“You come from Scotland”, said the man in the small, Presbyterian church I attended in Colombia.
“Good people. John Knox was Scottish”.
Of all the famous Scots that I would have expected he name as “good people”, John Knox would not have been numbered among them. It was partly due to the misogyny and intolerance of a man who could not be ruled by a tolerant, Roman Catholic queen ( Mary, Queen of Scots allowed considerably more freedom of religion and conscience in her little kingdom than many other Catholic monarchs of Europe) that ensured that my country was embroiled for centuries in bitter religio-political conflict. It was partly due to him that great works of religious art were destroyed. It was partly due to him that my Scotland, a cold place with warm and merry people, became as depressing as the weather. It was partly due to him (being a close friend to a man now recognised to be an English spy who’s mission was to stir up dissent – to start a religious war in fact – to make my country weaker and, partly due to him that my country was annexed to its neighbour centuries later. He was a man of monstrous ego and vainglory, and all but his followers knew it. Calvinists on either side of the Atlantic who rile against Mohammed’s choice of a bride of nine years of age, should perhaps consider remaining silent. Their icon, Knox, married a teenager when he was middle-aged.
My Colombian friend was speaking in awe of someone whose historical legacy had left a sour taste in the mouth of my people. Had we remained as Catholic as the Irish, we would have been much happier as a nation. We would never have been annexed to England, and we would probably still have our Statehood. He was not a man of peace, and he was the herald for many terrible things. If a tree shall be known by its fruit, it’s a “strange and bitter crop” we reaped from Knox’s preaching.
For a man who detested the groves and high places of Catholic Christendom, and was instrumental in having the “graven images” of catholic saints destroyed, his own graven now towers above my beloved Glasgow, his stone hand outstretched over the city. The pillar upon which his image stands graven is in a grove, a high place, of its own: the hill behind the squat, grey cathedral; Glasgow’s Necropolis. The City of the Dead, the graveyard for Glasgow’s 18th and 19th century rich, over which Knox’s monument presides in macabre stillness. Scotland’s hard-line Calvinists are not men who understand irony. In Edinburgh, you may drive over his grave.
“Yes. He was a Scot.” I said quietly.
The protestants of Colombia are in the minority, and have their backs against the wall as far as religion and society are concerned. They lack the catholic connections to get good positions, and there is open discrimination. They told me all about their sufferings as a protestant minority. I smiled. You suffer because you are a minority, I said, not because you are protestant. The Catholics in my country suffered the same as you, before the refugees arrived. Perhaps even more so.
I loved that little Presbyterian church my boss took me too, where he and his family attended. It reminded me somewhat of my home church as a youngster, when it still had young families; when it was full. I go back now and I see in a microcosm what has happened to my country: an aging, falling population, the elderly sad because there are no more children. (Here is a truth not universally known: the old love the company of the young). I continued to attend, because I have always been in the minority: its part of my psychology now. In the majority, you don’t remember justice. You get comfortable. You get respectable, and nothing is bad for your faith so much as respectability. In protestant countries I attend catholic churches, in catholic countries I attend protestant ones. I always find that minorities are much more dynamic for the pressure they find themselves under.
The question is though, when you howl for freedom as a minority, when you do not rule, will you heed the howls of those minorities under you when you eventually gain temporal power? A society is really only as good as how well the rights of the weakest and poorest are protected therin; a government only as good as how it honours the freedoms of those in pacific opposition to it.