The Great Divide

In a recent article in Scottish Review1, Gary Hasson powerfully opens a lid on what is possibly the biggest problem threatening our society, yet is hardly ever spoken about. It is the festering wound and the major source of division in contemporary Scotland. It is the elephant in the room, the war we mustn’t talk about, the brother we never had.  It is starkly illustrated by the sharp difference between life in the peripheral housing schemes and the leafy west ends of our cities. Yet it is possible to live out your life without ever noticing it. Maybe you have to be in a prison waiting room, be searched and have your arm stamped or live in a burned out close which has become a shooting gallery, or see a gang fight explode at close quarters, or be routinely insulted and humiliated by some wearied official behind a grill, or just had to learn to accept tenth rate service from medics, educationists, and councillors just because they can get away with it.   It sounds like something that every politician should be agitating for but I do not believe it is within the gift of politicians to fix even there was the will. I don’t believe it is to do with money or a solution could be bought. I don’t think the psychology and sociology and educational theorists have the whole answer either. Neither Darwin, nor Marx nor Freud,  “Three most crashing bores of the Western world” 2come anywhere near. The problem lies much deeper. On one side is the arrogance, greed, pride and indifference or simply obliviousness of those who have the power the wealth and the wit to be sorted, on the other an almost total lack of self-esteem, self-worth and self-respect of those on the other side of the tracks. Apart from the odd outburst, the odd riot, the odd march, there is a resigned acceptance that this is just the way it is. It all became very clear to me early on in my work with the Mains of Fintry Urban Ministry Trust and it is not new. Nick Davies wrote about it in 1997 “Dark Heart, the shocking truth about hidden Britain”3. The book was, and is, a desperately depressing insight into the underbelly of urban life in the late 20c, but he was simply an investigative journalist and had no real answer.  The crippling lack of self-worth and the sense of being trapped with no way out is deeply ingrained in the psyche. It is reinforced with every attempt by those with the resources, time, skill and money to help. “You are only helping because you can and we can’t”  Even the acknowledgement of gifts, the positive strokes, the affirming comments are taken as yet another nail in the coffin “You are only saying that to make us think we are good when we know and you know we are rubbish”  It is seen as yet another patronising put-down.  Our Kosovar friend made an interesting comment on this. When volunteers and NCO’s came to her country to help rebuild the nation, after the war, they were treated with disdain and suspicion.  “They must have done something really bad to be sent to a dump like this” was what they said.  It was only later that she saw the thing differently.

So what is the answer?

I have only one: one solution, one way, one truth, one life- Jesus. If God was prepared to become one of us and go through unbelievable pain and suffering and die for me then I must be worth it and that changes everything.

But it is also not just a theory. I have seen it happen. I have seen people find God and become Christians and find their lives being transformed. They were no longer cowed and subservient but, without turning their back on the traditions, families and cultures, they stood tall with dignity. I have seen it in both individuals and in communities in the east end of Glasgow, in the north end of Dundee, in the pueblos Jovenes in Lima and in the Quechan communities in the Sierra of Peru. It was something that even an atheist like Matthew Parris recognised, after visiting Africa in 2008 “Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good…..The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world, a directness in their dealings with others – that seemed to be missing in traditional African life”. 4

So, for me, the hope for our nation does not lie with politicians, civil servants and the ruling classes, nor with the educationalists, sociologists and social scientists, nor with the economists, entrepreneurs and  traders in money, nor  with the artists, poets, musicians and architects, nor with the entertainers, celebrities and comedians but, strangely as it may seem, with the humble preacher, who faithfully and carefully studies the bible and brings out its truth and majesty in words that people can understand.  In this simple act the whole of life, for the individual and the community, can be transformed and the great divide breached.

Crawford Mackenzie


2              William Golding: Marx, Darwin and Freud are the three most crashing bores of the Western World. Simplistic popularization of their ideas has thrust our world into a mental straitjacket from which we can only escape by the most anarchic violence.”

3              Nick Davies: Dark Heart, the shocking truth about hidden Britain, 1997, Vantage


12 thoughts on “The Great Divide

    • I haven’t read or studied Liberation Theology in any great detail to say but I do believe that the knowledge that you are loved by God is liberating in the fullest of senses. Now that you have prompted me I will explore more.

  1. I would not want to rely on Parris’ judgement on this issue after his dismissive treatment of council tenants, but I am intrigued to see you quote an out and proud homosexual following your earlier post!

