Nathan Alexander: Exploring the deep roots of Scottish secularism

Scottish Secularism

PhD candidate at the School of History, University of St Andrews, Nathan Alexander examines the roots of secularism in Scotland

IN listening to opponents of secularism in Scotland, one would think that challenging Christian privilege was somehow a recent phenomenon here.

There is no doubt that the nation boasts a long Christian history, but one can equally find a long history of a bold questioning of the authority of Christianity – certainly not always prominent or mainstream, it is true, but present nonetheless.

Thomas Aikenhead (c. 1676-1697) might be one of the earliest figures in this alternative tradition. In his third year studying at the University of Edinburgh, Aikenhead was charged with blasphemy in late 1696.

Among his crimes were ridiculing the Bible, dubbing theology “ill-invented nonsense”, and asserting that both Jesus and Moses were merely magicians who had learned their craft in Egypt. Aikenhead’s indictment was based on blasphemy laws dating from 1661 and 1695, which prescribed death for those who denied God or the trinity.

Despite desperate pleas from the young Aikenhead that he had repented his irreligious views and that he was a minor, not yet 21 years old, he was convicted in December and subsequently hanged on 8 January 1697, though not, it should be noted, without some Christians arguing for leniency.

Aikenhead’s execution – the last one for blasphemy in Britain – sent shockwaves throughout Britain and continued to be infamous in later centuries and indeed up to the present day…….(full article here)

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