Over one billion people watched the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony from Glasgow on Wednesday night. We were promised 'the best of Scotland'. What did we get? Enough to learn a great deal about modern Scotland and the 'values' of contemporary British society.
Initially I was not sure. As I listened to the ecstatic phone ins and read the general self-congratulatory press, I was inclined to sympathise with those who labelled the few naysayers as grumpy old men. After all there was much that was good about the ceremony – the laughter, the giant screen, the dancers, the entrance of the athletes from such a diverse group of nations, Amy MacDonald, the dignified minutes silence for the Malaysian air plane victims, the Glaswegian humour, the fabulous Nicola Benedetti rendition of Loch Lomond, a South African singing Freedom come all ye, 'God Save the Queen' being sung loudly at Celtic Park and the laudable attempt to raise money for Unicef (£3.5 million raised so far). It seems somewhat churlish to criticise and even more so to play the role of the boy crying 'the emperor has no clothes'. But overall I'm afraid that the ceremony did tell us a lot about modern Scotland and much of it is not pleasant.
Firstly it was acutely embarrassing. Alex Salmond claimed that this would show the very best of Scotland, and as the Guardian wryly observed "it delivered, so long as your definition of the country's greatest output includes kilted pipers, dancing Tunnock's teacakes, 'men wearing skirts' and Susan Boyle singing Mull of Kintyre". The show was dominated by tartan kitsch and looked as though it was made up by a combination of Disney, Eurovision and the American Brigadoon idea of Scotland. The media 'intelligentsia' here recognised this but attempted to excuse it as 'ironic' and Scots just having a laugh at themselves. But when you are reduced to Rod Stewart, Karen Dunbar and John Barrowman singing, "we're from the land of heather, where men wear kilts, and women blether", as the best of Scottish, it is beyond naïf! The organiser of the whole shebang declared that this would show the world how Scots see themselves – in all honesty it was more how we think the rest of the world sees 'Brand Scotland'. Burns once wrote "O that God would gie us, the gift to see ourselves as others see us". If plastic Nessies, tartan picnic rugs masquerading as kilts, techno-disco and pipers on top of whisky barrels is how we see ourselves, then it is little wonder that we suffer from depression!
And then there were the issues that were airbrushed out of the fantasy picture of Scotland and Glasgow. Only in a postmodern, post-historical society could you give a summary and celebration of Scotland's history and culture and leave out Christianity. Singing 'God save the Queen' is fine as 'the national anthem', as long as you conveniently forget the verse that contains 'crush the rebellious Scots'! Celebrating the past industrial might and riches of Glasgow is fine as long as you forget that Glasgow's wealth was largely built on slavery, the sugar trade and exploiting the poor in our own country. Celebrate if you like the fact that Glasgow was the first city to honour Nelson Mandela (a gesture which cost nothing), but don't pretend that the wealth of Glasgow was brought about by 'hard-working' Glaswegians and ignore its shameful role in the slave trade, opium wars, and industrial exploitation.
The Commonwealth Games is a graphic reminder that Britain once ruled a third of the world, for better and worse. It is a mistake for us to forget both what was good about that and what was bad. And to almost totally ignore the injustices that are going on in the Commonwealth countries today. Where was the coverage of the 100 or so Tamils protesting the genocide in Sri Lanka? Where was the symbolic flying of flags and wearing of crosses to mourn the hundreds of Christians murdered in Nigeria? Flying a rainbow flag over government buildings is a cheap publicity stunt that costs nothing – dealing with the Sultan of Brunei and his imposition of Sharia law is another matter altogether.
Anyway the old imperialistic habits die hard. Today, instead of exporting engineers, doctors, politicians, soldiers and missionaries, our modern imperialists are determined to impose 'progressive' values on the rest of the world. We had to show that Scotland is a 'progressive' nation and that means that we had to have a 'gay' flag flying from government buildings (Peter Tatchell was effusive in his praise of Alex Salmonds pro-gay stance, and Salmond himself proudly tweeted about the flag), and a wee cameo in the tartan Eurovision where John Barrowman gave a gay kiss to celebrate a gay wedding at Gretna.
It was a great example of liberal imperialism....you had better adopt our values or else! The government has also funded 'pride house' at the Games to ensure 'equality'. I wonder what would happen if I went and asked for 'Christian house' to be fully funded to ensure that the millions of Christians who are currently being persecuted throughout the world, got attention and support?! And we know of course that that 'equality' does not extend to those who dare to disagree with the liberal elites absolutist morality.
