What’s to be done with groups in society who derive their core sense of identity from the idea that they are different from, and superior to, other groups that do not share their beliefs?
Come Out From Among Them, Sweet Grassmarket * * *
It’s a widespread problem, in the age of hate speech, and of social media that actively encourage people to retreat into ideological and emotional echo-chambers; but it has also plagued the whole history of Northern Ireland, particularly since the 1950’s, when the Rev. Ian Paisley founded his Free Presbyterian Church, and later the Democratic Unionist Party, both based on the impulse to break with other congregations, and parties, which were seen to have betrayed the one true faith.
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Come Out From Among Them (the title is a quote from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians) is Dundee-based writer John McCann’s gentle and sometimes meandering account of his attempt, as a Catholic from Portadown, to enter into some kind of dialogue with members of the Free Presbyterian Church. His experiences are varied; but on the whole, apart from interesting chats about social realities in Northern Ireland with two younger DUP politicians, he finds personal geniality, considerable mistrust, and strict limits to how much he can achieve.
In the end, he concludes that no-one from Northern Ireland can afford to break communications with whole sections of the population, and that in defiance of some of his past views, he will therefore not allow Free Presbyterians and DUP members to be wholly separate from him. It’s a thought-provoking message; and one that has implications far beyond Northern Ireland, if anyone cares to hear it.