Scotland must work to stop deadly religious intolerance – Jim Duffy

Talia Ben Sasson-Gordis closes her eyes in prayer during a vigil for the victims of the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting
Talia Ben Sasson-Gordis closes her eyes in prayer during a vigil for the victims of the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting
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The mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, in which 11 people were killed, reminds Jim Duffy of the importance of religious tolerance.

Did God make man or did man make God? You may have heard this question asked before when the debate over religion has raised its head. No one knows the answer for sure, I would suggest.

The whole concept of God, worship and religion is a personal one for each of us. Whether you decide to believe in your God at any particular point in your life is patently your business. The same applies if you decide to worship, celebrate or gather in your God’s name with others – you should be left to do so in peace. Gathering for prayer with other human beings who have the same faith or beliefs has been going on for centuries.

But, there is one faith group that sometimes needs guards outside its premises, so its patrons can pray without fear of incident. The Jewish community appears to be targeted while they celebrate their faith. And in the 21st century, we must show them that we care.

As a lapsed Roman Catholic Christian, who every now and then pops his head into a chapel to pray and who says a private prayer almost every day, I have had the good fortune of being able to attend my church without fear of attack.

At no time in Scotland in the last 40 years have I felt unsafe while celebrating a mass, attending a wedding, mourning at a funeral or enjoying a baptism. I have taken this freedom and security for granted. At churches all around the world, where I have celebrated Mass with other Christians, I have witnessed no intimidation, violence or threats of either.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not being as naive as to think that this is 100 per cent the case for others. But, on the whole, Christians in Scotland, whether from the Church of Scotland, Roman Catholic tradition or any other new variants of Christianity have had no real bother at the church gates.

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Living in Giffnock in Glasgow for a period, I always wondered why there were traffic cones on the pavements and at least two “stewards” outside the local synagogues on a Saturday morning. Both in Giffnock and Newton Mearns, I would drive by both synagogues and wonder as to why this security was required in the modern age? As both were safe, leafy suburbs where not much really happened, was there truly a need for security or were these synagogues over-reacting?

However, last weekend, after 11 people where killed at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, the reality of being Jewish and needing security just to worship hit home.

Fortunately for Newton Mearns and Giffnock, we do not have as much access to firearms as our American cousins do. Gun laws in the UK are among the strictest in the world. So, perhaps the chances of anything similar happening are a lot slimmer.

But, still there are always fanatics who will try their best to vent their anger from a distorted viewpoint. So, even in safe cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh, the Jewish community still has to take the security of its worship seriously in case of a random attack. And this is the bit that bothers me the most.

Tomorrow when the Jewish community in Scotland gather at their respective synagogues to worship, I have no doubt people will be on high alert. Rabbis will be acutely aware of what has taken place in Pittsburgh and may tailor their message accordingly for all present to give them reassurance and confidence. And so should we all.

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At a time when there is so much division between polar opposites on a micro and macro global scale, Scotland needs to ensure that we embrace tolerance and understanding of all faiths, but, in particular, the Jewish faith.

The Scottish Jewish community, which has already had to face alleged anti-semitism from some within the Labour party, needs to know they can worship in peace, and we all need to do our bit to ensure they can.

Which makes me think about how it must feel just now, walking into a synagogue, while I can stroll nonchalantly and without fear into my local chapel.

If you consider it carefully, as a parent with children, what must go through your mind as you get dressed to go and worship. It should be a happy time. A time when you will be with family. A time when you will meet others, smile, shake hands and give hugs. But, the uncertainly that events such at those in Pittsburgh cause leads to less happiness and more stress. I cannot imagine what would go through my mind as I prayed, worrying about what might happen at the front door, constantly looking over my shoulder – just in case.

Whether God made man or the other way about will keep scholars busy for another few centuries. But, we must accept that God exists as an entity for many individuals and faiths.

Whatever shape or form it takes, religious tolerance and the safety of worshippers must be a given in Scotland. Political arguments can take place on other premises and debates can rage on in parliaments and political parties.

But, the sanctity and security of all religious buildings from the Sikh temple, the Muslim mosque and the Jewish synagogue must be the responsibility of all.