Today (Tuesday 6 May 2014) is an important day in the 15-year life of The Scottish Parliament. I am humbled to become, today, the fourth person to lead a humanistic reflection in the chamber. It is both a great honour, and a sad realisation that despite the earlier commitments by our First Minister, and others, I remain just the fourth!
Here is the full transcript of my reflection:
Members of the Scottish Parliament, I would like to tell you a story about a wee boy from a land far, far away.
It was a wonderful land, made rich by the many different cultures and practices that had developed over the course of its ancient history.
This wee boy though, was born into one particular clan that was marred by division and differences, so they largely kept themselves to themselves: even their children were only allowed to play with others of their clan.
This wee boy loved his clan, but eventually he decided to go out into the world and seek adventure. As he wandered far and wide, he was astounded to discover that there were other clans, who believed different things, but who believed them with just the same passion as his own.
Even stranger – he met some people who said they didn’t belong to any clan at all. They also spoke in a strange language, and there was a phrase they used that stuck in his mind.
“For a’ that, an’ a’ that, it’s coming yet for a’ that”, they said, “That Man to Man, the world o’er, Shall brothers be for a’ that”.
The wee boy, now a young man, liked that idea a lot. He saw that this could be a way of uniting the clans, by telling them that they were all part of an even greater clan: the clan called humanity, in which everyone was equal: men and women, black and white, gay and straight, able and disabled.
He began to tell people about his big idea, but to his surprise, some of them weren’t interested. They told him that the old ways were the best ways, and that anyway, the man who’d written the poem he liked so much was a scoundrel and rogue, so they werenae gonnae be telt how to behave by the likes of him!
The young man was frustrated, but he decided that when he grew up, he’d do everything in his power to ensure that the children of his land would grow up to look for the things that made them like other people, rather than different from them; to learn to wonder, to think for themselves, and to question what the words ‘fairness’, ‘equality’ and ‘democracy’ really mean. What they mean to me is secularism: the only guarantee that everyone will be the treated fairly and equally, whatever they belief.
As only the fourth humanist to address this parliament, and as part of an organisation that works to promote secularism in public life and reflects the views of the millions of Scots who value ‘fairness’, ‘equality’ and ‘democracy’ in public life, I leave you with those questions and thank you for listening.
It may of interest to note, that the last sentence of my reflection was originally meant to read; “As only the fourth humanist to address this parliament in fourteen years, I leave you with those questions, and thank you for listening.”
However, this was rejected by the Presiding Officer’s Principal Secretaries, in case it might be interpreted as criticism of the Parliament. The wording was therefore changed as above.
Along with the Time for Reflection address, there are also another of other events taking place in parliament today which are of great interest to us: At 10am the Public Petitions Committee will discuss Professor Norman Bonney’s petition for equal representation for atheists at Time for Reflection: the Education and Culture Committee will also discuss both the Scottish Secular Society petition on Religious Observance and the Edinburgh Secular Society petition on unelected religious representatives on Local Education Committees. Today will be an important day in The Scottish Parliament in the on-going debate about the role of religion in public life.