This New Puritanism Is Simply No Joke

Daily Mail (London), August 18, 1999 | Go to article overview

This New Puritanism Is Simply No Joke


Byline: ALLAN MASSIE

JOHN KNOX is out of fashion in New Scotland. So is the dour Presbyterianism of Calvin. We reject the stern and censorious morality of the auld Kirk. That, at any rate, is what our political and cultural leaders in our new mature liberal democracy would have us suppose. And superficially, they might seem to be right.

The Scotland of today is very different from the Scotland of my youth. The Scottish Sunday is dead - dead as our once confining licensing laws. As far as sexual morality is concerned, Puritanism is a thing of the past; almost anything is permissible, and conventional marriage is merely one possible lifestyle choice, not to be regarded as better than any other.

Nobody is made to sit, like Rabbie Burns, on a stool of repentance in the parish Kirk, to expiate the sin of fornication. The very idea that fornication might be a sin is absurd. Perhaps the concept of sin itself belongs to the foreign country that is the past.

Fair enough, and yet, as historian Angus Calder said to me last week, Scotland is well on the way to being the most politically correct country in Europe.

His thought was prompted by what he described as the ultimate absurdity - the Edinburgh Festival's establishment of a non-smoking jazz venue.

Sanitised jazz: it's almost a contradiction in terms.

But it is no surprise we should be going this way.

Political correctness is an American invention and Scotland is the most American country in Europe.

Political correctness is the late 20th-century version of the old Puritanism of New England. And Scotland, where people have always been ready to condemn their neighbours for sins, is fertile territory for New Puritanism.

But there is a significant difference between new and old Puritanism.

While the old was based on scriptural authority, the new is based on mere opinion and self righteousness.

The debate, which is not a debate, on foxhunting offers a perfect example.

I say it is not a debate as those who support Lord Watson's proposed Bill to ban the sport decline to argue their case. They merely assert it.

They know as surely as any Covenanting zealot they are right and virtuous and their opponents wrong and wicked.

My younger son, who does not hunt but enjoys other field sports (fishing and shooting) wrote a long, well-reasoned letter to Nationalist MSP Tricia Marwick who is to be cosponsor of Lord Watson's Bill. He made the argument in favour of hunting in calm, reasonable terms.

HE got a two-sentence reply.

The first told him what he already knew, that Miss Mar-wick was to be cosponsor of the Bill. The second declared she was doing this because hunting was 'cruel and barbaric'. No argument, merely her opinion - which she clearly believes is unchallengeable because she is right, she is virtuous. …

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