Ross Ahlfeld: Why the indy left should stop attacking pro-lifers and faith schools

CommonSpace columnist Ross Ahlfeld says the Catholic Church's pro-life teachings are in line with its social justice values, and the left should make an effort to understand that if it wants an inclusive indy Scotland

I WAS disappointed to read Michael Gray’s article published in The National on Tuesday 7 February titled: 'So-called pro-life campaign groups have no place in our schools.' 

This article contained some very biased sentiments and lots of misunderstanding around the pro-life movement and the ways in which catholic schools promote catholic values.

Sure, some on the indy left such as Gray are happy when Scottish bishops are more outspoken on nuclear weapons than their English equivalents. They accept and understand that care for refugees is a natural catholic moral outlook, yet they call for the state to intervene when it comes the Catholic community promoting its obvious pro-life position in Catholic schools.

Secularists claim that hospitality towards refugees escaping war and pro-life promotion are two separate issues which are not moral equivalents.

Yes, folks like Gray approve when catholic schools are giving out Caritas awards to pupils for raising awareness around issues such as child refugees, modern slavery and human trafficking. Yet they also claim that parents, teachers and clergy are guilty of an abuse of power when it comes to similar work around pro-life issues.

Secularists claim that hospitality towards refugees escaping war and pro-life promotion are two separate issues which are not moral equivalents. However, this would be to misunderstand our catholic social teaching on 'the common good', which promotes the good for all people and of the whole person. 

It is the idea that we exist "with" others and "for" others but always with one eye on the end goal of "the preservation of all human life". Therefore, they should understand that the two issues cannot be separated by catholics or catholic schools.

Similarly, give some consideration to the possibility of an alt-right dominated, Ukip/Trump era paradigm shift in the near future, in which being concerned for the welfare of refugees and asylum seekers is no longer regarded a mainstream position or standard government policy. 

If this day ever comes, rest assured that the catholic community’s position on such issues will remain unchanged, just as it remains unchanged on pro-life issues. This is because the inherent human dignity of each and every individual always remains the same regardless of any changes in government policy or societal fads.

However, this would be to misunderstand our catholic social teaching on 'the common good', which promotes the good for all people and of the whole person.  

Once they understand this they will better understand how catholic schools regard being pro-life and being pro-social justice as one and the same.

I don't think that newspapers like The National or those on the indy left are doing their cause any favours by being so hostile to faith schools. I’m not seeking to advocate for or against the independence movement here, but these attacks on faith communities show a typically narrow mindset which has not learned any lessons from the previous indyref. 

Any broad, mass movement in Scotland has to reach out to Scots who aren't either secularists or libertarians. Those on the Scottish indy left would do well to accept the fact that monarchists, religious people, pro-lifers, elderly folks, social conservatives and middle class people etc are part of our society, too. It would be better to seek an economy with them rather than simply dismiss such large numbers of potential Yes voters if there was ever an indyref 2.

In reality, we have both No voters and Yes voters in our churches, we should be catholics first and unionists and nationalists second. Christian voters of all denominations in Scotland are not, and never have been, a homogenous group who vote along religious lines.

Despite various stats providing analysis of each denomination’s voting patterns, it’s clear that Scottish christians did not vote collectively for or against independence, and are as divided on this issue as the rest of the country.

It is the idea that we exist "with" others and "for" others but always with one eye on the end goal of "the preservation of all human life". Therefore, they should understand that the two issues cannot be separated by catholics or catholic schools.

However, anyone on the Scottish liberal left who thinks that the church is the enemy of a progressive and modern Scotland would do well to consider the role the christian left and christian democrats have often played in various different devolved, autonomous, federalist and independence movements throughout Europe over the last century.

For example, in Flanders, christian democrats have always been at the heart of the Flemish movement. After World War II, the Christian People’s Party (Christelijke Volkspartij) immediately won the largest number of seats in parliament in 1946. 

Since then, the Christelijke Volkspartij has implemented social reforms and pushed the agenda for more regional autonomy.

In a very different way, the independence movement in Catalonia has benefited from its association with the Benedictine monks of Santa María de Montserrat Abbey. 

The monks have long been the main preservers and defenders of Catalan culture. They have done this by publishing books, studies and articles dedicated to raising the awareness of Catalan language, history and culture. 

I’m not seeking to advocate for or against the independence movement here, but these attacks on faith communities show a typically narrow mindset which has not learned any lessons from the previous indyref. 

For decades the Abbey in Montserrat has been an important spiritual focal point for the independence movement of Catalonia.

It’s exactly this spiritual dimension which appears to be missing from our own autonomous movement. Much like Scots, Catalans do not seek an independent parliament for purely historical reasons; they, too, want a fairer, more equal society. 

Like us, most Catalans want a society which could bring the different members of society together, including faith communities. This is why many Catalans value the role which the monks play in bringing an expression of faith to what would otherwise be a very transactional and bureaucratic movement.

More so, other regional autonomy movements in Spain have benefited, not just from the spirituality of the church, but also from the social teaching of the church, too. 

For example, Father José María Arizmendiarrieta was a catholic priest and founder of the Mondragon cooperative movement in the Basque Country. Mondragon is a collection of workers' cooperatives established in the Basque town of Mondragoe in the 1950s based on the catholic social teaching of Fr. Arizmendiarrieta, who had a deep love of his native Basque Country. Arizmendiarrieta initially worked for a Basque language newspaper associated with the short lived Basque government. He even spent time in jail due to his involvement in the revival of the Basque-speaking culture.

Those on the Scottish indy left would do well to accept the fact that monarchists, religious people, pro-lifers, elderly folks, social conservatives and middle class people etc are part of our society, too.

Finally, that which we stand to lose through Brexit can be preserved through the idea of subsidiarity. Faith schools are an important aspect of subsidiarity since they are devolved, semi-autonomous, community led institutions which occupy the space between two spheres – the state and the individual.

Therefore, if we wish to be a small, modern European nation like Norway or the Netherlands then we should remember that even these liberal secular nations (both with constitutional monarchs) still have their Bible belts (De Bijbelgordel) where traditional Calvinist communities are left to manage their own affairs, including the education of their own children in their own faith schools without too much state intervention. 

Maybe this is the best model for us to follow, too.

Picture courtesy of American Life League

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