Scotland article title

JanFeb11 CoverIn July 2010, the Does God Exist? ministry spent three weeks in Scotland doing forty-one presentations in nineteen days. The presentations in Livingston were in a church building, but in Aberdeen and Dundee the presentations were in neutral ground sites — a hotel meeting room in Aberdeen and a gymnasium (a multipurpose room) in Dundee.

Just traveling in Scotland was a joy. The country is beautiful with a rugged coastline and mountains rising over 1,000 feet in what is called “The Highlands.” With the Gulf Stream on one side and the North Sea on the other, there are wild swings in weather precipitating the comment from the locals that “we have all four seasons every day.” Winters are mild, but wet. Summers are cool and wet. All of this wetness produces green everywhere and beautiful gardens abound throughout the country.

Scotland is also called “The Land of Castles.” Everywhere you go you see castles with their own claim to fame. While each has its own story to tell, they have a common history of religious strife. The story is that Christianity was brought to Scotland by Saint Columba in 563 A.D. on the Isle of Iona known as the “Cradle of the Celtic Kingdom.” Bodies of kings of Scotland, Norway, and France as well as clan leaders were sent to Iona for burial. As political and national struggles evolved, religion was used as a tool of those in power. The histories of Scotland and Ireland are full of stories of religious massacres, executions, assassinations, and abuses. The wisdom of Jesus’ teaching “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s” can be seen clearly. Most people in Scotland see God as a man-made political tool used to enforce the view of the aristocracy, not as a reality and relevant to the common people. References to the “post-Christian Era” are everywhere and Richard Dawkins and his associates are viewed as heroes by a significant percentage of the Scottish and Irish population.

Fyvie CastleThis picture shows the result of all this. The “Dog House” was a beautiful old church building across the street from the gymnasium where we conducted our lectureship in Dundee. Like most church buildings in Scotland, it now serves a secular purpose. Most church buildings are nightclubs, like the Dog House, or bars, banks, museums, bookstores, "Dog House"restaurants, and liquor stores. The consequences of rejecting Christianity are readily visible everywhere you go in Scotland and Ireland. We took a tour of the countryside of Ireland around Dublin, and our tour guide was a walking encyclopedia not only of the history of Ireland, but of the current state of its people. “We are a grumpy lot,” he said, and went on to ask us if we had met people on the street who actually smiled. When someone said they had, his response was “they must have been tourists, because we are not a happy people.” We found people to be friendly and very helpful, but also quite defensive and distant. Distrust was a constant reminder of the pervasive mind-set of the people that all of life is a competition, and only the fit survive.

A consequence of this secular viewpoint is an enormous use and dependence on alcohol. We advertised our lectureship in Dundee by passing out leaflets on the city streets, but we learned to do it in the afternoon. My wife attempted to pass out leaflets in the evening when we started the presentations and found that most of the people in the area surrounding the gymnasium were too intoxicated to be able to function in the lectures and discussions. Our guide in Ireland said that the average adult in Ireland spends 6,000 euros (roughly $8,000 American) on alcohol per year. He drove us by a huge hospital in Dublin that he said was totally dedicated to treating alcohol related disorders. This guide was not a religious person or someone who was on a campaign of some sort. This was a regular comment of his presentations as he took tourists around the sites and scenes of Ireland. Obviously, statistics can be misleading and inaccurate, but the prevailing influence of alcohol in this culture, and the social struggles taking place cannot be minimized or dismissed.

Our presentations were well attended in every place where we gave them. We found that people rejected out of hand anything that involved the word “church.” The history of religious and church struggles has soured most people to the point where they would not even consider something connected to church in any other way than a historical way. By the same token we found enormous interest in God and the evidence for God’s existence. Getting people to understand that the church is people (1 Corinthians 3:16 ff.) and not a building was a major struggle. We found enormous interest in the question of what God is — that God is a Spirit (John 4:24) and not an old man in the sky — and what that really means. People had a skeptical view of the Bible, but most of their knowledge was what they had heard the Bible says, not what the Bible actually says. Discussing the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5 through 7 and the radical concepts of Christ piqued a great deal of interest. One night we had a long discussion of Matthew 5:38 – 48 in which Jesus talks about turning the other cheek, going the second mile, and loving your enemies. After this, one man said, “Well then all of this war that has decimated our country was in contradiction to what Jesus taught?” I jumped on that, of course, pointing out that the Crusades were also in opposition to the teachings of Christ. He responded by saying he wanted to know more about “this Jesus which I have never heard of.”

We left Scotland and Ireland with many studies underway and with large numbers of DVDs of our lessons being distributed. My e-mails have been flooded with people who have UK in their URL, indicating that they are writing from the United Kingdom. The questions continue to be on the unique message that Christ actually gave, and how much it is at odds with the history of religion in Scotland and Ireland.

Glamis CastleI have to think of what has happened in the United States, and how that is still unfolding. Christianity has been distorted by many in this country, both in the past and today, to a political/militaristic concept. We have people today who are urging churches to contribute to military action in Israel to facilitate the return of Jesus to the throne of David in Jerusalem. In the past we have had racism promoted by pseudo-Christian groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. Christianity has been used to fleece people of their savings to promote religious causes, or to say to them that God will give them back more than they give if they will turn their savings over to a Christian minister. Religious scams are everywhere, even in things that appear to be positive causes. Some relief money given to charities has been embezzled by religious leaders, and immoral actions by religious figures are commonplace. The result of all of this is a growing distrust of religion, and a tendency to reject Christianity because it is viewed as the tool that enables this bad activity.

The U.S.A. may be a few years behind Scotland and Ireland, but the same problems and abuses exist, and Satan will use them effectively. Will we profit by the experiences of our brothers and sisters across “The Pond”?   Will we work to bring a fresh new message to people of the United States that says that God’s existence and the validity of His Word, the Bible, is strongly supported by evidence? Will we call people to live as the Bible says — not as we or anyone else says? Christianity works when lived as Jesus taught us and as the Bible presents it. Christianity elevates all human beings while bringing peace, trust, love, and understanding to a world that desperately wants what God has to offer.

--John N. Clayton

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