I can’t help finding feeling profoundly confused, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. On one hand, all sense of personal responsibility, never mind regulation, seems to be wholly rejected and each of us is to be the arbiter of our own lifestyles, priorities, morality and of course, spiritual life. The theme here is that I should be entitled to do whatever I wish provided that I harm nobody else. Of course it means that the decision on whether I am causing harm to anyone else seems to lie with me – and me alone. There certainly is no external body or authority that can make such a determination. I am judge and jury in my own cause.
And so freedom in all respects should prevail – in personal relationships, transactions, loyalties and anything else. Emotions may run riot without let or hindrance. It certainly applies to all matters of personal faith and its expression. It is there in virtually all artforms.
For one living in complete isolation, this may be fine as there is nobody around with whom to interact and certainly none to criticize. And it may be there in major cities where there is a level of anonymity and indeed alienation. If anyone gets in the way of our preferred lifestyle, then it is their fault for being so sensitive or for just being there at all. There is no genuine sense of personal engagement. But the assumption is that there should be no constraint at all, especially in personal matters.
But then there is the other extreme. Whatever it is, there should be a law about it. I am held to be responsible for the living conditions of people on the other side of the world, for all aspects of global warming, for any actual, implied or even anticipated sense of unease on the part of anyone else, whether this is related to sex, gender, race, social or cultural identity or any other form of identity or loyalty. It is a place where accusation is proof of guilt and any kind of forum for assessing fault or innocence is just a form of delay and evasion. The implied guilt is self-evident from viewpoint of the complainer or from their implied or perceived sense of grievance.
And so there should be people to police such aspects of public and even private attitudes – with virtually unlimited powers of accusation and investigation. Perceived offense against another’s emotions or sensitivities is enough to condemn. Perhaps this is something of a parody – but you may want to think of how far it is only parody. To speak out of turn is an offence and even to think it is becoming one.
The more serious aspects of this however are seen in the areas of public art and debate. To me, if art fails to communicate – if it fails to be understood or even comprehensible, then is it really art? In this sense, art is art when it communicates, and this is my way of receiving and responding to it.
But it is also there in all forms of debate. This has to be in a language that all parties to the debate can share. If words mean different things to different people, then are they part of the shared language at all? If the points made are assertions, unsupported by argument or evidence then how are they to contribute to the debate?
All this may be very post-modern but it may be more a reaction to a sense of powerlessness – even if it does not connect with the reality lived day-to-day or the search for answers to any of the issues of the day.
I suppose that it brings me back to St Paul and his view of the church as a body. All parts are connected and all communicate with one another. If one part feels pain then the body as a whole in is pain. See 1 Corinthians 12. But is it also there in John 13: 34-35 (A new commandment: LOVE ONE ANOTHER) which is anchored in John 15: 1 – 17 (I AM THE VINE, YOU ARE THE BRANCHES. ABIDE IN ME) and again cemented with LOVE ON ANOTHER (15: 17).
You might see the general personal license feeding into but being undermined by a general censoriousness and all rejecting personal faith in the Lord of Our Salvation. But then it is that same faith that makes sense of the created order in general and of humanity in particular. It definitely leads me to say, ‘Yes. Jesus is Lord.’