    • Why would quoting an ‘out and proud homosexual’ on the theme of Christianity in Africa in this blog post while refusing to accept and celebrate same sex marriage in a separate post be in any way contradictory?

    • I can’t see how what someone may declare about their sexual preference has anything to do with this issue. I don’t need to know or need to agree with what anyone may say on any subject to quote them, if I think they have something useful to contribute. I know nothing of the sex lives of Garry Hasson, Nick Davies, William Golding or my Kosovar friend for that matter and I don’t want to know. They may also have made comments about council tenants, but all of that is quite irrelevant.

  2. But on a more serious note – I am always a wee bit worried when we see ‘only one solution’ to an issue so I hope you will allow me to present another perspective, based on my own experience.

    Most of my working life has been engaged with the issue of poverty, especially as it relates to children, young people and families. The single issue that has concerned me throughout my life is the appalling waste of young lives whose experience, even in utero, condemns them to a live of poverty.

    I’ve sat with a young mother in tears because she had spent the last of her week’s money on a bag of potatoes bought off the grocery van. When she had handed her money over, she’s been given a bag of sodden, rotten and inedible potatoes. The man who sold it to her knew he could get away with it because the dealers protected him – his ‘grocery’ van was a cover for delivering drugs, but she had no choice but to use it. There were no shops in that community when I worked there at first, and only one access road.

    I’ve knocked on a door that was opened by young father wielding a heavy-duty monkey wrench. It wasn’t intended for me; it was to protect his family from the debt collectors who had broken all the windows the night before.

    I’ve been in the home of a young mum whose toilet had been broken for weeks. Raw sewage covered the floor. Her phone calls to the council to ask for it to be repaired had been fruitless – her address was a no go area for council workmen.

    I’ve sat with parents who despaired of ever being able to offer their children the opportunities that most of us take for granted – and sat with teachers who condemned the same parents as irresponsible and uncaring.

    At that time I also attended a church in the community, so my knowledge of the community was not only work related. I was in people’s homes in the late evening and weekends when professionals had gone home. There I witnessed scenes that defy description – the full horror of what goes on in a community that has been robbed of its hope and its dignity.

    I’m not sure if I could have gone on if I had not also seen significant change in that community and that change was the one you identify above – a restoration of self worth, self-determination and self efficacy. That came about partly because of the political will to spend no money, make no plans and upgrade no services without local people making the decisions. One of the first things that local people said was that being physically shut off from the rest of the town made them feel worthless and made their community unsafe. The restoration of the access roads, including the creation of a new one leading to a retail park was the first signal that this community was part of Paisley, and open for business. Many things followed, including a neighbourhood centre where people could shop, use the library, covered street café, pharmacy, health centre, training suite and other resources safely. More importantly, it gave them safe, neutral spaces where they could meet to talk about the issues that affected them and begin to find their own solutions.

    I believe we can fix poverty in Scotland, but it will take more than one approach. We need to make the political argument that allowing poverty to continue to exist impoverishes us all. We need to make the moral argument that it is unfair, unjust and shaming for a wealthy nation to exclude such a large proportion of its population. We need everyone to be involved, including architects, educationalist and sociologists. We need people of faith, compassion and conviction.

    • Thanks for this moving and inspiring account of how meaningful change can happen in a community. It is a very encouraging story. Has it ever been fully told, written and or published?

      I completely agree with you that it needs all agencies, professionals, public servants, visionaries and activists (maybe even architects) to be involved and play their part. Clearly their roles should be complimentary and in partnership. I think what I was trying to grapple with was what lay behind the problem I saw, as I felt it was deep and entrenched. I struggled to know how it could be addressed and what could be done to change things and turn them round. This brought me to the conclusion that I made. At the heart, at the bottom line, I think it still is the only one I have to offer.

      • Thanks. I do not know of any such publication. I understand the struggle to find an answer to such entrenched issue and your feeling that Christianity is the only one you have to offer. I am hope that within that framework you recognise the outworking of Christianity in your life through your many gifts. I suppose, just as I recognise the life changing work that is done in such communities through the witness of Christians such as yourself, you would also recognise that people can develop self worth, self determination and self efficacy through other approaches also.

  3. With Christianity’s almost complete departure from the political life of our nation and the inevitable collapse of the labour movement, it is difficult to see any other solutions emerge. I’m not a Christian, but I do accept that in a society where morality is decided by the rich and powerful there is no real hope for the poor and oppressed.

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