It’s sometimes easy to forget that there are religious fundamentalists all over the world.  Europe, for the most part, seems to escape, with low levels of religiosity across the continent, high levels of education and high levels of happiness (Northern Europe and Scandinavia in particular have some of the lowest religiosity levels in the world combined with some of the longest life expectancy rates, lowest crime rates and highest happiness rates – there’s a lesson there).  However, in one corner of Europe the religious crazies have really tried to put themselves on the map.

It would have escaped the notice of most of the world that, in recent weeks, threats, bombs and physical attacks have been aimed at the manager of Celtic Soccer club in Glasgow, Scotland.  It’s actually a strange situation in Scotland, and Glasgow in particular.  The two biggest teams in Scotland are Glasgow Rangers and Glasgow Celtic.  Religion is thread right through them, with Celtic being formed specifically as a fundraising exercise for a religious charity.  The rivalry between these two highly successful clubs goes beyond the soccer pitch.

Roughly speaking, 70% of Celtic fans are Catholic whilst 70% of Rangers fans are Protestant (source [PDF]).  This creates a rivalry that goes beyond that usually seen between local teams.

This rivalry has really boiled over this season, and taken an ugly turn.  The focal point of the troubles has been Celtic manager Neil Lennon.  Apart from being a rather controversial individual, with a temper and taste for provocation, Lennon is of Northern Irish descent and was raised a Catholic.  Lennon’s personality, religion and nationality has created somewhat of a perfect storm in the already cloudy city of Glasgow, where sectarianism has been a long standing issue.

And it’s important to point out that this is sectarianism.  These two factions believe in the same God, the same book, and share broadly the same values.  It makes the events that have been unfolding over the years even harder to understand for those of us not clouded by the idiocy of religion.

Neil Lennon attacked during game

Neil Lennon is not a stranger to sectarian trouble.  Whilst still a player he had to retire from international football after receiving death threats from certain sections of the Northern Irish fan base.  Northern Ireland being the spiritual home of sectarian violence and other idiocy.  Even back then he was being sent bullets in the mail.  Lately the issues surrounding Lennon have escalated somewhat, culminating with a “fan” attacking him on the side of the pitch during a recent cup game.

Make no mistake, this is a real mess.  And these are not idle threats being made, a viable parcel bomb has been sent to Lennon and other high-profile Celtic fans from a Scottish address, whilst another was intercepted on its way from Ireland.  It’s also entirely unfair to paint the Celtic party as the victim, as this is a rivalry that goes both ways.

The links to Northern Ireland are both prominent and disruptive.  It’s not unusual to see the Union Jack being displayed at Rangers whilst the Ulster Banner hangs at Celtic, demonstrating the desire to remain in/separate from the United Kingdom.  Much of the racism that rears its head around these events is linked to Northern Ireland, and not Scotland (although some of it is anti-Irish and emanates from the Scots).

Whilst the source of these issues clearly go beyond religion, touching on ideology, politics, regional tribalism, racism and lots of other shameful traits, the pervasive core is sectarianism.  Scotland is making attempts to address these issues, but clearly they underestimate the amount of hate certain factions feel towards those who believe in the same God.  And this is all happening against a background of an increase in hate crimes, with a 10% rise in sectarianism.

The reason I’ve brought this up is that these troubles simply do not get enough coverage.  Soccer, especially Scottish Soccer, doesn’t exactly set the heart a flutter for many, so these things can get glossed over.  You’ll notice that the links scattered throughout this article are to British media sources, as very few American or International agencies have decent coverage of the events and underlying issues.  After picking up on this story a few weeks ago, and doing a bit of research, I’m staggered by the actions of those involved, and I think many would share that opinion if only they knew about it.  The fact that someone can be threatened, attacked and ostracized simply for subscribing to a certain ideology and being associated with a Soccer club, in a developed country, in the 21st Century should be a source of shame not just for those directly involved, but Scotland and the rest of the world.

To an atheist such as myself, the entire concept of sectarianism is baffling.  It’s as if Team Edward and Team Jacob started sending letter bombs to each other.  These are groups of people arguing, fighting, over the way a book is to be interpreted (and the scope of influence of things outside of the book – for a quick reference to the differences between Team Edward Catholics and Team Jacob Protestants there’s a handy chart here).  It’s a step beyond the idiocy involved in arguing which fictional book you should base your life on, the usual source of religious hate.

Madness doesn’t begin to cover it.  Oh, and on the pitch?  Glasgow Ranger won the Scottish Premier League Title whilst Glasgow Celtic won the Scottish Cup, not that anyone cares.