have a legitimate place in the Christian view of sex. If sex is, rightly used, a good thing, then what’s the matter with looking at pictures of people doing it? If we don’t want to be prudish, then what’s wrong with porn? To address this question, I think it would be helpful to think about pornography in terms of the How, the What, and the Why.

(i) How is it produced, and how are those who work in the industry treated? This is an issue that is common to all industries, since economic exploitation is rife in all fields. Pornography produced under conditions of force, coercion or exploitation must surely not be acceptable – in the same way as we would not want to buy any product made by slaves or by mistreated workers. But when it comes to the production of pornographic material, perhaps there is a further difficulty here. It could reasonably be argued that even in the best possible, safe, unionised, regulated, working conditions, sex work is by its nature necessarily degrading – not because sex is degrading, but because it takes that which is lovely when used for love, and turns it into a trade. In the very literal sense, pornography prostitutes sex.

(ii) What it depicts – does it show respectful, loving, unitive sex, or does it depict exploitation or degradation? Again, this question cannot be addressed without first considering whether any sex-act engaged in for money can ever be respectful, loving and unitive, or whether a commercial transaction necessarily makes it exploitative and degrading.

(iii) How is it used – is it used to help a couple improve and keep fresh their own love-making, or is it used in a solitary, selfish way? In other words, is it used as an aide to good marital sex, or as an easy but shallow substitute for it? Like sex itself, the ethical status of porn depends to a large degree on the way and the purpose for which it is used. Is it unitive or destructive? Is it loving or hateful? Is it nurturing or exploitative?

A tentative conclusion – and perhaps not a very convincing or robust one – is to recognise the thin but important distinction between ‘erotica’ and ‘pornography’. Erotica is designed to enhance love-making, and I can see that there might be a role for such a thing as ‘Christian erotica’ to help couples to better enjoy the pleasures, joys and arts of the marriage bed. Pornography, on the other hand, is a sort of ‘do it yourself’ substitute for sex, and that’s much harder to justify – if, indeed, if can ever be justified all.