For me however, the most startling thing was the Unicef appeal. I thought it was great and good to see Scots being represented in caring for children in different contexts throughout the world. I loved the "tonight you can help ensure that every child everywhere gets the best start in life" and thought that the purpose of ensuring that children who come last get a chance at life, was laudable. These were stirring and noble words. But...they largely fell on deaf ears. £3.5 million raised out of one billion viewers is not exactly a resounding success – much more than that was spent on the opening ceremony. Have people become charity fatigued or cynical? Do we like the words and the impression given that we are all part of a civilised nation doing something and then we just get on with our lives?
But the deafness extends beyond that. There was a wonderful clip of a Unicef nurse working with premature babies, seeking to give them life. A great example of giving every child everywhere the best start in life. Except, and here is where reality kicks in, for our liberal imperialists that is meaningless tosh. They don't even remotely mean it. Children who are in the womb are disposable. The only right they have is to be killed if they are deemed to be inconvenient. There are a number of women pregnant in our congregation just now. We don't pray for their potential babies. We pray for the children in the womb. When Kate gets pregnant we don't talk about the royal foetus, we rejoice at the royal baby. When a woman miscarries she does not mourn for the blob that has gone wrong, she weeps for her lost child. So how dare the United Nations lecture us on giving every child everywhere the best start in life, when they actively campaign to prevent that happening?! The secular missionaries of abortion, distortion and destruction, headed by Hillary Clinton, will do their best to ensure that anyone who disagrees with them is removed from the 'we are all equally humanity'.
The more I have reflected on the opening ceremony, the more it has depressed me, despite the good things in it. Sugar coated poison may taste sweet but it is still poison. I can forgive the embarrassing, cringe worthy, shallow and superficial tartan kitsch portrayal of 'modern' Scotland. What I cannot cope with is the use of the Commonwealth Games to further a political and social agenda which has done, and will continue to do, a great deal of harm – especially to the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society. In a week where we have been involved with some of the poorest children in our society, through a children's club run by the church, I have to confess I feel passionately about these children. I want them to grow up in a world where they are valued in the womb, and out of it, where they have stable loving homes and where they grow up in a community characterised by community, rather than by consumerism. The Commonwealth Games opening ceremony highlighted 'values' which will lead to the opposite of that. It may have been 'fun' but whether you are dragged or dance your way over the precipice, the net result is the same.
The words, 'equality, humanity and destiny' were blazed up on the massive screen (at least the ceremony got that aspect of Scottish life right – we spend more on the screen than we do on anything else!). The message was clear. Humanity can be God. You can control your own destiny. We are all equal – Those who are more equal than others (being smarter, richer and more powerful) will deign to tell the rest of us what that 'equality' is. It was a strange mix of liberal fundamentalism, the power of positive thinking, and Brand Scotland. But I don't want Scotland to be a Brand, where our past and present is marketed for a world shopping centre, according to the fantasies of those who believe they are the children of the Enlightenment. I want to cry 'freedom' for the poor and the rich, black and white, men, women and children. Whatever political system we have that will be a false hope until we return to our historic Scottish Christian roots. True freedom is found in Christ and in his Word.
One thing that was left out of Glasgow 2014 was the motto of the city – 'Let Glasgow Flourish by the Preaching of the Word'. Now that would have been a radical, courageous, creative and counter-cultural inclusion! But of course it would have been an inclusion too far for our 'inclusive' elites.
Let the games begin. I hope that the athletes, spectators and volunteers have a great time, and that the politicians and social engineers try to keep out of it and don't claim credit for the sunshine. But let us not be blind to the injustice, inanity and illusion that remains in our society. Let us remember that righteousness exalts a nation, and sin is a reproach to any people. Here on the East Coast of Scotland we are used to the Haar coming in from the North sea, and on the most glorious days, making a mockery of the sun and putting a chill into the air. It is wonderful when late morning, early afternoon, it burns back and the sun breaks through. Scotland right now is covered with a spiritual Haar, which brings a chilling greyness like a blanket over the land. May the afternoon come – and the Son rise. Shine Jesus shine and fill this land with the Father's Glory! Let Scotland flourish by the preaching of the Word.