By Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindus, Muslims and others living in Scotland adhering to non-Christian religions need to realise that they live in a Christian country, according to the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland. The controversial remarks by Cardinal Keith O?Brien have been pounced upon by critics, including a spokesman of a Hindu temple in Scotland who reminded the religious leader that India had more Christians than Britain.
Describing the remarks as obnoxious, the spokesman said: ?If you go to India there are more Christians there than there are in Britain. They have total autonomy and total freedom to worship and do anything they want, even welcome people into their faith. There is no grudge against that.
?The suggestion that Scotland should be re-Christianised is quite offensive?. Cardinal O?Brien said he ?tolerated? people who lived differently, but added that he must ?take a stand when Christianity itself is questioned in this country?.
The Church later said the cardinal was not meaning to diminish the stature of other faiths as he set forward his mission to ?re-Christianise? Scotland. Inyat Bunglawala, of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: ?Mr O?Brien should be addressing his comments to Christians. I think Muslims are surprised that many Christians don'ttake their faith so seriously. ?Mr O?Brien perhaps needs to look at his own flock and question why people are not following Christianity as he would like to, rather than showing impatience with other faiths.?
Glasgow Central MP Mohammad Sarwar said those of other faiths accepted Scotland had a massive Christian majority. But he told The Scotsman: ?I have one reservation – when he says that people should learn to live in a Christian way. I don'tknow what that means. It'svery ambiguous. I?m a very tolerant person and we live in a democracy.?
?People should be allowed to practice religion the way they want to.? Cardinal O?Brien chose a forthcoming BBC radio interview to repeat his call for Scotland to be ?re-Christianised?.
He said in the interview that Christianity had been present in Scotland since St Ninian landed at Whithorn in 397AD, but that the country no longer lived up to Christian standards:
?I feel I must take a stand when Christianity itself is questioned in this country. ?In a re-Christianised Scotland I would certainly respect the beliefs of people of other faiths, the great world faiths, and acknowledge when they are celebrating their feasts, just as they acknowledge when we celebrate the feast of Christmas and these sort of things.
?But I would also like them to realise that they are living in Scotland as a Christian country.? The cardinal said Scotland was a ?multi-cultural country?, but added: ?The basic core faith in Scotland I would maintain is Christianity.?
?And I would like to think that in other countries where other faiths are in the majority, the Christian faith would be given the same recognition as other faiths are given here.?
In the interview broadcast on Sunday, he said: ?I am all for that – working together ever more effectively, but we cannot detract from the fact that Scotland is a Christian country.?
A spokesman for the Catholic Media Office in Glasgow said: ?The context in which he talks about re-Christianising is to try and reintroduce faith-based values in society – it is in no sense a diminution of the value of other faiths.?
He said the assertion that the core faith of Scotland was Christianity was also ?nothing new?.
?Scotland has a Christian identity, a Christian heritage. No-one that we are aware of is offended by that, certainly no-one from the other faith groups.?
Osama Saeed, the Scottish spokesman for the Muslim Association of Great Britain, said he didn'tthink the remarks were controversial. ?Mr O?Brien is a Christian leader and he is going to be spread Christianity?I don'tfind that particularly surprising. If people are expecting Muslims to react badly to that, I don'tthink that will be the case.
?When he talks about re-Christianising Scotland, he is merely going to back to a time when it was Christian and acknowledging the fact that that has been lost.?
The head of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Reverend Bruce Cameron, said: ?As Christians we are committed to the core Christian task of Christian mission and sharing faith. But part of that is …dialogue with those of other faiths.?
(The writer is a UK-based journalist and can be contacted on [email protected])